Afghanistan: Taliban Divided On Making Peace

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June 17, 2013: The government continues to criticize Pakistan for meddling in Afghan affairs and supporting the Afghan Taliban. Most Afghans resent the fact that Pakistan created the Taliban (recruiting and arming Afghan religious school students in Pakistani refugee camps) in the early 1990s and sending them in to end the civil war and become a new government that would be heavily influenced by Pakistan. The Taliban failed to end the civil war (which was still going on in September 2001) and misruled the parts of the country they did control. The Taliban are also hated for their decades of cooperation with drug gangs. Unofficial taxes on the heroin and opium trade have always provided most of the Taliban income but have also created over a million addicts while only benefiting (economically) a small segment of the population. While most Afghans are religiously conservative, they also dislike Taliban efforts that force them to follow a particularly strict form of Islam that has never been common in most of Afghanistan. Moreover, Taliban observance of their own rules is inconsistent, with a growing number of young Taliban gunmen using drugs, abusing women, and looting. To Afghans this simply confirms suspicions that the Taliban are just another bunch of bandits. Such gangs have been the scourge of Afghanistan for thousands of years and the Taliban are increasingly perceived as bandits who are also religious hypocrites.

Within the Taliban there is growing dissention over the drug connection and the increasing unpopularity of the Taliban among Afghans. This has reached the point where many villages and tribes form militias (an expensive and time-consuming effort that is usually only done in emergencies) to keep the Taliban out of their valleys. For a long time the Taliban was at least tolerated, but over the last decade the Taliban have become harsher in how their gunmen demand aid from rural Afghans. These demands are backed up by violence, starting with a tongue lashing and escalating to beatings, kidnappings, and murder. Villagers are also angry at the growing tendency of Taliban to force families to marry daughters to young Taliban. Marriages are normally arranged by negotiations between families. These Taliban marriages often end up with the husband either getting killed or divorcing his wife so he can enter into a more permanent union in his own village. This leaves the widow/divorcee to be cared for by her family, who will not be able to marry her off again.

Some Taliban leaders have done the math and realized that with so many Afghans hating them, the Taliban will never be able to take control of the country and the best they can hope for is some kind of peace deal. Many of the less scrupulous Taliban leaders are inclined to go along with this if the deal includes some kind of unofficial recognition of the drug gangs. This would be difficult to carry off as foreign aid donors would reduce their efforts if Afghanistan appeared to be backing off on attacking the drug trade. Since the foreign aid is a major source of “clean” graft for so many Afghan officials (as opposed to the “dirty” drug gang bribes), making that kind of deal would be very difficult. Despite that, the government and the Taliban continue trying to work out some kind of peace arrangement.

The Afghan security forces (over 300,000 soldiers and police) are now responsible for security in 312 districts (77 percent of the total and 80 percent of the population). So far, the Afghans have been able to keep the peace in these districts, at least the Afghan definition of peace. But the remaining 91 districts are some of the most troubled (by drug gangs and Taliban) and the most likely to have major armed opposition. Army leaders are confident their troops can handle the challenge. Afghan officers see last year as the big test. In 2012 Afghan army deaths went from 550 in 2011 to 1,200. But this year losses are closer to 2011 levels because in most districts the gangs, unruly militias, and Taliban were defeated and are now causing less trouble. Of course, in some districts the army officers were bribed to enter into an illegal truce. But that means the bad guys have to behave. Any dead bodies or outcry from aggrieved civilians will kill the truce, at least for a while. The Taliban now know how good the Afghan soldiers are and can see a dim future for their fighters, even with the drug gang money.

NATO troop losses at the hands of Afghan soldiers and police continue to rise. Currently about 20 percent of all NATO and 16 percent of all American deaths are from these insider attacks. The U.S. military, which has suffered most of these deaths, reports that investigations of the incidents shows that only 10-20 percent have anything to do with the Taliban. The rest are simply Afghans with guns doing what they have always done. The difference now is that there are armed foreigners around to get angry at and kill. Overall, deaths of foreign troops are down over 70 percent this year compared to last.

NATO is also negotiating with the Afghans over the continuing (after NATO ground troops are gone next year) air, logistics, and training support.

June 14, 2013: Pakistani artillery hit a border post in the south (Kandahar province) killing a border guard. Pakistan has been shelling villages in eastern Afghanistan for years to get at Pakistani terrorists (at war with the Pakistan government) who take refuge in Afghanistan. It’s unclear who the Pakistanis are going after in the south, although it is probably Baluchi rebels (who are seeking more autonomy and more of the natural gas profits).

June 13, 2013: In the north (Kunduz province) two local Taliban leaders were killed during a joint Afghan-NATO operation. The Taliban continue to have a hard time trying to establish themselves in the north, where Pushtuns (the Taliban are a Pushtun organization) are rare (but dominate in the south and east).

June 12, 2013: In the south (Helmand province) six policemen were found dead at the checkpoint they were manning. The other two cops who were supposed to be there were missing, and it’s feared the other two were bribed by the Taliban to kill their six comrades. This is a common tactic with the Taliban.

June 11, 2013: In the capital a suicide car bomber attacked the Supreme Court building and killed 17 people.

June 10, 2013: In the south (Kandahar province) the Taliban beheaded two boys (age 10 and 16) who were seen begging for food from soldiers and police and were accused of spying on the Islamic terrorists. So the two kids were murdered to discourage others from helping the security forces.

In the south (Zabul province) six Taliban attacked a government building but were repulsed. One of the attackers was killed and another arrested. All were wearing suicide bomb vests and used a car bomb.

Outside the capital seven Taliban attacked the airport but were stopped and all of them killed.

June 9, 2013: The Afghan army has become increasingly aggressive against the Taliban. So far this month army and police raids and sweeps have killed 260 Taliban and other armed hostiles, wounded 66, and arrested 80.

June 8, 2013: After years of pleading, Afghanistan is finally going after Pakistani Taliban who have set up camps just inside Afghanistan. From there they raid into Pakistan and then retreat back across the border if facing an intense army or police reaction. But the armed force assembling to go after the Pakistani Taliban camps are not Afghan soldiers or police but Afghan Taliban and tribal militias. This is the result of the Afghan Taliban agreeing to join with the Pakistani Army in an attack on the Pakistani Taliban. There has long been bad blood between the Afghan and Pakistani branches of the Taliban. Part of it is due to the usual feuds between rival Islamic terror organizations. But the basic problem is that each branch wants to take control of the country they are from and that means Pakistani Taliban are welcome (unofficially) in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban (officially) in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban depends on the Pakistani sanctuary it has in and around Quetta, the largest city in Baluchistan (southwest Pakistan). Quetta is safe because Pakistan will not let American UAVs operate there. Quetta is where the Afghan Taliban leadership has been sheltered since 2002, and is right across the Afghan border from the Taliban heartland in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Since the Afghan Taliban has not made (or sponsored) terrorist attacks in Pakistan, there has been an unofficial truce with the Pakistani government. For over a year now the Pakistani military has been trying to persuade the Afghan Taliban to help deal with anti-Pakistan Islamic terrorists in Pakistan. Most of these attacks are carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, whose main base area is in North Waziristan, where the pro-Pakistan Haqqani Network also takes shelter. Haqqani is mostly Afghans and only attacks inside Afghanistan. For years the U.S. has been pressuring Pakistan to shut down the North Waziristan sanctuary. Now it appears that Pakistan will sort-of do that but will probably leave Haqqani alone. The Afghan Taliban will help by going after the growing number of Pakistani Taliban camps just across the border in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban refuse to admit to this plan and only say that they will only carry out attacks outside Pakistan, which is mainly inside Afghanistan.

June 7, 2013: In the south (Helmand province) a renegade cop killed seven other police at a checkpoint and escaped with their weapons and equipment. This is one way to make a lot of money (by Afghan standards) at little risk (by Afghan standards) to yourself.

June 3, 2013: In the east (Paktia province) a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives in a marketplace. In nearby Laghman province a roadside bomb hit a car filled with civilians. These two attacks killed 19 civilians, 11 of them children.

May 31, 2013: The Taliban denied responsibility for a May 29 attack on a Red Cross compound in Jalalabad. Because of that attack (which wounded one non-Afghan Red Cross worker) the Red Cross is withdrawing some of its non-Afghan staff and halting operations in some of the more dangerous areas.

 

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