Hate and Violence Mood in Northern Afghanistan Shifts against German Troops
Part 3: An Ominous Ethnic Free-for-All
While it was the Taliban and their sympathizers who set out to kill foreigners in Mazar-e-Sharif, the unrest in Taloqan offered a taste of the power struggles of the future. Uzbeks are the largest ethnic group in the province, but the Tajiks have a grip on power and hold the most important government posts.
Some reports posit that local Uzbek warlords took advantage of a moment of anger to incite ethnic Uzbeks to riot. "It's our right to protest peacefully, isn't it?" asks Maulawi Lutfullah, the local leader of the Uzbek party Jonbesh, with a smile. But when asked what hand grenades and Molotov cocktails have to do with a supposedly peaceful protest, he keeps the smile, denies knowing where they came from and issues a threat. "If the government doesn't pay attention to us and doesn't give us any positions," he says, "we'll see what we do next!"
ISAF officers, reconstruction workers and diplomats had long believed that the reality in Afghanistan adhered to rational patterns. But after the April 1 attack in Mazar-e-Sharif, it became clear to everyone just how lethal the combination of rumors and mob power could be.
Years ago, the Taliban were the first to stir up resentment against the foreigners. In fact, they were so good at it that opposing foreigners became popular across the political spectrum. President Karzai is still playing the same game. Just a few days ago, he warned the West that Afghans would condemn Western soldiers as enemy occupiers if they killed any more civilians in airstrikes on homes.
Change But Stay
The president's national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, reinforced Karzai's warning. "This is his final word on this matter, and it should be taken seriously," Spanta told SPIEGEL. "If nothing changes, sentiments among the population will start turning against NATO."
When asked whether negotiations with the Taliban could help resolve the Afghan conflict, Spanta replied: "They could be helpful if Pakistan were willing to support the peace process. But that's not the case. Pakistan has a different strategy: The West is obviously weary and will soon withdraw. Then, in one or two years, Pakistan can finally move into Afghanistan and use it as a strategic area. That's what this is all about."
Despite the tension, Spanta says he wants the Germans to stay and calls the war against the Taliban "a common cause." He is also quick to point out that he is remaining in Afghanistan despite having his name on several terrorist hit lists.
The lesson of the last few weeks is that this war seems to grow quiet at times, only to reawaken and strike with renewed force. New vehicles and equipment will not stop this from happening, and chances are that new strategies won't either. Although a number of strategies have already been employed, they have done nothing to change the patterns in the north: relative calm lasting days or weeks, followed by a deadly attack.
The question is how much of this Germany can stomach. But a withdrawal would trigger a rapid escalation of the war. Were that to happen, German soldiers would no longer be dying -- but large numbers of Afghans would. Indeed, today's war is nothing compared to tomorrow's.
According to a Western intelligence agent in Kunduz, the goal of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan is to conserve its forces for future battles. "They want to get them all into position for Day X," the agent says, "after the ISAF troops withdraw."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Mood in Northern Afghanistan Shifts against German Troops
- Part 2: Bigger, Better Bombs...and More of Them
- Part 3: An Ominous Ethnic Free-for-All