Afghans turn to Taliban for order and security

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Attacks against foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan have escalated both in frequency and intensity to a point where large parts of the country are in a state of total insurrection and lawlessness. According to NATO, as of mid-November there were 97 suicide attacks this year that killed 217 people. To get a glimpse of the reality as opposed to the Hollywood-style fiction peddled by the US, here is a summary of the Associated Press Online report for November 26: a suicide-bomber killed 15 people and wounded 24 others, including an Afghan special forces commander and a district chief, at a restaurant in southeastern Paktika province on November 26. A day earlier, there were four separate attacks against NATO forces in different parts of southern Afghanistan. In the Tirin Kot district of Uruzgan province, one NATO soldier was killed; in the Panjwayi district of Qandahar province,three NATO soldiers were injured; in neighbouring Zabul province the Taliban attacked the Arghandab district chief’s compound and clashed with the police for an hour. District chief Fazal Bari claimed one Taliban fighter was killed while the police suffered no casualties. The same night, a police convoy was ambushed on the main Kabul-Qandahar highway in Zabul province, in which incident the Zabul police chief Jainani Khan claimed to have killed one Taliban fighter without giving figures for police casualties.

This is the state of affairs at a time when the Taliban have scaled back their attacks because of secret overtures made to them by Hamid Karzai’s government to arrive at some accommodation. The Americans too have approveded these contacts, albeit discreetly, fully aware that the situation is fast spinning out of control, while leaning hard on Pakistan to do more to stem “cross-border infiltration”. Islamabad has also realised that the Taliban and their sympathisers in the Pakistani tribal belt cannot be defeated militarily so it has embarked on the traditional tribal jirga approach to contain the situation. Whether any of these moves will succeed is an open question. Despite their primitive views, the Taliban are much closer to the sentiments of the people than Karzai or his allied war- and druglords.

A candid assessment of Afghanistan’s grim reality was given by general (retired) Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai, governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), when he told Christina Lamb of the London Times that the British will never win in Afghanistan. "Bring 50,000 more troops and fight for 10 to 15 years more and you won’t resolve it. The British with their history in Afghanistan should have known that better than anyone else," general Orakzai was quoted in the Sunday Times of November 26. Stressing that NATO was ignoring ground realities, the retired general, who hails from Pakistan’s tribal area, stated: "It is no longer an insurgency but a war of Pashtun resistance exactly on the model of the first Anglo-Afghan war."

The plain-speaking general shot back when reminded by Ms Lamb of American, British and Canadian criticism that Pakistan was not doing enough to curb cross-border movement of the Taliban: "We’re physically manning the border; our troops are sitting there on the zero line … Damn it, you also have a responsibility. Go sit on the border, fight like soldiers instead of sitting in your bases." As a soldier, he had open contempt for NATO: "Either they [NATO] are trying to hide their own weaknesses by levelling allegations at Pakistan or they are refusing to admit the facts." According to general Orakzai, dialogue with the Taliban was the only way forward as he listed US/NATO failures in Afghanistan, saying there could be no military solution to the problem.

Appearing before the parliamentary committee on defence, Canadian foreign minister Peter MacKay had alleged on November 23 that 30,000 Pushtuns moved unhindered across the border each day between Pakistan and Afghanistan. One wonders how MacKay arrived at the fantastic figure of 30,000, large enough to be easily spotted from American spy planes and satellites. If true, one must ask why the Americans have not blocked such infiltration themselves or told Pakistan at what points along the border the movement is taking place.

Aware of their own failures, NATO’s top operational commander, general James Jones, lamented on November 23 that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was battling Taliban at 85 percent of full strength despite his repeated calls for more troops and equipment. Jones was speaking on the eve of a NATO conference in Riga, Latvia, but a NATO diplomat poured cold water over his request by saying: "It’s not a quick fix or a pledging conference. That is not what this is about." Everyone–”the Americans, British, Dutch and Canadians–”insist they will "stay the course" in Afghanistan but want Pakistan to do the fighting for them. Pervez Musharraf may not be the smartest general the Pakistan Army has produced, but even he has realised that it is not possible to defeat the Afghans militarily; hence his peace deal with their Pakistani counterparts in North Waziristan last September. During his visit to the US, when he met US President George Bush and Karzai, Musharraf proposed a tribal jirga to discuss details of a compromise formula to end the fighting in Afghanistan. Even Karzai has realised that he has no choice but to agree to this proposal; hence his overtures to the Taliban. It is, however, a different matter whether the Taliban will agree to any such deal. Mullah Umar, the elusive one-eyed leader of the Taliban, had poured scorn over an earlier proposal by Karzai when in a written statement last June he told Karzai: "You cannot rule with the wisdom of foreigners. Once the foreigners have been driven out, then we will talk."

The Taliban ranks have swelled not because people love them but because Karzai is viewed as an American puppet, and he and his warlord allies have brought nothing but shame and disgrace to the Afghan people. There is complete chaos, with no safety or security for anyone, especially in the southern provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan, Zabul and Qandahar. Americans and their allies have used indiscriminate force against ordinary people and killed many, including women and children. These can hardly endear them to the local population, who have seen no improvement in their material existence despite tall promises. Lack of security has brought nostalgic memories of the Taliban era, which, although oppressive, was not mired in corruption or kidnappings of children and women. When faced with such grim choices, the people have opted for the safety that the Taliban at least provided.

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