June 14, 2003
Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan

You remember Afghanistan, right? Here's how things are going over there:

Such is the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, compounded by the return to the country of a large number of former Afghan communist refugees, that United States and Pakistani intelligence officials have met with Taliban leaders in an effort to devise a political solution to prevent the country from being further ripped apart.

According to a Pakistani jihadi leader who played a role in setting up the communication, the meeting took place recently between representatives of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Taliban leaders at the Pakistan Air Force base of Samungli, near Quetta.

Remember how, before the invasion of Iraq, critics said we shouldn't distract our attention from the vital job of rebuilding Afghanistan? Remember how pro-invasion advocates assured everyone that we could handle both places at the same time?

With the withdrawal of the Soviets and the emergence of the Taliban in the early 1990s, though, the situation once again changed. The Taliban, taking advantage of the power struggles among bitterly divided militias in Kabul, consolidated themselves into an effective political movement led by clerics and in 1996 seized power in Kabul. A part of their success also lay in the fact that initially Afghans, especially Pashtuns who make up the majority of the country, were reluctant to take up the gun against clerics.

Now, in the renewed guerrilla war against foreign troops, it is the clerics who are calling the shots. For instance, Hafiz Rahim is the most respected cleric in the Kandahar region, and he commands all military operations from the sanctuary of the mountainous terrain.

The US forces have employed maximum air support and advanced technology in an attempt to curtail attacks, but without the help of local Afghan forces they are unable to track down Hafiz Rahim, who to date has targeted US convoys scores of times. The United States has admitted a few deaths, while the Taliban claim they have killed many more than the official numbers state. For funds, the Taliban use money looted from the central bank before they abandoned Kabul, estimated in excess of US$110 million, in addition to money received from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

At the same time, famed warlord Gulbbudin Hekmatyar has joined the resistance after returning from exile in Iran. His Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) is the most organized force in Afghanistan, and its participation has added real muscle to the resistance. Many top slots in the Kabul administration are occupied by former HIA members who, although they were once anti-Taliban, are loyal to the Islamic cause and anti-US. Also, several provincial governors and top officials are former HIA commanders. They are suspect in the eyes of the Americans, but because of their huge political clout it is impossible to remove them.

With this groundswell of support - even if in places it is only passive - and with Kabul's influence restricted to the capital, the Americans and their allies will remain vulnerable targets, let alone be in a position to restore any form of law and order. It is in situations like this, argue most experts on Afghanistan, that traditionally insurrections begin in the Afghan army against foreign administrators.

But hey, at least we've been careful to maintain our alliances with other countries in all of these foriegn forays. You know, to make sure that we all have the same goals in mind.

At present, Kabul is divided into two main factions. The first is pro-US, which is represented by the US and allied troops and those loyal to President Hamid Karzai. The second is pro-Russian and pro-Iranian, represented by Defense Minister General Qasim Fahim and his Northern Alliance forces. Although the camps are cooperating at present, they are silently building their support bases to make a grab for full power once the present interim administration runs its course, a process that is due to begin in October with a loya jirga (grand council).

In this respect, every returned or returning former "communist comrade" is important, for should the Northern Alliance faction develop sufficient critical mass, it would come as no surprise if its leaders openly forged an alliance with the resistance movement.

Via Atrios, who says "Every time somebody starts complaining that the Democrats need a coherent foreign policy I just want to bang my head against the table and ask them just what the coherent Bush foreign policy is." I totally agree.

To cover my bases here, I'll admit as Jim Henley notes that this story may not be true, and even if it is there's value in intelligence agencies maintaining ties to "out-groups and adversaries". That said, I'm pretty sure that this isn't what the average American has in mind when asked about President Bush's leadership capabilities.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 14, 2003 to Around the world | TrackBack