The recent killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the notorious leader of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), in a U.S. drone strike has not only put the newly-elected Pakistani government in a difficult position, it has also presented the militant group with a serious leadership crisis that may culminate in wider rifts, fragmentation, and even armed confrontations if it persists for a long time.
Looking at the reign of terror let loose by the ruthless TTP fighters under Mehsud's command, both in Pakistan's tribal areas and the country's cities, there is every reason to celebrate his death. However, the reaction from the Pakistani ruling and opposition political parties have converted him from a dreaded villain, whose daring attacks on Pakistani civilians and government installations forced state authorities to place a 50m-rupee ($470,000) bounty on his head, to a hero.
In an emotional press conference on November 2, Pakistan's Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, announced that "this is not just the killing of one person, it is the death of all peace efforts." While this may seem like hyperbole to some, Khan has to avert the wrath of the Taliban, as well as snatch the opportunity away from his government's key rival, Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, who has threatened to block the NATO supply route through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where his party controls the government.
Since the May 2013 election, the PTI has emerged as the third biggest party in Pakistan's parliament and Khan himself is a staunch opponent of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the covert CIA drone program that targets wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Although public opinion over Mehsud's death is widely divided, Sharif has had to condemn the U.S. strike, even though it killed a wanted terrorist, lest his opponents -- like Khan and Monawar Hassan, leader of the anti-U.S. Jamiat-e-Islami party -- accuse him of being complicit.
In September, under pressure from the opposition, the government convened an All Parties Conference and continued appealing to the Taliban to begin peace talks, despite the latter's ruthless attacks on civilians and military personnel, which include the killing of a two-star general and a double suicide attack on a church in Peshawar.
The second, and somewhat more important, factor behind the Pakistani government's angry reaction to Mehsud's death is the fear of revenge attacks by the TTP. Silence, let alone a hint of satisfaction on part of the government, could provide enough ground for Taliban suicide bombers and target killers to chase government ministers, just as they did with the Awami National Party and Pakistan People's Party during this year's election campaign. (The two parties had ordered military operations against the TTP in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and South Waziristan in 2009.)
In discussing the Pakistani reactions to the killings of Osama bin Laden in 2011 and Mehsud last week, local columnist and commentator Ayaz Amir said: "When Osama bin Ladin [sic] was killed the army went into mourning, citing breach of national sovereignty. Hakeemullah [sic] Mehsud's killing has plunged much of the political class into mourning." As there has been no serious reaction to the November 1 drone strike from Pakistan's military, the silence is being seen as consent on the part of Pakistan's security establishment.
Apart from the unnecessary hysteria about the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and an end to U.S. drone strikes, which was mostly for public consumption, Sharif's October visit to Washington was quite successful, particularly on the economic and social fronts, military-to-military relations, and Pakistani concerns about the post-2014 Afghanistan. But the November 1 drone strike and the political considerations Sharif faces at home present the Pakistani government with a dilemma.
Being a close U.S. and NATO ally, Sharif can't raise the issue of the killing of a declared terrorist via diplomatic channels. But Pakistan can't welcome Mehsud's death either, lest that invite the wrath of the TTP and provide an excuse for opposition groups to take to the streets. However, those in Sharif's close circles believe that, despite the rhetoric of his interior minister and angry speeches in the Pakistani parliament, the prime minister is still supportive of close ties with the United States.
Testing time for the TTP
If the killing of TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike on August 5, 2009 was the first serious blow to this loose network of a dozen-plus militant outfits, Hakimullah Mehsud's death may prove fatal.
In 2009, signs of rift among the TTP factions emerged as the group tried to find Baitullah Mehsud's successor, choosing between his two close associates Wali ur-Rehman Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud. Though the matter was resolved when Hakimullah was appointed as the new TTP commander and Wali ur-Rehman was named as his deputy, the differences persisted, despite the duo's appearances exchanging smiles in several videos.
Tensions flared up again when Wali ur-Rehman was killed in a drone strike in May 2013 and his group declared Khan Said, alias Sajna, as their leader, without consulting Hakimullah or the TTP shura (consultative body). It was the same old rivalry that resurfaced this past weekend when Hakimullah loyalists refused to endorse Said as his successor, despite the fact that he had received support from 43 of the 60 shura members.
Local sources told this writer that Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, who was named the group's interim chief, comes from Hakimullah's group and is maneuvering hard to draw maximum support for a Meshud group commander from the shura members. If that occurs, the grievances, even open opposition and confrontation, from Said supporters could lead to fragmentation in the network.
Apart from Said, there are quite a few names on the potential successor list, but the tribal dynamics are such that it is unlikely the Mehsud faction will concede leadership to a non-Mehsud. Prominent among the potential candidates are Fazlullah, the chief of the Swat Taliban who is also known as "Mullah FM" for his notorious FM radio channel and is now running his bases from Afghanistan; Omar Khalid Khurasani, who leads the Taliban in the Mohmand tribal agency; Hafiz Saeed Khan in the Orakzai tribal district; and Bhittani.
Since the TTP is drawing most of its fighting force from the Mehsud tribe and uses Mehsud terrain for its base, the Mehsud loyalists will always want a lead role in the organization. However, serious tensions exist among the Mehsud, and even if the shura were to pick Hakimullah's successor soon, the years of disputes and bad blood between the two main factions could lead to serious divisions in the TTP rank and file.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. He has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has written for the Christian Science Monitor and London Sunday Times.
The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
NASEER MEHSUD/AFP/Getty Images
Dan Markey, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Since President Obama took office in 2009, there have been several books published highlighting the deception, failures, and flaws of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Most of these books, such as Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, and David Sanger's Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power offer insider accounts of the U.S. and Pakistani political dynamics that made it so, with a particular focus on U.S. counterterrorism policies and the war in Afghanistan.
All of these texts open a window into Washington's thinking, infighting, and attempts to fix what has become America's most tortured relationship. Nasr talks about Pakistan's "frenemy" status with the United States and whether it is in the U.S. interest "to stress the friend part or the enemy part." Sanger elaborates on Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who as Chief of Army Staff "understood the American paranoia about a Pakistani meltdown, and he took advantage of it." Mazzetti gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the CIA's war in places like Pakistan was conceived as "a surgery without complications," but became a "way of the knife" that "created enemies just as it has obliterated them," fomenting "resentment among former allies and at times contribut[ing] to instability even as it has attempted to bring order to chaos."
While American policymaking in Pakistan remains haunted by the demons of the September 11th attacks, even older demons linger on the Pakistani side, among them the memory of U.S. sanctions, American pressure on its nuclear weapons program, and the CIA's reliance on Pakistan's covert support during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. During a 1995 Senate hearing, then-Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel described the discontent of the Pakistanis, explaining that: "the key impact of sanctions relief is not military or financial. The effect would be primarily in the political realm, creating a sense of faith restored and an unfairness rectified with a country and people who have been loyal friends of the United States over the decades."
Dan Markey's new book, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, heeds Raphel's comments and attempts to answer the perennial questions of the relationship: why do they hate us? How did it get so bad? What are America's options for future relations with Pakistan? Markey roots his analysis in French existentialism, of all things. In French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, "three sinners, all dead to the word" are subject to "eternal torment by each other," each both capable of and vulnerable to the punishment doled out by the others. Building on this idea, No Exit from Pakistan argues that while "Pakistan's leaders tend to be tough negotiators with high thresholds for pain, Washington can cut new deals and level credible threats to achieve U.S. goals. This is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit."
Markey spends a good portion of the book summarizing themes, issues, and events since 1947 that explain this mutual vulnerability and mutual gain between the United States and Pakistan. And he covers the full gamut: Cold War cooperation, sanctions, anti-Americanism, energy, trade, infrastructure development, India, China, the Musharraf years, demographics, youth culture, Afghanistan, the Osama bin Laden Raid, the list goes on.
As an introductory primer for understanding what ails the relationship, this approach is constructive, especially in understanding the U.S.-Pakistan dynamics since 9/11. Markey also writes with a directness and honesty that should be appreciated in the context of one of Washington's most sensitive relationships. He accuses the Pakistanis of being addicted to U.S. assistance dollars, while claiming "Washington's top policymakers felt a personal animus towards Pakistan."
Markey also rightly focuses on new political trends and ideas in Pakistani popular culture that have been largely ignored in other accounts of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as well as in the course of much of the policymaking in both countries. For example, when discussing Pakistani notions of abandonment and national honor, Markey highlights the nationalist anti-American sentiment that grew from nuclear sanctions both among the government and the Pakistani public. As a sign of progress, he notes the success of Pakistani pop band Beygairat Brigade, who released a video on YouTube in 2011 "with thinly veiled references to a wide cast of Pakistani xenophobes, religious extremists, and conspiracy theorists" with lyrics that "lampoon many of the notions associated with defending Pakistan's national pride."
Herein lies the strength of Markey's analysis - his acknowledgment of the grassroots efforts currently afoot that are trying to transform Pakistani politics. He identifies four complex and often contradictory identities of Pakistan: "the elite-dominated basket case," the "garrison state," a "terrorist incubator," and a "youthful idealist, teeming with energy and reform-minded ambition." Without this information, the casual observer of Pakistani politics can easily conclude that the government and its people are merely confused, duplicitous, careless - or all three.
It is hard to argue with the claim that knowing Pakistan is critical to understanding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. But what of the Pakistanis - do they not need to understand why the United States behaves the way it does? Markey's approach puts the entire onus on the Americans to understand how complex Pakistan can be.
While he does outline a comprehensive set of options for managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship - ranging from looking beyond Afghanistan, waiting until after 2014, "defensive isolation" which involves ending formal cooperation, to comprehensive cooperation - he fails to suggest which specific path the countries should take, or even how the United States and Pakistan might prioritize the management or mitigation of threats over time. Markey simply recommends that the solution for this troubled relationship is nothing other than "patient, sustained effort, not by way of quick fixes or neglect" and that "managing or mitigating threats over time is a more realistic expectation." But is he speaking for the United States, Pakistan, or both? It is not clear.
No Exit from Pakistan is more useful as a relationship management strategy than a policy prescription. But the United States and Pakistan seem to have already entered the realm of relationship management over disengagement. This proved true after a NATO cross-border strike in November 2011 at the Salala border post, where over 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. Pakistan closed NATO routes for nearly seven months and the United States delayed coalition support funds payments. The two countries eventually resumed dialogue after the brief period of disengagement with the tacit acknowledgement that they had gone too far, especially so close to the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Ultimately, No Exit from Pakistan introduces some uncomfortable questions about ownership and blame in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. On the one hand, Markey blames the basket case quality of Pakistan on the country's political elites, who "sent their children to private boarding schools while millions of other children never learned to read. Too many sipped cool cucumber soup even as their countrymen struggled to find safe drinking water." But on the other hand, he recognizes that the $1.5 billion-per-year U.S. assistance pledge, known as "Kerry-Lugar-Berman," "was not grounded in an assessment of specific Pakistani development needs or America's ability to meet them."
This is perhaps the true perennial question Markey has set out to answer - who is responsible for Pakistan's problems? He would agree that the United States and Pakistan share in the blame. The decades-long focus of the bilateral relationship on security assistance, militancy, covert activity, and proxy wars has left much unattended by way of development, economics, and stability. Likewise, in Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven pushes for the recognition that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan "has been responsible for increasing Islamist insurgency and terrorism since 2001." In Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes, it becomes acutely apparent whom and what is to blame. The book is a fictional account of the events leading up to the deaths of Pakistani military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq and American Ambassador Arnie Raphel in a C-130 plane crash in 1989. As they walk to the plane to enjoy a case of Pakistani mangoes, Zia says to Raphel: "Now we must put our heads together and suck national security."
The controversial writer Salman Rushdie tackled the same question from another angle in his 1983 work of fiction, Shame, which focuses on internal politics in Pakistan and relations between the East and West. Rushdie writes:
Wherever I turn, there is something of which to be ashamed. But shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture...you can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more. And everyone is civilized.
Rushdie's final reminder is simply: "Shame, dear reader, is not the exclusive property of the East."
While the anguish of Sartre's No Exit resonates strongly with the current psychology of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Rushdie's commentary on shame is a much stronger parallel. It too recognizes that both countries pursue their own interests even as they inflict harm upon themselves and each other. But it focuses on a much more embarrassing aspect of the mutual vulnerability: the fact that the harm, which has become so prevalent, is unacknowledged. Yet both move forward together because, as Markey says, "this is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit," even though there is much to be ashamed about.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Event Notice: "Afghanistan: A Distant War," a discussion with renowned photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg, TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
Resentment in the mountains
There are reports of a growing discontent among what used to be one of the strongest and most feared militant groups in Afghanistan: the Haqqani network (NYT, Khaama). Jalaluddin Haqqani built a strong network of support in the mountains of Khost and Paktia in eastern Afghanistan that began during the war against the Soviets. But now, as he and his son take refuge in Pakistan, leaders of Haqqani's native Zadran tribe in Khost Province say they have formally broken ties with the Haqqani network.
The Zadran tribe's move away from Jalaluddin Haqqani reflects the complex feelings of many locals. The mosque in the middle of town stands as tribute to Haqqani's once strong influence over the area, but Haqqani fighters have become increasingly violent towards elders in the community in recent years and community development has been stunted. "Not long ago, Mr. Haqqani was a hero because he defeated the Communists," Mr. Zadran, head of the Tribal Council Liaison Office said. "Now he is an insurgent and a terrorist. We don't know who made him a hero back then or a terrorist now."
But the Haqqani network is still a serious terrorist threat, as they continue to collect funding from a wide range of sources - from donations to businesses in the Persian Gulf states - and refocus their operations on Kabul. There are also reports that the group has been teaching their fundraising and planning techniques to other insurgent groups.
Seven bodies were found outside of Qalat, in Afghanistan's southern Zabul province on Wednesday (RFE/RL, Pajhwok). The security chief of the province said the bodies, all men, are believed to be civilians who were killed by the Taliban. Other reports suggest the men are National Afghan Army soldiers who disappeared last week while traveling from southern Kandahar province to their homes in Zabul. The Afghan army is trying to identify the bodies.
A British soldier was killed in a suicide attack in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday (Guardian, Pajhwok). The Ministry of Defence in London said the "hugely experienced" soldier was patrolling the Kamparak area, northeast of Lashkargah in Helmand province when he was killed by a car bomb.
CIA to DoD move not happening
While Pakistan continued to grapple with the fallout from the recent death of Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud, the U.S. quietly made clear that the covert drone program would remain under the auspices of the CIA, according to a Foreign Policy exclusive published Wednesday (FP). In May, a series of anonymous announcements leaked by the White House and President Obama's speech at the National Defense University signaled a change in drone program policy: Obama was shifting operations from the CIA to the Defense Department (WSJ, DefenseNews). After six months, the transfer to DoD has still not happened. Although one US official told Foreign Policy that the government is moving toward that policy, the "physics of making this happen quickly are remarkably difficult." But other reasons, like the efficacy of the CIA's drone program in Pakistan, could be the real stalling point.
Test tube babies OK'd
Pakistan's state body on religious issues, the Islamic Ideology Council (ICC), has approved the practice of in vitro fertilization (RRE/RL, ET). The chairman of the ICC, Maulana Muhammad Ali Sheerani, told the press that they also considered the issues of human cloning, sex changes, and DNA tests as primary evidence in rape cases in the council's latest meeting. Human cloning and sex changes were decided to be un-Islamic, although surgery could be approved for people born with both physical characteristics of both sexes.
The ICC remains undecided on the use of DNA evidence in rape investigations. The standard for rape cases currently endorsed by the ICC is in accordance with Sharia law, which says at least four mature, adult individuals have to testify to an occurrence of rape. Sheerani also spoke out against feeding infants milk obtained from breast milk banks and using secret recordings for evidence in court cases, as both of these things are also deemed to be un-Islamic.
Musharraf free to roam
The judge has declared that the police joint investigation found the evidence against former president Pervez Musharraf in the murder case of cleric Ghazi Abdul Rasheed to be insufficient (ET, Dawn, AJE). Musharraf's bail of two surety bonds of Rs0.1 million each was submitted to the court Wednesday after bail was set on Monday. Musharraf will be able to move around the country freely after being under house arrest in his farmhouse in Rawalpindi. Although the jail staff guarding him will be removed, he will most likely continue to live under heavy guard because of the serious threats to his life. The Taliban, for instance, have threatened to kill Musharraf because of his relationship with the US.
And then there were two
News broke Tuesday that, beginning in February 2014, Marvel Comics will begin a new series whose lead character, Kamala Khan, is a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City with her Pakistani immigrant parents (AP, AJAM). Khan, who will be the new Ms. Marvel, can grow and shrink parts of her body and shape shift into other forms, though it is unclear how she acquires her powers. The creative team behind the series said that Khan comes from a "desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective," but that "this is not evangelism" (NYT). Ms. G. Willow Wilson, the series' writer, added that the series "would deal with how familial and religious edicts mesh with super-heroics, which can require rules to be broken." Khan will join Sooraya Qadir, codename "Dust," as the second female Muslim superhero in the Marvel Universe.
-- Emily Schneider
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Event Notice: "Afghanistan: A Distant War," a discussion with renowned photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg, WEDNESDAY, November 6, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
The aftershocks of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud's death in a U.S. drone strike on Friday are still being felt throughout Pakistan, with security forces across the country on high alert (AJAM, AP, Dawn, NYT, Post). Authorities are bracing for a reprisal attack on civilians by the militant group after intelligence reports suggest the Taliban are planning to attack armed forces installations, Western media offices, and commercial centers (AJE, ET). The United Nations issued a warning to its Pakistan office of the potential threat of hostage situations and mass killings, and said that enhancing the security of shopping malls was especially necessary.
In an effort to counteract some of the negative repercussions, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Pakistan on Monday to keep supply lines open to NATO forces in Afghanistan (Reuters). Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, which governs Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, voted on Monday to block the supply lines by November 20 unless the United States stops drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions (NYT). Without the land routes across Pakistan, NATO forces must use more expensive methods, like airlifts, to deliver supplies like food, potable water, and fuel to the troops. Rasmussen did not comment on the drone strike that killed Mehsud, but did say that: "terrorism constitutes a threat to the whole region."
Investing in the future
Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper reported on Tuesday that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has dedicated $33.9 million to continue the Training for Pakistan Project (ET). According to a statement issued by USAID, more than 6,000 Pakistani professionals will take part in educational opportunities funded by the project over the next four years. The program includes the facilitation of an USAID alumni network that will encourage continued engagement in Pakistan's development, and is designed to support Pakistan's agricultural, health, and educational development through local, regional, and international partnerships.
Over 45,000 people have been issued voter cards in southeastern Paktika province, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) reported on Tuesday, as part of the ongoing voter registration campaign (Pajhwok). IEC spokesman Zarab Shah Aajaz told Pajhwok Afghan News that 21,000 of the voter card recipients were women. However, the provincial council deputy chief, Niamatullah Khalid, claimed residents of several districts -- Dila, Gayan, and Mata Khan -- could not obtain voter cards due to security concerns. Khalid did say that security was better in areas where the Afghan Local Police were deployed and that residents in those areas were joining the registration process. The voter registration drive will end November 11.
A date of November 19 has been set for the Loya Jirga to begin in Afghanistan (Reuters). The assembly of tribal elders, government officials, and community members will meet for several days to discuss the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan and to decide the future of US troops in Afghanistan.
Taliban recruiter caught
Mullah Rahmatullah, a key Taliban figure who was instrumental in recruiting militants, was arrested on Monday in northern Balkh province, following an intelligence report, though details of that report are unclear (Pajhwok).
In a separate incident, police fatally shot a man they claimed was a suicide bomber near the Friendship Gate on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in southern Kandahar province on Tuesday (Pajhwok). The suspect ignored police signals to stop, prompting security personnel open fire. His car exploded as a result, confirming police suspicion of a car bomb.
Everyone's a critic
Zabihullah Mujahid, an Afghan Taliban spokesman, had some choice words for the Daily Beast on Sunday, releasing a statement that claimed the web-based news organization had violated "the basic principles of journalism" when it reported on Friday that the Quetta Shura had met in Islamabad to discuss peace (Voice of Jihad). Mujahid's chief complaint was that no one had contacted him for a statement and he added that the report, which the Daily Beast said was an exclusive given by a senior Taliban commander, was "far from reality, purely propaganda based and fabricated." The Daily Beast fired back on Monday with its own statement, saying: "It's always fun to be lectured about ethics by a terrorist organization dedicated to bringing the world back to the seventh century" (Daily Beast).
THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Matt Zeller, Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan (Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, 2012).
Ben Anderson, No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan (Oxford: One World Publications, 2011).
Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
As the U.S. military reels from budgetary battles and withdraws from Afghanistan, commentators offer post-mortem after post-mortem on counter-insurgency (COIN) - an ambitious operational concept-cum-strategy hoisted on its own petard in Afghanistan. These sundry writers - including military officers, scholars, bloggers, and talking heads - have collectively sought, in the words of one blogger "to fire a few shotgun rounds into the recently buried corpse of population-centric counterinsurgency to prevent it from rising again." The specter of the Vietnam Syndrome has become flesh once more, and now the U.S. military plans, or attempts to plan, what form it will take in the decades to come. That is what the COIN debate has always been about - not Iraq or Afghanistan, but the future of the U.S. military.
It is likely that the outcome of this struggle will have a far greater impact on the United States and the world than America's strategic defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, not only is it unfortunate that these debates are not more rooted in the theatres in which these conflicts have taken place, it is very typically American. Contravening Clausewitz, the COIN debate proceeds as if war can be divorced from policy and politics; as if the organization, training, and equipping of the U.S. armed forces can take place apart from the aims to which and the places where these forces will be applied.
It is in this context that the books reviewed here all have considerable value, showcasing different perspectives of the Afghan campaign during its most crucial and resource-intensive years: the experience of an American soldier, a brave journalist covering the war for years, and a political officer coming to know his district and its history with an uncommon intimacy.
Matt Zeller's Watches Without Time provides a moving portrait of the war in Ghazni province through the author's eyes as a young lieutenant struggling to make sense of the war around him. The book is a collection of letters, reflections, and diary entries on everything from combat to working with the Afghan National Security Forces to the journey home. If anyone is wondering what it is like to go to war, read this book. It is packed with drama, excitement, fear, humor, and heartbreak. More importantly, it contains incisive observations about Afghan society from a young man trying to understand the war around him. His brief anecdotes and explanations of political corruption and the performance of the Afghan National Police are worth the price alone.
Of the many journalists who have covered the war in Afghanistan, Ben Anderson is one of the most impressive. His book, No Worse Enemy, which informed his excellent 2013 documentary with Vice, "This Is What Winning Looks Like," spans 2007 to 2011 and covers his time with the British Army and the U.S. Marine Corps as they struggle to pacify Afghanistan's deadliest province, Helmand. As a military outsider, Anderson struggles to make sense of the British and American militaries as much as he tries to understand the war in Afghanistan, thus making No Worse Enemy an interesting companion read to Zeller's insider account. Anderson is at his strongest when his narrative illustrates the complexity of telling friend from foe and right from wrong in a country where such distinctions are hopelessly blurred. He concludes that, if he were Afghan, he "certainly wouldn't be picking sides." He continues:
If someone built me a school or repaired my mosque, I would undoubtedly smile, shake their hand, maybe even make them a cup of tea or pose for a photograph. But this would be simple pragmatism. It would not mean I offered them my loyalty, much less that I had rejected the Taliban. The nature and detail of this pragmatism is entirely lost on idealistic foreign commanders.
This critique cuts to the heart of the series of assumptions that are often grouped under the misnomer of "counterinsurgency theory." If one cannot truly "clear" an area of the insurgency because the difference between a guerrilla and a disgruntled farmer is far from obvious, and one cannot effectively "hold" an area because the Afghan police are abusive and ineffective and Western forces rotate every six months (as in the case of the British and the U.S. Marines), or "build" in a "held" area because the government is alternatively venal, corrupt, and disinterested, what can Western counter-insurgents really accomplish in Afghanistan that will endure? Through their engaging portraits of the campaign in the south, Anderson and Zeller confront these contradictions head on.
But one cannot truly understand the war unless one understands Afghan history, especially on a very local level. Carter Malkasian, also in Helmand, clearly mastered these details. While all three books are excellent, War Comes to Garmser stands above the rest. The term "instant classic" long ago achieved cliché-status by being applied to middling works - much like the word "brilliant" has lost its luster by being applied to average people - but War Comes to Garmser truly became a classic as soon as it was put on store shelves. It will be one of a small number of books on Afghanistan to be published in the last 12 years that will be read for decades to come, and demands to be consulted if the United States ever again dispatches its forces to a faraway land to embroil itself in an internal war.
Malkasian's book, a history of Garmser through the prism of conflict, begins centuries ago. As someone who has also worked at the local level in Helmand, I can assure you it is no exaggeration to say that you must go this far back in order to truly understand the dynamics of the current conflict. He narrates the tribal and factional dynamics as they developed over the decades, alternately forged and fragmented through war, until his own more recent labors as a State Department political advisor working with the U.S. Marines. Malkasian - who is currently advising Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the Commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force - is something of a folk hero among Afghan hands. He learned Pashto, achieved an unmatched understanding of his district, admirably violated State Department security strictures in order to go where he needed to go and speak with whom he needed to speak.
Gen. Larry Nicholson - who knew Malkasian from his time commanding the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Task Force Leatherneck, in Helmand - memorably said:"We need a Carter Malkasian in every district of Afghanistan." But to say that is to draw the wrong lesson from both his book and the conflict. While it is true that we cannot understand (and therefore cannot be effective) without understanding what I call "micro-conflicts" - the localized, enduring conflicts and rivalries driving politics within the Afghan government and the larger insurgency - and that Malkasian understood them as deeply as any outsider could, this level of understanding alone could not illuminate the nature of the Afghan campaign.
This campaign, as Anderson vividly depicts, rests its "success" on empowering a government and security forces that behave monstrously and feed the problems they are funded to defeat. Which brings me back to my main argument: when a military campaign is so disconnected from politics that it cannot succeed without exacerbating the true political problem - in this case the Afghan government - it matters not how many Carter Malkasians we have or how "good" our military becomes at counterinsurgency.
Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for National Interest in Washington, DC. He is the editor-in-chief of the web magazine War on the Rocks. In 2010-2011, he worked as a social scientist on a human terrain team in central Helmand province. You can follow him on Twitter @EvansRyan202.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
No country aside from Afghanistan has more to lose than Pakistan from the coming departure of international forces. All post-2014 scenarios seem dark for Pakistan should the challenged Afghan state begin to unravel. In a protracted civil war, a reluctant Pakistan stands a good chance of being drawn into the conflict along with other regional powers. Taliban gains leading to a radical Islamic regime in all or most of Afghanistan, while once welcomed by Pakistan, may now result in empowering Pakistan's own militant extremists. Intensified fighting across the border is certain to push millions of new refugees into a Pakistan unprepared and unwilling to absorb them. Prospects that a successfully negotiated political agreement might some time soon avert these outcomes seem dim.
And yet, Pakistan does have one policy option that can result in a brighter scenario for itself and its Afghan neighbor. This opportunity has, in fact, been available throughout the course of the last 12 years, but it requires a strategic reassessment by Pakistan of its long-term national security interests, recognizing that they are best served when there is a stable, peaceful, prospering and, yes, independent Afghanistan. While Pakistan officially endorses this vision, its policies regularly undermine its achievement, above all by giving sanctuary and sustenance to Afghan insurgents. Instead, Pakistan should fully embrace efforts that improve prospects for the emergence of a moderate, economically improving, and accountably-governed Afghanistan. As University of Peshawar professor Ijza Khan advises, rather than pursuing a strategy focused on ensuring a friendly regime in Kabul, Pakistan should strive to win the friendship of the Afghan state and its people.
Convincing Afghans of Pakistan's good intentions will not be easy. Almost regardless of their political disposition, Afghans view their neighbor as overbearing and covetous, blaming it for much of the country's problems. Building trust is bound to be a slow process. Yet Pakistan is not without the means with which to allay Afghan suspicions. An economically-strapped Pakistani government cannot offer the kind of financial assistance that the West and Japan provide Afghanistan, or even match India's development aid portfolio. But Pakistan has advantages that come with geographical proximity, overlapping cultural and ethnic affinities, and established economic ties. It also has a relative abundance of human capital available with which to help strengthen the Afghan state.
To begin, Pakistan could agree to open the long denied trans-country routes that block India's trade with Afghanistan. Afghanistan's critical dependence on road links to the port of Karachi could be better secured and border impediments removed. Existing training programs in Pakistan for Afghan civil servants could be greatly expanded. Pakistan can do more to allay Afghans' beliefs that it is obstructing a peace deal with the Taliban and assure them that it has no plans to divide Afghan territory ethnically. Pakistan can also help secure Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in 2014 and 2015, respectively, by using its not inconsiderable influence to limit Taliban interference. It could also place additional troops at the border to reduce infiltration, much as it did during elections in 2004 and 2005. Although largely symbolic, Pakistan might even propose a non-aggression pact. But all these trust-building actions would pale against a decision by Pakistan to withdraw its patronage of the Afghan Taliban. Simply put, it must be willing to evict, if not arrest, Afghan Taliban fighters and their leaders on its soil.
Admittedly this will be hard. It will incur risks for Pakistan, particularly inviting a backlash not just from Afghan Taliban in the country, but also from their Pakistani allies. Afghans may be driven into open alliance with Pakistani insurgents and other extremist groups against the state. Yet this is a fight that Pakistan must eventually undertake. It cannot continue trying to differentiate between good and bad militants and expect the country's endemic violence to end. Delay has only made the task more difficult. If there is to be a reckoning, Pakistan may find that dismantling the Afghan Taliban offers a less difficult first step toward eliminating all of the militant groups that are currently or will inevitably be challenging the Pakistani state.
Pakistan has much to gain from a strategic reappraisal. Aside from possibly avoiding an Afghan civil war and its consequences, Pakistan could expect to enlist Afghan efforts to deny Pakistan's Taliban insurgents the safe haven they have found across the border. Pakistan could feel confident that the Baloch rebellion is not being fueled from the Afghan side of the border and that India does not overplay its hand once NATO forces leave. More broadly, Pakistan should have less reason to fear India's role in Afghanistan. A stabilized, secure Afghanistan would find it unnecessary to look to India to provide a counterweight to Pakistan or worry Pakistan by maintaining an oversized army.
Building confidence between the two countries could also perhaps permanently defuse their long-standing dispute over the Durand Line that separates them. With improved security in Afghanistan, new life could be breathed into plans to construct a gas pipeline from the fields in Turkmenistan. A growing Afghan economy would open up new markets for Pakistani goods and services and improve opportunities for investment. And Pakistan's dreams of using Afghanistan as a road bridge to Central Asia to extend its commerce and political influence might finally become a reality.
Without reciprocating Afghan policies, friendly overtures by Pakistan cannot be sustained. But it is Pakistan's initiatives that will drive any embrace. More than any external power, its actions will determine whether the present Afghan state can succeed against the current odds. And through assisting its struggling neighbor, Pakistan may help secure its own future.
Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. He served as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003.
Assertions and opinions in this editorial are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
Strike and fallout
Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and four other militants were killed in North Waziristan on Friday in a U.S. drone strike that dealt a major blow to the militant group (AJAM, AP, Dawn, NYT, Post, RFE/RL). While previous reports of Mehsud's death had proven false, multiple reports from American, Pakistan, and Taliban officials confirmed that Mehsud had died in the village of Danda Darpa Khel when missiles fired from the drone struck the vehicle he was traveling in. Though the Taliban has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, the New York Times' Declan Walsh noted that "after [Mehsud's] death, it seems, Pakistani hearts have grown fonder," and condemnations of the strike came fast and furious, including from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban's Afghan counterpart (NYT, Dawn, ET).
The Pakistani government, which said a delegation had been on its way to speak with Mehsud when the missiles struck on Friday, accused the United States of scuttling the nascent peace process and summoned Richard G. Olson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, to formally protest the attack (AJAM, AJE, AP, Post, Reuters, VOA). Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the strike had undercut the government's efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the insurgency, a claim the United States has rejected (AFP, RFE/RL). He added that the Pakistani government has taken a number of retaliatory steps, but did not specify what those were (VOA). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office released a statement on Sunday saying that the country's ties with the United States would be reviewed following the strike and on Monday, he addressed the strike calling the drone attacks "counterproductive" to Pakistan's peace efforts (AFP, BBC, Dawn, ET, Reuters).
Meanwhile, Mehsud was secretly buried early Saturday morning out of fears that his funeral would be attacked by additional drone strikes (NYT, Reuters). A day later, the Taliban appointed Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani as their interim chief (NPR, RFE/RL, VOA). According to Shahidullah Shahid, the group's chief spokesman, a permanent replacement for Mehsud has not yet been chosen, and "Time will tell whether we take revenge of his martyrdom or not" (ET).
Out on bail
A Pakistani court granted former president Pervez Musharraf bail on Monday, bringing him one step closer to a possible release after more than six months under house arrest (AP, BBC, Dawn, ET, Reuters, RFE/RL, VOA). Musharraf, who was ordered to pay a $2,000 bail, was being held in connection to a deadly 2007 raid on a radical mosque in Islamabad. While Musharraf's name remains on the country's "exit control list," meaning he cannot leave Pakistan without government approval, he is out on bail in all of the cases that have been brought against him since he returned from a self-imposed exile in April.
A separate crisis
After more than a decade of war, the New York Times reported on Saturday that Afghanistan is facing another, less apparent crisis: widespread, devastating drug addiction (NYT). According to the report, the number of drug users in Afghanistan is estimated to be as high as 1.6 million people, or 5.3 percent of the population. This translates into one in 10 urban households having at least one drug user. Even children are becoming addicted through exposure to second-hand smoke.
But while the focus of the international community has always been on reducing opium production -- the United States has spent more than $7 billion on fighting Afghanistan's production industry through eradication and alternative crop subsidies -- the results have been disappointing and in the last two years, opium crops have increased to their highest levels since 2008 (Post). Meanwhile, domestic opium consumption rates have increased with almost no international attention and little Afghan government effort to address addiction rates.
Fighting season assessment
As the Afghan fighting season comes to a close, assessments of Afghan security forces offer mixed views of the country's future security. The Afghan Interior Ministry revealed last Tuesday that 2,052 members of the Afghan National Police and Afghan Local Police were killed and more than 5,000 were wounded during the April 2013 to October 2013 fighting season (RFE/RL). According to the ministry, the Taliban launched 50 suicide attacks and 1,704 direct attacks on police during that time. In September, U.S. General Mark Milley, the commander of NATO ground forces in Afghanistan, said that the 50 to 100 Afghan soldiers being killed every month was comparable to fatality rates for U.S. forces during the Vietnam War (RT). But while a larger number of Afghan security forces were killed, the Taliban failed to capture any ground from them as they fought without foreign firepower for the first time (AP).
NATO reported on Sunday that a coalition soldier had been killed in an attack in eastern Afghanistan, but did not provide the nationality of the soldier or location of the attack (AP, Pajhwok). A police checkpoint in southern Uruzgan province was also attacked Sunday, and one officer and four insurgents were killed, while four other people were injured.
Members of a small insurgent group and its commander turned in their arms in Herat province on Sunday and joined the province's reconciliation program (Pajhwok). The group of 15 was led by Mullah Basir, who said he had never been against the government, but had picked up arms because of personal grievances with some officials. The group surrendered two rocket launchers, a machine gun, and other explosives to police in exchange for monthly stipends and places in a six-month vocational training program.
Shoulder to shoulder
Organized by Youth FM, an Afghan radio station, the Peace Music Festival brought young men and women together for a night of celebration and unity in Kabul this past weekend, making clear that Afghans want peace (Cambridge Now!). The slogan of the festival, shana ba shana, or "shoulder to shoulder," was a message of peace and solidarity for Afghan youth and it was presented in a modern, inclusive, and multicultural event that included performers from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Although the first day of the concert was for females only, the gates were open to everyone on the second day and many across the region watched on television.
-- Emily Schneider and Bailey Cahall
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Event Notice: "Jihad Joe," a book discussion with J.M. Berger, TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
Editor's Note: "Manhunt," the Emmy award-winning documentary based on Peter Bergen's book of the same name is now available for purchase on DVD at Barnes & Noble.
At least 10 people were injured on Friday in a bomb attack on a wedding party in Afghanistan's Baghlan province, less than a week after a similar attack in Ghazni province killed 18 (Pajhwok). The victims included four women and three children, who were immediately transported to a local hospital; two remain in critical condition. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, the Taliban has been blamed for similar incidents in the past, as they believe the music and entertainment at wedding parties are unacceptable (Dawn).
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) announced on Wednesday that it will launch a campaign against the sexual abuse and slavery of young boys in Afghanistan (RFE/RL). The practice, called bacha bazi, is widespread among powerful men in Afghanistan and is showing no signs of decline. The AIHRC's campaign will try to raise awareness of the problem over the next six months and discuss how to address its causes and its effects. According to the AIHRC, male prostitution - one of the practice's effects - used to be considered shameful, but is now considered a source of pride (Pajhwok). Bonus read: "Bacha Bazi: An Afghan tragedy," Chris Mondloch (AfPak).
Nearly 3,000 Afghan public representatives, tribal elders, subject matter experts, and government representatives will be attending this month's Loya Jirga to advise the Karzai administration on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), though the dates of the assembly are still undecided (Pajhwok). According to the Afghan government, the participants will discuss the draft security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States in 50 committees over a four- to seven-day period. Some civil society groups have criticized the decision to hold the jirga, saying it is actually an attempt to delay next year's presidential and provincial council elections - a claim government officials deny. These officials insist the jirga will be focused solely on aspects of the BSA, such as which country will have jurisdiction over U.S. troops who commit crimes in Afghanistan.
Clarifications and contradictions
After the Pakistani High Commission released a statement on Thursday saying that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had told British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that talks with the country's Taliban insurgents had begun, officials in Islamabad released separate statements clarifying that only the "process of dialogue" had started (BBC, Dawn, ET, RFE/RL). According to the reports, Sharif told Clegg that he "hoped and prayed the dialogue works within the constitutional framework of Pakistan," and that he "could not wait and see the innocent people being killed in the streets of Pakistan." More than 50,000 Pakistani civilians, militants, and soldiers have been killed in the unrest.
Shahidullah Shahid, the main spokesman for the militant group, disputed these statements on Friday, telling Agence France Presse that there have been no direct overtures from the Pakistani government (AFP). Criticizing the government for "making announcements only by media," Shahid said that the talks would begin when the parties sat down at a table and began discussing the issues that divide them.
Pakistan's Ministry of Defence (MoD) came under severe criticism on Thursday after it reported to the Pakistani Senate that only 67 civilians have died in U.S. drone strikes since 2008 - making up just three percent of the reported casualties (BBC, VOA). The ministry's statement conflicts with earlier government reports that have variously put the civilian death toll at nearly 400 since 2004, or 1,400 since 2008. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, which has been citing the 400 number, has asked the MoD for more information about their numbers (Dawn). The MoD report also contradicts an Amnesty International report that came out last week and said that there were 19 civilian deaths in 2012 alone - the MoD says there hasn't been a civilian casualty since 2011. The conflicting reports have increased calls from human rights groups for greater transparency into the U.S. drone program, as well as how the casualties from these strikes are being counted. The New America Foundation's "Drone Wars: Pakistan" database can be found here.
Over 1,200 women from 80 districts in Pakistan participated in a conference on Thursday that was held in connection with the Rural Women Day event at the Lok Virsa Museum in Islamabad (Dawn). According to speakers at the conference, almost 79 percent of rural women are engaged in agricultural work, but they share only 21 percent of the total income earned in Pakistan. To help correct this imbalance, participants discussed having women represented in at least 33 percent of the positions in all levels government, granting women access to micro-credit facilities, and providing financial assistance to acid crime victims. It was the sixth annual Rural Women's Day conference to be held in Pakistan.
-- Emily Schneider and Bailey Cahall
RAHMATULLAH ALIZADA/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first official visit to the United States since being elected by a strong majority to serve his third term in office. The word from the White House is that the bilateral relationship is back on track, and the Prime Minister's public address supports that conclusion. While Sharif continued to condemn U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions -- remarks that may have prompted the leak to the Washington Post of documents implicating at least some Pakistan government officials in secretly endorsing the program -- he also expressed a desire for cooperation on critical issues such as increased trade and foreign investment in Pakistan, cooperation with India, and a willingness to pursue difficult reforms outlined in the recent loan package from the International Monetary Fund. In exchange for the Prime Minister's willingness to play nice, the United States government released $1.6 billion in military assistance to Pakistan that had been held up since 2011.
A renewal of military aid will, for the time being, shore up the relations between Washington and Islamabad. But military aid will not help Pakistan deal with the daunting development challenges it faces: the loss of its territorial integrity to the Taliban and other groups; the rise of sectarian conflict; high youth unemployment; ongoing power blackouts; underfunded health and schooling services; potentially catastrophic water problems and agricultural losses to soil salinization; and a hopelessly low level of tax revenue for the state to address these challenges.
So what about economic development aid, which continued to flow over the last two years as envisioned in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill)? Washington reported real progress in the aid program toward achieving important medium term goals, but U.S. economic aid, even at 10 times the current levels, cannot serve as a substitute for the decisions and political will the civilian government of Pakistan needs to provide -- whether increasing energy tariffs to attract desperately needed investment in the power sector, or raising and collecting taxes on the country's small but powerful elite.
One point of economic aid is to enable the United States to work alongside Pakistan's civilian government in tackling its considerable challenges, working as a partner and building the sense of shared understanding and trust that can spill over into cooperation on more sensitive security and anti-terrorism issues. That is the vision Richard Holbrooke, the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had, and we believe it is a vision that can still animate the U.S. approach.
Though the current aid program is handicapped by U.S. government mandates to track money instead of results, red tape, security constraints on U.S. staff working in Pakistan, and the difficulty of shifting management of programs from U.S. contractors to local Pakistani institutions, it can be fixed. At least equally, if not more, important, the United States has other tools in its development toolbox beyond traditional aid. These include mechanisms that facilitate trade, such as providing duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, and unleashing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to encourage private investment in the country's small and medium-sized enterprise sector and its beleaguered energy sector.
U.S. officials are already deploying some of these tools, but to ensure they constitute a coherent development program rather than a haphazard set of projects, we recommend that the State Department and the government of Pakistan establish a formalized Development Dialogue. This should be a discrete component of the Strategic Dialogue Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to host by March 2014. Discussions could focus on ways to forge a long-term partnership between Pakistan's civilian government and the U.S. government, including but going well beyond traditional aid.
To use the marriage metaphor often invoked to describe the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a Development Dialogue could help build the resilience that any healthy marriage needs to withstand life's trials and tribulations. It could bolster the countries' vows to work together in good times and in bad by insulating the development agenda from often competing security and diplomatic objectives. And if successful, it could lead to more times of health and fewer times of sickness -- both for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the people of Pakistan.
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. From 1993 to 1998, she was executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank and previously served 14 years in research, policy, and management positions, including director of the Policy Research Department, at the World Bank.
Alexis Sowa is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development focused on the organization's ongoing work on Pakistan and contributing to the Oil-to-Cash initiative. She has worked as a governance advisor in Liberia with the Africa Governance Initiative and as a program and policy manager at Malaria No More UK where she identified, developed, and managed investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
At long last, it appears that the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan may be nearing the finish line. However, there are equally consequential negotiations reportedly underway between the Taliban and Afghan government. While it is still unclear what the results of these negotiations will be, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar made the group's position clear earlier this year when he said that they will not attempt to monopolize power in Afghanistan, but that the Taliban seeks "an inclusive government based on Islamic principles."
With the U.S. troop drawdown underway, this statement needs to be fully considered by both the United States and the international community, as it will directly impact Afghan women's rights and human rights more broadly. Afghanistan's future is on the line.
Currently, things are far from stable in Afghanistan. The recent assassination of Arsala Jamal, the governor of Logar province, through a bomb hidden inside a Koran, is a new low in the militants' race to the bottom. Meanwhile, the intimidation and targeted killings of female Afghan government officials and societal leaders continues. Statements by U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay after her September trip to Afghanistan highlighted these ongoing abuses against Afghan women.
Gains have certainly been made -- women's rights are respected in ways that were unthinkable 15 years ago, there is an independent media, and political parties are active -- yet all of these are tenuous and reversible. Why? The climate of impunity, and the fact that the current Afghan constitution has effectively established a restrictive interpretation of shari'a as the law of the land. Consequently, Afghans lack both personal security and freedom of thought. Protections do not exist to safely dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, to debate the role and content of religion in law and society, to advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or to question narrow interpretations of Islamic precepts.
Despite this reality, Mullah Omar said it was not enough and his government would be based on Islamic law. His desire for more would be fatal to Afghanistan's effort to emerge from decades of war and instability.
I saw a glimpse of possible things to come first-hand during a trip to Kabul in May, when I visited the Afghan parliament during the debate on the proposed Elimination of Violence Against Women Law. The bill was introduced by the irrepressible parliamentarian Fawsia Koofi, who wanted to replace the imperfect but important presidential decree on protecting women. Koofi thought it better to have a law enjoying popular support through parliamentary passage. When I arrived at the Parliament, Koofi was being thronged by female MPs vigorously arguing that introducing legislation was foolish, as it risked giving conservative elements an opportunity to roll back protections.
Despite these protests, Koofi forged ahead. The outcome? Conservative legislators pressed for amendments based on their narrow interpretation of Islamic law, such as reducing the marriage age from 17 to 14, but the bill did not pass.
If this is happening under the umbrella of protection afforded by the United States, it should give policymakers pause as they look to engage Afghanistan after U.S. forces drawdown. From this low starting point, any consideration of Mullah Omar's offer for a government based on his retrograde interpretation of religious law would be deeply problematic.
Right now, those who think and speak freely in Afghanistan do so at their own risk. My conversations in Kabul made it clear that Afghanistan is a generation or more away from experiencing anything close to freedom of thought due to decades of war, the theological echoes of Taliban rule, poor rule of law, and weak human rights protections. Furthermore, the current environment promotes a vicious cycle: diverse thinking is snuffed out, either by state action or violent religious extremists, which amplifies extreme voices while marginalizing differing Islamic interpretations or debate about religion/state questions. Allowing Mullah Omar to constrict that discussion further would be disastrous.
Afghanistan has not only struggled to respect women's rights, it has also failed to value and protect its religious diversity. I repeatedly heard that Afghanistan is 99% Muslim, a factoid that obscures its existing religious diversity, of which many Afghans are unaware. In the Sunni majority, there are different schools of thought, including "moderate" Muslims who hold a progressive view of religion/state relations. The Shi'a community is theologically and ethnically diverse between Hazara Jafaris and Tajik Ismailis. The historic Hindu and Sikh communities continue to exist, with their distinctive dress and burial traditions providing a visible reminder of Afghanistan's historic pluralism. The hidden Christian and Baha'i communities, not acknowledged by Afghan religious leaders or government officials, live a vulnerable existence in the shadows.
Despite this challenging environment, the U.S. government needs to continue to press all the players seeking peace to protect members of the majority faith whose views contradict the religious establishment or Taliban sympathizers, as well as religious minorities. The Taliban and other militants have long used religion to advance their religio-political agenda. The United States, however, can undercut their message by offering counter narratives of tolerance and understanding, while supporting women's groups and other human rights groups.
The U.S. Strategy on Religious Leader and Faith Community Engagement, on which I informally advised, offers guidance on a way forward. It addresses the issue of advancing pluralism and human rights, including the protection of religious freedom, stating:
Building on current initiatives, the Administration will increase efforts to engage a diverse spectrum of religious leaders on the advancement of universal human rights, promoting core U.S. values like respect for the human rights of members of minority and marginalized groups, pluralism, tolerance, and sensitivity to and respect for the beliefs and traditions of others.
As endgame negotiations speed up, this strategy needs to be brought to bear in Afghanistan immediately. Religion provides a narrative and context for much of what happens in the country, and Mullah Omar wants to re-enshrine his religio-political worldview as international forces withdraw. Instead of ceding the religious space to him, the United States should take steps to protect diverse religious and political views. Doing so can support other U.S. priorities, such as women's rights and free speech, while undercutting the Taliban and other militants seeking sway over the Afghan population.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Event Notices: "The Way Forward in Afghanistan," joint event with the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, TODAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF); "Jihad Joe," a book discussion with J.M. Berger, FRIDAY, 12:15-1:45 PM (NAF).
Pakistan's Ministry of Defense released new figures to the country's lawmakers on Wednesday that said 67 civilians were among 2,227 people killed in 317 U.S. drone strikes since 2008, and that no civilian had died in a drone strike since 2011 (AFP, AJAM, AP, BBC, NYT). Accounting for just three percent of the estimated casualties, the ministry's figures are far lower than earlier estimates from independent groups - the New America Foundation, for example, puts the total number of civilians killed since 2004 between 258 and 307. Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, said that the new figures were "strikingly at odds" with those he had received from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, which had reported at least 400 civilian deaths since 2004, and that he would be writing to the government seeking clarification.
Interestingly, reports of the revised figures came as media outlets also reported the first U.S. drone strike to occur in Pakistan in more than a month. According to several reports, three suspected militants were killed early Thursday morning near the town of Miran Shah in a suspected U.S. drone strike on an alleged militant compound in North Waziristan (ET, Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Pakistani intelligence officials, however, told the Associated Press that there were no casualties from the strike - another indicator of how contentious and confusing the statistics about the program are (AP).
Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office, condemned the attack in Miran Shah, and reiterated the government's stance that such strikes violate Pakistan's national sovereignty (Dawn). Chaudhry's statement came as Pervaiz Rashid, Pakistan's Information Minister, rejected claims from U.S. Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) that Pakistan could stop the drone strikes if it really wanted to (ET). Grayson had told the BBC that the strikes could not occur without the approval of the Pakistani government, and that Pakistan's army could easily control the extremists operating within the country's borders. Rashid said Grayson was "obviously not aware what Pakistan's military is facing," and recommended he get a briefing on Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts from the U.S. military.
At least 10 people were killed and more than two dozen were injured on Wednesday in bomb attacks that rocked Balochistan and South Waziristan (AFP, VOA). In Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, at least five people were killed and more than two dozen were wounded when a powerful bicycle bomb exploded in a crowded car repair market, while five soldiers were killed and one was wounded in South Waziristan when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for either attack.
Promise to visit
The tripartite meetings between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Hamid Karzai continued in London on Wednesday with Sharif calling for more effective border management between the two countries (Pajhwok). Speaking at a meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Sharif said such a system would help the neighbors deal with terrorist infiltration from both sides of the border (ET). According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz, Sharif's advisor on foreign affairs, also told the media in London that border management was crucial for monitoring the influx of refugees and preventing terrorists from finding a safe haven in either country (APP).
Karzai's office released a statement on Wednesday that said that Sharif had agreed to make his first visit to Kabul soon, but there was no immediate confirmation from the Pakistani side (Gulf Times). The two leaders also did not set a firm date for the Afghan High Peace Council to visit Pakistan to meet with former Taliban senior commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, whose exact location has been a point of contention between the two countries (BBC, RFE/RL). Pakistan's willingness to allow the council access to Baradar is seen as a hopeful sign for furthering Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, since he could be quite influential in that process.
A German court began hearing arguments on Wednesday in a civil case brought by relatives of some of the 91 Afghans killed in a NATO airstrike four years ago (AP, RFE/RL). The strike, which occurred in Kunduz province on September 4, 2009, was ordered by a German colonel in an attempt to destroy two stolen fuel tankers he believed would be used by militants. However, most of the casualties were actually civilians. Germany has already paid $5,000 in compensation to each victim's family, but some are seeking additional recompense. Philipp Prietze, a spokesman for the Bonn regional court, said the court reviewed a video recorded by two U.S. fighter jets involved in the air strike.
Mohammad Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter for the U.S. military, finally arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, two years after he applied for a U.S. visa and about a month after he received that visa and then had it revoked while officials vetted a tip that he could be a risk (AJAM). While few former interpreters have had an experience as fraught as Shinwari's, his case has "drawn attention to the resettlement program for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters, which advocates say has been plagued by bureaucratic snags, arbitrary rejections and security reviews that have sometimes dragged on for years" (Post). Several U.S. lawmakers are now calling on the State Department and the Intelligence Community to streamline the application and review processes, and clear out the backlog of pending cases.
While the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan is affecting all aspects of the economy, in Kabul's pet market, shop owners selling exotic or fighting birds, including canaries, parrots, and peacocks, in particular are complaining about the plummeting sales (BBC). The booming business the sellers in the Kocha-e Kah Foroshi market enjoyed from selling the birds to foreign soldiers will end as Afghan security forces take full control of more areas. The World Bank expects economic growth in Afghanistan to decrease by more than 10 percent this year as a result of the troop withdrawal and the loss of security spending from the United States and the United Kingdom (Reuters).
-- Emily Schneider and Bailey Cahall
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
Breakthrough in London
After Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the presidential palace announced on Wednesday that senior Afghan officials will travel to Pakistan "in the near future" to meet with former Taliban senior commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (AFP, Pajhwok, Reuters, VOA). Cameron is hosting the two leaders in an effort to re-start the stalled Afghan peace talks and the whereabouts of Baradar were expected to play a significant role in the discussion (RFE/RL). Baradar was the Taliban's deputy leader until he was arrested in Pakistan in 2010. While Pakistani authorities say they released Baradar last month, his whereabouts remain unknown and Afghan officials believe he is still under Pakistan's close supervision.
Speaking ahead of that meeting on Tuesday, Sharif urged the Afghan Taliban to take part in the political reconciliation process and speak with Afghanistan's High Peace Council (VOA). Sharif added that the talks should "promote unity," and said stability would only return to Afghanistan when everyone was involved in the peace process. He also reiterated his belief that Pakistan "should play every possible role" to help achieve stability in the region.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made an unexpected visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday to mark the end of the country's involvement in the war (AP, RFE/RL). Speaking at the Australian Defence Forces headquarters at the Tarin Kowt base in Uruzgan province, Abbott said the country's efforts were ending, "not with victory, not with defeat, but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that is better for our presence here" (Guardian). He also confirmed that most of Australia's 1,000-plus soldiers will be leaving Afghanistan before the end of the year. Australia is the largest provider of troops outside of NATO and over 40 Australian soldiers have been killed during the last 12 years.
Rafiq Rehman, a Pakistani schoolteacher, and two of his children traveled 6,000 miles from their village in North Waziristan to brief U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday and share their stories as survivors of an alleged U.S. drone strike that killed Rehman's mother last October (AJAM, Dawn, RFE/RL, VOA). The briefing, the first of its kind, was hosted by Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) and attended by just five representatives - all Democrats. Grayson, who dismissed the seemingly low attendance, said the briefing was a promising start, but doubted that a full committee hearing would be called any time soon.
Most of the reports about the briefing noted the generosity with which the family spoke. Rehman admitted that he was initially angry due to the "unjust" nature of the strike, but added that "this isn't the American people; it's their government. It's politics" (AP). He also blamed the Pakistani government for its private approval of the strikes, a sentiment echoed by Grayson who said the strikes "could end tomorrow" if the Pakistani government stopped facilitating them (Dawn, ET). The congressman's claims, however, contradict the Pakistani stance that all of these strikes occur without its approval.
In a separate press conference on Tuesday, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party threatened to close off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan if the Pakistani government failed to announce a schedule of talks with the Pakistani Taliban by November 7 (ET). The party, which has long advocated for peace talks with the militant group, described the move as a way to pressure the international alliance to compel the United States to halt its drone program - one of the Taliban's main preconditions for reconciliation talks with the government. According to PTI Deputy Secretary General Imran Ismail, Imran Khan, the party's leader, will deliver his ultimatum at a party meeting on Saturday, November 2.
Auditions began in Karachi on Tuesday for "Pakistan Idol," the latest in-country version of the popular American talent show that may provoke controversy in a country where an increasingly vocal and violent minority considers singing and dancing a violation of Islam (WSJ). The contestant hopefuls, between 15 and 30 years-old, arrived at the city's Beach Luxury Hotel and immediately began sizing up the competition and wondering what song to sing. Nearly 50,000 people attended auditions that were held across the country and Saad Bin Mujeeb, GeoTV's direct of content and productions who is overseeing the show's production, is hoping that "Idol" will showcase the country's rich musical heritage.
Photo by Richard Pohle - Pool/Getty Images
The assassination of Amanullah Aman, the Chief Election Officer of Afghanistan's Kunduz province, in September should be taken seriously, as it could mark the beginning of a devastating terror campaign targeting election workers that could potentially paralyze next April's presidential elections. One day after the incident, the Taliban kidnapped two low-level election workers in the other northern province of Faryab. Combined, these events sent a chilling message to election workers across the country and raised alarms about the changing tactics of insurgents for derailing the elections.
An inclusive and transparent election, which is key to creating legitimate results, plays a vital role for the future of Afghanistan. A legitimate election will not only guarantee the first peaceful political transition from one elected leader to another in Afghanistan's history, it will also harden the entrenchment of the roots of Afghanistan's young democracy and political order. More importantly it will increase existential threats against the violent militants and thus will increase hopes for future peace talks with the Taliban. Conversely, any failure to hold proper elections will pose serious challenges to Afghanistan's stability, and will boost the position and rhetoric of the Taliban and other extremist groups who have been relentlessly sabotaging democratic processes.
The Taliban and their benefactors understand the critical nature of the elections and in all probability will spare no acts and means of subversion to sabotage the process. The assassination of Aman, for which the Taliban took responsibility, most likely demonstrates a new tactic of the militants, which is targeting election workers. To make this message clear, the Taliban boasted about the incident onTwitter and declared to the media that they will kill anyone involved in the elections.
In previous elections, Taliban focused on intimidating the public to prevent them from voting. But their disruptive tactics failed to produce the desired outcome. People voted, in spite of the threats that even included chopping off voters' fingers. This failed strategy, combined with the fact that the significant reduction of international troops will add to the security challenges than in the 2009 presidential elections, may have led the Taliban to change their tactic, switching their focus from the public to the election officials.
Noor Ahmad Noor, one of the spokespersons for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), told the media that during the previous elections, the Taliban did not explicitly threaten election workers and that IEC officials were not singled out. He added that prior to the Aman incident, there had been no attacks on commission staff for the past two years.
According to Farid Afghanzai, another senior IEC official, Aman spent the last 10 years of his life organizing elections in the country's north, and he managed four elections in the area: three in Kunduz province and one in Badakhshan province. He added that Aman was respected by all ethnic groups in the provinces and it will be almost impossible to find another person as professional, capable, and widely respected as he was.
Afghan election officials have long been complaining about the lack of adequate security for their staff and the public at the voting sites. Just one day before Aman's assassination, Mohammad Yosuf Nooristani, chairman of the IEC, told reporters that the security of his colleagues was his biggest worry. He also said that 259 of the nearly 7,000 polling centers were currently beyond the government's control.
This is a serious challenge for the elections. The primary concern is that Afghan security forces, considering the nature of the attacks of the insurgents and the tough geography of Afghanistan, will find it difficult to secure all electoral sites and electoral workers, particularly the mobile teams operating in remote areas. Furthermore, the planned reduction of NATO troops in the run-up to the elections will inadvertently increase the security challenge and make it more difficult to create a safe voting environment.
Inadequate security for election officials should be considered a serious threat to the political transition by both the Afghan government and Afghanistan's international partners, especially in light of the recent targeting of electoral workers. To combat this threat, the Afghan government needs to use all of its resources to secure the election process, and the United States should tailor its troop reduction strategy based on the security need on the ground. The United States should also support the Afghan security forces by placing limited troop reinforcements along Afghanistan's borders around election time to prevent the heavy infiltration of terrorists. Furthermore, the US and its allies should put pressure on the Pakistani fouj (Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment) to check Taliban infiltrations into Afghanistan around polling day just as it did in response to similar pressure from the Bush administration in the 2004 presidential elections. After all, successful elections will play a definitive role in shaping the results of 12 years of U.S and coalition partners' sacrifice and investment in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, both the Afghan government and its international supporters need to consistently communicate their adamant support for holding elections no matter what security threats exist. This will help boost the morale of Afghan voters and will weaken the psychological effect of the fear campaign of the Taliban.
"We don't have any other choice but to have elections" is the most common sentiment voiced by Afghans of all walks of life. Next year's elections in particular need to be considered a sacred mission in Afghanistan, as they are not only necessary for strengthening democracy, but also a major step in marginalizing violent extremists. Current President Hamid Karzai, who recently said that "holding successful elections will help foil the plot of Afghanistan's enemies" - a term often used when referring to the Taliban and their foreign backers - realizes the importance of the situation. However, the upcoming elections pose the biggest imperative to president Karzai to demonstrate decent statesmanship and would enable him to preside over a historic transfer of power. Taking the threat to election officers seriously is a crucial step in guaranteeing a secure and legitimate election.
Najib Sharifi is a founding member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness (A3), a Kabul-based think tank.
Dodha Khan, a pro-government tribal elder in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, and six members of his family were killed on Tuesday when unknown gunmen stormed his house in Quetta and opened fire (Dawn, ET). According to Abdul Jabbar, a senior government official in the city's Dera Bugti district, more than a dozen attackers armed with assault rifles and other weapons burst into the home early in the morning and gunned down the family; at least one family member is in critical condition at a local hospital. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and officials said they are investigating whether Khan was targeted because of his support for the federal government or because of a personal dispute.
A team of officials with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be visiting Pakistan this week, Reuters reported on Monday, to see if the country is trying to meet loan conditions intended to promote reforms (Reuters). In September, the IMF agreed to loan Pakistan $6.7 billion over three years, but the organization's quarterly review requirement means that the cash is not guaranteed to come through. The report noted that, since 1998, 11 out of 12 IMF programs have been cancelled or halted due to Pakistan's failure to institute reforms. According to one Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity: "The next six months is crunch time."
Reuters also reported on Monday that a young Pakistani man has stabbed at least 25 women in the small town of Chichawatni in Punjab province during the month of October, causing many local female residents serious injuries (Reuters). Dr. Asim Waqar, who has treated several of the victims, said most were attacked after sunset and were stabbed on their legs, stomachs, or backs. Police officers in the town said that they are searching for a single attacker, though they did not release any additional details about the potential suspect.
Humanizing drone strikes
A Pakistani family whose account of a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan was cited last week in Amnesty International's report on the covert program arrived in Washington on Tuesday, intent on putting a human face on the number of civilian casualties (AFP). According to Nabila Rehman, she was picking okra with her family in their garden last October when a drone strike killed her grandmother and injured seven other people; the U.S. government has never officially acknowledged the strike. The Rehmans, who will appear at a press conference with U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) on Tuesday, are also featured in a new documentary by the Brave New Foundation called "Unmanned: America's Drone Wars."
The stage is set
Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in London on Monday evening, beginning his four-day visit to the United Kingdom (Pajhwok, BBC). While Karzai is there primarily to attend the World Islamic Economic Forum, he will also meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in hopes of fostering peace efforts between the two countries. Karzai is expected to bring up the issue of the Taliban's Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, whom he believes would be valuable to future peace talks. The Pakistanis supposedly freed Baradar, a former key commander of the Islamic militant movement, last month but the Taliban allege that he is still in their custody under pressure from the United States. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
A senior Taliban official told the Associated Press that Baradar is under house arrest in Pakistan and is not allowed to see his family until he agrees to meet with Afghanistan's High Peace Council (AP). According to that official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Baradar met with Taliban members while he was in custody and assured them that he would not defy orders from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar that forbid direct contact with the Afghan government.
The meeting between Karzai and Sharif comes at a sensitive time. Last month, the U.S. raided an Afghan convoy carrying a Pakistani Taliban militant, Latif Mehusd, who the Afghan government was using to cultivate an alliance with the Pakistani Taliban (NYT). Afghan and U.S. officials are just now revealing that Mehusd was part of an Afghan government bid to aid the Pakistan Taliban militants. Afghan officials said they were hoping to later use the militant support as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Pakistan.
Stoned to death
It has now been confirmed that locals in the Ander district stoned a man to death because they believed he was responsible for the bomb that killed 18 people on their way to a wedding on Sunday in Afghanistan's Ghazni province (Guardian, RFE/RL, AJE).
The crowd of over 100 people found the suspected bomber hiding near his home in Ander. The villagers claim that the man admitted he was responsible for the attack and told them that he had planted a second bomb nearby. The crowd dragged the man from his hiding spot, beat him with sticks and shovels, and then stoned him to death. Villagers then fired about 200 bullets into his body.
The Taliban have issued a statement "vehemently" denying any involvement (BBC). Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the area is under the control of militiamen allied to the government, called Arbakis. "The mujahideen do not go there and targeting a wedding ceremony vehicle is not an act by the mujahideen," Mujahid said. "Rather, such acts are carried out by the arbakis themselves because of personal disputes."
Transgendered still under attack
The Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered that the national identity card include a third gender category in 2009, but that has done little to improve the plight of transgendered citizens in Pakistan (RFE/RL). On October 20th, local police and residents raided a neighborhood of Peshawar where many of the minority lives, known as the Imamia Colony. Residents were forced outside and many were beaten while their homes were destroyed.
Although many transgender candidates and voters were able to participate in general elections this May when Pakistani election officials were ordered to register third-gender voters, members of the minority are still victims of extortion, sexual violence, and criminal gangs which force them to gather into unofficial settlements like the Imamia Colony (Guardian).
Bethany Clarke/Getty Images for 9th World Islamic Economic Forum
With the looming withdrawal of NATO troops and a persistent insurgent threat, Afghanistan is in a precarious position. Innumerable tragedies have beleaguered rural Afghans throughout the past decades of conflict -- perpetual violence, oppression of women, and crushing poverty have all contributed to the Hobbesian nature of life in the Afghan countryside.
While the Afghan government has been able to address some of these issues since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, archaic social traditions and deep-seated gender norms have kept much of rural Afghanistan in a medieval state of purgatory. Perhaps the most deplorable tragedy, one that has actually grown more rampant since 2001, is the practice of bacha bazi -- sexual companionship between powerful men and their adolescent boy conscripts.
This phenomenon presents a system of gender reversal in Afghanistan. Whereas rural Pashtun culture remains largely misogynistic and male-dominated due to deeply-ingrained Islamic values, teenage boys have become the objects of lustful attraction and romance for some of the most powerful men in the Afghan countryside.
Demeaning and damaging, the widespread subculture of pedophilia in Afghanistan constitutes one of the most egregious ongoing violations of human rights in the world. The adolescent boys who are groomed for sexual relationships with older men are bought -- or, in some instances, kidnapped -- from their families and thrust into a world which strips them of their masculine identity. These boys are often made to dress as females, wear makeup, and dance for parties of men. They are expected to engage in sexual acts with much older suitors, often remaining a man's or group's sexual underling for a protracted period.
Evolution of Bacha Bazi
Occurring frequently across southern and eastern Afghanistan's rural Pashtun belt and with ethnic Tajiks in the northern Afghan countryside, bacha bazi has become a shockingly common practice. Afghanistan's mujahideen warlords, who fought off the Soviet invasion and instigated a civil war in the 1980s, regularly engaged in acts of pedophilia. Keeping one or more "chai boys," as these male conscripts are called, for personal servitude and sexual pleasure became a symbol of power and social status.
The Taliban had a deep aversion towards bacha bazi, outlawing the practice when they instituted strict nationwide sharia law. According to some accounts, including the hallmark Times of London article "Kandahar Comes out of the Closet" in 2002, one of the original provocations for the Taliban's rise to power in the early 1990s was their outrage over pedophilia. Once they came to power, bacha bazi became taboo, and the men who still engaged in the practice did so in secret.
When the former mujahideen commanders ascended to power in 2001 after the Taliban's ouster, they brought with them a rekindled culture of bacha bazi. Today, many of these empowered warlords serve in important positions, as governors, line ministers, police chiefs, and military commanders.
Since its post-2001 revival, bacha bazi has evolved, and its practice varies across Afghanistan. According to military experts I talked to in Afghanistan, the lawlessness that followed the deposing of the Taliban's in rural Pashtunistan and northern Afghanistan gave rise to violent expressions of pedophilia. Boys were raped, kidnapped, and trafficked as sexual predators regained their positions of regional power. As rule of law mechanisms and general order returned to the Afghan countryside, bacha bazi became a normalized, structured practice in many areas.
Many "chai boys" are now semi-formal apprentices to their powerful male companions. Military officials have observed that Afghan families with an abundance of children are often keen to provide a son to a warlord or government official - with full knowledge of the sexual ramifications - in order to gain familial prestige and monetary compensation. Whereas bacha bazi is now largely consensual and non-violent, its evolution into an institutionalized practice within rural Pashtun and Tajik society is deeply disturbing.
Pedophilia and Islam
The fact that bacha bazi, which has normalized sodomy and child abuse in rural Afghan society, developed within a deeply fundamentalist Islamic region of the world is mystifying. According to a 2009 Human Terrain Team study titled "Pashtun Sexuality," Pashtun social norms dictate that bacha bazi is not un-Islamic or homosexual at all -- if the man does not love the boy, the sexual act is not reprehensible, and is far more ethical than defiling a woman.
Sheltered by their pastoral setting and unable to speak Arabic -- the language of all Islamic texts -- many Afghans allow social customs to trump religious values, including those Quranic verses eschewing homosexuality and promiscuity. Warlords who have exploited Islam for political or personal means have also promulgated tolerance for bacha bazi. The mujahideen commanders are a perfect example of this -- they fought communism in the name of jihad and mobilized thousands of men by promoting Islam, while sexually abusing boys and remaining relatively secular themselves.
The rampant pedophilia has a number of far-reaching detrimental consequences on Afghanistan's development into a functional nation. The first -- and most obvious -- consequence of bacha bazi is the irreparable abuse inflicted on its thousands of victims.
Because it is so common, a significant percentage of the country's male population bears the deep psychological scars of sexual abuse from childhood. Some estimates say that as many as 50 percent of the men in the Pashtun tribal areas of southern Afghanistan take boy lovers, making it clear that pedophilia is a pervasive issue affecting entire rural communities. Many of the prominent Pashtun men who currently engage in bacha bazi were likely abused as children; in turn, many of today's adolescent victims will likely become powerful warlords or government-affiliated leaders with boy lovers of their own, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
A second corrupting, and perhaps surprising, consequence of bacha bazi is its negative impact on women's rights in Afghanistan. It has become a commonly accepted notion among Afghanistan's latent homosexual male population that "women are for children, and boys are for pleasure." Passed down through many generations and spurred by the vicious cycle created by the pedophile-victim relationship, many Afghan men have lost their attraction towards the opposite gender. Although social and religious customs still heavily dictate that all men must marry one or more women and have children, these marriages are often devoid of love and affection, and are treated as practical, mandated arrangements.
While the Afghan environment has grown more conducive to improving women's social statuses, the continued normalization of bacha bazi will perpetuate the traditional view of women as second-class citizens -- household fixtures meant for child-rearing and menial labor, and undeserving of male attraction and affection.
The third unfortunate consequence of bacha bazi is its detrimental bearing on the perpetual state of conflict in Afghanistan, especially in the southern Pashtun-dominated countryside. Because pedophilia and sodomy were, and remain, a main point of contention between the Islamist Taliban and traditional Pashtun warlords, the widespread nature of bacha bazi likely continues to fuel the Taliban's desire to reassert sharia law. The adolescent victims are vulnerable to Taliban intimidation and may be used to infiltrate the Afghan government and security forces.
The resurgence of bacha bazi since the Taliban's defeat and the significant percentage of government, police, and military officials engaged in the practice has put the United States and its NATO allies in a precarious position. By empowering these sexual predators, the coalition built a government around a "lesser evil," promoting often-corrupt pedophiles in lieu of the extremist, al Qaeda-linked Taliban. Going forward, the strong Western moral aversion to pedophilia will likely erode the willingness of NATO and international philanthropic agencies to continue their support for Afghanistan's development in the post-transition period. As Joel Brinkley, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, asked: "So, why are American and NATO forces fighting and dying to defend tens of thousands of proud pedophiles, certainly more per capita than any other place on Earth?"
Despite the grave nature of the child abuse committed across Afghanistan, this tragic phenomenon has received relatively little global attention. It has been highlighted mainly in sporadic news articles and one Afghan-produced documentary, while other Afghan issues such as women's rights and poverty are center stage.
From a human rights perspective, the pervasive culture of pedophilia deserves substantial international consideration due to its detrimental effects -- the immediate and noticeable effects on the young victims, as well as the roadblocks it creates towards achieving gender equality and peace.
The only way to tackle both bacha bazi and gender inequality is to modernize Afghanistan's rule of law system. Afghan officials have been scrutinized in multiple reports by the United Nations' Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict for their failure to protect children's rights. Although Afghan officials formally agreed to outlaw these practices in response to U.N. criticism in 2011, the government's ability and willingness to internally enforce laws protecting children has been non-existent.
If a future Afghan government can achieve a balance between the Taliban, who strictly enforced anti-pedophilia laws but harshly oppressed women, and the current administration, which has put an end to the hard-line Islamic subjugation of women but has allowed bacha bazi to reach shocking levels, Afghanistan's dismal human rights record may improve.
An additional strategy for combating bacha bazi is to attack the issue from an ethno-cultural standpoint. Identifying key tribal elders and other local powerbrokers who share the West's revulsion towards such widespread pedophilia is the first step in achieving lasting progress. As is true with women's rights, understanding Afghanistan's complex social terrain and bridging its cultural differences is necessary to safeguard the rights of adolescent boys.
The Afghan government's acknowledgement of bacha bazi and subsequent outreach into rural Pashtun communities, where the legitimacy of the government is often eclipsed by the power of warlords and tribal elders, will also be critical. The most important breakthrough, of course, will come when the Afghan government, police, and military rid themselves of all pedophiles. If the central government can ensure its representatives at the local level will cease their engagement in bacha bazi, the social norms are bound to change as well.
Eliminating this truly damaging practice will finally occur when a pedophile-free Afghan government is able to more closely connect the country's urban centers to its rural countryside. Only then will a progressive social code be established. And if this evolved social code can incorporate the tenets of Islam with social justice and effectively marginalize the archaic and abusive aspects of Pashtun and Tajik warlord culture, there is hope for Afghanistan yet.
Chris Mondloch served as an analyst for the U.S. Marine Corps for five years and directed intelligence production for the Corps' Economic Political Intelligence Cell in Helmand province in 2012.
AREF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images
Bonus read: "Afghanistan's untold success story," Melissa L. Skorka (AfPak).
At least 18 people were killed in the Andar district of Afghanistan's Ghazni province on Sunday when the minibus they were traveling in was struck a roadside bomb (AJE, AP, BBC, Pajhwok, RFE/RL, VOA). The bus was full of people traveling to a wedding and the majority of the casualties were women and children. Five other passengers were wounded and two remain in critical condition, according to Col. Assadullah Insafi, the deputy provincial police chief (NYT). The Taliban, who has control of the area, has denied responsibility for the attack but similar attacks in the Andar district have been linked to the militants.
Pajhwok Afghan News reported on Monday that Ghazni residents found a man with a remote control device in a garden soon after the bomb detonated. Suspecting that he was the attacker, angry locals killed him, though it is unclear if there was any other evidence linking him to the attack or if he was connected to the Taliban in any way. (Pajhwok).
An Afghan soldier was killed and three NATO soldiers were injured on Saturday during a disagreement at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul, just days after the facility opened its doors (RFE/RL, Telegraph). The disagreement between the soldiers started when the Afghan soldier, who was guarding a gate at the perimeter, confiscated a laptop from a driver and soldiers from Australia and New Zealand tried to take it back from him. Sources say the two coalition troops swore at the Afghan soldier, at which point he shot the Australian soldier in the chest. The bullet fragmented against his body armor and hit another Australian and a New Zealander before the Afghan soldier was killed. This is the fourth "insider attack" in Afghanistan in the past month; 15 coalition soldiers have been killed in such attacks this year alone (BBC).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai began a five-day trip to the United Kingdom on Monday, where he is expected to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (BBC, Pajhwok). One major issue he is expected to discuss with Sharif is the Taliban's continued presence in Pakistan and the location of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (AFP, RFE/RL, VOA). As a former Taliban military commander, Kabul is hoping that Baradar will be able to restart the stalled reconciliation talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government. While Pakistan says it released Baradar in September, his whereabouts remain unknown.
Lack of oversight
As U.S. troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported on Sunday that the U.S. government will lose its ability to inspect many of its funded projects in Afghanistan in 2014 (Post, VOA). According to the Post, there will be at least 15 major reconstruction initiatives, projected to cost more than $1 billion, beyond the reach of U.S. government inspectors next year. The ability of civilian government officials and military personnel to visit and inspect sites depends on the proximity of troops and the ability of medics to transport any wounded to a hospital in the case of an attack. The decreasing numbers of troops will severely limit the overseers travel across the country.
The Post report came as the New York Times quoted senior NATO officials who said that they are planning for a more minimalist post-2014 mission, with fewer combat trainers and more military managers to ensure that billions of dollars in security aid are not lost (NYT, Pajhwok). According to an unnamed senior NATO diplomat, "any enduring NATO military presence in Afghanistan ‘is tied directly to the $4.1 billion [in aid] and our ability to oversee it and account for it.'" While much of the media focus has been on the number of troops that remain in the country after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, as these reports show, the continuance of aid is emerging as a critical and connected issue.
Reconsidering Afridi case
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured U.S. congressmen and activists during his visit to Washington last week that his government will reconsider the case of Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA in its hunt for Osama bin Laden, Fox News reported on Thursday (Dawn, ET). Afridi, accused of treason, was sentenced to 33 years in prison last May without having a chance to defend himself. According to Robert Lorsch, a California-based activist with the Free Afridi Campaign, he and Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "heavily pressured the Pakistani leadership about releasing the doctor" and that it was the first time they "realized the importance of Dr. Afridi, not as a political bargaining tool, but as a symbol of how freedom-loving American people regard Pakistan" (Fox News).
Prior to leaving for his tripartite meetings in Britain, Sharif met with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl party, in Rawalpindi on Monday to discuss reconciliation talks with the country's militant groups, as well as the possibility of including the party in the federal cabinet (Dawn). According to anonymous sources, Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan and Information Minister Pervez Rashid were also present at the meeting, and briefed Rehman on the progress of the proposed peace talks. These sources also said that Sharif had talked to Rehman about his recent trip to Washington, but no further details were provided.
India claimed that one of its army officers was killed on Monday due to gunfire from the Pakistani side of the Kashmir Line of Control, the latest ceasefire accusation to emerge between the two nuclear-armed neighbors (AP, BBC, Dawn). According to Naresh Vig, an Indian army spokesman, the soldier was killed just after midnight in the Uri sector of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Vig added that India did not fire back, but instead lodged a protest with the Pakistani army over a hotline established to ease tensions in the region. Pakistan has yet to comment on the incident, but hundreds of Pakistani protestors took the streets on Monday to mark what they call "Black Day," a day when India occupied Kashmir 67 years ago, and chanted that: "Our fight will continue until Kashmir is free" (VOA).
Running in Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan participated in the 38th annual Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, in spite of being thousands of miles away from the race (Post). More than 300 troops ran the 26.2 miles, called Marine Corps Marathon Forward, at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province. Sgt. Bryan Peterson said one Marine ran in his combat utility uniform, except for the top, in order to pay respect to those who have fallen. Since the camp is nearly nine hours ahead of Washington, the runners finished well before any of the 32,000 participants who gathered in D.C. for the race (NBC).
-- Emily Schneider and Bailey Cahall
RAHMATULLAH ALIZADA/AFP/Getty Images
Bonus read: "Did Obama keep his drone promises?," Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland (CNN).
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday and told him that the United States will not be able to provide any future financial assistance to Afghanistan unless the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the two countries is signed (Levin). Levin, who is in the country for a week-long trip, added that he was struck by all of the positive changes he's seen in Afghanistan since he first started visiting about 12 years ago and that continued international aid was warranted to maintain the country's progress.
Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi, Afghanistan's defense minister, told reporters at a news conference in Berlin on Thursday that he's optimistic that the Loya Jirga (grand assembly) will approve the BSA when it meets next month (Pajhwok). The jirga will review the agreement, which will determine the size and scope of the U.S. mission post 2014, and determine whether or not it should be signed. Among the many issues they will consider is the one of jurisdiction - whether U.S. troops who remain in the country and are accused of crimes will be immune from Afghan law or not.
Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Complaint Commission (IECC) announced on Thursday that it had received 313 complaints challenging the initial list of presidential and provincial council candidates, the vast majority of which had been filed by Kabul residents and disqualified candidates (Pajhwok). While the IECC did not say how it was going to address these complaints, rejected presidential candidates gave the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) 48 hours to explain why they had been disqualified from running (Pajhwok). The former candidates, who have formed a union of sorts, said their documents should be vetted by the IEC with their representatives present. They also said that if their concerns were not addressed, a "future line of action" would be announced.
Intelligence operatives with Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security detained 21 children in Laghman province on Wednesday who were allegedly being taken to Pakistan to receive suicide attack training (Pajhwok). According to Nasrullah Nasrat, the agency's provincial spokesman, the children - aged between 7 and 12 - were picked up from various places in Nuristan province, and then moved through Laghman.
Responding to a Washington Post report that said CIA documents showed coordination between the United States and Pakistan on the U.S. drone program, former Pakistani prime minster Yousuf Raza Gilani said it was "totally absurd" to suggest that his government had condoned US drone strikes inside his country (AP, Dawn, Post). Gilani, who was in office from 2008 to 2012, added that: "During my government, there was no such support given to drone strikes whatsoever." He also claimed that the permission for the strikes had been given before his tenure, a reference to former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf, who has admitted to authorizing U.S. drone strikes will he was in office and is already charged with four different crimes related to his time in power, may be facing more. Shahid Aziz, a retired Lt. Gen. and one of Musharraf's former aides, told reporters on Thursday that his former boss should be charged with extrajudicial murder for his role in the covert U.S. program (The News).
The drone program was one of many items discussed on Wednesday when current Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with President Obama (AP, Dawn, ET, NYT). Sharif told journalists after the meeting that Pakistani concerns over the drone strikes had been raised and that "hopefully soon the drone issue will be resolved according to the wishes of [the] Pakistani people" (Dawn, ET). While Obama did not mention the program in his post-meeting comments, he did say that the relationship between the two countries is based on "the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity" (RFE/RL).
Apology not accepted
The Supreme Court of Pakistan decided on Friday to indict defense secretary Asif Yasin Malik for contempt of court after he failed to hold local government elections in all 43 Cantonment Boards despite repeated instructions to do so from the court (Dawn, ET). In Pakistan, cantonments are permanent military stationed areas that are administered by boards, which formulate policies for local development and civil services and act as autonomous statutory local bodies. The last elections were held in 1998 and the boards have been without public representation for 14 years, in violation of the constitution. The decision comes after Malik changed his stance on proposed laws that the Election Commission of Pakistan says will continue to delay the local government elections in the cantonment areas. Malik apologized to the court in Islamabad on October 22 and asked for more time to hold the elections, but Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry refused to accept his apology.
World Polio Day, a day dedicated to eradicating the poliovirus, was marked around the world on Thursday and while the disease has been mostly contained, it is still endemic in Pakistan (Dawn, ET). Pakistan recorded a 79% decrease in polio cases in 2012 and completely eradicated one of the three types of the poliovirus that year, but attacks on polio teams and a Taliban ban on immunizations in North and South Waziristan have led to a spike in diagnoses. Almost 90% of the 46 polio cases documented this year occurred in children from areas where the vaccination is effectively banned, creating what Dr. Elias Durry, head of the World Health Organization's Polio Eradication team, says is a "vaccination gap."
Courage in Journalism
Afghanistan's Najiba Ayubi was one of three women honored on Wednesday with the Courage in Journalism award from the International Women's Media Foundation on Wednesday (AP). Ayubi is the director of The Killid Group, an independent news organization, and is a co-founder of the Afghan Independent Media Consortium. She has faced threats from many sources while pursing her work, some of which included gunman showing up at her home and anonymous threats to harm her family. She has also been publicly defamed in a country where simply being a woman and working can present many challenges. Nour Kelze, a Syrian photojournalist, and Bopha Phorn, a Cambodian investigative reporter, joined Ayubi in receiving the awards.
-- Bailey Cahall and Emily Schneider
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Newly obtained diplomatic memos and CIA documents revealed on Wednesday that Pakistani government officials have been aware of U.S. drone strikes and endorsed the program, according to the Washington Post (AFP, RFE/RL). The files obtained by the Post contain descriptions of numerous drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal region, before-and-after photos of targets, and markings that indicate many of the files were prepared by the CIA's Counterterrorism Center specifically for the Pakistani government.
Although it's been widely known that Pakistan tacitly approved of the strikes, in spite of publicly denouncing them, the documents reveal a much more complicated and nuanced relationship. For instance, in one document, Michael J. Morell, former deputy director of the CIA, indicated that the agency was prepared to share credit with the Pakistanis if the agency could confirm that it had killed Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda operative suspected of ties to plots against India (Post). The agency would do so "so that the negative views about Pakistan in the U.S. decision and opinion making circles are mitigated," according to the memo.
Other documents reveal tenser times. Some describe meetings in which U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, questioned their Pakistani counterparts with U.S. intelligence alleging Pakistan's ties to militant groups involved in attacks on American forces (BBC). One memo from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to its embassy in Washington lists 36 U.S. citizens who it believed were CIA agents and instructed the embassy to withhold visas for those individuals.
The Post piece came as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama met at the White House to repair ties between the two countries (NYT, RFE/RL, VOA). While Sharif asked Obama to halt the drone program, neither government commented on the new report.
"Sandhurst in the Sand"
A new Afghan National Army officer academy opened its doors on Wednesday, intent on taking "raw but enthusiastic candidates" and turning them into the country's future military leaders (AP, BBC, Pajhwok). Dubbed "Sandhurst in the Sand," the academy is modeled after its British namesake and will be Britain's only military presence in the country after combat troops leave at the end of next year. Cadets will study at the facility for 42 weeks, and will analyze Afghan tactics in past wars against the British, as well as those the mujahideen used against the Soviets in the 1980s. The incoming class of 270 recruits was chosen from 10,000 applications, and while this first class is comprised of all male soldiers, female candidates will join the institution next year.
While many Afghan citizens said on Wednesday that they were pleased with the Independent Election Commission's decision to cut the number of presidential contenders by more than half, independent observers have criticized the move and some of the disqualified candidates have accused the government of being behind the reductions (Pajhwok, Reuters). Kabul residents told Pajhwok Afghan News that the smaller candidate pool could help prevent a run-off election, lower campaigning costs, and prompt more people to vote. Independent observers, while not necessarily against the reductions, questioned the IEC's lack of transparency as the disqualified candidates had not been informed before the reductions were announced to the media, and the Afghan election watchdog agency had not provided more information about why specific candidates were disqualified.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that a 2012 report by the International Labor Organization shows that despite spending billions of dollars in international aid to develop Afghanistan, nearly 8 out of 10 working-age Afghans are unskilled day laborers (AP). The work that they can find in the country's urban areas is "often backbreaking, always temporary and will earn [them] just a few dollars." In the more rural parts of Afghanistan, the work is seasonal and often illegal as some of the biggest employers are poppy farmers. And while Afghans worry about their current job prospects, they are also concerned about what will happen next year when foreign troops withdraw the country and take additional support jobs with them.
A British Royal Marine, known only as Marine A, was accused on Wednesday of "executing" an injured Afghan insurgent while he was serving in Afghanistan in 2011 (BBC, RFE/RL). A prosecutor told a military court in southwest England that the marine shot the Afghan in the chest at close range, and that the killing was inadvertently recorded by another soldier's helmet camera. The shooting allegedly took place in September 2011, after a military base in Helmand province was attacked by insurgents. The marine has denied the charges, as have two other soldiers - Marines D and E - whose charges were dropped in February.
It's a radio, it's a pencil... it's a president?
Since approximately 61% of Afghanistan's voting population is illiterate, each of the 10 presidential candidates for next year's election has been assigned a symbol, including a bulldozer, a Koran, a radio, and a pencil (RFE/RL). The hope is that the symbols will make voting easier by allowing voters to distinguish between the candidates. The symbols will be printed on ballot papers next to the name and picture of each candidate. With more than 5,000 possible symbols, all of the presidential candidates, and even those running in provincial elections, were able to choose their own pictures.
-- Bailey Cahall and Emily Schneider
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Tuesday that it had disqualified 16 presidential candidates from next April's election due to improper documents and other violations, including dual nationalities and lacking a university degree (AP, NYT, Pajhwok, Post, RFE/RL, VOA). While most of the contenders who were disqualified were relatively unknown national figures, Anwarul Haw Ahadi, a former commerce and finance minister, also had his application to run denied. Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the IEC, said the disqualified candidates have 20 days to raise any objections with the commission, at least 10 of which said they plan to do so (Pajhwok). The disqualifications leave 10 candidates in the running to replace current Afghan President Hamid Karzai, including Qayim Karzai, his brother, and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and 2009 presidential candidate.
The country's National Directorate of Security (NDS) also revealed on Tuesday that it had fired 65 intelligence officers after discovering they were addicted to heroin (Reuters). According to Rahmatullah Nabil, the acting head of the intelligence agency, the men were discovered through a program to remove drug users from the NDS's ranks and "our efforts will continue." The program, which began in Kabul, will soon be expanded to all 34 Afghan provinces. Nabil did not provide further information about when the firings actually occurred.
News of the firings came as a senior American military officer told the New York Times on Tuesday that insurgent groups operating inside Afghanistan are expected to wage an unusually aggressive campaign this winter (NYT). While the Afghan Taliban has typically used the cold-weather months to rest, retrain, and further their agenda politically, it appears that they are going to continue fighting this year due to the upcoming presidential elections next April and the continuing coalition withdrawal. Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels, the anonymous officer said they expect "attempts at high-profile attacks, attempts at targeted killings of political officials, election officials and candidates," instead of traditional battlefield engagements.
The United States passed a grim milestone on Tuesday when reports emerged that at least 2,150 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001 (AP). Of those deaths, at least 1,781 were the result of hostile action. An additional 19,416 U.S. service members have been wounded while fighting in the country.
India accused Pakistan of violating their 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Kashmir border again this week, saying that one guard was killed and six others were injured Tuesday night in a cross-border firing incident, one India is calling the most egregious violation in a decade (AP, BBC). India said the firings continued into Wednesday and at least 50 Indian border posts were targeted. According to Rajesh Kumar, a local Indian police officer, at least 100 civilians were evacuated from the villages of Arnia and Ramgarch near the Indian frontier (ET). Pakistan has not commented on the incident, though military officials stated that "unprovoked firing" by Indian forces killed a Pakistani solder and a civilian and wounded 10 other civilians earlier in the week (Guardian).
The incident comes at a particularly sensitive time for Pakistan, as Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif is in Washington for his first official visit since being elected in May. Earlier on Tuesday, Sharif vowed to go the "extra mile" in making peace with India, saying that he believes the two countries can resolve their issues, including Kashmir, through dialogue (AP). Past dialogues have not made much headway, however, and it seems that the pledge Sharif and Manmohan Sindh, his Indian counterpart, made in September to maintain peace along the border has made little difference on the ground so far.
Nearing the end of his visit to Washington, Sharif will be meeting with President Obama later on Wednesday and the two men are expected to discuss a number of sensitive subjects, including the U.S. drone program in Pakistan and Pakistan's alleged support of the Taliban (VOA). The meeting will take place one day after human rights group Amnesty International released a report highlighting civilian casualties of drone strikes in Pakistan. While White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the U.S. program, saying that "U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful and they are effective," Pakistan has consistently said they violate the country's sovereignty (BBC, Post).
Sharif addressed incidents of violence, like border clashes with India and U.S. drone strikes, at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, saying that: "If we sit down together, if we seriously address these issues, I don't think we will face any problem." (Dawn)
3-D in Hyderabad
Cine Moosh, the first 3-D cinema opened in Hyderabad on Eid al-Adha and has been attracting an elite crowd ever since. With the steep price of Rs600 (approximately $6) per ticket, not everyone can afford to enjoy the new attraction. Kaiful Wara, a student at the city's Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, visited the cinema Tuesday evening and while she enjoyed the experience, she "[felt] a little uncomfortable with the ticket price...since it is the only cinema here, they are charging as high as Rs600 per person" (Dawn). Cine Moosh can seat 144 people and plans to show both 2-D and 3-D movies. It is currently screening the 2-D movie Waar, directed by Bilal Lashari, which is setting box office records across Pakistan (ET).
-- Bailey Cahall and Emily Schneider
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Managing Afghanistan's nascent industrial base will be critical as the nation attempts to build a modern economy that is increasingly less dependent on foreign aid. Today, there is great room for optimism as Afghanistan moves toward the post-transition period. Despite having a GDP that was made up almost entirely of outside aid in 2011 and 2012, certain industries -- including the Afghan telecommunications, agricultural, and mining sectors -- have begun to demonstrate remarkable growth and potential, leading to the vital stability needed for a viable, diversified marketplace.
Experts estimate that Afghanistan holds deposits of $1 trillion to $3 trillion of oil, gas, gold, copper, iron ore, and other natural resources. Of this subset, perhaps the most intriguing is the country's marble industry, which is further along in its exploitation than other areas, and whose emergence is an instructive success story on seeding enterprise in the war zone. As commodity cycles turn, prices increase, and large-scale resource extraction projects scale up, Afghanistan is focusing on the industry as an anchor for the development of its resource corridor. According to the Afghanistan Investment and Support Agency, the Afghan marble industry has expanded by 60 percent since 2008, a growth that has positives effects on other industries as well.
Economic considerations aside, Afghanistan's post-2014 future will be heavily tied to its security situation. In geostrategic hot spots around the world, counterinsurgency experts have long argued that adequate development and economic prosperity follow security. But if there is a successful strategy that upends this conventional wisdom, it may lie in western Afghanistan, where the development of the nation's multi-billion dollar mining industry is growing the economy and consequently forcing improvements in the security sector. In essence, as businesses have begun to flourish, despite the lack of fully settled security, Afghans have moved swiftly against nefarious actors to ensure that they do not impact the flow of marble and revenue generation.
Ultimately, an economy is built out through trade, not aid, as growth and new jobs are the most sustainable way to raise living standards. With increasing exports across Europe and Asia, the Afghan marble sector already earns at least $15 million per year and remains the top marble producer in the region. If present maturation trends hold, the marble sector could generate nearly $700 million in exports by 2018.
Over the last five years, other sectors have also demonstrated robust growth: the Afghan media, health, and agriculture sectors (dry fruits and seeds, which surpassed carpets as Afghanistan's primary export) have all shown impressive development. However, these areas rely to a significant extent on the funds available from foreign aid, and subsequently have not generated sizable, sustainable profits that maximize the sectors' full potential. Conversely, certain large-scale mining activities have turned a profit relatively quickly and have continued to expand at a dynamic rate, especially as innovative Afghan companies increasingly access a burgeoning global market for the nation's rare, world-class materials.
Since 2008, Afghans have sharply focused on the country's export capacity to meet the rise in international demand for high-end stone. Since its introduction to the global market, Afghan white stone, a marble noted for its unusually rich quality and rainbow color, has been actively sought by some of the world's wealthiest buyers -- industry insiders -- who are engaged in a continuous price war for the most expensive marble products. By increasing its share in this highly competitive market, Afghanistan is already carving out broader regional economic relevance, with the World Bank concluding that "in a scenario with higher investment in mining development, growth could increase to 6.9 per cent on average until 2025, and fiscal revenues could reach 2-4 percent of GDP in the early 2020s, depending on the number and scale of the exploited mines and the pace of their development." The potential earnings from the mining trade are therefore poised to become an important source of fiscal revenue, as well as a vehicle for creating jobs, developing infrastructure, and ensuring national economic growth. The key remains strategic management and investment.
The largest marble producer in Afghanistan, Equality Capital Management (ECM), founded in 2006 by Nasim and Adam Doost, has implemented a successful framework for foreign direct investment and economic growth. In Herat province, located in western Afghanistan, ECM has secured multi-million dollar commitments from leading international firms by offering an exclusive right to its top-grade marble, in exchange for modern production machinery, mining refinement technology, and technical support from geology and engineering experts. As a result of this business model and efficient management, ECM has helped bring the Afghan mining sector in line with international standards, while also using public-private partnerships to improve infrastructure, power reliability, and access to deepwater ports that are crucial to making the industry competitive.
The effects of these improvements have been clear. Since ECM's introduction of Afghan marble to some of the world's top stone importers in 2008, it has become a highly sought commodity -- a global-luxury good competing with Carrara marble, an Italian stone generally recognized as one of the finest in the world. Consequently, ECM's current portfolio boasts foreign buyers from a vast lineup of nations, including China, India, Italy, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. Afghan stone is increasingly used in prestigious construction projects across the world, such as the building of China's St. Regis Shenzhen, a premier five-star international hotel, and in the new headquarters of Margraf Industria Marmi Vicentini, a century-old firm and the fourth largest marble exporter in the world with ties to some of the world's most distinguished architecture.
Because not all foreign companies are keen to enter an unproven market in a war zone, Afghan leadership in cultivating joint ventures to share risks and costs in regions fraught with danger has been critical to the industry's growth. The combination of security operations and economic growth sprouting from these marble-for-security deals, in which Afghan business owners provide marble to the Afghan government in exchange for hard security guarantees, has created challenges for the insurgency. Pursuing this course, "the Afghan National Army has taken the lead and a more active approach to secur[ing] the marble mines, checkpoints, and transit routes over the last six months," notes a senior U.S. military official of Regional Command West. As a result of such deals, in order to guard the industry's growth, the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan National Security Forces have become more responsive, reinstating the flow of commerce hindered by illicit activity and constraining the insurgency in key zones.
Given the improved security, the growth of the marble industry has created an impressive spillover effect. As noted by Mansour Rahimi, the head of the Herat Marble Union, the number of Afghan-run small-to-medium-size marble enterprises in Herat province alone has increased from four to over 40, and the number of quarries contracted with the government has grown from two to 12, a rate that Adam Doost predicts "will generate 40,000 jobs ...over the next five years in this region." In fact, many of the relatively smaller businesses working beside ECM recently established the Marble Union to help capitalize on opportunities and solve challenges facing the industry due to this growth.
The size and sophistication of the mining industry, and the direct work of Afghans themselves as owners, have made the Herat marble industry a model for Afghan businesses in other regions and industries, such as barite, gold, limestone, lithium, tin, and even oil and gas. Acknowledging this influence, a group of Lashkar Gah onyx dealers from Helmand province in southern Afghanistan recently toured several Herat manufacturing facilities and met with the Doost brothers and Marble Union leaders to learn from their successes. The timing of these study tours is crucial, as the Helmand business leaders are currently introducing their highly prized onyx to the global market for the first time. Afghans' direct participation in these industries is absolutely essential for long-lasting economic growth and stabilization in the region.
Despite this success, fundamental obstacles to developing the mining sector remain. Procuring stable investment and credit facilities for businesses, repairing and updating antiquated technology and infrastructure, and improving the structure and application of mining laws all remain significant challenges. To be sure, no "one-size-fits-all" solution can guide business development and the next generation of entrepreneurs who are leading the way in mining and other growth enterprises in Afghanistan. Businesses throughout the nation need more robust trade opportunities and strong partnerships with foreign investors, since the marble sector is capital intensive and driven by a technological skill base, one which is still in its relative infancy in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, drawing on the Afghan marble industry leaders' blueprint for facilitating foreign direct investment and modern technology has already provided practical steps for up-and-coming Afghan business leaders to take as they seek to achieve transformative results.
In essence, understanding why the marble-for-security model works is especially relevant to the economics implicit in counterinsurgency operations across Afghanistan and other strategic zones. Actively seeking ways to identify, study, and apply the lessons learned from the reality of the war zone -- specifically how economics are incentivizing Afghan leaders to turn against the insurgency and drive hard security and stability guarantees -- can effectively help improve growth and stabilization successes across multiple industries throughout Afghanistan for decades to come.
Melissa L. Skorka is a Counterinsurgency Advisor for the Commanding General's Advisory and Assistance Team in Afghanistan.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, two human rights organizations investigating the covert U.S. drone program, released reports on Tuesday that highlight civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and allege that the United States has been involved in unlawful killings (AJAM, BBC, Dawn, ET, RFE/RL, VOA). Amnesty's report, "Will I be next?' US drone strikes in Pakistan," reviews 45 drone strikes that occurred in North Waziristan and the surrounding regions of Pakistan between 2012 and 2013, providing detailed field research into nine drone strikes that occurred during that time and that have raised questions of U.S. compliance with international law.
The report, for example, documents one case of a "rescuer attack," defined as one in which those who came to the aid of an initial drone strike victim were then targeted in a follow-up attack, that killed 18 laborers. It also describes an October 2012 strike that killed a 68-year-old grandmother as she was picking vegetables in the family's garden with her grandchildren (Reuters). Mustafa Qadri, the author of the report, told reporters that: "There are genuine threats to the U.S. and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or a grandmother surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States" (Amnesty). As such, Amnesty's report concludes that there are many instances where the United States may be breaching international law in its drone strikes. (NYT).
Amnesty's report was released in a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch, which issued a separate report on drone and air strikes in Yemen (Post). The 97-page report examines six U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, one from 2009 and five from 2012-2013, that it says killed civilians indiscriminately, targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives, or caused disproportionate civilian deaths (HRW).
As U.S. and Pakistani officials and observers prepare for the meeting between President Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday, much is being written about this most recent attempt to reset the tense, often fractious relationship between the two countries. In an interview with the New York Times, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington, who documents this mixed legacy in his new book, Magnificent Delusions, discusses his personal experiences as a Pakistani diplomat in Washington and says that misunderstandings by both Americans and Pakistanis have characterized the relationship from the beginning (NYT).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Emomali Rahmon, his Tajik counterpart, in Dushanbe on Monday to discuss bilateral trade, increased economic ties, and joint security efforts between the two countries (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Rahmon pledged to help Afghanistan fight terrorism and extremism, though no further details on what that help would be were provided. According to reports, the two leaders also discussed the construction of a railway that links Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan; and the CASA-1000 project, which will export electricity from hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Karzai and Rahmon are expected to sign agreements on mine clearance, insurance, and increasing travel between the two countries during the visit.
The Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a new U.S.-based Afghan advocacy group launched on Monday, is hoping to sustain the progress made in Afghanistan over the past 12 years by expanding the role of civil society in policymaking (RFE/RL). Backed by an impressive list of former U.S. government officials, diplomats, and civil society leaders - including former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, former Under Secretary of Defense of Policy Michele Flournoy, and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis - the alliance is "dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001" (AfPak). According to Shafi Sharifi, the alliance's communication director, Afghan civil society leaders created the alliance as a way to highlight some of the key achievements and gains Afghanistan has made in the last decade, and to counter the current security-focused narrative in the media (RFE/RL).
During a meeting with American business leaders on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured his audience that "Pakistan will do all it can to support the realization of peace and stability in Afghanistan" (Pajhwok). He went on to say that a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is necessary for a peaceful, stable Pakistan. Sharif added that regional security was at the top of his agenda, and that he supported an Afghan-led reconciliation process. Sharif, who is in Washington for a four-day visit, will meet with President Obama on Wednesday, and it is expected that discussions will focus on the security situation in Afghanistan and the 2014 withdrawal of coalition troops.
Poetry as a sword
While conservative Afghan society largely considers writing poetry a sin, the Mirman Baheer literary society is providing some Afghan women with a safe, creative place to do exactly that (BBC, NYT). Calling poetry "their sword," these women meet each week to recite their poetry and receive feedback and encouragement from each other. "It's our form of resistance," explains one of the society's founders, Sahira Sharif, a member of parliament. While some women have to keep their writing secret, even from their families, and most write under pen names, the society now boasts a membership of a few hundred people in several Afghan cities.
-- Bailey Cahall and Emily Schneider
S.S MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images
Dear Mr. President:
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting with you on Wednesday with high expectations. He is a pragmatic business-oriented politician with a powerful electoral base who has shown magnanimity and deftness in allowing opposition parties to form governments in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, and he backed the election of a nationalist Baloch as the chief minister in Baluchistan. While this could be seen as a policy of sharing the misery of trying to govern an ungovernable Pakistan, it could also be an attempt to work within a fractured political system. Regardless, he represents a chance to provide continuity for civilian governance in Pakistan and to build a relationship that goes beyond our immediate need to exit Afghanistan gracefully.
On Afghanistan, his advisors, both civil and military, will have told him that we need them badly; Pakistan tends to overestimate its leverage on such security issues. You will have likely been told by many yourself that we can get the Pakistanis to yield, if only we tighten the screws on them -- militarily via our aid program and the use of drone strikes, and economically via threats to withhold assistance directly or from international financial institutions.
We already have some credit on the latter. Pakistan has a new loan package with the International Monetary Fund, that we supported, though it remains to be seen if they will be able to deliver on the tough policy shifts they have to make to sustain the loan. This type of international financial support is an easier way for us to help or squeeze Pakistan without bringing Congress into the game.
As for the game itself, we can play the short game, focusing primarily on Afghanistan. In that case, making smoother payments from the Coalition Support Fund, and replacing Pakistan's heavily-used military materiel will help. Closer collaboration in helping them target their local Taliban fighters would also win points and cooperation.
Or, we could go for the long game and broaden our influence beyond the central government to the business community and the people of Pakistan. Large numbers of Pakistanis hate the United States because they have seen us support unpopular leaders, both civil and military, in the past. Sharif, a popular and business-oriented leader, appears to have the right instincts on a number of issues. He favors trade over aid, and he favors open borders with his neighbors. We could directly assist him by lowering the tariff rates on Pakistani imports, especially those on textiles -- at least to the level of European countries which have already given Pakistan that concession. Call it a level-playing field. At worst, you will lose South Carolina. But we will bring the emerging and powerful Pakistani business community to our side. In turn, it will help Sharif make the case domestically for open trade with India. You could also use quiet diplomacy with India to help it work things out with Pakistan on trade and border issues while waiting for the next Indian elections in spring 2014.
We also have a substantial proportion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds that have not yet been disbursed and though that aid program ends next year, you could extend it for another two years without seeking additional monies and thus use the full $7.5 billion that has been allocated. Though this is not a huge amount when compared with Pakistan's needs, the symbolic value would be substantial.
Currently, Sharif is personally running the foreign, commerce, and defense ministries -- a tall order for any prime minister. But it allows us to deal with him on a wide range of issues at the highest level. His energy ministers are already working with our key officials and even intelligence collaboration exists, regardless of the underlying mistrust. If we can avoid looking for an obvious quid pro quo in the short run, we may be able to help the Pakistanis also play the long game.
In short, we may be able to do business with Sharif. Recall that he did help President George H. W. Bush with Somalia in the early 1990s.
You will have only a short time with him on Wednesday. Instead of having him recite his grievances, it might be better to have him define a path for the future that helps both countries, and offer to help strengthen his position at home as a result. He will get that. You do not get to be prime minister of Pakistan for a record third time without such smarts. Trust him. But tell him you will verify his moves once he gets home.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Afghanistan has come a long way since the United States and its allies arrived in the country 12 years ago. Daunting challenges remain, but it is a far cry from the failed state and terrorist hideout it was in 2001. Doom-and-gloom press prognostications of an inevitable post-2014 return to Taliban tyranny do not reflect the realities on the ground. The fact is that Afghanistan has a solid chance of becoming significantly more stable, productive, and self-sustaining. This outcome, however, depends upon the will of the United States, its partners, and the leaders Afghans choose in next April's presidential elections.
As political leaders in Washington wrestle with budget issues in the coming months, they should resist the temptation to slash funding for Afghanistan. Outbursts from an outgoing President Hamid Karzai should not obscure larger U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region. Abandoning Afghanistan now would squander the significant investments and sacrifices the United States and its partners have made there, including the sacrifices still borne by many U.S. service members and their families. The scale of the investments needed over the next few years pale in comparison with the magnitude of the earlier ones, which have enabled the Afghan government and its police and military forces to degrade the Taliban-led insurgency and build the country's institutions and economy.
Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That's why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative - the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
Underlying our confidence is an appreciation of how much Afghanistan has changed for the better. Living standards have improved dramatically across most of the country. Significant advances have taken place in agriculture and healthcare. An unprecedented 8.2 million children and young people, four million of them young women and girls, are now in school in Afghanistan, and 180,000 of them are in university classes. Women in Afghanistan, who suffered unspeakable oppression under the Taliban, have become an increasingly significant voice in Afghan society, calling for minority rights, criticizing corruption, and demanding the rule of law. Fresh, young leaders with passion, commitment, resilience, and incredible talent are already emerging. These twenty- and thirty-somethings are serving in the private sector, non-governmental organizations, government, academia, and many other professions. Though they are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and often refugees who grew up abroad, they see themselves first and foremost as Afghans. The recent victories of the Afghan soccer and cricket teams, which were celebrated across all ethnic lines and throughout the country, highlighted this new reality.
The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan's central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country's more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops.
Why surrender this success in the area of security -- the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?
The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country's future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections -- undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs -- that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country's voters. It can become a country where the political rights of women are fully respected. It can undertake an inclusive peace process that addresses the root causes of conflict. And it can continue to develop its economy, trade, and regional ties.
True, these would be immense achievements for any poor, remote, war-torn country, but this vision is not beyond the reach of Afghanistan, with modest international support. Given all that we have achieved together and all that we have sacrificed together, it would be worse than foolhardy to short change this future now. It would be tragic.
Michèle Flournoy, a former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, co-chairs the Center for a New American Security's board of directors; she is also a signatory to the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's memories of Washington cannot be pretty. He was last in town in July 1999, when he met then-President Bill Clinton to discuss the escalation of tensions amongst India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir, an area long disputed between the two neighbors. Four months later, Sharif was out of a job.
Sharif's own Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, initiated the coup that led to his ouster after Sharif pulled troops out of Kargil -- at Clinton's urging -- to avoid any further escalation. His entrée into the "military's space" by initiating these troop withdrawals ultimately led to his downfall.
This time around, Sharif is in a much stronger position politically. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, dominates the National Assembly as a result of its landslide victory in the May elections earlier this year. The military, a perpetual thorn in the side of the civilian government, is showing no visible signs of getting in Sharif's way for the time being. The government is about to receive a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to breathe life back into the country's economy. Sharif's economic team seems to be making all the right noises on other aspects of economic reform, mainly in the privatization of state-owned steel mills and railways, as well as improvements in the energy sector.
This week, Sharif is in Washington, where he will meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday for an official visit at the White House. Meeting with Obama is typically a sign of strength for foreign leaders back home, but in Pakistan, the American president is so unpopular that Sharif wins no domestic brownie points for the meeting. In fact, it could hurt Sharif or be used against him. When he returns to Pakistan, any dramatic moves on security issues could be construed as a response to American pressure, real or not.
Furthermore, the strengths of Sharif's government are irrelevant under the current circumstances, especially on the issues the United States cares about the most. While his engagements with the American business and development communities will be more positive, Sharif will face "hard messages" from Obama and other American officials that won't be as easily answered. Among many issues, high on the White House's agenda will be the drawdown in Afghanistan, the lingering al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan, the recent uptick in tensions with India, and everlasting concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. High on Pakistan's agenda will be pushing for an end to CIA drone strikes, asking for continued assistance in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and seeking more information on NATO's plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
If it sounds like nothing's changed, that's because it hasn't. A combination of patronage, pressure, and mixed messages has always defined U.S.-Pakistan relations. In December 1998, when Sharif traveled to Washington at Clinton's invitation, security concerns at the time centered on India and nonproliferation. When President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington in January 2011 for the memorial service of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard C. Holbrooke, he was lucky Obama even met with him. Some American policy advisors at the time seriously questioned Pakistan's willingness to disrupt the Taliban, viewing the country's "double game" with the militants as reason enough to deny Zardari an audience with Obama.
While military ruler-turned-president Pervez Musharraf received a much warmer reception in Washington during his 2006 trip, he too faced the music when dealing with American officials on Pakistan's relations with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and its nuclear weapons program. Another military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, probably enjoyed the highest level of American patronage in the history of Pakistani leaders -- the result of his covert cooperation with the United States in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. But during his 1980 visit to Washington, even Zia faced pressure from the Carter administration to give up Islamabad's secretly expanding nuclear program.
Given the trends, it is apparent that Sharif will have the same kind of trip every other Pakistani leader to the United States has had: beset with unrealistic expectations in Washington and Islamabad; a scramble for "deliverables" identifying progress in the relationship; disappointment that the White House did not grant the Pakistanis the coveted "state visit;" mixed messages on both sides about how "hard" and "soft" the talking points were; and an underlying cynicism questioning the existence of the "unholy alliance" between the two countries. In all fairness, the same circumstances apply when American officials travel to Pakistan.
It is easy to get excited at the prospect of high-level engagements; such visits offer a potential pivot moment for bilateral relationships going through difficult times. We all know how badly the United States and Pakistan need a pivot, but the two countries may have already moved beyond that point. The visit occurs at a time when the countries have initiated a period of more subdued, private, and pragmatic engagement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Pakistan in August was an initial attempt to "open a new chapter" in the relationship. The recent release of $1.6 billion in military and economic aid was possible because "ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again." And while the recent decreased frequency of drone strikes does not appear to be coordinated, it probably doesn't hurt.
This new tone and approach can be helped along by strong diplomatic ties at the highest levels of government -- a condition that has been lacking in both U.S. and Pakistani policymaking circles for several years. Sharif's visit to Washington this week gives both him and Obama an opportunity to formally begin a professional relationship that could do just that.
But as in all things U.S. and Pakistan, a heavy dose of reality is recommended. The two countries face many potential pitfalls as they look towards 2014 when NATO departs Afghanistan, and high-level diplomacy alone cannot ensure that Pakistan and the United States successfully avoid them. Coordination between American and Pakistani militaries, intelligence services, diplomats, and development specialists will also be in demand; engagement on many of these fronts is still recovering from the conflicts of the past two years, whether it be the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis incident, or the cross-border incident at Salala. At the least, the Sharif-Obama discussion will offer a taste of what challenges lay ahead and one way to engage on them.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
At least seven people were killed and 16 were injured in Pakistan's Balochistan province on Monday when a bomb planted on a railroad track exploded and derailed a train (BBC, Dawn, ET, Reuters, VOA). Asad Gilani, the provincial Home Secretary, told reporters that militants had targeted the Jaffar Express, which was carrying hundreds of passengers from Rawalpindi to Quetta after the Eid al-Adha holiday, but there were no immediate claims of responsibility. Traffic along that route has been suspended and an investigation is underway.
Pakistani authorities accused Indian troops in the Sialkot section of Kashmir of "unprovoked firing" that allegedly injured eight civilians (ET). It was the latest report of the ongoing ceasefire violations between the two countries along the disputed area's Line of Control. A Pakistani military official said a civilian was killed and two others were injured in the same region on Saturday, while there were also reports that a Pakistani paramilitary soldier was killed by Indian shells on Friday (AFP).
Sharif comes to Washington
The United States quietly announced on Saturday that it plans to release more than $1.6 million in aid to Pakistan as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif headed to Washington for a four-day visit (AJAM, NYT, Reuters, RFE/RL). The military and economic aid was suspended more than two years ago when relations between the two countries deteriorated after the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden and a deadly U.S. airstrike that killed several Pakistani soldiers. While relations have improved enough for the resumption of aid, "the silence reflects the lingering mutual suspicions between the two" (AP). U.S. officials told the Associated Press that Congress has cleared most of the money, and that it should start going to Pakistan early next year.
Sharif met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, several days ahead of his first official meeting with President Obama (BBC, ET, RFE/RL, VOA). While neither Kerry nor Sharif commented on the content of their discussions, Kerry told reporters that: "We're very anxious to have a series of high level, important discussions over the course of the next few days" (Dawn). The 2014 withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and the U.S. drone campaign in Pakistan's tribal areas are expected to top the agendas of those discussions. This is Sharif's first visit to the United States since he was elected in May for a record third time.
Special forces defection
Monsif Khan, an Afghan commander in Kunar province, recently defected to a militant group, taking weapons and ammunition with him, Afghan officials reported on Sunday (Reuters). Khan, the first special forces commander to switch sides, was part of a 20-man special forces unit stationed in Asadabad, the provincial capital, and escaped with "30 guns, night-vision goggles, binoculars, and a Humvee" (RFE/RL). According to Shuja ul-Mulkh Jalala, the provincial governor, Khan defected to Hezb-e-Islami, an anti-government movement fighting with the Afghan Taliban. A manhunt for Khan is underway.
An Afghan driver for a non-governmental organization was killed in Kabul on Monday when a bomb stuck to his car exploded (Pajhwok). Najib Dunish, a deputy Interior Ministry spokesman, told reporters that police are unsure if the bomb was planted by insurgents or criminals who had differences with the driver (AP). An investigation into the incident is underway.
Monday's bombing followed one in Kabul on Friday that targeted an international convoy as it left the heavily-fortified Green Village, a residential complex that houses U.S. military contractors, European diplomats, and U.N. employees (BBC, NYT, Reuters). According to Sediq Sediqqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, a militant detonated a car bomb as two vehicles were leaving the facility, killing a family of a six in a passing vehicle. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force reported that no troops were killed or injured in the blast, which was later claimed by the Taliban.
In preparation for the withdrawal of most of its combat troops from Afghanistan, the United States finalized a deal with Romania on Friday to use one of its air bases along the Black Seas as a transit point for those troops (AFP, RFE/RL). The agreement allows the U.S. to shift its flight operations from the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, which was charging steep rental fees and has ruled out extending the U.S. contract for using the base past July 2014. Five U.S. military personnel are currently stationed at Romania's Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, though that number would likely increase as troops and equipment from Afghanistan begin to move through the area.
Afghan officials announced on Saturday that the Loya Jirga to discuss the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Washington and Kabul will begin on November 19 and could last up to a week (Post, RFE/RL). Organizers said that nearly 3,000 tribal elders and other officials will participate in the assembly, and deliberate on the 32-page draft agreement. The BSA will determine the size and scope of any U.S. presence that remains in the country once the majority of NATO combat troops are withdrawn at the end of next year.
As the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan continues to accelerate, nearly 12 million to 14 million pounds of equipment is being sold on the Afghan market as part of the world's largest garage sale (Post). Shipping the equipment from more than 12 years of war home is cost-prohibitive for the United States, so armored trucks, televisions, and even ice cream scoops are now up for grabs. But as the Washington Post notes, there's a catch: most of this equipment is reaching the market in scrap form. To ensure that parts from air-conditioning units, treadmills, and other household items aren't used to make roadside bombs, most of the U.S. equipment is being broken down first. In addition to producing more scrap metal than Afghanistan has ever seen, this policy is also causing frustration among Afghans who feel they are being deprived of buying or selling the high-value goods.
-- Bailey Cahall
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lands in Washington this weekend, he would not be blamed if he is wracked by mixed feelings. His last visit to the U.S. capital, in July 1999, occurred in the wake of the Kargil adventure with India that he allowed to get out of hand, and which led to a break with his army chief and his eventual ouster as prime minister. Due to the coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan was in the political doghouse until the then-president became a U.S. ally in the wake of the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the allied invasion of Afghanistan. For over a decade, Musharraf played the Afghanistan and terrorism cards to his advantage, while his own country slid into the depths of militancy and terrorism. Ironically, he never visited his own troops who were fighting and dying inside the border region. Neither did most of Pakistan's civilian leaders.
Sharif promised a change toward more active democratic governance when he took over after the May 2013 elections, but his tenure has had a slow start. If he is to make a difference, he will need to show much more alacrity, planning, and boldness in his dealings at home and abroad. He comes to Washington, a place that Charles Dickens once called city of "magnificent intentions," though a number of realities will challenge him both during and after this visit.
First, Washington is distracted at home by its recent budgetary battle and government shutdown. Abroad, Syria and Iran have stolen the attention of policymakers and lawmakers alike. The good news is that Pakistan is not on the front burner. But the bad news is also that Pakistan is not on the front burner. Sharif will, at best, meet a polite reception, but it is unclear what big issues bring the two countries together, while many issues potentially threaten this tenuous relationship. The impending coalition exit from Afghanistan is a short-term issue. A stable and prosperous Pakistan is what will matter most for the long run. Sharif needs to resist the temptation of showing how important he is to the Americans. If he is strong at home in governing and delivering on the promise of democracy, he will carry greater weight abroad.
Second, Sharif has yet to establish clear civilian control over the military. His tentative steps in handling the upcoming changes in the military's leadership leave more questions on the table than answers. Exercising his constitutional prerogative to appoint military commanders is critical, but so is the timing of those actions. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave him an opportunity by publicly announcing that he would in fact be stepping down at the end of November. Sharif muddled that opening by delaying the naming of the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army chief. What lessons will the Americans draw from this? Most likely that they must continue their military-to-military relationship as the dependable cornerstone of the current engagement with Pakistan, at least until they exit Afghanistan next year.
Third, despite Pakistani claims of victory when the United States agreed on Friday to pay $322 million worth of arrears of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to Pakistan, the future is uncertain. Pakistani Finance Minister Sen. Ishaq Dar, during his recent visit to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, said he had taken up the issue of CSF payments with U.S. State and Treasury Departments and they had assured him that payment would be made soon. But the reality has been obfuscated by that cheerful announcement.
CSF payments will cease at the end of 2014. Currently, there are no U.S. plans to support Pakistani military operations beyond next year. Furthermore, no payments will be given to Pakistan for the period when the Ground Lines of Communication with Afghanistan were closed. So forget about those seven months. And U.S. authorities have laid down new rules, meaning that the previous claims for expenditures outside the border region and unrelated to military operations will no longer be entertained for reimbursement. In effect, roughly a third of the previous claims will not be paid. The only bright side is that claims will now be paid on a quarterly basis at the potential rate of roughly $100 million a month.
Fourth, Pakistan has not shown many signs of ground work in Washington since the Sharif government took over. Not on the Hill, nor with the administration. Even the prime minister's own visit was not preceded by high-level preparation. And there is no Pakistani ambassador in town, as yet. All of this leads one to believe that no major issues will actually be discussed or resolved. Afghanistan will loom large. India may be raised. But the United States has its own India agenda that does not always include Pakistan. Congress will likely want to know what will happen to Dr. Shakil Afridi and to Musharraf. Will Sharif be able to provide a clear set of answers?
Pakistan needs a new and clear strategic overview of its region and global relationships. It cannot lurch from crisis to crisis, nor can it rely on the global fear of its nuclear arsenal falling into the wrong hands to be the excuse for aid to a country that has not clearly defined its domestic or foreign policy. It faces a huge domestic terror threat. It needs to open its borders to its neighbors and to trade across the region. Sharif has an opportunity to boldly and unambiguously state where he stands on these issues. If he does so in Washington, he may mark an early turning point in his tenure. Ambiguity and business as usual, however, will not do.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
Warrick Page/Getty Images
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Name: Dost Mohammad
When not working out at Kabul's cricket academy, Dost Mohammad is working in his father's shop, selling clothes and trinkets, knockoffs from Asia of brands from Europe. And when he's not at the family store, he's playing more cricket -- pick-up games with neighborhood boys, practicing his bowling or his special kind of batting. The cricket academy is almost lush by Kabul standards, with a well-manicured grass field surrounded by a grandstand. But the field across the street, where Mohammad does his extra practice, is harsh. There's no grass, just hard-packed dust that pounds his joints and kicks up into his lungs, and there's no respite from the sun, which is strongest at midday when Mohammad tends to be there.
Kabul is a city that could be planned for the express purpose of punishing athletes. At 6,000 feet above sea level, the air is thin and heavily polluted, not just because there are so many vehicles and no enforced emission standards, but because there is so much dust that carries all kinds of pollutants. Grass and shade are scarce because during the communist regime, trees were cut down so the mujahideen couldn't hide in them, and with few trees to provide relief from the sun and roots to hold moisture, the city's plant life was defenseless against drought, which eventually, inevitably, struck.
Mohammad is thin and not immediately identifiable as an athlete, but when he begins to move at practice, he reveals a sinewy kind of strength; he is able to wind his body up and release it with tremendous force. To see him bowl from up close is to witness a kind of violence, his body unfurling, dust rising around him, and the ball leaving his arm like a rifle shot. To those like me, uninitiated to the game of cricket, he is a walking testament to the fact that this is not just a game for old, slow socialites. And as Afghanistan begins to make a name for itself in international sports -- winning a South Asian soccer tournament against India in September and qualifying earlier this month for the 2015 cricket world cup -- Mohammad hopes he'll make the national cricket team and become part of the movement.
The following are the words of Dost Mohammad, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern
I was around 7 to 9 years old when I started watching cricket on the TV. We were living in Pakistan, and I was eagerly watching India and Pakistan play each other. It was my dream to be a good cricketer. At that time, Afghanistan did not have a cricket team.
Cricket is the game of power, because the ball is very heavy -- about a kilogram (2.2 pounds). It needs a lot of power to bowl it. Batting is my favorite, but it is very difficult. If you miss the ball, you get injured, because it is very heavy. You have to concentrate when the bowler bowls.
There are some batsmen legends, like Tendon Karen and Parok Pandi. They have the ability to push the ball and move their feet at the same time. They have the ability to face 130, 140 kilometers/hour. Only the really good players can do that.
In Afghanistan, we have trials once a year. There are four to five coaches and one from Pakistan. They are experts in the field of cricket. They examine the players. I didn't know it was happening until my friend said, "Today is the last day of the cricket trial!" And they encouraged me: "You have to go, you have to go!" So I rushed over, I filled out the form -- name, there you put your father's name, there you put your picture -- and went to the field. But I hadn't brought my own equipment, my bat, helmet, I had to borrow from someone else.
The coach says that he wants to bowl you the short pitch. You have to play it. If you can't do it, it means you failed. And then the coach tells you that the bowler will bowl you in the feet. The ball comes this way. He told me that I have to cut that way. Then he told me another way. That day I faced 10 or 12 bowls.
More than 10,000 people came from 34 provinces of Afghanistan, and to most of them, the coach said "You are not able to join." When I found out I made it, it was amazing.
Now that we're practicing to make the national team, we have four sessions in a day. They go from 5 o'clock in the morning until 5 o'clock in the evening. My session is the second. There are about 120 players. We have fast ballers, slow ballers, spin ballers. All of them are working very hard to join, but maybe just five people will make it.
When we came from Pakistan, it was the first period of Hamid Karzai. There were few American troops, and all of Afghanistan was secure. When the amount of foreigners increased, the situation in Afghanistan got worse.
It is my own thought, but I think that the main reason the situation is getting worse is the foreigners. They are not doing well. To be very honest, I wish them to leave and to join their families in their own countries, because many of them lost their lives in Afghanistan.
But I don't think that they will leave Afghanistan, because they spent a lot of money here. They came here for their own aim. Some of them might leave Afghanistan, but not all of them.
I am not happy with the presence of ISAF and others in Afghanistan because they have done many bad things in some parts of the country, like Kandahar and Helmand. Most of the people say that about five or six years ago, there was some security in that part of Afghanistan, but when these troops came, the security situation got worse day by day.
You know, during the night they just go to the villages, without any reason, and search the women. Afghan people are very -- I mean they don't let other women touch their women. Now foreign soldiers come to touch their women.
And also, there are a lot of reasons that the foreign troops have bad attitudes. If you take an example from Kabul -- when they leave their base, they do not allow other people to go near their cars. It is a big problem, they're causing traffic jams. If someone wants to go close to them, I have seen many people get shot. When I was in Bagram, there was a person who had some urgent work and wanted to arrive quickly, and when he got close to the tank, they shot him.
There are a lot of people that have no relation or connection with the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but the foreign troops just collect them and put them into jail. And they spend 10 years in Bagram or somewhere.
And I'm not worried about the Taliban. We had a football match between Afghanistan and Pakistan, have you watched that? I saw on the news, there were three or four people who came from Kandahar, or maybe it was Herat. They wanted to come to Kabul to watch the football game, and the Taliban stopped the car. The Taliban was searching for people associated with the government. The guys in the car looked like military personnel, so the Taliban snatched them out of the car. On the side of the road, the Taliban covered the heads of their captives with masks and took them away to execute them. But first the Taliban said, "Why you are going to Kabul?" And the men said, "We want to go to Kabul in order to watch that game." Then the Taliban called their friends over and said, "Let's all recite the holy Koran and pray for our national team to win." And then they let them come here!
They posted the picture of the travelers on BBC. So I'm not worried about the Taliban, because the Taliban love sport. They supported sport before.
Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jeffrey E Stern/Author Photo
Event Notice: "Contemporary Sovereignty and Pakistan," a discussion with Ayesha Jalal, TODAY, 12:30-2:30 PM (SAIS).
The Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based human rights organization, released its "Global Slavery Index 2013" survey on Thursday, which shows that approximately 54 percent of the 30 million people living in slavery worldwide reside in India and Pakistan (AP, Dawn, Post, RFE/RL, VOA). According to the report, which looks at practices including forced and bonded labor, human trafficking, forced marriage, and the use of child soldiers, nearly 14.7 million slaves reside in India and 2.2 million are in Pakistan, placing the countries at 4th and 3rd place, respectively, on the list - Mauritania and Haiti were 1st and 2nd. The foundation also criticized Pakistan for its lack of organization in tackling slavery, and noted that India's inefficient legal system frequently discourages victims from seeking help (AJAM).
Following the death of Israrullah Gandapur, the law minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in a suicide attack on Wednesday, the provincial cabinet held a special meeting on Thursday and approved the creation of an anti-terrorism task force to help control law and order in the area (Dawn, ET). The task force, to be led by a new inspector general, will include members from all law enforcement and intelligence agencies operating in the province, including the Army, Frontier Corps, and Frontier Constabulary. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, who led the meeting, also called upon the federal government to proceed with its proposed reconciliation talks with militant groups operating in the country as the province is enduring most of the attacks.
Speaking in Karachi on Friday, Bilawal Bhutto, the son of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, used the recent attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkwha province to criticize Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (PTI), which governs the area (Dawn, ET). Calling the PTI "cowardly" and accusing Khan of making excuses for the terrorists responsible, Bhutto claimed the "PPP will save the people of Khyber Pakhtunkwha from drowning in the tsunami." He also declared "jihad" against religious extremists, who he called "hijackers of the faith."
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for counterterrorism and human rights, released an interim report on Friday, which says U.S. drone strikes have killed far more civilians in Pakistan and Yemen than U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged (NBC News). According to Emmerson, who has been investigating the covert drone program, at least 400 civilians have been killed in Pakistan and as many as 58 have been killed in Yemen. He also criticized the U.S. government for its lack of transparency about the strikes, saying that he "does not accept that considerations of national security justify withholding statistical and basic methodological data of this kind." Laura Magnuson, a White House spokesperson, said they were reviewing the report, which will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly next Friday, "carefully." Emmerson's report follows one by Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, which was also critical of the program (Guardian).
Germany's foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday that its embassy in Afghanistan's capital is closed, but declined to comment on reports that it had been shuttered due to the threat of a terrorist attack (AFP, Pajhwok). Germany's Die Welt newspaper cited sources in the country's secret service, the BND, who said there were "concrete" and "serious" indications of a looming attack from Islamists in Kabul. Germany has approximately 4,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, making it the third-largest contributor to the NATO-led combat mission.
As the Afghan fighting season comes to an end, many of the unintended consequences of having the Afghan army take the lead in fighting the insurgents this year are starting to emerge, including their inability to repair broken equipment. The Washington Post looked at the case of one particular army unit and reported on Thursday that, due to the militants' use of roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, nearly 75 percent of the battalion's armored vehicles were out of service (Post). U.S. military mechanics used to repair Afghan equipment but when the Afghan army took over control of security operations, they stopped making repairs. As the Post notes, the transition was inevitable, but the country's supply chain is "still undeveloped and the Defense Ministry is still hobbled by corruption," meaning the troops aren't getting the equipment they need to fight the war. Col. Hamidullah, the battalion's commander, notes that some soldiers walk 20 hours to get from base to base due to the lack of Humvees and wondered: "How can we fight a war like this?"
Arsala Jamal, the governor of Logar province who was assassinated on Tuesday, was laid to rest on Thursday in a cemetery in Kabul (AP, Pajhwok). Jamal's murder was the highest-profile assassination in the country this year, and his memorial service was attended by Afghan officials, dignitaries, and family members. While it is still unclear who was behind the attack that killed Jamal, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Friday that it had received an email from an Islamist group calling itself the Fidain (Sacrifice) Front of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan claiming responsibility for the incident (RFE/RL). The statement said the explosive that killed Jamal had been planted under the stage, though Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security reported that it had been placed in a Koran.
Box office record
Despite critical reviews, "Waar," the most anticipated movie of the year in Pakistan, opened in theaters on Wednesday and set the new opening day sales record at 11.4 million rupees (Dawn, ET). The film broke the previous Rs9 million record set by "Chennai Express" earlier this year, and is expected to take in Rs55 million over the weekend. Advanced ticket sales mean that showings of "Waar," an action thriller, are sold out through next week.
-- Bailey Cahall
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Law minister killed
Israrullah Gandapur, the law minister in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was killed inside his home in Dera Ismail Khan on Wednesday when he greeted a suicide bomber posing as a guest on the first day of the Islamic "Festival of Sacrifice," Eid al-Adha (BBC, Dawn, ET, NYT, Pajhwok, RFE/RL, VOA). According to multiple reports, at least nine other people were killed in the attack and more than 30 were injured, including Gandapur's older brother. Ansar al Mujahideen, a group allied with the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was in retaliation for the deaths of men killed during a July jailbreak in the city (Reuters).
Gandapur was elected as an independent candidate in the May 2013 parliamentary elections but later joined Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party. His death is the most high-profile political assassination to occur in Pakistan this year. Khan said he was "stunned" and "devastated" by the attack and implored the federal government to proceed with its plan to talk with the militants operating in the country, something that was agreed upon at the All Party Conference in September (BBC, ET). On Thursday, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government declared three days of mourning for Gandapur and the other victims of the attack (Dawn).
In a new report based on documents released by U.S. leaker Edward Snowden, the Washington Post revealed on Wednesday that the country's National Security Agency (NSA) has been extensively involved in the CIA's covert drone war in Pakistan (AFP, AJAM, AP, RFE/RL). According to the Post, the targeted killing program has relied heavily on e-mail and telephone data collected by the NSA to track militants' wherabouts. In particular, the piece cites the case of Hassan Ghul, a senior al-Qaeda figure, who it says was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in October 2012; Washington has never publicly acknowledged killing Ghul. The Post's report says the operation was made possible, in part, by an e-mail from Ghul's wife that was captured by the NSA "surveillance blanket" that has been collecting militant communications in Pakistan.
Nearly 155 Georgian soldiers left Afghanistan on Wednesday, six months after they arrived in Helmand province as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (Pajhwok). Afghan Defense Minister Irakli Alasania greeted the troops at the local airport and thanked them for their "high professionalism" while in the country. There are currently more than 1,500 Georgian soldiers serving in Helmand province, making it the largest non-NATO member combat troop commitment in Afghanistan.
While reports emerged over the weekend that Washington and Kabul had agreed on a partial Bilateral Security Agreement, those involved in the negotiations noted that there were still disagreements over whether American soldiers remaining in the country after 2014 should have immunity from Afghan laws. In an easy-to-understand "Explainer," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty breaks down why this issue is so complicated (RFE/RL). The article, written by Charles Recknagel, looks at how the immunity issue has become a sticking point in security talks, explains why countries demand immunity for their soldiers in the first place, and why host countries are uncomfortable granting it. It also notes that immunity agreements between countries vary, and that the closeness of the relationship between the parties is one of the key components in determining whether or not immunity will be granted.
Mohibullah Noori, a senior Afghan National Security Council official, survived an assassination attempt in Parwan province on Wednesday, just one day after Arsala Jamal, the governor of Logar province, was killed in a mosque by bomb hidden inside a Koran (Pajhwok). According to provincial police chief Brig. Gen. Abdul Rahman Sarjang, unknown gunmen opened fire on Noori's vehicle as he traveled through the Tothmandi area, but there were no casualties. However, an intelligence official was gunned down in the area's Jablus Siraj district, though it is unclear if the incidents are related.
U.S. Army Capt. (ret.) Willian Swenson was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor on Tuesday for his actions in a lengthy battle against the Afghan Taliban in Kunar province's Ganjal Valley in September 2009 (Pajhwok, TIME, VOA). The battle, which claimed the lives of four American soldiers, 10 Afghan soldiers, and one Afghan interpreter, was recorded by a video attached to another soldier's helmet. During the ceremony, President Obama described Swenson's actions during the fight, which included watching over a severely wounded soldier, while exposing himself to enemy fire. It was the second time in 50 years that two men had received the nation's highest military award for their actions during the same fight - U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in the battle in 2011 - and Swenson became the sixth living medal recipient.
"God's Eye View"
A new film by South Korean director Lee Jang-ho uses details from the case of South Korean Christians who were kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban in 2007 to explore religious convictions in South Korea, a country that sends out many of the world's Christian missionaries (AP). In 2007, 23 members of the Saemmul Presbyterian Church were taken hostage by the militants, and two were killed before they were released. The film, "God's Eye View," portrays Christian volunteers who are kidnapped by Muslim insurgents while they are on an evangelical mission in a fictional Islamic country, and their countrymen's reactions to the incident. Lee, however, was quick to note that while he used the Saemmul hostage-taking for inspiration, the film is a drama and is not about the event itself.
-- Bailey Cahall
Event Notice: “Contemporary Sovereignty and Pakistan,” a discussion with Ayesha Jalal, FRIDAY, October 18, 2013, 12:30-2:30 PM (SAIS).
Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) - the country's intelligence agency - issued a report on Wednesday that said its initial investigation into the blast that killed Arsala Jamal, the governor of Logar province, showed that the perpetrators had placed the bomb in a copy of the Koran, not a microphone as previously thought (Pajhwok, RFE/RL). Jamal was killed at the main mosque in Pul-e-Alam, the provincial capital, on Tuesday as he gave a speech to worshippers to mark the start of Eid al-Adha, the "Festival of Sacrifice." The NDS also released a video of a Koran with burned pages inside the mosque and said the attack showed the militants had no respect for the Islamic holy book or the religion's houses of worship. The investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a close friend of Jamal, strongly condemned his assassination on Tuesday, and blamed the Taliban for the incident (Pajhwok). In a statement about the incident, Karzai said: "These attacks, which the Taliban do in the name of Islam, cause death and injury to innocent Muslims, and cannot be the work of Muslims, but rather those who have been assigned to kill Muslims." While the militant group has not claimed responsibility for the attack, it regularly attacks government officials and is believed by many to be behind the bombing.
Prior to Jamal's killing, Karzai gave his own speech to mark the Islamic holiday and once again urged the Taliban to stop fighting and join the peace process (RFE/RL). He urged the group's leaders and fighters "not to kill and destroy the dear young people of Afghanistan." It is unclear how Jamal's death will affect the government's attempts to hold reconciliation talks with the group.
While Jamal's murder is one of the highest-profile assassinations to occur in Afghanistan this year, as the 2013 fighting season comes to an end, Afghan and coalition officials are cautiously noting that most of the militants' goals have not been met (NYT). When this year's fighting season began, the Taliban said they wanted to kill top Afghan officials in every major ministry, conduct more "insider attacks" against American forces, and break the Afghan security forces. Though there are still questions about the Afghan forces' ability to manage their own planning and logistics, they have mostly held their own.
Seven low-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoners were quietly released by Pakistan on Tuesday, the second such group to be released in less than two months (ET). While the government did not comment on the releases, several Taliban leaders told Pakistan's Express Tribune that the detainees were released and have rejoined their families, though they did not provide any names. They also said that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former Taliban commander whose whereabouts are unknown, has been allowed to speak to his family twice over the past two days. Pakistani officials have said that Baradar was released in late September, but the Taliban has denied these claims, saying Baradar is still in Pakistani custody.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a Pakistani politician and leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal party, also told the Express Tribune that Karzai is willing to release all Pakistani prisoners currently being held in Afghan jails (ET). Rehman spoke to reporters upon his return from a three-day visit to Kabul and said he would soon speak about the meeting in greater detail with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. While he did not provide further details, Rehman said the prisoner release would be a goodwill gesture towards Pakistan.
Sharif met with his top foreign policy and national security advisors on Tuesday, a day after Amb. James Dobbins, the U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, visited the country, to finalize the plan for his meeting with President Obama next Wednesday (Dawn, ET). Described by the information ministry as a look at the "overall security situation of the country," the meeting also reviewed its offer to talk with Pakistani Taliban militants, the country's role in facilitating the Afghan reconciliation process, and its ties with India. As for the meeting with Obama, a senior U.S. diplomat told Pakistan's Dawn that the relationship between the two countries would be shaped and resourced based on Pakistan's approach towards Afghanistan, India, and the region, as well as its commitment to fighting terrorism at home.
Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's former president, will formally begin his duties as the head of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) tomorrow, five weeks after he successfully completed his five-year term (Dawn). Zardari, who had to quit his role as the party's co-chairman when he became president, was reinstated when his term ended, but he does not hold any elected office within the PPP. Farhatullah Khan Babar, Zardari's spokesman, confirmed that he would be meeting PPP leaders from Sindh province on Thursday and other leaders once the Eid al-Adha holiday had ended.
Painting Pakistan's cricketers
To say that cricket is popular in Pakistan is certainly an understatement, but it's hard to describe the passion the country has for the sport to an outsider. But where words fail, images can succeed. Shanzay Subzwari, a young Pakistani painter, recently debuted several colorful pop-art-inspired paintings of Pakistan's cricket heroes at the Jumma Hafta Art Bazaar in Karachi, including one of cricketer-cum-politician Imran Khan with blue hair depicting the waves of a tsunami (Dawn). Subzwari studied articles and photographs of the cricket players, and selected interesting moments to capture and recreate in her own style. The exhibition, titled "Hero Worship," runs until October 22.
-- Bailey Cahall
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images