The Perilous Pushtun Paradox
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July 23, 2012: Over the last few years the Taliban have adopted a new strategy that emphasizes avoiding contact with foreign troops and concentrating attacks, and bribery efforts, on Afghan soldiers, police and politicians. The latter includes senior tribal leaders and local strongmen in general. As they did in the 1990s, the Taliban use a carrot and stick approach to controlling the country. Those who are willing to make a deal, to share control, are accommodated, even if it includes bribes. Areas that refuse to submit are subjected to terror attacks, mainly directed at the local leadership. But ordinary civilians are victims as well, in order to generate popular pressure against the local leadership to make a deal with the Taliban. It's not working as well as it did in the 1990s, when the population was destitute and worn down by fifteen years of war with the Russians and after the Russians left in 1989 each other (civil war). The last decade has been one of growing prosperity fueled by more economic activity, foreign aid and drug (heroin/opium) profits. In some parts of Afghanistan the new tactics have worked. That means the Taliban and drug gangs are left alone. The bribed/intimidated security forces and local leaders will still go after bandits and shake down local citizens who do not have powerful friends. That includes foreign aid operations, which have always been the target of thieves and corrupt officials.
The problem the Taliban have is that they lose all control in areas where foreign troops operate and have a very hard time in places occupied by non-Pushtuns (meaning most of Afghanistan) and the growing number of Pushtun tribes that are fed up with the Taliban and drug gangs and fighting back. The Taliban maintain the illusion of success (at least among themselves) by killing and bribing more Afghan police, soldiers and leaders. Back in Pakistan (Quetta, Baluchistan, south of Helmand and Kandahar) the Taliban leadership knows better. Areas of Taliban influence are shrinking and the number of Afghans actively resisting, or organizing militias and fighting the Taliban are increasing. Most Afghans do not see the Taliban as religiously inspired nationalists (as the Islamic radicals view themselves), but depraved hired guns for the drug gangs. Despite strict orders to behave, many Taliban use their power to loot and abuse the women (and young boys). The Taliban are not building support after two decades of effort, but instead a more intense hatred.
Increasingly, Taliban leaders are questioning their chances of eventual victory. This is picked up, with increasing frequency, by electronic intelligence monitoring. Captured Taliban tell of security men for senior leaders passing on tidbits from that kind of talk by their bosses, in closely guarded meetings of senior Taliban. Some Taliban leaders are even talking to the media about this, but confidentially. A growing number of Taliban want to make some kind of peace deal with the government, but the Old Guard is still willing to go down fighting. That sort of thing is all-too-common in Afghanistan, especially among the Pushtun.
There is growing panic in eastern Afghanistan and among three million Afghan refugees across the border in Pakistan. That's because the Pakistanis plan to try and expel all Afghan refugees and illegal migrants from Pakistan by the end of the year. Some of these Afghans have been in Pakistan for 30 years (having fled the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980). In the last decade some four million Afghan refugees have come home. Many of those remaining in Pakistan have put down roots and prospered, and don't want to return (often to land that has been stolen, or subject to some old family feud). T he Afghans in Pakistan are living in communities full of fellow Pushtuns (most of the refugees are Pushtuns from southern Afghanistan), often people from the same tribe or extended family. The Afghan/Pakistan border was drawn (in 1893) without regard to the territorial integrity of Pushtun tribes. Only about 60 percent of the Afghans in Pakistan are registered as refugees and only about 600,000 still live in refugee camps (actually large towns administered, and supported, by foreign aid organizations). About a third of the Afghan refugees live in other parts of Pakistan, particularly the port city of Karachi. This is the largest metropolis in Pakistan and the Afghans there dominate the criminal underground. For that reason alone most Pakistanis would like to see the Afghan refugees forced to go back to Afghanistan. The Pakistanis will be able to expel some, maybe even half, of the refugees. The rest will resist, with bribes, violence or just by hiding. But the effort will cause much violence on the Pakistani side of the border, and turmoil on the Afghan side as the refugees seek to integrate themselves into an area they fled decades ago.
The U.S. has withdrawn about 11,000 troops so far this year and another 12,000 will go before the year ends. That will leave about 68,000 American troops. Afghan security forces (over 300,000 soldiers and police) are taking control of more of the country and by the end of the year the army and police should contain 350,000 armed men. The force is more tribal than anything else. The soldiers and police are often illiterate, poorly trained and led by NCOs and officers who aren't much better. Foreign trainers are frequently confronted by violent, short tempered Afghans who do not take well to instruction or orders from foreigners.
Nemo me impune lacesset,
|"The chief aim of all government is to preserve the freedom of the citizen. His control over his person, his property, his movements, his business, his desires should be restrained only so far as the public welfare imperatively demands. The world is in more danger of being governed too much than too little.
It is the teaching of all history that liberty can only be preserved in small areas. Local self-government is, therefore, indispensable to liberty. A centralized and distant bureaucracy is the worst of all tyranny.
Taxation can justly be levied for no purpose other than to provide revenue for the support of the government. To tax one person, class or section to provide revenue for the benefit of another is none the less robbery because done under the form of law and called taxation."
John W. Davis, Democratic Presidential Candidate, 1924. Davis was one of the greatest trial and appellate lawyers in US history. He also served as the US Ambassador to the UK.