Doing It the Afghanistan Way

Saturday saw heavy truck, four-wheeled drive and tank traffic charging up and down the dusty roads of northern Afghanistan, packed with unexpectedly smiling warriors in the headgear denoting their diverse tribal affiliations. According to most reports, they men were part of a swelling stream running to many hundreds of Taliban defectors coming over to the Northern Alliance from their embattled stronghold of Konduz. Some even turning their guns against their erstwhile comrades in arms. For the third day running, the Taliban were generally depicted as being on the point of surrender, thus averting an all-out battle for the capture of the strategic Konduz and neighboring Khanabad.
This surrender has not come about. The rate of defections, according to debkafile‘s military sources, is scarcely more than a trickle. On the western front, which is commanded by Northern Alliance General Rashid Dostum, the stream is stronger. There, defectors are being “processed” by Northern Alliance officers according to a peculiar local custom, defined by the Sky correspondent on the spot, Colin Brasier, as “more acquisitive than inquisitive”. Their interrogators in other words are more interested in the kit and vehicles carried by the Taliban turncoats than in their allegiances or ideology.
In any case, by Afghan standards, they are not deemed turncoats; switching sides in mid-battle is a traditional feature of Afghan warfare. Saturday, one particularly large group of around 600 high Taliban officers with their men was granted safe passage from Konduz all the way through to the Taliban’s second stronghold of Kahandar in the south with their weapons. US Special Forces officers attached to the Dostum command were clearly a party to the arrangement, which also covered members of the Pakistani contingent fighting with the Taliban, including Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen, soldiers and members of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence service. The primary US target in Afghanistan is Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, ahead of the Taliban.
This filtering process appears to be designed to clear the field of the less-committed Taliban elements in advance of the decisive Northern Alliance onslaught on Konduz, expected in the next 48 hours. The hardline Talilban and al Qaeda elements will remain, as will the “foreigners”, namely the Arab, Chechens and other Islamic zealots, who have vowed to fight to the death. They can expect little mercy whether they surrender or are defeated.
In Maidan Shahr, the disputed village in the south, a negotiated deal similar to the Konduz arrangement has funneled “soft line” Taliban commanders out of the sector. They too were permitted to head for Kahandar.
The jockeying for representation at the first conference on Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government continues. Due to open in Berlin Monday, it has been delayed for one day.

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