The US military accidentally killed 9 Afghan soldiers in an air strike on Wednesday, one in a series of mistaken such aerial attacks in recent months, some of which have left behind substantial civilian casualties. Earlier in the Afghanistan war, US commanders had avoided the tactic of air strikes precisely for fear that they would alienate the local population.
Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid have a new piece out in Foreign Affairs that tries to consider the Afghanistan crisis from a different set of angles than the ones most analysts consider.
They point out that Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $9 billion a year and that it cannot collect taxes on very much of it very efficiently, and so cannot afford the size of army and police being proposed for it.
President Hamid Karzai has disappointed a lot of his constituents by failing to deal with violence and the drug trade decisively, and may face difficulty in being reelected.
Journalist Tom Blackwell on how security in Kabul has deteriorated:
‘ I arrived in Kabul from Kandahar last Saturday . . . My translator – or fixer as we say – delivered the bad news before we even left the airport. I could no longer leave my well-barricaded guest house without escort, I should probably wear a shalwar kameez – the typical Afghan male dress – when we ventured into public places, and must keep the car doors locked at all times, he said. A spate of kidnappings and assassinations, more brazen bombings and an insurgency creeping ever closer to the city gates had made Kabul a very different place. . . Before we drove into a neighbourhood that was a little less safe than the city centre, he removed all the contact numbers from his cell phone for foreigners and government officials. The Taliban are known to check phones for such links, which amount to an offence that, in their world, is punishable by death. The city itself seemed more dominated than ever by concrete walls and barriers. Kalishnikov-toting security was everywhere . . . a foreign aid worker had been shot dead in the street, walking to work. She was later identified as Gayle Williams, a 33-year-old Brit. The Taliban said she had been killed because she worked for a Christian-based organization and was prosletyzing. Her job, though, involved helping disabled Afghans.’
Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich attempt to untangle the complicated relationship of the Pakistani military to the Taliban, some of whom they fight (e.g. Maulana Faqir and the Mohmand tribe in Bajaur tribal agency) and some of whom they back (e.g. elements of the Wazir tribe in South Waziristan tribal agency, who have launched attacks into Afghanistan).
Despite a good try, I came away from the article still wishing for specifics (they hardly mention any tribes by name, e.g.) Maybe the specifics can’t easily be discovered . . .
But never mind fighting the Taliban in the tribal areas, the Pakistani government is bankrupt and can barely fulfill its ordinary functions. It has failed to secure aid from allies and so is being forced to go to the International Monetary Fund for a big loan. The IMF is known for imposing tough conditions on borrowing countries, including the elimination of subsidies that the poor often need, and adopting IMF recommendations has sometimes caused countries to provoke popular unrest.