Meanwhile in the provinces the lines are blurring even further. This is illustrated by recent instructions from the Quetta shura on how to treat people working for the government or the internationals.
The instructions were communicated to Taliban commanders in the south by traveling delegations and are said to have included a set of pointers on how to deal with people working for the government or the internationals. According to these instructions the Taliban were urged to simultaneously persuade those working in government to leave their positions, to encourage the collapse in government brought on by officials taking bribes or otherwise alienating the population, to identify people in strategic positions and persuade (or pay) them to cooperate, and, most importantly, to not kill any suspicious prisoners without checking with the leadership first, in case they are actually ‘one of them’.
Afghanistan is already complicated as it is. As relationships are the main social and political capital, everybody forges as many as he or she can manage. But over the years, with all the talks of talks and negotiations, and all the overt and covert outreach from the world’s diplomats and intelligence services and their demand for Afghan “brokers”, with all the money floating around, with the ever increasing need for Afghans to expand their networks as the political field fragments even further, it has become increasingly impossible to separate the Taliban, the government and the people.
This is quite fascinatingly illustrated by recent reports from Ghazni about developments in the education sector. Inhabitants claimed that the local Taliban had issued an order, which was being implemented, that in the new year (starting on 21 March) all schools in the province should be reopened, including girls’ schools up to sixth grade. The Taliban was said to have been so serious about it that they offered to introduce teachers and district representatives wherever the government was unable to provide them or to ensure that they did their job properly.
It was seen as a serious development, which had been facilitated by the fact that the Ministry of Education was now seen as largely in Hezb-e Islami hands (since the appointment of Farooq Wardak as Minister). The move was moreover explained as a result of the realization in Taliban and Hezb-e Islami ranks, as well as in the wider Pashtun community, that the campaign against education was harming both the reputation of the insurgents’ cause and the future of the Pashtuns, who would otherwise remain largely illiterate.
Some further probing, however, unearthed an alternative explanation. According to these reports government staff, local Taliban commanders and teachers had joined hands in an elaborate salary scam, in which they conspired to create the impression that all schools were active, all teacher slots filled and all teachers actually teaching – in order to claim the total budget for salaries and other costs, and divide it among those involved (which, if the reports are true, will also need to include senior figures at the centre on both sides).
These imprecise reports and the possible explanations illustrate how complex and confusing things have become and how difficult it has become to determine who is on whose side, who is tricking who and what that means for the ongoing insurgency and counterinsurgency.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020