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Reader riposte: Tarin Kowt and battle for minds

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COMMENTS

29 July 2011 16:13

Anton Kuruc writes:

Whilst I agree with the points James Brown makes, I think there are other, more important, issues at stake. The death of Jan Mohammed Khan (JMK) was probably the harbinger of greater destabilisation in Uruzgan Province and hence an increased threat to the ADF. The Taliban appear to be on a twin track to isolate Karzai from his confidants and his tribal Pashtun support base.

Firstly, the Taliban killed Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. Wali was legendarily the Helmand Province strongman and opium baron. Estimates suggest that 85% of the world's opium comes from Helmand Province and the corruption of its proceeds spreads right through the country. Wali probably provided a lot of financial patronage that could be spread around for the benefit of the Karzai regime and his clan. So in killing Wali, the Taliban probably removed the biggest source of private patronage funds available to the Karzai clan to support the President.

Next, the Taliban killed JMK, the former first post-Taliban Uruzgan Governor, Karzai tribal fixer and suspected local hatchet man. In the opinion of some, JMK was behind most of the inter 'tribal' instability in Uruzgan. If this is correct then the death of JMK was a massive blow to Karzai, and JMK was rumoured to have the greatest influence in Uruzgan. JMK's death was likely to leave a 'real' power vacuum that increases instability in Uruzgan.

There is another critical part of the Karzai clan operation, the KAU or Uruzgan highway patrol. Its chief and JMK nephew, Mattiullah Khan, has been to Australia for training. As soon as JMK was killed, Mattiullah must have known he was likely to be next. The attack in Tarin Kowt very strongly suggests that Matiullah is the next key target on the Taliban kill list. Matiullah's KAU is perhaps the best armed and most disciplined 'militia' in Afghanistan and it earns plenty of money through road security contracts with the US and ISAF. The KAU might be seen as Karzai's 'armed' insurance to ensure he can continue to control his Uruzgan Province power base regardless of the Afghan Military or Police.

So, track one looks like a deliberate strategy to isolate Karzai from his key direct political supporters who provide the Afghan power elements that support his regime. If anyone who gets close to Karzai gets killed, then Karzai could start feeling a bit lonely and start to be perceived by the locals as an American puppet.

The second track is perhaps to isolate Karzai from his own tribal support base in Uruzgan. Under Pashtun Wali, the leader needs to bring security and provide patronage to his tribal supporters. Karzai will probably lose legitimacy amongst the Pashtun if he can't secure his own tribal people in his home province. If Karzai can't secure Uruzgan then he will find it increasingly difficult to distribute patronage, thus further undermining his leadership amongst his own support base and hence more broadly amongst Pashtuns.

Mullah Omar, a Hotak, is also from Uruzgan and Uruzgan was the birthplace of the Pashtun anti-Taliban movement. Uruzgan has significant strategic, cultural and symbolic implications for Karzai's leadership. The attack on Tarin Kowt might well be the start of a focused Taliban effort to separate Karzai from his own people – the second track of the Taliban's isolate Karzai strategy.

Hopefully the ADF is a bit slow to deal with the perception of the war amongst Australians because they realise that the perceptions of local Afghans are far more important. In Uruzgan, Afghans are overwhelmingly illiterate, can't speak English and don't have access to the internet. Somehow I don't think the Afghans know or care whether the ADF's JTF633 Facebook page has been updated or not.

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