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Monday, October 23, 2006

"On the Road with the Taleban"

This report on the situation in Afghanistan is from the BBC News. It's not encouraging. From an economic standpoint, corruption is a major problem:

On the road with the Taleban, by David Loyn BBC News: NATO troops in Afghanistan have been facing a growing number of suicide bomb attacks. It was hoped the troops would be able to make peace, win friends and provide security for reconstruction projects, but now it seems the regime they removed is beginning to return.

"You destroyed our government and all because of just one guest in our country, Osama," said the man leading the war against the British. We sat late at night in what must have been the women's side of a house commandeered for just that night by a man who stays constantly on the move. ... Taleban soldiers ... filled the room ... as we talked.

Afghans feel that there is not enough to show for the billions spent by the world on their country since 9/11... He was an intelligent man in his 40s, smoother and more groomed than many Talibs I have come across, with delicate hands. ...

The commander waved me away impatiently when I said that the British had come to provide security for reconstruction. "They have had five years and look at the state of the roads here" he said. And that is the biggest problem for the credibility of the British operation in the south. ... Too little of the money promised has made any difference to life here and that is a powerful recruiting tool for the Taleban.

And there is another problem with the roads. As we made our way towards our rendezvous along the main road from Kandahar to the west, Afghanistan's trade lifeline, we were stopped every few minutes at checkpoints. At every one we were asked for money: not much - 10 Afs - about 10p ($0.19) at each one. But they demand more from truck drivers, and the amounts add up.

These checkpoints are not manned by bandits but by soldiers from the newly constituted Afghan National Army, at one point supervised by an American patrol, keeping watch from a discreet distance on the ridge.

Corruption on this road has a powerful symbolic resonance for Afghans, because it was to stop just this kind of casual theft that the Taleban began. Their founding myth is an epic drive from the Pakistani border to Kandahar in 1994, destroying checkpoints manned by rival mujahideen as they went. The Taleban leader Mullah Omar began with 20 men and by the time he arrived in Kandahar he was the head of a movement that went on to take the capital two years later.

That NATO is allowing institutionalised corruption on this same road again is extraordinary. The Taleban can hardly believe their luck since they know what people are saying: NATO and President Karzai are allowing the same kind of corruption that the Taleban stopped in the 90s. So men who had been hedging their bets, are now signing up to fight again against what they see as foreign invaders.

The other key Taleban recruiting tool ... is the increasing violence. Civilian casualties are of course inevitable in any conflict, but this British force was supposed to be providing protection for those rebuilding the country. ...

Those at the centre of this resurgent Taleban force are the same single-minded Muslims I remember from the time when I travelled with them in the late 90s. They observe their interpretation of Islamic law to the letter, and support the primitive conservative values of the villages in this region. ...

The commander told me that mistakes were made during the years of Taleban rule. They did not want to impose themselves so harshly this time, yet playing host to Osama Bin Laden was not one of the mistakes he was talking about.

He said there were hundreds of suicide bombers now waiting to attack the British-led forces. He was having to hold them back because if they all came at once there would be chaos. He justified the tactic as a valuable weapon in a war which now looks unwinnable for  NATO without destruction on an unthinkable scale.

    Posted by on Monday, October 23, 2006 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (13)

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