Monday, September 29, 2008

Taliban win hearts and minds

The vile nature of the Taliban's rule in the 1990's having been vigorously documented (e.g. here and here), it boggles the mind to consider what might make a person nostalgic for those days. As we will see presently, the failures of the current Afghan government are doing just that. And since our occupation is propping up that government, it is worth pondering our own responsibility for the current and truly sad state of affairs.

From The Times:

Weak government allows Taleban to prosper in Afghanistan

LASHKAR GAH, Sept 29 - The wild-eyed policemen were high on opium, harassing locals and demanding bribes from drivers on the road so recently built at the expense of the British taxpayer.

“I might as well shoot myself in the head,” said one officer, jaw slack and eyes unfocused, as he leant on his Kalashnikov. “We have no life, no salary, and no respect from the people.”

His tattered uniform flapping, he added, with apparent self-loathing: “It is true what people say: the police are the robbers round here.” ...

Among the most visible sources of criminal behaviour are the demoralised, underpaid and predatory Afghan police - and it is now the Taleban, with their reputation for brutal but impartial justice, who appear to be gaining ground in this war of popular perceptions, successfully presenting themselves as the guardians of the public.

Through the window of an estate agent, Maleeq Khan watched the antics of the police and sighed wearily. “This construction is pointless,” he said, gesturing at the road. “We just want security. If I rent a house to someone I can't even carry the money home without people killing me. The British are completely useless.”

The message was remarkably consistent across several dozen interviews The Times conducted on the city streets. Most also contrasted the local instability with the situation in the swaths of territory the Taleban hold.

In early September there was panic in Lashkar Gar when Marja and Nad Ali, two districts west of the city, fell to the Taleban after local police and militiamen allegedly abandoned their posts. It was the closest the Taleban had been to the Helmand capital and, as they moved openly around the outskirts, rumours swept Lashkar Gar that the city was about to fall.

An assault has yet to materialise, but in the weeks since stories have reached the city of a dramatic improvement in security in Nad Ali and Marja under Taleban rule. Two weeks ago the Friday bazaar in Marja was reopened, with the Taleban in control.

“When the Government was in charge, the police were beating people and stealing from them,” said Mr Khan. At the first bazaar under the new Taleban regime, there was no stealing by the Taleban and the only beating was of a man caught stealing a motorbike...

Others in the city had similar tales. Many reported an apparent Taleban public relations drive which has seen such unpopular Taleban social edicts as bans on music, television, kite-flying and shaving of beards quietly dropped. There are also persistent reports of a Taleban amnesty for government officials and police who swap sides and a promise that the Taleban will defend poppy fields from government eradication.

“Support for the Taleban is up a lot,” said one man among a lounging group of shopkeepers. “They are completely different to how they used to be,” said another.

The Taleban have rebranded themselves, insisting that they should now be called Mujahidin (holy warriors) - a word that links them to the earlier Jihad against the Soviet forces...

“The Taleban have been trying to get people to like them,” said a local reporter, who asked not to be named after a colleague was beheaded in June. “If we ask people: ‘Do you remember the old Taleban?', they say: ‘Yes - when they get the power again they will take out the stick again'.” (link)
The Washington Post's Pamela Constable similarly reports on what is motivating Afghans to back the Taliban:
"The government is weak, and it has an enormously high level of tolerance for crime, abuse and corruption," said Nader Nadery, an official of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "If you have power and money, you don't have to account for your actions. Instead of the rule of law, there is a state of impunity, which is one of the factors contributing to the growth of the Taliban."

Although Taliban fighters routinely hang and behead people in rural areas, the growth of crime and the lack of justice are the reasons most frequently cited by Afghans who support the reconstituted Islamist militia. More and more, people here look back to the era of harsh Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, describing it as a time of security and peace.

One group whose lives and livelihoods now face constant danger from armed criminals are the truckers and bus drivers... Although vulnerable to Taliban attack, the drivers say they are just as often ambushed and robbed by well-armed thieves.

Mohammed Hussain, 40, [a bus driver, narrowly missed being robbed by a gang].

"I was lucky. I had 57 passengers, including women and children," Hussain said. "The thieves wait for us in the dark, and they have powerful weapons. If we go to the police for help, they are either scared or involved in crime themselves. In the Taliban time, the roads were totally safe. You could drive anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day. Now, you take your life in your hands every time you leave on a trip."

1 comment:

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