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Eurasia Notes #6 - Making Sense of Taliban
Media Bakes a Fresh Afghan Narrative Daily
Aug 22, 2021
Never have I seen a story generate so many rival narratives in quick order.
"Vacating Afghanistan will allow Al Qaeda to reconstitute," is a common neocon line.
To frame Taliban as ISIS is loaded. It overlooks the fact that Taliban are Afghans. They bear scant comparison with what another commentator called the cowboys of ISIS — hired hands and traveling wranglers.
As for that ISIS/AQ distinction, does Tom Copeland, director of research at the Centennial Institute remember 2015 when the U.S. claimed it could not find ISIS in Syria?
Uncle Sam: "We seek them high; we seek them low."
President Vladimir Putin obliged. ISIS and their oil tankers were obliterated. Uncle Sam was left looking forgetful or worse.
Neocons assure us we risk attacks similar to 9/11 after the collapse of Afghanistan. The mere fact they say it should ring alarm bells: the people who couldn't find ISIS/AQ now warn of a new spectacular happening.
Some choose their perspective because their job depends on it. Others because it supports a course of action that sells their product. Yet others because of their depth of regional or cultural understanding — and occasionally despite the lack of it.
Recent coverage has paid little attention to the Panjshir river valley that remains in the hands of ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara who oppose the Pashtun Taliban. This was the heart of Ahmad Shah Massoud’s anti-Soviet forces. It was also the core of the Northern Alliance that defeated the Taliban until last week’s collapse of Kabul. The former First Vice President of Afghanistan Amrullah Saleh now leads the remnants of the Northern Alliance from Panjshir valley.
The U.S. would do well to leave this mountain fortress alone; to let its people follow through on their expressed desire to negotiate. And perhaps to rethink the “bringing democracy” thing, especially now that the rest of us are being offered something different, namely The New Normal shorn of anything resembling democracy.
Afghans and the state
As Anatole Lieven writes, “it is an old cliché that the Pashtun highlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan are highly resistant to state authority.” Only between the 1940s and 1970s was the Afghan state sufficiently powerful to impose itself on rural areas and tribes. 
Afghans like limited government, with small taxes and minimal interference in their customs. They don’t mind if the central authority settles tribal disputes and rallies the tribes against invaders but it should keep out of their way. He quotes an old Pashtun proverb: “feuding ate up the mountains, and taxes ate up the plains.”
Western democratizers and NGOs are like a hammer looking for a nail: every territory needs a Western state with all its institutions and a limousine full of central bankers in tow.
Lieven quotes James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia ((2009) to remind us that most states are intensely nasty. “It takes a great deal of nastiness (or at least the threat of it) to persuade tribes to pay taxes, but without taxes, what is the state?”
How states form
Ironies pile up for the casual reader. By now the anarchist or libertarian perhaps has a sneaking admiration for the Afghan. There is a shock in store for the conventional liberal, too.
If Afghanistan needs a state on the Westphalian model, weren’t those born out of nationalist rivalry? States that interfere with customs, that remodel society — progressive states — need a lever, which historically has been nationalism. Meiji Japan, Ataturk’s Turkey, even Cromwell’s secular England rallied the nation brutally against rivals and minorities.
Analyses of Western state-building efforts fail to acknowledge, Lieven says, that rural Pashtun tribal life is incompatible with the state, not because of Western failings but due to the long memory of state oppression. Democracy is irrelevant. The nature of society means warlords and bosses will control votes and seats.
Ibn Khaldun observed in 14th century (CE) Maghreb the Bedouins’ “nature to plunder whatever other people possess. Their sustenance lies wherever the shadow of their lances falls.”
Rivalry for power, which Lieven witnessed after their 1980s victory over the Soviets, led to destruction, plunder and extortion.
That led to a back-and-forth in which Taliban set up a parallel government but then were ousted by the post-9/11 invasion of 2001. The Western experiment in democracy saw the return of the corrupt police officer, the extorting official and worst of all, the predatory tax collector. Not because these were bad individuals; because that is the nature of central government in the context of immutable social structures.
This does not mean there is no law. There is what the French colonial officer Robert Montagne called the Berber’s “ordered anarchy.” These are “rules of order, underpinned by the moral code laying down what it is to ‘do Pashto’, or live a correct Pashtun life.”
Lest the Western liberal reader cough up his or her coffee, this ordered anarchy bears an intriguing resemblance to the Rules-Based International Order, which according to Wikipedia sits at the heart of economic and political liberalism.
The Pashtun and the corporate power broker both favour the least-possible intervention, regulation or tax. Neither wants monarch or state to rule, as such, but merely to be available to mediate in disputes that can’t be solved at local — or corporate — level.
Let’s look at this through the globalist language as used by Rockefeller and UN Agenda 21 and what UNESCO calls, “building peace in the minds of men and women.”
Subsidiarity — central authority does only tasks that can’t be done at a more local level
Interdependence — cooperative engagement, social stewardship
Communitarianism — individual rights are subservient to the extended ‘family’
Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements — villages govern themselves
Common Values — differences in relative power exist but shared values come first
Unitarianism — Wahhabist puritanism invokes pervasive totality like secular humanism
Defund the Police — shared values make external force redundant
That is tongue-in-cheek but it sounds like paradise for Western miners and commodity firms. Lieven also perceives some of these commonalities for he states:
“In this sense, such traditional tribal codes are closer to traditions of customary international law (which also operate in an anarchic global system and under the permanent influence of the relative power of states) than they are to domestic state legal codes, whether Western or Asian.”
My coffee-stained reader might object that Afghanistan is a violent bad land precisely because it lacks a state. But, again, isn’t that exactly the system The Investors and Warmongers prefer? Like Iraq, Libya and very nearly Syria: a failed state where there is no government middleman to extract his fee and where military contractors provide protection to foreign commodity firms as they pump the oil and gas, dig the minerals and curate the herb gardens.
Like any community it struggles to accommodate outside influences and physical dislocation such as refugee flows, especially when these are multiplied by wars and the financial power of the global heroin trade.
Respect versus obedience
In the disordered fall of the communist government and the settling of scores that followed, tribal law, the tradition of family honour and feuds, led to horror and disgrace, writes Lieven. Afghans reached back — not outward, for they had always had an attraction for puritanical religion — to sharia "as the last code standing.”
Sharia law is “the only legal code other than customary law that enjoys instinctive legitimacy among ordinary Afghans,” says Lieven.
Even those few institutions of which outsiders are aware, like the Loya Jirga, or great council are, like the trappings of the state, a show. Their decisions reflect the realities of power and are made in advance. Not so different nowadays to the congress, assembly or parliament in Western countries.
Within the context of his argument this is the emerging reality: the best hope for a working Afghan state — at the level Afghans can finance and tolerate — for now, at least, is Taliban.
It’s a thoughtful article, worth a read in full (link at bottom).
Stop making sense
Stories should make sense on their own merits, while comporting with what we know of the power and influence networks.
Some commentary ignores this completely and is focused instead on domestic politics, such as Kamala Harris stepping out of a photo with her boss.
In Britain, where Tony Blair condemns the retreat as “imbecilic,” the Daily Mail runs the headline, "Run for the Border," with a British minister lamenting we won't be able to get all the refugees out — or in. Refugees are the headline for The Guardian, too.
The Afghan saga is a classic example of how a story is framed. Look at these headlines:
Biden freezes $billions of Afghan assets in U.S. accounts.
Biden to 'mobilize every resource' to get stranded Americans home.
Disbelief and betrayal: Europe reacts to Biden's Afghanistan 'miscalculation'.
That latter article is instructive. NY Mag Intelligencer suggests the Pentagon is using White House correspondents to defend its 20-year Afghan performance, while making the case for continued presence in the region, accusing 'miscalculating' civilian leaders of betraying military honour.
Two years ago a probably-staged leak revealed how "American military leaders in Kabul systematically lied to the public about how well the war against the Taliban was going, so as to insulate their preferred foreign policy from democratic contestation."
In some quarters, military strategy in Afghanistan is reframed as a triumph: see how 2,500 military and foreign service were able to hold back the tide, and see what deluge follows their departure.
Another assessment is that Trump's assurances of withdrawal reduced U.S. casualties to a 20-year low, and breaking his deal to pull out would have put American lives at risk.
And in the background is the ever-present drumbeat of war: the neoliberal propaganda that says war guarantees human rights.
The occupation has not made Afghan lives more secure. More live in poverty, 55 percent in 2017 against 34 percent in 2007, according to the World Bank. 
War may sometimes be the least-bad option, but it takes a twisted perception to equate it with quality of life in anything but an abstruse, theoretical manner. You'll struggle to find a practical definition from WaPo or the self-appointed R2P crowd of what human rights means for a family shepherding their children to a friend’s house under the threat of military apprehension or a droning.
Finally from my selection, Wikileaks has republished a quote from Julian Assange in 2011:
"The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war"
That certainly comports with what we know of the power and influence networks.
Follow the money
I stick to my analysis of Aug 17th for now: the opium ain’t done. Afghanistan’s just being privatized by The Investors. They'll truck its minerals to China where they make the hardware for their Smart Cities
Realpolitik — The Investors are the people who made China a Technocracy. They also own things like the giant miners and commodity traders so they'll probably be involved in extraction and apply their markup. But don’t assume competition where monopoly capitalism has been the rule. The TV/academic geopolitrix is for show.
Minerals — China manufactures Smart Cities and thus needs rare earths. Some can be dug out, even by children as Elon Musk knows, but can they be processed? Kamaz is cheaper (trucking it). That'd be the Silk Road.
Opium — Fentanyl (a synthetic opioid) has dented the heroin trade, prompting a the 250 year-old international trade to adjust. Opium plays a role in pharmaceuticals but perhaps does not require Afghanistan’s production measured at Afghanistan 224,000 hectares (2020) vs Mexico 30 ha (2019).
As notee last week:
“It is not paranoid or "theorist" to suspect malice afoot. The curtain comes down on Afghanistan only temporarily while the props and scenery are prepared for the next act.
It seems that Afghanistan is being privatized, its territories split among the massive commodity traders and mining companies owned by the elite investment vehicles.
There could be a war as a sideshow to Covid and climate change. We can’t have people thinking Rockefeller, Rothschild & Regina are blatantly looting the ’stans while they build up China.” 
Great Game Over - Eurasian Notes #5 (Aug 7, 2021)
Afghan Squid - Eurasian Notes #7 (Aug 28, 2021)
Eurasia Notes #8 - Petrodollar Smoulders (Sep 4, 2021)
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 An Afghan Tragedy: The Pashtuns, the Taliban and the State, by Anatole Lieven, May 2021
 Rockefeller, Rothschild & Regina (R,R & R) appear as stand-ins for The Investors. In this age of global puppetry you cannot avoid at the very least a cameo appearance.