Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Last month driving up Afghanistan’s magnificent Panjshir valley, you couldn’t help thinking if the resurgent Taliban would ever be able to break its defences, both natural and from the Tajik-dominated populace. With its jagged cliffs and plunging valleys, Panjshir has been largely out of bounds for the Taliban, whether during the civil war or in the past 10 years when it has expanded a deadly insurgency against western and Afghan forces across the country. But on Saturday, the insurgents struck, carrying out a suicide bombing at a provincial reconstruction team base housing U.S. and Afghan troops and officials.
They were halted outside the base, but according to the provincial deputy governor they succeeded in killing two civilians and wounding two guards when they detonated their explosives. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the first suicide bombing in a decade was a message to Western forces that they were not secure anywhere in the country. They said the bombers came from within Panjshir, which if true would worry people even more because that would suggest the penetration was deeper and there could be more attacks.
The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio wrote that the bombing was a propaganda coup for the Taliban. Panjshir is the home of the legendary Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud who was assassinated by two days before the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. Under Massoud’s leadership the Panjshir Valley held out against not only against the Taliban, but famously the Soviet before them.
All along the drive by the side of the rushing Panjshir river on way to Massoud’s hilltop mausoleum, the relics of the war against the Russians have been preserved : rusted tanks on roadsides and an overturned armoured personnel carrier in the river. There were giant Massoud posters everywhere and because it was the anniversary of his assassination at the hands of a pair of men who pretended to be journalists, the ceremonial gates to the valley were draped in black.
A new museum has opened in the western Afghan city of Herat honouring the exploits of the mujahideen who pushed back the mighty Soviet army following the invasion in 1979. Many consider it to be Afghanistan’s finest hour when a coalition of guerrillas variously commanded by regional warlords and, of course, heavily subsidised by the United States, fought the Soviet and Afghan government forces.
Reuters correspondent Golnar Motevalli takes a walk through the museum showing gory scenes of the corpses of Red Army soldiers slumped over tanks or burqa-clad women cheering the downing of a helicopter from the famously deadly Stinger missiles shoulder-fired by the mujahideen.
If you can’t beat the Taliban, buy them out. At last week’s conference in London, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s Western backers endorsed his latest attempt to lure away low level Taliban fighters with money and jobs, committing themselves to a $500 million fund to finance the re-integration plan. The logic is that a majority of the Taliban , 70 percent actually according to some estimates, are the so-called “$10 fighters” who do not share the leaders’ intense ideological motivation. They are driven to the Islamists because they are the only source of livelihood in a war-ravaged nation. So if you offered them an alternative, these rent-a-day foot soldiers can easily be broken.
Quite part from the fact that several such attempts have failed in the past, the whole idea that members of the Taliban are up for sale just when the insurgency is at its deadliest is not only unrealistic but also smacks of arrogance, Newsweek magazine notes in an well-argued article. It quotes Sami Yousoufsai a local journalist “who understands the Taliban as few others do” as laughing at the idea that the Taliban could be bought over.
Here’s a transcript of an interview with Senator John Kerry on US policy in Afghanistan from the PBS news show The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Margaret Warner conducted the interview on October 26 with the influential Democrat after he had delivered a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.
Some pundits have suggested that Kerry, who chairs the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, is ‘running cover’ for President Barack Obama in case the President decides not to meet General Stanley McChrystal’s demand to send more troops to Afghanistan.