Category Archives: Afghanistan

Good News from Afghanistan

Via Michelle Malkin, Ray Robinson argues that the biased western media is spinning progress in Afghanistan as failure (for instance by spinning the fact that the Taliban have been kicked out of towns and villages and live in the desert as the Taliban having control of vast swathes of [desert] land) and lists some of the metrics of progress in Afghanistan.

  1. The Afghan Army is growing in size, experience, and leadership capabilities.
  2. A recent study found that 90% of the Afghan population trusted the country’s military force.
  3. More than 4,000 km of roads have been built where only 50 km existed in 2001.
  4. The rehabilitation of the North-East power system has advanced and access of the rural households to electricity has been significantly increased.
  5. In 2007 alone, ISAF nations completed 1,080 civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) projects.
  6. 2,000 schools were built or repaired in the last five years and around 6.4 million children (including 1.5 million girls) are now in schools.
  7. Since 2001, both infant and under-five mortality has declined by 26% and 22% respectively.
  8. In 2001, 8% of Afghans had access to some form of healthcare. Now more than 80% of the population has access to medical care.
  9. The non-opium economy has grown at an average of 12% over the past four years; the number of poppy-free provinces has grown from six in 2006 to 13 in 2007.
  10. Afghan public support for international involvement in Afghanistan remains high with around 70% of Afghans supporting the presence of international forces.
  11. The majority of Afghans believe their country is going in the right direction and 84% support their current government (as opposed to 4% who would support the Taliban).
  12. They also maintain a positive view of reconstruction efforts with 63% saying that reconstruction efforts in their area have been effective since 2002.

Apology

I have spread plenty of bad news about Afghanistan and Pakistan here, and some of these posts have been the most popular posts on my blog for a long time. To some extent this is because of fascination with the evil propagated by some of the Afghans who match bin Laden and Zawahiri for evil, such as Hekmatyar and the Dadullah brothers, Mullah and Mansoor. But that is not an excuse for despairing in the face of the relentless media bias. I’m sorry I despaired and doubly sorry if I led any others to despair.

Do not despair, dear reader. Be strong, be faithful, know thyself and that which dwells in thy heart. Be an active consumer of the news. Don’t simply fall for what is in the news, especially do not do as I did and lend extra credence to local news from Pakistani and Afghan publications simply because the sources are exotic. News product from dictatorships and monocultures does not come from a free media. It is a different kind of product entirely.

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Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, Diary of the Mad Pigeon, Rosemary’s Thoughts, Woman Honor Thyself, Adam’s Blog, Maggie’s Notebook, Pirate’s Cove, Celebrity Smack, The Pink Flamingo, Leaning Straight Up, A Newt One, Dumb Ox Daily News, Adeline and Hazel, Right Voices, and The Yankee Sailor, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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All Your Celltowers are Belong to Us

The Taliban in Afghanistan don’t like the way that NATO forces can track them at night by their cellphone signals. Rather than simply turning their phones off at night, the Taliban are threatening to murder and terrorize the Afghan cellphone companies.

This is not going to be popular with the locals who have decent telephone service for the first time in their lives.

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Trackposted to third world county, Right Truth, The World According to Carl, Pirate’s Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Celebrity Smack, Leaning Straight Up, Dumb Ox Daily News, Right Voices, and Gone Hollywood, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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All eyes on Baitullah Mehsud

It is time for some news from the Far End of the World, the region that touches the sky where the Pashtun tribes live between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Baitullah Mehsud, the rising young al-Quaeda/Taliban commander who has been accused of responsibility for the assassination/murder of Benazir Bhutto, is all of a sudden very popular with the Pakistani military, which is seeking him out in order to kill him as dead as vulture vomit, and then kill him some more. It is possible that some want the military to capture him first. Judging from what seems to happen to captured Taliban commanders (free and clear after a little bribe), I’m against capture. Mehsud, who captured five Christians recently, has freed the the Christians under intense political pressure.

Mullah Abdul Salaam, the former Taliban commander and governor of Uruzgan province, who recently joined the government and helped NATO retake Musa Qala, has been made the district chief of Musa Qala.

Pakistan is on alert over the Shiite holy month of Moharram, which will reach its peak observance on Jan 20.

It’s questionable whether this is really information from Afghanistan or Pakistan, but it is about a man of Pakistani heritage who was headed to Afghanistan to go on Jihad. Britain has jailed Sohail Qureshi, a London dentist who had his mind set on going to Afghanistan and joining the Taliban in order to kill NATO soldiers (including British soldiers). The sentence is 4 1/2 years, but he’s likely to be out in one year. Now that’s multiculti punishment for you! Going to war against your own country is the most clear, unambiguous example of treason possible. One year in jail for treason! When did they stop hanging people for treason again?

Iran is beginning to expel its Afghan refugees, many of whom have been in Iran since the Soviet invasion of 1979 or were born in Iran. Afghanistan is pleading for Iran to hold off. This is the middle of winter after all.

Now this is good news! Islamic political parties are losing their appeal for voters in Pakistan.

British special forces stationed in Taliban-infested Helmand province (where most of the Heroin comes from), kept up their spirits on Christmas by patrolling in Santa hats.

But as they neared the final mile of their patrol, almost five hours after they set out, every man who had one swapped his helmet for a Santa hat. Armed with heavy machine guns, mortars and grenade launchers, the men continued through a derelict bazaar, grinning like children, but looking like a violent Father Christmas audition.

China is going into copper mining near Kabul.

All that remains from Soviet attempts in the 1970s to assess one of the world’s biggest copper reserves is exploratory drill holes.

But in five years time, if all goes to plan, the landscape in the Aynak exploration area will finally be changed into one of the world’s largest open cast mines thanks to a $3bn investment by the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC).

And finally, a traveling exhibition of ancient artworks from Afghan’s pre-Islamic past has found its way to Amsterdam, and in May will begin a 17-month tour of the USA. Time magazine gives an overview.

The Amsterdam exhibition presents 250 objects from four archaeological sites — Tepe Fullol, Ai Khanum, Tillya-tepe, and Begram — dating back as far as 4,000 years ago. It includes gold and silver vases from the Bactrian Bronze Age; a Greek limestone pillar and sundials from the 2nd century BC; Indian-related ivory figures and furniture from the 1st century AD; and a spectacular gold collection from Tillya-Tepe that includes bracelets, hearts, a crown, and even a pair of golden shoe soles meant to convey an aristocrat’s disinclination for walking.

But just as Afghanistan’s geography invited cultural influence, so too did it draw a sequence of invasion and conquest that has put the country’s heritage in constant peril. The Taliban’s destruction of art was the culmination of years of catastrophe visited on the National Museum, and the extraordinary story of how the surviving art got here is as much part of the exhibit as the art itself.

Trackposted to Outside the Beltway, The Virtuous Republic, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, third world county, The Random Yak, Adam’s Blog, Right Truth, Shadowscope, Blue Star Chronicles, Pirate’s Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Big Dog’s Weblog, Right Voices, and The Yankee Sailor, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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Afghanistan expels footloose UN and EU staffers for visiting with the Taliban

It is time for some news from the Far End of the World, the region that touches the sky where the Pashtun tribes live between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has asked a staffer from the UN and one from the EU to leave the country. If the pair hadn’t had diplomatic immunity they would have been arrested. One of the pair is a Briton from Northern Ireland, and the other is from Ireland. Which one is from which NGO is not yet known. It also seems likely they have connections to British Intelligence. Apparently the two were wondering around in Helmand province talking to Taliban elements and otherwise threatening the national security of Afghanistan. UN spokesman Aleem Siddique claims this is a “storm in a teacup.” Judging by an article Siddique wrote for Australian ABC last week, the UN was “reaching out to groups hitherto involved in the insurgency,” presumably without Afghan government approval. The beeb ties these talks to drug eradication efforts in Helmand. The Telegraph confirms the report and adds that British Intelligence (MI6) has been holding secret talks with the Taliban, contrary to explicit denials from new Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Note that Siddique has a semi-famous, 5-star quality quote at ThinkExist.com.

We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms and hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice swiftly.

So he’s the guy who said that! I would have thought that was a line from Casablanca. </sarcasm>

Across the line in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto has been busy identifying the elephant in the room.

Speaking to about 25,000 supporters near her ancestral home in the southern town of Larkana, she also renewed accusations the government had done nothing to stop militant violence.

“They always try to stop democratic forces but don’t make any effort to check extremists, terrorists and fanatics,” she told a rally at a cricket stadium, two days after a suicide bomber killed nearly 50 worshippers in a mosque.

Bhutto said President Pervez Musharraf had spoken of the need to reform religious schools, or madrasas, but had done nothing. She said she respected genuine religious schools. […]

“Then there are the political madrasas, the political madrasas that teach their pupils how to make bombs, how to use rifles and how to kill women, children and the elderly.”

God bless her and keep her alive long enough to make a difference. Also, God please help guide her towards true morality so she does not once again rob her country blind if she gains office.

A dozen Jihadists belonging to Hizbul Mujahideen surrendered in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the sort of thing that the political attempts to speak to the Taliban in Afghanistan are trying to create: Cracks in the alliances between the Taliban, various Jihad organizations, and al Qaeda. The problem is that al-Qaeda is a revolutionary vanguard that spins off cells and subsidiary organizations like a semi-truck tire throws off pebbles. A different name is no guarantee of any meaningful difference in goals, methods, or morals.

But it is, like the 40% drop in cross-border attackers from Pakistan into Afghanistan, an indication of progress.

On the other hand, Afghan intelligence agents near the Pakistani border arrested a 50 year old foreign woman who was transporting a bomb-vest in her burka to be detonated by someone else. In this case foreign means Pakistani.

Recently some bomb-makers in Afghanistan have begun to defile corpses by placing bombs in them.

The British Army Field Hospital at Camp Bastion is doing impressive work, though the treatment of the Taliban is a step too far.

2500 tons of Afghan opiates (mostly heroin) are getting into Iran every year, 25% of which stay in Iran. The rest is going through Iran in the direction of Europe.

The India Times reports that al-Qaeda poses a threat to Musharraf’s life. Duh!

Trackposted to Is It Just Me?, Right Truth, The Uncooperative Blogger, The World According to Carl, DragonLady’s World, Blue Star Chronicles, The Pink Flamingo, Cao’s Blog, and Chuck Adkins, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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Farah: The Taliban and the Drug Trade

Douglas Farah writes:

Well, for those who have argued there is no smoking gun linking the Taliban to opium production, the jig is now up. NATO forces discovered 11 tons of processed opium in a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, meaning the opium was at the stage where it can be converted to heroin on about a one-to-one ratio. In other words, it was almost 11 tons of heroin.

Farah disposes of the objection that the Taliban punish drug use severely, so they could never stoop to the profitable trade in illegal drugs.

There has been a long-held predisposition in the intelligence community to believe that because Islam severely frowns on the use of drugs (particularly the kind of Islam espoused by the Taliban), the group did not really participate in the drug trade. If they execute people for drug possession, then how could they justify trafficking in the product?

Well, the answer lies in creative theology. There have been several fatwas issued by Taliban theologians since 2001 allowing a Muslim to engage in activities that are harmful to the enemy (that would be us), even if they are actions that a Muslim normally could not take.

Previous:

1. Problems with Afghan heroin
2. Helmand Means Heroin: Al Qaeda’s Heroin Smuggling Operation from Afghanistan

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Problems with Afghan heroin

Way back in May, I wrote about the bumper crop of Heroin that was going to be coming out of Helmand province in Afghanistan, and what to do about it.

It’s better to pay the farmers for 610 metric tons of opium than to have it all flooding the EU and US streets in the form of cheap heroin, with the revenues paying for weapons and salaries for Al Qaeda. There are contractual and social solutions for the problems noted in Transform, and it would help to decouple the ordinary people in Helmand from Al Qaeda and associated criminal gangs.

Today the CFR interviews Romesh Bhattacharji who provides valuable data in support of this idea.

India is one of only a dozen countries allowed to grow opium poppies to export for the manufacture of legal drugs such as morphine. Romesh Bhattacharji, former narcotics commissioner for India, says he thinks India’s system of legalized opium growing can work in Afghanistan. Bhattacharji says India’s success with poppy growing (PDF) though an international licensing program for medicine production is largely due to a village control system, where if one farmer sells their crop illegally the entire area loses its license. He urges the adoption of this method in Afghanistan, where he says eradication efforts are ineffective and swaying support for the Taliban.

It took long enough for the lefties in the CFR to wise up to this idea!

Musa Qala, recently retaken from the Taliban in a battle that killed hundreds of Taliban fighters, was home to dozens of heroin processing labs that paid protection money to the Taliban and most likely sold the heroin to Taliban approved smugglers for transport over the mountains to someplace where it could be shipped to Europe and the US. The resurgence of Afghan Heroin has provided funds that enable the Taliban and Al Qaeda to return to action in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the fighters did collect “taxes” from businesses, farmers and others, money used to help fund the insurgency that raged across the northern part of Helmand province in 2007, a year of record violence in Afghanistan.

Fariq Khan, a Musa Qala resident in his early 30s who owns a telephone shop, said the Taliban would take about $8 from each family every month during a collection at the mosque. Though small, the amount is significant; teachers in Afghanistan are paid only $50 a month.

Trucks passing through paid $50 and poppy farmers had to turn over 10 percent of their profits, Khan said, speaking to The Associated Press in Kandahar.

Musa Qala was the site of 50 to 70 heroin labs used to process the opium poppies.

Musa Qala is iconic for the battle in Helmand province. But every little village and town around it is in the same situation. It is smack in the middle of the Afghan poppy belt, and those opium poppies grow everywhere. Every village has more than its share of heroin labs. Every lab and farmer pays protection money to the Taliban and the Taliban smuggles the heroin out of Helmand using the same smuggling lines they use to smuggle themselves and their weapons across the border with the ungoverned parts of Pakistan.

How bad is the heroin problem exactly?

Afghanistan this year produced 93 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Helmand produced more than 50 percent of the country’s opium. More than 80 percent of the province’s farmers are involved in the opium trade.

Afghan Heroin is not just a problem for the US and Europe, but also for Afghanistan.

“I have been addicted to heroin for five years now,” said Faqirullah, sleepy and half-stoned in a bombed-out building in Kabul just a short walk from the national parliament.

Today Online has more to report from a story that appears to be written by Sardar Ahmad for AFP. Snippets follow.

Nearly a million Afghans, about four percent of the population, use drugs, according to the last UN survey in 2005.
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The figure is no doubt higher now, says counternarcotics ministry spokesman Sayed Amanullah Abdali, flicked upwards by the return every year of thousands of refugees from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, where many first take drugs.

Another snippet.

Afghanistan is estimated this year to have produced 93 percent of the world’s illegal opium — about 8,200 tons, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
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Until a few years ago, most of it was exported in its raw form. Today the lion’s share, perhaps 90 percent, is turned into heroin inside the country, a UN official said in June.
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This means more profits for the drug traffickers, who are said to be linked to Taliban insurgents, and more heroin for the local addicts.

Trackposted to Faultline USA, Woman Honor Thyself, Adam’s Blog, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, The World According to Carl, Walls of the City, Pirate’s Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Celebrity Smack, Big Dog’s Weblog, Chuck Adkins, and Right Voices, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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Karzai prays for the Taliban on Eid al-Adha

It is time for some news from the Far End of the World, the region that touches the sky where the Pashtun tribes live between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Karzai prayed for the Taliban today.

‘Today … is a day we should remember those families who have lost loved ones in different terrorist acts like bombs and suicide attacks,’ Karzai said after prayers to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival.’Today I also ask forgiveness from God for those Afghans who have been killed in the fight against the homeland if they are Taliban or otherwise,’ he said.

Karzai also chided the USA for fighting terrorists in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Afghanistan is not a hideout for terrorism, but a victim of it.During an address Wednesday marking the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, Mr. Karzai urged the U.S. and its allies to target terrorists outside of Afghanistan.

That means in Pakistan. How, exactly, the US could operate freely in the Talibanistan regions of the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan is not clear.

The US military provides humanitarian aid, especially for the kids, in Afghanistan.

Each patrol was a foray into villages regarded as Taliban sanctuaries. Each began with tension and the possibility of violence. But the Taliban did not confront the heavily armed paratroopers, and within minutes the mood of the patrols shifted.Once the villagers realized that the platoons were accompanied by medics, they pushed forward sick children and pleaded for help.

A catalog of pediatric suffering quickly formed into queues: children with grotesque burns and skin infections, distended scrapes and scorpion and spider bites, bleeding ears, dimmed eyes or heavy, rolling coughs. Some were bandaged in dirty rags. Others were in wheelbarrows because they lacked the strength to walk.

The US can help people and their kids, while all the Taliban can promise is an ugly, painful death.

In even sadder news, Ismail Gulgee was discovered murdered in his home in Karachi, Pakistan.

Ismail Gulgee, Pakistan’s most prominent artist, was found murdered today with his wife and a maid in their Karachi home, police said. He was 81.They said the three were found gagged in different rooms of the house, which is in the city’s most upmarket district.

The hands of his wife, Zarina, were tied.

See some pictures here. Follow the links to the Painting Gallery.

And finally, convicted felons have charged Pakistan with secretly detaining terror suspects. This is hard to confirm or deny, as false accusations of illegal imprisonment and abuse in prison are standard operating procedure for Al Qaeda operatives who spend time in jail.

Trackposted to The Virtuous Republic, Faultline USA, Adam’s Blog, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, The Pink Flamingo, Leaning Straight Up, The Amboy Times, Cao’s Blog, and Conservative Cat, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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News from the Far End of the World: Not ready to let NATO off the hook

The well-known, effete “caveats” that NATO wimps like Germany and Spain use to ensure that their troops are back on base and hunkered down by nightfall, that they never have to fire a weapon, that they are never attacked and never have to muss their hair or get dirt under their painted girly-man fingernails, have damaged the ability of the ISAF to provide security in Afghanistan.

ISAF forces operating in the south are from Britain, Canada, Australia, Estonia, Romania, the Netherlands and the United States. [link]

Notice the absence of Germany and Spain in the south of Afghanistan, where the insurgency is hottest.

This weekend NATO is meeting to discuss the allied forces’ composition in Afghanistan. AFP reports:

Rising Taliban violence has accentuated US concerns that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) lacks the troops and capabilities needed to mount a successful counter-insurgency.

ISAF is short three infantry battalions, 3,000 trainers for the Afghan police and army and about 20 medium and heavy lift and attack helicopters.

And the US isn’t going to keep taking up the slack. Oz isn’t either; nor England. The European nations, enervated by 60 years of trusted American military protection have lost their ability to fight, or even to identify a mortal enemy. US SecDef Robert Gates is heading to Edinburgh.

Gates and defense ministers from countries whose troops are fighting in southern Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led force will meet for two days in Edinburgh to discuss the shortfalls and map a strategy to persuade other allies to do their part.

“I’m not ready to let NATO off the hook,” Gates told US lawmakers Tuesday, sharply criticizing members of the alliance for failing to live up to commitments made more than a year ago at a summit in Riga. [link]

Related: Oz has spoken!

Gordon Brown has a strategery for Afghanistan that may be bearing fruit.

Afghans claim hundreds of Taliban were killed in the fighting in Musa Qala. Hip hip hooray!

Just in case there exists someone out there hasn’t yet grasped exactly how odious and rotten a bunch of murderous bandits they are, the Taliban executed a 60-year-old lady from Charchino district of Uruzgan province for “spying.” They also executed her 7-year-old grandson. Some freedom fighters, eh?

In response to concerns over what might happen to Pakistan’s nukes in case Al Qaeda’s insurgency succeeds, Musharraf issued an ordinance making him the “head of the National Command Authority which is responsible for development and control of atomic weapons.

For those who are sick of the incredibly long political campaigns in the US, at least the US doesn’t have the violence of the Pakistani version. [more]

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, president of the MMA alliance in Pakistan, and boycotter extraordinaire, has decreed that any member of his political organization who actually runs for office will be kicked out of the political alliance, proving he is either insane or stupid. Who ever heard of a political party with the purpose of ensuring its members do not win office, or even run for it? That’s like removing the motor from a car after you’ve already left on the road trip.

Speaking of boycotts, lawyers backing Nawaz Sharif for President are now mad at him because he won’t boycott the race.

Someone is missing the point. Winner-takes-all politics requires extreme candidates to moderate their positions in order to get elected. That is the whole reason it works. Boycotts are not moderate by any stretch of the word, and boycotters will always lose elections. Hip hip hooray!

Benazir Bhutto has extracted an oath sworn upon the Koran from members of her PPP party to refrain from exploiting party workers if they are elected. One would hope that this would bind them against exploiting the people who voted for them as well, but given Bhutto’s past entanglements with theft and political corruption this might be one hope too far. By the way, what verse does one meditate upon when taking an oath on the Koran? Hopefully not Medinan passages such as 2:225 and 66:2.

[2:225] Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts; and He is Oft-forgiving, Most Forbearing.

[66:2] Allah has already ordained for you, (O men), the dissolution of your oaths (in some cases): and Allah is your Protector, and He is Full of Knowledge and Wisdom.

Quetta, which swarms with Al Qaeda types, was hit by suicide bombers.

Finally, in the news that Pakistanis actually care about, Pakistan exploited the rules and bad weather to escape with a draw in the Cricket Tests against India. India fans are not amused.

Trackposted to Pirate’s Cove, Celebrity Smack, Leaning Straight Up, Allie is Wired, Chuck Adkins, High Desert Wanderer, and The Yankee Sailor, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

Trackback to Thunder Run

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Oz Says Euros are Slacking in Afghanistan

Rafael Epstein reports:

Australia’s new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon will deliver a blunt message to NATO countries meeting in Scotland on Friday, telling them that there will be no more Australian troops sent to Afghanistan until European countries increase their commitment.

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News from the Far End of the World: The End of the Beginning in Afghanistan

PM Gordon Brown of the UK proposed talking with the Taliban or perhaps not, or perhaps he proposed doing it before he said he wouldn’t. I can’t tell. But in any case, the diplomatic offensive in Afghanistan and Talibanistan is getting more serious, with both NATO and the Afghan government making inroads.

Officials claim that 5,000 Taleban members have already agreed to give up their arms. These are mainly “tier two” and “tier three” Taleban; the latter being local farmers who fought intermittently for about £5 a day. However, they also said that 70 Taleban “leaders” had been killed this year alone.

President Karzai of Afghanistan has admitted that he has been in negotiation with mid-level Taliban leaders to persuade them to part ways with Mullah Omar prior to the assault on Musa Qala (about which more later). Jerome Starkey reports:

Mullah Mohammad Ishaq Nizami claimed that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, was trying to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. The council of elders in neighbouring Pakistan controls insurgents in Kandahar and Helmand.

He said: “Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taleban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate.”

A nameless NATO official chimes in with a Rumsfieldian quote:

“These are talks about talks. It might not be the beginning of the end, but it’s the end of the beginning. It’s not official. It is representatives of representatives, like the role the Church played at the start of the Northern Ireland peace process.”

The End of the Beginning. It’s progress.

Musa Qala has been retaken from Taliban control with more than 50 Taliban fighters dead. The locals are not sad to see them go. Noor Khan writes for the AP:

[Taliban] fighters did collect “taxes” from businesses, farmers and others, money used to help fund the insurgency that raged across the northern part of Helmand province in 2007, a year of record violence in Afghanistan.

Fariq Khan, a Musa Qala resident in his early 30s who owns a telephone shop, said the Taliban would take about $8 from each family every month during a collection at the mosque. Though small, the amount is significant; teachers in Afghanistan are paid only $50 a month.

Trucks passing through paid $50 and poppy farmers had to turn over 10 percent of their profits, Khan said, speaking to The Associated Press in Kandahar.

Musa Qala was the site of 50 to 70 heroin labs used to process the opium poppies grown across northern Helmand _ the world’s largest poppy growing region. Khan said small labs employed 15 Afghans, while larger operations had some 60 workers.

Another Musa Qala resident, Mohammed Rauf, said the town has dozens of labs run by residents. “When the Taliban took control after this peace agreement failed, the heroin factories increased,” he said in a telephone interview.

The Islamist MMA coalition in Pakistan is near collapse and has suspended itself.

I don’t understand the tendency for Muslims in Pakistan and Iraq to boycott politics. It is a foolish surrender to the opposition.

Mushy dodged yet another al Qaeda assassination plot. Assassin and Old Man of the Mountain Osama bin Laden’s response has not been reported, but can be imagined.

The Taliban are not in retreat everywhere. Attacks on video rental and music shops continue. Kim Barker reports from Peshawar.

In Peshawar, the police have solved few of the bombings, which have managed to almost shut down the struggling entertainment industry here. No one was arrested in one of the most serious attacks, a suicide bomber who killed the city’s police chief and 15 others last January, let alone the smaller bombs that explode regularly. No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.

In Peshawar, as many as 3,000 police patrol the city of 4 million. That means a rate of one officer for every 1,333 people, compared with Chicago, with one officer for about every 210 people. But the Peshawar police are expected to solve normal crimes plus tackle a growing Islamic insurgency, which often traces back to Taliban-controlled towns or the nearby tribal areas, where tribal justice reigns and there is no law enforcement, let alone police. Coordination between police departments here is unlikely or impossible.

“The militancy factor in the last one year, wasn’t here before,” said Muhammad Tahir, the senior superintendent of police in Peshawar. “Basically the erosion of state authority has taken place.”

As Tahir explained that the militants were better equipped than police in parts of the province, his phone rang — another bombing. This time, a bomb being carried by a woman had blown up near an office of Pakistan’s most powerful spy agency. Government officials initially said the woman was the country’s first female suicide bomber, but Tahir later said she was probably carrying the bomb when it was unexpectedly detonated by mobile phone, killing only her.

Finally, the major motion picture The Kite Runner has caused unexpected problems for its local stars. Ed Pilkington reports:

The film includes a rape scene involving individuals from two rival tribes. Although the scene is sensitively portrayed, with the unstrapping of a belt rather than graphic action, it has prompted fears of possible ethnic unrest. Paramount Pictures delayed the release of the film by six weeks to December 14 to give time to guarantee the boys’ safety.

The four boys include Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, now 13, who plays Hassan, a low-caste member of the Hazara tribe; and Zekeria Ebrahimi, 11, who is cast in the role of Hassan’s best friend, a relatively rich Pashtun called Amir. In a key scene Amir fails to intervene when Hassan is raped by a Pashtun man – a betrayal that develops through the film and lies at its emotional core.

Ahmad’s characterisation of Hassan has been highly praised. The New York Times has said it “ranks among the great child performances on film”.

Rich Klein, a Middle East expert with a Washington-based consultancy firm employed by Paramount to organise the relocation of the boys, said it was a huge relief that they were now out of harm’s way. “We were working with eight people, three different languages, and four time zones. But we have found the right place for the boys where they won’t feel any sense of anxiety or dislocation in their lives.”

Mr Klein said Paramount had recognised it had made an error in casting local Afghan actors. “A mistake was made. It was unintentional – the situation was not fully understood in terms of Afghan culture and history and the relationship between the Hazara and Pashtun people.”

Trackposted to Rosemary’s Thoughts, guerrilla radio, Adam’s Blog, The Pink Flamingo, Celebrity Smack, Big Dog’s Weblog, The Bullwinkle Blog, and Dumb Ox Daily News, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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