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Last Updated: Friday, 2 June 2006, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Afghanistan: Taleban's second coming
Guest journalist and writer Ahmed Rashid on why Afghanistan is facing a resurgent Taleban movement.

Taleban fighters are able to attack, then melt away into communities
Nearly 400 Afghans have been killed in an unprecedented offensive by the Taleban, in a bid to pre-empt a major deployment by some 6,000 Nato troops this summer in southern Afghanistan.

From just a few hundred guerrillas last year, Taleban commander Mullah Dadullah now claims to have 12,000 men under arms and control of 20 districts in the former Taleban heartland in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan. There is also a strong Taleban-al-Qaeda presence in the eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.

Why - five years after the Taleban and al-Qaeda were smashed by US forces - is Afghanistan facing a resurgent Taleban movement that is now threatening to overwhelm it?

Even though the country now has a legitimately elected president, government and parliament, there have been major failures by the international community and the Afghan government in their inability to provide troops, security and funds for reconstruction and nation building to the Pashtun population in the south.

Security vacuum

Neither Nato, nor the American forces they are replacing, have offered an honest assessment of their successes and failures during the past five years.

Afghanistan has received far less funds for reconstruction than almost all recent nation building efforts such as the former Yugoslavia, Haiti or East Timor

Here is a checklist of failures in the south that the US, Nato, the UN and the Afghan government should be discussing and rectifying:

  • Washington's refusal to take state building in Afghanistan seriously after 2001 and instead waging a fruitless war in Iraq, created a major international distraction which the Taleban took advantage of to slowly rebuild their forces.

  • US-led coalition forces were never deployed in southern Afghanistan in sufficient numbers, even though this was the Taleban heartland and needed to be secured. Apart from a US base for 3,000 troops in Kandahar and a couple of fire bases, for four years there was virtually no military presence in three of the four provinces. US forces failed to secure even the major cities and highways in the south. The growing security vacuum in the south was steadily filled by the Taleban.

    British troops in Afghanistan
    The rise in attacks come as Nato boosts its troops in the country

  • Afghanistan has received far less funds for reconstruction than almost all recent nation building efforts such as the former Yugoslavia, Haiti or East Timor. The lack of security in the south meant that UN development agencies and western and Afghan aid organisations could not provide sufficient aid and reconstruction. Nor was there ever adequate funding by western donors, especially for rebuilding the vital agricultural sector. The West's refusal to invest in agriculture on which 70% of the population depend, led to a massive return to poppy production by destitute farmers in the south, which quickly spread to the rest of the country.

  • Drug smugglers and cartels now offer much greater incentives to Pashtun farmers than aid agencies. The best functioning extension programmes for farmers are operated by opium traffickers who provide improved varieties of poppy seeds, fertilizer, improved methods of cultivation, banking and loan facilities and organised large scale employment during the poppy harvest. Compared to 2001 when poppy cultivation was at a minimum, southern Afghanistan now needs to develop an entire alternative economy costing billions of dollars in order to replace the drugs economy.

  • The drugs economy has fuelled massive corruption among government officials, undermined the authority of the government and funded the Taleban. The failure to reconstruct the south has led to widespread public disillusionment, increasing sympathy for the Taleban and anger at the Afghan government. Drugs money has allowed the Taleban to acquire new weapons, provide salaries to fighters and larger sums to suicide bombers.


  • For the past five years President Hamid Karzai has tolerated Pashtun warlords as governors, police chiefs and administrators in the south. Most of these warlords were discredited and defeated by the Taleban in the 1990s, but were resuscitated by US forces to help defeat the Taleban in 2001. Unlike Northern Alliance warlords who tended to defy President Karzai's authority, these Pashtun warlords were friends of the government and helped secure the Pashtun vote for Karzai in two Loya Jirgas and two elections in 2004 and 2005. Despite pledging loyalty to President Karzai these warlord-governors became visibly corrupt, by their open involvement in the drugs trade, cutting deals with criminal gangs and the Taleban and showing supreme incompetence in dealing with development issues. For the majority of southern Pashtuns, the corruption of these warlord-governors unfortunately symbolised the intentions of the Kabul government.

    There have been a spate of suicide car attacks

  • Kabul refused to change these warlord-governors, until forced to do so by Nato countries, who refused to deploy their troops until they were removed. Thus Canada, Britain and the Netherlands played a major role in forcing the resignation of the governors of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan - the provinces in which their troops are now being deployed.

  • Kabul's offer of an amnesty and safe passage home in 2003 to non-belligerent Taleban living in Pakistan was a sensible attempt at reconciliation, but it was badly handled. The Northern Alliance leaders refused to accept any reconciliation with the Taleban. Overtures to the Taleban were handled secretly by the American and Afghan intelligence, instead of being done openly with international support and guarantees of protection for returning Taleban and a separate aid programme to rehabilitate them. Pakistan refused to help persuade the Taleban to return home, while Washington refused to put any pressure on Islamabad to do so. The reconciliation drive has been a failure.

  • After being routed in 2001 the Taleban found a safe sanctuary in Balochistan and the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. They have been able to set up a major logistics hub, training camps, carry out fund raising and have been free to recruit fighters from madrassas and refugee camps. The Taleban have received help from Pakistan's two provincial governments, the MMA, Islamic extremist groups, the drugs mafia and criminal gangs - while the military regime has looked the other way. Al-Qaeda has helped the Taleban reorganise and forge alliances with other Afghan and Central Asian rebel groups.

    Thus the current Taleban resurgence is a reflection of the failure of policies by all the major players in Afghanistan - the US, Nato, the UN, the international community, the Afghan government and neighbours such as Pakistan.

    All these problems will have to be addressed honestly and frankly, before Nato and Afghan security forces will be able to defeat the Taleban.

    This debate is now closed. You can read a selection of your comments below:

    I think Afghanistan will only stabilise if and only if regional players such as India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China solve their differences over Afghanistan too. They use Afghanistan as a battle field against each other at the cost of the blood of poor Afghan people by supporting one group/party against the other. Ethnic and divisive problems in Afghanistan are also promoted and supported by these players as a catalyst for a long haul anarchy in the country so that none of them can get a lasting control there.

    I think US is staging everything in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even I think they are creating the sectarian violence among Iraqis. US ignited civil war in many countries after WWII. They are doing that to stay longer in Iraq and Afghan. Never there was a great reason with Yankees, never there will be. I hope that can be the beginning of their ending.
    Nahid, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    I feel that Ahmad Rashid's analysis notes the symptoms of the failed state of Afghanistan, but it is does not address the actual causes of conflict i.e. ethnic/tribal strife aided by or left unchecked by the ineffective structure of the centrally orientated government. G.W Bushes insistence on a central government structure with Karzai in charge was a mistake. The real solution I feel is to actively setup regional political structures that are more receptive to the local needs of the differing populations. It would act to remove the fear of the differing groups of being unethically dominated by another and be a tool for can also be marginalising the regional warlords, through drawing peoples support away from them and towards the local political structure.
    Thomas Hicks, , UK

    I totally agree with Mr. Rashid. The senseless invasion of Iraq distracted attention from Kabul and raised serious suspicions about the intensions of Bush among the Muslim world, even in the liberal section thereof.
    Talawat Bokhari, Pakistan

    If we read the history of British invasion of Afghanistan in 19th century we will find out that Amir Dost Mohammad Khan was re-installed after the British favourite Shah Shuja was defeated. I am sure that the Taliban who belong to Afghanistan will return. This time may be a little improved and have their government and their country back.
    Rahim, Kandahar

    No one actually wants the Taliban to come back. No one in Afghanistan wants their country to be occupied either. There should be an exit strategy. International forces should start withdrawing from the most secured provinces first, and transfer the power to Afghan army. This action will assure Afghans that coalition forces are intended to stay there just to bring stability. Any Afghan government can govern the country with international support, but no foreign forces can do so.
    Said Ahmad Shah, Afghanistan

    Almost 5 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan, land mines & cluster bombs still kill innocents, fresh water resources are where they were 30 years ago, roads have been improved where the military needs it, poppy is back as the main crop. In short the US & allies are only interested in military "solutions" - the Afghan people be damned.
    Afzal, Montreal, Canada

    The current crisis in Afghanistan is the result of the failure of American policy of installing Hamid Karzai as the president. He has failed to live up to Afghans simple aspirations of peace and better livelihood by compromising with corrupt warlords. International community has also under delivered on its promises of development funding as a result Afghanistan is again slipping into anarchy and lawlessness. Immediate steps are needed to be taken by Afghan government and its backers before they are overthrown by the radical elements of Afghan society. Mohammad Shoaib
    Mohammad Shoaib, India

    We should've at least almost completed the rebuilding process in Afghanistan by now. We helped them with aid fighting the Russians, but did nothing to help rebuild their country after the Soviet Army was defeated. I feel we've let the Afghans down again!
    Ken Holloway, USA

    The US has no interest as such in Afghanistan because there is no oil there only to root out the Talebans. However they now seem to leave that job to other forces including NATO. Jan Henrik Gladh
    Jan Henrik Gladh, Sweden

    This article seems fair, except for the typical pass that Islamic nations get for supplying the international Islamic militants. Why is it that the West can be called to task for every error, yet the Middle East leadership gets little mention in permitting the steady flow of young men willing to die for a cause that most Mid East leaders would not tolerate in their own country.
    John Murray, USA

    I think whole drama of Terrorism is staged by USA, by the help of Pakistani Intelligence to make argument to stay for long time and to get what they want, our many people think that USA is failed in Iraq and Afghanistan but I don't think so.
    Katawazai-Seoul, Seoul-South Korea

    The ongoing fracas in the region, ranging from Iraq, to Pakistan is as a result of mismanaged foreign policy, that has provided the Taleban an opportunity to reorganise. How else could one explain their resurgence. USA should go back to the drawing board and put their act right otherwise we are heading for the worst which they seem to have detected and they are now escaping. Poor Afghans!!
    Nico Magambo, Uganda

    Afghanistan has a history of tribal warlords fighting with each other. At no point they have come together truly as a nation. Anyone trying to rule or unite them is facing a losing battle. Hamid Karzai is blaming Pakistan for failure of his own government which has virtually no power outside Kabul. He cannot blame anyone else or the Americans who have put him in power. It's nothing to do with lack of aid - it is concern of the international community as to the use or abuse of that aid.
    TR, UK

    The atrocities of the US troops against Afghan civilians is the cause of the resurgence of the Taleban. How can you explain the fact that after ordering bombings with thousands of civilians left death, Bush is innocent and Saddam guilty ?
    Shako AMBE, France

    I do not think I completely agree with this analysis. We have been hearing this over and over from the organized media monopoly. The truth of the matter is that USA has no obligation to rebuild Afghanistan or Iraq. US of course, had the obligation to do something after the senseless killing of the innocent Americans on 9/11. Before we forget the whole story, the Afghan people are not completely different from the Taleban. We are talking about Moslems. It is very painful for me to say this but I am very sorry to say that by confessing daily that Islam is a peaceful religion will not make it peaceful.
    Amos Ajo, Nigeria

    I think Mr. Rashid is quite right in pointing these difficulties. The situation in Afghanistan has never been handled well and is not being handled well. It seems as if Americans are not interested in bringing peace to Afghanistan.
    najeeb ur rahman, afghanistan

    No matter what is done by the UN, USA or coalition forces, the Afghans have been at each others throats since the dawn of history. Warlords have been fighting each other and revel in their battle stories just for the sake of fighting. We should get out and let them sort out their own problems because as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow there is no solution that will come to fruition.
    Jim Hart, Australia

    After having worked with a British NGO for around 2 months in Kabul and Kandahar, it was evident that unless ethnic tensions, between the Tajik (mainly Panjsheri element) North and Pakhtun South were sorted out comprehensively by any political mechanism put in place in Kabul, Afghanistan would fragment in a decade or so. Back in 2004 I hoped that this prediction would be proven wrong, but sadly, Afghans time and again have proven their ability to follow through on apocalyptic predictions. Honestly, no one cares about Afghanistan, despite the honest, daring beauty of its people.
    Ali Mustafa (CNBC Pakistan), Pakistan

    I do not agree with some of Mr. Rashid's assertions. He wrongly argues that the "Northern Alliance leaders refused to accept any reconciliation with the Taleban". The fact is that there are many formerly belligerent and "non-belligerent Taliban" and Taliban sympathizers currently working in the Afghan government in senior positions. "Reconciliation", far from helping the situation, is actually breeding a political culture of impunity which is the root cause of recurring violence in Afghanistan. It is this culture of impunity which has emboldened the Taliban, and indeed many other criminals, to resort to violence and killing whenever it suits them, because they know that, if caught, they will not be aptly punished for it.
    Ahmad Shayeq Qassem, Afghanistan

    I am not certain what the Afghans want. The destruction caused by the inter-ethnic fighting after the departure of Russian troops was as bad as that during the ealier period. It would appear that the different interest groups have to be brought together under an 'honest broker' to help the Afghans chart their course.
    SM Hussain, Canada

    As an Afghan, first of all I do not accept the US version of the story, that they came here to help Afghanistan, it was a Bush drive to show Americans that he was doing something on 9/11 issue. The war in Iraq is also having bad consequences on Afghanistan. But Afghan themselves are not fully utilizing their resources and not doing enough to build their own country.
    Zeerak, Afghanistan

    These assertions are 100% completely correct as I know from living in Pakistan's NWFP of SWAT with my husband and his Pashtoon family for about 2 years. This is exactly the same thoughts of the Pathans told to me during my stay. I as a US citizen while there offered myself up as a helper of any kind but was never given any opportunity to exercise my expertise to help bridge these gaps.
    Victoria Ann Dawson Khan, USA/Pakistan

    If only the US had concentrated on securing Afghanistan instead of starting an illegal and useless war in Iraq, things would have been so much better today.
    Nausherwan Lahori, Lahore, Pakistan

    I had been to both Iraqi and Afghan theatres. It was incredibly obvious how much funding the Iraq war has been given in contrast to Afghanistan. I was expecting to see a country nearly rebuilt after almost five years. I think this article hits a lot of points. I would like to see some changes made and Afghanistan recover.
    John Thibault, Afghanistan(civilian contractor)

    It is evident that the majority Pashtuns do not want to be ruled by a government that only represents a minority in that country. They have been neglected and abused and the repurcussions are being felt. Pakistan has over 80,000 troops on its side of the Afghan border, the Afghans need to do more on their side rather than blame us all the time for their problems.
    imran khan jadoon, England



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