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December 26, 2007
Drugs Driving Violence in Afghanistan
StrategyPage.Com has a devastating analysis of the state of violence in Afghanistan and the factors driving it:
President Karzai believes that foreign troops will have to stay in the country for ten years, before the unrest is eliminated. That’s optimistic. Anarchy in the backcountry is customary, and a tradition going back thousands of years. Among the many rural customs that contribute to the current state of war, is the “right” to raise and maintain private armies. Europeans have not experienced this sort of thing for centuries, but it’s an everyday reality for most Afghans. Tradition, religion, the cutlure itself - all seem to be contributing to the constant unrest that makes governing Afghanistan a nightmare. But throw poppies into the mix and the volatility increases exponentially. A way must be found to destroy the opium-making poppy crop without impoverishing the farmers. And what to do about the non-ideological criminal gangs that ally themselves with whoever pays the most is another question that must be answered before Afghanistan can be at peace.
As early 20th century communist revolutionaries observed; “power comes out of the barrel of a gun.” This is practiced enthusiastically in Afghanistan, and quite openly. It is supported by a web of tribal, religious and cultural customs. These traditions also tolerate bribery of government officials, and switching sides as easily as you would change your clothes.
The Taliban are best understood in terms of tribal warfare, which is, and has been, endemic in Afghanistan for thousands of years. The Taliban represent the tribal and religious customs of a number of Pushtun tribes on both sides of the Pakistani border. The Pushtun tribes have long dominated Afghan politics, because 40 percent of the population is Pushtun (they are a troublesome minority in Pakistan). But the Pushtuns are rarely united, and this is what the “Taliban Wars” are all about.
To further complicate the situation, tribal customs differ considerably, and there are many tribal feuds going back generations. Ironically, the introduction of modern technology has made the situation worse. Pickup trucks and motorcycles make it easier to get around. Raiding people who do not belong to your tribe has been a popular entertainment for thousands of years. Now you can motor to the territory of a distant tribe, commit some profitable mayhem, and be home for a late night snack and a round of boasting. The Internet and satellite telephones (cell phone service is only available in a few large cities) make it possible for likeminded tribal leaders to connect, plan and carry out more mischief.
The SUV and pickup truck make it possible to rapidly mobilize gunmen. The drug money makes it possible to buy guns, SUVs, sat phones and the loyalty of thousands of young gunmen. You can see where this is going. What makes the Taliban a really dangerous group is their belief that God has commanded them to conquer the other tribes. This worked temporarily in the 1990s, but the rapid collapse of Taliban power in late 2001 showed how unpopular they were with most Afghans. That has not changed, but neither has the Taliban. Normally, the supply of fanatic leaders would run our (assassinated or killed in battle) in a few years. But the drug trade has given the Taliban a lifeline, which is why the Afghan government is so desperate to shut down the drug business. That, however, incurs the wrath of more tribes, who have never before had access to this kind of wealth. The increasing truck traffic from Pakistan, carrying consumer goods to the drug rich tribes, is something the tribesmen see as worth dying for
It is not clear whether NATO has the staying power to see this job through to completion. It will take many years and require the maintenance of tens of thousands of troops to protect the national government while efforts are made to build a stable society are under way.
If not NATO, America must commit to this job or Afghanistan will fall back into anarchy and ignorance which could lead to a return of the Taliban and a terrorism supporting government.