Afghan Situation As Reviewed By Indian Diplomat

Posted on Wednesday, November 08 at 17:23 by bracewell
The proposed 1,800 delegate jirga to be held in Jalalabad next month promises to be sheer fantasy, and may even backfire, as the mood in the tribal areas hardens. Prospects of any code of conduct between Islamabad and the tribal leadership in Bajour are now almost nil.

An intriguing question remains as regards the timing of the attack on Bajour when Islamabad seemed to have all but wrapped up an agreement with the tribal leaders where the madrassa was located. Almost everyone in Bajour is convinced that the missile strikes were launched by the US military through its pilotless Predator spy plane with the objective of subverting Islamabad's imminent peace agreement with militants.

Karzai's initiative to reach out to Pashtun opinion in Pakistan will now fizzle out, and this will reinforce his image as a US puppet. In recent weeks, Karzai directly contacted Pashtun nationalists from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to bolster non-Taliban Pashtun support. Islamabad is sure to resent Karzai's "undiplomatic" dealings with fellow ethnic-Pashtun leaders in Pakistan. But after Bajour, even the anti-Musharraf politicians among the Pashtun nationalists in NWFP may have a problem in openly identifying with Karzai's cause.

The failure of non-Pashtun groups in Afghanistan in sharing the grief and anguish of the Pashtuns is becoming glaring.

Tajik leader Yunus Qanooni has offered himself as a better US-collaborator than Karzai - if a job vacancy arises in Kabul. This will only accentuate Pashtun alienation, making political reconciliation between the Pashtuns and "Panjshiris" almost impossible. Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent to most observers that a political accommodation of the Taliban is necessary if enduring peace is to be established.

Jason Burke, author and leading expert on international terrorism said ‘The Taliban remain a local phenomenon and are not to be believed to be in close liaison with bin Laden or al-Zawahiri.’ ‘Taliban can almost be considered the army of an unofficial state lying across the Afghan-Pakistani frontier that has no formal borders but is bound together by ethnic, linguistic, ideological and political ties.’ (Rejecting the commonplace caricaturing of the Taliban as a progeny of the Pakistani establishment.)

It is easy to see what makes victory over the Taliban almost impossible: Colonel Oleg Kulakov, a 5yr Soviet Afghan-war veteran and teaches at the Russian military academy, recalled that "there was no task the Soviet armed forces were assigned and failed to carry out. However, the achievements at the battalion and brigade level could not be turned into political success." Almost all war correspondents currently reporting from Afghanistan agree with the assessment that battlefield victory is becoming almost irrelevant.

The BBC’s David Loyn's brilliant reportage from the Taliban lines in Helmand province offers an incisive account of the current state of play. He describes that:
1) the Taliban's ouster in 2001 couldn't obviate the political reality that the regime enjoyed popularity in many parts of the country, because it was not corrupt, and it brought law and order. The Taliban's treatment of Afghan villagers is marked by "respect and familiarity".
2) the growing popular support for the Taliban is for a variety of reasons:

......a) Karzai's government is seen as corrupt and venal;
......b) people are fed up with the breakdown of law and order
......c) are disenchanted with Afghan reconstruction;
......d) the abysmal poverty of the overwhelming majority of the people;
......e) atrocities by the occupation forces, etc.
3) Taliban fighters are motivated by Afghan nationalism as the "heirs of Afghanistan's warrior tradition". The Taliban do not consider themselves as part of a worldwide jihad, but as an "Afghan solution to an Afghan problem".

Loyn concludes that Taliban forces are unlikely to yield to anything short of the occupation troops leaving Afghanistan. A possible way out would be if they were offered some kind of power-sharing arrangement.

NATO’s spreading goodwill from isolated "inkspots" is plain unrealistic. The Taliban have demonstrated their control over a wide region, are confident and well armed. Loyn: “They demand and get food and shelter wherever they stop ... Thousands of young men now see them as a resistance force against international troops who have had five years and are not seen to have delivered results. Driving around the region during the next day with a local commander, Mahmud Khan, was a little like visiting villages in Britain might be with a popular local politician. He knew everybody and stopped often to chat."

Why the Afghan war is not a matter of US or NATO troop levels.
The crisis forms several concentric circles:
......1) At the center lies the problem of a non-functioning, corrupt government that doesn't command respect because it lacks real popular support.
......2) Around it, an entire crisis area has developed in terms of weak authority, warlordism, breakdown of law and order, rampant opium trade, etc.
......3) This, in turn, provides a fertile ground to the Taliban's resurgence, which is inevitable regardless of Pakistani officials actions.
......4) These are wrapped up with a fourth ring, namely the growing resentment among Afghans (and Pakistanis) about the continued foreign occupation of their country.


David Loyn: Travelling with the Taleban
Jason Burke: Taliban plan to fight through winter to throttle Kabul

Interview with: the Observer's Jason Burke
Jason Burke is the prize-winning Chief Reporter for the Observer. He has covered the Middle East and Southwest Asia for a decade. He is the author of two new books, On The Road To Kandahar and Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam
BRACEWELL: Burke’s comments on “Muslim-ism” in the first half of this interview are interesting.

Q: Can you give us an assessment of the state of play in Afghanistan?
Burke: It’s a very complex situation. I’ve been going there for 10 years, and even given the current problems, it’s a far better place than it was under the Taleban. It now has the opportunities to progress towards stability and prosperity that it simply didn’t have in the year 2000.
...... Kabul itself has been transformed. I was very impressed by the amount of Afghan commercial activity. Much of the North and the West are relatively stable. The major warlords are not fighting each other any more. There is crime, but it’s not rampant. It’s extremely poor, and there’s a drug problem but – by and large – a belt from Jalalabad round to Herat in the north of the country, including Kabul, is ok.

Q: Still, though, there are problems...
Burke: There are two major problems, both avoidable. The first is drugs, and the second is what’s happening in the south.
...... The drugs issue is very simple: Opium is a great crop - people are poor – everything else is irrelevant. As the Afghans say, ‘it’s not our problem, it’s yours!’ And you can see where they’re coming from.
......The Southern problem: The Americans have made a hard job immeasurably harder through a series of strategic miscalculations based on a warped understanding of the threat and the situation. The South was left for five years with neither security nor development. And – surprise – the Taleban are back! There was a vacuum that was left in the South, almost deliberately.
......I was in Kandahar in 2003, and people were saying, explicitly, that they don’t really want the Taleban back, but that if they offer security and some modicum of governance, then they will come back.

Q: The recent British deployment is a positive step then?
Burke: It’s great – but it’s four years too late. But, it’s five thousand men in a province the size of England with a million inhabitants. If we’d been there four years ago, it would have been a lot different.

Q: Why have Western forces managed to achieve such relative success in Afghanistan, and failed so badly in Iraq?
Burke: Afghanistan was easier, in many ways. You had a country that was desperately tired, totally worn out, that had nothing, and that didn’t like the Taleban at all.
......The Iraqis didn’t like Saddam either, but there was a significant minority benefited from his regime - that wasn’t Afghanistan.
......I was surprised to see the depth of pro-coalition feeling in Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. They also pursued an intelligent and coherent political strategy very early on – Karzai was a very useful figure who has done a lot to give a sense of purpose to Afghanistan.
......Afghanistan was less complex - if you give them a ten watt light bulb, they’re going to be overjoyed. The Iraqis were used to, and had expectations that were far higher.
......The Iraqis are also far more politicized and more coherent than Afghans.
......There was no army to demobilise, there was no major looting, there was no need to “de-Talebanise” the government. [Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 9, 2006]

Note: Zbigniew Brzezinski Brzezinski NATO fighting the wr... David Loyn: Travelling... Jason Burke: Taliban ... Interview with: the O...

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