Saturday, April 14, 2007

The ring of fear in Kandahar

I have been reviewing on-the-ground reports from the southern part of Afghanistan where the Taliban presence has become ever more menacing. Take the report of Sarah Chayes’s description of the situation in Kandahar dated just one year ago [March/April, 2006, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 62(2): 17-19]. The Taliban had become a threatening presence among the people of the Kandahar area. Because the Taliban appear at night they were being called “the night faries” appearing with impunity as security has eroded. Chayes wonders if the situation had not, even then, gone beyond the “point of no return.” The visits at night by “armed visitors” demanding provisions and other assistance was profoundly unsettling to a people who had already suffered so much “gruesome bloodletting” for so many years. These people, she says, are “internally injured”; it is “an entire society suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
One of the most troubling details of her report is the attitude and behavior of government officials: they “act as predators, amassing money and power, treating inhabitants like dirt rather than serving or protecting them.” Unfortunately this is a very familiar practice: individuals assigned to provincial districts have often taken the opportunity to extort in their own behalf, paying the required dues to Kabul and keeping whatever excess they could collect. The consequences of this practice now, however, could be disastrous, for it is leading to the complete disaffection of a population whose loyalty is critical to the wellbeaing of the government. “The Afghan security forces have adopted a war-fighting mentality from their American mentors . . . [but leave] the people alone to deal with the consequences of the ‘fairies who come at night.’”
In the mean time Pakistan is providing offices and weaponry and training camps for the Taliban in the Quetta area. From one side there are imperious Afghan government officials, from the other side there are the night visitors provisioned and supported by Pakistan. The people of Kandahar have come to the conclusion that in fact the Americans are in league with the Taliban: How else to understand the American indifference to their need and their continued support for a Pakistan government that supports the Taliban? Whether there is any factual basis or not in this story “everyone believes it.” A “ring of fear” was closing around the people of Kandahar as long ago as a year. What could be the situation now?

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