Embedded With the Taliban

From CounterPunch, 03 Sept 2009:

Ron Jacobs: Embedded With the Taliban

Anand Gopal is a reporter based in Kabul who has reported from all parts of Afghanistan (the following are his statements in an interview with Ron Jacobs):

I have some well-placed Taliban contacts and I was offered a chance to come out and see how the insurgents really operate. Since there is so little about this in public domain, it seemed like an excellent opportunity.

Passing from Kabul to the rural countryside where the Taliban holds sway was pretty illuminating: all traces of government presence vanish and instead the streets are filled with gun-toting insurgents. The Taliban rule through fear, but they also have a degree of support in the areas in which they exist. In some cases I saw locals coming up and offering them food or shelter.

The insurgents, like most rural Afghans, were uneducated and not very worldly. However, they managed to develop a somewhat sophisticated analysis of the situation in Afghanistan. They felt that they were fighting to free their country from foreign oppression, and they felt that they were fighting to preserve their culture and values.

We shouldn’t read this to mean that they are heroic guerrillas or liberators of the Afghan people. They represent the values and outlook of rural Pashtun life, something that is not applicable to the rest of society, whether that be the urban population or non-Pashtun ethnic groups. This is why, for example, the Taliban has little support among these groups.

The insurgency is certainly getting stronger.

The amount of area it controls grows yearly, and in the Pashtun areas it is much stronger than the Afghan government.

Undercutting the growth of the insurgency would require bringing development, providing jobs and opportunities for social advancement to rural Pashtuns.  It would also require bringing an honest and responsive government.

The number of civilian casualties do appear to be down from last year, although its very difficult to say with certainly since many such cases are not reported.

In many places where the insurgents operate, for example, they enjoy the active support and protection of the locals.

McChrystal’s order to bar international forces from starting fights with militants near the homes of Afghan civilians would mean that very little fighting happens at all, since the Taliban (for example) are rooted in the villages and operate there.

McChrystal has made clear that the military component is only part of the strategy to turn things around here–equally if not more important is bringing good governance and economic opportunities. There has been no announcement of a plan to do this, nor is the military capable of doing it, so I suspect that the military will continue fall back on what it does best–fighting.

[the] same day that McChrystal announced his revamped counterinsurgency doctrine, U.S. forces raided a hospital, for example–a clear violation of international law and the new doctrine.

The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are distinct entities.

there are Pakistani Taliban commanders who don’t fight against Islamabad and focus their energies solely in Afghanistan, for example.

overall the Pakistani Taliban has very little presence in Afghanistan, while the Afghan Taliban don’t fight in Pakistan.

The Afghan Taliban are products of the war-ravaged rural Afghan countryside. The Pakistani Taliban however are as much the product of the gross social and economic inequalities of the Pakistani tribal areas as they are of the events in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban tend to attack village chiefs and some landowners, creating an almost Robin Hood air about them–one of the reasons for their initial support amongst local populations–whereas the Afghan Taliban do nothing of the sort. The latter are allied with village chiefs and landlords. In Afghanistan, however, 30 years of warfare have eroded tribal structures in many parts of the country and we rarely see the Taliban caught up in tribal conflicts.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Also see reporter Nir Rosen on Afghanistan

Nir Rosen on the Growing Afghanistan War. Democracy Now 9/1/09, 1 of 2



Nir Rosen on his embedding with the Taliban (October 2008)


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