Taliban holds fire thanks to tooth-sized nut. Image via the NY Times.
Some say all is fair in love and war, but for guerrilla warfare between the Taliban and Haqqani in Afghanistan, there are limits. Guns go down for pine nut season. Pine nuts are those delicious, tooth-sized nuts which are a staple in pesto. Browned and sprinkled over hummous and Middle East dishes, in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan, near its border with Pakistan, insurgents put down their guns so the able bodied can collect the pine cones, which house the little nuts.
The New York Times reports that this year as villagers starting picking pine cones in front of the new American-Afghan outpost, the Taliban and Haqqani fighters declared a cease-fire. Called the “pine nut truce” the ceasefire illuminates some of the basic cultural differences between the east and the west.
It also suggests new ways of touching the hearts and souls of guerrillas at war. Every culture has a soft spot. And for Afghans, it is harvest time.
Soldiers on the ground told the NY Times, “Waging war requires labor, and when local labor is busy with other work, fighting can subside. In sections of Paktika Province, the decline in violence was clear and steep.”
Until recently firing on the American-Afghan post was regular, including shots of mortar rounds, and machine guns and rifles. “For two months we basically received contact daily or twice daily,” said Capt. Craig A. Halstead, who commands Company B, Second Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, which rotates platoons through the post.
There were a couple of days when no fire was heard in August. Then some more in September. According to the NY Times when on September 10, the soldiers intercepted radio chatter, they heard fighters talking about the harvest. “We will not shoot for 15 days so the people can collect pine cones,” the voice said.
Using long poles with hooked ends, the locals picked pine cones for sale in Orgun, nearby.
Just why the Taliban and Haqqani held their fire is not completely understood.
It is widely assumed they didn’t want to endanger the pine cone pickers. Apparently insurgents from both sides have men from the villages and together somehow they negotiated the truce, temporarily.
Could pine nuts save the Middle East? A trite statement perhaps, but one worth thinking about. My mom is a firm believer that a hard days work can solve any spiritual ailments. Pine nut harvesting is certainly more sustainable to the world than poppy fields for opium. Let’s start a pine nut revolution to up the demand to save lives.