Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Rambling on the Taliban

October 20, 2008

The war can’t be won, said the General. Which is a shame, I guess. For if the war can’t be won doesn’t that mean it’s lost?

Oh no no no. Such defeatism, can’t have that. What if our enemies heard such talk and took heart? All we need to do is change what it means to win, a strategic movement of the goal posts if you will. Years of hard fighting have taught us a valuable lesson: our victory must include a political settlement.

Anybody got a number for the Taliban? We should give them a call. For sure, it will be a little unpalatable – human rights and whatnot – but really it seems the only way.

What, which ‘Taliban’ should we talk to? Oh, I’ll leave someone else to figure out the details.

For we are fast running out of money for ammunition and the stockbrockers on Wall Street need our humanitarian aid now as well. Anyway, the bombs don’t seem to be doing the job of winning hearts and minds and all this development isn’t defeating the bastards.

Plus, we need to figure out a plan before McCain or Obama stick their oars in and start attacking Pakistan or some other country. Then there’s elections due here next year as well – did you hear? they’ve started intimidating people registering on the electoral roll already. Very proactive. Not that it matters when security is so bad in much of the country that the idea of elections is farcical – but anyway don’t expect that to change much on the corruption front and basically the whole thing’s been dragging on far too long and isn’t getting any simpler.

Thing is, now doesn’t seem to be the best time to start talking really. As the General said, we can’t win, the US seems to be going all communist on us and I expect the Talibs are feeling rather chipper right now. Could make the negotiations a spot tricky.

Maybe this food crisis will help. After the winter they’ll be too hungry to carry on and half the population will be starved to death so we won’t need to worry so much about civilian casualties. Teach them right for attacking food convoys. More tea, sir?

Afghanistan to invade Pakistan?

June 15, 2008

At a news conference, President Karzai spoke of Afghanistan’s right to self-defence and threatened an invasion of Pakistan to put an end to the Taliban’s seeming impunity there.

“Afghanistan has the right to destroy terrorist nests on the other side of the border in self-defence,” Karzai told a news conference in Kabul.

“When they cross the border from Pakistan to come and kill Afghans and coalition troops, it gives us exactly the right to go back and do the same,” he added, in his toughest comments yet on stamping out militancy along the border. (AFP)

Watching the news conference today on television, my colleagues burst into peels of applause and laughter.

Applause, I took it, at the audacity of an idea which would have a large degree of popular support within Afghanistan; hilarity at the ridiculousness of the possibility of squaring up to the more powerful neighbour.

Tales from the Taliban times

June 2, 2008

Sitting outside in the shade after work one day this week, a colleague asked if I’d like to hear a story of his from the Taliban times.

He told me several that evening, such as the time he was working as a taxi driver in Kabul when a passenger informed on him at a checkpoint for having a music cassette in his car. He was taken off, held for several days and badly beaten.

Such accounts, often worse than that, are common place. The live-stories of so many people I speak to are beyond my ken.

I tend not to ask people directly unless I know them well; unwilling to pry and afraid of what I might be told.

When we do get talking, these stories are often told matter of factly, almost mundanely, or with a wry smile and an almost embarrassed laugh. Offered up like postcards from the past.

It was the fact that this particular man actually asked me if I wanted to hear that got me thinking. More than just being polite or wary of my tired frown, he seemed conscious of a certain power to these narratives and the politics, for want of a better word, of telling them.

I’ve deleted paragraphs several times over now trying to think this thing through.

There’s a whole load of psycho-social literature on all this, much of it related to post-traumatic stress disorder, but I don’t know what it says. And half of it is probably ethno-centric cobblers anyway. What I’ve been asking myself is what it means to tell outsiders, who will struggle to ever really comprehend, about the personal traumas one has suffered under a regime the very name of which holds so much potency.

But trying to analyse all this is beyond me right now, which makes this post a bit pointless, so apologies for that. I often write as a way of getting my thoughts in order but it obviously hasn’t worked out this time. Still, it’s one way of passing an evening.

Dud rockets and mobile phones

March 19, 2008

A couple of days ago some rockets were fired from the low hills surrounding Chagcharan into town. They fell in dead ground, didn’t detonate properly and hurt no one. Which is of course good, if not somewhat incompetent.

Chagcharan July 07

Some folks here say they were aimed at a nearby mobile phone mast. If so, this would fit with recent Taliban attacks on the mobile phone network in the south. These followed a Taliban order to mobile phone operators to shut down the network between 5 pm and 7 am. With around 10 phone masts knocked out so far, the operators have had little choice but to comply.

There’s something about this story I don’t get though. The reasons the Taliban have reportedly (here and here for example) given for all this is that the army has been monitoring their calls and using them to track them down. Which I’m sure they have (and seem to remember reading somewhere that this fact prompted the Taliban and Al Qaeda to adopt a communications system using written notes and couriers several years ago).

But would it not be a bit easier for the Taliban to just not use mobile phones themselves? Or not to use them between 5 pm and 7am? (Do the Americans not tap phone calls during daylight hours?) Or go back to using hand-written notes? Isn’t this tactic somewhat self-defeating? Their logic is ineffable. Or I really have missed something, in which case please do enlighten me as I’m baffled.

As for those rockets in Chagcharan, no one seems too sure who fired them but it almost certainly wasn’t the Taliban, who don’t come up our way much. And normal mobile phone services continue – in the 20 mile radius that is covered in the whole province.

Rumour has it that it’s most likely to be some disaffected local commander with a grudge against the provincial government or police. In which case I guess it’s possible they may have meant not to hit anything, but rather serve as some pointed reminder about something or other.

After hearing so much of the military prowess of former mujahideen and the Taliban I rather hope this guess is correct, as it would be slightly disappointing to think that our local ‘armed opposition groups’ couldn’t aim and fire a rocket properly.

Crystal balls and hand grenades

January 21, 2008

A report by the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, ANSO, claims the best case scenario for 2008 is ‘more of the same’ according to a recent Reuters’ article.

ANSO are the kind folks who email those of us who work for NGOs in Afghanistan with news about the explosion heard down the road or further a field, providing security updates and trying to keep us on our toes.

2007 was the year, they claim, that the Taliban ‘seriously rejoined the fight’ and they predict further Taliban offences for 2008. ‘In simple terms, the consensus among informed individuals at the end of 2007 seems to be that Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one’. How’s that for something to look forward to in the new year?

Back again

January 20, 2008

After a glorious month away I’m back in Kabul.Towards the end of my holiday, sick with being asked about Afghanistan, I was wishing I’d followed Mr Wood’s advice and pretended to be an insurance salesman from Barnsley. Conversations veered from those down the pub along the lines of ‘Alright Harry, how’s Afghanistan?’ ‘Oh, you know, so-so. Pint of Guinness please Fred.’ to in-depth interrogations on the socio-political situation that highlighted how little I understand. There was the inevitable degree of reverse culture shock and readjustment (Look! Water from a tap! And I can drink it!) but also a useful time for reflecting on my life in Afghanistan, what I’m doing, where I’m going, where I want to be. (Mind you, am still not sure about any of these.) Then, of course, there were the mince pies, the port and stilton, friends and family… Glorious. Was sorry to leave.

And strangely glad to arrive back in Kabul and the blizzard that hit half an hour after we landed and the heater at home that the guard had lit to warm my room before I got back.

On the way out of Kabul in December, an afternoon in Dubai with a friend hanging out at a fancy shopping centre had acted as a useful decompression chamber: marvelling at the lavish opulence, eating good food, walking around feeling safe and relaxed, women with pretty legs. It worked the same way in reverse: exhausted after a sleepless night, waiting in the chaos of Terminal 2 at four in the morning for an onward plane that was delayed for five hours among confused crowds of aid workers, diplomats and mercenaries all pushing the handful of Afghans to the side.

A couple of days before I got back the Taliban had attacked Kabul’s flashest hotel, killing six people. It’s the first attack of its kind directly targeting the international community and more have been promised. I suspect this has rather upset the international community as most, including myself, are now on lockdown and so aren’t allowed out of our houses except to go to work. Fear is an effective weapon, and the restaurant trade will be suffering.

In the rest of the country meanwhile, extreme cold and snow is reported to have killed some 200 people and tens of thousands of animals. It’s down to minus 20 Celsius in Kabul and will be worse elsewhere in the country. It’s said to be the worst weather in many a long year.

And strangely, though I’m not entirely sure why, I’m kinda happy to be back.