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|Topic: White Mans Medicine|
Joined: 25 July 2004
Location: United Kingdom
Online Status: Offline
| Topic: White Mans Medicine
Posted: 16 September 2006 at 6:58am
Poor poor white man's medicine. One shot - 23 side effects. Now, five years in Kabul and everyone wants to . . . .
Better paid, better armed, better connected - Taliban rise again
Reedi Gul is probably dead now. Twoweeks ago masked gunmen abducted the 24-year-old on a lonely mountain road in central Afghanistan. The next day his father, Saleh Gul, received a phone call, and realised he was the real target.
"I am an Afghan Muslim Talib," the voice announced. "If you want to see your son alive, listen carefully."
Three weeks earlier Saleh Gul had been appointed governor of an insurgent-infested district in Ghazni province. The Taliban demanded he quit his job, pay a ransom, attack US forces and assassinate local officials.
Mr Gul paid $2,000 and resigned his position, but refused to kill. "I am not a terrorist," he barked down the phone. So the Taliban added an impossible demand: the freedom of an imprisoned commander.
Last Sunday their deadline passed. "Still no news," the anguished father said four days later. "I think they have killed him by now." Mr Gul's face was lined with worry but his voice rang with anger. "I had warned the government this might happen. I told them Taliban was taking over. Why can't they stop them?"
That question is resounding across Afghanistan following a summer of chaos. In the south war has gripped Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where British and Canadian troops are stationed. In the past fortnight Nato has launched a blistering offensive, killing more than 500 Taliban, to stave off an attack on Kandahar city - a previously unthinkable notion.
Elsewhere, suicide bombers are striking with Baghdad-like brazenness. In the boldest attack yet, last week two American soldiers and 14 Afghans were shredded by a huge blast outside the US embassy in Kabul, one of the country's most tightly guarded areas.
Opium cultivation has soared. This year Afghanistan will produce more heroin than western addicts can consume. The main hub of cultivation is British-controlled Helmand. Since August 1 Britain and Canada have each lost 11 soldiers in combat, a high toll for what was originally presented as a peacekeeping mission.
It was not meant to be like this. When American troops started to flounder in Iraq after 2003 President George Bush lauded Afghanistan as a major victory. When presidential and parliamentary elections passed peacefully, his generals wrote the insurgency off. "The Taliban is a force in decline," declared Major General Eric Olson 18 months ago.
Today, to many observers those words look foolish. While northern and western Afghanistan remain stable, President Hamid Karzai is isolated and unpopular. Comparisons of the southern war with Vietnam are no longer considered outlandish. And dismayed western diplomats - the architects of reconstruction - are watching their plans go up in smoke. "Nobody saw this coming. It's pretty dire," admitted one official in Kabul.
No single factor explains the slide. But some answers can be found in Ghazni, a central province considered secure until earlier this year. Now it is on the frontline of the Taliban advance, just a two-hour drive from Kabul.
In the past two months the Taliban has swept across the southern half of the province with kidnappings, assassinations and gun battles. American officials believe Andar district, a few miles from their base in Ghazni town, is the Taliban hub for four surrounding provinces. This week they launched a drive in Andar, searching houses and raking buildings with helicopter gunship fire into a Taliban compound. At least 35 people died including a mother and two children.
"We've warned people they may see soldiers shooting in their villages. I tell them this is the price of peace and freedom," said US commander Lieutenant Colonel Steven Gilbert.
Travel along the Kabul-Kandahar highway that slices through Ghazni - once a symbol of western reconstruction - has become a high-stakes game of power. The Taliban sporadically mount checkpoints, frisking Afghans for ID cards, phone numbers or any other sign of a link to the government or foreign organisations. Those caught are beaten, kidnapped or killed. Foreigners travel south by plane, passing high over the road they once boasted about.
In the surrounding villages people are frightened and angry. In Qala Bagh district bands of 20 to 30 fighters descend at night. They demand food, shelter or a son to join the fighting, said Maulvi Aladat, the new district chief. A judge, a school principal and the local director of education have been assassinated in the past two months. The two girls' schools are closed.
The government offers scant protection. Ghazni's untrained police are outnumbered and outgunned. Huddled inside poorly protected compounds with few radios or vehicles, they are little match for large Taliban squads armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The US-trained Afghan army is curiously absent. Ghazni has just 280 soldiers, according to the governor, Sher Alam Ibrahimi. Although on paper the army has 35,000 soldiers, desertion rates are believed to be high.
After his cousin was abducted by the Taliban, Yar Muhammad appealed to the provincial and national authorities for help. None came. Days later the body of his cousin - an education department official who offended by teaching girls - was discovered on a stretch of desert. "The government did absolutely nothing. They didn't even help to find the body," he said bitterly.
Local government is plagued by corruption and weak leadership. Ibrahimi, a former warlord, seems an unlikely candidate for governor with his grindingly slow speech and murky background that includes allegations of war crimes. Many believe Mr Karzai appointed him for his links to a more powerful warlord now in parliament.
Disillusionment with the president, who once promised so much, is high. "We are like a herd with no shepherd," said one elder. In desperation, his government has doubled the number of police through the use of arbikays - untrained tribal fighters paid directly by the governor. They are a mixed blessing. On Wednesday Dawlat Khan, one of the arbikay commanders, stormed into the police chief's office in Ghazni, bursting with anger. "The Taliban attacked my house. My wife and children were inside. What sort of government do we have that cannot protect us!" he yelled.
Mr Khan typifies the compromises Mr Karzai has had to make to maintain law and order. A life-long warrior with a fierce and unsmiling face, he has a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality. Lt Col Gilbert said Mr Khan was "covered in blood" the first time they met. But he is a fierce foe of the Taliban, standing to fight when trained policemen scurry away. "In an environment where peace is the norm, he wouldn't have a place," Lt Col Gilbert said. "But after 30 years of war, famine and fighting, you don't have the luxury of saying I don't want these hard core guys."
Poverty also fuels the fighting. Several elders said the Taliban was offering upwards of 20,000 rupees (£180) a month to local unemployed men. Western officials are beginning to scrutinise the source of the funds.
Mr Khan told the Guardian the militants have bigger guns and more fighters. They have powerful friends. Several times he had collared Taliban fighters only to discover days later they had been released following a call from a powerful politician or influential tribal leader. They also have surprising amounts of money.
Last year, he said, he captured two insurgents, "one of them alive". Mr Khan asked him why he was fighting. The man replied: "You are being paid 5,000 Afghanis (£54). I am making 20,000 Pakistani rupees. So now you tell me why you are fighting."
This year the Taliban formed an alliance with drug kingpins, offering to protect poppy farmers and smugglers in exchange for a cut of the $3bn trade. But diplomats believe most funding comes from fundamentalist sympathisers in Pakistan and the Middle East. Some believe governments may be also involved.
"I would be shocked if the Saudi intelligence service and the Kuwaitis were not trying to find ways to get money to the Taliban," said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA agent with 20 years' experience in the region.
Many Afghans are bewildered by the west's failure to bring the fight to the heart of the problem - neighbouring Pakistan. Maulvi Aladat pointed to the glowing horizon. "It is as clear as the sun is setting," he said. "Everyone knows where they are trained and funded, where the suicide bombers come from. Everyone knows."
Military officers and diplomats also say Pakistan's tribal belt is the engine room of the insurgency. From its remote mountain sanctuaries along the border the Taliban has re-emerged from the shadows as a potent force. Two shuras, or tribal councils, coordinate the attacks - one in the western city of Quetta, the other in South Waziristan, a lawless tribal area that is also a crucible of al-Qaida terrorism.
In an interview published yesterday, a senior Dutch officer estimated that 40% of Taliban fighters come "straight from Pakistan". The steady flow meant that Nato operations, despite their successes, were "like trying to mop with the tap still open", said Colonel Arie Vermeij.
Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, said that after being driven into Pakistan's tribal areas in late 2001 the Taliban "reconstituted their command structure, recruitment networks, and support bases ... while Afghans waited in vain for the major reconstruction effort they expected to build their state and improve their lives".
Joanna Nathan, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said closing down the Pakistani staging areas was vital. "This conflict will never be more than contained without stamping on the staging posts and sanctuaries in Pakistan."
Western officials are also divided about the sincerity of Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, in combating the Taliban. In Kabul last week he offered his help in defeating the Taliban, later describing them as a "bigger threat than al-Qaida". But that was undermined by a deal with tribal militants in Waziristan. In return for Pakistan soldiers withdrawing to base, the pro-Taliban militants undertook to stop harbouring foreign fighters and to halt cross-border infiltration. Within hours of the deal being inked, some tribal leaders claimed there had never been any foreigners in their area.
Last Sunday - two days after Mr Musharraf left Kabul - a man wearing an explosive vest hurled himself at a vehicle containing Abdul Hakim Taniwal, the governor of Pakita province. The killer is believed to have come from Waziristan.
Friends said Mr Taniwal, a university professor who returned from Australia to serve his country on pay of $200 a month, was the sort of man Afghanistan needs. He had argued for reconciliation with the Taliban and a resolution of tensions with Pakistan. He was a good man among rogues. "Many governors are former commanders involved in drug trafficking, land grabbing and corruption. Why did they kill this one? Because he was completely clean and a wise man of peace," said Mr Rubin. "It is a big blow against peace."
Shutting down the Pakistani sanctuaries would not necessarily end the insurgency. This year the Taliban's strength has been nourished by a new source: heroin. After spurning the opium trade as un-Islamic and immoral, this year the Taliban leadership reversed its position and allied with drug smugglers. The 59% surge in opium production to an unprecedented 6,100 tonnes will swell the Taliban war chest. "This is going to put a lot more money into the pockets of the insurgency," said one drug official.
More ominously, the drugs boom feeds cynicism about the Karzai government. "You can't tell poor farmers not to grow drugs and then you have civil servants driving a luxury car and living in a huge house," said Ms Nathan.
Dismay about the drugs epidemic has given way to arguments about how to tackle it. US and European military commanders, particularly the British, insist their troops should not get directly involved in fighting the trade. This week the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, called on them to wade in. "Counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics efforts must reinforce each other so as to stop the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorists and terrorists protecting drug traffickers," he said, calling on Nato to destroy heroin labs, disband drug bazaars, attack convoys and arrest smugglers.
The speed and scale of this summer's violence has disoriented both Afghans and foreigners. In the south outlandish theories that the US is covertly supporting the Taliban, or that British troops have come to avenge colonial-era defeats, are common.
The underlying factors - cross-border sanctuaries, corrupt governance and drugs - have been in place for years. But what changed is the aggressive Nato deployment. After a difficult start, Nato has scored some successes. With more than 500 Taliban killed in Panjwayi, the Taliban stronghold west of Kandahar, soon the area will be cleared of insurgents, said the British commander, Lieutenant General David Richards. With luck, Nato hopes it will soon revert to its original goal, facilitating aid projects and strengthening the Karzai government.
But others question whether an insurgency can be defeated by death tolls alone. The only durable solution is to talk to the Taliban, said Wadir Safi of the University of Kabul. "Without negotiation this could go on for decades. The government must accept the Taliban as partners in these areas. You can't simply kill them all."
Afghans have a long history of ejecting foreign armies. The good news for Nato is that most still believe the military visitors are a force for good. "People are tired of fighting. Nobody wants to go back to that," said one official in Ghazni, who requested anonymity. "But if the people are disappointed much more, they could unite against the foreign forces. History could repeat itself."
Chronology: From victory to bloody stalemate in five years
March Taliban blow up giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan
January First contingent of International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) peacekeepers in place
August Nato takes over security in Kabul
October and November Hamid Karzai declared the winner of presidential elections, with 55% of the vote. He is sworn in, amid tight security, in December
September First parliamentary and provincial elections
January 4 UK government announces deployment of 3,400 British troops to Helmand province
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