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The Taliban Is Outgoverning NATO in Southern Afghanistan

Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad doesn’t like people saying candidly that his government and its NATO partners aren’t winning the war against the Taliban-led insurgency, but there’s little other way to describe this anecdote, reported in an excellent piece from The Washington Post on Sunday about southern Afghanistan:

When a man came to police headquarters recently to complain that his motorcycle had been stolen, the police refused to act without a bribe.

“Fine,” he said, according to soldiers who witnessed the encounter. “I’m going to the Taliban. At least they’ll take me seriously.”

Wow, does that seem like deja vu to me. And it’s a good illustration of why U.S. counterterrorism goals won’t succeed without population-centric counterinsurgency. If a guy who gets his motorcycle stolen feels more comfortable reporting the theft to the Taliban, he’s unlikely to assist Jawad’s government or NATO with intelligence about where the Taliban is, or what its liaisons with the locals down south look like, or any of the other necessary supporting components that could dislodge the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies as a threat to the Kabul government. It starts with the motorcycle, basically. If the criminals in your neighborhood did a better job keeping the streets safe and providing something approximating justice, why would you ever help the police catch them?

Also interesting in that piece: negotiations with the insurgency aren’t seen as relevant in southern Afghanistan:

What the new strategy does not seek to do, however, is to borrow a page from the U.S. playbook in Iraq by creating tribal militias to fend off the Taliban. Commanders here said that approach could create even more warlords and new intratribal feuds. And the commanders see little benefit from negotiations with the Taliban right now, despite Obama’s support for such an overture.

Military officials regard the Taliban, composed largely of ethnic Pashtuns, as both too strong and too fragmented in the south to pursue an effective deal, although they remain open to the possibility in the east, where some tribal leaders who have supported the insurgency could be persuaded to switch sides.

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