|Posted: Sat Nov 04, 2006 5:54 pm Post subject: A Taliban Primer & the Rebirth of Al-Qaeda.
|In two detailed narratives, the NY Times has drawn a picture of the Taliban and the challenges facing NATO.
Four broad conclusions are possible:
1. The road to peace in Afghanistan lies through Peshawar, Jeddah, Delhi and Teheran, not Brussels, Ottawa, London, or Washington.
2. The Kabul central government is inept and corrupt (a conclusion apparently shared by the CIA). If the Afghan support for the Taliban is to be eliminated, the corrupt provincial governors and lawless warlords must be dealt with first.
3. The size of the military contingent may not be at issue. The supply lines - financing and training - for Taliban fighters must be choked off by Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. NATO cannot do that, no matter how many troops and tanks are used.
4. Negotiating with the Taliban is a waste of time. They are neither willing - nor capable - of keeping their word. Waiting around for their surrender or complete elimination also appear to be dead ends.
I have provided extended excerpts below from the first of the two-part essay.
|In an Oct 22/06 NYT Magazine essay entitled 'In the land of the Taliban' Elizabeth Rubin wrote: |
|(excerpts, emph. added) ... As I traveled through Pakistan and particularly the Pashtun lands bordering Afghanistan, I felt as if I were moving through a Taliban spa for rehabilitation and inspiration. Since 2002, the American and Pakistani militaries have focused on North Waziristan and South Waziristan, two of the seven districts making up Pakistanís semiautonomous tribal areas, which are between the North-West Frontier Province and, to the south, Baluchistan Province; in the days since the 9/11 attacks, some tribes there had sheltered members of Al Qaeda and spawned their own Taliban movement. Meanwhile, in the deserts of Baluchistan, whose capital, Quetta, is just a few hoursí drive from the Afghan city of Kandahar, the Afghan Taliban were openly reassembling themselves under Mullah Omar and his leadership council. Quetta had become a kind of free zone where strategies could be formed, funds picked up, interviews given and victories relished.
In June, I was in Quetta as the Taliban fighters celebrated an attack against Dad Mohammad Khan, an Afghan legislator locally known as Amir Dado. Until recently he was the intelligence chief of Helmand Province. He had worked closely with U.S. Special Forces and was despised by ... most Afghans in the south. ...
Mullah Omar and his followers formed the Taliban in 1994 to, among other things, bring some justice to Afghanistan and to expel predatory commanders like Dado. But in the early days of Karzaiís government, these regional warlords re-established themselves, with American financing, to fill the power vacuum that the coalition forces were unwilling to fill themselves. The warlords freely labeled their many enemies Al Qaeda or Taliban in order to push the Americans to eradicate them. Some of these men were indeed Taliban. Most, like Abdul Baqi, had accepted their loss of power, but they rejoined the Taliban as a result of harassment. Amir Dadoís own abuses had eventually led to his removal from the Helmand government at United Nations insistence. As one Western diplomat, who requested anonymity out of personal safety concerns, put it: "Amir Dado kept his own prison, authorized the use of serious torture, had very little respect for human life and made security worse." Yet when I later met Amir Dado in Kabul, he pulled out a letter that an officer in the U.S. Special Forces had written requesting that the Afghan Ministry of Defense install him as Helmandís police chief and claiming that in his absence "the quality of security in the Helmand Province has dramatically declined."
I went to Afghanistan and Pakistan this summer to understand how and why the Taliban were making a comeback five years after American and Afghan forces drove them from power. What kind of experience would lead Afghans to reject what seemed to be an emerging democratic government? Had we missed something that made Taliban rule appealing? Were they the only opposition the aggrieved could turn to? Or, as many Afghans were saying, was this Pakistan up to its old tricks - cooperating with the Americans and Karzai while conspiring to bring back the Taliban, who had been valued "assets" before 9/11?
During the period from 1994 to 2001, the Taliban were a cloistered clique with little interest in global affairs. Today they are far more sophisticated and outward-looking. "The Taliban of the 90ís were concerned with their district or province," says Waheed Muzhda, a senior aide at the Supreme Court in Kabul, who before the Taliban fell worked in their Foreign Ministry. "Now they have links with other networks. Before, only two Internet connections existed - one was with Mullah Omarís office and the other at the Foreign Ministry here in Kabul. Now they are connected to the world." Though this is still very much an Afghan insurgency, fueled by complex local grievances and power struggles, the films sold in the markets of Pakistan and Afghanistan merge the Taliban story with that of the larger struggle of the Muslim umma, the global community of Islam: images of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Israelis dragging off young Palestinian men and throwing off Palestinian mothers clinging to their sons. Humiliation. Oppression. Followed by the same on Afghan soil: Northern Alliance fighters perching their guns atop the bodies of dead Taliban. In the Taliban story, Special Forces soldiers desecrate the bodies of Taliban fighters by burning them, the Koran is desecrated in GuantŠnamo toilets, the Prophet Muhammad is desecrated in Danish cartoons and finally an apostate, Abdul Rahman, the Afghan who was arrested earlier this year for converting to Christianity, desecrates Islam and is not only not punished but is released and flown off to Italy.
It is not at all clear that Afghans want the return of a Taliban government. But even sophisticated Kabulis told me that they are fed up with the corruption. And in the Pashtun regions, which make up about half the country, Afghans are fed up with five years of having their homes searched and the young men of their villages rounded up in the name of counterinsurgency. Earlier this month in Kabul, Gen. David Richards, the British commander of NATOís Afghanistan force, imagined what Afghans are thinking: "They will say, ĎWe do not want the Taliban, but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life that that might involve than another five years of fighting.í" He estimated that if NATO didnít succeed in bringing substantial economic development to Afghanistan soon, some 70 percent of Afghans would shift their loyalty to the Taliban.
Today, Lashkar Gah is home to a NATO base.
Down the road from the base stands a lovely new building erected by an N.G.O. for the local Ministry of Womenís Affairs. It is big, white and, on the day I visited, was empty except for three women getting ready to leave. "Itís so close to the foreigners, and the women are afraid of getting killed by car bombs," the ministryís deputy told me. .. She weighed the Taliban regime against this new one in terms of pragmatic choices, not terror or ideology. She said that she had just wrapped up the case of a girl who had been kidnapped and raped by Kandahari police officers, something that would not have happened under the Taliban. "Their security was outstanding," she said.
Under the Taliban, she said, a poppy ban was enforced. "Now the governors tell the people, ĎJust cultivate a little bit,í" she said. "So people take this opportunity and grow a lot." The farmers lease land to grow poppies. The British and the police eradicate it. The farmer canít pay back the landowner. "So instead of paying, he gives the landowner his daughter."
When I visited Helmand, schools in Lashkar Gah were closed in part because teachers and students were busy harvesting the crop. A prosecutor from the Crimes Department laughed as he told me that his clerk, driver and bodyguard hadnít made it to work. They were all harvesting.
Razzaq [a drug smuggler] has at times contemplated getting out of the smuggling trade, he said, but the easy money is too alluring. Depending on the market, he can earn from $1,500 to $7,500 a month. Most Afghans canít make that in a year. "Besides", he said, "all the governors are doing this, so why shouldnít we?"
An engineer from Panjwai who had been an Afghan senator during the Communist era told me: "We are now like camels. In Islam, a camel can be slaughtered in two different ways. The Taliban are using rivalries and enmities between people to get soldiers, the same tactics as the mujahedeen used against the Russians," the engineer continued. "Just like in Russian times they come and say, ĎWe are defending the country from the infidels.í They start asking for food. Then they ask the people for soldiers and say, ĎWe will give you weapons.í And thatís how it starts. And the emotions are rising in the people now. They are saying, ĎKaffirs have invaded our land.í"
Qayum Karzai, the presidentís older brother and a legislator from Kandahar, seemed utterly depressed when I met him. "For the last four years, the Taliban were saying that the Americans will leave here," he said. "We were stupid and didnít believe it. Now they think itís a victory that the Americans left."
With the Americans on their way out and the NATO force not yet in control, the Kandahar Police were left on the front line: underfinanced, underequipped, untrained - and often stoned. Which is perhaps what made them so brave. One afternoon I ran into a group who said their friends had just been killed when a Talib posing as a policeman served them poisoned tea. A shaggy-haired officer in a black tunic was standing by his pickup, freshly ripped up by a barrage of bullets, and staring at my feet. "I envy your shoes," he said, looking back at his own torn rubber sandals. "I envy your Toyota," he said and laughed. And then looking at my pen and notebook, he said, "I envy you can read and write." "Itís not too late," I offered feebly, but he tapped his temple and shook his head. "It doesnít work anymore," he said. "I smoke hash. I smoke opium. Iím drinking because weíre always thinking and nervous." He was 35. He had been fighting for 20 years. Four of his friends had been killed in the fighting the other night. He had to support children, a wife and parents on a salary of about $100 a month. And," he said, "we havenít been paid in four months." No wonder, then, that the population complained that the police were all thieves.
At Kandaharís hospital I met a 17-year-old policeman (who had been with the police since he was 14) tending to his wounded friend. He was in a jovial mood, amazed he wasnít dead. He said they had been given an order to cut the Talibanís escape route. Instead they were ambushed by the Taliban, ran out of bullets and had no phones to call for backup. "We ran away," he said with a nervous giggle. "The Taliban chased us, shouting: ĎHey, sons of Bush! Where are you going? We want to kill you.í"
Last month, NATO forces struck back around Panjwai with artillery and aerial bombardments, killing an estimated 500 Taliban fighters and destroying homes and schools. But unless NATO can stay for years, create a trustworthy police force and spend the millions necessary to regenerate the district, the Taliban will be back.
The new Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are of three basic types. There are the old war-addicted jihadis who were left out of the 2001 Bonn conference, which determined the postwar shape of Afghan politics and the carve-up of the country. There are the "second generation" Afghan refugees: poor, educated in Pakistanís madrasas and easily recruited by their elders. And then there are the young men who had jobs and prestige in the former Taliban regime and were unable to find a place for themselves in the new Afghanistan.
Coincidentally, there are also now three fronts. One is led by Mullah Omarís council in Quetta. The second is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a hero of the jihad against the Soviets who joined the Taliban. Although well into his 80ís, he orchestrates insurgent attacks through his sons in Paktia, Khost and Paktika, the Afghan provinces close to Waziristan, where he is based. Finally, there is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former leader of Hezb-i-Islami, the anti-Soviet fighters entrusted with the most money and arms by the U.S. and Pakistan. He had opposed the Taliban, living in uneasy exile in Iran until the U.S. persuaded Tehran to boot him out; he sneaked into the mountainous eastern borderlands. Since the early days of Karzaiís government, he has promised to organize Mullah Omarís followers with his educated cadres and finance their jihad against Karzai and the American invaders. Old competitors are coming together in much the way the mujahedeen factions cooperated to fight the Russians. Hekmatyar adds a lethal ingredient to this stew: his ties and his followers extend all through Afghanistan, including the north and the west, where he is exploiting factional grievances that have nothing to do with the Pashtun discontent in the south.
Mullah Omar named a 10-man leadership council ... Smaller councils were created for every province and district. Most of this was done from the safety of Pakistan, and in 2003 Mullah Omar dispatched Mullah Dadullah to the madrasas of Baluchistan and Karachi to gather the dispersed Talibs and find fresh recruits. Pakistani authorities were reportedly seen with him. Still, neither Musharraf nor his military men in Baluchistan did anything to arrest him.
There are many theories for why Pakistan might have wanted to help the Taliban reconstitute themselves. Afghan-Pakistani relations have always been fraught. One among the many disputes has to do with the Durand Line, the boundary drawn up by the British in 1893 partly to divide the Pashtun tribes, who were constantly revolting against the British. The Afghan government has never recognized this line, which winds its way from the Hindu Kush mountains of North-West Frontier Province 1,500 miles down to the deserts of Baluchistan, as its border. Nor have the Pashtun tribes. The Pakistanis may hope to force Karzai to recognize the Durand line in exchange for stability.
Another theory is that Musharraf must appease the religious parties whom he needs to extend his power past the end of his term next year. Musharraf bought them off, gave them control of the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan and let them use the Taliban. And finally, the Pakistanis see Afghanistan as their rightful client. They want an accommodating regime, not Karzai, whose main backers are the U.S. and India, Pakistanís nemesis.
Pakistanís well-established secular Pashtun nationalist political leaders remain distraught that their lands have again become sanctuaries for the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani religious parties, which, since elections in 2002, rule these provinces and are completing a Talibanization of the region. The secular leaders point to another layer in Pakistanís games: keeping the tribal areas autonomous enables Pakistanís intelligence services to ward off the gaze of Westerners and keep their jihadis safely tucked away.
One thing you notice if you visit the homes of retired generals in Pakistan is that they live in a lavish fashion typical of South Americaís dictatorship-era military elite. They control most of the countryís economy and real estate, and like President Musharraf, himself a former general, they do not want to relinquish power.
Since 2001, some of Waziristanís tribes have refused to hand over Qaeda members living among them. Under intense American pressure, Pakistan agreed for the first time in its history to invade the tribal areas. Hundreds of civilians and soldiers were killed. American helicopters were seen in the region, as were American spies. The militants (with some army accomplices) retaliated with two assassination attempts against Musharraf late in 2003. He struck back, but as the civilian casualties mounted and the military began to balk at killing Pakistanis, Musharraf agreed to a deal in the spring of 2004 whereby the militants would give up their guests in return for cash. Pakistani officers and the militants hugged and shed tears during a public reconciliation. But the militants did not relinquish their Al Qaeda guests, and they took advantage of the amnesty to execute tribal elders they said had helped the Pakistani military. The tribal structure in Waziristan was devastated, and the Taliban took to the streets to declare the Islamic emirate of Waziristan. Since Musharraf signed a truce with the militants last month, attacks launched from Waziristan into Afghanistan, according to NATO, have risen by 300 percent.
By 2003 and 2004, Musharrafís men were becoming hysterical about what they saw as a growing Indian presence in Afghanistan, particularly the Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, the Pashtun strongholds that Pakistan considered its own turf. Karzai was doing business with Indians and Americans and was no longer a Pashtun whom Pakistanis would want to do business with.
As Sethi spoke, I recalled a meeting I had with one of Kandaharís prominent tribal leaders. He recounted a visit from a former Pakistani general who had been active in the I.S.I. The general invited Kandaharís leaders to lunch and warned them not to let the Indians put a consulate in Kandahar and to remember who their real benefactors were. Today there is a consulate there, and Indian films and music are sweeping through the Pashtun lands. What is more, many Pakistanis believe India is backing the Baluch insurgency in Pakistanís far south, clouding the prospects for the new, Chinese-built port in Gwadar. The port is Pakistanís single largest investment in its economic future and has been attacked by Baluch rebels.
In many ways, Pakistani policy is already looking beyond both Karzai and the Americans; they believe it is prudent to imagine a future with neither. That future will be shaped by the past: the past with India, the past with the Soviet Union, the past with America. For Pakistanís hard-liners, at least, the obvious choice was to take their assets off the shelf and restart the jihad.
For an interesting narrative on how the US forces are fighting the Taliban, I would recommend the second part of Elizabeth Rubin's essay entitled 'Taking the fight to the Taliban' (NY Times Magazine, October 29/06).
The PBS program, Frontline, did a 1-hour documentary on the resurging Taliban recently. There appears to be substantive overlap - especially in the realm of the involvement of the Pakistani ISI - between the Frontline program and NYT/Rubin's essay.
Nov 5/06 update: Added link to a NYT story on a recent CIA assessment; formatting.
Jan 20/07 update: Added link to a NYT story - among many others in recent days - reporting on the active support of the Taliban by elements of the ISI.
Feb 19/07 update: Changed title to include the Rebirth of Al-Qaeda as chronicled in a New York Times story by Mazzetti and Rhode.