Friday, March 30, 2007
Latest News from the Afghan Front
Seth wanted to put things in the larger context of how and why insurgencies thrive. Insurgencies usually get off the ground for two reasons--the first is an incompetent indigenous government often with legitimacy problems unable to provide security and services; the second is having outside support in terms of aid, equipment and sanctuary.
In Afghanistan, and particularly in Kandahar province, he noted that there is an almost complete absence of either central government or international presence in the rural areas; by his estimate, some 97 percent of the province. The foreign aid groups are limited to a few urban areas as the rest of the region is not safe for them. Locals identify lack of infrastructure, particularly access to water, as the major problem.
Combine this with a resurgent Taliban which can still draw on support from elements within the Pakistani military, an international jihadi network and the narcotics trade--and the stage is set for a resumption of the insurgency.
The Taliban has also learned from its failures last year particularly its efforts to take Kandahar city and to engage NATO forces in conventional battles. They are now concentrating on developing a rural-based insurgency village by village. (I thought to myself listening to Seth, shades of Mao Zedong).
Alexis Debat who has just returned from Pakistan added some additional points. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are still quite wealthy. And while Pakistan's ISI reports that the Saudi government has been able to interrupt to some extent the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia, Debat called attention to a group of rich Saudi merchants and businessmen operating out of Malaysia ("under the radar") able to fly cash to Peshawar and from there to be disbursed.
Iraq is also playing a role in the development of what he sees as a "new Taliban/new Al-Qaeda" which is more militant. He quoted estimates that some 200-300 Pakistanis have been taking part in the insurgency in Iraq and have returned bringing new techniques with them--including much more sophisticated IEDs which have now made their first appearances in this region of the world.
However, he also cautioned not to assume we are dealing with a monolithic organization. THere are significant splits and a wide diversity of groups--he estimates some 25 different organizations operating in Waziristan. There are sources of tension as traditional tribal leaders and patron-client networks have been displaced by the new arrivals, and there is ethnic tension as well, citing problems in the tribal areas between locals and outsiders such as Uzbeks. "Allegiances are very short-lived" in this part of the world, which presents us with both difficulties but also opportunities.
The reason is that you are excluding Iran - the only state that is economically capable of enabling the Afghan economic development. Without Afghan economic development, her stability is a pipe-dream.
And I am not even going to discuss the failure of the German efforts in the training of the Afghan police - which could have been performed more cheaply and more effectively by the Iranian Police for reasons of language, religion, and culture.