A month ago the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) began paying salaries to essential government workers who, like all government employees, had not been paid since August. Among those considered essential were some security personnel to deal with the increased crime in Kabul and other cities. Most (nearly 70 percent) of the population lives in rural settlements where tribal leaders deal with local crime. That still leaves about 10 million Afghans living in cities and they are suffering from a growing crime rate. Kabul is turning into a lawless place full of people who are broke, hungry, often armed and growing more desperate. The IEA Kabul security forces are making about 10-15 arrests a day. More security forces are promised but that will take months and years to achieve pre-IEA security levels. IEA officials are armed and have bodyguards. There are some upscale neighborhoods that are easier to turn into a closed community with their own internal security.
Like the Iraq capital Baghdad, Kabul acquired a heavily guarded Green Zone in the center of the city. In the last decade s uccessful Green Zone attacks were very rare and usually the result of corrupt security officials. The IEA inherited most of the family compounds in the Green Zone because this is where most senior IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government officials lived until 2021. It was also where many embassies and foreign personnel stayed. Before the Taliban takeover in August, most senior officials and wealthy businessmen had sent their families to live elsewhere. Senior IEA members and their families are safe in the Green Zone but everyone else is outside the Green Zone and more at risk.
When the IEA took power, the national population was at least 33 million, which is 57 percent more than two decades ago when the Taliban were driven from power. Kabul is the largest city, with about half the urban population. The last time the Taliban were in charge (2001) Kabul had a population of half a million but twenty years later that has increased ten times to five million. Despite the population growth, over two-thirds of the population still lives in the countryside.
The biggest problem the IEA has is the national economy. Until 2020 the GDP has grown continuously since 2001 with average family income increasing noticeably each year until 2020 when GDP declined 5 percent because of covid19. In 2001 there were only 10,000 phones in the country, all very expensive land lines in cities. Now there are over 22 million inexpensive cell phones with access even in remote rural areas. Back then less than ten percent of the population had access to any health care, under the IRA at least 80 percent did and life expectancy has risen from 47 years (the lowest in Eurasia) to 62 (leaving Bangladesh to occupy last place). This is apparently the highest life expectancy has ever been in Afghanistan and the UN noted it was the highest one decade increase ever recorded. Afghans have noticed this even if the rest of the world has not.
While GDP declined five percent in 2020, that was due to the worldwide covid19 recession. That has abated and economic activity is growing worldwide. Afghanistan was on its way to three percent GDP growth in 2021 before the covid19 recession appeared. GDP growth was expected to resume in 2022, by about three percent. With the Taliban takeover, GDP is expected to shrink 20-30 percent in 2022 and not recover for years, if ever as long as the IEA is in charge. Most Afghans expect the situation to get worse than just the GDP decline because no donor nations believe Taliban assurances about being peaceful. There is already violence on the Pakistan border (about where the border actually is) and the Iran border, about the continued drug smuggling and violence against Afghan Shia. The neighbors still believe the IEA will collapse after a few years because of internal unrest and growing poverty which most Afghans will compare to the previous two decades.
The IEA faces massive internal unrest unless they can limit the collapse of the economy. Since 2001 the Afghan GDP has more than quadrupled, much faster than population growth. While per-capita GDP nearly tripled, government corruption and growth of the drug cartels distorted income distribution. By 2021 the drug cartels represented nearly 10 percent of GDP and only benefitted ten percent of the population, including the Taliban payroll plus bribes paid to political leaders and security forces commanders. Heroin and other drugs were by far the most profitable economic activity in Afghanistan. Despite that most Afghans are hostile to the drugs and the many local addicts it created. Neighboring countries have the same attitude.
Then there was foreign aid, which took care of most government expenses and much foreign investment. This foreign aid averaged over a hundred billion a year since 2002 and most of it was not spent in Afghanistan, but in the countries delivering the aid. This is normal, but there was enough being spent in Afghanistan to keep the government in power and the GDP expanding. This spending declined considerably after most foreign troops were withdrawn in 2014. The Taliban expected to quickly take over but that did not happen because most Afghan now had something to fight for and they kept the Taliban out of power until 2021. The deposed IRA government had approved a government budget of $6 billion with about four billion dollars going to pay government workers.
The IEA government can, at most, collect about 60-70 percent of that annual budget locally, plus a one-time boost in the form of the few billion dollars Taliban seized as it took control and looted whatever they could find. The U.S. froze some $10 billion dollars belonging to the IRA government and held in foreign banks until needed as an anti-corruption measure. All this money was foreign aid and the Americans have a fiscal responsibility to ensure it is not used by criminal or terrorist organizations. The IEA is trying to prove that it is legitimate, which is difficult because of the Taliban’s history with misusing money. The UN is going along and calling on member nations to step in and save Afghan banks. Not a lot of donor enthusiasm for this. Donor nations have learned how to operate in chronic disaster zones that lack banks as that requires lots of foreign currency which attracts extortion threats and outright robbery.
The few Afghan government employees who are still showing up to work are not getting their full salaries nor do they have access to money they had in Afghan banks. IEA will control disbursement of that depending on how loyal, essential, and effective the paid employees are.
The IEA has restored portions of the banking system, but overall, the Afghan banks cannot return to the past. Corruption was always a major problem with several major banks collapsing in the last decade or so because of massive fraud. Donor nations have encountered this sort of thing before but the corruption was much worse in Afghanistan.
Most of the previous IRA government budget was paid for with foreign aid and, until local disbursements were made, the money was kept in overseas accounts controlled by donor countries. Most of the money came from the United States and one of its many anti-corruption measures was maintaining control of the aid until the IRA could provide a valid request. The Afghan banks still made loans locally but with so much of the donor money offshore in well-audited banks, the Afghan banks were forced to behave because what business they could get was maintaining basic banking services for local businesses and the growing number of Afghans with money. During the few weeks it took the IRA to collapse in mid-2021, a lot of bank branches were looted by one faction or another and fleeing IRA officials took cash with them.
The Taliban were getting up to half a billion dollars a year in revenue from drug cartels as well as all manner of criminal enterprises (extortion and theft). The IEA is not getting more of their income from the drug cartels, which no longer have to bribe government officials. Aside from the drug cartel payments, the main source of IEA revenue is customs duties on imports and some exports. This is an unreliable source of income because as the custom duties (rates) increase it becomes more profitable to pay smugglers or bribe the custom duty collectors. The Taliban was never immune from corruption, something that was discovered after the Taliban were overthrown at the end of 2021 and many Taliban records, and Taliban officials, were captured. As with Islamic terror groups worldwide, corruption is a major problem, especially if there is more to steal.
The War on Literacy
The IEA is determined to eliminate education for girls and most university level education. After 2014 the Taliban put a lot of effort into disrupting efforts to safely promote and provide education for everyone. Efforts to increase the literacy rate, the lowest in Eurasia in 2001, were stalled in the last few years and now the Taliban is shutting schools and banning women from most schools. Despite nearly two decades of building schools and educating millions of boys and girls a year, the effort did make a difference. The adult (all those over 15) literacy rate is now 46 percent compared to 31 percent in 2001 and 18 percent in 1979, when the four decades of war began. For school-age Afghans the current literacy is nearly 50 percent because since 2002 over a third of Afghans have received at least a basic education and nearly half of those have been female, despite vigorous Taliban efforts to block that. Since 2014 the Taliban have put a priority on destroying schools, especially those that educate girls. The number of girls getting an education has been declining and parents are angry. In some areas the pro-education beliefs are so strong that the Taliban backs off on the “no school for girls” policy in order to avoid more armed resistance than they can handle. In most parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban terrorize or kill enough parents to keep the schools shut. This sort of thing fuels the growth in Afghans fleeing the country for the chance of a better life somewhere else. It also makes it easier to recruit armed resistance to the Taliban. The IEA does not fear this pro-education resistance because most of it is in urban areas. Where there are tribes that are very pro-education, the IEA can safely ignore them because the tribes will have to pay for their own illegal schools and the educated kids will still needs to go to an Afghan city or migrate to find employment.
The Starvation Solution Compromise
The UN has approved, with no major opposition, the delivery of billions of dollars of food, medical and other aid to Afghanistan, even though the UN still does not recognize the IEA government as legitimate. The IEA has accepted this compromise and, despite UN pledges to prevent much if any of this aid being diverted to the IEA or others, the UN track record in this area is not encouraging. The UN itself has lots of problems with corruption and that gets worse in troubled areas like IEA ruled Afghanistan. This emergency aid will amount to about $2 billion a year, an amount that can rise or fall depending on how the IEA handles, or mishandles the situation.
December 28, 2021: The IEA is accused of violating its own general amnesty given to members of the IRA security f0rces and proof came in the form of a cell phone video that showed up on the Internet and featuring two Taliban members torturing an army officer of the deposed IRA government. A senior IEA official explained that there were some Taliban fighters who had personal grudges against specific IRA special operations members or operatives for the IRA intelligence services. Both these IRA organization were particularly effective against Taliban terror attacks and the Taliban groups that carried them out.
This general amnesty was part of the new IEA government’s charm offensive for international recognition. So far that is not working, in part because IEA efforts are sabotaged by another feature of the present that did not exist in the 1990s; cell phones and the World Wide Web (the user-friendly version of the original Internet). As so many other tyrants and bad actors have learned you can still lie but you can’t hide with so many people, including Islamic terrorists, taking out their cell phones to record all manner of bad behavior that somehow gets worldwide distribution.
December 27, 2021: Anas Haqqani, younger brother of Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin, is the primary publicist for the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban and the IEA government. Today he announced that the IEA welcomes expatriate Afghans with essential skills to return to IEA ruled Afghanistan and use their skills to make the IEA government more effective. That’s a bold request and unlikely to convince educated Afghans to come home. There are possible exceptions where Afghans living abroad would return to protect members of their family from IEA threats. Another reason for taking this offer seriously is that the Haqqani family are primarily representatives of the Pakistan military, which has been their patron, employer and protector for decades. Most Afghans and Pakistanis consider the Haqqani Network a criminal enterprise protected by the Pakistani military. When a Haqqani speaks, his message is primarily from the Pakistani military.
Several senior members of the IEA government, especially two of the Haqqani brothers, are known Pakistani agents. Pakistan insisted on these men being included in the IEA, particularly Sirajuddin Haqqani, who had been the acting head of the Haqqani Network since 2009 and became the de facto head of the Afghan Taliban in 2016. Sirajuddin Haqqani could not be the official supreme leader of the Taliban, so a respected Taliban cleric became the official leader with Sirajuddin Haqqani as his deputy and the actual boss. This Pakistani tinkering with the Taliban split the Taliban and created a civil war that was going on for five years before the Taliban gained control of the Afghan government again.
Sirajuddin Haqqani is now the IEA Interior Minister and one of his first acts was to promise the families of suicide bombers who had died in the service of the Taliban, that they should be rewarded with cash and property. Most of those suicide bombers were recruited and trained by the Haqqani Network, acting as a terrorism contractor for the Pakistani ISI (military intelligence, a sort of CIA/KGB). Pakistan denies this but Afghans, most Pushtuns and most Western nations recognize Sirajuddin Haqqani as a major Islamic terrorist who works for Pakistan. The U.S. offers a $10 million reward for anyone who can kill or capture Sirajuddin Haqqani. For that reason, official IEA photos of the senior leadership blur Interior Minister Haqqani’s facial features. Khalil Haqqani, the uncle of Sirajuddin and Anas Haqqani, is the IEA Minister of Refugees. Both Kahlil and Sirajuddin have been senior Haqqani Network leaders for over a decade, since the Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani became ill and unable to run the Haqqani Network himself. Jalaluddin died in 2018 but had been less active in running the Haqqani Network for years.
December 26, 2021: The IEA announced that it had eliminated the two election commissions as well as the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs along with the Ministry of Peace (negotiations). The IEA described these organizations as unnecessary even though the IEA has been telling foreign donors that they are not a religious dictatorship. The IEA did allow that these electoral organizations could be revived in the future if needed. Foreign donors believe the Taliban are going to run the IEA as they did their brief religious dictatorship in the 1990s.
In Kabul the IEA arrested Arif Noori, the owner of Noorin TV, the largest satellite-based Afghan TV network. This was unexpected because Noori appeared to be cooperating with the IEA, as have most other Afghan news organizations. Noor was released after two days and no one is revealing why he was taken.
The IEA has been arresting disobedient local journalists, or arranging for them to be physically attacked or killed. This is intimidation and all journalists who want to work in Afghanistan have to follow IEA rules on what can be reported and how. The problem is that outside of Kabul there is no standard rules for what can be reported and how. Nearly half the IRA era news outlets have shut down or been closed by the IEA. The list of things you cann0t mention in Afghan media grows daily. Aside from any criticism of the government, there are also restrictions on how permissible news is to be reported. This means you have to be careful on how you report, if at all, on IEA changes that violate IEA assurances to foreign nations that about reviving lifestyle rules that barred women from most jobs and mandated dress and travel rules for women.
December 25, 2021: The IEA threatened Pakistan because of resumed use of rockets and artillery fire from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan (usually Kunar province) against TTP (Pakistan Taliban) camps. Pakistan has been doing this for years. The IRA government would contact Pakistan and the Pakistanis usually apologized and said they would halt the attacks. The attacks kept happening. Back in early 2019 the IRA government sent the UN a letter complaining about nearly a decade of similar Pakistani border violence. The Afghan letter detailed incidents from 2012 to early 2019 in which Pakistani troops fired 28,849 rockets, mortar or artillery shells into eastern Afghanistan . Much of this firepower is directed at Kunar province and has been going on since 2010 in an effort to hit real or suspected TTP bases there. These incidents increased to the point where the Afghans began keeping track of them in 2012. Since then, this violence has killed or wounded nearly 300 people that the Afghan government knows about. The shelling occurs against rural areas that are often unpopulated so it is unclear if the Pakistanis have hit many Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani government propaganda insists that these Taliban Islamic terrorists are based in eastern Afghanistan and regularly cross into Pakistan to carry out attacks. The 2019 letter to the UN details how the situation is getting worse and that in 2018 there were 161 of these incidents that involved at least 6,025 Pakistani projectiles landing in Afghanistan. The letter pointed out that several elected Pakistani leaders have pledged to halt these border violations but those pledges are ignored by the Pakistani military. There was a large scale (neatly 200 shells and rockets) Pakistani attack in late 2019 but since the UN was notified and the Pakistani habit of cross border attacks became news, there have been fewer of these Pakistani attacks, and they have not stopped, even as the Pakistan-backed IEA government replaced the elected IRA one. The Pakistani military is also sending its missile armed UAVs to look for TTP leaders and kill them.
December 24, 2021: In the east (Nangarhar Province) the IEA has resumed attacks on the Pakistani efforts to build and maintain border fences. There have long been disagreements about exactly where the border is. T he current Afghan-Pakistani border is called the “Durand Line.” This was an impromptu, 1893 era invention of British colonial authorities and was always considered temporary, or at least negotiable, by locals. The need for renegotiation was mainly about how the line often went right through Pushtun tribal territories. However, the Afghans are more inclined to demand adjustments to the Durand Line, and fight to obtain what they want. Recent Pakistani efforts to build more fences and other structures on their side of the border was an attempt to make the Durand line permanent and no longer negotiable.
December 23, 2021: In Kabul a suicide bomber was detected and shot as he tried to enter the passport office. The bomber managed to detonate his explosives and wounding several civilians. Two days late ISK ( Islamic State Khorasan), the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate, took credit for the attack and promised more. ISK has been very active in Afghanistan since the IEA took power in mid-August. The IEA told Pakistan it would go after ISK while telling the United States they would not cooperate with the Americans or Russians in suppressing ISK activity in Afghanistan. Now ISK is once more operating in Pakistan in addition to growing attacks in Afghanistan. ISK is growing rapidly because many Taliban factions oppose the Pakistani domination of the IEA and continued discrimination against Pushtuns in general. Opposition to Pakistan is one thing that most Pushtuns can agree on. While ISIL doctrine calls for attacks to concentrate on heretics (mainly Shia Moslems) and infidels (non-Moslems), the growing number of Afghan and Pakistani Pushtuns joining ISK led to more attacks in general with a larger proportion against the IEA and Pakistani military and its ISI intelligence branch. ISK is believed to currently have about 2,000 armed members in Afghanistan. This growth began as soon as the IEA took over in August. Several prominent ISK members in Afghan prisons were freed by IEA, along with many lower ranking men. Some members of the deposed IRA military are also known to have joined ISK, which won some popular support by being consistent in concentrating its attacks on foreigners and Moslem factions that are considered heretics by the Sunni Moslem majority in Afghanistan.
December 22, 2021: The UN passed a resolution, which the U.S. agreed to, that allowed emergency food and medical aid to Afghanistan without recognizing the IEA as the legitimate government. Pakistan is the only country advocating recognition of the IEA and that has not stopped the IEA from causing problems with Pakistan over border disputes and the TTP maintaining bases in areas near the Pakistan border.
December 21, 2021: Companies from Qatar and Turkey have agreed to a partnership deal in which they would operate Kabul airport and share profits with IEA. This deal has been in the works for months and one obstacle was the IEA refusal to allow Turkish troops to provide airport security. Turkey agreed to the “no troops” demand but it is unclear who will provide security.
December 20, 2021: One of the more visible signs of IEA economic problems is the more frequent electricity blackouts in Kabul. These are the result of chronic electricity shortages made worse by blocked aid payments needed to complete power transmission networks bringing additional electricity into Kabul.
December 16, 2021: In the east (Kunar province), a senior TTP leader was the target of a laser guided rocket fired from a UAV above the village he was staying in. The missile failed to detonate. Two TTP gunmen were wounded. No pictures of the missile wreckage were made available so it is difficult to determine where it came from. Pakistan has been using Chinese UAVs since 2009 and by 2015 had armed them and used them against Islamic terrorists, including TTP, in 2015. In September 12015 a Pakistani Burraq UAV, armed with Pakistani Barq laser guided missiles, killed three Islamic terrorists in North Waziristan. This was a first for Pakistan. While Pakistan has, for nearly a decade, officially condemned and opposed similar strikes by American UAVs in North Waziristan, it never outright banned the American use of armed UAVs in certain parts of Pakistan. The U.S. refused to sell Pakistan UAVs that could carry laser guided missiles, mainly because the Americans didn’t, and still don’t, trust Pakistan. There were other suppliers and eventually Pakistan bought a similar (to the U.S. Predator) UAV from China in 2009 and began building their own. and calling the larger one Burraq.
December 11, 2021: India sent an aircraft to Kabul with 1.6 tons of vital medical supplies. The IEA promptly broadcast thanks to India, which Pakistan considers an archenemy, and praised past Indian aid to Afghanistan (under the IRA government). India long supported the IRA government and allied with Iran to build another road and rail link to a new (Indian financed) Iranian port on the Indian Ocean. Technically India, a Hindu majority nation, would be a target for radical Moslems. The situation with India is different because India has the largest Moslem population in the world and has always been fair in the treatment of its Moslems and Indian Moslems have reciprocated. The Pakistan military has made India the official military threat to Pakistan, something the few Indians, Pakistanis or anyone else in the region agrees with. Most Afghans agree that Pakistan is more of a threat than anything else. The IEA is trying to portray itself as the friend of all but few nations believe that as they said the same thing in the 1990s. The IEA underestimates the extent of foreign distrust. Pakistan always assured the Taliban that once they were in control once more, everything would work out.
December 1, 2021: In the west (Nimroz province) IEA gunmen opened fire on Iranians who were building the new border wall in an area favored by smugglers. The Iranians returned fire but the shooting was soon halted and representatives from Iran and the IEA met to talk. The IEA reaction was a misunderstanding about whether the wall was going up on the Iranian side of the border. It was. Turkey and Pakistan have built border fences or walls, mainly to prevent people smuggling. The Iran border barrier is aimed at drug and people smugglers. Iran has not yet recognized the new IEA because despite assurances that it would not happen, some IEA gunmen are attacking Afghan Shia, who comprise 20 percent of the population and Iran has pledged to protect Afghan Shia from Taliban or IEA violence.
November 27, 2021: In the east (Khost province) TTP gunmen crossed the Pakistan border into North Waziristan and attacked an army outpost, killing two soldiers. It is unknown if the attackers went back to Afghanistan or continued into Pakistan.