The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Living in Reality: Afghanistan Issue

Two weeks ago, I noted that the Taliban were competent and not corrupt.

Because of this, the Taliban leadership and even its lower ranks is made up of competent people who are true believers…

…The Taliban, like Hezbollah, does not tolerate people who are serial fuck-ups. In this they are the exact opposite of America’s elites, who not only tolerate serial fuck-ups, but promote them.

The Taliban will rule Afghanistan effectively, in line with their beliefs and goals.

This week,

“I’m happy about the improved security situation,” said Qadiri, 40. He doesn’t worry about crime the way he did a few weeks ago. He said corruption, along with the gov’t, appeared to vanish overnight.

Both of these things: improved security AND no corruption should not be a surprise. If you are surprised, your mental model of the world was badly flawed. The US-backed government was massively corrupt and the Taliban are competent true believers.

As Stoller notes, the next problem will be the economy.

Without the US flying in pallets of cash, Afghanistan will have some real problems. If the US insists on sanctions and doesn’t provide aid, Afghanistan will more or less automatically go into the China/Russia/Iran/Pakistan/Turkey axis. (Oh, they don’t like Iran, but they’ll live with them.)

The Taliban, as I have noted, run on an ideology I absolutely loathe. But I try to live in the real world, and I acknowledge the strengths and virtues of my enemies.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 29, 2021


Three Simple Policy Heuristics


  1. Plague Species

    Can we define competent and corrupt? A Narco State is a corrupt state and the Taliban are among many things, drug dealers. Producing heroine is corrupt. Sorry, it is. The Taliban may be highly competent at it when once they were “morally” opposed to it, but that hardly means they will be competent at ruling. Ruling is not terrorizing and brutalizing your subjects into conformity and obeisance.

    We’ll see how the Taliban rules in the the next several years. I’m sure when they fall flat on their unshaven faces, it will be blamed on the West. If only the West would have done everything it could to help the Taliban rule, the Taliban would have been successful.

  2. Plague Species

    The strength of the Taliban is that it does not value human life and the American occupation of “Afghanistan” and its meddling in it prior to has also been the strength of the Taliban. Half of its strength has now been removed and I doubt the Taliban can sucker Russia and/or China into occupying “Afghanistan” so it can replace the lost strength it derived from America’s withdrawal.

  3. Hugh

    I am reminded of the video that went viral of the male host of Afghan TV’s Peace Studio show telling his audience that the Taliban wants them to cooperate with it and that they should not be afraid of it. As he says this, there are two Taliban standing behind him fingering their assault rifles and another four or five off camera to his right. There was also the ground breaking event of a couple of weeks ago where a female TV host Beheshta Arghand interviewed a Taliban leader. So what if she fled the country a few days later? Or that another female TV host Mehr Mursal Amiri was ordered by Taliban to go home and never return to work. Obviously, such competent people as the Taliban aren’t going to write off half the population of the country. Right?

    Well at least, they’re competent enough to keep small rival groups like ISIS-K on a tight leash. As for that economy thingy, the Taliban are competent there too as long as we don’t pay too much attention to the fact that a third to half the country will be facing starvation in the coming months without Western food aid. But surely that’s just a detail to such competent people. Maybe Afghans can just switch to eating opium instead because that is one thing the Taliban does control in Afghanistan. And with generous, benign neighbors like Pakistan, Iran, China, and Russia what could go wrong?

  4. Lex

    Last time they were in power they essentially ended opium cultivation. There’s no doubt that they’ve been involved in trafficking since (though we’d be taking the US at its word that it is actually the Taliban participating and not various and/or affiliated warlords).

    If they were smart, they’d nationalize the product. Pay the farmers and then build processing facilities to make inexpensive opiates which S. Asia doesn’t have enough for medical purposes because western pharmaceutical companies run the above board opiate trade.

    I’ve read this same straw man from @plaguespecies in every damned Afghanistan thread. Always ignores that opium cultivation was at historic lows before the US arrived in 2001 and then exploded under the US’s “eradication” efforts. Also ignores that opium has been the primary cash crop for Afghan farmers since at least the late 60’s when the nation petitioned the UN to be one of the legs cultivator countries. Afghanistan was denied the privilege so that French and Australian farmers could grow opium. Also ignores that the west’s opioid problem is not the result of the heroin trade but legal pharmaceutical companies. Users have been turning to heroin and fentanyl since the DEA started threatening doctors prescribing opioids after ignoring a huge drug trade for like two decades. So the doctors cut everyone off and some end up on the street for a fix. But sure, blame heroin on the Taliban … even though almost no processing is done in Afghanistan and what is is generally to morphine base rather than heroin. It’s Americans and Europeans running the heroin trade to supply their own markets. Not to mention that most heroin in the US is from poppies grown in Mexico, not Afghanistan.

  5. different clue

    @Ian Welsh,

    Since the Taliban are strictly Afghanistan-focused, and have no intention to even try sending Taliban agents in Canada to talibanize Canadian society, how are the Taliban an enemy of yours?

    I can understand loathing their loathsome ideology, but since they are confining it to Afghanistan, and are not even threatening to export it to Canada, which means they pose zero threat to you, why is it that you consider them an “enemy”?

  6. Hugh

    “the Taliban are strictly Afghanistan-focused”

    Afghanistan is just a way to fill in a blank space on a map. There are no hard borders that separate Pakistani Pashto from Afghan ones, and there are Tajiks and Uzbeks in both Afghanistan as well as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There are also Shia who live near the border with Iran. As the Taliban showed with giving bin Laden and al Qaeda sanctuary before 9/11, their focus was never just Afghanistan. And fostered by intermarriages, ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda continue. It is not clear how much or if the new Taliban is that much different from the old Taliban.

  7. Ian Welsh

    Loathsome ideologies are my enemies, wherever they are. They’re like viruses. Further, my identification is not limited to Canadians, I don’t consider the life or suffering of an Afghan or Iraqi to be less important than the suffering of Canadians or Americans, or wheoever.

    Where I differ from warmongering neocons and liberals is I don’t believe invading and occupying countries improves the lives of those in them, with very rare exceptions.

  8. Ché Pasa

    Hugh said:

    Afghanistan is just a way to fill in a blank space on a map. There are no hard borders that separate Pakistani Pashto from Afghan ones, and there are Tajiks and Uzbeks in both Afghanistan as well as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There are also Shia who live near the border with Iran.

    I wish more Westerners and Americans especially understood this. Afghanistan is not a “nation” as we ordinarily understand a nation to be, with defined borders and a (relatively) unified populace. “Afghanistan” was created by the British. Like so much else that’s gone wrong in the world. There’s ethnic, tribal and clan diversity, and there’s also remarkable geographic diversity and separation. Kabul is not “Afghanistan” — and Kabul is practically the only place most Westerners have ever heard of. And it’s practically the only place that matters.

    As for the Taliban, it seems to me they are closely aligned philosophically and ideologically if not financially with Saudi Arabia and the whole Sunni reactionary contingent (thus, harboring Osama was natural for them), and their current iteration is much more “moderate” — kind of like MBS is more “moderate” — than their predecessors.

    Well, maybe.

    But it’s clear enough that the US/Nato has been making nice with them for a long time. Much as they do with MBS and Saudi Arabia, no?

  9. Coyote Don

    The Taliban is now a CIA asset.
    The poppies will grow and the heroin will flow.
    Rape pillage and plunder same as it ever was.
    And those Taliban dudes are pretty bad too.

    You have something against beards PC?

  10. Coyote Don

    Sorry. I meant PS, not PC. Whatever it may be.

  11. Stirling Newberry

    The Taliban will be slightly less pure because they need bureaucrats to run the place. Not I say “slightly.”

  12. Synoptocon

    One pull quote isn’t exactly a devastating evidence base. Let’s maybe see how this plays out over time. I remember how popular sentiment was quite different when the Taliban got defenestrated. Folks were quite pleased to see Western powers, until they realized that we are just that stupid and lethal. If Timmy hasn’t grown a hell of a sense of humour in the last two decades, this is likely to be somewhat more contentious over the longer term.

  13. bruce wilder

    The Taliban will rule Afghanistan effectively, in line with their beliefs and goals.

    Is that what “competent” means?

    Seems like a good denotation. As you say, “true believers” though. Sometimes, particularly among authoritarian true believers, there is an unwillingness to revise expectations and adapt creatively, when the millenium does not arrive on schedule.

    Just as the cynical can deny the rot all around them until they drown in it, never considering fundamental reform.

  14. Mike Barry

    Meanwhile, worthless sonofabitch Leon Panetta says we’ll have to go back in to Afghanistan.

    Today’s “Democrats” only have one message for their base, and for Americans in general: “Shaddup, siddown, and eat yer shit.” (And the media and most Republicans, agree.)

    Amazingly, Biden dissented, and acted. For that he deserves credit. I pray he doesn’t get rolled.

  15. Plague Species

    I’ve read this same straw man from @plaguespecies in every damned Afghanistan thread. Always ignores that opium cultivation was at historic lows before the US arrived in 2001 and then exploded under the US’s “eradication” efforts.

    No, I haven’t ignored that and in fact I never fail to mention it. America is dirty. Russia is dirty. The American=backed Afghan puppet government was dirty. The Taliban is dirty.

    I mentioned in the very comment that prompted your American exceptionalism that the Taliban was once “morally” opposed to the heroine trade until they saw the light apparently. Interpretative radical Islam is convenient and flexible when it needs to be, isn’t it? Drug dealing is easy money yet it’s immoral. What do you do if you’re a self-proclaimed jihadist organization? You change the morality. Morality is expedient. Except for the immorality of women’s rights. That is absolute. Women can never have rights. Ever. Never.

    With the advent of Fentanyl, heroine is obsolete, so no, the Taliban’s cash crop should not be supported or enabled. There is no longer any legitimate use for the opioids with cheap fentanyl available that serves the same medical purpose.

    China and the Taliban are now competitors. The Taliban’s heroine versus China’s fentanyl. I wonder who will win that race to the bottom of the barrel?

  16. Mary Bennett

    “China’s fentanyl”. Nice. Let’s blame the Chinese and forget about a particular Western oligarch and billionaire family who profited greatly from that selfsame drug.

    Maybe the new Afghan govt. will get into production of low cost pharmaceuticals like morphine.

  17. Plague Species

    Maybe the new Afghan govt. will get into production of low cost pharmaceuticals like morphine.

    They don’t have time for small potatoes like that. They have their hands full working on the next iteration of Artificial Intelligence and of course they are busy getting their space program up and running. Also, I have no doubt Taliban Motor Company will rival Tesla in no time.

  18. Hugh

    Lots of Biden lost Afghanistan stories making the rounds. Conservatives and the media having a hissy. Like the rest of us they were against forever wars except for the ending them part.

  19. different clue

    The Sackler family profited from pushing hydrocodone, especially in its oxycontin formulation. Other big companies pushed their own opioids.

    Hydrocodone and fentanyl are two different drugs. The Sackler family was not majorly in the fentanyl business.

  20. Mark Level

    I will register 2 comments worth sharing– 1. I was pleasantly shocked today listening to National Petroleum Radio when their main correspondent was asked what Afghanistan’s people are most afraid of with the changeover of rule, and he actually said, “The economy,” and that solving problems with the economy were most people’s greatest worry. Not that the Great White Imperialist Savior has pulled up stakes after 2 decades. 2. Viz Plague’s comment, “The strength of the Taliban is that it does not value human life”, 2 questions, even assuming this proves to be entirely true– A. In what way does that “strength” differ from the bipartisan Imperial US ruling consensus of the Cheney to Hillary Foreign policy apparatus that makes decisions? Get real!! And, B. Does the BoJo government that let Covid run rampant because the Economy is All “care about human life”? Even were this true of the Taliban (& I’m not saying that it’s not, time will tell. I specifically don’t see foreigners through a racist, imperialist lens as a Hegemonic Evil given the US record post-WWII, so I’m willing to wait and see how they actually govern, and if they could actually do worse than the US has? And if they do, I’ll readily admit it when it occurs), isn’t this the “strength” of the ruling class of pretty much every extant government on this planet? But yes, let the 6 months of Hate commence, how dare those brown-skinned heathens take over the governing of their own region? We obviously care so much about the women of Afghanistan, look at the wonderful new laws in Texas forcing poor and (mainly) nonwhite women to give birth to unwanted babies or those engendered by rape. What a wonderful, caring people Americans are, as Hillary and the Republicans agree, we promote “a culture of life!!”

  21. Plague Species

    Mark, Mark, Mark, America is gone now and it’s the Taliban ruling “Afghanistan.” The topic is “Afghanistan” and the Taliban’s governance of it. The topic is not America, although I do realize for a substantial number of people who comment here, everything, no matter what, is about America and how evil it is in a world of purity and holiness.

    America does value human life, Mark. Just last night the Supreme Court of this great land refused to address Texas’s latest abortion legislation that makes abortion illegal after 6 weeks with no exception for rape or incest. Now that is caring about life. Even rape babies deserve a chance to be born because every sperm is sacred.

    As well, there is a magnanimous organization called QAnon that is trying to put an end to ritual abuse and thus save the live and blood of innocent children being sacrificed by people like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

    For the sane amongst us, I suggest revisiting the death of Yugoslavia. That playbook is being enacted in America as we speak. Balkanization. COVFEFE-45 is the straw that’s breaking that camel’s back. The difference between Yugoslavia’s civil war and the civil war to come in America is America has at least 5,000 nukes so he who controls the nukes will have the upper hand in the conflict and I have no doubt they will be used, especially if the fascists get their hands on them during the conflict. Also, unlike the Yugoslavia civil war, there will be no super powers to intervene to put an end to it. China and Russia are more than happy to see America destroy itself.

  22. Some guy asked how we know the Taliban are competent.
    If an insurgent group from one of the poorest countries in the world beats the most technologically advanced and largest funded military in the world isn’t an example competence what is?
    If the Taliban are incompetent we should disband the entire American military. No need to spend 700+ billion a year if incompetent dirt poor people who find technology form 1980 to be science fiction can defeat it.

    What is going on is the American military complex and their enablers are trying to distract from its own incompetence, and corruption. If the number of civilians killed is the entire basis of judging evil that means America is more evil than the Taliban.

  23. Plague Species

    Okay, sure, yeah, America was incompetent in “Afghanistan.” The thing is Oakchair, America’s just fine with being incompetent just as they were just fine with being labeled incompetent when they bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade “accidentally” because a CIA intelligence analyst used outdated maps.

    The true story – though it is being denied by everyone from Albright, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and CIA director George Tenet down – is that the Americans knew exactly what they are doing. The Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was deliberately targeted by the most precise weapons in the US arsenal because it was being used by Zeljko Raznatovic, the indicted war criminal better known as Arkan, to transmit messages to his `Tigers’ – Serb death squads – in Kosovo.

    The Chinese were aiding and abetting Serbian genocide and atrocities. Nice. Wait. I thought the Chinese didn’t meddle?

  24. Hugh

    Now the US is gone from Afghanistan maybe the Taliban can show how competent at governing it is and how it is going to feed a third of its population which is dependent on international food aid and faces starvation without it.

  25. different clue

    The Taliban will probably get food aid and assistance in getting that aid from some combination of Russia, China and the Central Asiastans. These governments ( and peoples too in some cases) want to see an orderly Afghanistan without jihadi terror bases on its territory being used against them. China wants Afghanistan to stay peaceful enough that China can get the minerals out and can put some One Ball One Chain infrastructure in, around, and through Afghanistan.

    So I think this combo of governments will not let Afghanistan starve.

  26. Astrid

    The US isn’t gone from Afghanistan. It’s doing everything it can to ensure failure and suffering there.

  27. Plague Species

    The US isn’t gone from Afghanistan.

    Tell Leon Panetta and McDonald Trump. McDonald’s big 2024 campaign promise will be to invade “Afghanistan” again but how can he do that if America isn’t really gone from “Afghanistan?”

  28. Hugh

    China and Russia will feed the Afghanistan… Thanks, I needed a good laugh.

  29. different clue


    I made a prediction and you made a prediction. I predict that Russia/China/Iran/whomever else they can get to help . . . will feed and stabilize Afghanistan. Or at least try to.

    You predict that they will not, and not even try to.

    Events will prove one of us right and the other of us wrong over the next few years. The readers will all be able to see who / which it was/ will be.

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