Afghanistan: I See Dead People

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February 19, 2014: President Karzai and many Pushtuns want all the foreign troops gone so the Pushtuns have a better chance of reestablishing their dominance of the government and all of Afghanistan. The non-Pushtun majority opposes that and wants some of the Americans and other foreign troops to remain. Afghanistan is headed for another civil war.

The Pushtun lost control in 2001 when the Northern Alliance triumphed. The northern Afghan tribes remember that in September 11, 2001 they were still fighting the Taliban government that had not yet gained control over all of Afghanistan.  T he "Northern Alliance" of non-Pushtun tribes was still holding out. The United States sent in a few hundred Special Forces and CIA operators, a hundred million dollars in cash and a few thousand smart bombs to help the Northern Alliance out, and the Taliban were broken and fleeing the country within two months. The Pushtun still resent this and the non-Pushtuns tried to accommodate the Pushtuns when a new government was formed. The northern tribes didn't mind Pushtuns getting some of the top jobs in the new government (including the presidency), but were no longer willing to meekly follow the Pushtun lead blindly. The Pushtun see it differently, claiming (with some truth) that they did most of the fighting against the Russians in the 1980s, and that many of the northern tribes cut deals with the Russians (as did some Pushtun tribes, something the Pushtuns don't like to talk about). That had more to do with Afghan politics, (the northern and southern tribes disagreed on how to deal with Russia and modernization) than with anything else. Then came the Taliban (a cynical invention of the Pakistanis, created from Pushtun refugees convinced that a Holy War would bring peace to Afghanistan). Meanwhile, the heroin trade (growing poppies and using a chemical process to turn the sap from these plants into opium and heroin) moved from Pakistan (where the government saw it as a curse) to Afghanistan. Many of the same tribes that produced the refugees who became the Taliban, also produced the most successful drug lords. The Pushtun are many things, including well organized and ambitious and Russia has always been a willing ally of the northern tribes. The Taliban today are basically a faction of the Pushtun tribes and the drug trade is basically run by Pushtuns. For most Afghans, the Pushtuns (40 percent of the population) are the enemy and Russia is a neighbor that has more often than not been a useful friend. The Russians are also interested in stopping the Pushtun drug trade and this gives the northern tribes and Russia a common goal to work towards. Expect to see more of Russia in Afghanistan after NATO forces depart next year.

Afghan army leaders and most of the troops want the Americans to stay, at least to provide air support and help with logistics, training and intelligence collecting. The military, which is largely non-Pustun, fears that without the American assistance they will be more vulnerable to the Taliban and drug gangs, both of whom are dominated by Pushtuns from the south (mainly Kandahar and Helmand provinces.) President Karzai and his clan are from Kandahar, but the army is largely non-Pushtun. While 40 percent of Afghans are Pushtuns (the majority in the south, and within the Taliban), far fewer Pushtuns are in the army. Most troops are from anti-Taliban northern groups (Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbek).

For the last decade it has been fashionable to play down ethnic animosities. But occasionally a Pushtun leader will appear in the media casually reminding everyone that Pushtuns were “born to rule” or “are the true owners of Afghanistan.” Sometimes these attitudes get into print. In 2012 t he government fired four Pushtun academics for publishing a book on the ethnic groups of Afghanistan that described the Hazara as "liars, stubborn, violent and anti-Islamic."  Hazara politicians and non - Pushtuns in general, were enraged. That's because to the Pushtuns, anyone who is not Pushtun is "them" and nothing but trouble. Same deal with the northern tribes, who are weakened by their lack of ethnic and tribal unity (the Uzbeks are Turks, the Hazara are Mongols and the Tajiks are, like the Pushtuns, cousins to the Iranians and Indians). Thus no matter how successful the Taliban might be in the south, among their fellow Pushtun (many of them anti-Taliban), they still have to face " them"; the northern tribes, who now have powerful foreign allies , a combination that proved invincible in 2001, and can do so again if called on. But that is more likely if some American troops remain in the country. This the Taliban, drug gangs and Pushtuns in general are opposed to. Without their American allies, the Pushtun believe they can, as they usually do, intimidate the more numerous and divided non-Pushtuns into compliance with Pushtun domination.

The current Afghan government survives by maintaining some form of good relations between the haughty Pushtuns, and the real majority of Afghanistan (the non-Pushtuns). The Hazara have long been a particular target of Pushtun anger. In part, it's because the Hazara are Shia, while most Afghans are Sunni. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are Sunni radicals, and Sunni radicals consider Shia heretics and in need of killing. The other reason for Hazara hatred is that the Hazara are the descendants of the Mongol conquerors of Afghanistan. The Pushtun do not like to be reminded of what the Mongol invaders did to them. The Pushtuns have specific reasons for disdaining the Turks and Tajiks.

Then there is the fact that the Taliban are a minority within a minority (Pushtuns are 40 percent of the population.) There are some Islamic radicals among the other ethnic minorities, but the Pushtuns dominate the Taliban (in terms of leadership and numbers overall). The biggest asset the Taliban have is their alliance with the drug gangs. This is because the Taliban tolerated and taxed the drug gangs in the 1990s, and continue with that policy. This gives the Taliban the cash they need to keep their terror campaign going, but this also associates the Islamic radicals with the hated drug gangs. Most Afghans will hold their nose and take a drug gang or Taliban bribe. Yet in the overall scheme of things, the majority (over 70 percent) of Afghans would prefer to see the Taliban and drug gangs dead and gone. With the foreign troops gone, that kind of civil war situation is likely to develop.

The Pushtun are worried about the upcoming (April 5th) presidential elections. Karzai cannot run again (constitutional term limits) and the leading candidate is a non-Pushtun (and former Northern Alliance member). The Pushtun are not ready to accept a non-Pushtun as the ruler of all Afghanistan. Non-Pushtuns were not surprised with recent revelations that Karzai had been holding secret meetings with the Taliban. While foreigners may not believe a lot of the stories about corruption in the Karzai clan and connections with the drug gangs and Taliban, most Afghans accept this as perfectly normal. Afghans, most of whom want the Status of Forces agreement with the United States signed, see these links as the main reason Karzai will not sign the agreement. Non-Pushtun politicians are hoping to solve this problem by electing a non-Pushtun as president. The Pushtuns will attempt to prevent this using traditional methods (lots of terror and dead people). Karzai really believes that he can negotiate a peace deal with the divided Taliban. He knows that many Taliban leaders have become very corrupt. A lot of the cash from drug gangs (for security and other services) goes to buying SUVs, trucks and nice houses for the Taliban leaders. These same Taliban seek out equally corrupt army and police commanders to share the wealth (in return for occasional inaction). In many cases this works, but there’s still a problem with the fact that most people in the security forces are not Pushtun and oppose the Pushtun dominating the non-Pushtun majority. There has always been some of this, but now the non-Pushtuns want to share power, not just take whatever the Pushtuns give them (from the foreign aid and other national income there is to share). The non-Pushtuns see an end to Pushtun domination while the Pushtun see any attempt to impose that producing a lot of dead people. Karzai also knows that the Taliban are running out of cash, because many foreign donors have stopped giving because of the growing number of women and children killed by Taliban violence. These donors also know of the corruption among the Taliban leadership and at the moment are more attracted to Islamic terrorists in Syria,

The Afghan government has made itself unpopular with many foreign aid donor nations by refusing to take back Afghans who showed up in the West (usually) seeking asylum. Since the Soviets invaded in the early 1980s Afghans have been the most numerous asylum seekers on the planet. People smuggling has been a major industry in Afghanistan for over three decades because many (if not most) Afghans would rather be anywhere but in Afghanistan. It costs thousands of dollars to get smuggled out of Afghanistan and into a Western country. There Afghans demand amnesty and social welfare benefits, secure in the knowledge that their own government does not want them back. While most of these illegal migrants settle down and become good citizens in their new countries, some are attracted to crime or Islamic terrorism. Not as often as most other Moslem migrants, but enough to make Afghan illegals unpopular, if only because there are so many of them. Some of these illegals did not go far, with millions moving across the border into Iran and Pakistan in the 1980s. While most of these have since returned, several million (usually the descendants of the original refugees) refuse to go back and some find a people smuggler and head for the West.

Nearly 3,000 civilians were killed by fighting between the security forces and the Taliban or drug gangs in 2013. That’s up 14 percent from 2012. This is mainly because most of the fighting is being done by Afghan soldiers and police and they, like the Taliban, are less concerned about civilian losses. Over 70 percent of the civilian deaths were due to Taliban action, as the Taliban likes to use indiscriminate weapons (like rockets and roadside bombs) as well as lots of terror to keep civilians cooperative. Civilian deaths are actually much higher but those additional deaths come from the usual family violence, banditry and crime in general. Afghanistan is a violent place. It always has been and still is.

February 17, 2014: Afghan police acting on a tip found and seized four 122mm rockets that were to be fired into Kabul. The rockets each have a range of 20 kilometers, are 2.9 meters (9.5 feet) long and weigh 55.5 kg (147 pounds). The captured rockets were elderly, probably dating back to the 1980s. Not very accurate when new, these rockets do not improve with age.

Outside Peshawar (the largest city in the Pakistani tribal territories) a former minister in the 1990s Taliban government was murdered by gunmen. Several Taliban leaders have been killed this way in the last year and the Taliban blame Afghan intelligence for a campaign of assassination against Taliban leaders. Afghanistan denies this, but to many Afghans this would be perfectly legitimate since the Taliban have long gone after Afghan government leaders.

February 16, 2014: In the northeast (Kapisa Province) police found and seized over a ton of Taliban ammo (rockets, RPG warheads, rifle ammo and mortar shells). This stockpile was apparently for use to try and disrupt the upcoming national elections.  

February 13, 2014: After months of threatening to do so, president Karzai freed 65 Taliban fighters accused by their American captors of being involved in the deaths of at least 32 Americans and 23 Afghans. This move was very popular with Karzai’s Pushtun allies (some of them Taliban and drug gang leaders) but very unpopular with the majority of Afghans (especially the non-Pushtun majority). Karzai insisted that there was not enough evidence against the 65 to get a court conviction and that’s why they were freed, the U.S. pointed out that many such captured Taliban cannot be successfully prosecuted because their buddies have threatened witnesses and made a conventional prosecution impossible. Moreover the Americans also point out that releases like this now are a bigger threat to Afghan security forces than to foreign troops because the Afghans have taken over most security tasks. The Afghan solution to this new Karzai policy will be to take far fewer prisoners and simply kill (“while trying to escape”) Taliban they do take alive but later decide are a long-term threat. This doesn’t bother Karzai much as non-judicial executions are more of an Afghan tradition than trial by jury.

February 11, 2014: It was confirmed that a young girl living outside Kabul had recently caught polio and was partially paralyzed. This was the first known case of polio in Afghanistan since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001 (many people can catch polio and not become sick). The reason for this is that the Taliban changed their policy of opposing polio vaccinations once they were out of power. Not so the Pakistani Taliban, which officially opposes vaccination. Most Taliban, on both sides of the border, believe the polio vaccination program is really a Western plot to poison Moslems. Thus even though the Afghan Taliban support vaccinations there is still violence. For example on January 24th a 16 year old medical volunteer was murdered by a Taliban death squad down south (Helmand province). The young man was administering polio vaccinations. There are many active cases of polio just across the border in the Pakistani tribal territories, one of the few places on the planet where people are still being infected. This has caused small outbreaks in countries where people from the tribal territories visit (including Syria, where many Pakistani Islamic terrorists have gone and triggered at least 20 cases of polio so far).  Afghanistan will no increase vaccination efforts.

February 10, 2014:  In the northeast (Logar Province) police found and seized over a ton of Taliban ammo (mostly rockets and mortar shells). This stockpile was apparently for use to try and disrupt the upcoming national elections. One Taliban was arrested when the stockpile was seized.

 

 

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