Author Topic: Afghanistan  (Read 1578 times)

Jubal

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Afghanistan
« on: September 02, 2021, 06:03:13 PM »
So, I thought I'd do a thread for some updates and discussion on what's going on in Afghanistan. I fear there's going to be a tendency for the world press to start looking away now the US forces have left, so I wanted somewhere to put reports from the region and keep informed.

The situation is basically now that the Taliban control most of Afghanistan... for whatever value of control that means. People seem to be exhausted by fighting and possibly enough are willing to accept Taliban rule in exchange for stability, but this presupposes that's something that the Taliban can provide. Governing a country and fighting an asymmetric war are far from the same skill set. Many Afghans are desperate to get out, some Taliban groups are clearly hunting down supporters of the old regime, and it's not clear what the relationships between different Taliban groups will end up looking like or whether the new government will be able to balance supporting its fighting forces with managing the civilian population. And then there's the issue of ISIS or Al-Qaeda or other such affiliated groups, who seem to have been behind the major bomb attack on Kabul airport and might try to destabilise a Taliban government that they feel is making too many concessions.

There's also the complicating factor of Panjshir, which remains in government hands under former president Ghani's Vice-president, Amrullah Saleh, and the Tajik military leader Ahmad Massoud. Talks between the Taliban and Panjshiris appear to have broken down, and fighting has broken out there in the last couple of days. Both the Taliban and the Panjshir forces have been claiming some success so far: it's quite difficult to ascertain more from the limited media reports. Generally the outside assessments I've seen have suggested that the Taliban's overwhelming advantage in numbers and munitions mean that they are unlikely to fail if they try and capture Panjshir, but I don't know how true that is.


Anyway, some recent notes:

The Hindustan times reports that Tajikistan has honoured Ahmad Massoud's father, which given the timing is presumably at least in part a political statement of favour towards the Panjshiris.

The above conflicting reports on Panjshir are summarised here by NBC.

The Taliban are openly saying that they will rely on Chinese funding for rebuilding. China seems to be seeing the Taliban as a possible ally in its conflict with the Uyghurs. Afghanistan has a small border with China's Xinjiang province, home of most Uyghurs, along the end of the Wakhan Corridor.
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dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2021, 09:58:06 PM »
I'm not sure how many people know that the Taliban often spent more energy in the 2010s fighting Islamic State franchises than the former government and its foreign backers.  (Of course the Taliban had their own foreign backers in Pakistan, but that does not feature much in their English-language propaganda). 

I have seen an estimate that the Taliban was already collecting more taxes from cross-border trade than the former government was a few years ago.

I wonder what relations the new government will have with Iran which shares a border and a language with part of Afghanistan.

If I were a betting man, I would be interested in hearing the odds that Hamid Karzai is alive and free two years from now.  He is playing the Talleyrand game in a place much less nonviolent than Long 19th Century France.



Many people in the former government committed mass murder, serial rape, and other atrocities.  What approach will the new government take to them?  And how will they stop people from taking punishment into their own hands?



Dexter Filkins has an account of fighting and parleying in Afghanistan at the end of the post-Soviet phase of the civil war in 2001 https://scholars-stage.org/fighting-like-taliban/  Foreigners in the oughties also saw networks of washed-out fighting positions above the hulks of armoured vehicles, so there was some deadly serious fighting during the post-Soviet war too.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2021, 12:45:49 AM by dubsartur »

Jubal

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2021, 08:22:12 AM »
I think regarding atrocities, I rather doubt that the Taliban will be very specifically filtering on that, given their own record: nor do I think they'll care if any particular communities attack former government members, as that would from their perspective be rather good propaganda for themselves as "liberators". Members of the former government are probably in more danger as a result of their membership of said government, as far as the Taliban are concerned, than for any crimes they committed. I think the Taliban will also be quite willing to bring some people on board who are willing to come on board on their terms - again, regardless of atrocities. It's noticeable that of the opposition military leaders, they often have strong personal or ideological reasons to hate the Taliban or extreme Islamism generally, rather than simply being poor personal fits for the new regime (Saleh had family members tortured by the Taliban, Massoud's father was assassinated).

Also, from the best evidence we have available, for all its myriad faults the old regime was probably more popular than the Taliban are, at least among the bulk of the population around urban centres, and that may only be compounded if the Taliban make any missteps in the near future. And that might be even more the case with some especially grim figures: Abdul Rashid "Old Music and Whiskey" Dostum, for example, is very likely a war criminal but is at the same time very popular among Afghanistan's Uzbeks by all accounts.

I think the point on Karzai is interesting: besides the somewhat risky nature of any Afghan politics I'm not sure Karzai has quite the skill and capital of Talleyrand. I'm not sure how the violence levels actually compare for politicians as opposed to civilians: revolutionary France did have a lot of assassinations, not to mention things like the purge of the Girondins.

On a related note, it's arguable that Dostum and Atta Noor have been a bit more sensible in ensuring they weren't in the country before negotiating, though given the failure of negotiations with Massoud it seems unlikely the Noor & Dostum factions will get any leeway with the Taliban.



Fighting in Panjshir seems to be continuing, with both sides claiming significant successes: it's really impossible to tell what's actually going on. Pro-Panjshiri twittter accounts have reported territory gains and hundreds of Taliban losses, whereas pro-Taliban accounts claim that most of Panjshir is now under control. It's perhaps notable that the Taliban forces have suggested a ban on posting videos from the area, nominally for operation security reasons but this might also imply they're covering up a slightly less rosy picture than they'd like to portray.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2021, 08:52:55 AM by Jubal »
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dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2021, 06:43:56 PM »
Between 2001 and 2011, a lot of people in Kandahar city were saying that Hamid Karzai was instrumental in inviting in the Talaban in 1994.  But the pot which was taken to the well one time too often was broken.

Fighting in Panjshir seems to be continuing, with both sides claiming significant successes: it's really impossible to tell what's actually going on. Pro-Panjshiri twittter accounts have reported territory gains and hundreds of Taliban losses, whereas pro-Taliban accounts claim that most of Panjshir is now under control. It's perhaps notable that the Taliban forces have suggested a ban on posting videos from the area, nominally for operation security reasons but this might also imply they're covering up a slightly less rosy picture than they'd like to portray.
There was the case of the Tigray revolt in Ethiopia a few months ago where the government occupied the cities, imposed a news blackout, and withdrew with its tail between its legs.  But I am honestly not trying to follow because Afghanistan has had far too many Anglos who don't even speak Dari (an easy language for English speakers) pronounce on its internal affairs.  In Afghanistan, the people (under the old definition) have spoken.  Because of that old definition, they probably made a very different choice than a poll of the whole population would have.


My impression (from random people on the Internet claiming to be Afghans, and quotes in news) is that there is very great confusion about what is happening even for people who speak the languages and have local contacts.  I am reasonably confident that the Taliban are not nearly so acceptable to the population in general as they were to the men with weapons and training, and that Hamid Karzai was one of the ones negotiating with the Taliban about what would replace the republic and the deputy treasury minister who walked into his office one morning to find out that the government had fled was not.

Edit: I think I am thinking of Ajmal Ahmadi https://nitter.eu/aahmady 
« Last Edit: September 04, 2021, 06:08:29 AM by dubsartur »

Jubal

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2021, 12:05:02 PM »
Yes, agreed on the confusion - the Taliban now claim to be in complete control of Panjshir - the Panjshiris still dispute this.
 
Quote
I wonder what relations the new government will have with Iran which shares a border and a language with part of Afghanistan.
My understanding is "pretty bad" - Iran after all is Shiite, and Deobandi Islam is a Sunni sect, my understanding is that some of the Taliban's genesis involved backing from governments keen to see a counterbalance to Shiite influence in Afghanistan. Iran has today come out with a statement that "There is only a political solution to Panjshir and the siege of Panjshir is by no means acceptable in terms of international law and humanitarian law." So, it doesn't sound like they're planning to be best mates.
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dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2021, 04:35:07 PM »
Has anyone seen any commentary on Afghanistan in the past 10 years which believed the republic would last four years after the foreign troops left and was not an empty-headed pundit or a press release by those troops or the former regime?  People seem surprised by the fact of the fall and not just that it was a few months earlier than expected.


Eg. former Staff College teacher Gwynne Dyer, 6 July 2021

Quote
Everybody in the Afghan national army already knows that the war is lost. So the U.S. intelligence reports predicting that Ashraf Ghani’s puppet government (the term is not too harsh) could fall within six to twelve months of a U.S. troop withdrawal are too optimistic.

The last German, Italian and British troops left Afghanistan last week, and the last US troops are leaving right now, apart from some 650 soldiers to guard the American embassy and the airport. (Always hold the airport, because people lined up on the embassy roof waiting for the last helicopter out is a bad look.)

But Kabul may fall in a lot less than six months. The Taliban already hold at least half the country and they are currently taking new districts literally every day, including ones only an hour’s drive north and south of the capital. The army is just melting away, and the air force will be grounded within weeks once the foreign technical support goes home.


Yes, agreed on the confusion - the Taliban now claim to be in complete control of Panjshir - the Panjshiris still dispute this.
 
There is also the rumour that Pakistani aircraft are supporting the assault on Panjshir.  Since the Cuban Revolution its been notorious that the worst thing a minor power can do to the USA is humiliate it, and the USA does not need Pakistani supply lines into Afghanistan any more (the corrolerary of a geopolitical theorem first published in 1955).  So parts of the US government may try to hurt the Pakistani military regime in ways they could not when they found Bin Laden hiding just outside the Pakistani military academy.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2021, 08:30:51 PM by dubsartur »

stormwell

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #6 on: September 07, 2021, 09:22:10 AM »
When I get the chance later, I'll post some stuff that may make interesting reading/viewing....the Forces News channel on Youtube have done a few vids about Afghanistan's possible future.
Considering I've been trying to join the RAF since 2008 looks like I dodged a bullet here.

Jubal

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #7 on: September 07, 2021, 11:21:31 AM »
I almost wonder if Afghanistan would have lasted longer with an earlier pull-out: it feels like the Taliban built their capacity better than the Afghan government did. I suspect it may be the case that Ghani's government operated a sensible long-term strategy that involved weakening military resilience in the short term, As I understand it Ghani pushed hard on building a single, functional Afghan National Army at the expense of warlords' forces and militias, but that project was only really going strong from the middle of the last decade and was badly hampered by corruption, so may have increased reliance on foreign support to hold off the Taliban - fatal when the rug got pulled. Obviously I'm not an expert and am just spitting theories here, but I can imagine that having been part of the issue.

The Taliban have released videos of them raising flags in the Panjshiri capital, but the Panjshiris are still disputing their control of the area verbally (and presumably also militarily or there'd be nobody to dispute it verbally). And there have been big anti-Taliban protests in Kabul.
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stormwell

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #8 on: September 07, 2021, 04:20:02 PM »
Believe the two big issues with Afghanistan has been widespread corruption and the fact that the warlords fought for whoever happened to be paying them at the time, meaning that they were happy to switch to the Taliban when ISAF stopped paying and vice versa.
But as I said, will post some time when I have time.

dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #9 on: September 07, 2021, 05:45:40 PM »
As I understand it Ghani pushed hard on building a single, functional Afghan National Army at the expense of warlords' forces and militias, but that project was only really going strong from the middle of the last decade and was badly hampered by corruption, so may have increased reliance on foreign support to hold off the Taliban - fatal when the rug got pulled.
I think quite a few militias in Iraq and Afghanistan were created by the foreign forces trying to boost their numbers (as in, they talked to people and said "we can give you arms and uniforms and salaries if you provide a hundred men").  Often they had some corporal give the new militia an Arabic or Pashtu or Dari name so they could claim it was indigenous.  And of course a lot of these militias turned to extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murder, but its hard to take back the weapons once you have handed them out and declared that you can't control the area without them.

Various sources are reporting that the new regime is selling or trading ground vehicles and aircraft to Iran, presumably in exchange for things the new regime can actually use like food and fuel.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2021, 06:48:30 PM by dubsartur »

Jubal

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2021, 11:35:45 AM »
Yes, there has definitely been some western-backed militia creation, but from what I know I wouldn't necessarily say it's a general picture - or at least, in Afghanistan's case, not for this round of foreign forces. A lot of the Afghan militias seem to have roots dating well back into the pre-US-invasion period of the 1990s, and were already well established, though much of that was from fighting for/against the Soviets or Taliban etc etc previousl. Iraq is a very different case because it had been much more stable for much longer previously (in a very oppressive and brutalised way), and there much of the problem seems to have been the way the US just disabanded all the Saddam-era police and army and were then baffled as to why suddenly there were a lot of unemployed, upset men with guns wandering around.

The new interim government has been announced, to a backdrop of women protesting at the lack of women in power, the destruction of the women's ministry and the return of the vice and virtue ministry, not one of the more popular things people remember of Taliban rule in the past. The reporting I'm seeing is that it's mostly pretty hardline stuff.
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dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2021, 02:51:54 AM »
Its too expensive for me in hardcover in my current circumstances, but the Brits on this forum might be interested in this ethnography: Simon Akam, The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11 (2021)  I flipped through a physical copy, C.J. Chivers has an interview with the author.

dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #12 on: September 27, 2021, 12:26:54 AM »
Sarah Chayes (who I had never heard of before August) has a series of blog posts on the situation based on her contacts after she gave up on the NATO intervention and stopped living in Kabul after 2011 https://www.sarahchayes.org/blog-1

dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2022, 08:45:33 PM »
George Packer has a long piece in The Atlantic about how the current US presidency seems to have had two goals in Afghanistan: for as few as possible US soldiers (all volunteers!) to die, and for as few Afghans as possible to reach the United States https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/03/biden-afghanistan-exit-american-allies-abandoned/621307/  There was a much more extensive evacuation when the US lost in Vietnam (whole nations like the Hmong moved to the United States!)

Shame, immortal shame

dubsartur

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Re: Afghanistan
« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2022, 04:38:43 AM »
I am seeing a claim on corporate social media that under cover of the war in Ukraine, the Taliban are searching Kabul block by block and extorting, torturing, and killing whoever they please https://nitter.net/i/status/1497938247099498501 

Per AlArabiya, they have also said they will prevent anyone who worked with NATO forces from leaving the country, and that women can only leave to study with a male guardian.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2022, 05:04:19 AM by dubsartur »