Awakenings, uprisings and rebellions…
By Tim Foxley
Summary: Local community resistance to the Taliban may not be the panacea that ISAF and the Afghan government hope for, but rather might reflect concern over what comes next in Afghanistan’s difficult recent history and efforts to reject governance and insurgents alike. Power vacuums are there to be filled, but by whom is unclear…
The Economist (Afghanistan and the Taliban: The Worm Turns) put out a characteristically thoughtful piece regarding local resistance to the Taliban in the Andar district of Ghazni province. It highlighted what appears to be a growing local community resistance to increasing – and more repressive – Taliban control over their home area “Villagers take the counterinsurgency into their own hands”.
The Economist, August 18th 2012: “The sparks that ignited the revolt were a Taliban ban on boys’ schools, and restrictions closing some bazaars. Tensions had been growing for some time, however. At first the Taliban were welcomed in this conservative area, yet before long locals felt outsiders from Pakistan were taking over and becoming high-handed. Rules appeared stricter in Andar than elsewhere…”
But, of course, as the paper notes, there are more issues under the surface:
The Economist, August 18th 2012: “Just because they are fighting the Taliban does not mean they are friends of Mr Karzai, still less of NATO. Many villagers say they are sickened by the corruption and injustices of the Kabul regime. They just want to be left alone. In Kabul people wonder who is funding the movement, and whether other forces are behind it.”
There are suggestions of Hezb-e Islami and Afghan local government involvements.
Analysis and Outlook
A few years ago, ISAF, the international community and the Afghan government would be jumping on this as “proof” that finally the population was starting to turn against the Taliban – NATO has been desperate to compare Afghanistan anti-Taliban sentiment to the “Anbar Awakening” of Iraq ever since, well, the Anbar Awakening, really. I sense there is some hesitancy and caution in any welcome being given now. I am also struck by the apparent lack of control from anywhere – the Afghan government, in particular. The “movement” if it can be described as such, looks much more akin to an even more improvised version of the Afghan Local Police, providing their own weapons and, presumably, their own versions of law and justice (with all the risks that this entails). This may be much more an effort to carve out local security that rejects government and insurgents alike. I suspect, as we move forward, through to 2013 and beyond, many other local communities may conclude that self-defence is the best (only?) way to proceed.
Government/international attempts to legitimise or harness it as part of an anti-Taliban movement, may encourage other groups to do likewise (pulling in militias, warlords, local powerbrokers) but is at risk of lacking the requisite control – particularly as ISAF pulls out its advisors and expertise – over what could be a myriad of small and unaccountable local security forces. This might spell the end of the experiment with central government in all but name. These are perhaps local “awakenings” that are happening because the perception of “power vacuum” is growing stronger – “if no one is going to protect me, I’m going to protect myself”. This will happen in some areas – perhaps with a growing momentum – but not in others. A thousand local factors (government control, level of Taliban influence, ethnic, tribal, economic, geography, personality…) will determine how it plays out across the country. In some places a “resistance movement” might initially show its teeth, only for it to die away once a local powerbroker has cut a deal – with government, internationals, insurgents or local rivals – in return for money, weapons, status, etc.
The strongest sense I have with this now is that these sort of developments might be heralding the shift in direction over the next few years as thousands of people start to get off the fence. Perhaps people are now re-calculating where their best interests are likely to lie in the future and this is but one of the symptoms? Afghans had to recalculate their safety options when the Soviets invaded in 1979, when the Soviets occupied in the 1980s, when the mujahideen expanded, when the warlords rose to power in the early 1990s, when the Taliban took over in the late 1990s and when the US-led Coalition arrived in 2001. Some groups are starting to recognise the post-ISAF era…
The worm might be turning, but in which direction(s) remains to be seen.