Better late than never? We know it's already halfway through February of 2013, but we'd still like to say congratulations to the authors whose AfPak Channel articles received the most views in 2012. The results reveal that AfPak Channel readers have varied interests -- from gender issues in Pakistan to Afghanistan's uncertain future to the controversy over U.S. drone strikes. If you haven't already read these, you can get started by following the links below, which are arranged in the order of views received, starting with the most-read.
1. Pakistan's almost suicide bombers, by Hussain Nadim
2. 10 lessons the US should learn from Afghanistan's history, by William Byrd
3. The once and future civil war in Afghanistan, by Ryan Evans
4. President Karzai and the secondary sex, by Rachel Reid
5. Imran Khan's new Pakistan, by Kiran Nazish
6. Voice of a native son: Drones may be a necessary evil, by Zmarak Yousefzai
7. Putting the Afghans in charge, by Roger D. Carstens
8. Dodging the drones: How militants have responded to the covert U.S. campaign, by Aaron Y. Zelin
9. The dishonorable defense of honor, by Rabail Baig
10. Fixing Pakistan's tanking economy, by David Walters
Big thank you to all of our contributors for their hard work, excellent analysis, and love for all things AfPak.
Jennifer Rowland and Peter Bergen, Editors of the AfPak Channel
AREF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images
The current Pakistani government, led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), ends its term on March 18. The government is expected to announce a date for elections before the end of its term. Once the election date is set, the National Assembly will automatically dissolve and a caretaker government will assume charge for up to ninety days before the election.
On polling day, Pakistanis will elect 272 representatives to the National Assembly and 577 representatives to provincial assemblies in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan. The political party that secures 172 seats in the National Assembly, either independently or in coalition with other parties, will lead the next government.
Politics is a riddled and opaque game in Pakistan, a point driven home by former politician-turned preacher Tahir-ul Qadri, who despite his absence from Pakistani politics for eight years, was able to lead a 50,000-strong march into Islamabad last month pushing for electoral reforms - and actually won the government's commitment on some counts. Things are about to get even more complicated as the country prepares for national elections.
The campaign landscape is littered with the typical coterie of political party stalwarts, children of political dynasties, technocrats, and current and former army generals looking to shape the elections outcome. But three individuals stand out as possible leaders of Pakistan's next government - Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan. Zardari and Sharif represent the old guard of politics - Zardari the widower of a political dynast and Sharif an industrialist from the country's breadbasket of Punjab. Khan claims to represent a new political wave, seeking to capture the desires of roughly 18 million new voters, young people who grew up watching Khan win cricket matches for the Pakistani national team. The profiles of the three men who would lead Pakistan promise elections that will be as entertaining as they will be historic.
Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan and Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party
Who is he? Asif Ali Zardari has been a fixture in Pakistani politics since 1987, when he married Benazir Bhutto, the country's first female Prime Minister in 1988 and again in 1993. He hails from Sindh but is originally of Baloch ethnic origin. Because of his complicated past, checkered with imprisonment, exile and allegations of corruption, Zardari was viewed as an "accidental president" when he came into power in 2008 following his wife's assassination. As a result, his emergence as a masterful strategist of a complicated coalition was a surprise to many. He shares the PPP chairmanship with son Bilawal.
What does he want? Zardari's presidential term ends in September, several months after the national elections are expected. It is only fair to presume he wants to serve another term as President. The PPP's strength in the Senate, where it won a majority in the March 2012 elections, will help but Zardari won't be able to take home the prize so easily. An electoral college consisting of the Senate, provincial assemblies and the National Assembly actually elect the president. Zardari's chances will be determined by both national and provincial assembly elections taking place this year. He also likely wants to keep benefitting from the financial opportunities available to Pakistani politicians in power. But beyond personal power and money, Zardari also seeks to maintain PPP's strength so that his son, Bilawal, can eventually assume charge and continue the Bhutto family political legacy.
Pro: Zardari's number one strength remains his ability to make deals in a tough coalition environment, which is expected to continue in the next government. Whether it was meeting Muttahida Quami Movement demands to reverse fuel price hikes in order to stay in the coalition, the unanimous passage of the historic 18th amendment devolving power to the provinces, or re-opening NATO routes closed after a NATO airstrike killed several Pakistani soldiers, he wasn't too proud to beg to get what he wanted.
Con: Everyone seems to be working against him. Among his "enemies" are the military, judiciary, opposition parties, the Saudis - and the list goes on. Another five years of Zardari could also mean another five years of attempts to unseat him with corruption cases at the Supreme Court, soft coup attempts by the military, and gridlock on economic reform.
Nawaz Sharif, President of Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz
Who is he? Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is the President of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N). A former two-time Prime Minister, Sharif is also a Punjab-based industrialist whose family's real estate and agriculture holdings are valued at over $100 million. Like Zardari, he has strained ties with the military and judiciary, institutions that aided his eventual ouster in 1999, ironic since Sharif got his start under military dictator General Zia-ul Haq in the 1980s. His two tenures as Prime Minister (1990-1993 and 1997-1999) each straddled the governments of Benazir Bhutto, making for an intense rivalry between the PML-N and PPP that continues to this day, despite recent collaboration between the two parties.
What does he want? The third time's the charm - or at least Sharif hopes. Another go at Prime Minister would not only allow Sharif to make history - no one else has held the position three times - but it would also bring him back into the mainstream political fold. After Musharraf removed him from power in 1999, Sharif remained in political exile in Saudi Arabia until 2007. Since then, under his leadership the PML-N opposition has criticized the current government's policies but within apparently self-imposed boundaries, probably to avoid being viewed as "derailing democracy" at a time when disruptions to civilian rule are extremely unpopular.
Pro: Sharif brings along with him the most organized party structure in the country. Even though it lacks the national base that PPP boasts, the PML-N has focused on improving internal governance, strengthening development projects in key constituencies, identifying electable candidates to run on the PML-N ticket, and engaging new young and middle class voters.
Con: He talks to terrorists - sort of. One of the largest vote banks for the right of center PML-N is southern Punjab, a hotbed of violent extremist activity in madrassas run by jihadist and sectarian outfits such as Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The PML-N cannot ignore the massive base these groups yield in Punjab, which elects 148 out of 272 National Assembly members. In 2010, PML-N Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah reportedly visited the Sipah-e-Sihaba madrassa and met with its leader while campaigning in by-elections. Such relations suggest that a PML-N-led government could be more inclined to offer unsavory characters various concessions in exchange for votes, keeping the peace or achieving other objectives for that matter.
Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Who is he? Imran Khan is a former captain of the Pakistan cricket team, philanthropist, and now chairman of his own political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). His claim to represent a new style of politics is somewhat disingenuous. He follows a long line of South Asian celebrities turned politicians whose personage offers unquestionable advantages in an otherwise complicated political landscape. But his popular appeal is legitimate. Khan has managed to deliver thousands of people at numerous countrywide rallies around the 2013 elections despite the fact that PTI only ever held one seat in the National Assembly..
What does he want? The PTI's meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of years has raised suspicions that it enjoys some kind of support from the security establishment, and therefore would simply serve as a mouthpiece for military interests in domestic and foreign affairs. But a simpler answer is perhaps more logical - that Khan has truly tapped into a desire for change in Pakistan, similar to the circumstances surrounding the Qadri march on Islamabad in January, and is keen to see how far it will take him.
Pro: Khan's call for an overhaul of status quo politics in Pakistan is a welcome one, particularly among urban, educated middle class voters in Punjab. The party manifesto calls for an end to "VIP culture" in Pakistan, noting that corruption at the highest levels has made democratic institutions "the focus of public scorn and ridicule." It is hard to disagree with PTI's message when Pakistan consistently ranks among the world's most corrupt nations.
Con: Despite PTI's existence as a party for almost sixteen years now, both the party's manifesto and its leader are untested. Rumors of its internal leadership challenges, weak presence at the provincial level, and Khan's periodic media stunts (i.e. the march to Waziristan), should raise questions about PTI's ability to deliver on its ambitious agenda for change.
As the competition between Zardari, Sharif and Khan unfolds over the next several months, other personalities and institutions will also contend to shape and influence the electoral outcome. Let's not forget the likes of Tahir-ul Qadri, activist Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the military, and even the media, all of whom have a say in who leads the next government. In a place where personalities dominate politics, Zardari, Sharif and Khan clearly stand out, but vested interests combined with the rise of new forces of change can put a serious spanner in the works.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images; KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images
Maintaining a large military presence in Afghanistan is not in the strategic interests of either the U.S. or the Afghan government. It does not help the United States accomplish its long-term goal of countering terrorism from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, nor its short-term goal of helping Afghanistan achieve stability and self-reliance in fighting insurgency. It is also economically unsustainable. However, retaining a smaller, lighter, residual presence in Afghanistan is critical to U.S. strategy and vital to core U.S. interests.
Additionally, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan must be based on a vision that goes out decades: Considering only short-term goals amounts to strategic myopia, unworthy of the sacrifices made by almost 2,200 U.S. service members in Afghanistan alone.
A Case for Lighter, Smarter, Long-term Residual Presence
With Osama Bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda's capabilities diminished in the Af-Pak region, the immediate threat of attacks on the U.S. from the region has greatly diminished. But the ingredients that could help Al Qaeda regenerate in the next decade remain, and thus the mission endures.
In fact, the "surge" of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009 had little to do with bin Laden; rather, it was an attempt to rescue the failing mission of stabilizing Afghanistan. Bin Laden was hunted and killed not by the surge, but by a small, specialized group, the likes of which I argue should remain in Afghanistan to monitor and guard against the long-term threat of terrorist cells.
More importantly, a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy must include the training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to counter domestic threats. But this will take significantly longer than estimates suggest. As such, the U.S. must alter its stated strategy in Afghanistan to consider the training and equipping of the ANSF a key element of its plan to counter threats, and support Afghanistan in its domestic fight against terrorists that, left unchecked, could re-emerge. The numbers of trainers must be kept low and should not be outsourced to contractors. Currently, the only elements specifically designed to counter insurgencies are the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). Considering the nuanced task, the training force should be predominantly SOF.
With nearly 2,200 troops dead, thousands more wounded, and half a trillion dollars spent in America's longest war, merely staying the course in Afghanistan is no longer possible. In fact, with no sound opposition to President Obama's plan of swift withdrawal, the U.S. has decided to accelerate the transition from combat to training mission and, arguably less advertised, concentrate forces in a few heavily fortified locations such as Bagram Air Base.
Eleven one-year strategies in Afghanistan have brought us to a point where people consider "strategic retreat" the best of the worst options available. In pursuing this plan, however, the United States and its strategic partners in the Afghan Government risk a return to a time where fractured Afghan groups battled for supremacy, and an apathetic and financially exhausted U.S. didn't want to spend any more blood or treasure. History has shown that this "strategic retreat," fails to consider the greater geo-strategic importance of maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan
Without a firm presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. will have no bases in South-Central Asia. The only other alternative is Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, whose lease is going to expire in 2014, and Kyrgyz President Almaz Atambayev has made it clear that his government will not extend the agreement any further. From a regional perspective alone, the U.S. must maintain a residual footprint in Afghanistan as a mechanism of influencing Central and South Asia. Stability in the AfPak region is critical in monitoring and combating a reemergence of al-Qaeda.
Ultimately, for the Obama Administration to achieve its objective of maintaining pressure on al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, and supporting Afghanistan as a strategic partner - it must consider a nuanced strategy when looking at the composition of the U.S. residual presence. After 2014, Obama should employ a specialized force with a light footprint, but a big contribution. I recommend the following elements be in the mix:
1. A counter-terrorism task force to focus on the remnants of al-Qaeda and any insurgent groups that pose a threat to U.S. assets and interests. The specialized CT elements need to be able to engage targets throughout the country, so this will have to include both primary bases, and lily pads to extend their reach. These elements should train and utilize their Afghan counterparts as much as possible; ultimately, the Afghan counter-terrorism elements themselves should take over.
2. A robust counter-insurgency training force comprised of both ground and air special operations forces that will focus on the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in specialized COIN training - similar to that in Colombia. This extends to the mentoring of the Afghan Air Force, civil affairs, etc.
3. The only "conventional force" presence should be in the protection of U.S./Coalition bases. These bases should have maximum flexibility by maintaining minimal infrastructure in only 4 locations (Bagram in the East, Mazar-e-Sharif in the North, Herat in the West, and Bastion in the South). Additionally, a limited aviation training presence should be kept in the main training base for the Afghan Air Force, Shindand Airfield. The U.S. will probably maintain Bagram and Kabul, whereas Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, and Bastion should be supported by NATO partners.
4. In Kabul, all that should remain are the headquarters at ISAF - with some of its coalition partners' participation - a limited contingent on the military side of the Kabul airfield, and a NATO Training Mission Afghanistan command.
5. SOF should abandon the "Afghan Local Police" (ALP) in most areas and focus more on the development of the ANSF. A few years ago, with over 100,000 U.S. personnel in country, SOF could afford to focus on the ALP concept. Now, with only a few thousand U.S. service members in-country, the emphasis must be on the uniformed security services.
In terms of numbers, the right mix is about 4,000 SOF and SOF enablers, and 4-5,000 conventional forces and headquarters support. While the 9,000 U.S. personnel seems to be the "just enough" figure for an enduring presence, it seems the President may now be set on a lower figure due to financial constraints.
Setting a Long-Term U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan
The United States non-military strategic course in Central and South Asia needs to start in 2015, not end in 2014. The U.S. needs to consider its 2025 strategic vision, and make smaller contributions to the region but with bigger payoffs.
For example, the U.S. should work with other key allies to coordinate on increasing trade and creating more jobs in a region that is currently plagued with high rates of unemployment and poverty. Coordinating with Pakistan and investment giants such as the United Arab Emirates to secure funding for a road or railroad from Helmand to the port of Gwadar, or with Qatar to invest in Afghanistan's and Pakistan's natural resources can create thousands of jobs and boost economies. This is not something that is purely altruistic; such activities can greatly benefit U.S. interests. Furthermore, a strategic "pivot to Asia" can only be accomplished if there is stability in Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is critical to trade corridors from oil-gas rich Central Asia states (including Afghanistan) to the end users of South and East Asia. In effect, Afghanistan's geo-strategic importance goes far beyond trans-national terrorism threats.
Over the past 11 years, the international community has committed billions of dollars in an effort to stabilize and reconstruct a country ravaged by three decades of war. The U.S. alone has spent over $600 billion in the longest war in its history, with over $20 billion in governance and development funds. And yet, Afghanistan is still not economically self-sustainable. Perhaps that is not so shocking, though. President Obama himself made it clear (as early as May 2012) that, "Our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars and many more American lives."
Another way of looking at this, however, is the way most American veterans of the conflict view their sacrifices: as a strategic investment. They might argue that the dollars spent and the lives lost deserve a much more impressive outcome than simply a strategic retreat with Afghanistan in dire straits.
For their part, few Afghans welcome the U.S. withdrawal. While important to equip and strengthen the Afghan security forces, Presidents Karzai and Obama did not address crafting a long-term strategy that looks towards a stable Afghanistan in 2030, rather than a short-term "stable enough to transition security" by 2014.
Presidents Karzai and Obama - two leaders unable to seek reelection and concerned about their legacy - may still be able to give the people of Afghanistan a gift that can help stabilize Afghanistan. President Karzai has a unique opportunity to leverage his last year in government to broker a deal that can offer real hope of change and progress. On the American side, the U.S. and other donors should minimize "hand out" aid and focus on investments in Afghanistan. Donor programs don't create revenue, but rather act as symptomatic relief. Public funds, partnered with private firms, can help develop a self-sustaining Afghan economy. For the past three decades, the United States has appeared to prefer short-term strategies. They did not recognize the long-term consequences of inattention following the Soviet withdrawal. They seemed satisfied with the near term and non-committal cruise missile-targeting of Osama Bin Laden after a series of terrorist attacks in the late 1990s.
President Obama's inaugural speech last month made it clear that the "decade of war" has come to a close. By 2014, the U.S. should conclude this chapter by leaving behind a small training force, a robust counter-terrorism force, and an economic support model that is viable in the long-term. Significant intellectual and limited monetary capital must go toward achieving sustainable Afghan economic growth in the mid-to-long-term. Rather than how much is spent in Afghanistan, donors - and in particular, the U.S. as the largest - need to start paying attention more to effectiveness of what is spent.
Ultimately, the most important date on our 2014 calendar should be the April Afghan Presidential election rather than the December withdrawal deadline. If the election is not credible or moderately successful in maintaining the trust of key stakeholders in the democratic progress, the numbers of U.S. troops remaining will not make much difference in the post-election environment. The Afghan people and the international community will be watching closely to ensure that the election is an example of the democratic progress that 13 years of Coalition presence made possible. The troop levels, important as they may be, are only secondary to the success of the political process.
Gianni Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
Pakistan's war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the northwest is taking a tremendous toll on the local population. The military's killing of civilians, collective punishment of locals, and continued detention of thousands has produced an unprecedented level of animosity toward the federal government and security forces.
Last month, minority Hazaras in the restive southwestern city of Quetta used a new tactic to draw attention to the systematic killing of their community members by Sunni extremists. They took the latest victims' bodies to the center of the city and staged a sit-in, refusing to bury the bodies until the military took over security in the city.
The tactic inspired locals in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATA) to stage a similar protest in Peshawar, refusing to bury 18 of their dead until the Pakistani government looked into the latest killings by security forces. Locals say Pakistani security forces killed the civilians during a house to house search on the night of January 15th in Bara, a district in the Khyber Agency of FATA, just south of Peshawar. Thousands of local tribesmen held a jirga, and decided to take the bodies to Peshawar, where they sat in front of the state government building. When a member of the national parliament showed up to talk, the protesters attacked him, forcing him to flee. The tribesmen wanted the military to admit they killed civilians, compensate families of the dead, and pull out of their areas.
The military agreed to investigate the killings and compensate the families. But if the tribesmen wanted the military to leave the region, they would be collectively held responsible for any problems involving militants in the future.
Two days after the Bara killings, Pakistani helicopter gunships struck homes near Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan, killing five civilians, including two women and two children. According to locals, the Pakistani military carried out the attack in response to an IED that destroyed a tank and killed two soldiers in Miran Shah. North Waziristan's major tribes held a jirga and decided to observe a complete three day strike, demanding reparations and an end to civilian killings, and threatening to march on Islamabad.
Safdar Dawar, a journalist from North Waziristan and head of the Tribal Union of Journalists, says the killings of civilians in Bara and Mir Ali are not unprecedented, but the widespread, well-organized response of the tribesmen has surprised many.
While the Hazara protest in Quetta drew massive media attention and the eventual ear of the national government, the hundreds of tribesman who protested in Peshawar were dispersed with batons and tear gas, the bodies of their family members forcibly buried by security forces. The heavy-handed approach quickly drew condemnation from opposition political parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League (N), who have maintained for years that the war against militants in FATA has killed too many civilians and should be abandoned. Pakhtuns living across the country have held rallies of their own in cities like Lahore and Karachi decrying the ongoing military offensives in the Pakhtun-dominated tribal areas of Pakistan's northwest.
Nearly 700 people have been killed in Khyber Agency in 2012, making it the most violent agency in FATA. (North Waziristan saw about 346 people killed in the same period, mostly from drones). It has the bad luck of being a strategically important area, sitting next to Peshawar and hosting an important supply route for Afghanistan.
Like Khyber, many parts of FATA have seen multiple military operations since 2002, when soldiers were first deployed to the region to support NATO activities across the border. Since then, the Pakistani military has played a cat and mouse game with militants that has had a serious impact on locals. The military often employs artillery, jets, and helicopters that pound suspected militants, but as the example of Mir Ali shows, they occasionally end up killing civilians too. Millions of people have been forced to settle in other parts of the country, leaving many towns empty. After carrying out its operations, the military usually announces it is safe for locals to return to their homes, but the conflict continues.
In FATA, there is little legal recourse for civilians on the receiving end of the Pakistani military operations. Instead of being treated as individuals, residents can legally be held accountable for the actions of others belonging to their tribe, a policy that dates back to British colonial times. In 2011, the federal government announced a package that restricted collective punishment to males aged 16-65, and allowed for a military and civilian oversight board to review complaints of abuse, but human rights groups like Amnesty International say these measures have yet to be enacted, and would still allow the military to have the final say. Under pressure to effectively combat militancy in the region, other legislation has given the military sweeping powers to detain individuals indefinitely.
South Waziristan was once the primary base for militant groups in Pakistan. After several military operations, the area is one of the quietest. But as an Amnesty International report form 2010 explains, the peace came at a heavy price. While launching operations to retake the area from Taliban-aligned Mehsud tribesmen in 2009, the Pakistani government issued a blanket order to arrest any Mehsud and confiscate their property. As hundreds of thousands tried to flee towns that were being shelled by the military, witnesses recount how Mehsud refugees were turned around at military checkpoints. According to a government report, in a single month the military destroyed more than four thousand homes belonging to Mehsud tribesmen in South Waziristan.
Tribes that support the federal government have not fared much better.
Two years ago, the government recruited 250 local tribesmen to help fight Taliban militants in a village adjacent to Peshawar, but only gave them 87 rifles. So in late December, 2012, when hundreds of Taliban from a neighboring district carried out a sophisticated attack on checkpoints in the area, the local recruits were easily defeated. Two recruits were killed and twenty two taken hostage. The military issued an ultimatum to the local Taliban militants: turn over the kidnapped men or we will punish the entire village. Tribal elders said the situation was out of their hands, and a few days later twenty one bodies turned up. The village was embargoed and a curfew was imposed that lasted weeks. The military carried out several raids, destroying homes and detaining scores of men. A month later, the government finally admitted they had not adequately equipped locals to defend themselves against the Taliban, and offered financial compensation to the victims' families.
Dawar, the journalist from North Waziristan, offers a whole list of ways the war has made life unbearable in FATA. He says that residents of Bara have lived under a general curfew for three years. A similar curfew has been imposed on Mehsuds in South Waziristan. And in North Waziristan, there has been a long-running curfew every Saturday and Sunday. Amnesty International has documented how curfews are often imposed in areas where there are ongoing military operations, making it difficult for civilians to leave the area.
Perhaps the most egregious abuses in FATA involve extra-judicial detentions, torture, and the killing of suspected militants by security forces. "As the state's practices have moved away from large-scale military operations to sporadic clashes with armed groups over the last three years," a December 2012 report from Amnesty International explains, "the authorities' attention has shifted to search operations resulting in thousands of arrests and detentions."
It is difficult to even get a good estimate for the number of detainees in FATA. Detainees are shuffled from one security agency to another, and many seem to be held in unofficial prisons - hotels and other civilian buildings seized by security forces. In June 2012, the Peshawar High Court ordered the release of 1,035 detainees. According to the 2012 Amnesty report, the government has provided the names of about 1,000 people it is keeping in detention. But 2,000 cases of missing persons are still pending in the Peshawar High Court, brought by people suspecting their relatives are in government custody. The Amnesty report details many cases where families only learned the fate of their missing relatives once they had been released, sometimes after being severely tortured or even killed by interrogators.
"The tribal areas have lost their leadership," Dawar explains. Under the laws governing FATA, tribes appoint representatives called maliks to talk to the federal government. "Thousands of maliks have been killed or forced to leave since 2001 in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Bajaur, all over," Dawar says. The federal government only extended voting rights to FATA in 1997, and just last year it allowed political parties to operate in the region. Major political parties like the Pakistan People's Party and the Awami National Party routinely see their representatives in FATA killed. But without a constitutional amendment, future members of parliament will continue to be powerless. Article 247 of the Pakistani constitution puts FATA entirely under the power of the President, saying "No act of Parliament shall apply to any federally administered tribal area or to any part thereof, unless the President so directs."
The Pakistani military continues to be the most trusted power in the region, ahead of the Pakistani government, the Taliban, or the United States. But Dawar says tribal leaders are asking the military to leave their areas, and let them deal with the militants themselves. When it comes to the Pakistani military, Dawar explains, "in many tribal areas, they have lost their confidence in it, and are now trying to regain it."
Tribesmen have often banded together to expel al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or other extremist groups from their land. But they have also consistently claimed that the source of their current problems lies in Afghanistan and the U.S. invasion of 2001.
"If you are asking about Americans," Dawar says, "100% [of the people] here are hating Americans. They are thinking that this whole drama is from the side of America, because they came to Afghanistan. That is why they are demanding America leave Afghanistan."
"The elders and the people recall the situation before 2001, [when] they had their own culture, unity, lashkars [militias], and peace committees," he explains, which they know were more effective than any tools from "these stakeholders in the Great Game."
Umar Farooq is an independent journalist based in the United States. He is on twitter: @UmarFarooq_.
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
From December 5, 2012 to January 29, 2013, al-Qaeda's top-tier forum Shamukh al-Islam was down (with a brief return for a few days after December 17). The suppression of the forum is likely the work of an intelligence agency, but no claim of responsibility has been announced. It has also accelerated an already growing trend: the migration of jihadi propaganda from web forums to social media.
In response to the blackout, many jihadi groups, media outlets, and individuals created new accounts on Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook). Others have likely migrated to popular second-tier forums like Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum (AMAF), which occurred the last time the al-Qaeda approved forums went down in late March/early April 2012. During that period, I was in the middle of collecting and analyzing data (from February 1, 2012 to April 31, 2012) on a number of jihadi forums spanning multiple languages and Twitter accounts for a New American Foundation paper, which showed empirically for the first time that lower-tier forums did indeed fill the vacuum created by the main forum's absence.
Both of these forum takedowns -- in March and April, as well as in December and January -- exposed the limits of al-Qaeda's official online media procedures, which are headed by its distribution network al-Fajr Media. Al-Fajr is responsible for coordinating between al-Qaeda Central (AQC), its affiliates' media outlets (As-Sahab Media for AQC, al-Malahim for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Furqan for al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and al-Andalus for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)), and the forum administrators. In both takedown cases, al-Fajr could not deliver content from the al-Qaeda affiliates, at least in an official capacity, to the online masses.
Media outlets, groups, and ideologues that, while not expressly affiliated, are inspired by al-Qaeda's worldview have not been hindered by this process, and therefore have not evolved mechanisms for releasing their content. Previously, popular online jihadi essayists like Abu Sa'd al-Amili wrote articles when the forums when down, encouraging readers to be patient and to understand that the forums would persist and would not be defeated. On December 23, 2012, however, Abdullah Muhammad Mahmud, a writer for the jihadi news agency Dawa al-Haqq Foundation for Studies and Research, which is disseminated via a Wordpress blog, provided guidance to online jihadi activists. Mahmud told his comrades that going forward, it was legitimate to use Twitter and Facebook as sources of information for jihadi-related issues. This advice was in a sense revolutionary, as jihadis had previously emphazized the importance of the forums as a method for authenticating materials, to prevent forgeries of official group content. At the same time, though, many grassroots activists had already been active on online social media platforms for a few years on an individual basis.
If the dissemination of official releases is no longer to be done centrally, it has the potential to make the forums obsolete, and usher in a new era whereby jihadi activists primarily rely on social media platforms to interact with one another. It could also force groups that are part of al-Fajr's distribution network to evolve and change their methods of content dissemination. There is already some evidence that this shift has started during the ongoing forum takedown.
Evan Kohlmann, an expert on online jihadism, noted on December 10, 2012: "Due to the absence of top jihad chat forums, al-Shabab (formerly @HSMPress) in Somalia has been forced to rely on Twitter to distribute its latest video release. This may be the first time that any terrorist group allied with Al-Qaida has ever used Twitter as the exclusive point of release for media." It should be highlighted that unlike other al-Qaeda affiliates, al-Shabab releases its content through the distribution network Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). Al-Qaeda in Iraq's creation in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (@jbhatalnusra), has also over the past few weeks used Twitter as the first point of release of its content, outsourcing what would be a forum thread with a ‘justpaste.it' page.
On January 25, Twitter shut down al-Shabab's extremely active account, which had some 20,000 followers and often featured pithy, tongue-in-cheek tweets attacking Western governments or other adversaries. Twitter said the ban was in response to a tweet sent by al-Shabab announcing that they would kill French hostage Denis Allex, and then saying they had done so, violating Twitter's rules against violent messages. But just yesterday, al-Shabab opened a new account, from which a tweet was issued that read, "For what it's worth, shooting the messenger and suppressing the truth by silencing your opponents isn't quite the way to win the war of ideas."
AQI and AQAP also used alternate methods to release their content. Instead of going through al-Fajr, AQI used the independent Iraqi-focused al-Yaqin Media to post its content to Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum. AQAP sent its content through Abdullah bin Muhammad, a rising jihadi star online, through his Twitter account. The only group that seems to have been left behind in this brave new world is al-Qaeda Central in Pakistan.
It is possible during the takedown in March/April 2012 that some of the forums learned by creating backup options. Both the Ansar al-Mujahidin Arabic Forum (@as_ansar) on April 13 and the Somali al-Qimmah Islamic Network (@AlqimmahNetwork) on April 9 created Twitter accounts once they returned. Both now feature links to their Twitter accounts prominently on the front page of their forums. This may be an effort to diversify the forums' ways of communicating with the public and delivering content.
Since the formal period of my study on the state of the jihadi forums and some Twitter accounts ended at the end of April 2012, others have also joined Twitter - though unsurprisingly, none that use al-Qaeda in their official name. They include -- in the order that they joined -- Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen's media outlet Madad News Agency (@W_mdd); Asad al-Jihad2 (@AsadAljehad2), a prominent online jihadi essayist; Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad (@MinbarTawhed), a library of jihadi scholarly materials; Jabhat al-Nusra (@JbhatALnusra), the premier jihadi organization active in Syria; Muhammad al-Zawahiri (@M7mmd_Alzwahiri), the brother of AQC's leader and an influential Egyptian jihadi in his own right; Jihad Archive (@jehadarchiv), a website that archives old jihadi organization videos and statements; Abu Sa'd al-Amili (@al3aamili), a popular online jihadi writer; Fursan al-Balagh Media (@fursanalbalaagh), a jihadi translation and transcription service for official al-Qaeda and affiliated content; and Dr. Iyad Qanibi (@EYADQUNAIBI), a popular jihadi ideologue from Jordan.
There is some evidence that use of Facebook is also growing at the expense of the forums, and that individuals are moving jihadi content to invitation-only Facebook groups and pages. The nature of this activity is unclear at this point without further study. Additionally, some jihadi organizations - Jabhat al-Nusra, Jama'at al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), Jaysh al-Umma, and Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia - have even gone so far as to establish their own personal forums.
But while more jihadis continue to be attracted to Twitter and Facebook, al-Qaeda's official distribution route through al-Fajr media has yet to replace its tried and true method of authentication using its approved forums. Also, online jihadis' reactions to the return of Shamukh after it was down for more than seven weeks illustrated that they were still attached to using the forums. In the future, it is possible that if Shamukh were to be suppressed again, al-Qaeda could confer legitimacy on the second-tier forum Ansar al-Mujahidin, which is already seen as trustworthy by online grassroots activists. In the past, after al-Fallujah Forum was permanently taken offline, it conferred legitimacy on Shamukh. AMAF like others forums, though, uses the same tools and is almost certainly vulnerable to the same kind of takedown tactics. And although Twitter provides a more public platform than a password-protected forum, one crucial utility of forums for jihadis is the ability to have relatively private conversations among themselves. At the very least, now more than ever, there is a hybrid ecosystem for online jihadis.
Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is author of a recent New America Foundation study on the state of the global jihad online. It provides a qualitative, quantitative, and cross-lingual analysis based on data from February 1, 2012 - April 31, 2012.
Viewers watching the Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing for former Sen. Chuck Hagel Thursday could be forgiven for forgetting that America is at war.
Apparently, so did their senators.
In a marathon hearing that spanned eight hours, several Senate votes and one lunch break, Hagel's past statements and future outlook on Iran and the state of Israel won far more airtime than a conflict in which 66,000 US troops now serve. More time was spent discussing the appropriateness of talking with the leaders of Iran, with whom we are not currently at war, than the feasibility of talking to the leaders of the Taliban, with whom we presumably are. (Vice President Joe Biden noted a little over a year ago that the "Taliban per se is not our enemy.")
As the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekran tweeted, "At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali."
In the hearing's second session the word Afghanistan received only one mention.
In their curious mix of apathy and amnesia concerning America's longest-ever war, senators on both sides reflect the views of the American public. Polling shows more than sixty percent of Americans no longer think the war is worth its cost. CNN notes that in a fall CNN/ORC International poll not even five percent named Afghanistan as "one of the most important issues facing" America. And fifty-one percent of respondents in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said the war was "not worth it.
The recent presidential campaign also made precious little mention of the war still being fought and for which National Guard units continue to deploy. The President talked about bringing a "responsible end" to the war while Vice President Joe Biden repeated throughout the summer and fall that "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive." On the Republican side Clint Eastwood and his empty chair mentioned Afghanistan more than GOP nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
As former Amb. Ronald Neumann noted recently at the Brookings Institution, the debate around the war's future "has been completely ignored in the electoral period, and it is being framed all too much in bumper sticker phrases, which simply are idiotic ways of trying to understand the complexity of Afghanistan."
Americans and politicking officials have clearly developed a habit of ignoring America's decade-long war, but it is curious to see the next Secretary of Defense receive so few inquiries from senators about the war whose end he will presumably oversee in the coming years. A thorny rash of unpleasant questions surrounding Afghanistan's future confront the president and the Pentagon's next chief. These include: how many U.S. troops to keep in Afghanistan, how to define their mission, how generously to fund the Afghan forces and at what levels, and whether and how to proceed with peace talks with the Taliban.
None of those issues, however, sat in the spotlight at Thursday's hearing.
To those few questions Hagel did receive on Afghanistan he offered vague and decidedly noncommittal answers, aside from noting that he fully supports the president's current policy to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. But on the issue of post-2014 troop levels -of both American forces and the Afghan Army - Hagel said he did not want to speculate regarding exact numbers because he had not been aware of all conversations between President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"As far as I know, as of this morning the president had not -- not made a decision on what a residual force, numbers-wise, would look like. I have not been included in those discussions, so I don't know, other than knowing that he's got a range of options, as you do," Hagel said regarding US troop levels. "As to what kind of a force structure should eventually be in place by the Afghans, I don't know enough about the specifics to give you a good answer, other than to say that I think that has to be a decision that is made, certainly, with the president of Afghanistan."
In 2008 then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama called Afghanistan the war "that we have to win." Now it is the war everyone wants to forget. Except those who cannot: on the same day as Hagel testified, the Kentucky National Guard announced it would hold two "departure ceremonies" for soldiers preparing for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A growing confidence in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) capabilities appears to be an important factor in planning for a smaller U.S. residual force as Washington charts its post-2014 security mission. But despite ANSF's extraordinary growth rate, its abilities are increasingly limited largely because it was raised with low recruitment criteria and cannot function without continued international support. Although the Afghan army and police have slowly improved their skills in combat, their capacity and reach is still inadequate. In the past couple of years, the readiness and efficiency of the ANSF had been further undermined by a rising number of casualties, higher attrition and desertion rates, Taliban infiltration, and a growing distrust from their international partners over insider attacks.
However, among the promising elements of the ANSF are the Afghan Special Operation Forces or Afghan SOF. These are the elite Afghan commandos who are advised by U.S. Special Forces teams and are more carefully vetted than other members of the Afghan security forces. Members of Afghan SOF are picked from select units within the Afghan army and the police. After an initial three-month training in reconnaissance and other skills-including advanced rifle marksmanship, mortars and convoy operations, intelligence gathering, combat communications and medical skills-Afghan SOF then embed with U.S. forces for a six-month on-the-job training deployment before stepping out on their own. These elite fighting forces are widely commended by U.S. commanders for their competence in leading independent operations and specialized missions, including their roles in replacing U.S. forces in conducting night raids that have long triggered popular anger and strained U.S.-Afghan relations. Casualties in Afghan SOF units are minimal, and they have only experienced one "insider attack," which further adds to their credibility.
However, a number of important challenges will hamper the ability and success of these nascent forces after 2014.
Prominent among them is the size of the contingent. While the ANSF overall strength presently boasts at 350,000 troops, the number of Afghan SOF is at a trifling 12,000 personnel, which has increasingly limited their reach across the country. In order to expand their grasp, the Pentagon should boost the size of Afghan commandos by at least another 15 to 20 thousand soldiers.
Raising and sustaining elite forces is unquestionably more costly than the conventional forces. However, the Pentagon must weigh the cost of sufficient defense against the cost and implications of having resource-strapped Afghan SOF units confined to their bases with a lighter U.S. military footprint on the ground. With so much at stake, U.S. commanders must recognize the value of such a force in Afghanistan - a war that has so far cost U.S. taxpayers over half a trillion dollars. And while the upkeep of each American soldier in Afghanistan alone reportedly costs the Pentagon one million dollars a year - an estimated $66 billion for the current force level-maintaining an efficient, well-trained, and somewhat high-tech Afghan security force is a low-priced insurance policy.
Additionally, the Afghan Defense Ministry is already making long-term changes to structuring its security force to ensure it is affordable. By 2017, the ANSF force level is scheduled to shrink from 350,000 troops to roughly 240,000, a nearly 30 percent reduction in personnel. Higher pay will boost retention rates for the reduced force, which may mitigate the current problems with high attrition and desertion rates within the Army, and could mean fewer soldiers to replace. In this case, the downsized conventional force should be reorganized and modernized. And the ongoing reduction of international forces in Afghanistan must come with a renewed commitment from NATO to shouldering some of the cost of boosting the size of Afghan SOF.
Given the United States' own budgetary and fiscal problems, the optics of any added financial commitment to expanding the Afghan commandos units will understandably be unappealing to Washington. However, the Obama administration's affinity for America's own Special Forces should inform the White House's understanding that it will be these burgeoning Afghan Special Forces that will not only fend Afghanistan after 2014 but also deter the many existential security challenges that may threaten U.S. national security.
Another important challenge that hinders the ability of the Afghan SOF to function effectively is the lack of enablers-air and fire support, aerial surveillance, intelligence, medevac, and other resources-that U.S. troops currently provide. Regardless of how well the Afghan Special Forces are trained, they simply cannot stay operational in combat without these important enablers. Fortunately, the Pentagon is reportedly exploring plans to train and equip the ANSF with vehicles, attack helicopters, a handful of cargo planes, unarmed tactical drones, and other necessary equipment. These capabilities will only augment the crucial role Afghan SOF units play in preserving Afghan stability, without which they will be confined mostly to their bases, ceding the countryside to insurgent elements, including the Taliban.
As the ANSF take on the operational lead in nearly ninety percent of Afghanistan and the international forces assume their number one goal to "to train, assist and advise Afghan forces" by this spring, achieving the goal of ultimately having Afghan forces lead security nationwide at the end of 2014 will depend largely on their combat skills and readiness. The ANSF readiness this year will also depend on whether they continue to benefit from U.S. air support and other enablers. The Afghan SOF program is a bright spot and a critical element in the Afghan security forces, but their reach is limited given their small number and the lack of enablers, equipment and trainers. Responsibly preparing to deter many of the threats Afghanistan will face after 2014 requires more Afghan Special Forces. However, if the United States' post-2014 mission in Afghanistan is narrowly focused on counterterrorism operations, any continuing training of Afghan forces will be severely undermined, and that will have drastic implications for the larger Afghan transition.
Javid Ahmad, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views reflected here are his own.
"A decade of war is now ending," the president announced in his inaugural address Monday, even as soldiers continue to prepare for nine-month deployments to destinations including Uruzgan and Kandahar.
The White House has long talked in the abstract about bringing a ‘responsible' end to the war President Obama once called the fight ‘we have to win.' What has been less clear is what the U.S. government has in mind regarding the very critical details concerning its commitment to Afghanistan post-2014. Among the central questions: how many U.S. troops will remain on in Afghanistan, and what size Afghan force will the U.S. push for and fund?
"I can't, sitting here, tell you whether I believe that this administration is actually committed to trying to make the Afghan Army as good as it can be in the next two years or whether we're simply trying to look for a decent interval while we dump that," former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann recently said at the Brookings Institution.
"The fact is we have a policy. What we are not clear about is whether we're serious about that policy and what the policy requires," Neumann said. "We need a discussion that is more articulated about missions, both military missions and others, and one can take different positions on whether you should advise in the field or not, or whether you're going to provide air support and some other key things, at least for a limited period while the Afghans finish development of those."
The American people, for their part, seem to have amnesia when it comes to recent conflicts. Iraq is a faint though bloody memory, and only for a fighting sliver of our country is Afghanistan a war that is still being fought.
Even as the battle in Afghanistan begins its slow wind down, America and its leaders still struggle to engage with it in a serious way.
That is why it is not terribly surprising to see Zero Dark Thirty disturb so many. It was not a glorification of torture, or a justification of its horrors and the consequences of it. Instead the film offered a well-lit snapshot of a fight and a war that few in this country have acknowledged more than momentarily, let alone debated. The film reminds viewers of battles most have not wanted to see or speak of beyond perfunctory praise for America's troops fighting and dying in places their countrymen will never know.
When war does not intrude on Americans' daily life, even in news headlines, it is easy to understand why colliding with the brutality of its reality is shocking. America has forcefully avoided engaging with a war fought by less than one percent of its population, and its leaders have shrunk at explaining either the stakes or the mission at hand in Afghanistan. The closest that many have come to reading about the Afghanistan war of late is probably coverage of the scandal surrounding former Gen. David Petraeus' resignation.
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington earlier this month comes another step on the path to closing out this war with which Americans long ago grew tired. Multiple U.S. troop deployments, deadly ‘green on blue' attacks on American soldiers, and Afghan government corruption account for much of the exhaustion. But a lack of leadership from Washington is also worth noting.
In his book tour interviews former Gen. Stanley McChrystal nearly pleaded with the American public to care about its longest-ever war. He also argued that not all is lost.
"I believe Afghanistan can be stable," McChrystal said on CBS. "I think they must take responsibility for their security, the vast lion's share, but I think the strategic partnership that President Obama offered to President Karzai is critical. Not just physically. It's not how many troops and how much money, it's the idea in the minds of Afghans that they have a reliable partner."
And as former Sen. Chuck Hagel seeks to become Defense Secretary Hagel the details and durability of that partnership is on the minds of others who have served in Afghanistan on the diplomatic side.
"We have the structures in place, both bilaterally, through our strategic partnership agreement that carries on to 2024, and internationally, through the Chicago agreements to fund Afghan security forces into the out years, as well as the Tokyo ministerial from July that pledged the international community to something like $16 billion in economic support on terms of conditionality, again over the next three to four years. So the architecture is there," said former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker last month. "What is critical is American will -- because again, let me tell you something learned through hard experience: If we don't lead, others are going to wander away too, and those pledges will vanish like smoke. Absolutely guarantee it."
Crocker argued for an American wallet that remains open to support Afghan forces and a fledgling civil society.
"We will wind up paying about $2.5 billion a year to support -- as our share of support for Afghan security forces totaling 230,000. That sounds like a lot of money until you consider that we're paying about $110 billion a year now. So this is pretty cheap insurance," Crocker said. "And I have argued and will argue, that support for Afghan women, for civil society, for social and economic development is also pretty cheap insurance to prevent a spirit of hopelessness from taking hold among the general population that makes it easy for the Taliban."
Unfortunately, a spirit of hopelessness already has taken hold among the American public.
Whether the country's leaders decide to challenge that despair and dig into the details of and the rationale behind America's involvement in Afghanistan after next year remains an unanswered question. But the past few years leave little reason to think that Washington will soon open up and start talking about the war and its goals. And an exhausted American public is unlikely to push them to do so.
For America the war may be over, but men and women in uniform continue to fight it.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images
Close observers of Afghanistan are not likely to be surprised by recent allegations contained in a United Nations report that the Afghan National Security Directorate, the CIA's leading counterterrorism partner in South Asia, used whips and electric shocks to squeeze confessions out of suspected insurgent detainees. There are many ways to describe the directorate, or NDS as it is locally known, but a model of modern intelligence gathering and investigative efficiency is not one of them.
The report, which was quietly published on the website of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on Sunday, details a grim pattern of abuse and mistreatment in NDS prisons, and has put yet another dent in NDS's reputation at a time when the Afghan intelligence agency has never been more vulnerable. A key partner in the ongoing U.S. quest to contain transnational terrorism in South and Central Asia, NDS seems to have fallen on very hard times of late. Yet, few in Washington appear ready to confront the implications of NDS's downward spiral, a trend that seems to be accelerating as NATO marches toward the exit.
Last week, in an unprecedented show of force at least half a dozen Taliban fighters charged the gates of NDS headquarters in central Kabul, set off a suicide truck bomb and nearly blasted their way straight into the central nervous system of the Afghan intelligence agency. Some 32 civilians and security personnel were injured, and at least one NDS officer was killed on the spot. The attack might have been a little less demoralizing, however, had it not been for another purported Taliban assault in Kabul only a month earlier on an alleged NDS safe house in central Kabul that severely wounded the agency's well-known chief, Asadullah Khalid.
Both incidents beg a couple of questions that US, NATO and Afghan officials must all be asking themselves these days. First, just how safe is an Afghan intelligence agency safe house if a suicide bomber can gain entry and blow up the director of said intelligence agency? And, what do the latest assaults mean for NATO's transition out of the country? Like many things in Afghanistan, the answer is both simple and complex.
In the "simple" column: Asadullah Khalid, the newly ordained head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, probably has about as many enemies-personal and political-as he does friends. The December 6 attack on Khalid was the fifth in as many years. A two-time governor who served in the volatile and politically pivotal provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni, Khalid is a high roller with deep ties to mujahideen elites. His close associates run the gamut from hardcore Islamist conservative Afghan elites such as Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a cagey Pashtun commander who trained 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the late and legendary glad-handing southern brother of President Hamid Karzai.
Originally from Ghazni, a part of Afghanistan whose political, ethnic and religious paroxysms most closely parallel that of Florida, Khalid has counted coup in innumerable Afghan skirmishes spanning from the late 1980's to the present. Before President Karzai appointed him governor of Ghazni in 2002, Khalid served as head of NDS's provincial affairs department, and, several of his colleagues aver, was a first runner up to replace NDS's first director, Engineer Arif Sarwary when Sarwary stepped down in 2004. Instead, however, Karzai's inner circle eventually decided in 2005 that Khalid would be a better fit as governor of the president's home province, Kandahar.
It was in Kandahar that Khalid burnished a reputation for applying tough tactics to insurgent detainees after Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin alleged in testimony before the Canadian parliament in November 2009 that Khalid "personally tortured people" in a "dungeon" beneath his residence. Khalid has repeatedly denied the Canadian claims.
An ethnic Pashtun who also briefly served as minister of borders and tribal affairs before his appointment to NDS, Khalid has rejected similar allegations lodged in the British high court late last year. Khalid's denials aside, the most recent UN report on NDS torture practices would certainly seem to bear out a persistent pattern in the Afghan presidential palace of ignoring the obvious when it is convenient to do so.
In the "complex" column, a combination of hubris, insouciance, and vanity peculiar to many of Kabul's leading powerbrokers seems to have left Khalid especially vulnerable to violent fissures that are slowly rendering the once relatively effective Afghan intelligence agency ineffective and deeply compromised. Shortly before the bombing, Khalid coupled his denials of involvement in torture with equally vehement and venomous anti-Taliban rhetoric. During his testimony before Afghanistan's lower house of parliament before his appointment was confirmed in September, he alternately promised to exterminate Taliban outliers who refuse to accept Karzai's reconciliation terms and to support cross border operations into Pakistan in response to cross border shelling by the Pakistani army along the country's eastern border.
Khalid at one point purportedly took control of the CIA-backed Kandahar Strike Force, an aggressive local militia that was accused in 2010 by Afghan officials of assassinating the southern province's local police chief. Not long after his adventures in Kandahar, Khalid got involved in backing a controversial anti-Taliban uprising in Ghazni by provincial locals. Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people in a tough neighborhood where the biggest house on the block is owned by the Pakistani military, a key supporter of the Afghan Taliban.
All of the above without doubt made the NDS chief especially susceptible. But there are two other critical factors that also played important roles in the attack on Khalid and the one-two-punch assault on NDS headquarters a month later. The first factor is factionalism. Factionalism within the official state Afghan security services has been a fact of life since they were created, but the phenomenon has worsened considerably since the onset of NATO's transition out of the country, and it has not left Afghanistan's chief intelligence agency untouched. Karzai has hired and fired a total of four NDS chiefs since 2002, including two within the last two years -- Khalid and Karzai's former personal security chief Rahmatullah Nabil. Each changing of the guard has been followed by purge and counter-purge of various networks affiliated with the new chiefs, leaving deep wells of mistrust, particularly between the largely non-Pashtun retinue of NDS officers allied with the Northern Alliance and Pashtuns affiliated either with Sayyaf, warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or others of a more Islamist bent.
Meanwhile, growing concerns among NDS leaders about increased infiltration of insurgents and Iranian and Pakistani double agents within their ranks has resulted in the reported arrests of a little more than a dozen NDS officials in the last year. These problems have been known for sometime but only really started turning heads at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when in April 2012 the NDS failed to accurately analyze scads of tips about an impending attack on Kabul that was billed as one of the largest in the entire war. Conflicts between Pashtuns and the primarily Panjshiri Tajik dominated officer corps of the NDS have been cited as among the main reasons that information about that attack did not reach the right people at the right time in Kabul.
The second factor is Khalid's personal blind spot. At 43, Khalid cuts quite the dashing figure, and a one-time colleague of Khalid told me recently that he is known amongst his peers as having a predilection for a bit of flash and panache. Indeed, the guesthouse where the suicide bomber struck is situated in one of the tonier areas of the capital, and for several months before the incident in question and well before Khalid's appointment to NDS it was thought to be his personal playhouse. Neighbors recall hearing raucous music blaring out of the so-called NDS safe house Khalid had occupied and some distinctly recall the party until dawn atmosphere that the property frequently appeared to witness on Thursday nights. It is unclear whether the NDS chief was mixing business with pleasure at the house, but it is undeniable that his address, his presence and his seeming love of loud music was well known to most in the neighborhood well before the bombing.
Some of Khalid's associates also apparently knew in advance that the intelligence chief had been expecting a very special visitor the day of the bombing at the house. As one longtime friend of Khalid's explained -- and several media outlets have reported -- the suicide bomber was a former Taliban prisoner who was allegedly acting as a messenger for Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura.
Like his one time colleague and elder statesman, former president and High Peace Council chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani, it seems Khalid could not resist the temptation to amplify his political profile as leading dealmaker cum peace negotiator. So when the freed Taliban prisoner arrived at Khalid's guest house cum safe house in the Taimani neighborhood of Kabul Khalid hardly expected the young man to come bearing a bomb in his underpants. But, much like Rabbani's assassination in October 2011, it was that close "personal touch," that dealt the big blow.
All this will, of course, require a lot of chewing over in the coming weeks and months ahead as NATO continues its accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. As for Khalid, he'll have plenty of time to think it through while he convalesces at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. And, at least he won't be lonely while he's meditating on his future and the prospects for NDS; Khalid has already received visits from President Obama, Leon Panetta, and, naturally his old friend Hamid Karzai in recent weeks.
And, perhaps while Khalid gets some rest and everyone's giving the latest turn of evens with NDS good long think, NATO and U.S. officials will finally sit down to hash out what to do next with America's top partner in the fight against terrorism in South and Central Asia. The White House in particular, might want to consider whether it can continue to tie America's fortunes to intelligence outfits like NDS without first figuring out how (and whether it's possible) to help governments like Karzai's to clean these agencies up. The Obama administration might also want to calculate the overall impact of its continued uncritical support for regimes that employ torture to ensure state security and how that might in the long-term hinder its efforts to unring the bell rung by a panicked Bush administration the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. If anything the most recent series of attacks in Kabul should have demonstrated to Washington, it is time for a serious rollback and reset where NDS is concerned.
Candace Rondeaux lived and worked in Afghanistan for nearly five-years, first as the Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief for The Washington Post and more recently as senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. She is a research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School in New York, and she is currently writing a political history of the Afghan security forces from 2001 to 2014.
Just after Christmas, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) offered a peace deal of sorts to the Pakistani government. In exchange for a cessation of TTP violence, they demanded Pakistan's constitution be brought into conformity with their version of Islamic law and the government break ties with the United States. In response, a senior Pakistani government official reportedly called the offer "preposterous."
Yet it may not be, especially regarding the implementation of religious law. Similar demands were met in 2009 after the TTP took the Swat valley, with the Pakistani government giving away these very rights. The local government led by the Awami National party agreed to establish sharia law in Swat and the broader Malakand Division, which was approved by the national parliament and signed by President Zardari. It was only when the Pakistani Taliban pushed for more territorial gains that the government responded with force of arms. If past is prologue, the government may bend to get a deal now.
However, the status quo arguably meets TTP demands regarding religious law, as much of what they seek already exists - Islamic law plays a major role in governance, and militants are free to violently force their religious interpretations on the population.
This slide towards religious governance goes back to the country's founding. From the outset, the Objectives Resolution of 1949, which preceded the first of several constitutions, tilted Pakistan towards an Islamic state where citizens and their rights were defined by religion. This occurred despite Jinnah's famous speech two years earlier to the Constituent Assembly, in which he said, "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State." The Objectives Resolution went in a different direction, and while it recognized the presence of religious minorities, it only promised "adequate provision" of basic rights, while defining the entire state in Islamic terms. Constitutions that followed built off and expanded this foundation.
The biggest leaps came from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's secular Prime Minister from 1973-1977, and General Zia ul Haq's reign from 1978-1988. Under Bhutto, the Ahmadis were effectively outlawed through constitutional changes that created a definition of a Muslim that excluded Ahmadis. The constitution was also amended to establish the Council of Islamic Ideology to advise on whether proposed laws are compatible with Islam. Not considered particularly devout, he took these and other steps to shore-up his flagging political fortunes, currying the support of religious leaders.
Zia went even further, setting into place much of what the TTP wants today, changing both statutory law and constitutional provisions. He amended the blasphemy law, a colonial era holdover, and increased the penalty to include death, but without requiring the provision of evidence. This alone has had far-reaching effects. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) where I work knows of at least 17 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and 20 others serving life sentences. Many more are in jail awaiting trial or appeal. The surprising outcome of the Rimsha Masih case is an exception to the sad norm.
In addition, Zia altered the penal code to criminalize the basic acts of the Ahmadi faith. He amended the constitution to create the Federal Shariat Court to review legislation that may conflict with sharia law, creating an unclear legal structure that appears to run parallel to or oversee the secular system. In addition, Zia Islamicized the education system, the banking system, and the penal system through the Hudood ordinances.
And today, for what the law does not forbid (which is much), militants have free reign to impose their religious views at the point of a gun.
This was shockingly evident last week, with the January 10 attack that killed 81 Shi'a Muslims in twin bombings in a Shiite area of Quetta. The attack was tragically predictable, as the targeting of Shia Muslims steadily increased throughout 2012, with rights groups estimating (before this attack) more than 400 murdered. The TTP, and fellow travelers like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, regularly claim responsibility. Human rights organizations continue to criticize government inaction, but the body count keeps rising.
Another case in point is the TTP murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs and the only Christian in Zardari's cabinet. Working bravely against the blasphemy law, the TTP answered Shahbaz's efforts in 2010 by assassinating him steps from his mother's Islamabad home in broad daylight. The TTP were so brazen as to leave fliers at the scene claiming responsibility, but no one has been held accountable and the investigation fizzled.
Ahmadis continue to suffer discrimination, abuse, and violence. 80 Ahmadis were killed in May 2010 when two of their mosques were attacked by the TTP. Violence continues today throughout the country - in July of this year the president of a local Ahmadi community outside Karachi was murdered and in December over 100 Ahmadi graves desecrated in Lahore. Hindus too are among the victims of Pakistan's climate of intolerance. The forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls has increased in Sindh Province, and in 2012 upwards of 250 Pakistani Hindus from Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces have migrated to India to avoid increasing violence. Christians remember the violence of Gojra in 2009, where an entire village was burned to the ground and no one held to account, and last year the National Commission for Justice and Peace found nine places of worship were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, including 5 churches and 3 Hindu temples.
Clearly, the Pakistani Taliban's demand for enforcement of their version of Islamic law is not far from reality. In the current environment, Pakistani law is used to enforce religious views, and militants act with impunity against those they consider un-Islamic. Both the majority Muslim population and minority religious communities are at risk. Pakistan's active civil society must continually retreat and retrench to protect the small openings for peaceful debate and human rights work. Consequently, the very fabric of Pakistan is being torn, and if this "preposterous" ask is implemented, it could unravel more.
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 and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
Denying al Qaeda's re-emergence in Afghanistan requires ensuring that Afghanistan can be sufficiently stable and capable of defending itself, as President Barack Obama explained during the surge announcement at West Point on Dec. 1, 2009. Al Qaeda is not present in large numbers (perhaps less than 1,000) in Afghanistan now, but Secretary Leon Panetta stated in November 2012 that "intelligence continues to indicate that they are looking for some kind of capability to be able to go into Afghanistan as well." The U.S. and NATO cannot allow war weariness and economic conditions to obscure the realities and requirements they face. The recently announced accelerated shift to a "support role" in Afghanistan could become a guise to withdraw if "support" means just a few thousand counterterrorism forces and trainers.
In the eyes of many officials, a sound counterterrorism strategy rests on the assumption that the U.S. and NATO can kill their way toward a better future, against the Taliban and the Haqqanis or against al Qaeda and its affiliates. A decade of war proves the falsehood of this assumption. Experts outside the military are better qualified to determine how best to assist Afghanistan in the areas of governance, economic development, and reconciliation, and how best to move forward in Pakistan. But my experience in accelerating the growth of the Iraqi security forces -- in size, capacity, and confidence -- during the Iraqi "surge" of 2007 to 2008 qualifies me to speak about what is necessary to help the Afghan army succeed in taking lead responsibility.
The Afghans and NATO began a program of accelerated Afghan National Army (ANA) growth in 2009, recognizing that sufficient capacity is still years away. The ANA's combat power is only partially developed. The tip of the ANA's spear, its fighting units, is more developed than its shaft, its enabler capacity. Its human intelligence ability can sense near-term threats, but its capacity to detect and anticipate threats is low. On the ground, it can maneuver well, but the ANA lacks the air and ground mobility to shift forces around the country in order to mass against the enemy. Lack of mobility and its still-developing staff capacity reduce the ANA's ability to apply timely and coordinated force. The ANA can place accurate enough direct fire against the enemy once engaged but has only limited land-based indirect fire ability. Nor does it have adequate air-delivered fires, important in the mountains and remote areas of Afghanistan. Pending medical, supply, maintenance, and transport capacity means that the ANA has limited ability to maintain momentum against the enemy once engaged. Leadership quality varies. All these shortcomings affect the ANA's confidence and combat power; none will be complete by the end of this year or next.
None of this should be a surprise. In 2009, the Afghans and NATO wisely placed primary emphasis on accelerating fighting units, with secondary emphasis on enabler capacity. While their own systems were being developed and fielded, ANA fighting units could receive the support they needed from their NATO partners. As Afghan systems emerged, NATO support could be "thinned out" and ultimately cut altogether. To do otherwise would have been to grow the ANA at the pace of its slowest element, an approach that did not match the Afghan "surge" strategy adopted in 2009. In an underdeveloped country that has suffered from over 30 years of war and has very low literacy rates, growing enabler systems -- supply, medical, transport, analytic, staff, communications, air- and land-based indirect support -- takes longer. For this reason, the ANA will need some U.S. and NATO enabler support beyond 2014.
So how should the U.S. and NATO assist the ANA in taking lead security responsibility? First, leave a combat brigade, at least through 2014, to partner with Afghan forces in the east -- a strategically important area where heavy fighting against the Haqqanis will continue. Second, in the south and southwest, embed assistance teams with every ANA battalion and higher to provide access to NATO enabling support, solidify gains already made, and deny the Taliban's return to their historical stronghold. Third, in the west and north, embed assistance teams with ANA brigades and higher -- again to provide access to NATO enabling support and solidify gains already made. Fourth, provide development teams for the ANA's major commands (recruiting, logistics, medical, areas support, and detention), the ANA's general headquarters, and the Ministry of Defense -- to continue development of the ANA's "shaft." Finally, the U.S. and NATO should leave behind "dual-purposed" enabler forces -- intelligence, airlift and medical evacuation, air and ground indirect fires, supply, maintenance, ground transport, and logistics. These forces would support both the residual NATO training teams and provide the ANA support it does not have, until its systems reach sufficient capacity. Combined, these actions will improve both ANA combat power and confidence, increasing the probability that it will be successful in assuming lead security responsibility.
The exact size of this assistance and support effort can only be determined by a proper civil-military dialogue among the NATO nations and the Afghans. But, if the United States and NATO want to increase the probability that the ANA will be successful, the number will be around 30,000 troops, and this number will be required at least for the rest of this year and next. The size and cost of this force will diminish over time and will be significantly less than then near $10 billion per month the war cost at its height. U.S. and NATO strategic objectives are not yet accomplished in Afghanistan and cannot be "outsourced" to the Afghans. Pushing the Taliban out of the south is not permanent. The counteroffensive in the east is incomplete. The Taliban and the Haqqanis have not been defeated, and al Qaeda intends to return to Afghanistan.
Killing Osama bin Laden was a hugely important success, but it was only a disruption. Al Qaeda is not "dismantled or defeated," and it remains dedicated to bleed America and the West, to depose governments it claims are apostate, to eliminate the state of Israel, and to gain control of Central Asia, North Africa, and the Greater Middle East. Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. They control an area about the size of Texas in North Africa that includes parts of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, and Chad. Despite ample sanctuary elsewhere, they want to return to Afghanistan -- for historical and symbolic reasons in addition to the complexity of the terrain, which is a nightmare for counterterrorism forces. They still recruit within the U.S. and Europe and have not given up on attacking both directly. They have not waivered with respect to their strategic objectives; neither should the U.S. or NATO.
If the United States and NATO don't finish the job now, they will leave it to another generation. Many of those fighting in Afghanistan now were 5 and 6 years old at the start of the war; we do not want the same future for the current generation of 5- and 6-year-olds. Leaving an adequate assistance and support force in Afghanistan through 2013 and beyond is in the U.S. and NATO's security interest. Certainly, the U.S. and NATO cannot afford to conduct operations as they have for the past decade. But equally certain, the U.S. and NATO cannot allow war weariness and economic conditions to obscure the realities and requirements they face. If the U.S. and NATO provide less-than-adequate support to the ANA this year and beyond, they should at least not fool themselves of the likely waste and result.
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (retired) is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, where Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst and team lead.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
It has been a complicated week for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government. Out of the blue, Tahir ul Qadri, a retired politician and Canada-based preacher led thousands of people on a long march from Lahore to Islamabad demanding immediate regime change. If that wasn't enough, the Supreme Court ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf arrested on corruption charges. All of this after the PPP dismissed the provincial government in Balochistan over a militant attack that killed 100 Shi'a Muslims.
Before all of this, most Pakistan watchers had assumed that with just two months left, the PPP was on its way to making history as the first civilian government to complete a full term. It appears, however, that the recent confluence of events has introduced a pressure too great for the PPP to withstand. After a lengthy negotiation, Qadri and a team of government ministers issued the Islamabad Long March Declaration. The government offered several concessions to Qadri, the most significant of which are that "the National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013" and that the government "in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as Caretaker Prime Minister."
Did Zardari and the PPP lose? Yes and no.
No one expected a government led by Asif Ali Zardari to make it this far. The former prisoner, alleged kidnapper and extortionist, son-of-a-cinema-owner, secret stroke victim, and Cheshire cat-grinning widower of a two-time Prime Minister doesn't necessarily match the profile of a deft politician. But the man is a survivor, with instincts that have translated into an unexpected political ability to build coalitions, offer concessions, and broker agreements that have taken the PPP government further in its term than any other government in Pakistan's history.
Despite this ability, the government still managed to make enemies. While not uncommon in Pakistani politics, the mudslinging during the PPP's term has been especially dirty. Supreme Court efforts to unseat Zardari on corruption charges proved unsuccessful last year but the judiciary got its way with the removal of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on contempt of court charges. This week, the court went after Ashraf for a different issue - alleged corruption in rental power projects when serving as Minister for Water and Power. Ashraf hasn't been convicted of any crime yet and can remain in office until found guilty. The PPP coalition, with its majority in the National Assembly, could simply elect another Prime Minister from its ranks, just like it did when Gilani was dismissed.
But the Qadri march has shifted the political balance by providing an opportunity for the judiciary, and other critics of the government like Imran Khan and the military, to either jump on the regime change bandwagon or to tacitly support it by watching from the sidelines. All of them want a say in who heads the caretaker government. Until now, as mandated by the 20th amendment, the government and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have been negotiating the caretaker government framework, which must be in place up to ninety days before elections if the government calls elections before its term is up. Qadri's very specific demands echo the views of other political actors who believe they have a stake in the PPP-PML-N discussions, regardless of whether the constitution mandates their participation or not. They will now have their say through Qadri, whose political party will help determine who leads the next caretaker government.
Always the strategic dealmaker, Zardari weighed the two options in front of him: keep fighting or accelerate the elections cycle. He could have continued to ignore Qadri's demands, claiming the PPP is a victim of a military-judicial conspiracy. Playing the "political martyrdom" card would resonate well among the PPP base and with critics of both the military and Supreme Court. But the government likely felt too bombarded from all sides to make the same bold moves it has in the past; the perception that Qadri is backed by the security establishment also may have factored into Zardari's decision making.
Instead, Zardari chose to accelerate the elections cycle. The National Assembly and Senate are now scheduled to meet on January 21st to discuss next steps. Doing so would still offer the government some influence in the caretaker setup but exactly how much influence remains to be seen. It would be naïve to assume that the Supreme Court, Qadri, and the military would automatically drop their anti-government efforts once elections are scheduled. Surely such stringent critics of the PPP would only call it a day when they get what they want - which seems to be ensuring that the country's ruling political party has zero chance of leading the next government.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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While Washington phases out its combat mission and withdraws troops from Afghanistan this year, the Taliban continues to increase its use of violence and refuses to negotiate with the Afghan government towards a political settlement. With no military victory over the Taliban in sight, the White House needs to make peace talks with the Taliban a centerpiece of its exit strategy in order to ensure that Afghanistan will not lapse back into civil war after most of the U.S. troops leave by 2014.
Currently, about 66,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, but the number is expected to be cut drastically this spring and into 2014 when the U.S. combat role ends and Afghanistan takes full responsibility for its security. Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Washington this week and one of the key items on the agenda was for the two governments to discuss the various options for and potential effects of a residual U.S. military presence beyond 2014 that would train and equip the Afghan security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Numerous discussions and scenario planning occurred this week in regards to the drawdown of security forces and its implications on potential peace talks. Sending ripple effects across the policy making community, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on Tuesday that President Obama is not ruling out the possibility of withdrawing all U.S. troops by the end of next year. While many in the policy community deem this as a negotiation tactic by the Obama administration, a complete troop withdrawal would undoubtedly have lasting implications for potential peace talks with the Taliban. The scenario of zero U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan would create an opportunity for the hardline elements of the Taliban to wait out the American withdrawal and subsequently emerge as an inhibiting force for peace which has no interest in a negotiated political settlement.
On Friday, escalating concerns by both the Afghan- and American policy communities were realized when in a joint statement President Obama and President Karzai agreed to speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces. The potentially bleak realities resulting from a hastened U.S. troop withdrawal are an increasingly likely end. The move also highlights the Obama administration's growing posture to end a nuanced and unfavorable war.
Despite the recent developments, it remains a critical security imperative for Washington that Afghanistan does not once again revert into a safe haven for terrorist activities, anarchy and civil war. A resilient Taliban insurgency, widespread corruption within the Afghan government, and the inability of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to protect the Afghan nation on its own after foreign troops leave require Washington to reevaluate its strategy vis-à-vis peace talks with the Taliban. For the talks to succeed and a durable peace process to emerge, Afghans must lead the talks with the Taliban in an inclusive and transparent manner, with full support from their regional neighbors and Washington. Above all, the White House and Kabul must be on the same page and adopt a unified policy towards reconciliation. Moreover, Washington must provide strategic economic and political support for the Afghan government to lead the process and must adopt a firm stance toward Pakistan through constructive diplomacy.
Following the assassination of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, Head of the High Peace Council, in September 2011, the reconciliation process became dormant. The talks gained a renewed momentum after the French think tank, Foundation for Strategic Research, organized a meeting between representatives of the Taliban, Afghan political parties and civil society groups last December. Senior members of the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami, the High Peace Council, political opposition groups, civil society and the Afghan parliament attended the two-day talks, marking the significance and increased inclusiveness of the reconciliation process. Numerous Afghan and international policy analysts believe that the seniority of the Taliban representatives attending the Paris Talks indicates they are serious about the possibility of a negotiated political settlement.
While some Afghans and foreign observers consider the Paris Talks as a positive catalyst for the overall peace process, others remain skeptical that the talks will result in a durable and inclusive peace agreement. The Taliban continue to reiterate that they would not talk with the Afghan government. Recently, the Taliban envoys at the Paris Talks restated their position that neither the Afghan constitution nor the Kabul government were legitimate and they had no plans to negotiate with the latter now or in the future. However, Taliban representatives cooperated in talks with the opposition leaders in Paris representing the Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek ethnic groups, indicating a greater potential for movement towards increased factionalism and bringing the legitimacy and cohesiveness of the central government and the gains made during the past 11 years into jeopardy.
In May 2012, Washington and Kabul signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement in which the U.S. designated Afghanistan as a "Major Non-NATO Ally" and committed to protecting and remaining engaged into 2024 in an advisory capacity. Yet, certain regional actors still maintain the belief that the U.S. will once again abandon Afghanistan and therefore continue to support the Taliban and other extremist militant groups as a proxy to exert influence over Afghanistan's future. This scenario would not only have security implications throughout the region, but would also affect wider, global security. It would allow al-Qaeda and its affiliates to reestablish themselves in parts of Afghanistan, where they could plot against America and its allies.
The Peace Process Roadmap recently issued by the High Peace Council proposes a negotiated political settlement by 2015 with the Taliban and other insurgent groups including Hizb-e-Islami. However the roadmap fails to address key issues such as the disarmament of these groups. If there is a power-sharing deal within the government that includes the Taliban and other armed extremist groups without a provision for the disarmament of these groups and their acceptance of the legitimacy of the government, the outcome of the reconciliation could pave the way for a divided Afghanistan with a weak central government, and would compromise the gains of the past 11 years. Additionally, such a politically negotiated settlement would face considerable backlash from political opposition groups, as well as civil society.
After three decades of war, Afghans are weary of war and desire peace. However, peace must not come at the cost of human rights and democracy. In the absence of a democratic government, Afghanistan could become a hotbed for terrorism once again. Washington invested heavily in Afghanistan over the past 11 years in order to combat extremism, and the U.S. government should have a vested interest in deterring the emergence of terrorism hotbeds and ensuring a stable Afghanistan beyond 2014. A peaceful, democratic Afghanistan where human rights are protected should be a security imperative for Washington, necessitating that it put its full support behind an inclusive, transparent peace process led by Afghans and promoted by regional actors. Furthermore, any peace talks with the Taliban must not come at the cost of compromising human rights and setting back the hard won gains of the past 11 years, making it ever more an imperative that the U.S. closely reevaluate its troop withdrawal strategy.
While it remains unclear how a politically negotiated settlement will play out in the coming years and who the key stakeholders will be, it is clear that the Taliban does not wish to talk with the current Afghan government, leaving Washington to think outside the box and tap into other credible stakeholders in Afghanistan that could help lead the process. Afghan civil society leaders represent various ethnic and interest groups including religious minorities, women and youth and could be key players and stakeholders in the peace process. National consensus at all levels is critical to whatever peace process emerges in Afghanistan. Bringing in a neutral third party to broker a peace negotiation is not a bad idea, but the devil is in the details of who could serve as a neutral third party with the ever-growing list of stakeholders and spoilers to peace in Afghanistan. Without a unified reconciliation policy between Kabul and the White House and regional countries' sincere cooperation, achieving an acceptable peace agreement before the 2014 elections and troop drawdown would prove considerably more challenging and endanger the progress the country has made over the past decade. The new window of opportunity rests in the recent endorsement in the joint statement issued by President Obama and President Karzai of the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar in hopes of bringing insurgents to inter-Afghan talks.
Hamid Arsalan, a founding member of Afghan
Analytica, is a Program Officer for the
Middle East and North Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Hodei Sultan, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Officer for the Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The views reflected here are solely those of the authors.
A version of this piece was originally published here.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Tahir-ul Qadri, a Canada-based Pakistani preacher and former politician leads a massive protest today from Lahore to Islamabad calling for regime change in Pakistan. If it is electoral change Qadri is looking for, he won't be the one to get it. Qadri's been politically irrelevant since he departed the scene in 2004, when he resigned from his post as a Member of the National Assembly. Qadri himself does not even occupy a seat in Parliament, nor does anyone in his party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek.
However, his religious organization Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, is a force to be reckoned with. The organization has an expansive school network in Punjab and maintains massive support among Pakistanis attracted to his meshing of modern values with conservative Islam. But this following was not enough for Qadri to deliver the "millions" of protesters he promised.
Could Qadri be another Imran Khan prototype, informally sponsored by the military? At least Khan can deliver the people. Despite the lackluster showing at today's march, we should not overlook the meaning behind Qadri's interestingly timed, well-organized and well-funded return. He says he wants to put "true democracy on track," but Qadri comes at a time when the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led government and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are near agreement on the timing of elections and the caretaker government setup, a process bolstered by the 20th amendment that mandates the government's cooperation with the opposition in setting up a neutral caretaker government in advance of elections.
In addition to seeking specific changes, such as ensuring electoral candidates pay their taxes before running for a seat, Qadri's push for a caretaker government in lieu of the current regime resonates with some in the security establishment who had been rumored to be informally floating the idea last year of installing temporary leaders a la Bangladesh in the mid-1990s. Supporters of the idea believe such moves are justified on by the PPP's poor performance and corruption.
Today's atmosphere is also reminiscent of the period before Senate elections in March 2011, when speculation arose that Pakistan's military was working to deny the PPP control of the upper house. This time, with elections expected before June and with the military openly displeased with both of the possible winners - the PPP the PML-N - there is a strong perception among political analysts that the military is up to its old tricks again. While we can't prove it, and the military claims to be just as surprised as the rest of us with Qadri's return, it has intervened in politics numerous times. The country has experienced over 30 years of military rule since independence in 1947. No reason it cannot happen again.
Or is there? Real regime change through Qadri, or through the military for that matter, is highly unlikely at the moment. He does have the ambition, political network and wealth to bring the long march into existence. But if Qadri has made a deal with the military, he may be overestimating its depth of interest and capability in shaping the election outcome in the current political environment. Political engineering by the Army and other branches of the military could exacerbate considerable domestic frustrations about the military leadership's failure to address Pakistan's growing terrorism problem. Furthermore, key foreign partners like the United States would be hard pressed to look the other way if Army chooses to meddle. Finally, the Supreme Court has been sending warning signs to the military to stay out of the elections process. Last year, it ordered legal proceedings against former intelligence and army officials, alleging they bankrolled politicians to prevent the PPP from winning the 1990 election.
Speculating on the military's connections to Qadri is unavoidable, but it is not the only issue Qadri brings to the fore. Something else much more tangible and visible is at work, and that is the desperate desire of ordinary Pakistanis for change - the change that Americans saw in 2008 when they elected their first African-American president; the change that the Arab world experienced when their military dictatorships collapsed; and the spirit of change infused within the international Occupy movement against social and economic inequality.
Qadri's message is appealing because it taps into the international sentiment of change associated with these and other developments over the past several years - sentiment that is clearly alive and well in Pakistan. But instead of potentially delaying the elections cycle, Qadri's ability to mobilize and influence would be more helpful after the PPP government completes its term this year in a historic moment for the entire country: the first time a government in Pakistan finishes a complete term.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (Little Brown and Company, New York 2012), 673pp. $29.99.
On October 3, 2009, an assembled impromptu force of hundreds of Afghans overran a deeply vulnerable U.S. outpost, killing eight American soldiers. In retracing this tragic battle and the events that led to it, Jake Tapper has written perhaps the best book set in Afghanistan to date.
This deeply researched book covers the four successive cavalry squadrons -- reconnaissance units of about 300 soldiers, mostly men -- who serve in what will become known as Combat Outpost (or COP) Keating. Albeit written without ever visiting the small outpost of the title, Tapper traces its three-year (plus) history from its establishment in the summer of 2006 through the major attack on the base in October 2009. The COP would be destroyed by American airpower just days later, denying its use to local Afghans. Tapper's narrative arc clearly lays out the human drama, which, in full disclosure, involves friends and acquaintances of mine from my previous military service. I know these men well enough to know that Tapper has accurately captured them.
At one level, this book is simply a piece of tightly crafted narrative non-fiction. Divided into three sections, with a very helpful list of the shifting cast of characters, Tapper chronicles life in this desolate piece of remote, and majestically beautiful, Eastern Afghanistan. The work depicts the all-too-human struggles encountered, from the physical challenges of the soldiers on the ground, to those more strategic and moral with which the more senior officers wrestle.
While Tapper clearly admires his subjects, this book is no whitewash. With the possible exception of then-Lieutenant Andrew Bunderman who finds himself unexpectedly in command during the attack, there are no unambiguous heroes. But Bunderman is a rare under-developed character. Elsewhere, compromised situations force compromised decisions, from the seniors leaders to the privates on the ground. Perhaps because Tapper never embedded with these units, instead reconstructing events post hoc, he maintains an admirable detachment, highlighting flaws even in those men he most clearly admires. This narrative alone is more than worth the price of admission.
Tapper is equally effective at capturing the Army's socio-economic breadth and depth, adding nuance and texture to the oft-depicted cliché of a divide between officers and grunts. Upper middle class officers such as Michael Howard, Chris Kolenda and Brad Brown, who despite having command responsibility for Keating (and numerous other bases), did not live there or share its hardships, come to life in the narrative. So do Keating's more humble denizens, such as both the newly married, recently orphaned Ryan Fritsche, who dies on a hillside near the outpost under the tenure of the second occupying squadron, and the Army mechanic and de facto bigamist Vernon Martin, who perishes in the final battle some years later.
However, the book works most powerfully as a metaphor for the entire Afghanistan project. In the cycle of four units relieving each other over the course of three years, the mood comes full circle. The first squadron shows great enthusiasm, ignoring the clear tactical vulnerability of an outpost in a valley in order to be near to the Afghan villagers. Three years later, this inherent vulnerability and ineffectiveness can no longer be ignored, but the last unit cannot marshal the resources necessary to close the base before it is over-run. While the commanders of the last unit will shoulder much of the official blame, it is not clear that they could have done any more than the final commanders of a similarly indefensible valley fortress, at Dien Bien Phu-the infamously mis-sited French base in Vietnam, whose similar, if larger scale, vulnerability put an end to the French campaign in IndoChina. Tapper's prologue deals with the incredulous analyst who details the laundry list of reasons why Keating should not be positioned where it was-base of a peak, rivers on two sides, no good road, far away even by helicopter. While the analyst does not use the words "rice bowl" as Viet Mihn General Giap famously did the soon-to-be-surrendered Dien Bien Phu, the sentiment is clearly the same.
In these four units we see the complete cycle that characterizes most encounters with Afghanistan-naïve idealism, then modest success, then decline, then concern....and finally disaster. Perversely, it is the modest successes that encourage continued investment in the campaign. Afghanistan seems to have become a "baited ambush" at all levels of war, with just enough enticement to keep investing. The limited tactical successes of Chris Kolenda (the second squadron commander) give the illusion of military and political progress, though they quickly fade. And at the grand strategic level, the 2009 elections that return President Karzai to power are lauded despite being widely considered fraudulent-because they are. But at both levels, being able to "check the box" on an accomplishment seems to justify more effort. The ability to convince one's self that things are improving, or at least that improvement is "just around the corner," has been instrumental to this decade-long debacle.
The irony, of course, is that the Army, like most American institutions, uses a short-term rewards system. Therefore, the officers (and their civilian advisors) who conceptualized the fatally placed base continue to progress through the ranks, based on their glowing "report cards" for establishing COP Keating. Meanwhile, the commanders who were flabbergasted and scandalized by the placement of the inherited outpost are forever tainted by it being destroyed under their watch.
Tapper has done a two-fold service with this book. First, he lays out a highly engaging narrative that fully engages the reader across three years in one desolate corner of Afghanistan-albeit via the American viewpoint. But more importantly, he provides a window into the false hopes and visions that enabled this failed experiment, an attempt to create government in spaces that had actively avoided such. Tapper shows-without telling-that the United States had, and has, no national interest remaining in Afghanistan, other than eliminating Al Qaeda safe havens. The U.S. presence in general was misguided and the "outposting" push into the remote valleys of Nuristan and Kunar particularly inane. Tapper's characters show the price that was paid-in blood, in careers, in broken relationships, in damaged psyches, not to mention in money.
Tapper's book is not anti-war by any means. But it is anti-stupid war. And he clearly shows that, while there was a clear justification for the overthrow of the Taliban regime, by the time of the events he narrates, this was a war of choice.
A bad choice.
Douglas A. Ollivant, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a retired Army officer. He spent 12 months in 2010-2011 as the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commander, Regional Command East, Afghanistan. He is on Twitter at @DouglasOllivant.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Early last month, while the United States was in its own pre-election haze, Americans giddily re-tweeting whatever incremental shift Nate Silver's model had just spat out, CNN personalities with their Magic Wall, nightly groping at some Ohio precinct, over in Kabul, Karzai was making his move. With the West's gaze averted, he quietly set in motion his plan to control Afghanistan's next election.
Through the ministry of justice, Karzai pushed a draft amendment to the country's election law that would add sweeping new restrictions to candidate eligibility for the Afghan presidency. The law now sits in Parliament awaiting debate, but if it passes, it would disqualify anyone who has a disability -- physical or psychological, anyone who can't speak and write in both Dari and Pashtu, anyone who doesn't have ten years of work experience in the administration, anyone who doesn't have a university degree, anyone who can't pay one million Afs (the equivalent of $20,000), and anyone who can't come up with 100,000 signatures cumulatively from at least twenty different provinces.
A contrast, to be sure, with the comparatively modest 35 years of age and a citizen required of U.S. presidential candidates. But is it a necessary one? After all, superficially the law would seem to weed out warlords, as well as especially ethnocentric candidates, for whom the inability to speak one of the languages that half the country speaks may indicate undue animus towards them, and for whom signatures from twenty provinces would seem to demand at least some appeal beyond just an ethnic powerbase which, in the fractious ethnic politics of the country, could be enough to propel a candidate into a run off election. Besides,
"Afghanistan is very unsettled," as Ambassador Ronald Neumann, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, told me. "It is not clear whether a brokered election coming out of agreement among power brokers would be more or less destabilizing than a contentious fight among multiple candidates with highly partisan ethnic or tribal political bases."
And perhaps that's what's going on here; perhaps Karzai knows better than anyone how to promote a peaceful transition, and, in furtherance of that goal, what kind of people should be disqualified.
Or perhaps he knows exactly which people he wants to disqualify. The timing, after all, is curious. Eighteen months before an election is awfully late to introduce laws that restrict who can stand for them. And when you look at the names that began to circulate in the rumors about the upcoming elections, an explanation emerges: he had to wait that long because he had to see who might run before designing laws to disqualify them.
Haneef Atmar, the highly regarded bureaucrat who served ably in three different ministries, lost a leg while fighting in Jalalabad in ‘88. The disability provision would disqualify him-and many others, given that Afghanistan has the world's second highest proportion of disabled people (behind only Cambodia) and has its most heavily mined capitol city. Yunos Quanooni, who came in second behind Karzai in the 2004 elections, and is a former Minister and speaker of the parliament, was disabled by a car bomb in 1993. Also disqualified. Zalmay Khalizad, an American of Afghan extraction who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and to the UN (and therefore whose candidacy would require an awkward -- though not unprecedented -- citizenship change) has no lack of expertise in government, but does not have the requisite ten years in Afghanistan's. And the list goes on. Is Karzai's law tailor-made to disqualify specific challengers?
That is, of course, is the most conspiratorial analysis. It's famously difficult to decipher Karzai's political calculus, but if he is trying to assure maximal control over his successor, how better than to cast doubt over who will be eligible to run? That would be vintage Karzai. In earlier cycles, it was the date of the election he delayed announcing and then moved up, which kneecapped opponents who hadn't been able to plan for the elections without knowing when they would be, and now only had two months to campaign. Indeed, today, potential candidates, and those who might support them, are sitting on their hands. No one wants to cast his or her lot without knowing who will actually be eligible. Every day the qualifications for office requirements to run are unknown, candidates without Karzai's blessing see their chances fade. There will simply not be enough time for an alternative to make himself (or, more improbably, herself) known to the Afghan electorate before the election.
Though Karzai's intentions are not apparent, the practical effects the law would have are clear. The "ten years in government administration" probably won't include Taliban or pre-Taliban government experience, which means what the law is really saying is that candidates must have been in government between 2001 and 2014-all the years Karzai was in charge. In practice, the clause is a lazy euphemism for "must have worked for Karzai."
Or, take the university degree requirement. At first blush, an apparent assurance that the president will not hail from the country's deep stable of power-hungry warlords. And yet in practice, it would be better at eliminating regular Afghans from the field than especially violent ones. A college education was a luxury unavailable to most who remained in the country during the thirty years of on again, off again war, so the requirement would reduce the field of homegrown candidates in favor of émigrés to Western countries who returned after the worst of the fighting-a species Afghans have historically had a hard time trusting. Nor would the degree requirement even be all that effective at preventing warlords from running, since they could sue for exception given their military rank, or their knowledge of Sharia, as many have before in order to qualify for ministerial posts or Parliamentary seats. Some actually have essentially honorary university degrees, granted by Iran or Pakistan as part of the patronage relationships those countries have with their clients in Afghanistan.
Then there is the filing fee. The average income in Afghanistan is about $1,000 a year; the filing fee is twenty times that. It would virtually guarantee that all the candidates either be from the country's small financial urban elite, or have external backing. Or, have Karzai's. By way of comparison, there is no filing fee for an American presidential candidate, and other developing or post-conflict countries that do have filing fees have very small ones, designed to insure some accountability from those who run for office-not eliminate everyone who isn't already wealthy.
And every single one of these stipulations, by the way, militates against the participation of women, because they all depend on access. Work experience, financial resources, education level, and even the mobility required to get signatures in twenty-five different provinces for the requisite 100,000 signatures, raise a bar still difficult for women in Afghanistan to clear.
So how should the international community respond? Does it matter whether these are the cynical machinations of a despot desperate to hold on to as much power as possible after he leaves office? To install a seat warmer loyal to him for five years so that he can run again in 2019 (though constitution sets a limit of two consecutive terms, it does not mention a limit on non-consecutive terms)? Or are these the considered steps of a leader who knows better than anyone how to prevent the kind of violence possible when a presidential election comes along to inflame ethnic tensions, at exactly the same time the troops that might quell them are pulling out?
Certainly, the law is anathema to real representative democracy, and potentially, to the legitimacy of a post-Karzai president who will already, regardless of who he is and to which ethnic group he belongs, have a severe mandate problem in large parts of the country.
Fortunately, the law is still pending. At weakening the field, though, its effect is not contingent on its ratification, since no one can start a campaigning in earnest without knowing whether they'll be able to run. Meanwhile, the United States has begun negations with the Karzai government about the terms of the U.S. military withdrawal, with particular tension over immunity for the U.S. troops that remain. We need to think seriously, though, about what it is those troops that stay behind will be protecting. And how do we balance the tension between one man's idea of how to maintain stability, and a people's right-a right which comprised part of the justification for this nation sacrificing no shortage of blood and treasure-to choose their leader, from a field of candidates unfiltered by one man notorious for cronyism?
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, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's new engagement in efforts to find a peaceful end to the conflict in Afghanistan has been received with optimism in the West. In just the past month, members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council visited Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani officials, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Kabul to sign an agreement on border security, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool visited Islamabad for talks, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khan met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brussels to discuss their cooperation on counterterrorism in the region.
However, a deeper look at Pakistan's recent behavior reveals that these events may represent more of a change of tactics than a change of mind. Admittedly, the ethnic divisions, widespread corruption, and weak central government that plague Afghanistan also have Pakistan worried about a failing government in its backyard. It is possible that a focus strategic depth really has been overpowered by this looming threat. But it is more likely that the government of Pakistan still clings to the long-held strategic depth objectives, while choosing now to take a more indirect approach to reaching it.
With the 2014 withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan looming, Pakistani officials now say they just want to be recognized and given a seat at the negotiation table with the Taliban and other Afghan factions.
But at the same time, of course, Pakistan also still wants to minimize India's presence and restrict its increasing influence in Afghanistan in the future. Since the 1960s, when the doctrine of "strategic depth" was first developed, Pakistan -- both right and wrongly -- has been obsessed with addressing its paranoia of Indian-Afghan encirclement. The Pakistani government now seems to be downplaying the security-centric goal of strategic depth, though this should not be taken to mean that Pakistan has abandoned this ultimate aim.
"The post-withdrawal Afghanistan should not be an enemy, if it is not going to be a friend," says a diplomatic source referring to the strategic depth doctrine of Pakistan's security establishment.
There are reasons behind this apparent change in tactics. Pakistani policy makers have now come to believe, with a heavy heart, that a Taliban-led regime like the one before 2001 in Afghanistan is an unrealistic dream.
Persistent U.S. drone strikes, with or without the consent of the Pakistani government, have forced Pakistan to come to terms with the reality that modern technology has now replaced the conventional means of hot pursuit, and it is far easier for the United States or other powers to target their enemies without sending ground troops.
And, the United States has adopted silence over the sticky issue of asking Pakistan to conduct military operations against the dreaded Haqqanis in North Waziristan, while the hardliners in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Pakistan have gone into hibernation and adopted silence over drone attacks.
To give credence to the impression of shedding the strategic depth policy, Pakistan recently freed several Taliban prisoners, while another batch, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has reportedly established contacts with the Afghan government, may also be freed shortly if the United States agrees.
Now, the Pakistani side seems to be confronted with two key questions regarding stability in Afghanistan after 2014, and the future of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Although Pakistan has been persuaded through the ‘carrot and stick' approach not to be a spoiler if it is not going to buttress the peace process, policy makers in Islamabad are weighing their options in a divided Afghanistan, not geographically but on ethnic and factional basis.
In the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Pakistan sees a Taliban-controlled south, Haqqanis leading in the south-east, and the rest of Afghanistan under the non-Pashtuns -- led by ethnic Tajiks. In this scenario, Pakistan will get a secured border even though the government in Kabul remains hostile (in other words pro-India).
In this way, Pakistan will not only ensure its influence in the strategically important southeastern part of Afghanistan, but could also push the TTP and other Pakistan-based militant groups, including the Kashmir-focused jihadis, into the Haqqani- and Taliban- controlled parts of Afghanistan.
Before 2001, the Kashmir-focused jihadi groups had established bases and training camps in the areas that Pakistan expects to come under the influence of Haqqanis in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Those regions could house sleeper cells of Kashmiri fighters, whom Pakistan could later use as a balancing factor in case of Indian support for Baloch independence-seekers.
The Afghan Taliban spokesman, however, in a December 18, 2012 interview with the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said they would never accept a divided Afghanistan. Quoting the Taliban spokesman Zabeehullah Mujahid, AIP said "we will not allow anyone to implement methods of disintegration in Afghanistan." The spokesman added that their ‘jihad' was meant for full control of the country rather than struggling for a particular part or chunk of land.
Informed sources told this writer that during recent negotiations, both the U.S. and Afghan sides assured their Pakistani counterparts that due consideration would be given to their concerns about the future Afghan government and the Indian role.
"Now Pakistan's response is wait and see. The Pakistani side has placed some concerns and conditions on the table and watching what is being picked and what is left by the Americans and the Afghan side," said a parliamentarian involved with a few round of meetings.
"The recent Taliban release was Pakistan's goodwill gesture. The next step will be taken when the Pakistani side sees some ‘positive' development," added the lawmaker. A number of observers in Islamabad are of the view that the release of Mullah Baradar is that ‘next step,' which will be taken after the desired ‘progress'.
The other important decision for Pakistan is the role it will play with regard to the TTP and other militant groups after 2014. On December 4, 2012, a senior provincial official told the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa cabinet that "we should not expect an end to the ongoing Taliban attacks in Pakistan with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan." The provincial government has limited options: it can either accept the Taliban by holding talks with them and attempting to bring them into mainstream politics with a give-and-take approach, or it can try to root them out with the use of force.
However, the thinking in Islamabad is somewhat optimistic. It is believed that the Haqqanis will return to areas under their influence in eastern Afghanistan like Khost, Paktia and Paktika, while their local allies and the pro-Pakistan militants led by Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar will either merge in the tribal society or join their brothers in arms across the border.
And as and when needed, they could be used by Pakistan to browbeat the Indians and the government in Kabul, or keep the Pashtun nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in check. In the past few years, the nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have frequently been the target of Taliban attacks.
As for the TTP, it is believed that the group will lose its moral ground for fighting against the Pakistani government and security forces once international forces leave Afghanistan. The number of their sympathizers will drop which will affect their recruitment, training and missions. The rest will be done through decapitation of the leading figures to shatter its organizational structure.
However, this is the most simplistic view of the TTP, which has humbled the Pakistani security establishment by launching daring attacks in high security zones all over the country with the help of its al-Qaeda, IMU and sectarian allies. Besides, the mishandling of the word Jihad, either knowingly or unknowingly on the part of the country's security establishment, has created a Taliban mindset in the new generation who could be easily provoked in the name of religion - thanks to the weakening economy, poor governance and justice system, rampant corruption and non-availability of social services.
Unfortunately, neither the democratically elected government, nor the powerful military establishment has so far hinted at any strategy for de-radicalization. Instead, policy makers, as usual, are obsessed with their external relations and reputations. With no rational approach on how to deal with the post-withdrawal militancy scenario, the scourge of radicalism and terrorism will continue to haunt both Afghanistan and Pakistan even if we assume for a while a successful withdrawal and peaceful handover of authority in Afghanistan.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan has accepted an Afghan "roadmap" for peace, according to news reports this week. If true, this would be quite a breakthrough given the setbacks of the last year, such as the suspension of talks by the Taliban in March, cross-border shelling into eastern Afghanistan, and recent allegations that Pakistan was involved in an assassination attempt on the Afghan intelligence chief last week. Ending a conflict that has claimed so many thousands of Afghan lives is desperately needed, and signs of a shift in Pakistan's attitude to talks could be a positive step towards that. However, a recently leaked copy of the Afghan High Peace Council's "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015,"[posted here], which has not yet been made public, lays out a trajectory that does little to assuage fears that a deal with the Taliban could erode women's rights and human rights in general.
The roadmap contains five steps. The first includes an end to cross-border shelling, the transfer by Pakistan of Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan or a third country, and pressure on the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Phase Two (slated for the first half of 2013) includes safe passage for Taliban negotiators to unspecified countries, contact with Taliban negotiators, agreement on the terms of a peace process, and further delisting of Taliban by the United States and the United Nations.
Phase three, in the second half of 2013, envisages a ceasefire. Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for renouncing violence. The plan proposes that the Taliban could transform into a political movement, and prepare to contest elections (presumably including the Presidential elections in 2014). While the emergence of a political party from the Taliban is conceivable, and desirable, the hope that this could be achieved next year seems remote. There are clearly reformers within the Taliban, but many who have engaged in preliminary negotiation efforts have been killed by hardliners or imprisoned by Pakistan, while Afghan negotiators have been assassinated. Consequently the breadth of commitment to politics and peace within the Taliban movement remains uncertain.
Step three also contains the most frank description I've seen so far about non-elected appointments of Taliban as an incentive to reconciling. This will likely include critical governorships, potentially legitimating some of the shadow provincial governments of the Taliban. Appointments remain one of the primary means of patronage in Afghanistan, so it's hard to imagine jobs not being a part of a peace deal, however unpalatable it may seem to those bearing the brunt of the ongoing Taliban violence against civilians. But the roadmap contains no red lines here, such as the exclusion from government jobs of commanders suspected of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses. There's a pragmatic argument for this -a peace process is more likely to last if it can defuse the enmity created by atrocities committed by both the Taliban and the government. Unfortunately, whenever I raise the basic human rights principle of "no peace without justice," I usually get a withering dismissal from Afghan and international officials. This year, though, the principle seemed oddly vindicated when the Taliban cited the corruption of the Afghan government as a reason for not negotiating with them.
When consulted, a majority of Afghans tend to support calls for justice and accountability. But it's not until step four of the roadmap, when the real deal-making has already been done, that the Afghan government plans to "mobilize" support from its citizens. There is much more that the government could do now to reassure its citizens -particularly women -that their protection is the primary goal of any peace agreement.
The roadmap, though, doesn't even mention women until the final paragraph, when a government pledge to uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom is repeated. Given President Hamid Karzai's proclivity for casting off women's rights when there's a political incentive, this isn't enough, and certainly doesn't measure up to the Tokyo declaration of July 2012, which has far stronger promises to respect rights. But the Tokyo declaration was signed when 16 billion donor dollars were on the table, so the roadmap may be the more accurate indicator of the government's commitment to women.
Those foreign dollars can still be made to count. In steps four and five, the roadmap talks of international support in implementing the peace process. It would be better if it allowed for international monitoring of the peace process and its implementation, with a place for women at the negotiating table. Only if women are there to argue for their own protections can this not result in a significant setback. It is areas where the Taliban are active, and where the roadmap might formalize their power, that women in public life are most at risk. One woman I met recently, whom I'll call "Shamsia,"was from a conflict ridden area of southeastern Afghanistan. Before we'd finished our introductions, Shamsia launched into her worst fears about the 2014 transition: "Everyone is afraid. Everyone talks about it, particularly women who are working. After 2014, when the Taliban come back, they will kill those who are working with the government." Earlier this week the head of the women's affairs department in Laghman province, Najia Sediqi, was killed by gunmen, five months after her predecessor was assassinated by the Taliban.
Persuading the Taliban to embrace politics over violence, and equality over segregation will take more than prisoner release and government jobs. It will take leadership, and probably many more years than the current roadmap envisages. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been the clearest international voice supporting women's rights in the peace process, but will soon step down. A female activist recently described her as the "conscience of the world" on this issue. When the U.S. Senate holds confirmation hearings for her successor, they can help ensure that the next secretary will also act as a strong "conscience" for the peace process. The international community should also make sure that the roadmap doesn't abandon justice. If peace rewards all Taliban commanders, no matter how terrible their crimes, and doesn't make room for women in the process, this roadmap could be a dead-end for human rights.
Rachel Reid is the Senior Policy Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Open Society Foundations.
With all combat troops scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the negotiations taking place in Kabul on the presence and role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond that point must include a plan for a Contingency Force as part of the troop drawdown. And the United States should take the lead in establishing this Contingency Force, either under the flag of NATO, or as a new coalition concerned with security and stability in Afghanistan in coming years.
The only alternative under discussion within the Obama administration at the moment is the possibility that some Special Forces stay behind in Afghanistan to work in an advisory or training capacity. Similarly, any U.S. residual force that will stay behind following negotiations will likely have a limited role, with additional U.S. military used primarily as force protection: protecting U.S. and international trainers instead of directly assisting ANSF if needed. The residual force options that are currently being discussed are mainly related to support for training efforts and counter-terrorism operations against transnational terrorist groups. This would not be considered a Contingency Force.
In fact, a counter-terrorism residual force, consisting of Special Forces and other troops, can be much smaller if a proper Contingency Force is in place for Afghanistan. Establishing this contingency capacity means the counter-terrorism officers would not have to deal with the emergency situations described in this article.
A too rapid drawdown?
One might argue that the current NATO troop drawdown calendar (2011-2014) was based more on domestic political agendas than on-the-ground security. The result has been an extremely tight and relatively inflexible transition calendar, which leaves few options to respond to potentially changing security dynamics or attacks by the various ‘Taliban' insurgent groups.
Domestic political pressure for a rapid drawdown inside the United States, other NATO countries, and Afghanistan has been reinforced by four key factors. In the U.S. and NATO countries there are calls for ‘an end to the war and return of the troops,' combined with a repositioning toward concerns in the Middle East (particularly Iran and Syria, but also Yemen). Simultaneously, officials in the United States and other NATO countries have become increasingly disillusioned with the Karzai government, and concerned about the deeply troubling ‘insider attacks' on NATO troops.
These political dynamics have created real pressures for a fast-paced troop withdrawal - confirmed by the U.S. Senate recently voting in favour of an accelerated withdrawal - and a neglect of a larger consideration of the security risks related to the upcoming fighting seasons.
The deliberations that existed around contingency planning during the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq are almost completely missing in the case of Afghanistan - and those that do surface are mainly related to safeguarding security during the upcoming presidential elections in 2014 or counter-terrorism in the region. This ignores both the possible threats of the 2013 fighting season, or other security issues that might arise in the years following.
Why do we need a Contingency Force?
Firstly, a Contingency Force would provide an additional guarantee for the safety of foreign interests, infrastructure and staff, such as the diplomats at consulates and embassies, should these come under attack. The recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the coordinated attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September 2011 and the Indian Embassy bombings in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 are sufficient cases in point.
Secondly, the Contingency Force would offer a safety valve while Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) grow in numbers, strength and confidence in an environment that will remain uncertain and unstable for the foreseeable future.
Will ANSF be able and willing to respond to serious insurgent attacks before and after the transition end date of 2014? Despite progress in some areas, particularly in terms of handing over responsibilities to ANSF as planned, there is a risk that increased insurgent activity in the south or elsewhere in Afghanistan could lead to unmanageable situations.
The actual strengths and weaknesses of ANSF are not the essential point. What should be the focus is proper planning to respond to the possibility that ANSF could be confronted by a manner or level of insurgent attack in the South that means they cannot hold the country together. Since the build up of ANSF is such a key element of the transition plan (and exit-strategy) ‘narrative,' we see a dynamic that any public discussion of possible future failure of ANSF, and planning for that contingency, is considered ‘off-message.' This could ultimately lead to a failure of the entire transition project.
The actual current strengths and weaknesses of the insurgency are also not particularly relevant to the calculations that a Contingency Force is needed. Contingency planning does not depend on a complex debate on the current strength of the Taliban and ANSF; one need only acknowledge a possibility that the Taliban could produce a new security dynamic, which we argue would most likely be focused in southern Afghanistan.
Possible scenarios of concern could include, for example, blockading the Kandahar-Kabul road or the road between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, a move into the suburbs of Kandahar City, taking over Lashkar Gah and blocking the bridges over the Helmand River, or gaining control of the Spin Boldak border crossing.
For an example of a new dynamic in the insurgency, look to the complex attack on Camp Bastion in September 2012 that resulted in the destruction of six AV-8B Harriers, the death of two United States Marine Corps service staff and the wounding nine others. This single assault - using 15 insurgents, explosions to enter the base, dividing attackers in three different waves, and making use of U.S. army uniforms - resulted in a four and a half hour fire fight, and caused damages of up to $200-240 million.
Clearly this type of complex, coordinated attack was not anticipated by U.S./NATO-ISAF forces at Bastion, and it illustrates unmistakably that the evolution of the insurgency must be considered in proper planning for future security threats. The more recent coordinated attack with explosives laden vehicles on Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad in December 2012 confirms that the Bastion attack is not an incident.
Geo-political consequences of losing the south
Any serious defeat of ANSF forces or a considerable loss of terrain to the insurgency - before or following the 2014 transition - would not only be a symbolic triumph for the Taliban, it could also completely reconfigure the power structure in Afghanistan and the region.
The geo-political consequences of ‘losing the south' or a similar such scenario would be significant, not the least of which would be the destabilising effect on the wider region, particularly Pakistan, where it could provide a boost for the insurgency.
Drawdown Contingency Plan: Size, location, mandate
It is important to note that having a Contingency Force on standby is not the same as continuing an international military operation in Afghanistan. It would provide Western political leaders with options if a security crisis breaks out in the country.
Size: Given the current levels of ANSF and the continuation of ANP and ANA training and capacity building efforts after 2014, a standby Contingency Force of around 5,000 foreign troops would be sufficient. The Contingency Force would be a standard brigade-size combat team of around 3,500-4,000 soldiers, plus mobility (transport helicopters, but also some attack helicopters) and other support capabilities (intelligence, logistics, medical teams, etc.).
The Contingency Force of 5,000 should be on standby from January 2013 onwards. Given the short time frame before the next fighting season, this means the Contingency Force should initially be included in the calculations of the NATO troop drawdown. Until General John Allen has officially presented his recommendations to the White House, it is not clear how many U.S. forces will be withdrawn in coming months. But at the start of 2013, the United States could start contingency planning by delaying the troop withdrawal of around 2,000 forces until the end of the fighting season of 2013 to complement the transitioning NATO-ISAF forces. These troops would not continue fighting but would convert to contingency troops. Thus, they would still be withdrawn from combat, but would move to a different base to prepare for emergency support operations.
During the six months following the 2013 fighting season, the United States could increase its share of contingency forces to 3,000, and request that its NATO and non-NATO allies contribute a total of 2,000 forces to that group before the end of 2013. This would ensure a total Contingency Force of 5,000 under the flag of NATO before the start of the 2014 fighting season.
The graph below illustrates this scenario, which is of course only one of the many possible outcomes, included here to start a constructive discussion on a contingency system.
* The average numbers of insurgency attacks are based on statistics from previous years (NATO, ISAF Violence Trends Presentation, 30 September 2011).
When deliberating strategic options for a Contingency Force, synergies should be explored - whether in terms of providing a model or in more direct ways - with the NATO Response Force (NRF), a joint force of around 13,000 troops, preparing and training together for about a year, at the disposal of the Atlantic Alliance and with the existing EU Battlegroup (EUBG) structure which has at least 1,500 European troops on standby at any time, currently headquartered in Germany.
The allocation of the 2,000 non-U.S. troops could also be based on a rotating roster, where countries commit a small number of standby forces for a specific period, for example six months to a year (similar to the NATO Response Force which recently extended rotation periods from six to twelve months, and the EU Battlegroup system that rotates every six months). After such a period, other countries will take their place, sharing the burden and making sure a nation's contingency troops are only committed in small numbers and for a limited amount of time.
Location: The foreign Contingency Force could be stationed in or close to Afghanistan. For the latter option, contingency troops stationed in, for example, one of the Central Asian Republics, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait or the UAE, could be logistically more challenging but politically easier to ‘sell' than troops stationed in Afghanistan. Another option is to choose several locations, increasing flexibility and linking the Contingency Force to Afghanistan's main geographical areas and the ANSF units operating in these areas.
Mandate: The Contingency Force would safeguard the results of past and present efforts to ensure stability and security in Afghanistan, while guaranteeing the security transition process can be completed in a sustainable and responsible way. The Contingency Force would, in essence, have the same mandate as NATO-ISAF - particularly its current ANSF support role - but it would be subject to a very specific, predefined set of conditions with regards to when and how it could be deployed. The Rules of Engagement need to be specified as soon as possible in full coordination with the Afghan government.
The Contingency Force should remain operational in Afghanistan until at least 2024, in line with the ten-year timetable envisaged during the Chicago Summit in May 2012, unless of course the security situation changes drastically. The mere existence of the Contingency Force would boost the confidence of the ANSF.
Conclusion: the Contingency Planning window is open
The moment to act is now. With the U.S. presidential elections out of the way and only two more years in the tight calendar of the security transition process a Contingency Force should be established as part of the remaining terms of withdrawal. An operational reserve Contingency Force would provide options to western political leaders when faced with a crisis situation in Afghanistan. It also represents a politically viable compromise between the two extremes currently being talked about in Washington: leaving just a few thousand troops in Afghanistan after 2014, or leaving as many as 30,000 troops.
The fewer foreign troops there are in Afghanistan, the greater the need for proper contingency planning, especially given the essentially uncertain nature of the situation before and after transition. Security transition planning should be based on a solid assessment of possible future scenarios of instability and insecurity, rather than on political hopes or aspirations for what the future will hold.
Norine MacDonald QC is the President and Founder of the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). Jorrit Kamminga is Director of Research at ICOS and Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael.
Watching your mentor fall from grace is never easy. This month many have questioned and saluted David H. Petraeus, who resigned from his post as director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair. Critics chide his judgment, and friends remind us of his brilliance and victories in Iraq. Most acknowledge his indelible mark on how America must fight wars amongst the peoples: creating local partners through peaceful interaction, rather than enemies through the sole use of lethal force. But Petraeus left another mark on a war to prevent future 9/11s, by fighting without troops but with trainers, spies and drones in Pakistan.
The war in Iraq was self-inflicted, the war in Afghanistan was necessary, but the war in Pakistan always carried the nightmare scenario: religious fanatics capturing nuclear weapons and setting them off in American cities. As the commander of U.S. Central Command and then as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Petraeus pushed the Pakistani military to go after the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network, enticing them with weapons and trainers, and reprimanding with unilateral action. Despite Pakistani military's duplicity - interdicting some insurgents while continuing to harbor the virulent Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis -with a mix of diplomatic and military acumen Petraeus was able to help stabilize a nuclear-armed country that seemed bent on imploding in the spring of 2009.
The question then was not how Pakistan can help us in Afghanistan, but how can nuclear-armed Pakistan stop self-destructing?
It was during that period that I met Petraeus, and after he read my Foreign Affairs article on ways to stem the tide of instability in Pakistan, he asked me to advise him. That year was the most difficult time in U.S.-Pakistan relations since 9/11. The Pakistani Taliban had routed the Pakistani military out of one third of the country. Taliban flags flew high in the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan's northeast, and the Swat valley, just sixty miles from the country's capital, was stained with the blood of many women and children. A year prior, India and Pakistan had come close to nuclear war after the Pakistani intelligence-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorized Mumbai, and Osama bin Laden was still on the run.
Yet there was a glimmer of hope. Since 2007, U.S. Special Forces trainers and weapons had slowly improved Pakistan's Special Services Group, Frontier Corps and 11th Corps troops. They began fighting harder and gaining public support against the Pakistani Taliban's nationwide suicide bombing campaign.
In late 2008, Operation Lionheart in the Bajaur tribal agency was led by junior officers that pushed their general to experiment with Petraeus' counterinsurgency principles: clear, hold and build. For years, clearing was easy for Pakistani troops, while holding was ignored and building was nonexistent. In 2009, they began to hold after clearing. Petraeus and former Admiral Mike Mullen - then Joint Chiefs of Staff - encouraged this slow improvement as the Pakistani troops pushed the insurgents out of the Swat Valley and South Waziristan by the winter of 2009. Not only did this stem the tide of suicide attacks, but also temporarily decreased cross- border attacks into Afghanistan. Pakistan did not self-implode in 2009.
During these years I frequently visited South Asia exploring questions about transnational insurgencies, India-Pakistan rivalry, and Afghanistan's future. I briefed Petraeus after every trip and authored a report and several memos for him. He was always encouraging, endorsing contrarian thinking, debating history and never judging my analysis on the basis of my age or religion.
Like many generals and diplomats, Petraeus understood the delicate dance of getting things done in Pakistan: feed the military beast but protect the nascent democracy. But he went one step further: he understood the negotiations culture and the contradiction between what Pakistani military and civilian leaders were willing to promise publicly and deliver privately. When I argued for the creation of institutional mechanisms to exchange lessons learned, he agreed but correctly pointed to challenges: the radioactive nature of American military instructors in Pakistan, and depleting patience of U.S. legislators with Pakistan's reluctance to target the Haqqani Network and Taliban leaders in exile.
When Pakistanis showed progress, Petraeus was willing to acknowledge their contributions. After the success in Swat and South Waziristan he cheered General Ashfaq Kayani, highlighting the sacrifices of the Pakistani military in his congressional testimonies, and he chided him in private when Kayani equivocated on expanding operations against the Haqqanis.
Petraeus understood the importance of personal relationships and changing the insurgents' master narrative: Pakistani soldiers were America's mercenaries. When the Indus River swelled up in July 2010, causing the worst floods in Pakistan's history, and leaving 20 million homeless and one-fifth of the country under water, Petraeus immediately sent help. Scores of U.S. troops and helicopters rescued thousands of Pakistanis and provided food and medicine.
But the U.S.-Pakistan goodwill didn't stick after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May 2011, and Pakistan closed NATO's supply lines for seven months after a NATO airstrike killed 24 of its soldiers, prompting the White House and Congress to cut aid.
Still, Petraeus showed guarded optimism about Pakistan as he made his transition to the CIA. He had helped stopPakistan from becoming a failed states, but he couldn't change its policy of fomenting insurgency in Afghanistan. In my book that's pretty darn good.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is a Provost Fellow at Tufts University, and the author of "Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering and Fomenting Insurgencies." (www.haidermullick.com @haidermullick)
Anyone seeking to understand Afghanistan in general, the flaws in the United States' effort there, or life on the ground as a political advisor in the midst of a counterinsurgency, should read The Valley's Edge by Daniel Green.
The book is a detailed, first-hand account of how a team of U.S. soldiers and civilians, focused on improving governance and development, operated in the midst of a worsening insurgency in one of the most remote provinces in Afghanistan. In the popular media and in academic articles, those who have followed the war over the past decade have been inundated with terms such as "Jirga," free and fair elections, pervasive corruption, and the nature of the Taliban insurgency. The Valley's Edge gives life to these expressions as the reader experiences through Green a meeting with disgruntled elders, seating a provincial council for the first time, a patrol to inspect development projects, the deaths of friends, and the inside stories behind how local government officials actually conducted their corrupt activities.
I first met Dan Green during his second tour as a State Department political advisor to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Uruzgan Province, one of the world's most remote locales, while serving there as a Special Forces officer in 2006. My distinct memory after sitting down with Green for the first time was that he was the first person that I had come across who seriously dedicated himself to understanding the complicated tribal and interpersonal political dynamics at play in every corner of Afghanistan. His work made me realize how superficial our knowledge of Afghan society and the insurgency was at the time (and still is to a large degree), and how those dynamics were critical to understanding popular support for the insurgency. In 2005 and 2006 the U.S. and coalition effort was taking a very black and white approach to the growing insurgency - those in government positions were good and deserved our support, while those labeled as "Taliban" were targeted.
Green's efforts, as described in The Valley's Edge, helped me realize how much we had to learn and how long it was going to take. As shown in the book, after sustained efforts to engage a cross section of Afghan leaders, it took Green the better part of a year to even begin understanding the complex and decades-old rivalries, feuds, and competing tribal groups that were interwoven into the fabric of a fledgling government, an under-resourced coalition effort, and a resurgent Taliban.
The Uruzgan described in The Valleys Edge is a microcosm of issues that have plagued the war effort in the past decade. For example, Green highlights the dichotomy that exists between maintaining security and improving governance. Security in Afghanistan was often established and sometimes brutally maintained by warlords cum government officials. In the case of Uruzgan, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, Governor Jan Mohammed Khan, ruthlessly repressed the Taliban's attempts to reassert their influence in the province. However, his efforts were often at the expense of his tribal rivals, from whom he would withhold government positions and development aide. Green slowly peels back the onion on Jan Mohammed's network of supporters and rivals, and describes how the disaffected tribes viewed the United States as complicit in the repression because we often took the default position of supporting the "legitimate Afghan government".
Green aptly describes how Jan Mohammed's removal as governor ushered in a more democratic and legitimate official, but, in turn, also created a vacuum of significant tribal support for the government. This vacuum opened the door to the resurgence of the Taliban backed by the tribes that were forcefully repressed during Jan Mohammed's rule. The result was a significant spike in violence by the summer of 2006 that lessoned the ability of the PRT and NGOs to conduct development programs. Thus, though governance improved in Uruzgan, the removal of the province's most powerful strongman and his allies, coupled with the transition from the U.S. to the Dutch military in 2006 was a recipe for disaster.
Throughout The Valley's Edge, the reader is able to witness the evolution in the Taliban's tactics, from an uncoordinated and sporadic hit-and-run campaign to classic insurgent techniques of intimidating and assassinating government supporters. Green describes how by his second tour in 2006, the first suicide bomber, car bombs and a huge increase in IEDs were taking a toll on the populace, the efforts of the PRT, and him personally.
The reader also experiences the inadequacies of NATO. Green gets a firsthand look at the Dutch replacement of the U.S. presence in Uruzgan, and again it proves to be a microcosm of the broader flaws associated with NATO taking the lead for security in Afghanistan. He aptly describes how the Dutch found themselves dealing with a very hostile insurgency by the time they took charge of the province in the fall of 2006, which was far removed from the peacekeeping-like effort the Dutch government had signed up for in 2004-2005. In hindsight, this proved true of the entire NATO effort, as evidenced by the myriad of national caveats imposed on the various NATO forces by their governments intended to limit their exposure to the insurgency. The caveats imposed various limitations on what each nations' forces could and could not do, such as engaging in offensive operations or imposing geographical limitations on where units could patrol. Ironically these caveats over time prevented NATO from dealing with many of the sources of instability driving the insurgency, and severely hampered the flexibility of the NATO-ISAF commander. Green describes first-hand what he noticed during his third tour in Afghanistan as a military officer: the lack of will and capability in our NATO allies to prosecute a fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign. Voicing frustration, he also describes the lack of planning behind, and relative ineffectiveness of, the U.S. civilian surge in the fall of 2009.
The strength of The Valley's Edge is that it gives the reader perspective on the war's progression over time, while remaining focused on one geographical location. Green's multiple tours span six years and allow the reader to experience the digression in security, the transition to NATO, and our evolution in dealing with the Afghans. The Valley's Edge is certainly a recommended read, and one that historians will reference generations from now as they recount the history of the war in Afghanistan.
Michael Waltz is a Senior National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation and a former advisor on South Asia to Vice President Cheney.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
An October report by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic claims to have found significant flaws in media reports regarding casualties caused by U.S. drone operations in Pakistan. Three organizations, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation, maintain databases that collect information on the casualties for each strike and their research is regularly cited in congressional reports and news articles. While the Columbia report laments that these estimates can only "substitute for hard facts and information that ought to be provided by the U.S. government," it proceeds to weigh in on the casualty debate. After a strike by strike comparison of the three databases' 2011 data, Columbia concludes that two of these organizations "significantly undercount the number of civilians killed by drone strikes," while singling out the Bureau as the most accurate and reliable source of information on drone casualties.
The Columbia study is quick to critique the drone data compiled by the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal, yet it devotes negligible attention to potential shortcomings in the Bureau's reporting. The study repeatedly applauds the Bureau's investigative practices, analysis criteria and the breadth of its sources. It offers the most guarded criticism, writing only, "we do not agree with the Bureau's analysis of media sources in all cases." Upon reading Columbia's "Counting Drone Strike Deaths," one is led to conclude that the Bureau's casualty estimates are both methodologically rigorous and empirically sound.
And yet, a careful reading of the separate 65 page dataset, which details the findings of Columbia's exhaustive comparison, reveals numerous instances in which the Columbia researchers reject the Bureau's interpretation of the evidence or dispute the credibility of their sources, criticisms that receive no mention in their widely circulated report.
Columbia only analyzed reports for 2011, but had they continued on with their research, they would have found that these problems pervade the Bureau's reporting on strikes from 2004 through 2012.
Based on this tenuous evidence the Bureau has claimed 45-240 civilian casualties. Taken together, this methodologically flawed reporting accounts for over 25 percent of the 474-884 civilian casualties the Bureau claims died between 2004 and 2012. While it is highly probable that some of these deaths may in fact have been civilians, in the face of so much ambiguity, it would be more prudent to label the deceased as unidentified or unknown. This would provide a more accurate representation of the evidence, and acknowledge that despite the best attempts to gather information, there is still much uncertainty about the outcome of individual strikes and the overall effect of the U.S. drone program.
The trends highlighted above point to three broader methodological flaws in the Bureau's analysis that Columbia researchers fail to highlight. The first is a problem of evidence. The Columbia report suggests that the widest range of sources will provide the most credible evidence, and based on the fact that the Bureau cites the largest body of sources and has the highest casualty figures, its numbers are the most reliable. Beyond the fact that the Bureau is a notable outlier as compared to the other two datasets produced by New America Foundation and The Long War Journal, it is a mistake to privilege quantity of evidence over quality. Pakistan Body Count, South Asia Terrorism Portal and the Long War Journal are secondary sources that rely on reporting from other media outlets and should not count as corroborating sources, yet the Bureau does so. Antiwar.com, sify.com, Prison Planet and the World Socialist Web Site are simply not credible news outlets, yet these are some of the sources that the Bureau is praised for citing.
The second problem is the absence of transparency in investigations of drone strikes carried out by the Bureau's own researchers. The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 13 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 56-64 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties. The strike on January 6, 2010 includes a typical description: "According to the Bureau's researchers five rescuers died, named as Khalid, Matiullah, Kashif, Zaman and Waqar, all belonging to the Utmanzai Wazir tribe." However there is no indication of whom these researchers are or the standards they apply to their reporting.
The same criticisms that the Columbia report levies at unnamed Pakistani government officials discussing drone strikes on the condition of anonymity, could just as easily be aimed at the Bureau's own reporting:
We do not know who the unnamed Pakistani officials are, although observers believe they are Pakistani army officials. What definition these officials use to categorize a person as a militant or civilian is unknown. Nor do we know how the Pakistani Army confirms such deaths or the quality of information it is able to rely on given the limited accessibility of some of the tribal regions to even the Army.
The Bureau's researchers might well be the sort of local journalists or "stringers" the Columbia report is quick to term unreliable. Nor does the Bureau make mention of whom their sources are, when or where they were interviewed, or what was said. If the Bureau wants its findings to be taken seriously by other researchers, then it should provide independent reports of its investigations rather than cursory references in the midst of its dataset.
The third problem is one of interpretation. The Bureau consistently counts references to "local" deaths as civilian casualties, but as the Columbia dataset notes, these descriptors are not synonymous. The media reports are riddled with references to "local militants" and "tribal militants." It stands to reason that a significant number of the militants operating in the tribal regions of Pakistan would live in the area, and thus the mere fact that the deceased are reported as local is not sufficient to establish that they are civilians. And yet, the Bureau consistently claims just that. Even worse, it frequently labels the fatalities as civilians when the media accounts refer to them in neutral terms such as "people" or admits that their identity is unclear.
Furthermore, the Bureau's written methodology provides limited insight into how it makes these interpretations. The methodology makes no mention of how the Bureau treats reports of "local" deaths. Nor does it explain how it deals with conflicting reports. The methodology says that when reports differ it provides a range of total casualties, but it does not explain how the Bureau determines who to count as a civilian. It goes on to state that "where media sources refer only to ‘people' killed... we indicate that civilian casualties may be possible." One would assume they indicate this by way of an asterisk or note, but it would seem that in most instances it reports a range of civilian casualties with a low end of zero and a high end of the total killed. This denotes the uncertainty but potentially inflates the high end of the range of civilian deaths. Moreover, it signals a clear preference for counting unidentified casualties as civilians.
Admittedly, this somewhat esoteric discussion about the veracity of the Bureau's claims versus those of other databases, or the appropriate methodology for counting casualties, risks losing sight of the broader picture. These are not merely numbers; these are people. And no matter which database you reference, civilians are being killed by the hundreds. While this consideration should be paramount, an assessment of the drone program should also take into account those factors that are less quantifiable: the elevated rates of PTSD in areas where drones operate, the dangerous example being set for other states, most notably China and Russia, and the increase in anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan that risks endangering the lives of American citizens.
But as the Columbia study points out, numbers matter. Numbers drive our public discourse. Numbers are how politicians measure outcomes. Numbers are how we make sense of our world. And numbers are vulnerable to manipulation, a distortion that is equally dangerous whether it involves government officials lowballing civilian casualty reports or independent researchers potentially inflating them.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
Correction: This post initially stated incorrectly that "The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 15 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 65-73 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties." The correct numbers are 13 strikes and 56-64 reported civilian casualties.
Over 1,300 years after the brutal killing of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein in what is now Karbala, Iraq, Shi'a Muslims still mourn their loss. One group of Muslims at the time wanted the Islamic Caliphate to be handed down along hereditary lines, while another group wanted the Muslim community to elect a leader. This difference in political beliefs led a split between the groups into Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, who also now differ in their religious practices as well as their historical beliefs. Today, Shi'as come under fire all over the world, particularly during the month of Muharram, during which they mourn Hussein's death with an inconsolable grief that many hardline Sunnis deem blasphemous.
In an attempt to prevent attacks on the one-fifth of Pakistan that is Shi'a on the tenth of Muharram, when their mourning processions fill the streets, Pakistani authorities banned motorcycles -- which are often rigged with explosive devices -- in the most volatile areas, closed thoroughfares near Shi'a mosques, and blocked cell phone signals in fifty cities.
Despite the fact that the country's president and much of its military top brass are Shi'a, attacks on Pakistan's Shi'a Muslims by militant extremists have steadily increased over the past few years, as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to operate largely unfettered. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 902 people were killed in sectarian violence between 2009-2011, and 425 have lost their lives in attacks motivated by religious intolerance in 2012. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 320 of those killed so far this year were targeted because they were Shi'a.
But no one speaks of this all-too-frequently renewed cause for grief at a communal mourning session for Shi'a women in a quite corner of Islamabad. A group of about thirty weep over the loss of Hassan, Hussein, and their relatives as one woman recounts the massacre at Karbala from her pulpit -- a solitary chair in the center of a living room emptied of furniture.
"May you have no other grief than the loss of Hussein," she proclaims to the sea of whimpering women draped in black, causing only louder wails. "May your families' young not suffer as Hussein's family suffered."
Shi'a families across Pakistan are grieving the losses of young sons and daughters just as Hussein's family did so many hundreds of years ago.
But such individual tragedies don't merit the sort of grief Fizza Ali, 21, feels over the Karbala massacre. "In Muharram, we don't ever mourn for personal reasons, because if our families or our brothers are getting killed, it's all beside the point," she says. "The sadness over the loss of the Prophet's relatives is more for us. It means a lot. It means more."
After pounding her chest and chanting along with the other women in black, Ali, a software engineering student says, "Even if we feel like we're going to be attacked, we don't fear it, Shi'as don't fear it at all, because we cannot get stopped [sic] just by attacks even if our lives are in danger."
Ali says that Islamabad is relatively safer than other areas of Pakistan, but that Shi'as have also continued to visit sacred sites in more volatile areas, such as the Southwestern city of Quetta.
"They're being killed almost daily," Nasrullah Barech of the Center for Peace and Development in Quetta says when asked whether Shi'as there feel afraid to practice their faith.
"Before, the attacks were only in Muharram, or only at sacred Shi'a sites. Now, the killings have become routine across the city."
Barech's organization runs interfaith dialogues to build community connections between Sunnis and Shi'as. He admits that there is a history of fraught relations between the two sects, but says the attacks have taken on new force in recent years.
"It's hard to tell who is behind all of the attacks now. It's not one sect killing another any longer," Barech says. "There are so many different militant groups that claim this bombing or that, and the police are unable to stop them."
Last Monday in Quetta, three Shi'as of the minority Hazara ethnicity were shot dead in targeted killings, and two more were killed days later when a vegetable shop was shot up by unidentified gunmen on a passing motorcycle.
In Islamabad's "twin city," Rawalpindi, a bomb blast targeting a Shi'a religious procession killed 23 and left 62 injured on Wednesday night, while an explosion outside of a Shi'a mosque in Karachi claimed the lives of two people.
This weekend, two separate bombs went off in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan during Shi'a processions in honor of the Ashura holiday. A total of 13 people were killed and dozens more injured in these attacks, which were later claimed by the Taliban.
Raza Rumi is the director of the Jinnah Institute, a policy think tank that keeps tally of extremist violence in Pakistan. He says the attacks against the Shi'a community are alarming not only because of their sharp escalation, but because of the impunity with which they're carried out.
"Usually no people are arrested and no justice is carried out," Rumi says.
He cites Pakistan's decision to make a "permanent ally" of Saudi Arabia as a factor in the country's growing intolerance, owing to the oil-rich nation's strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam and denouncement of the Shi'a clergy based primarily in Iran. The other issue, he says, is Pakistan's civil-military establishment, which patronized anti-Shi'a groups to combat the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"The problem is that for 30 years it has allowed these militant groups to gain strength, to deepen their roots in society, to raise funds, to get direct funds from the Middle East, that now it's no longer a simple issue of controlling them. Even if the state of Pakistan wants to control them, it's a five- or 10-year long battle."
He points to a number of legal and political reforms that might ease tensions, including stricter monitoring of the mosques and religious seminaries that foster extremism.
Many blame a corrupt and inefficient police force, in addition to a failing criminal justice system for the inability of the state to curb sectarian violence. The Pakistani Supreme Court's decision to release of the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group for a lack of evidence is seen as case in point. LeJ leader Malik Ishaq was thought to be involved in the murders of dozens of Shi'as, but witnesses in the cases against him were continually killed or disappeared. Since his release in the summer of 2011, Ishaq has gone on to incite further attacks on the Shi'a community.
Still, Rumi maintains hope for an end to the brutality against religious minorities in the country. "We have become a bit cynical in Pakistan because of these daily doses of bad news," he says. Looking at his hands as if to read out the fate of the nation, he borrows a line from many men who couldn't help but maintain hope for a better future, "But we shall overcome."
Beenish Ahmed is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group based in Pakistan's tribal agencies, has suffered a series of major battlefield setbacks over the past year. But despite the loss of several senior leaders and a key media operative since 2011, the group remains one of the most militarily capable and media savvy militant outfits operating in the region. It maintains working relationships with a number of other Sunni militant groups active in the region including al-Qaeda Central, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and the Afghan Taliban. The IMU has particularly close ties to the TTP, with whom it has launched joint military operations against Pakistani military targets inside Pakistan, as well ISAF and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan. In April, an estimated 150 IMU and TTP fighters launched a successful attack on Bannu Prison in northwestern Pakistan, freeing nearly 400 prisoners, including Adnan Rashid, who was convicted in 2008 of involvement in an assassination plot against then-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. Rashid was subsequently featured in videos released by the IMU and TTP.
Tahir Yuldashev, the group's co-founder, took over as the IMU's leader in 2001 following the killing of fellow co-founder Jama Namangani during their retreat from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to South Waziristan. Yuldashev used his charisma as a preacher to rebuild the IMU's cadre of fighters, which had been hit heavily in fighting with the Northern Alliance and U.S. military forces in the autumn of 2001. Under his leadership the IMU turned its attention toward targeting the Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The group also continued to issue statements about events in Central Asia such as brutal attacks on Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan by gangs of Kyrgyz youth in 2010.
Yuldashev forged close relations with Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of the TTP, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, who took over the position of the TTP's amir in 2009 after his predecessor was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Yuldashev also oversaw the expansion of the IMU's membership base from Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz to multiple other nationalities and ethnicities, including Uyghurs, Turkmen, Turks, Afghans, Pashtun and non-Pashtun Pakistanis, Arabs, Chinese, Chechens, Germans, Norwegians, and Russians. A number of the IMU's senior leaders and ideologues have been non-Uzbeks, including its former Kyrgyz military commander, Abbas Mansur, and its Pakistani guiding religious authority (mufti), Abu Zarr Azzam. A number of the IMU's senior media operatives in its Jundullah (God's Soldiers) Studio, including the German brothers Yassin and Mounir Chouka, are also non-Uzbeks.
Wounded in an August 2009 U.S. drone missile strike, Yuldashev later died of his wounds. His death was formally announced by the IMU in August 2010 when it released a eulogy video for him, Banner of Jihad. In the video, Yuldashev's successor, Abu Usman Adil, was named. Adil maintained the IMU's close relations with the TTP, meeting with senior TTP leaders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, and local Pashtun tribal supporters, such as tribal chief Noor al-Islam, on numerous occasions. Hakimullah and other TTP leaders and members are featured frequently in IMU videos including the 3-part series Glad Tidings from Pakistan. Qari Hussein Mehsud, the TTP's feared ideological trainer of "martyrdom seekers" (fida‘iyin), was first shown in extensive video footage in the second installment of this series. In early August, an IMU statement reported that Adil was killed in a U.S. drone strike. He was succeeded by Usman Ghazi, another senior IMU leader.
The IMU's talented military commander, Abbas Mansur, was killed last year alongside Abdul Aziz Ukasha, a key IMU media operative and insurgent "journalist," in a U.S. drone strike. Their killings were announced in a December 2011 statement from the group along with the deaths of 85 other IMU fighters that year. And during 2010, the IMU reported that 52 of its members were killed. High battlefield losses have taken a toll on the IMU's membership, which is believed to have once numbered several thousand. Some estimates put the group's remaining fighting force at only a few hundred.
Mansur, who joined Namangani to fight in Tajikistan's civil war in the 1990s when he was either 16 or 19 years old (IMU sources have given both ages), rose through the IMU's ranks to become its chief military commander, a position to which he was appointed by Yuldashev shortly before the latter was mortally wounded. Mansur exhibited great courage on the battlefield and was chosen to undergo special training for bodyguards, eventually becoming a bodyguard to Namangani in Afghanistan. After Namangani was killed, Mansur became a bodyguard and then a close aid to Yuldashev. Known for his battlefield prowess, Mansur participated in hundreds of military operations according to IMU media, in which he was frequently shown leading military operations against Pakistani army and Frontier Corps bases and convoys.
Ukasha, a young Uzbek from Tashkent, was a member of the IMU for six years and fought in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was an active member of Jundullah Studio and hosted and narrated the video series What's Happening in the Tribal Areas, which is currently in its tenth installment. In the series, he took viewers around Pakistan's tribal regions, from the gun markets of Pashtun towns to the inside of teaching circles by Yuldashev and the ‘Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr "jihad school" for the children of IMU members. In addition, Ukasha also worked as a video editor. He was replaced by another young IMU media operative, Isamudeen, who eulogized both Mansur and Ukasha in the ninth installment of What's Happening in the Tribal Areas and said that he was tasked with continuing the series and the media role of Ukasha by Adil.
The IMU has been survived its many losses in part through the charisma of its chief juridical voice, Abu Zarr Azzam, a Pakistani of Burmese descent who is also known as Abu Zarr al-Burmi (the Burmese) and Abu Zarr al-Pakistani. Claiming to be a former teacher at Jami‘at Faruqiya, an Islamic university in Karachi, where he taught the TTP's Qari Hussein, Abu Zarr has been featured frequently in IMU video and audio productions. Close to both the IMU and TTP leaderships, Abu Zarr speaks fluent Urdu, Arabic, Burmese, Pashto, and Uzbek. He has stated that the goal of the IMU and other "mujahideen" in the region is to eventually retake all of the region's lands that were previously ruled by Muslims, which are currently the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bhutan in a military expedition called "Ghazwat-ul-Hind," roughly translating to the "military expedition of the Indian subcontinent." Abu Zarr has also declared the Pakistani government and members of the military and police who attack the "mujahideen" in the service of the U.S. to be apostates who may be killed.
Despite suffering significant battlefield losses in its leadership, media department, and rank-and-file fighting force, the IMU has proven itself resilient. It continues to work alongside other regional militant movements, particularly the TTP, which has allowed it to continue to project significant military force in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It continues to also be actively engaged in targeting the Pakistani military with the TTP. Jundullah Studio consistently produces high-quality videos that play an integral role in the IMU's multi-layered media operations, which also include the publication of audio and written statements, and newsletters in Uzbek, Russian, Persian, Arabic, German, Burmese, Urdu, and Pashto. With an eye on ensuring its survival beyond the current generation of members, the group has also invested significant time and material resources in raising the next generation of IMU fighters, particularly the children of current members, who are taught military tactics, how to use firearms and other weaponry, and to value self-sacrifice and martyrdom. In spite of its losses, the IMU remains active both inside Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal agencies.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, contemporary jihadi movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual cultures. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
When the United Nations declared November 10 "Malala Day," people across the globe, from Hong Kong to Islamabad, took to the streets in an outpouring of support for Malala Yousufzai, calling for reforms in access to education for girls in Pakistan. Many political parties in Pakistan took to politicking in commemorating the day, sponsoring vigils and demonstrations. But one party had already taken a commanding lead in grand public affirmations of support for Malala last month.
On Sunday, October 14, nearly a month before "Malala Day" over 20,000 people flooded the streets of Karachi in support of the young activist, who had survived a murder attempt by the Taliban just a few days earlier. A sea of photos of Malala fluttered amongst the throng of fervent supporters, united in their seething frustration with the Taliban's violent agenda and the state's status quo. The demonstration, the largest for Malala in Pakistan to date, was also dotted with images of Altaf Hussain, Chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the powerful political party responsible for organizing the rally. Hussain, who pulls the MQM's strings from London where he is in self-imposed exile, addressed the rally by telephone, urging the people to stand up against the Taliban for their attack against "the daughter of our nation."
The MQM's timing was impeccable. The party channeled the public's outrage over Malala's shooting into a massive demonstration garnering worldwide media attention. The rally served as a catalyst for the MQM to wedge itself back into the political limelight, where opposition frontrunner Imran Khan had been comfortably residing for nearly a year. Khan, who heads the political party Pakistan Tehrik E-Insaaf (PTI), has emerged as a dynamic force in Pakistan's fractious politics, embodying hope and change for those in Pakistan who are concerned about the upsurge in violence, corruption, and poverty under Pakistan's current administration.
The MQM's successful and opportunistic rally overshadowed Khan's wave of rallies against the U.S. drone campaign, in which he has led thousands of his supporters and some U.S. anti-war activists in marches through the treacherous tribal regions in the north. While Khan's growing popularity and reformist reputation have drawn thousands in colossal rallies, his response to the Malala crisis fell tragically short. Khan has condemned the violence against Malala while avoiding hardline rhetoric against the Taliban, instead maintaining his position against military operations and U.S. drone strikes in the tribal regions and favoring a political solution to extremism.
Of Pakistan's prominent political parties, the MQM has taken the boldest and most precarious stance against the Taliban, fostering goodwill for the party across the nation. "MQM is trying to convey that it's a political party which is relatively liberal and progressive, unlike some of the criticism of the party as authoritarian, fascist and mafia style," said Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at Forman Christian College in Lahore, and a former Columbia University Professor. "This provided MQM with an opportunity to put forth an effort to dispel that kind of view against them if there was one."
The MQM's strategic positioning has effectively moved the political party to center stage just months before Pakistan's national elections. The party's role in Pakistani politics has always been complex, however, and its sudden resurgence as Malala's story unfolds suggests motives other than championing education rights for women.
The MQM has an uncanny knack for mobilizing residents of Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, where it enjoys an unparalleled stronghold in local government. A year ago MQM orchestrated an enormous rally in support of sitting President Asif Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), after he was publicly disparaged by members of another party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). The demonstration was rumored to have been the prize in a tradeoff arranged by the MQM and Zardari's administration. In exchange for the public endorsement, the government allegedly promised leniency in the trials of four MQM members accused of heinous crimes and the relaxing of police operations in the MQM's hub of Karachi for three days.
MQM's capacity to galvanize Karachi's citizens for a PPP public image makeover validated the party as a power player in Pakistan's politics. Yet the MQM and PPP have not always been allies, and the MQM's past involvement in political violence makes it a curious new proponent for human rights. In May 2007, a political clash between the PPP and then-President Pervez Musharraf resulted in deadly riots and violence that consumed the city, leaving at least 39 dead. At the time MQM aligned itself with Musharraf, and a Wikileaks cable later revealed that MQM may have had a hand in instigating the riots. Later that year, the murder of an MQM provincial lawmaker set off a series of revenge attacks in Karachi, where gangs torched vehicles and buildings and engaged in gunfire that killed at least 45 people. While the unrest might be attributed to ethnic and political tensions that pre-existed in the city, MQM militants were accused of fueling the explosion of violence.
Perhaps the most contentious and bloody incident in Pakistan's recent history was the raid on Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007. The Pakistani military stormed a mosque they suspected of radicalism, using brute force and killing over 100 people and injuring close to 300, many of them women and children. The MQM backed Musharraf's bloody siege of the mosque and still defends the military action at Lal Masjid as questions regarding civilian deaths have recently resurfaced.
In 2010, assassinations of MQM party leaders bred more violence in the streets of Karachi. The riots stemmed from friction between the PPP and MQM, whose organized and armed paramilitary runs the city. Later the same year, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan criticized the MQM for calling for martial law and for urging "patriotic army generals" to act out against politicians. The party's consistent policy of strong-arming radical groups and the Taliban by military force is undoubtedly a motivating factor in its aggressive positions in the wake of Malala's attack.
In subsequent meetings with army commanders following the October 14th rally, MQM leaders have continued to insist on military action against the Taliban. And MQM leader Hussain issued an order that government collect information on religious leaders and institutions to be monitored by the government, a belligerent declaration that could curb religious freedom and widen the rift between religious factions and leading political groups. As Malala struggles through recovery in London, the MQM have employed their brawn, influence and resources to once again sow the seeds of divisiveness in the country. Today, in Pakistan's volatile socio-political climate, the MQM's political ploy could have a role in further aggravating ethnic tension or triggering political violence.
Some accuse the PPP and MQM of using the attack on Malala to try to portray a military operation in northern Pakistan as a strategy that serves the country's own interests, instead of one that fulfills requests by the United States for cooperation in the region. Whatever the incentive, the MQM's deft response to Malala's tragedy could in fact steer Pakistan in the direction of another war in Waziristan. And with increased military presence in the region, the Zardari administration could be opening an even wider door to U.S. intervention in northern Pakistan.
So, while most Pakistanis are staunchly opposed to the U.S. drone campaign, the unnerving reality is that launching a military campaign in Pakistan's tribal area could mean deeper U.S. entanglement, an escalation of violence against civilians, and catastrophic consequences for the already volatile region. The prospect of a bleak and turbulent future has now settled in the land where Malala so diligently planted seeds of progress and peace.
Uzma Kolsy is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She is the former Managing Editor of InFocus News, the largest newspaper in California serving the Muslim American community. Her pieces have appeared in Salon, The Nation, The American Prospect and Raw Story.
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screams tore through the sky, travelling the deep lengths of haunting silence guarded
by military men at River Neelum. She wanted to grab her son, Ali Ahmad, from
the other side of the border and run. Instead, Jamila saw him being dragged
away by Indian soldiers, away from the river, away from the border, away from
her sight. The cross-border meeting time was over.
Ali Ahmad is 20 years old and was raised in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir by one of his mother's relatives, who had looked after him since he was an infant. He was left or forgotten on the Indian side of the border when his mother was swept up in the mad rush to flee to Pakistan during the violence of the early 90s. He now lives and studies in New Delhi, and made the long journey to the border for the rare opportunity to see his mother. In fact, it was the rarest of opportunities, as she stood in front of him for the first time across the border at River Neelum -- also known as Kishanganga -- that splits the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan; the place where all the wars in his life began.
Jamila still lives in the beautiful, isolated valley of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir very near to the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the two countries and continues to be their single most threatening bone of contention.
"Return my son", she pleaded as people held her from trying to cross over the river. "Forgive me for leaving India. I was scared. Please return my son before I die."
Jamila uttered gibberish and let go of her last scream, before the sun slipped
behind the dark green mountains splitting Kehran into what Pakistanis generally
call ‘Azad [free] and Occupied Kashmir.'
For 20 years, Jamila had waited to meet her son, attempted to reach him, and since the recent initiation of cross border permits, has made dozens of visits to the permit office. All to no avail. Her application to cross the border has never been rejected, "they don't reject or give a reason for delay. They just don't grant us the permit," Jamila later told the AfPak Channel. "I have been trying for several years, and have spent hundreds of thousands of rupees just making incessant visits to the office, sometimes bribing officials who never really helped. Those who do get their permits must be really lucky, but I have never met anyone like that."
Jamila has no family on the Pakistani side of the border. Her father and husband were killed during the massacres of the 1990s in Indian-held Kashmir a few months after her marriage. The Indian army is accused of committing thousands of extra-judicial killings, and "stories of arrests, torture, killings, and secret burials were rife in Kashmir" at the time.
Jamila's town of Zachaldara, Handwara in North Kashmir's Kupwara district was infamous for such violence, and her "only hope was to escape." Her son was just a year old when she decided to go to Pakistan with a group from her village that was "fleeing to Azad Kashmir for freedom." "It sounded like a miraculous imagination, a dream, at that time to be able to live freely," Jamila said. "But freedom is pointless if it separates you from your own child." Today she is 45 but looks a decade older, perhaps aged by a lifelong desperation to live with her son again.
"I want to see him graduate from college and find a nice girl to marry. For
years I have dressed him for school in my head and I have imagined tucking him
to bed. But like the dreams we have had of freedom in Azad Kashmir, these
dreams I have for him are not real and I fear they shall never become." She
says she is "very tired" and fears dying from this wait.
What do Kashmiris want?
It seems for many Kashmiris that there is nothing more horrible than having a family and knowing that you will never meet them. Jamila is one of thousands of such Kashmiris in Pakistan, who are now speaking out about their issues through protests and demonstrations. On July 10th and August 5th of this year protesters gathered on both the Pakistan-controlled (Azad) and Indian-controlled sides of Kashmir bordering the Neelum Valley, and caught the attention of local and foreign media outlets. Chanting in demand for freedom from the armed forces of the two countries, they held banners that said "India, Pakistan, leave us alone." "Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris," and "Kashmir is burning, leave us alone."
Among the various difficulties that Azad Kashmiris face when trying to meet with their families on the other side of the border, the topmost include: (a) being unable to communicate with their relatives either via mobile phones or land lines; (b) being unable to send and receive mail, letters and packages, "It is also commonplace, that our mails and letter never really reach our families on the other side, and if they ever do, they are always open," pointed out Jamila; and (c) being unable to commute and meet their families across border.
The question is, why do these Kashmiris have to gather in dissent when India and Pakistan seem to be having rather healthy negotiations and agreeing on confidence building measures (CBMs) that often focus on relaxing regulations for Kashmiris? Kashmiris are now nominally permitted to meet their families as often as three times per year, for as long as 30 days per visit. And Kashmir now has five transit routes at the LoC for Kashmiri-born traders.
The most recent CBMs discussed by the two countries have resulted in landmark developments, including increasing the number of trading points along the Line of Control, increasing the number of days on which trading can occur, the launching of a new bus service to operate via new routes between northwestern Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and southern Indian-occupied Kashmir, and an increase in the frequency of the bus service between Muzaffarabad (the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir) and Srinagar (the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir). However, there is clearly a vast different between agreeing to a policy and implementing it on ground.
Local analyst and professor Khalil Sajjad, who works in the Peace Studies department at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, believes that CBMs are merely a marketing tool to flaunt improving relations between India and Pakistan, and are not really delivering on the promises made to Kashmiris. "Even though new developments such as re-opening and regularizing of bus routes seems to provide unstinting opportunity to traders and people, if thousands of families have still been unable to meet their relatives for the past two decades, then in essence the impermeability is intact."
The core issue: Who gets the cross border permits?
Jamila is one of the approximately 10,000 applicants who have been seeking cross border permits since 2005. There are no exact numbers on how many applicants actually receive permits every year. The bus using the route between Chakoti in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir carries around 40 passengers every Monday. Major Iftikhar from the Chakoti Military check post says, "90% of valid applicants get their permits. Only those declined by our verification procedure have to wait."
The verification procedure is long, and includes various levels of checks and double-checks. When applications are submitted, the individual's biographical details are initially verified by different government departments. "If their records are clean, we then give these details to about five agencies that are part of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)," Major Iftikhar told the AfPak Channel. "We are very careful with who we are allowing to the other side of the border. This develops a feeling of neglect and hostility among many applicants who await permits, but we need to be fastidious since our relation with India is still very sensitive" he added.
Officer Mubarak Abass, who manages the Chakoti Crossing Point and looks after
the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service on the Pakistani side, says "40 percent
of the total permits are currently pending. Many applications are held because
they do not qualify the verification procedure. Some submissions are incomplete;
others are marked red based on security concerns. For example, if we find the
applicant to have suspicious links or the data submitted by candidates is unverifiable
then we hold such applications. One needs to be chary of
the risks involved."
Are these limitations
violating civil rights? Broadcast
journalist Aurangzeb Jarral, who works for the private national channel Dunya
TV, says, "[the most] genuine and the most bland applicants with unblemished
records don't get their permits. I have met and interviewed many people who
have nothing to do with militancy or have the thinnest possibility of something
mistrustful, but they don't get their permits for years if not decades. This is
a clear-cut abuse of human rights, when the government has a system in place
just for these people but they are still not able to avail it. Many of them die
According to Wadood Ahmed,
who is currently conducting academic research on the Kashmir conflict, "It is
tacit knowledge that India and Pakistan do not want to provide absolute cross-border
access to Kashmiris on either side. And Kashmiris on both sides of the
border are well aware of this. More than any militancy threats, the real fear
has to do with a fair people's access." For India, the fear is that more
Kashmiris coming from the Pakistani side may create pressure for freedom, and
in the worst-case scenario, they may join liberation armies in Indian-held
Kashmir. For Pakistan, the fear is of spies sent by the Indian government. "As
long as India and Pakistan want to hold on to their sides of Kashmir, neither
of them will provide fare permits freely, even to the most authentic
Indian journalist Jahangir Ali told the AfPak Channel, "An old lady died in July this year of cancer. She had communicated her last wish to the [Indian] government; it was to meet her son. Her daughter and family tried to urge the government to let her son come to meet her from Pakistan. The government refused to give him the cross border permit. It was heart breaking to watch her die without seeing him. What good are such CBMs if they can't be serviced for genuine cases like this?"
Does this mean that India and Pakistan are only nominally applying the CBMs? Is Kashmir just a convenient rallying point for both countries? And is there is a strong interest on both sides of the border in keeping Kashmir alive?
"Look, absolute peace is really not in the interest of
either of the two countries," researcher Wadood Ahmed told this author. "Neither
of them wants to see Kashmiris independent because that would mean [one] of
them loses their territory." Both governments have failed to provide the
populace with welfare, development or infrastructure. Visa permits are just one
example of how the two states continue to put off the difficult task of giving Kashmiris'
their right to self-determination while giving the world the impression that
real progress is being made.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist based in Pakistan, currently covering the country's conflict areas to report on issues of human rights. She can be followed @kirannazish.
With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
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Driving north from Mazar-i-Sharif, in Northern Afghanistan, to the Uzbek border last week was a revelation. I first lived in Mazar in 1993, while I worked for the International Organization for Migration assisting Afghan refugees returning to northern and central Afghanistan. Back then, the roadway was decrepit and insecure, and travelers feared to veer from the roadbed due to landmines. Recently, as USAID's senior-most representative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I met with key leaders and observing the impact of USAID projects. This corridor of infrastructure and commerce, includes not only a new road, but a railroad line (Afghanistan's first!) and new electricity transmission lines that supply cheap, reliable power to much of the north and Kabul. A new customs facility at the border is also generating greater trade - and collecting more revenue for the Afghan government.
There is a virtuous cycle of security, commerce, investment, confidence and good governance building in the north that shows what a successful Afghanistan can look like. This virtuous cycle is essential to stability post-2014, and must be reinforced and replicated. Here is some of what we saw.
First stop: the Hairatan Customs Depot. Trucks and trains from Uzbekistan first arrive in Afghanistan at the Hairatan Customs Depot, where shippers enter their data online, and government officials review their shipments and forms, determine the value of the goods and the tax rate, and begin tracking shipments to ensure they arrive safely at their destinations. With the help of USAID's technical experts, customs officials have streamlined the process from 26 to 16 steps, cutting processing time by 40% and removing opportunities for corruption. These steps alone are estimated to have increased revenues over $7.5 million in the last year.
An increasing portion of shipments coming across the border move to the next stop -- the Naibabad Railroad Depot - via Afghanistan's first railroad. Here, shipments from Central Asia and Russia - wood, flour, steel, and cooking oil - are loaded onto trucks headed for markets and consumers in Mazar and Kabul. On average, Afghan customs officials collect $1,000 per shipment for every shipment worth $15,000 - resources that are making the Afghan government more self-sustaining.
Down the road, at the Gorimar Industrial Park, we went to a soy processing plant and an oxygen tank production facility. With support from USAID and USDA, Afghans are processing soy beans into soy flour and edible oil and using the by-product for high-protein animal feed. We watched some of this feed being loaded for export to Uzbekistan. Next door, oxygen tanks - once only imported from neighboring countries - are now produced locally and sold to hospitals in Mazar for 40 percent of the cost just a few months ago. The oxygen factory is an Afghan private investment.
Finally, our last stop of the day - the Balkh Diary Plant, is a cooperative owned and self-sustaining business located in the center of Mazar that produces milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. USAID has been working to increase the milk yield with local dairy producers - mostly women with 1-2 animals. These efforts have been so successful, increasing milk yields five-fold, that they now have excess milk to sell to the factory. The plant can produce 8,000 half-liter bags of milk per day, each sold for 15-20 Afghanis, and pays approximately 800 farmers to supply milk to the plant, creating a profitable enterprise that is getting resources directly into the hands of Afghan farmers and milk and export grade yogurt into the hands of Afghan consumers at higher quality and lower price.
Afghans have the capacity, will, and resources to create regional hubs of commerce that will carry the economy, fund their government, employ their youth, positively engage their neighbors, and feed their population. Problems of local governance and corruption are hurdles to this dynamic, but the primary constraint at the moment is insecurity as illustrated by the horrific and senseless bombing that targeted Eid celebrants near Mazar in Faryab province last week. Improving governance and the economic environment are essential to further progress and to attracting the private sector investment critical to sustain this momentum.
Given the inherent challenges of the transition through 2014, getting the Afghan people to see and embrace the demonstrable progress they've made as a society is essential. It is critical to engage the population around the vision of sustaining these investments - and the progress in the north provides an important window into what that looks like.
Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).