Two days ago a mob of villagers stoned to death a Taliban commander and his body guard in the Nawa District of Helmand Province. The news had gone under-reported for some time even though the New York Times picked it up. Today a few more outlets ran the news. No doubt the Pentagon and the State Department would love to have this piece of news go viral. (Certainly many have argued that this is the first piece of good news of come out Afghanistan in some time.) For the villagers turned on the two Taliban insurgents for what they felt was the unjust and brutal killing of a local respected village elder.
Reports suggest that two insurgents came to the home of the village elder, a man who was known to be friends with a former provincial leader, and shot him. He was killed instantly. The man’s sons tackled the insurgents and along with angry villagers who rushed to the scene, beat the two insurgents to death with stones. The Times reportage shows that the Taliban had been especially brutal to men they suspected of working with the Afghan military and the central government in Kabul.
This story might have been devised as a “just-so” story-that there is now in the works a quietly quaking social unrest against the Taliban that may soon well up into an uprising. And this story has the added dramatic flair that the horrible incident occurred in Helmand Province, next door to Kandahar, the historic birthday place of the Afghan Taliban. Given this development one might think the Taliban would do well to wait out the publicity that such acts of violence might cut their way. Indeed the Taliban claimed that they were not responsible for the killing of the village leader. But to the hope that the story of a local uprising might go viral- no dice.
One act of defiance- even in concert with numerous others that have surely gone unreported- cannot substantiate claims of an uprising, were such a claim made. Indeed, the murder of the village elder and the consequent stoning of the Taliban occurred in the mostly peaceful Helmand River Valley, now deemed quite safe due to the recent ground-swell tramping of ISAF boots. The stoning of the insurgents might well have been a simple act of mob vengeance against gross acts of injustice leveled against one of their own.
But the Pentagon is arguing that there is some news to rest a bit easier: the number of Taliban attacks over the course of the last few months is lower than at this time last year. The New York Times has that story, though even that story could harbor ill-tidings.
“Enemy-initiated attacks were down in 12 of the last 16 weeks compared with the same periods last year, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, said Monday. Over all, levels of violence are higher than last year, NATO officials said, but the recent declines, coming in what is supposed to be the Taliban’s prime fighting season, have led to hope among the officials that violence by the end of 2011 will fall below 2010 levels, which were the worst since the war began almost 10 years ago.”
During the fighting season that many analysts had predicted would be the worst yet, the Taliban seem to have pulled back a bit. For now this is good news. For it is possible that the Taliban are indeed getting weaker. Alternatively it is possible that the Taliban are waiting out this season for the following fighting season when there will be fewer ISAF boots on the ground and American footprints, though smaller and less numerous, might well be more spread about the land.
That development cannot fail to please the Taliban. Perhaps, therefore, the Taliban and other insurgents are waiting out this season for the following season to come.