2006 April 29 Saturday
Security Declines In Afghanistan As Taliban Make Gains

Writing for the Christian Science Monitor David Montero reports on the worsening security situation in Afghanistan

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN Nearly five years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's security situation continues to be dragged down by endemic corruption, roving militias, and a growing nexus between narco-warlords and remnants of the Taliban, officials and analysts say.

The melting snows of spring often bring an uptick in violence, as rebels emerge from their mountain redoubts. Yet there are indications of a deepening instability beyond the seasonal surge. More than 70 foreign troops, mostly Americans, have been killed this past year, making it the deadliest period since the conflict began. Violence, meanwhile, seems to be spreading beyond the volatile south, encroaching on areas formerly considered outside the zones of conflict.

Governors and police are in cahoots with drug smugglers and the Taliban.

Many governors and chiefs of police, rather than confronting the Taliban and neutralizing drug lords, are increasingly intertwined with them, either for political or monetary gain, some analysts say. Amid the lawlessness, military intelligence has become a political game, a tool for blackmail or settling old scores, analysts allege.

Lawlessness helps the Taliban.

A few weeks back I came across a TV interview of Christian Parenti who writes for The Nation (a ideologically leftist political magazine - but Parenti knows his subject) on his trips into the Middle East and Afghanistan. Parenti had a number of disturbing things to say about what is going on in Afghanistan. Parenti says that elements of the Pakistani government are still helping the Taliban.

BRANCACCIO: Now, you mention the Taliban. You actually met a bunch of these guys what, on a lonely road?

PARENTI: In a canyon not far from Kandahar in Zabul province. Just off the road, the main road between Kabul and Kandahar, my translator and I managed to hook up with a group of Taliban fighters. The Taliban mostly operate in groups of five or six, and then they come together maybe up to 50 fighters at a time, to do stuff like they did the other day, attack a U.S. base. And they're pretty clearly... according to these guys and then a Taliban spokesperson I spoke with, this western spy, and some Afghan intelligence people, the Taliban is run out of Pakistan with the support of the Pakistani state. They have sort of three main fronts that they operate out of. And they're a coherent, aggressive movement wreaking havoc with the aid of a U.S. ally, Pakistan. And the Bush Administration seems to be putting no pressure on Pakistan to change that policy.

BRANCACCIO: So you have the insurgency, the Taliban. Who really holds the actual power within Afghanistan at this stage?

PARENTI: You know, there is no one group that holds power within that country. Because the country is so broken up into a series of fiefdoms. And local powers are sort of city states around the major cities like Herat or Kandahar. But the government, Karzai's government, is populated by very horrible warlords with abominable human rights records.

And the main problem is that George Bush has used Afghanistan as a prop in his domestic political theater and rushed through the creation of the government there. And so there is now a government made up of really horrible criminal warlords.

One of the people that I interviewed, one of the stories I did out of this trip was with a former Taliban commander who was responsible for the destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan; those ancient statues. He's now in the Parliament. That's just one example. You could go on and on.

Those types of people, once in government, turned the ministries and the agencies they control into patronage organizations. They have, even according to the Afghan government, involved in drug running. So you have a government that is incapable of delivering development. And basically just becomes a nepotistic patronage system that's riddled with corruption.

And then in the countryside the local warlords, the big landlords, the leading families control their areas. The independent human rights commission in Afghanistan located and actually managed to close 40 different private detention facilities. But there are many more. So there is no one power. There's just localized power. And in the South, the Taliban are increasing in power.

They've burnt and closed 200 schools this year. They stop traffic and tax it on the roads. They operate with relative impunity. And actually with the support of the very sort of conservative Pashtun villages in the South.

Insufficient US power means the bad guys become more powerful and that stretches US power even more severely.

In March 2006 Parenti wrote a lengthy piece for The Nation about Afghanistan which is worth reading in full. The Taliban have a united leadership headquartered in the United States's supposed anti-terrorist ally Pakistan.

"We are fighting because we won't let the American troops in our land," says the Taliban leader. "If their objectives were to rebuild our country we would not fight against them. But that is not their goal." He thinks America is here to "destroy our country" and "not leave."

How is the Taliban organized? "We are under one leadership. We have several groups, but we work together under one leadership. We have one command, but we have to operate in groups of five or six, because if we gather in groups of fifty we are afraid of the aircrafts. They would destroy us in big groups." This jibes with what an officer in the Afghan National Security Directorate tells me. The NSD officer says the Taliban have three fronts but all answer to one Pakistan-supported and -based leadership.

And what about support from Pakistan? "Yes, Pakistan stands with us," says the leader. "And on that side of the border we have our offices. Pakistan is supporting us, they supply us. Our leaders are there collecting help. The people on this side of the border also support us."

Parenti says Bush is failing to do what is necessary to deal with Afghanistan.

Bush is cutting aid and troops in Afghanistan because he sees it as a sideshow as compared to Iraq. Note that the 9/11 attackers were headquartered in Afghanistan, not Iraq and that Bin Laden and Zawahiri are still somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In the face of Afghanistan's deepening troubles, the US government is now slashing its funding for reconstruction from a peak of $1 billion in 2004 to a mere $615 million this year. And thanks to the military's recruitment problems, the United States is drawing down its troops from 19,000 to 16,000. In short, despite Bush's feel-good rhetoric, the United States is giving every impression that it is slowly abandoning sideshow Afghanistan.

So Afghanistan is going to hell in a handbasket, elements of the Pakistani government still support the Taliban, and yet Bush is distracted by attempts to bring Jeffersonian democracy to an Iraq that is very far from fertile ground to such a quixotic project.

Parenti had an interesting chat with a Western intelligence agent.

Toward the end of my stay I meet a European "contractor" who is in fact a Western intelligence agent in charge of several important dossiers pertaining to Afghan security. All of this is confirmed through Afghan intelligence sources. But my "contractor" friend maintains his pretenses and I remain respectful of that, and we proceed with otherwise very frank conversations.

To my surprise, this agent to the great powers, this builder of empire, is the most cynical person I've met my whole trip. Highly intellectual, he talks of Afghanistan as doomed, a hostage to history and to the idiocy, arrogance and Iraq obsession of the Bush clique. He passes me a series of "red gaming papers"--intentionally dissenting analyses of the Afghan situation written by and for the coalition.

The papers paint an arrestingly bleak picture of Afghanistan as a political "fiction," a buffer state that no longer buffers, a collection of fiefdoms run by brutal local warlords. The coalition's mission is portrayed as a fantasy game managed by sheltered careerists. One of the papers is by an American. It ends on this note: Nothing short of an open-ended blank check from the United States will keep Afghanistan from returning to chaos.

I see more chaos and continued growth of Taliban power in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration has overstretched the United States and will not either raise taxes or implement a draft in order to get the resources needed for the scale of commitments and problems that have resulted from the overstretch.

After the Taliban were overthrow the United States was still faced with a very large job to hunt down the Al Qaeda top leaders, hunt down Taliban top leaders, establish a fairly non-corrupt government in Afghanistan, and create an environment in which the people of Afghanistan would see the new regime as worthy of support and beneficial to them. But Bush shifted resources away from Afghanistan to go after Saddam. He took shortcuts whose costs are gradually accumulating. The Taliban was given the breathing space needed to regroup. The US did not have enough intelligence resources to pry apart the threads connecting the Pakistani government with the Taliban. Bush and the neoconservatives are engaged in imperial overstretch which hurts US interests and security.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 April 29 11:51 AM  MidEast Afghanistan


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