World View: The Afghanistan Elections and the Afghan-Pakistan Taliban Alliance

This morning's key headlines from

  • New poison gas attack reported in Syria
  • The Afghanistan elections and the Afghan-Pakistan Taliban alliance
  • The presidential runoff in Afghanistan

New poison gas attack reported in Syria

Reports from both the Syrian government and rebel forces claim that a poison gas attack occurred late Friday in a central rebel-held village of Syria, killing two people and injuring more than 100. The poison gas, which is thought to be chlorine, was apparently launched during air raids that left heavy smoke over the area. The rebel groups are blaming the Syrian government, while the Syrian government is blaming the al-Qaeda al-Nusra front.

In August of last year, there was a major sarin gas attack near the capital, Damascus, killing hundreds of people. The United Nations Security Council authorized a U.N. inspection team to visit the site, but was forbidden to draw any conclusions about who was responsible. This was at the insistence of the Russians, who wanted to protect the genocidal monster president Bashar al-Assad of proof of guilt. However, the the United Nations forensic team found a very clever way to defeat the Russians. In their scientific analysis of the evidence, they included calculations of the trajectories of the rockets that delivered the sarin gas. They drew no conclusions about where the rockets were launched, but they provided enough scientific information within the report so that experts studying the report could show that the rockets must have been launched from a Syrian Republican Guard unit. So they were very cleverly able to prove al-Assad's guilt without having to say so!

The al-Assad regime agreed to remove and destroy its chemical weapons stock, but Syria's government missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile and a Feb. 5 deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. It's widely believed, though unproven, that al-Assad is hiding other stores of chemical weapons. AP and AFP

The Afghanistan elections and the Afghan-Pakistan Taliban alliance

There has always been a big difference in behavior between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, largely because of generational differences.

The Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns, which spread from southern Afghanistan, across the border through Pakistan's tribal area, into northwestern Pakistan. I first wrote about the Afghan Taliban's behavior when I discussed the world's worst suicide bombers. According to figures published by the Jamestown foundation, in 2007 Afghan Taliban suicide bombers almost always managed to kill only themselves, or at most one other person. This is an enormous contrast to the Pakistani Taliban, who have killed literally thousands of people in suicide bombings in recent years.

The difference between the two is a result of history. Pakistan's last generational crisis war was the war between Hindus and Muslims in 1947 that followed Partition, the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent and the creation of the states of India and Pakistan. That was one of the bloodiest wars of the 20th century, but most of its generations of survivors have now disappeared, and the younger generations know only of the heroics, but none of the horrors.

By contrast, Afghanistan's last generational crisis war was the relatively recent bloody Afghan civil war of 1991-96. In 2007, 11 years after that war ended, the bloody horrors were still fresh in all the survivors' minds, and there was no motivation to inflict more horrors on themselves or others by blowing up innocent civilians in a mosque or marketplace. The result is that the bloodiest Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have come not from Afghan Taliban but from Pakistani Taliban crossing the border.

It's now seven years later, and the first generation of children growing up after Afghanistan's civil war are coming of age. Even so, there still are apparently not enough Afghan Taliban willing to blow people up, as shown by the failure of the Taliban to disrupt last weekend's presidential election with any major terrorist attacks, despite promises to do so.

Leaders of Taliban militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan have been meeting to try to work together. This attempted alliance is in its early stages, and the generational differences will continue to provide obstacles, but they are spurred on by the withdrawal this year of American and Nato forces. In one way or another, they should be expected to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal.

We've reported several times on the ongoing "peace talks" between the Pakistani Taliban and Pakistan's government. One of the Taliban's motivations for these talks is to keep Pakistan's military from carrying out its threat to destroy militant bases in the tribal area that the militants use for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. Reuters

The presidential runoff in Afghanistan

A major issue in Afghanistan's presidential elections, both for Afghanistan and for the United States, is the pending "bilateral security agreement" (BSA), which will provide the legal backing to allow a contingent of American forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014. Current president Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the BSA, after previously promising to do so, and has left the decision to his successor. However, all three of the major runoff candidates have said they will sign the BSA if they win the election.

The three runoff candidates are described by one analyst as follows:

  • Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank technocrat who is respected internationally for his intellect.
  • Abdullah Abdullah, a former close friend of legendary Afghan freedom fighter and U.S. ally Ahmad Shah Massoud and a medical doctor with a reputation for toughness and integrity.
  • Zalmai Rassoul, who despite being seen as an ally of Hamid Karzai, is also a widely respected official with vast international experience.
Ghani and Rassoul are Pashtuns, while Abdullah is a Hazara. The Hazaras and the Pashtuns were bitter enemies during the 1990s civil war, so a victory by Abdullah could mean trouble in the form of increased terrorist activity by the Pashtun Taliban. Defense One

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Syria, Bashar al-Assad, United Nations, Afghanistan, Taliban, Pakistan, Pashtun, Hazara, India, Nato, bilateral security agreement, BSA, Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, Zalmai Rassoul
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