Monday, January 5, 2009

How the Taliban is winning hearts and minds

I wanted to post this story from Scotland's Sunday Herald newspaper on the resurgence of the Taliban since Afghanistan is high on the list of Pres.-elect Obama's priorities. According to the story, the Taliban is now operating freely less than an hour's drive from the capital, Kabul, and right under the noses of the Afghani police. Worse yet, the locals, for the most part, don't seem to mind.

"If you have a problem the Taliban solves it. In the government offices there is only corruption and bribery," explained one minibus driver in Wardak, an important town on Afghanistan's main highway to Kabul. Over the past year the Taliban has gained control over Wardak, and while last year murder and robbery were commonplace, today the streets are safe, though Taliban justice is harsh - beatings, cutting the hands off robbers and hangings are all common punishments. Still, in the villages people seem willing to put up with the Taliban and the security they bring, rather than dealing with the Afghani police and government, who are viewed as thoroughly corrupt.

It's an important story for several reasons. First, it shows that Afghanistan is far more than a military problem - to get rid of the Taliban, the Afghan government, the one we basically installed, needs drastic reform, Afghanis are not going to follow leaders they think are only interested in exploiting them. Second, the situation now seems a lot like the 1990s when the Taliban first came to power. After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and the US lost interest, the country descended into near anarchy as different factions fought for power. Finally people were willing to put up with the fundamentalist views and strict laws of the Taliban simply because they were tired of the chaos.

It also helps explain the situation in Gaza today. Hamas won elections in 2006 because years of Israeli embargoes of the Gaza Strip left the area destitute - there were (and are) chronic shortages of food, gasoline, power and cash, unemployment is around 50%, and what would pass for civil society elsewhere in the world is basically non-existent. Gazans were fed up with the promises of a homeland from the Palestinian Authority, the "national" government of Palestine, that never came to pass, as well as the rampant corruption of the PA. Hamas, on the other hand, offered Gazans food, fuel and financial aid - the social services that basically did not otherwise exist (outside of the UN food program, when it was able to get supplies to operate). So they voted Hamas.

So while people may not agree with the views of the Taliban or Hamas, they do appreciate the social services they provide (and that their respective governments do not). Something to think about the next time some one asks why people support them.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: