Security Situation in Afghanistan

More Faith in the Taliban than in the Government?

The Taliban's attacks are no longer restricted to targets in the South and East of the country. Moreover, as Ratbil Shamel reports, their numbers have recently been swelled by dissatisfied police officers and soldiers who have deserted their posts

Celebration of independence from British colonial rule (photo: AP)
Afghan security forces are badly paid and poorly equipped. Consequently police officers and soldiers have started defecting to the Taliban

​​It is certainly not an enviable task. Zemarai Baschari is spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of the Interior in Kabul. While everyone else who is responsible for security issues in Afghanistan has become camera-shy of late, Baschari has no choice but to go on answering the journalists' questions.

Almost every day now for over a year, Baschari has been questioned about the number of victims in various combat zones or about the people behind the most recent suicide bomb attack in the country. The security situation in Afghanistan is anything but satisfactory.

The Taliban and its supporters are now active nationwide. Explosions, suicide bombers, and attacks on teachers, police officers, and assumed government informers are just as much part of their repertoire as attacks on military bases and district governments.

A steady stream of denials

Baschari has been doing this for so long that he has a quiverful of standard answers for the many annoying questions about all the things that are happening in his native country. He talks of the 'enemies of the Afghan people', of misinformation, of misunderstandings, and of journalists who exaggerate everything and are purposefully talking up a security crisis in Afghanistan. He usually concludes by saying that the situation is not half as bad as it is generally assumed to be.

When asked about the most recent incident, where 13 police officers in the south-western province of Farah were said to have defected to the Taliban and brought their equipment and weapons with them, his answer sounded remarkably familiar. It was all a big misunderstanding; the police officers had not defected to the Taliban at all; they had just taken some leave and driven to their homes with their vehicles and weapons, he explained. They were later ordered to return to their posts by their commanders.

The agencies tell a completely different story. Even the officer responsible for the south-western provinces considers the explanation given by Baschiri to be implausible. After all, he explains, this would not be the first time that police officers and soldiers had defected to the Taliban.

Afghan security forces are badly paid and poorly equipped. Between 50 and 100 dollars a month is obviously no longer enough to motivate them to face up to an enemy who is getting stronger and more brutal by the day.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that their salaries are not paid on time. Like everyone else, police officers have to pay the rent on time and look after their families. But how? An increasing number of officers have obviously decided to try less legal methods of earning money by lining their pockets with the money of the citizens they are supposed to be protecting.

Sometimes members of the security forces supplement their incomes by doing business with criminal gangs and drug smugglers. This, at least, is how Afghanistan expert Fahim Dashti sees things.

Massive loss of trust

The population has long since lost its faith in the official security forces and the government authorities. "In some regions, if there is a dispute, they prefer to turn to the Taliban fighters and their mullahs than to the official forces," says Dashti, "because they know that the civil servants will decide in favour of the person capable of paying the larger baksheesh."

The government in Kabul, however, categorically denies such stories. It prefers to ignore the reality of life in Afghanistan. According to Dashti, the people in charge in Kabul assume that nothing can happen to them as long as they have the backing of the West.

These politicians consider themselves to be the natural partner of the USA – a partner the West cannot afford to lose in view of the chaos in the region. And so they operate according to the principle that it is better to have happy Americans than happy Afghans.

The people of Afghanistan don't feel as if they are being taken seriously and feel let down by their own government. Many of them no longer believe that the government is in a position to solve the problem of the Taliban.

The creeping victory of the Taliban

Earlier this week, tribal leaders in Afghanistan's eight southern provinces once again called on the government to negotiate with the Taliban about co-operation.

The government has not yet responded to these demands. Fahim Dashti warns against underestimating the growing strength of the Taliban. He is convinced that if the government and the states that support it do not change their strategy and come up with sensible concepts for the development of the country soon, it is highly likely that the Taliban will overrun the entire country within a year or two at the latest.

It goes without saying that Zemarai Baschari, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, sees things very differently.

Ratbil Shamel

© Deutsche Welle/ 2007

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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