News from the Far End of the World: The End of the Beginning in Afghanistan
Officials claim that 5,000 Taleban members have already agreed to give up their arms. These are mainly “tier two” and “tier three” Taleban; the latter being local farmers who fought intermittently for about £5 a day. However, they also said that 70 Taleban “leaders” had been killed this year alone.
President Karzai of Afghanistan has admitted that he has been in negotiation with mid-level Taliban leaders to persuade them to part ways with Mullah Omar prior to the assault on Musa Qala (about which more later). Jerome Starkey reports:
Mullah Mohammad Ishaq Nizami claimed that Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, was trying to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. The council of elders in neighbouring Pakistan controls insurgents in Kandahar and Helmand.
He said: "Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taleban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate."
A nameless NATO official chimes in with a Rumsfieldian quote:
"These are talks about talks. It might not be the beginning of the end, but it's the end of the beginning. It's not official. It is representatives of representatives, like the role the Church played at the start of the Northern Ireland peace process."
The End of the Beginning. It's progress.
Musa Qala has been retaken from Taliban control with more than 50 Taliban fighters dead. The locals are not sad to see them go. Noor Khan writes for the AP:
[Taliban] fighters did collect "taxes" from businesses, farmers and others, money used to help fund the insurgency that raged across the northern part of Helmand province in 2007, a year of record violence in Afghanistan.
Fariq Khan, a Musa Qala resident in his early 30s who owns a telephone shop, said the Taliban would take about $8 from each family every month during a collection at the mosque. Though small, the amount is significant; teachers in Afghanistan are paid only $50 a month.
Trucks passing through paid $50 and poppy farmers had to turn over 10 percent of their profits, Khan said, speaking to The Associated Press in Kandahar.
Musa Qala was the site of 50 to 70 heroin labs used to process the opium poppies grown across northern Helmand _ the world's largest poppy growing region. Khan said small labs employed 15 Afghans, while larger operations had some 60 workers.
Another Musa Qala resident, Mohammed Rauf, said the town has dozens of labs run by residents. "When the Taliban took control after this peace agreement failed, the heroin factories increased," he said in a telephone interview.
The Islamist MMA coalition in Pakistan is near collapse and has suspended itself.
I don't understand the tendency for Muslims in Pakistan and Iraq to boycott politics. It is a foolish surrender to the opposition.
Mushy dodged yet another al Qaeda assassination plot. Assassin and Old Man of the Mountain Osama bin Laden's response has not been reported, but can be imagined.
The Taliban are not in retreat everywhere. Attacks on video rental and music shops continue. Kim Barker reports from Peshawar.
In Peshawar, the police have solved few of the bombings, which have managed to almost shut down the struggling entertainment industry here. No one was arrested in one of the most serious attacks, a suicide bomber who killed the city's police chief and 15 others last January, let alone the smaller bombs that explode regularly. No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks.
In Peshawar, as many as 3,000 police patrol the city of 4 million. That means a rate of one officer for every 1,333 people, compared with Chicago, with one officer for about every 210 people. But the Peshawar police are expected to solve normal crimes plus tackle a growing Islamic insurgency, which often traces back to Taliban-controlled towns or the nearby tribal areas, where tribal justice reigns and there is no law enforcement, let alone police. Coordination between police departments here is unlikely or impossible.
"The militancy factor in the last one year, wasn't here before," said Muhammad Tahir, the senior superintendent of police in Peshawar. "Basically the erosion of state authority has taken place."
As Tahir explained that the militants were better equipped than police in parts of the province, his phone rang — another bombing. This time, a bomb being carried by a woman had blown up near an office of Pakistan's most powerful spy agency. Government officials initially said the woman was the country's first female suicide bomber, but Tahir later said she was probably carrying the bomb when it was unexpectedly detonated by mobile phone, killing only her.
Finally, the major motion picture The Kite Runner has caused unexpected problems for its local stars. Ed Pilkington reports:
The film includes a rape scene involving individuals from two rival tribes. Although the scene is sensitively portrayed, with the unstrapping of a belt rather than graphic action, it has prompted fears of possible ethnic unrest. Paramount Pictures delayed the release of the film by six weeks to December 14 to give time to guarantee the boys' safety.
The four boys include Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, now 13, who plays Hassan, a low-caste member of the Hazara tribe; and Zekeria Ebrahimi, 11, who is cast in the role of Hassan's best friend, a relatively rich Pashtun called Amir. In a key scene Amir fails to intervene when Hassan is raped by a Pashtun man - a betrayal that develops through the film and lies at its emotional core.
Ahmad's characterisation of Hassan has been highly praised. The New York Times has said it "ranks among the great child performances on film".
Rich Klein, a Middle East expert with a Washington-based consultancy firm employed by Paramount to organise the relocation of the boys, said it was a huge relief that they were now out of harm's way. "We were working with eight people, three different languages, and four time zones. But we have found the right place for the boys where they won't feel any sense of anxiety or dislocation in their lives."
Mr Klein said Paramount had recognised it had made an error in casting local Afghan actors. "A mistake was made. It was unintentional - the situation was not fully understood in terms of Afghan culture and history and the relationship between the Hazara and Pashtun people."
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