While it may be nice to see the resurgence of news about Afghanistan in the U.S., there remains a great deal of complexity to the country. That isn't even discussing what Azar Balkhi sees as the Coalition's inability to recognize tribal rivalries when calling in air strikes.
It is nevertheless worth considering. The bombing at Shindand is but one problem facing the often neglected west of Afghanistan. Typically thought to be more stable, and more secure, and more prosperous than the rest of the country (it is), Herat nevertheless faces some enormous challenges, starting with the so-called “Tajik Taliban.” As Tim Foxely explains,
The idea that now other ethnic groups are starting to emulate, if not actually join, the Taliban and conduct resistance against the Kabul regime lies somewhere between “a very real cause for concern” and “everybody's worst nightmare”. It evokes the “tipping point” concerns of ISAF commanders past and present that the population might eventually get fed up with tens of thousands of international soldiers charging around dropping bombs on them and a corrupt government that fails to deliver and shift their allegiances elsewhere. The other angle is the very high likelihood that Akbari was sacked from his position for being corrupt or incompetent or both and is therefore having nothing more than a big sulk, Afghan warlord style. As such, it would be a localised and exceptional situation and probably nothing to worry about.
This is an excellent summary of just how difficult it is to determine which problems in Afghanistan require serious consideration and near-panic, and which ones are, for lack of a better term, cyclical variations in a standard conflict pattern.
Kandahar bazaar during Ramadan, courtesy Flickr user Chooyutshing.
This can manifest itself in a couple of ways. Alex Strick van Linschoten, for example, just returned to Kandahar from a few weeks abroad. What has he noticed upon his return?
If there’s one thing two weeks abroad (California and London) does it gives a certain perspective on the things you quickly accept as ‘normal’ when living in Kandahar. If someone would unholster his pistol and place it on the table at Café Nero in London I think they’d have a problem or two, but in Kandahar I don’t blink twice when interviewees or friends come in off the street and lay their AK-47 or even once an RPG next to the wall.
Otherwise the city’s pretty quiet.
Indeed. Further north, Harry Rud wanders through the trash-filled streets of Kabul, and remarks on just how disconnected foreigners can fell when locked inside their armored compounds:
Many foreigners here are not allowed to step foot outside their compounds, have lists of places they can and (more often) cannot go to, and strict rules about how high the walls, how thick the barbed wire, how many armed guards surround them. It is not a situation most want or enjoy. It drives many to distraction. I am lucky to be able to walk a little further, though it gives me no greater feel for the place when I’m too nervous to stop and look around me.
It’s hard to describe the causes of that nervousness. There’s the obvious but unlikely risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then there’s that disconnect; the sense of us and them it breeds, of being so very out of place and watched by an unknown crowd. A bird-like suspicion, to stretch the point.
But this raises the question: just what, exactly, is the West doing in Afghanistan after seven years of occupation? Azar Balkhi notes that in the West, there seems to be mindless panic but no real sense of urgency:
Pakistani Taliban fighters openly flogged two butchers for selling the flesh of animals in the northwestern Swat valley today September 25, and in the same day the Pakistani soldiers fired at American reconnaissance helicopters that were escorting U.S. ground troops along the volatile border Thursday, sparking a five-minute ground battle between the countries.
This is all happening as President Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai are promising
Washington help in the war on terror and meeting with the top American leaders in New York…
Heavily armed Taliban fighters brought the blindfolded butchers to a crowded market in Kabal sub-district and flogged them in front of a throng of about 200 people. The media was also called by the Taliban to cover the event but there is no any government to stop them.
Which brings us back to where we started: Afghanistan's extreme complexity. The latest meme to be making the rounds of policy offices in London, Washington DC, and Brussels, is negotiating with the Taliban. Christian Bleuer wonders:
* what “Taliban” (Quetta Shura? Local semi-autonomous commanders? Hizb? Haqqanis? Others? all at the same time?)
* and if answer is “Moderate Taliban” then please define who exactly they are.
* don’t you already consider the Afghan government’s reconciliation program to be a form of negotiation?
* do you really not know about the Afghan government communicating/negotiating with insurgents?
All that being said, there remain bright points of life within Afghanistan. Andrea shares just such a moment, and it really cannot be done proper justice through excerpting. It will have to stand on its own.