What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Some new pieces of information on the old Taliban

At Registan, still back in the previous year according to the Gregorian calendar, I left a comment to a post by Joshua Foust in which I tried to point out some of the background of the Taliban's emergence, at least what I either knew of it or what I had speculated on the basis of all the contradicting stuff one reads in the literature. I also pointed to an earlier post of mine in which I wrote at length of Mullah Omar. And I promised to post something comprehensive soon.
Well, that promised post is not coming yet.
But here's the comment I left at Registan first:
" The ISI was behind HIG at least up till Omar et al. took Spin Boldak. Bhutto et al. were already behind them by that time. But they haven’t been behind the Taliban from the start, rightaway. The Taliban started from Maiwand district in Kandahar. As they started to grow (partly to do with loose, madrassa-based cross-border networks organised already previously, during the anti-Soviet war, with elements from HIK among them, as well as during Najibullah’s last years in power), bazaaris (transit traders/smugglers) got behind them, since they were good to clean the Chaman-Kandahar road of warlords’ illegal checkpoints. When they proved their worth, just as AG said, the then-interior minister and Bhutto’s government got behind them. Later the ISI just jumped on the bandwagon as HIG ‘rocketed’ itself out of popularity, I think. The taking of Kandahar - that only happened after Spin Boldak. That’s because the Kandahari power-brokers didn’t oppose the Taliban when they started to rise. And even then when the town was taken, mullah Naqib’s decision not to fight the Taliban really, was a key to the town’s being taken. "
And then these two new pieces of information I got to, which I indicated in the title.
" In 1991, Pakistan's intelligence services stashed a massive cache of assault rifles and ammunition at a secret weapons dump in Spin Boldak, rushing armaments across the border as a (phony) deadline loomed for ending direct supply of their favoured combatants in Afghanistan's civil war. Seventeen tunnels beneath the dump contained enough weaponry to arm thousands of soldiers. Three years later, the Taliban broke the depot open and handed out rifles – still wrapped in plastic – to volunteers summoned from local madrassas, an incident documented in the authoritative book Ghost Wars. Within 24 hours, the Taliban captured Kandahar, Mullah Omar took possession of the governor's headquarters, and the airport was seized – with its six MiG-21 fighter jets, four Mi-17 transport helicopters, fleet of tanks and armed personnel carriers. "
Yeah, I should read Ghost Wars then. It was good to read some details about the Spin Boldak arms depot.
Secondly, thanks to Afghanistanica (the latter link leads to an excellent post on deforestation in Afghanistan):
" People expected the Taleban to save the forests as it is a religious duty. But instead they actually made it easier (for the timber thieves) by opening up roads to the forest on the pretext of clearing old cut trees. It only cleared the way for locals to cut down even more trees and export the timber abroad."
The trade was exceptionally profitable for the Taleban. An ADA expert, engineer Sher Ahmed, said they organised it carefully. The Taleban sealed off all but one of the roads from the forest to the Pakistani border and forced the loggers on a huge 800-km detour from Kunar province, on Afghanistan's eastern border, to a crossing in the south.
"Trucks would go from the capital of Kunar province, Chagha Sarai, via Kabul, Ghazni, Khandahar and finally into Pakistan at the Chaman crossing. And from there to Dubai, the Gulf and eventually Europe.
"The Taleban took 28,000 Pakistani rupees in duty (460 US dollars) from just one truck on the Chaman border near Khandahar. Three hundred trucks a day were making the same journey at that time."
Ahmed says the Taleban were loath to give this income up, despite orders from the student militia's spiritual leader Mullah Omar. "He called for a stop to the logging many times, but the order was not carried out. Yet when he ordered the destruction of the giant Buddha statues of Bamyan, this was carried out in three days," he said. "
As you see, governing Afghanistan is just not very easy, not even for an Islamist movement, not even in the Pashtun areas. And Chaman* (and the area on towards Kandahar and Maiwand) was always more their land than any other place.
Ok, that's it for today. Not much value added by me here, just me taking notes for myself for now.
* I mean the crossing between Chaman (in Pakistan) and Spin Boldak.


Joshua Foust said...

Ghost Wars was brilliant, and, I think, definitively captures (along with the book version of Charlie Wilson's War, though the movie was really good too) the way in which both U.S. involvement, and later non-involvement, had a major contributory effect on the rise of the Taliban.

I cannot recommend either book highly enough.

Also when will there be English translations of those journal articles you posted earlier? Not all of us know Hungarian :-)

Péter MARTON said...

Hi, Josh,
Thanks for the interest regarding the articles!
Márton Kasnyik - he wrote about state-building from an anthropological perspective - he will write a guest post here in the upcoming days, summarising the essence of his article. Viktor Friedmann - he's quite busy these days, but perhaps he'll put together something later on, too. I definitely hope so.