Why Afghanistan’s government is losing the war with the Taliban

May 16, 2019

SITTING ON A dusty rug beside their lorries at the edge of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, a group of middle-aged drivers explain the difference between the Taliban and the government. Both groups take money from drivers on the road, says Muhammad Akram, leaning forward in a black kurta; both are violent. But when the Taliban stop him at a checkpoint, they write him a receipt. Waving a fistful of green papers, he explains how they ensure he won’t be charged twice: after he pays one group of Talibs, his receipt gets him through subsequent stops. Government soldiers, in contrast, rob him over and over. When he drives from Herat, a city near the Iranian border, to Kandahar, Mr Akram says, he will pay the Taliban once. Government soldiers he will pay at least 30 times.

Afghanistan has been mired in conflict for some 40 years. It has been almost 18 years since America and other NATO members invaded to kick out the Taliban in the wake of the September 11th attacks. The two sides have been negotiating directly since October over an American withdrawal in exchange for a commitment from the Taliban not to harbour terrorists. The latest round of talks, in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain an embassy of sorts, concluded on May 9th, with what the militants described as “some progress”.

As the two sides haggle, the war has...

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