Drug Trade, Resurgent Taliban Fuel Intensified Attacks in Afghanistan

The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, a body of Afghan and international officials that monitors developments in the country, recently reported that a resurgent Taliban has launch on average more than 600 attacks a month, resulting in the deaths of some 3,700 people in 2006.

The board concluded that the drug trade has helped make the fighting and instability particularly intense in four volatile southern provinces.

“What happened basically is that over the last five years what had been, especially in the south, a population that had largely thrown its lot in with the international community and central government lost faith in those elements to deliver a post-Taliban peace,” said Marvin Weinbaum, scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.

U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards described the report as “very credible” and “very realistic.” Although the report seems bleak in its detailed account of increasing violence, Edwards says there does seem to be “progress” and “movement forward.”

Edwards pointed to successful elections for president and parliament and infrastructure improvements such as new schools, wells and highways as evidence of progress in the restive nation.

The most recent report came as the U.N. Security Council dispatched its first envoy to the region in more than three years. Kenzo Oshima, Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations, is to report back to the council about the state of Afghanistan.

Oshima admitted that the “resurgence of violence” was a serious concern that could threaten the “ongoing process of reconstruction and nation-building in Afghanistan,” he told reporters Wednesday.

“Yet the mission believes the storm is being weathered,” Oshima said.

Despite the optimism, a slew of international surveys continue to report on the increasingly dire situation.

In the Unites States, the Government Accountability Office released a report Wednesday saying that the deteriorating security situation threatens the success of U.S. attempts to curb the Afghanistan drug trade.

Earlier this month, the International Crisis Group released a report that warned security had deteriorated such that action was needed now, although the “country’s democratic government is not immediately threatened.”

“The desire for a quick, cheap war followed by a quick, cheap peace is what has brought Afghanistan to the present, increasingly dangerous situation,” the report read.

Marvin Weinbaum echoed concerns that the continued inability for the central government to maintain peace could spell long-term trouble for its future. The lack of government control, the presence of widespread corruption and little economic development all could make Afghans more ambivalent toward where their loyalties lay, he said.

In some parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban have even taken steps to replace the Kabul government. In parts of Kandahar, according to Reuters, the Taliban are now running Islamic courts. The group is also paying its fighters more than $300 a month, compared with the $14 paid to policemen.

“Forget about sympathies and ideologies,” Weinbaum said. “People in many areas are just responding to payment.”

The United Nations echoed Weinbaum’s concerns and said it is focused on ensuring aid cuts through the corruption and governmental issues and has the desired effect.

“Afghanistan does need more help, both in terms of the amount of resources coming to it and ensuring that the financial resources are getting through to the places they’re needed,” said Edwards.

The situation has prompted NATO, the international military force now running peacekeeping operations, to seek an additional 1,500 soldiers for its Afghanistan mission. Canada’s defense minister said Wednesday that he does not know who will supply them, but that the forces are needed immediately.

Despite the pledge from NATO to remain and ensure stability, Weinbaum said this week the departure of most American forces made many Afghans uneasy.

“Afghan people said, ‘They are leaving. Everyone else will. We better cover our bases. If these people are going to leave, the Taliban will still be here,'” Weinbaum said. “The Taliban is saying, ‘You can’t rely on these people. They are promising you this, but they only take away — your poppy crops, guns. For your own security, don’t align yourselves with them.'”