The season for Track II initiatives aimed at promoting intra-Afghan political dialogue is gathering steam both inside the country and abroad. Participants at two recent informal gatherings, one in France and the other in Japan, did not issue any statements but, according to sources at the meetings, they opted to discuss pressing items on their political agendas and agreed to meet again in a few months.
The Paris gathering on June 20-21 attended by representatives of the country's main political factions, High Peace Council (HPC), parliamentarians and members of civil society, was organized by the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS) and provided strict instructions to all delegates to keep a low profile. The first of such off-the-record meetings organized by FRS was held last November in Paris and was attended by a smaller number of Afghan political actors.
From the loyal Afghan opposition groupings, Yunus Qanooni, Homayun Shah Assefi and Noor-ul-Haq Olumi of the National Coalition (headed by former presidential candidate and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah), head of the National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud, Hanif Atmar representing the Right and Justice party, and former Interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali were in attendance. There was no representation from two other political aspirants, Ashraf Ghani and Amrullah Saleh.
While no active Taliban member took part in the Paris meeting, several ex-Taliban officials, including Mullah Salam Zaeef - who was also invited to Japan - Abdul Hakim Mujahed and Habibulah Fowzi, as well as Hezb-i Islami Hekmatyar group members Ghairat Baheer and Amin Karim, did attend.
Two sources present at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that although the Afghan government had decided against sending an official representative to Paris, two individuals with strong ties to President Hamid Karzai, his former campaign manager Haji Deen Mohamad, and Hekmat Karzai, a cousin heading a Kabul-based think tank, offered views at the meeting that did not contradict the president's political thinking.
Nader Naderi, Rida Azimi and Farkhonda Naderi were among the civil society activists and legislators who presented independent viewpoints at the meeting. It is reported that the only non-Afghan to take part was Abdullah Anas, an Algerian-born scholar, who has dealt with Afghan issues since the 1980s, and has been playing a behind-the-scenes mediating role at the behest of the HPC by reaching out to active Taliban.
Over a two day period, delegates mulled over election laws, decentralization and devolution, governance, constitutional reform, regional interference, the NATO pullout and reconciliation. Each side expressed its respective opinion and presented arguments to back their position. There was no agreement or common stance taken over any discussion topics.
The Kyoto meeting on the other hand, organized by the Doshisha University's Graduate School of Global Studies on June 27, was a rare occasion for HPC head Masoom Stanekzai to meet face-to-face with active Taliban representatives. Not only were Hizb-i Islami Hekmatyar representatives invited, but Qari Din Muhammad, a member of the Taliban's political office handling foreign affairs also spoke at the Kyoto conference on peace-building and reconciliation.
In a rare interview with the Asahi Shimbun daily on June 26, Din Mohammad said "we can have dialogue with him [President Karzai] as Afghans if foreign troops leave." He added, "as long as foreign troops remain, it is impossible to have any confidence, to have any dialogue, to have any negotiation with each party in the Karzai administration."
The unprecedented appearance of a Taliban delegate on the global scene, days ahead of the Tokyo conference on Afghan reconstruction assistance, indicates a willingness on their part to raise their international profile. It may also be a prelude to signaling a return to talks with the United States, suspended in March after the killing of civilians by an American soldier.
However, Din Mohammad explained that the talks were suspended after the United States refused the precondition to swap prisoners. Reiterating the militia's policy, he vehemently opposed continued American troop presence beyond 2014.
As the 2014 NATO withdrawal date approaches, and Afghanistan advances toward the complex triple transition processes relating to its political, security and economic sectors, it is becoming evident that there is more at stake than just a military drawdown or evaluating future candidates.
The momentous changes to take place over the next two years are not only a source of concern for most Afghans, but also an opportunity to deal with shortcomings, improve governance, assure a fair and free electoral process and become more self-reliant.
Historically, intra-Afghan talks have led to few tangible outcomes due to destructive outside patronage or inflated egos. However, the willingness of a diverse group of Afghan political actors to agree to have a dialogue, define their priorities, and propose solutions to outstanding challenges as part of Track II initiatives today, is a step in the right direction.
While some parties might show political flexibility and aim for compromise, others might harden their position and act as political spoilers later if talks lead to negotiations. Eventually, confidence-building and moving toward sustainable political coalition-building will be key elements of informal diplomacy and politicking.
A long and heated season of Afghan Track II initiatives are to be expected.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. D.C. He was Afghanistan's ambassador to France (2009-2011), to Canada (2004-2009), and spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). This article reflects his personal opinion.
Americans are not alone in worrying that their
economic futures are headed in the wrong direction. Afghans, too, fear that the
next several years will bring a business tailspin that will see recent
gains eked out by small and medium companies dissolve amid security woes and a
sharp pullback in international largesse and, of course, foreign forces.
The "light of a new day" may be "on the horizon," as President Obama announced this May from Bagram Air Base, but Afghan entrepreneurs want to make sure their start-ups survive the changes that will accompany whatever comes next. This Thursday 50 such business-owners, 12 women among them, will gather at an investment conference in New Delhi hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industries with support from the Confederation of Women Entrepreneurs in India (CWEI).
The goal is to promote private sector investment in Afghan firms that will increasingly be seen as growth anchors for their country going forward. Companies descending on India this week in search of dollars range from big mining entities to smaller but growing entities including software, carpet-making, and media ventures. Outside Afghanistan few may think of the war-plagued nation as a small-business or start-up hub, but the resourcefulness of the dogged entrepreneurs I have covered these past seven years matches that of any I have interviewed in other countries, rich or poor. Afghan businessmen and women will need every bit of this determination as they confront the uncertainty of the coming years. And it is in America's and NATO's interests that they succeed.
As President Obama noted at Bagram, "Americans are tired of war," and the military intervention in Afghanistan has plunged to new depths of unpopularity in the latest public opinion polls. But economic development is critical to promoting stability and U.S. security interests, and it is essential to making the President's laudable idea of bringing a "responsible end" to America's longest war more than just empty words. Research shows that negative economic shocks of five percent can increase the risk of a civil war by 50 percent in fragile environments . Bolstering entrepreneurs, particularly those running small- and medium-size enterprises, is part of fostering lasting growth that is in both Afghanistan and America's best interest.
Despite remaining on the list of the world's poorest nations, Afghanistan has logged economic successes and macroeconomic stability on which to build. The country's GDP has more than tripled in the last decade, averaging around nine percent a year, with notable gains in infrastructure, telecommunications, and financial and business services. The Ministry of Communications recently began awarding 3G licenses to cellular phone companies and internet usage is expected to climb as technology improves and prices drop. Mobile phone penetration has leapt from less than one percent in 2001 to well above 60 percent today.
And business growth has not been limited to large
firms. Small companies have cropped up across sectors, creating
desperately needed jobs in a country whose unemployment rate is estimated
at well above forty
percent. The non-governmental organization Building Markets,
which ran a business matchmaking service that helped Afghan firms learn of and
apply for international contracts, counted 3,400 companies in its business
database in 2008. By 2012 that number had climbed to 8,300, with nearly
300 owned by women. According to the World Bank's
"Doing Business" report, Afghanistan ranks 30th among 183 economies
when it comes to the ease of starting a business, requiring four procedures and
seven days to register a firm. Training programs such as the
International Finance Corporation's "Business Edge," Goldman Sachs' "10,000
Women," and Bpeace's "Fast Runners" now work with entrepreneurs seeking
management and marketing training. And Afghan export promotion officials
proudly point to recent wins marketing their carpets and dried fruits and nuts
to consumers in Europe and the Middle East.
Yet bad news and economic question marks threaten to swamp the small steps forward. In 2010, Afghanistan's economy received nearly the same amount in foreign aid as it counted in GDP, and the assistance tsunami, often routed around the rickety central government rather than through it, has hardly helped to bolster the country's already weak institutions. Graft remains rampant: Afghanistan shared the next-to-last spot with Myanmar in Transparency International's 2011 "Corruption Perceptions Index." Meanwhile, the trade deficit looks to top $6 billion and fiscal health remains shaky at best, with estimates suggesting government revenues will cover only 60 percent of the Afghan operating budget in 2013.
President Obama pledged in the Strategic Partnership Agreement he signed with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai that the United States "shall help strengthen Afghanistan's economic foundation and support sustainable development." This promise was not made simply because America is a benevolent power, but because an economically stable and increasingly prosperous Afghanistan connected to the world is good for the United States. It will soon be up to Congress to decide how much continued economic aid and development assistance to offer Afghanistan, and the temptation will be great to follow the Iraq example of ever-smaller requests met by even smaller authorizations. But shoving Afghanistan off the economic edge would be both short-sighted and counter-productive. As the World Bank noted recently, "international experience and Afghanistan's own history show that an abrupt cutoff in aid can lead to fiscal crisis, loss of control over the security sector, collapse of political authority, and possibly civil war."
America may be drawing down troops and withdrawing militarily from Afghanistan, but the Afghan entrepreneurs gathering this week in India remain worthy of U.S. support and investment. They are allies in the American quest to bring "sustainable stability" to a country and a region that desperately need it.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Tuesday the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual
report on the worldwide prevalence of drugs -- according to usage,
production, and transportation (ET, Reuters).
The report predicted that 2012 would see a large blight in poppy crops
in Afghanistan, causing worldwide opium and heroin prices to increase.
Nearly half of Afghanistan's poppy crops were lost to plant disease in
2010, but output returned to normal levels in 2011 after yields
increased 61 percent. But as UNODC Executive Director Yuri Fedotov
noted: "We may anticipate that this year there will be another plant
disease -- maybe not to the same scale as 2010 -- but (it) still may
affect, especially in the southern part of Afghanistan, poppy
cultivation." Despite the anticipated decline, the report also
highlighted that between $27 and $30 billion worth of drugs annually are
smuggled out of Afghanistan through Pakistan, while $1.5 billion stays
USA Today reports that U.S. soldier deaths resulting from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan have dropped significantly in the last year, even as the placement of IEDs has increased (USA Today). Less than half of troop deaths are now caused by the handmade devices, though the Pentagon admits that there has been a 5 percent spike in IED incidents since March. One of the reasons given for the decline is due to the shift in combat operations from south to the east -- the latter, a more mountainous terrain navigated primarily by coalition vehicles is less susceptible to casualties than the former area where soldiers are more likely to travel on foot. The Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization estimated that 86 percent of IED attacks include explosive materials that originate in Pakistan.
A U.S federal judge on Tuesday rejected a plea by an Afghan challenging his confinement by the U.S. military at Bagram airfield (WaPo). Zia-ur-Rahman, who said in court filings that he has been in detention since a raid on his home in 2008, wanted judicial recourse for his "illegal arrest and detention", but U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin threw out the case on grounds of insufficient jurisdiction to hear it.
Another Prime Minister, another confrontation
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday directed new Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to re-open a dormant corruption case against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (WaPo, Dawn, ET). The move sets up another potential crisis point between the country's civil government and its influential judiciary. The previous Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was thrown out of office last week after refusing to open a Supreme Court-mandated probe against Zardari. The charges against the President date to the 1990s and involve allegations of corruption enmeshed in Swiss bank accounts. In Wednesday's development the Supreme Court demanded that Ashraf respond to its directive by July 12 and give any justification for why he wouldn't pursue the case.
A U.S. drone strike on Tuesday killed five suspected militants in the Shawal area of South Waziristan (CNN, AJ, WSJ, Dawn). The target, a militant compound in the area, was "completely destroyed". The dead were alleged to be linked with pro-Taliban warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur who last month warned humanitarian organizations from conducting anti-polio efforts in his area until U.S. drone operations ceased.
Go west, young investor
A new survey of some of Pakistan's top corporate managers initiated by Barclay's Pakistan suggests that investment in Africa is set to rise significantly in the coming years (ET). Already, trade imports and exports have risen at over 15 percent for the last decade, trends that are expected to continue.
death toll of Pakistani soldiers who were the target of a cross border
Taliban raid into Pakistan on Sunday has risen to 13 (ET, Reuters, WaPo, NYT, BBC).
Of those killed, seven are now said to have been beheaded according to
Pakistani officials who discussed details of the violence on Monday. In
response to the attack, which was conducted by at least 100 Taliban
fighters in the north-western district of Upper Dir, the Pakistani
Foreign Ministry has lodged an official complaint with a senior Afghan
diplomat, calling the episode an "intrusion of militants from the Afghan
side." New Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said he would
also raise the matter soon with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Pakistan's claim of terrorist safe havens emanating from Afghanistan
offers a counter-narrative to the frequent U.S. and NATO complaints
about militant networks purported to be operating out of Pakistan's
border lands whom they see as responsible for much of the violence in
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a banned organization made up of a number of different militant groups, claimed this week that it is operating out of the Afghanistan border areas and using the area as a launching pad for attacks into Pakistan (ET). A spokesperson for TTP's Malakand chapter going by the name Sirajuddin claimed that Maulana Fazlullah -- one of the top TTP leaders who Pakistani officials claim fled Swat in 2008 after a Pakistani military crackdown -- is currently commanding over a thousand dedicated fighters in Afghanistan.
Elsewhere, on Monday, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters attacked a Pakistani TV station in Karachi, injuring two people (Guardian, Dawn). TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan justified the attack by saying "we had informed the management of Aaj TV to include our view on issues, but the channel had become a mouthpiece of the government." He went on to threaten further attacks on TV stations should they not adequately represent the Taliban point of view.
Another roadblock for anti-polio efforts
A top Pakistani Taliban commander in the South Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan said on Monday that he would not allow any polio immunizations to take place in his territory until U.S. drone strikes ceased in the area (Guardian, ET, Dawn). According to a leaflet distributed by Maulvi Nazir's militant group, the anti-polio regimen is considered a Western front. The leaflet mentioned the case of Dr Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who was running a bogus vaccination program in Abbottabad to help the CIA locate Osama bin Laden. The warning from Nazir comes less than a month after another Taliban commander in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, issued an almost identical ultimatum about polio and drone strikes. Pakistan remains one of the three countries in the world where polio is endemic.
Meanwhile, General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is scheduled to travel to Pakistan on Wednesday to meet with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani (Dawn). He is expected to conduct negotiations aimed at restoring NATO supply routes to Afghanistan through Pakistan. It is also expected that Allen will press the Pakistanis to take action against the militant Haqqani network, whose safe haven in the Pakistani tribal areas has recently become a thorn in the side of U.S.-Pakistani relations (ET).
Reincarnating Swat's Buddha
Through a joint project of the Italian Archaeological Mission and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Department of Archaeology and Museums, a 20-foot tall sculpture of Buddha that was defaced by the Taliban in Swat in 2007 has been restored (ET). The project in Jahanabad was completed using a debt-swap agreement between the Italian and Pakistani governments.
Rack: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Obama's troop increase for Afghan war was
misdirected" and "Infighting on Obama team squandered chance for peace
in Afghanistan" (WaPo, WaPo)
On Monday Indian police announced the arrest at Delhi international airport of a key suspect in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks which killed 166 people (Dawn, Reuters, ET, BBC). Abu Hamza, also known as Sayed Zabiuddin, is a member of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and was seen by Indian officials as one of the key planners of the operation. Abu Hamza was an alleged handler for the operation, based in Karachi, who reportedly gave instructions over the phone to the militants who carried out the attack. Indian authorities said the suspect would remain in police custody for 15 days for questioning. India has repeatedly pressed Pakistan to take more action in the investigation of the terrorist attacks, especially to move against Hafiz Saeed, the supposed mastermind of the attacks (for its part, the U.S. has offered $10 million dollars for information leading to his arrest).
At least six Pakistani soldiers were killed Sunday after militants from Afghanistan crossed into the Upper Dir region of Pakistan (WaPo, ET, Dawn, CNN). The Pakistani military reported that at least 11 militants were also killed in the fighting that saw a reported 100 Taliban fighters attack three separate military posts. In a statement the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but denied any militant casualties and did say whether the attackers had come from Afghanistan.
New Prime Minister sworn in
On Friday, the Pakistani parliament elected Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former cabinet minister, as Prime Minister (NYT, WaPo, BBC). The calm ceremony was a respite from a tense week for President Asif Ali Zardari as the Pakistani Supreme Court invalidated the premiership of Yousaf Raza Gilani and an anti-narcotics force run by the military subsequently issued an arrest warrant for the proposed successor to Gilani, Makhdoom Shahabuddin. Ashraf, who was minister for water and power between 2008 and 2011, is not without his own controversy. He is dogged by allegations that he previously took kickbacks over private energy contracts when he was minister and is a potential lightning rod for criticism over the electricity shortages that have recently plagued Pakistan, given his previous portfolio.
In an interview with Reuters, the Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammad Sadiq, said the Taliban and the U.S. must make their intentions clear for the cause of peace in Afghanistan (ET, Reuters). "We don't think all these issues can be solved by fighting," he said, "there must be a political process, but the parties need to be serious about it." Sadiq said the Taliban need to clarify whether they are actually interested in substantive peace talks, while for their part the U.S. needs to overcome bureaucratic infighting as well as concluding inconsistent offers to the Taliban on transferring detainees held by the Americans.
On the road again
NPR story over the weekend chronicled the newfound importance of the
Salang Tunnel, a decades-old tunnel situated in Northern Afghanistan at
11,000 feet in the Hindu Kush mountains which is one of the primary
transportation conduits for supply efforts (NPR).
Since Pakistan closed its border to NATO supply convoys, the U.S.
military says that it spends an additional $100 million per month in the
Afghan war theater, and the additional money goes to service the
Northern Distribution Network, a longer supply route that goes through
Central Asia and Russia. The tunnel, built by the Soviets in 1964, is a
crumbling route which, due to its bad road and lack of space, has become
a transportation choke point in the country. An estimated 10,000 to
20,000 vehicles now pass through the tunnel per day, up from 1,000 to
2,000 a year ago.
Four NATO servicemen were killed in southern Afghanistan in two days over the weekend (WaPo). Two of the soldiers were killed in separate incidents on Saturday, one in a bomb blast and the other in an insurgent attack; the other two servicemen were killed Sunday in a traffic accident.
Flash floods in Afghanistan in central Ghor province and Badakhshan province killed at least 30 people over the weekend (AFP). The floods, which came after days of torrential rain, are the second deadly case of flooding in the country in two months after 50 Afghans were killed in Sari Pul province in May.
High society to the rescue?
The publication of Hello! Pakistan, a new glossy print magazine being launched in Pakistan, is attempting to show a different side of the country (NYT). Zahraa Saifullah Khan, the magazine's 29-year old publisher, said that while they weren't out to save the world, the publication was trying to "show that we're not all a bunch of terrorists with beards."
A remote-controlled bomb blast on Monday, June 18 targeted a university bus in Quetta, the capital city of the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, killing five students and injuring more than 60 civilians. All the students killed belonged to the Shiite-Hazara ethno-religious minority group. An underground Sunni militant organization, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which is thought to have close ties with the intelligence agencies of the Pakistani military, claimed responsibility for the unprecedented attack. While ceremonies and mosques of Shia Muslims are often the target of deadly attacks, a university bus has never before come under such a robust attack.
ruling party -- the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) -- announced the
nomination of a new candidate for Prime Minister Friday morning (WaPo, ET, AFP, BBC, NYT, Dawn).
Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former minister for water and power, was tapped
to replace former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani -- who was declared
ineligible to hold office this week by the Supreme Court -- after the
first candidate, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, was forced out because the
country's Anti-Narcotics Force obtained a warrant for his arrest.
Ashraf, who is expected to be confirmed by parliament on Friday evening,
is not without his own controversies, as he has been accused of
corruption and has also been implicated in the electricity crisis now
affecting the country which has led to extreme power shortages. If
Ashraf is approved by parliament, his time in the premiership still may
not last long: it is widely expected that the Pakistani Supreme Court
will ask the next Prime Minister to request that a Swiss court reopen a
corruption probe against President Asif Ali Zardari concerning business
deals in the 1990s, something Gilani refused to do which led to his
A report by the U.S. State Department's Inspector General released this week described significant harassment of U.S. diplomats working in Pakistan (ET, BBC, WaPo). "Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation," read the review. While the report said that harassment of U.S. diplomatic activities in the country was previously a problem, it reached its apex in 2011, noting the Osama bin Laden raid in May and the 24 Pakistani troops accidentally killed by NATO fire in November as causes of increased tension between the countries.
Afghan resort the newest Taliban target
A Taliban attack on a popular hotel and resort outside Kabul killed at least 20 people on Friday in a siege that lasted 11 hours and included scores of hostages (NYT, CNN, FT, USA Today, AP, Dawn). In addition to the victims of the attack, which included at least 15 civilians, all 7 militants involved in the attack were killed by Afghan and NATO forces as they fought their way into the property in a joint operation. The primary impetus given for the attack was the un-Islamic behavior that was alleged to go on at the resort -- including drinking alcohol -- and the purported presence of a high number of Westerners as the weekend approached. According to Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, "These acts are illegal and strictly prohibited in Islam", adding that "women dancers were sexually misused there." Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for the Kabul police, disputed what he called Taliban propaganda, saying that the militants had merely started firing on random civilians including families sitting down to dinner.
About that apology...
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta all but ruled out an apology to Pakistan over the 24 Pakistani soldiers accidentally killed by a NATO airstrike in November (Reuters). "We've made clear what our position is, and I think it's time to move on," said Panetta, "if we keep going back to the past, if we keep beating up each other based on past differences, we'll never get anywhere." He added that it was time to "move forward with this relationship, on the (supply routes), on the safe havens, on dealing with terrorism..." Panetta has lately used harsh rhetoric against Pakistan for what he sees as its unwillingness to sufficiently deal with terrorist safe havens in the country. In the interview, while acknowledging that the relationship was "complicated and frustrating", he nonetheless said that it was necessary and demanded hard work from both sides to resolve outstanding issues.
Anonymous U.S. officials told the Associated Press on Thursday that the U.S. has considered launching secret joint U.S.-Afghan commando raids into Pakistani territory to disrupt militants (AP). The militant networks operating in the border regions are deemed responsible for many of the raids on coalition troops in Afghanistan. However, the idea has been consistently rejected by the White House when brought up in meetings given the serious diplomatic blowback that would result from such operations. A spokesperson for Gen. John Allen, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan who is said to have been part of recent meetings about the issue, said they had no plans to push ahead with any clandestine attacks in Pakistan.
A cricketer's lament
Former Pakistani cricket team test captain Salman Butt apologized to his home country after returning to Pakistan from England where he served seven months in jail for match-fixing. Butt, who was given a five-year playing ban by the International Cricket Council, maintains his innocence with regard to the allegations and intends to clear his name, though he acknowledged that he had failed disclose the match-fixing behavior of those around him (Reuters).
President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday picked party notable Makhdoom
Shahabuddin to replace Yousaf Raza Gilani for Prime Minister (NYT, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Dawn, CNN, ET).
Mr. Shahabuddin, a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, was the
textiles minister when the Supreme Court invalidated the premiership of
Gilani on Tuesday. According to one analyst speaking to the New York
Times, "Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will
face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an
assertive court and a restive opposition." However, on Thursday, a
trial court in Rawalpindi issued a warrant for Shahabuddin's arrest over
his alleged links to a drug scandal in 2010 which anti-narcotics forces
have said entailed the illegal importation of the drug ephedrine.
Shahabuddin served as health minister at the time. The court also issued
the same warrant to son of the recently departed prime minister Yousaf
Raza Gilani. It is unclear how the arrest warrant would impact matters
when the lower house of parliament meets Friday to officially elect
Gilani's replacement for Prime Minister.
Targeting corruption in Afghanistan
Speaking to a special session of the Afghan parliament on Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for a redoubled effort to tackle corruption and mismanagement in the country (Reuters, WaPo, AP, Dawn). Eyeing next month's international donors conference in Tokyo, Karzai lamented that "each government worker who reaches an important rank is respected not because of his position, but by how many armed men and cars he has with him." Karzai indicated that international donors would likely pledge around $4 billion next month in assistance at the Tokyo conference, though the Afghan Central Bank this week noted that the country will need $6-7 billion dollars per year in assistance for the next decade in order to sustain sufficient levels of growth. Despite being ranked as one of the most graft-ridden countries in the world by the Berlin-based NGO Transparency International, however, Afghanistan has yet to prosecute a single high-level corruption case. In an attempt to signal his seriousness on the anti-graft front, Karzai specifically called on the U.S. to return former Afghan central bank governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat to the country. Fitrat resigned while traveling in the U.S. a year ago after being embroiled in a scandal that saw nearly $1 billion in loans disappear from Kabul Bank in 2010.
The Pentagon's top watchdog in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), is currently investigating the Afghan government practice of taxing American companies who are involved in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan (WaPo, The Hill, BG). The SIGAR audit will specifically look at cases when American-funded services or goods in the country are subject "to tariffs, customs duties, and other taxes or similar charges by the Afghan government." In a joint statement released Wednesday, Representatives Peter Welch of Vermont and Walter Jones of North Carolina -- who have been leading the effort to investigate Afghan taxation of U.S. companies aiding reconstruction work since 2011 -- noted that the SIGAR move "is a step in the right direction."
The death toll of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's Khost province on Wednesday increased to 21, with 3 U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter counted among the dead of an attack that killed mostly Afghan civilians (WaPo, AP, NYT). The bombing was the third strike in as many days specifically targeting U.S. forces.
"Battle of the bulge"
The police chief of Pakistan's Punjab province, Habibur Rehman, has ordered 175,000 of his personnel to refrain from exceeding 38 inch waists or risk losing their jobs (Dawn). Rehman is reported to have said to some of his colleagues in announcing the rule: "I'm on a diet and if I can do it, why can't you?" According to the police in Punjab, at least 50 percent of the force is currently overweight.
Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA track down the world's most wanted man in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, is undergoing a 33-year jail term on charges of lending financial and physical support to a banned militant outfit in Khyber, one of the seven tribal districts partly overrun by the Taliban and their supporters. Afridi's punishment -- which many see as merely retribution by the Pakistani government (as opposed to a normal court proceeding) for his cooperation with the United States' intelligence community -- came exactly a year after he was subjected to secret Pakistani interrogations and under the legal auspices of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
The colonial-era law has been under serious criticism from civil society representatives in Pakistan and human rights organization both inside the country and abroad because a number of its clauses are in violation of basic human rights. Although the elected Pakistani government has boasted of introducing reforms in the tribal areas and amending the FCR, Afridi's "trial" has exposed the grim reality of a judicial system where an individual can be sentenced while denied the proper recourse to defense. However, the illegitimacy of these charges against Afridi only masks a far more complex state of affairs.
Before being whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agents on May 23, 2011 in the outskirts of the tribal Khyber Agency and his subsequent court appearance a year later, Afridi had already once experienced something similar when he was brought blindfolded to the warlord Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam.
It must have been déjà vu.
In 2008, he was arrested and presented before Mangal Bagh under the shadows of guns and bayonets and was asked to explain why he did not provide medical treatment at the time to Lashkar-e-Islam militants after battle. Afridi was lucky, at least at that time, that one militant testified before Mangal Bagh that the doctor had treated him well when he (the militant) visited the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Dogra after receiving a bullet injury. The statement saved Afridi's life but his family had to procure a payment of two million rupees, roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars (obviously a hefty sum for an average Pakistani family) to win his release.
In 2008, Afridi stood alone before a warlord without any counsel and without any right even to speak in self-defense. The judge, the counsel, and the plaintiff were one person -- Mangal Bagh. Four years later, Afridi found himself faced with a similar situation. This time he was presented before an officer of the Pakistani state. But again he found himself without counsel and without a chance to speak in his own defense. And this was the court of the Assistant Political Agent (APA), who charged him for his "close links with defunct Lashkar-e-Islam and his love for Mangal Bagh."
If it was really a "love", then much better to call it "love under duress", as living and serving in Bara, a town located less than 15 miles from Peshawar and a fiefdom of Mangal Bagh, requires one to have ample courage and strength.
The clear and cruel paradox in Afridi's case is that the state of Pakistan found him guilty of involvement in anti-state activities by "providing medical assistance" to militants of the very group that charged and punished him before for not sufficiently aiding their efforts -- and who subsequently robbed him of his family's wealth. If payment of a ransom to save one's life -- or the lives of his family -- from a group of thugs and its elusive leadership is an anti-state act, then roughly half of the tribal area's population could be charged under the offense and punished along the lines of Afridi.
Furthermore, if we applied the same investigation process used against Afridi to some in the state security agencies then it wouldn't be hard to establish links between certain sitting members of parliament from FATA and militant outfits. It was the Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam that issued a fare list for transporters and a code of conduct for candidates contesting the 2008 general elections from the Khyber Agency. Interestingly, no state security agency, not even the powerful army involved in the tribal areas over the past 10 years, seemed to notice Magal Bagh and his army of volunteers running a parallel state by imposing fines, forcing people to pray five times a day, punishing men for walking bareheaded, kidnapping people for ransom, and carrying out executions.
The more pertinent question one must ask is whether Afridi's "links" with Manal Bagh was the real charge against him? It has been clear from the time of his arrest soon after the May 2 raid in Abbottabad and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the answer is definitively "no". That Afridi, being a citizen of Pakistan and employee of the state, worked for a foreign intelligence agency is in no way an act that could be defended. But for reasons well known, he was not tried under those charges. Rather, he was implicated in a low-hanging fruit charge of a ludicrous association with a group that once abducted and fined him two million rupees -- thus raising more questions about Pakistan's sincerity in fighting militants in the country.
The two verdicts handed down to Afridi -- one by Mangal Bagh in 2008 for not providing medical assistance to his men, and the second by the Pakistani state in 2012 for "providing medical and financial assistance" to militants -- are enough for the international community to understand the dilemma of tribesmen sandwiched between the state security agencies and the militants.
For years, tribesmen have looked to their government and state security agencies for protection against the groups of thugs operating in their areas, and have at times taken up arms to fight. Yet they find scant change in their circumstances. Is it little wonder that they invariably surrender and sometimes even agree to "support" militants, in the way Dr. Afridi did?
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.
Wednesday, Pakistani officials announced the capture of a "key French
al-Qaeda operative" in an operation near Pakistan's border with Iran (BBC, CNN, FT, Reuters, Dawn).
The man, a French national named Naamen Meziche, is said to be in
charge of some of al-Qaeda's international operations and was a close
associate of Younis Al Mauretani, the senior al-Qaeda leader who was
believed to have been tasked with planning attacks in Australia, Europe
and the United States before his apprehension by Pakistani authorities
in September 2011. According to the BBC Meziche is thought to be part of
the Hamburg terrorist cell that played a key role in masterminding the
9/11 terrorist attacks. His job there was to recruit jihadists to the
same mosque that ringleader Mohammed Atta and three of the other 9/11
hijackers attended (the mosque was later closed by German authorities in
2010). Pakistani officials who leaked details of the raid did not say
precisely when or where the operation had taken place.
Late Monday night, popular Pakistani singer Ghazala Javed was murdered in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar (ET, BBC, VOA). The famous Pashto musician was killed alongside her father by men on motorbike after coming out of a beauty salon. The suspect in her shooting is her husband, whom she had tried to divorce in 2010 after she found out that he had another wife and also refused to let her keep singing. After the Taliban took control of the Swat valley in 2009, and after receiving threats to quit publicly singing, Javed fled to Peshawar, but any connection between the group and her death has not been established.
Suicide bomber targets military convoy
At least 11 people were killed after a suicide bomber in Afghanistan's Khost province attacked an Afghan and American military convoy on Wednesday (NYT, BBC, Dawn, CNN, AP). A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) acknowledged that there had been ISAF casualties but declined to add further details, while several Afghan police officers and civilians were among the dead. It is the second time this month that a suicide attack has targeted NATO forces in Khost, which sits near the Pakistani border and hosts mainly U.S. troops. Wednesday's incident comes after two attacks in Kandahar province on Tuesday: one in which several were injured after militants stormed a NATO base and another where three Afghan policemen were killed in a gun battle at a police checkpoint (AP, WaPo).
A U.S. military panel investigating the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan in February has recommended low-level, non-criminal punishment for as many as seven U.S. soldiers (LAT, WSJ, Al-Arabiya). In the aftermath of the burnings at Bagram Air Base, widespread violent riots and attacks in Afghanistan led to the deaths of at least 40 people including Afghan civilians and U.S. soldiers.
On Tuesday the head of the Afghan Central Bank, Noorullah Delawari, said that his country would need at least $6-7 billion in economic aid per year over the next decade to keep the country's growth at a sufficient rate (ET, Reuters). Ahead of a donors conference in Tokyo next month, the Afghan government also reiterated its desire to have any foreign assistance be routed through the Afghan government rather than international organizations. In November the World Bank forecast that the Afghan government would face a budget deficit of approximately $7 billion per year until 2021 after the 2014 withdrawal of international troops and aid. Currently, about 90 percent of Afghanistan's budget is made up of foreign assistance.
On the brighter side in Oman
The Pakistani Embassy in Oman is using the next several weeks to solidify the already strong relationship between the two countries by holding a number of initiatives to highlight Pakistan's cultural exports to the world. Events will include the touring of a docked Pakistani naval ship, a mango festival, and a showcase of the country's photography (Times of Oman).
The Rack: Justin Elliott, 'Obama Administration's Drone Death Figures Don't Add Up' (ProPublica).
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was declared ineligible to hold office Wednesday by the country's Supreme Court (ET, WaPo, Dawn, BBC). The court said that he has been ineligible since April 26, when an earlier verdict by the high body found Gilani to have been in contempt of court. In that case, the court ruled that Gilani had failed to properly pursue corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. The ongoing feud between the civilian government and the judiciary remains a hot button issue, with some accusing the judiciary of being supported by the military. After the verdict was announced by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Attorney General Irfan Qadir blasted the court's decision and said that in making the ruling the court had overstepped its mandate and was in violation of the constitution.
Spate of Afghan attacks
On Tuesday, Taliban militants posing as Afghan police officers killed three police officers in an attack on an Afghanistan checkpoint in Kandahar province (NYT). Officials said that the insurgents opened fire on an Afghan police checkpoint first before targeting NATO forces in the area, though NATO reported no casualties. The attack was similar to a separate incident on Sunday where militants killed one NATO soldier in Kandahar after three men dressed in Afghan police uniforms opened fired on coalition troops (BBC, ET, CBS). There has been a rise in such "green-on-blue" attacks recently, with a reported 17 cases in 2012 of Afghan forces turning their weapons on NATO troops (for more on this see NAF's online database of such attacks).
The Tuesday violence came hours after a separate incident in southern Kandahar saw Taliban insurgents attack a NATO camp under the cover of darkness, though no one was thought to have died from that episode (WaPo).
In other violence in the country, a Taliban roadside bomb in Musa Qala in Helmand province killed eight Afghan civilians (AFP, WaPO, USA Today). That attack came after an incident on Monday in Kapisa province where six were killed after insurgents set off a remote controlled bomb, the second deadly attack in Kapisa province in a fortnight after four French soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing on June 9 (LAT).
Pakistan blamed for 2011 Kabul attack
On Tuesday Afghan authorities said that two men had been arrested for their role in a December 2011 attack targeting Shia Muslims during the holy day of Ashura in Kabul (Dawn, AP). The attack, which killed 80 people, was claimed by Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. However, in announcing the arrests, Afghan officials pointed to Pakistan's role. Said General Eshaq Aloko, "Although the Jhangvi group claimed responsibility, it was masterminded by some spy agencies in our neighbouring countries," a veiled reference to Pakistan's powerful intelligence service.
Ahead of World Refugee Day on Wednesday, June 20, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its annual report on the status of global refugees. Afghanistan remained the world's biggest producer of refugees with over 2.7 million, coming ahead of Iraq (1.4 million), Somalia (1.1 million), and Sudan (500,000) (UN).
The mango market spoils
As a result of a U.N. trade embargo imposed against Iran, Pakistan's mango exporters have lost a lucrative market. Last year, mango exports to Iran were over 30,000 tons, estimated to be worth at least $10 million (ET).
On Sunday, the Afghan Taliban released a statement praising India for avoiding an entanglement in the affairs of Afghanistan (Dawn, ET).
Speaking to Reuters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid added that
India is "aware of the Afghan aspirations, creeds and love for freedom.
It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity
just for the American pleasure (Reuters)."
While India is one of the largest donors to Afghanistan, it has
generally refrained from any direct efforts to bolster Afghan security
The Taliban praise comes after U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited India last month in an effort to encourage a more active Indian presence in Afghanistan, especially after the departure of NATO troops in 2014. Panetta subsequently had a number of tough words for Pakistan, urging the country to end their support for militant safe havens. However, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, the trilateral forum of the U.S., India, and Afghanistan is not intended as a snub to Pakistan: "On the contrary, it's to talk about the situation inside Afghanistan (Dawn)."
Meanwhile, since 2008, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has declined by 40 percent (USA Today). U.N. and military officials attributed the decrease to a number of factors including NATO's efforts to secure key towns, increased eradication efforts by the Afghan government, and programs which encourage Afghan farmers to switch their crops to wheat and other legal yields. According to Regional Command Southwest, the troop formation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, cultivation in Helmand province dropped from 256,000 acres in 2008 to 143,000 today. The command said that a further 6 to 7 percent decline in poppy cultivation is expected this year as compared to last.
On Friday two NATO troops were killed in the south and east of Afghanistan according to U.S. officials (Fox, VOA). The casualties brought the NATO death toll in Afghanistan to 195 for 2012. Also on Friday, a two-day operation in Paktika province killed 34 insurgents including two Taliban commanders according to Afghan officials.
Taliban leader threatens polio immunization efforts
On Saturday, Hafiz Gul Bahadur -- a senior Taliban commander in Northwest Pakistan -- warned all polio vaccination teams operating in the area he controls to cease their immunization efforts until all U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are halted (BG, VOA, ET, CBS). The warning, part of a pamphlet released by the Higher Council of Mujahideen, justified the edict saying that while "polio infects one child in a million...hundreds of Waziri women, children and elders have been killed in these [drone] strikes." Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is endemic. A top health official in the region said that a new round of planned immunizations -- targeting 162,000 children -- which were slated to begin on June 20 were being delayed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unveiled a new plan that will seek to repatriate 150,000 Afghan refugees in 2012 (ET). Currently there are more than 1.7 million documented Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, with an additional estimate of at least one million undocumented. Four Voluntary Repatriation Centers (VRCs) have already been established this year to aid the program of voluntary repatriation efforts. The plan calls on increased efforts from both host countries (which includes Iran as well as Pakistan) and the international community. For its part, Pakistan has also suffered from displacement issues, as a UNICEF press release from Friday indicated that more than 240,000 people have registered as displaced from Khyber Agency since the beginning of 2012 (UNICEF).
The European Union upgraded its trade relations with Pakistan over the weekend to give the country preferential access to European markets (ET, Dawn). The change in Pakistan's trading agreements mean that the country will, among other things, be eligible for zero-duty on its exports starting in 2014.
Elsewhere on Saturday, at least 34 people were killed in twin bombings in the Khyber tribal region (NYT, Reuters). While no militants claimed credit for the attacks, local officials expressed confidence that Lashkar-i-Islam was involved.
A mother's quest for the Presidency
Twice elected to the Afghan parliament, Fawzia Koofi is continuing her effort to run for the Afghan Presidency when the term of current President Hamid Karzai expires in 2014 (CNN). An outspoken women's rights advocate who has previously been a target for assassination by the Taliban, Koofi says that she is inspired by her daughters to continue a political journey dedicated to a different future for the country. "Our daughters are like the hope, the future of Afghanistan," she said, ""I think women have to stand up, they have to raise their voice, demonstrate that they have equal abilities in this country like many other people have."
Speaking at an international conference in Kabul on Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that he believes Afghanistan will be able to take full control and responsibility over its security in 2013 (Reuters, Dawn, VOA, AP). The conference, a one-day meeting of the so-called ‘Heart of Asia' group, which includes India, China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia, was meant to discuss regional options for stabilizing Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal in 2014. It comes after a similar conference under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), another regional body which includes Russia, China, and India, met earlier in the month for a discussion on regional solutions to Afghanistan. In terms of taking over its own security, Afghanistan is currently in the third of five stages of transition whereby the centers of all provincial capitals are to be handed over to Afghan security forces.
Speaking in Kabul at the same conference, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar reiterated her call for the U.S. to apologize over the November 2011 errant NATO strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. "Pakistan still wants an unconditional apology," she said, "and the reassurance that the Salala type of incident does not happen again (Dawn)." Calls for an official apology have been met positively by at least one U.S. lawmaker. On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, after noting that the "National security of the U.S. will be better served with a positive relationship with Pakistan," said "it would do well to apologize" for mistakes made (Dawn). In her remarks to a Senate meeting on the 2013 budget, she referred explicitly to the positive impact that such an apology would have on the current impasse over NATO supply routes going through Pakistan.
Too "in your face" on Pakistan?
U.S. Senator John McCain criticized the Obama administration on Thursday for its "in your face" attitude on Pakistan (PBS). Calling it a very "delicate situation", McCain argued that "to further antagonize Pakistan unnecessarily is not something I would particularly think is appropriate", especially as the Pakistanis "are supporting organizations that are killing Americans." McCain was referring not only to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's recent harsh tone on Pakistan -- who said last week that the U.S. was "reaching the limits of our patience" with the country -- but also U.S. overtures to India this month to encourage the country to play a more active role in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, on Thursday the 2,000th U.S. soldier died in Operation Enduring Freedom, the official name for the ‘war on terror' that the Bush administration began over 10 years ago in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks (CNN, HuffPo). While these casualty figures include soldiers killed in a number of countries, the overwhelming majority of them have occurred in the Afghan theater.
Fashionistas set their sights on Karachi
At the end of August, Karachi is set to host Men's Fashion Week (MFW), the first male-only fashion show to be held in Pakistan. Munib Nawaz, the creative director for MFW, said men's clothing was the fastest growing industry in the country and noted that "it's time we understand that a vast clientele of Pakistani fashion is men who really want to dress up (ET)."
The reported killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi in a U.S. drone strike on the morning of June 4 in the town of Mir Ali, North Waziristan, if confirmed, is a significant loss for Al-Qaeda Central (AQC), and comes at a tumultuous time for the militant organization. U.S. government officials announced a day after the missile strike that Abu Yahya, whose real name is Hasan Muhammad Qa'id, had been killed, though official confirmation has not yet come from AQC itself. Within the organization Abu Yahya served as its chief juridical voice, whose job was to justify, support, and defend its ideological positions. He was also at the forefront of the global jihadi movement as one of the juridical and ideological architects of AQC's positions, particularly vis-à-vis the Pakistani government and military. Abu Yahya's influence extends to AQC's regional affiliates such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al-Shabab in Somalia. The United Nations Security Council noted in September 2011 when it added him to its sanctions list that he was also a key strategist and field commander for AQC in Afghanistan. His loss would be a significant blow to both AQC and the wider transnational jihadi current.
to a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, U.S.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that a lack of ground supply
routes for NATO efforts in Afghanistan going through Pakistan -- which
have been closed since November 2011 -- are costing the U.S. $100
million per month (NYT, ABC).
Before they were suspended, the "Ground lines of communication"
(GLOCs), as the supply routes are sometimes known, were responsible for
approximately 30 percent of NATO's supplies to Afghanistan. On the
sidelines of Thursday's regional conference in Afghanistan (see below), U.S. Deputy
Secretary of State William Burns (who was in Kabul as an observer for
the U.S., which didn't have a direct role in the meeting) is expected to
meet with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to continue
discussions on trying to secure a deal on the routes. Several
U.S. officials have suggested that a complicating point in the ongoing
negotiations was that Pakistan sought highly inflated tariffs on
transport in order to re-open the routes. For her part, Khar said on
Wednesday that Pakistan merely sought an apology from the U.S. for the
November 2011 strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers (ET).
A Pakistani official speaking anonymously said that "once the US
tenders an apology, the issue of taxes and transit fees will be settled
in no time."
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Rand Paul was blocked on Wednesday by Senate majority leader Harry Reid from introducing an amendment to a bill that would have ended all U.S. assistance to Pakistan until Shakil Afridi, the imprisoned doctor who provided the U.S. with intelligence in the Osama bin-Laden raid, was released (ET, Dawn).
Elsewhere, according to Pakistani officials, a U.S. drone strike on Thursday killed 4 militants in their compound in the town of Miranshah, located in North Waziristan in Pakistan's tribal region (CNN, AFP, ET, AP). The strike came one day after a separate drone strike on Wednesday, also in Miranshah, killed 4 suspected militants as they drove in their vehicle. The two incidents are the first and second drone strikes since a missile on June 4 killed 15 militants in North Waziristan, including then al-Qaeda second-in-command Abu Yahya al-Libi.
Kabul conference aims at Afghan stabilization
A group of 15 countries met in Kabul on Thursday to discuss a number of regional security issues, paramount among them the stabilization and future of Afghanistan (WaPo, Dawn, ET). It is the second meeting of the so-called ‘Heart of Asia' countries, who met previously in November in Istanbul, and which includes Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, China, and India. While the topics discussed were widespread and regional, the focus on Afghanistan's future after the 2014 NATO pull-out loomed large. Of particular salience were ongoing discussions regarding peace talks with the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to continue their help on this front, and indicated that Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the high peace council -- the Afghan body tasked with leading the peace process with the Taliban -- would soon travel to the two countries. Rabbani is the son of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in September of 2011. The group plans to meet for a follow-up conference in Tokyo next month.
Green shoots for Balochistan?
Ravaged by years of militancy, internecine violence, and separatism, Balochistan is being seen by Pakistan's leadership now as a hopeful place for trade that might begin a process of renewal. To that end, the government has opened up to border crossing points, one with Afghanistan and the other with Iran, and hopes to open more as a part of creating additional ‘vital links' to transform the province into a transit route (ET).
Tuesday Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an end to all
coalition airstrikes in his country -- even when coalition troops are
under attack -- calling them an "illegitimate use of force" (NYT, LAT, WSJ, AP).
The pointed words from Karzai came at a press conference in Kabul
several days after NATO commander Gen. John R. Allen had announced
changes to coalition guidelines in order to assure Afghan leaders that
no airstrikes would target civilian dwellings going forward. The
proximate cause of the NATO policy change was last week's killing of 18
people including civilians in Afghanistan's Logar province after NATO
airstrikes targeted a house containing Taliban militants after they had
started firing on coalition forces. While Allen's announced changes
carried the caveat that airstrikes would still be permitted as an
absolute last resort under the new rules, Karzai was unambiguous Tuesday
that all strikes were in fact no longer permitted. "Airstrikes are not
used in civilian areas," he said, "if they don't want to do it in their
own country, why do they do it in Afghanistan?"
A small group of U.S. army soldiers returned to Afghanistan's Nuristan province this week in the Hindu Kush region, an area some have called the ‘lost province' after the U.S. pulled out following an October 2009 raid by over 300 insurgents that killed 8 U.S. soldiers (Reuters). The province, which U.S. troops have also labeled the ‘dark side of the moon', is seen by military planners as a likely location for a possible upcoming Taliban offensive. Around 2,500 Taliban are thought to be in the province and operate freely as they stage many of their attacks deeper in the country. The U.S. forces returning to Nuristan were hoping to bolster a meager Afghan security post with weapons and supplies.
Representatives from 29 countries are to meet for an international conference in Kabul on Thursday to hold talks about the country's future. At the conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to press Pakistan over the issue of militant safe havens and emphasize that only a regional approach can find a solution to the problem of the militancy plaguing his country (ET).
NATO head optimistic on supply routes
Speaking in Canberra, Australia on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he was hopeful that a transit agreement with Pakistan would still be concluded "in a not too distant future" (ET, VOA). Rasmussen was in the country for talks with Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and to sign a NATO-Australia political agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Australia remains the largest non-NATO contributor of troops to Afghanistan. Despite securing transit agreements last week with several Central Asian countries for supply routes to Afghanistan, the preferred Pakistan route, which has been closed since November, remains closed and U.S. negotiators have had no success thus far in convincing the Pakistanis to change their minds. While some U.S. officials have suggested that Pakistan is unwilling to consider reopening the routes unless the U.S. greatly increases the tariffs it pays, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar rejected that notion when speaking with reporters in Islamabad on Tuesday: "Pakistan is not in any sort of price-gouging debate right now. So these impressions are indeed incorrect, wrong and must be dispersed as soon as possible (Dawn)."
On Tuesday, a new video surfaced online of al-Qaeda commander Abu Yahya al-Libi, the organization's number two who U.S. officials declared dead after a drone strike last week in Pakistan (ABC). In the video al-Libi is seen discussing the ongoing situation in Syria, among other things, but it was not immediately clear when the tape had been made. It is not unusual for groups like al-Qaeda to release tapes of leaders after a person's death.
A legend's passing
Pakistan's legendary classical singer Mehdi Hassan passed away at a hospital in Karachi on Wednesday. The maestro of the ghazal tradition, an "undisputed king" in the form, was not only popular throughout South Asia but has a large following throughout the world. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Hassan "an icon who mesmerised music lovers" around the world (Dawn, ET).
-- Tom Kutsch
Last month saw a major step forward for the proposed TAPI natural gas pipeline. Regarded as a perennial pipe dream by many energy analysts, many critics of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India project were silenced by the signing of a gas sales and purchase agreement between Turkmengaz, Inter State Gas Systems of Pakistan and the Gas Authority of India (GAIL). With the backing of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the deal set important specifics, including payment and transit terms. But the ambitious project still faces daunting hurdles before it can become reality.
Not least of these challenges is its proposed 750 kilometer route through some of Afghanistan's most war-torn provinces such as Herat and Kandahar. TAPI has received strong support from the United States as part of Washington's "New Silk Road" strategy to bring development to Afghanistan through regional infrastructure connections, and as an alternative to the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline. As part of the recent agreement, GAIL will be responsible for managing the pipeline's security -- from the Turkmen border to end consumers in Indian homes -- and Pakistan's participation in the project may spare it some attacks. Despite this factor, there is no question that security will remain a major concern throughout the pipeline's construction and operation.
However, it may not be the greatest challenge to the realization of TAPI. That challenge may come simply from the size and focus of the project. Feasibility studies have been conducted, most notably by the ADB. But if the consortium does not concentrate on quickly constructing a commerc?ally-or?ented pipeline on a manageable scale, it risks repeating the mistakes of the now infamous Nabucco pipeline, which was to have connected Turkmenistan on its Caspian side with natural gas consumers in Central Europe. After close to a decade and a half of discussion, Nabucco is now being scaled back to half its size, and may not go forward at all. Nabucco's faults were that it was a geopolitical project, aimed at busting Russian gas dominance in Eurasia, and that at 3,000+ km it became an unwieldy mess of multiple transit countries and stakeholders. Aimed at providing a massive 31 billion cubic meters of gas each year, it was in danger of becoming technically unfeasible, as well as transporting more gas than could realistically be consumed downstream.
Current plans for TAPI call for a 1700 kilometer line bringing up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year to consumers along the route. This is already very ambitious for a route traversing dangerous territory, and following last month's agreement, Bangladesh expressed interest in joining the project, potentially extending it to 2500 kilometers, with an increased capacity. Projected costs, calculated by the ADB, have also grown from $7.5 billion to $12 billion, even without the proposed Bangladesh extension.
The Afghanistan portion is undeniably critical to TAPI's construction: there is no other route for Turkmen gas to reach South Asia. It could bring major benefits to the feeble Afghan economy, especially if plans are realized for spin-off projects to serve local communities along the way. But, TAPI will fail if it becomes a "peace pipeline," whether for Afghanistan or between India and Pakistan. To their credit, the U.S. State Department officials working on the project have consistently stressed that it must first and foremost be commercially viable. But that does not stop regional actors, whether part of the consortium or not, from politicizing an already sensitive trans-national project.
TAPI must also maintain a reasonable scope. The construction of a record-breaking pipeline through a conflict zone with too many regional cooks in the kitchen is an insurmountable task. A relatively modest gas link with sound commercial underpinning and adequate security provisions may stand a chance at becoming reality. The current plan still resembles the second option, but there have been indications recently that we could end up with the first. New partners, whether Bangladesh or others, can join later, once pipe has actually been laid. Technical provisions can be made for the pipeline's capacity to be expanded down the road. The key is to have the pipeline built, not to continually talk about building it.
TAPI should move forward on the basis of this past month's agreement. The current partners have been working together for years and, according to the ADB, have finally overcome the majority of the sticking points that stood in the way of implementation. The focus should be on progress towards construction, not expansion of the project. Eurasia has seen its fair share of pipe dreams. It is time for one to become reality. The region does not need another Nabucco.
Alexandros Petersen is author of the The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West and Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His current research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Publication notice: The New America Foundation's National Security Studies Program has just released a new database detailing drone strikes against militants in Yemen.
Amidst faltering relations between Pakistan and the U.S., the U.S. pulled out a low-level delegation of its negotiators from Islamabad on Monday after talks failed to produce a breakthrough on re-opening a major supply route for NATO in Afghanistan which goes through Pakistan (Dawn, ET, NYT). Pakistan has not allowed NATO to use the supply route since an errant U.S. airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. U.S. officials stressed that by pulling out the team they were not intending to send any political message to the Pakistanis, and that higher-level political negotiations over the supply route are ongoing.
A suicide bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan killed two and injured two on Tuesday after targeting anti-Taliban tribal leader Muhammad Fahim (Dawn). The victims were his security guards. Meanwhile, in Baluchistan province in southwestern Pakistan, a motorcycle bomb killed three and injured 40 on Monday after hitting a bus in the Mastung district of Quetta. A Pakistani official suggested that the attack was intended to target Shiite pilgrims traveling to Iran but hit the bus instead (CBS). The attacks came after a bomb hidden in a toy killed a mother and injured three young children in the Nasir Bagh area of Peshawar on Monday (AFP).
Meanwhile, two days of discussions between India and Pakistan in Rawalpindi over the disputed Siachen glacier have ended without any progress, though it was agreed that the talks would continue (NYT).
Taliban attacks in Afghanistan
In two separate Taliban attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday, at least eight people were killed and several injured. In one bombing a suicide bomber on a bicycle targeted a police patrol in the northern province of Balkh and killed at least three people (AFP). Elsewhere, a minivan hit a roadside bomb in Wardak province south of Kabul and killed five (ET, CBS). The incidents came after a separate roadside bombing Monday night killed seven in Farah province in western Afghanistan.
The Afghan government said on Monday that militia loyal to the army chief of staff General Abdul Rashid Dostum were interfering with oil exploration being done in northern Afghanistan by the Chinese firm National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) (Reuters). The company signed a deal last year with the Afghan government -- the first international oil deal with Afghanistan in decades -- for exploration of the Amu Darya basin, a move that is expected to accrue billions of dollars to the government over the coming decades. Afghan government officials complained that men loyal to Dostum were demanding a cut of the profits, though Dostum's National Front party denied the allegations.
80 and 90 people are feared dead in a remote village in Afghanistan's
Baghlan province after two earthquakes struck Afghanistan yesterday,
triggering a landslide that destroyed their homes (CNN).
The Pentagon's Defense Criminal Investigative Service has launched a full-scale probe into one of the U.S. military's top private contractors, Leonie Industries (USA Today). The company, which is seen as the largest ‘propaganda' contractor for the U.S., stands accused of failing both to pay millions of dollars in back taxes and to provide services for its Afghan employees. Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts, who has led the effort at investigating Leonie and who is a senior member on the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, said that "it is critical that we hold the Pentagon, and companies working with our government, to the highest standards...claims of ongoing lack of accountability in war zone contracting cannot be ignored."
Pakistani judicial commission reopens ‘memogate'
A judicial commission's report to the Pakistani Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., Hussain Haqqani, did in fact author a memo to members of the Obama administration warning against the possibility of a military coup against Pakistan's civilian leadership (ET, NYT). The Supreme Court also declared that Haqqani must come back to Pakistan. Messages from Twitter by Haqqani, an avid social media user, defended his innocence against the controversial commission: "One-sided proceedings of Commission that refused to hear me will be challenged by my lawyers", said one, with another noting: "Commission is not a court and those claiming it has determined guilt or innocence are wrong." Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman whose initial claims about Haqqani's actions first led to the ‘Memogate' controversy, said the news vindicated the "truth he had been speaking from the day the case started. (ET)"
Bearish on mangos?
Mango crops in Sindh are showing a 30 percent production deficit this year, primarily as a result of last year's monsoon season which caused extensive crop damages. According to a Pakistani fruit wholesaler named Ziauddin who spoke about the reduced crop with Dawn, however, the downward trend may find some respite if an export ban to Iran -- which accounted for nearly 40 percent of Pakistani mango exports last year -- is overturned this year (Dawn).
The June 5, 2012 drone strike that killed Abu Yahya al-Libi is a major milestone in America's long-term effort to break the back of al-Qaida's general command. With Abu Yahya al-Libi's death, al-Qaida has lost its last great unifier, a man who possessed the rare talents and credentials to keep an inherently unwieldy global movement on track and in line. Without their ideological enforcer standing guard, the various al-Qaida affiliates and militants will invariably begin to wander off al-Qaida's sanctioned path.
Although depicted by the U.S. government as al-Qaida's "number two," his role as an administrator was hardly what made him so critical to al-Qaida. Abu Yahya al-Libi will be remembered within al-Qaida's circles as one of their staunchest ideological defenders, uncompromising internal whips and charismatic, populist leaders. He epitomized the "mujahid shaykh" archetype, one of only a handful of leaders who al-Qaida's rank-in-file intellectually revered, emotionally loved and religiously emulated.
A revolutionary to his core, the bureaucratic success of the al-Qaida organization was never Abu Yahya's end goal. Al-Qaida was a matter of convenience, a ready-made architecture that he almost begrudgingly joined after escaping from an American military prison in July 2005. As the last group standing, al-Qaida would be Abu Yahya's best chance for advancing his agenda, one that far exceeded the goals of even al-Qaida's top brass. Abu Yahya not only wanted to get the Americans out and tear Arab regimes down, he wanted to remake Islam from the inside. Abu Yahya was an intellectual insurgent of Machiavellian proportions.
For most of his early career, Abu Yahya was of the same mind about al-Qaida as many of his Libyan jihadist compatriots who joined the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Osama bin Laden was a man to be respected from arms-length. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, could not be trusted, and should be avoided. Instead, Abu Yahya - whose real name is Hasan Qaid, dedicated the next ten years of his life to gaining the religious knowledge he needed to help support the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's (LIFG) cause to oust Muammar Gaddafi and implement Shariah in Libya.
Under the moniker Younis al-Sahrawi, Abu Yahya did at least two separate stints in Mauritania during the mid-1990s studying under heavyweight hardline Salafi shaykhs. The combination of his natural intellect, easygoing populist appeal, and this formal religious credentialing vaulted him into the LIFG's upper echelon. Returning to Afghanistan in the late-1990s with many of his Libyan jihadist colleagues, Abu Yahya forged close bonds with the Taliban's media and public relations managers, even serving as one of their webmasters in 2000-2001. He would be arrested in his Karachi flat in 2002 by Pakistani security forces, who transferred him to American custody, eventually landing him back in Afghanistan in one of America's most tightly guarded military prisons at Bagram.
After spending three years in American custody, Abu Yahya and three colleagues staged a daring jailbreak from Bagram in July 2005, which would mark the beginning of his meteoric rise to global jihadist stardom. At this time, al-Qaida's brand was getting hammered. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's gratuitous use of violence in Iraq and Jordan had provoked a catastrophic public relations backlash for the organization. Then al-Qaida number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, tried to control the damage through a recalibration of al-Qaida's public messaging and a sternly phrased letter to Zarqawi, but neither was enough. Without a heavy-hitting religious defense, usually provided by a troika of Saudi shaykhs who by then had all been jailed, al-Qaida could not make a meaningful religious defense. They needed an in-house shaykh who had the charisma and media-savvy to push back against external critics and internal miscreants. Enter Abu Yahya al-Libi.
His initial post-escape media appearances on a Taliban-affiliated media outlet, Labaik Media, reflected Abu Yahya's reticence to officially link himself to al-Qaida's organizational apparatus. In December 2005, Abu Yahya penned his own letter to his longstanding personal friend Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That relationship, combined with Abu Yahya's clerical gravitas and a follow-on letter from another respected Libyan, Atiyah abd al-Rahman, helped muzzle Zarqawi in a way that Zawahiri was not able to do alone.
It would not be until 2006 that Abu Yahya decided to appear under the auspices of al-Qaida's official media outlet, As-Sahab. Some of the prodding to play a formal role in al-Qaida likely came from his close friend and confidant, Abu Laith al-Libi, who not long after would announce the formal merger of his offshoot of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group with al-Qaida. By 2006, Abu Yahya was releasing new products at a feverish pace, each one seeming to up the ante in its extremism, absolutism and militancy.
Abu Yahya's decision to shift from his local focus on Libyan Islamist militancy to that of al-Qaida's global jihadist terrorism may have been an outgrowth of his personal need for vengeance against the United States for the treatment he claims that he endured while in captivity, three years of conversations with other detainees about their treatment and experiences with the United States, and a pragmatic realization that al-Qaida was the only game in town with any real chance at mobilizing a global revolution. Whatever the case, it was precisely the kind of intellectual sophistication and scholarly depth for which al-Qaida had been so desperate.
In the short six years that Abu Yahya al-Libi had been affiliated with al-Qaida, he helped resuscitate the senior leadership, which had been operationally defeated and religiously battered. He breathed new life into their ideology and restored their position as the vanguard of al-Qaida's global movement. His importance to al-Qaida cannot be overstated and, therefore, neither can the impact of his death on its future.
A near-term uptick in al-Qaida affiliate attacks on soft targets would not be surprising - neither would increased levels of in-fighting within and across the multiple levels of al-Qaida's global movement. With no one left to check the zealotry of al-Qaida's eager but undisciplined young generation, the future of al-Qaida without Abu Yahya will be more chaotic and interested in using violence for the sake of violence. All the public relations efforts that the senior leadership have made in recent years to spin al-Qaida as a kinder, gentler movement will be squandered, eventually culminating in the dissolution of what limited coherence al-Qaida's global movement has managed to maintain.
Jarret Brachman is a counterterrorism expert currently on faculty at North Dakota State University.
NATO's plan to transition Afghanistan to Afghan security control by the end
of 2014 offers an unexpected but potentially golden opportunity for the United States
and its allies to rectify, or at least improve, their strategy towards Pakistan.
In the midst of major budget cuts and a reorientation of our global footprint
away from Iraq and Afghanistan, Western leaders -- and particularly the U.S.
Congress -- are already tempted to reduce support to a country that can at best be
considered a fair-weather friend. But over the next several years, the
United States and NATO will be offered a chance to help Pakistan establish a
functioning civil society without the complications of a Western-led counterinsurgency
campaign across the border.
One benefit of reducing NATO's military presence in Afghanistan is that it will make it easier for the U.S. and allied governments to support entities in Pakistan in addition to the Government of Pakistan itself, particularly non-governmental organizations. At the same time, it will make accepting that assistance more palatable to Pakistanis, many of whom believe NATO's war has wrought violence and destruction upon their country. While foreign aid is far from guaranteed to achieve its intended results in Pakistan (or anywhere), effective assistance to Pakistan's civil society, in combination with increased access to foreign markets and improvements in security, is the tool most likely to help Pakistanis slow the slide toward failed nuclear statehood. With a fast-growing population of disenfranchised and radicalized youth, that scenario represents a clear threat to Western interests as well as Pakistan itself.
Over the course of a ten-year war in Afghanistan, the United States and allied governments steadily increased assistance to the government of Pakistan, reducing it only after the death of Osama bin Laden and Pakistan's indignant response. From the United States alone, direct overt aid and military reimbursements ballooned from $1.99 billion in 2002 to $4.29 billion in 2010. This number dropped to $2.37 billion in 2011 following a slow deterioration of relations that hit rock-bottom with the bin Laden raid on May 2 and has continued to slip over issues like NATO supply lines and cross-border incidents. The majority of this decrease has been made up of security assistance, and specifically Coalition Support Funds (CSF), which are used to reimburse Pakistan for military operations undertaken in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the United States was explicit in its statements of expectations for Pakistani cooperation, and confidence in Pakistan's support for U.S. efforts ran high through early 2002. By early 2003, however, President Karzai was intimating that Pakistan might be behind some Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan, or at least that Pakistan harbored those who were conducting them. The U.S. press was regularly reporting such accusations - including cryptic quotes from anonymous U.S. officials -- by mid-2004, and in July 2008, U.S. officials were all but confirming that Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was supporting Taliban groups.
Thus, the majority of U.S. assistance was ultimately provided
in spite of what many perceived as a contradiction between what Pakistan said
("we're on your side in Afghanistan; your terrorists are our
terrorists"), and what their actions seemed to convey ("we are
primarily concerned with our terrorists and may go as far as supporting those
who attack your soldiers if it will protect our interests in Kabul").
These misgivings were felt broadly inside the U.S. government, reaching as high
as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen who, after
years of staunch support for Pakistan, famously called the Haqqani Network a "veritable
arm of the ISI." But Pakistan's military cooperation along the border
combined with critical assistance on counterterrorism made providing almost
anything worth the cost, even while many knew the assistance relationship was
This calculus must shift as NATO reduces its footprint in Afghanistan. The United States and NATO will still need the Government of Pakistan's cooperation on certain issues, particularly counterterrorism, but also ensuring supplies reach the Special Operations and intelligence personnel remaining in Afghanistan after the bulk of the forces withdraw. Maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because they are important regional actors and arbiters of access for personnel, official and otherwise. Improving the Pakistan military's ability to control its territory will also remain important as long as insurgent groups - not to mention al-Qaeda - continue to use it as a safe haven. But overall the United States and its allies will need those entities less, making it easier to diversify who receives aid in the country. Certainly it will be a challenge to maintain these relationships while diverting assistance from the military and/or civilian government to other groups within Pakistan. But as long as we are careful to avoid supporting groups that the Government of Pakistan views as active threats (i.e., opposing political parties, Christian groups, or organizations associated with India), there is no reason the United States, its allies, and private aid organizations cannot provide assistance to groups outside the formal government structure and/or military. In fact, this is the United States' foreign assistance model in many other countries around the world.
States and its allies will also have more leeway to negotiate access for
personnel who can oversee implementation and increase transparency. For example, the Government of Pakistan has
been circumspect about allowing U.S.
and other foreign personnel to directly implement assistance programs and
military training, with obvious effects on donors' ability to verify how and
where money is spent. Past efforts to
use assistance as leverage to gain necessary access have been somewhat
successful, but have floundered during periods of escalated tensions. If the United States and NATO are less
dependent on Pakistan to support operations in Afghanistan, and if
Afghanistan-related tensions are even partially diffused, they will be better
positioned to require access and transparency in return for aid.
The future stability of Pakistan is reliant on a viable civilian leadership capable and willing to address the needs of its people. With a population of more than 180 million growing by 50 million over the next 15 years, the political elite's inability to address a chronic lack of education and basic services is setting the conditions for major civil unrest accompanied by sectarian violence and instability. Current efforts to remedy these problems are underfunded and plagued by administrative and logistical problems, making the likelihood of effective progress slim without outside help. And in a country with rampant Islamic extremism and a fast-growing nuclear arsenal, the current trajectory makes Pakistan - already a dangerous place - even more ominous on the world stage.
nations' ability to change Pakistan's
overall course is limited. There is,
however, reason to be hopeful. There
were an estimated 100,000 non-profit
organizations operating in Pakistan as of 2009, a large percentage of which are
locally-funded and could have greater impact with the help of foreign
funding. In a less contentious future
environment, the United States and its allies could provide assistance to some
of these groups, as well as work through international organizations and
encourage foreign investment and private donations. While the U.S. Congress and allied
governments are justified in remembering Pakistan's indiscretions over the
course of the Afghan war, it is the responsibility of those nations' leaders to
win over lawmakers and their constituents on why an unstable Pakistan only
means more turbulence for the region and beyond.
These non-profit organizations and other parts of Pakistani civil society, including its long-stifled but not non-existent private sector, may have a chance of improving conditions in the country, drawing on the support of the moderate majority. Pakistani and international charitable organizations are making a small dent in the massive problem set Pakistani confronts, particularly in the realm of education. But there is one fact that Western policy-makers are going to have to accept: many of these players hold Islamist and anti-Western views. As we learned in Egypt and other Arab Spring nations, we cannot expect entities to represent the people of a Muslim nation and not embody some Islamic values. This fact in itself does not make that group extremist or an enemy of the West.
should apply this new understanding to future engagement with Pakistan, while
remaining aware of both the sensitivities of the Government of Pakistan and
those of the U.S. Congress, who remain the stewards of U.S. tax-payer dollars. If the United States, NATO, and Pakistan can
use the Afghan drawdown to reduce tensions and improve security, if only
marginally, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has the potential to more closely
resemble the peace-time relationships maintained with other nations in South
Asia and elsewhere. This would encompass
a balance of international assistance (both through government structures and
non-profits, keeping in line with host nation priorities), free and balanced
trade relationships, and help in developing a dynamic political and economic
Conveniently, the drawdown in Afghanistan also makes it easier for many Pakistani groups to work with Western groups and governments. Many Pakistanis are quick to blame Pakistan's domestic problems on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's participation in it. Whether or not this is based in reality, those perceptions drive politics within Pakistan. As the United States and NATO reduce their military presence in the region, Pakistani officials will be less able to blame Western actions for their domestic problems. At the same time, the population will increasingly focus on day-to-day survival rather than regional matters, and non-profits will increasingly seek civilian assistance for their country. The West can meet those calls and gain much good will at a reasonable cost.
Based on its own national and strategic interests, Pakistan has been a tentative ally in the Afghan war. But the United States and its allies cannot write off the population of Pakistan for the shortcomings of its political system. In fact, to do so poses much greater long-term risks, the mitigation of which requires a nation moving towards economic viability whose problems are not spilling into the world around it. Failure to maintain international support to Pakistan means discarding a real chance for progress by walking away before the real work has begun.
Whitney Kassel is a former Assistant for Counterterrorism Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC), and now serves as a director at The Arkin Group.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Among the more interesting revelations from the documents recovered during the raid on Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound was bin Laden's angry reaction to Faysal Shahzad's effort to detonate a bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010, based on the notion that Shahzad had violated the oath of allegiance he swore to the United States in a naturalization ceremony. The critique was included in an October 2010 letter from bin Laden to ‘Atiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, a veteran Libyan fighter who would go on to become al-Qaeda's second-in-command after bin Laden's death. The dispatch is part of a larger selection of documents that the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released on May 3, 2012.
In the letter, Bin Laden criticizes both Shahzad and Hakimullah Mahsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who offered him training and advice:
Perhaps you monitored the trial of brother Faysal Shahzad. In it he was asked about the oath that he took when he got American citizenship. And he responded by saying that he lied. You should know that it is not permissible in Islam to betray trust and break a covenant. Perhaps the brother was not aware of this. Please ask the brothers in Taliban Pakistan to explain this point to their members. In one of the pictures, brother Faysal Shahzad was with commander Mahsud; please find out if Mahsud knows that getting the American citizenship requires talking an oath to not harm America. This is a very important matter because we do not want al-Mujahidn[sic] to be accused of breaking a covenant.
The concern reappeared in another letter, likely from bin Laden or ‘Atiyatullah to Nassir al-Wuhayshi, emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The author counseled the emir:
If the government does not agree on a truce, concentrate on the Yemeni emigrants who come back to visit Yemen and have American visas or citizenship and would be able to conduct operations inside America as long as they have not given their promises not to harm America.
Bin Laden's (and ‘Atiyatullah's) sensitivity towards this issue reflects a sustained debate in the jihadist universe. Although the idea of covenants have a long pedigree in Islamic theology, stretching back to the Prophet Muhammad's arrangements with the various non-Muslim tribes throughout the region, the issue gained relevance for jihadists only recently. In 1998 Bin Laden formally articulated his strategy to abandon the jihad against "near enemy" Arab regimes and redirect the war towards the west. But making the West (as opposed to the Islamic world) the battleground posed a series of theological challenges, including identifying the rules that governed the conduct of jihadists already living in or travelling to the West.
Probably not coincidentally, around this time a community of predominantly London-based sheikhs and commentators began discussing the obligations of jihadis residing in the West. Abu Baseer al-Tartusi, an exiled Syrian scholar known for his radical, if often dissenting views on the conduct of jihad, lectured publicly about the importance of maintaining what he saw as a "covenant of security": Muslims in the West were not allowed to attack the countries in which they lived or had taken refuge in. Al-Tartusi also spent a portion of his 1999 treatise al-Istihlal on the issue, and his followers later translated this section and issued it as a pamphlet (these works are available on Tartusi's website). Tartusi explained that he was motivated to comment on the covenant because:
[A] great number of Muslims -both those living in the West as ‘citizens' and others- who enter the lands of non-Muslims in a covenant, do not really know what rights Sharia Law gives them and what responsibilities it assigns to them... And what makes this matter worse is that those wrongdoers' ignorance about the teachings, rulings and "purposes and intentions" of Islam makes them commit such acts in the name of Islam and under the impression of holding fast to Islam, while Islam has nothing to do with such irresponsible acts!
While some prominent jihadis criticized Abu Baseer's view, other London-based jihadist figures expressed their adherence to the idea of the covenant. In fact, after the 7/7 bombings in Britain (carried out by British Muslims) Tartusi issued a strongly-worded refutation of the attacks, arguing that tactics and strategy must always be grounded in theology, not vice versa. Tartusi's ruling and subsequent controversy that erupted in militant circles was one example of the sensitivity around the issue. The recent decision of the British government to re-launch their anti-radicalization "Prevent" strategy has revitalized the discussion among British extremists.
The implications of bin Laden's far enemy strategy also ignited criticism from Middle Eastern-based jihadist figures. Most prominently, in 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, aka Dr. Fadl, a former leader of the Egyptian group al-Jihad, leveled a series of theological, strategic, and personal attacks on Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda. Al-Sharif opened with an interview for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in which he castigated al-Qaeda for violating this covenant. In the most colorful portion, Sayyid Imam warned that "the followers of Bin Ladin entered the United States with his knowledge, on his orders, double-crossed its population, and killed and destroyed. The Prophet, God's prayer and peace be upon him, said: "On the Day of Judgment, every double-crosser will have a banner at his anus proportionate to his treachery." Shortly thereafter, Imam released a book which expanded on many of these criticisms. As he wrote in Guiding Jihad Work in Egypt and the World: "Whoever receives permission to enter the unbelievers' countries, even if they do so with a forged visa, they must respect this as a religiously-approved security contract, and any Muslim must honor it...(pg. 20)"
For their part, al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri tried to brush off the criticism. Zawahiri countered with a book of his own a short while later, The Exoneration, in which he defended the decision to reject the covenant. As he argued:
If we assume for argument's sake that a visa from America or from any other crusader country allied with America in its more than 50-year-long aggression against Muslims is an aman (grant of safe passage), this aman is void for two reasons. First, no aman protects the life of someone who wages war against God and His prophet, harms Muslims, and insults their prophet and religion. Second, America and its allies violate the aman every day. (pg. 154)
At the time there was little evidence that the exchange caused a reassessment. In the following years, public statements from al-Qaeda-affiliated figures showed little interest in revisiting the issue. For instance, in late 2010 Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric, wrote in the fourth issue of Inspire, AQAP's magazine, that "Muslims are not bound by the covenants of citizenship and visa that exist between them and nations of dar al-harb." (pg. 56). It is worth noting that in another Abbottabad document, bin Laden was skeptical of al-Awlaki, politely but firmly rejecting al-Wuhayshi's suggestion that al-Awlaki be designated the leader of AQAP.
A complete judgment will have to await additional information, including the release of more than 17 carefully selected documents. But these two passages point to a tension between those who, like bin Laden and ‘Attiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, remained concerned over the theological foundations of al-Qaeda's war against the west, and those who apparently subsumed the theological questions to the urgency of carrying out high-profile attacks. These same types of tensions and conflicts have historically riven the jihadist movement, and al-Qaeda itself. Now, with bin Laden, ‘Attiyatullah, and al-Awlaki dead, it remains to be seen if Ayman al-Zawahiri will overcome or exacerbate these divisions.
Steven Brooke is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
When the U.S. and Afghan governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on handing over Bagram jail and its detainees, both of the governments and the media -- including myself -- saw the agreement as a real transfer of sovereignty and a victory for President Karzai. Now I am much less sure. It seems a system may be emerging where the gains in sovereignty are illusory and, though there is an Afghan face on security detentions, the U.S. military remains in control.
There is another twist to the handover of Bagram prison, which is officially known as the Detention Facility in Parwan -- or DFiP. The MoU committed the Afghan state to using detention without trial for some security prisoners and both the United States and Afghanistan have moved swiftly to set up the system for doing this. However, the government denies having made any such commitment. The Presidential spokesman, Aimal Faizi, was unequivocal:
We signed the MoU... mainly to put an end to detentions without trial because they are not in accordance to the Afghan laws... The President has always been absolutely against detentions without trial and this is his stance today as well... We have not signed or agreed anything which allows detentions without trial.
The Bagram MoU was a response to President Karzai's ultimatum in January 2012 that the United States had a month to hand over both prison and inmates after reports of maltreatment. This MoU -- along with a second one on Afghan-izing special operations (dealing with the especially sensitive topic of night raids) -- were pre-conditions on the Afghan side for the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which the United States wanted in place before the recently-held NATO summit in Chicago.
The United States was worried about the possible release of men whom it considers the most dangerous in detention, as the 3,000 odd people currently held by the U.S. military without trial in Bagram could well be considered illegally incarcerated under Afghan law. Hence the Afghan and U.S. negotiators took recourse to the Laws of Armed Conflict. Both MoUs cite the 1977 Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (APII) as the legal basis for detention without trial. APII acknowledges that when a state is fighting a war, it may deprive its citizens of "their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict."
Is it possible that President Karzai might not have understood what using APII entailed? The English version of the Bagram MoU says only that the Afghan government would be using "administrative detention" at Bagram, but the Dari version is more specific. It is "gheiri qazayi", or non-judicial, and the Afghan president's legal advisor confirmed at the time this would be without trial. A presidential decree on the handover also appears to have been passed. A reference to an undated, un-numbered, and as far as I know as yet unpublished decree appears in another document -- the (also unpublished) Procedure for the Transition and Management of Bagram[i] -- which was signed by the ministers of justice, interior, and defense, the head of Afghan intelligence (the NDS), the head of the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General on March 3 (read a translation here). The Procedure also cites APII. It is possible that the Afghan government does not want to admit it is now using internment because it would be politically unpopular, or because using APII means implicitly acknowledging that Afghanistan is fighting a civil war.
Getting information on what exactly is happening at Bagram is difficult, but from interviewing those involved in the handover, none of whom would speak on the record, and after getting hold of the Procedure, it has been possible to paint a fuller picture.
The mechanisms for handing over the prison have been rapidly established. Since at least mid-April, the U.S. military has been passing on detainees' case files (in English, with Dari translation) at a rate of 30-40 a day to an Afghan technical committee (made up of representatives from the ministries of interior and defense, from the NDS, Supreme Court and Attorney General's office). The Committee sends cases with prosecutable evidence to NDS for trial under Afghan criminal law. The remaining case files are passed to a review board (made up of representatives from the ministries of interior, defense, and NDS) which, for just over a week, has either assented to continued detention without trial, if it believes the individual is a continuing security threat, or has recommended release. There is no detail about the nature of the required evidence here, but according to the Procedure, continued detention can be ordered even if the Board believes the prisoner is only a "potential supporter of an armed group engaged in hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or international forces."
If the review board recommends release, the file is sent back to the Bagram Transfer Commission (made up of five ministers), which can order a release. However, if the U.S. military believes an individual continues to be a terrorist threat, the MoU says this assessment should be "consider[ed] favourably." Such an (apparent) veto on release may not seem unreasonable given the way detainees frequently use influence, bribes, or intimidation to secure their freedom once inside the Afghan justice system. Still, it does not look like a transfer of sovereignty.
There are other indications that the U.S. military may still retain control. After initially reading the MoU, I assumed, like others (including the BBC) that, after six months, Bagram and its detainees would be handed over, once and for all, to the Afghans. The MoU says:
The United States Commander at the DFIP is to retain responsibility for the detainees held by the United States at the DFIP under the Law of Armed Conflict during the processing and transfer period, which is not to last more than six months. (Article 6c)
Re-reading all the documents and interviews, I rather think the U.S. military may intend to also have the option of retaining control of each freshly detained person for a maximum of six months before transferring him to the Afghan authorities. When asked about this, the U.S. embassy spokesman would only say: "We have nothing further for you on this topic at this time."
One can well imagine a scenario in which Afghan forces, working with the U.S. military, knock down the doors of Afghan homes and make the arrests (as per the second MoU on special operations), but the detainees, if considered interesting, stay in U.S. custody. The United States would still control initial detention, classification, and release, but the Afghan government would be in the firing line, either under pressure from the relatives of detainees wanting their people freed or criticized on human rights grounds relating to indefinite detention and the lack of legal recourse to evidence, independent counsel, and the like.
Now that the legal doors to internment have been opened, one can also imagine detention without trial spreading to other Afghan facilities. This must be a concern, given the many abuses, including torture, already staining the Afghan justice system, particularly for security detainees.
The new arrangements in Bagram are not yet set in stone. The MoU itself makes clear that, "this arrangement is subject to review as part of the Bilateral Security Agreement to be negotiated between the Participants after the signing of the Strategic Partnership." Up till now, however, voices of protest about the nature of the handover have been few. One belongs to MP Shukria Barakzai, chair of the Afghan Lower House Defense Committee, who has questioned the very legality of detention without trial. Otherwise, the start of the state interning its citizens has taken place quietly, with almost no comment in the media or in parliament. Afghans are simply not aware of their loss of one of the most fundamental rights - for a prisoner to have his or her day in court. The opportunity for an honest debate on detention without trial is not yet over, but there are no signs yet of the discussion even beginning.
Kate Clark is the senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network and is based in Kabul.
[i] ‘The Procedure for Transition and Management of Bagram Detention Facility and Pul-e Charkhi Detention Facility from the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan'
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Several weeks ago, the United States government placed a $10 million bounty on the head of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed as part of the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program. Saeed is the founder of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up on the bounty with complaints that Pakistan should be doing more to bring Saeed to justice, to which Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani responded on May 13 that available evidence was insufficient to arrest Saeed.
In the aftermath of the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Saeed was detained, and then released uncharged, despite damning information provided to Pakistan by the U.S. and Indian governments firmly linking LeT to the attacks. This lack of action was no surprise to terrorism analysts outside of Pakistan, who strongly believe that LeT has been deliberately fostered as a proxy by the shadowy and largely unaccountable intelligence service in Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or the ISI.
Yet the circumstances of this particular bounty are unique, and that uniqueness may lead to an interesting new example of the so-called "law of unintended consequences." The bounty calls for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Saeed, yet unlike Osama bin Laden or leaders of the Taliban for whom rewards are on offer, Saeed is not in hiding; his whereabouts in Pakistan are generally well-known. However, if a Pakistani citizen were to call the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and say, "Saeed is at an anti-NATO rally in Lahore right now," that person is not going to collect the reward, because the information can't lead to his arrest and prosecution without help from Pakistan, help which is clearly not forthcoming. Given the angry backlash in Pakistan against both the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound last May, and the border shooting incident last November that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead at the hands of NATO forces, it is also unlikely the United States is going to carry out a unilateral operation to grab Saeed.
Practically speaking, Saeed would have to be outside of Pakistan, in a country that would honor the arrest warrants against him, for any person or group who reported Saeed's whereabouts to collect the rich bounty. Knowing this, Saeed isn't too likely to voluntarily depart the one country where he can be sure he won't be arrested. In fact, he requested protection from the Pakistani government shortly after the bounty was announced, indicating that the suspect himself may be concerned about individuals looking to collect the massive reward.
As Pakistan is clearly not going to arrest Saeed, the bounty on his head, and the subsequent complaints by Clinton, could be viewed simply as ongoing protests by the U.S. government about Pakistan's protection of Saeed and formal notice that LeT will be receiving scrutiny levels similar to al-Qaeda. Fine, so far as that goes...but what is to stop a criminal gang, a band of mercenaries, or even a group of patriotic Indians, from kidnapping Saeed, smuggling him out of Pakistan, leaving him tied up in a safe house in, say, Sri Lanka, phoning the U.S. Embassy and demanding the $10 million reward in return for Saeed's location?
Putting a huge bounty on the head of a person who cannot be arrested and prosecuted in his home country, but who also isn't in hiding, is surely a powerful motivation for anyone enticed by the bounty to make sure Saeed is outside Pakistan and wrapped in a tidy package before reporting his whereabouts. And while the current shaky relations with Pakistan make it unlikely that the United States would take unilateral action inside the country, there is nothing to stop anybody else from deciding the offer on Saeed is too tempting to ignore. Lest one consider this an unlikely scenario, look no farther than Colombia, where fat rewards for kidnapping and weak/corrupt law enforcement have turned kidnapping for cash into a cottage industry that had become a major source of income for narco-terrorist group FARC. Crime and corruption are at meteoric levels in Pakistan, and there are plenty of criminal gangs who may consider the U.S. government's offer on Saeed as too tempting to pass up.
Encouraging people to grab Saeed and get him out of Pakistan was almost certainly not the intent of Rewards for Justice offer. But when Pakistan's clear refusal to act against Saeed is considered in tandem with the conditions necessary to claim the money, it is hard to imagine the offered reward, practically speaking, as anything other than an open bounty for the rendition of Saeed outside Pakistan, regardless of whether that is what it was ever intended to be.
Art Keller is a former CIA case officer who served in Pakistan and the author of the new novel about Iran, Hollow Strength.
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This month's NATO summit in Chicago has provided many writers and analysts a moment to debate possible outcomes of the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan. Commentary ranges from David Ignatius "thinking the unthinkable" about the Taliban returning to Kabul, to former First Lady Laura Bush urging the international community to remember the women of Afghanistan. The meeting provides a timely inflection point about the price paid in blood and treasure, and the future return on this costly investment.
Yet there is a glaring gap in this conversation, one that ignores the on-the-ground reality of Afghanistan. It is the role of religion and its influence on the trajectory of the Afghan government. By paying it little or no heed, the United States is omitting a key piece of the complex jigsaw puzzle that is Afghanistan's future.
My meeting with Afghan Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghalib in Kabul drove home the importance of religion and its influence on matters of state. Our conversation in December 2010 quickly turned to the application of Islamic religious law to the affairs of men and women, especially the issue of apostasy, a topic which places core freedoms of religion and conscience at the center of government policy. At the time, a convert to Christianity was being detained, but similar cases had arisen where Muslims were charged with "criminal" activity considered blasphemous. He justified government actions on Islamic law, brushing aside my counterarguments for freedom of religion and belief based on international standards, the Afghan constitution, and even Qur'anic references.
It wasn't surprising that the Minister was unmoved in his view that apostasy and blasphemy were crimes to be punished by the state, as it reflected past Afghan government actions against Muslims and non-Muslims to stifle freedom of thought and restrict expression. However, it underscored the cost of not addressing the role of religious tenets in law and governance.
Afghanistan's legal system is a big part of the problem, despite Article 7 of the Afghan constitution stating that the Afghan government "shall abide by" the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In practice, Afghanistan has established a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law through the vague repugnancy clause in Article 3 that states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Consequently, there are no protections for individuals to dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate the role of religion in law and society, advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or question interpretations of Islamic precepts.
David Ignatius' "unthinkable" thought of a Taliban return to Kabul could happen, but perhaps even faster than he imagines. The Afghan constitution's provisions referencing undefined notions of Islamic law give Taliban sympathizers legal cover to apply their regressive religious interpretations through laws against human rights, religious freedom, and women's rights.
Religion matters in Afghanistan, and promoting religious freedom and tolerance can help achieve human rights and security goals. Repression of religious freedom strengthens the hand of violent religious extremists. As I've written elsewhere, conditions of full religious freedom allows for the peaceful sharing of differing views and interpretations. This openness can displace extremist influences from social and religious networks, thereby limiting their ability to influence populations of concern and turn them towards violence. Recent studies and research are building an empirical case that limitations on religious freedom lead to more, not less, societal instability.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- where I work -- has documented Afghanistan's poor religious freedom record and placed Afghanistan on our Watch List. USCIRF has described the situation as "exceedingly poor for dissenting members of the majority faith and for minority religious communities." Regarding religious minorities, USCIRF reported how "the small and vulnerable Christian community experienced a spike in arrests, with Christians being detained and some jailed (and later released) for the ‘crime' of apostasy." The Hindu and Sikh communities continue to face discrimination and violence, while the small Baha'i community operates basically underground, especially since a 2007 ruling by the General Directorate of Fatwa and Accounts decreed their faith to be a "form of blasphemy." Even the much larger minority Hazara Shi'a community, which has experienced greater freedoms, was targeted by suicide bombers in late 2011.
A string of events in recent months bears further witness to religion's unmistakable role in Afghanistan:
Taliban response to Strategic Partnership Agreement - There were two Taliban responses to this agreement, one violent, but the other focused on religion. The violent response received much greater attention, since this was the attack on Bagram Airbase after President Obama left the country. However, the Taliban also issued a statement in April, immediately after the announcement of a deal, outlining five ways the Karzai government was caving. Four of the five focused on issues relating to Islam - preventing a true Islamic government; bringing in secularism and liberalism; creating an army hostile to Islam; and being a continuous threat to Muslim countries in the region. The Taliban believes this issue to be relevant to the Afghan populace.
Qur'an burnings - The accidental destruction of Qur'ans and other Islamic materials triggered a nationwide backlash, attacks on U.S. and ISAF personnel, and an apology from President Obama. Dozens were killed and scores more wounded. Sensing a public relations bonanza, the Taliban pressed to exploit the situation to their advantage, issuing statements urging violence and offering this as further evidence of America's supposed war against Islam.
Ulema Council statement and Karzai response - The Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, issued a "code of conduct" for women that permits husbands to beat their wives and promotes gender segregation. If that wasn't alarming enough for human rights and women's rights advocates, President Karzai endorsed the statement. He had other options, such as refuting the findings or at least ignoring them, but Karzai felt the need to endorse them, saying they were in line with Islamic principles. Why? Because the role of religion in politics and governance has a great influence in Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, a response is not to be found in the Strategic Partnership or the recent NATO summit declaration. No mention was made of promoting religious freedom and religious tolerance, key elements of any attempt to see human rights and women's rights protected and respected.
While these high-level documents are silent, there is increasing recognition of this challenge in U.S. government policy. The State Department has initiated a program to counter extremist voices, which looks to bring other Islamic perspectives into Afghanistan to help expose Afghanis to the broader Islamic world. After 30 years of civil war and the impact of a narrow Taliban-imposed view, there is little understanding of how their religion can work successfully with democracy and human rights. USAID is also doing interesting work with Afghanistan's informal justice system, introducing human rights into the centuries-old traditional system, and doing so through the lens of Islamic law. However, these efforts, while positive, are not enough to have a lasting impact.
In other words, the current level of programming won't move a needle that is pointing dangerously in the wrong direction.
It's getting late in the game, but it's not too late to move the needle. There is still time for concerted action. The U.S. government can ramp up its efforts to increase public diplomacy relating to religious freedom and religious tolerance, and bring more delegations of Afghan religious and NGO leaders to the United States and take American religious and NGO leaders to Afghanistan. The United States can jump-start training about the balance between religion and state and the compatibility of Islam with human rights and religious freedom. Continuing to press for greater freedoms in public and private is critical, as well as starting new initiatives, such as creating a special working group on religious freedom/tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues. U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces should be trained to understand international standards when engaging with Afghan religious leaders, local government officials, or Afghan local police forces. U.S. government personnel also need to increase their "religious IQ" on the role of Islam in Afghan society, as well as understand how religious freedom can promote stability and security.
As Afghanistan goes about building institutions as the international community departs, getting the religion question right will be a part of every answer. The Taliban and the Afghan government talk about religion, apply religious law, and use it to their advantage. Considering religion is the lens through which everything passes, significantly increasing engagement on religious freedom and tolerance will advance U.S. human rights and national security interests.
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.
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The May 20 NATO summit in Chicago was dominated by the issue of Afghanistan. Amidst all the talk about withdrawing international combat troops by 2014, funding the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014, and a doubtful political settlement with the Taliban, one subject was absent from the formal agenda: drugs.
Yet in few other countries is the drugs trade so entrenched as it is in Afghanistan. Accounting for between one-quarter and one-third of the national economy, it is an integral part of the insecurity blighting Afghan life for the past 30 years.
Debate may continue for years as to whether the Western intervention in Afghanistan has made the world safer or more insecure in the post-9/11 era. But it has not only done nothing to reduce global supplies of illicit opium; rather, it has made the problem worse.
The international drugs-control regime, in place since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs came into effect, rests on prohibiting use in consumer countries and reducing supply in producer states. In Afghanistan, the source of around 60 per cent of the planet's illicit opium and 85 per cent of heroin, the latter objective may never be achieved to any meaningful degree.
The boom years for Afghan poppy cultivation began in the 1970s, thanks to political instability in Southeast Asia's fertile 'Golden Triangle' and bans on the crop in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. The Soviet invasion in late 1979 gave local warlords an incentive to plant opium poppies to fund their insurgency against Moscow.
In the three decades since, with few other sources of income, opium production has come to provide for up to half a million Afghan households. The poppy is a hardy, drought-resistant plant, much easier for farmers to grow than saffron and more profitable than wheat. Both have been offered as alternative crops, but with only limited take-up. The criminal networks that have sprung up around the drugs trade provide farmers with seeds, fertiliser and cash loans; in short they offer an alternative welfare system. The principal growing regions, the southern Pashtun-dominated provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, are also Taliban strongholds.
For all these reasons, NATO efforts to eradicate opium - either by aerial spraying or manually- have alienated the population. Indeed, they have often had to be abandoned in the face of popular resistance. Crop disease did more to reduce opium production in 2010 than NATO's counter-narcotics strategy. The United Nations recently reported there had been a 61 percent rebound in opium production in 2011, and prices were soaring. This is a worrying trend, which seems set to continue after NATO troops leave.
Drug seizures, while rising, still account for less than 5% of opium produced. As a general rule, the United Nations estimates, law-enforcement agencies need to interdict about 70% of supplies to make the drugs trade less financially attractive to traffickers and dealers. In any circumstances, this is an extremely challenging objective. In the large swathes of Afghanistan where the central government and security forces wield no control, it is completely unrealistic. Meanwhile, no major trafficker has yet successfully been prosecuted due to a widespread culture of impunity.
Alternative approaches have been proposed. Most recently, in May 2012, Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimov proposed that opium should be purchased directly from Afghan farmers to either be used in the pharmaceutical industry or to be destroyed. He also called on other countries to do the same in a move he deemed essential to fight drug trafficking and narcotics-fuelled terrorism. But this option was tried in 2002 when the United Kingdom had the lead on narcotics reduction, and had to be abandoned in the face of evidence that the purchasing programme constituted a perverse incentive to increase production. Licit production of opium for medical purposes may be a long-term option for Afghanistan, but not while current conditions of high insecurity and pervasive corruption persist.
In the West, the drugs scourge is mostly thought about in terms of the lives lost, opportunities wasted and the social disruption created through addiction. In fragile and impoverished nations such as Afghanistan, drugs create a shadow state, fuelling institutional corruption, instability, violence and human misery. The Taliban, which banned the planting of opium in 2001, was deriving an estimated U.S. $125 million per year from the business by 2009. It has been an equally important revenue stream for former warlords whose inclusion in the administration of President Hamid Karzai NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has done little to oppose. Such individuals have a powerful vested interest in state weakness to the obvious detriment of good governance and institution-building. And all these actors are likely to maximise revenues from opium production in the run-up to the 2014 NATO/ISAF drawdown to hedge against an uncertain future.
A trade in which so many have vested interests will never be unwound simply or swiftly.
What drives it is its huge profitability, a consequence of continuing Western demand. No-one can confidently predict the consequences of changing the drugs prohibition regime. The current approach has not achieved the 1961 Single Convention's objectives. But has had the unintended consequence of perpetuating and increasing corruption and instability in parts of the world least equipped to deal with the consequences. Perhaps our collective experience in Afghanistan should serve as the basis for a serious rethink of global drugs policy? This would involve a cost/benefit analysis of current policies, scenario planning of the impact of alternative approaches and a much greater focus on demand reduction in consumer states. The issue of narcotics needs to be taken out of the silo it currently inhabits and looked at in the wider context of international security and development.
Nigel Inkster is Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of ‘Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: the Problems of Prohibition.'
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It was 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Mossarat Qadeem was sitting on the floor of a house with about a dozen young Pakistani men -- some of whom had nearly become suicide bombers. Qadeem's goal: to undo the destructive brainwashing of the al-Qaeda and Taliban teachers who trained them in extremism, in part by asking the students to narrate their life stories.
"We were handling one of the boys, and he just came, put his head here in my lap, and he started crying and weeping," Qadeem recalls. "I was taken aback. It is very unnatural in my country that a man that tall can just sit at your feet and put his head here. [The other men] were all crying with him, and I was looking at him, and thinking, ‘my God.'"
All in a day's work for Qadeem. She's the national coordinator of Aman-o-Nisa, a coalition of Pakistani women that convened in October 2011 to combat violent extremism in Pakistan at the grassroots level. A delegation of 12 women from Aman-o-Nisa, sponsored in part by the Institute for Inclusive Security, recently traveled to Washington, DC to share their work with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Washington policymakers. The AfPak Channel sat down with three of the women -- Qadeem, the founder of Pakistan's first center for conflict transformation and peacebuilding, Sameena Imtiaz, the founder and executive director of the Peace Education and Development Foundation, and Bushra Hyder, the founder and director of Qadims Lumiere School and College -- while they were in town for a conversation about why so few women work in counterterrorism, and the tactics they use to reverse the violent, extremist mentality.
The interview is condensed and edited below.
Of course, Islamic extremism is a major problem in many other countries besides Pakistan. Why are there so few groups like Aman-o-Nisa, and so few women working to counter extremism?
Bushra Hyder: Most of the women are not even aware that they can play a positive role combating extremism. Secondly, there are security reasons involved. In our part of the country, if a woman goes out and starts getting involved in such activities, she is definitely going to be at risk. Naturally, the males of the household and family would not like their women and females...facing any kind of security threat. That could be the reason, but the fact is the majority of the women are not aware of it.
Sameena Imtiaz: [Women] are also not recognized by men as [people] who could play a very supportive role in combatting extremism in countries such as Pakistan. [In] the security sector in countries like Pakistan, for instance, women are hardly visible. They are not at the dialogue tables, they are not consulted and valued in the policymaking processes that are there.
Mossarat Qadeem: Extremism per se has never been recognized and debated upon in Pakistan as a threat. We feel that there is a foreign hand involved in the incidence of extremism that takes place in Pakistan. And ...we leave it to the government to respond to it. Even the men in the community and society have never thought that they can do something at their level to combat it or to address it. Everyone says it's the responsibility of the government , and they should respond to it because it's a foreign threat - it has nothing to do with Pakistanis, it's not our issue.
Why do Pakistanis see it as a foreign threat? Is it because the extremism in Pakistan isn't homegrown, as it tends to be in Morocco, for example?
MQ: In Pakistan...it's so unobtrusive. It's not obvious that someone is coming and asking the people to become Taliban, to become an extremist, unlike Morocco. That's why this invisible enemy, this invisible hand, is so dangerous, because you don't know who to counter and how to counter.
What are the origins of extremism in Pakistan?
SI: Talibanization and extremism are not new phenomena in Pakistan. We have to go back into the early 80s when many Pakistanis were fighting in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. There was a lot of money that was poured into Pakistan to help these militant groups who are now called Taliban and who have become a monster. They have been thriving on foreign aid.
A lot needs to be done to undo what has been done in the past. But what we are expecting from Pakistan at the moment is there should be a magic wand and all this disappears. It [requires a] change of mindset. You have for decades taught young people that they have to fight this fight in the name of Islam. If you have trained young people to become fighters and warriors, you cannot expect them to become mercenaries of peace immediately. You have to work with them...deradicalize the people who already have this mindset now, and to stop the slide of these young people into extremism. You have to provide them other opportunities, you have to open up avenues for alternative work opportunities for them. What do they do if they don't fight? If they don't become militants? Do they have then food to eat, places to sleep in? You have to look at them as human beings and treat them as human beings.
How do you go about trying to transform the mindsets of radicalized youth?
MQ: We use the Quranic verses -- the true interpretation of the Quran, and of course the teachings of the Holy Sunna. We give examples of the Prophet Muhammad. That's the best way to counter radicalization and extremism in Pakistan, because the [verses] have been misquoted and misinterpreted [by extremist trainers]. We use a lot from the history around the world, giving examples of why peace is important.
What are the subjects - or verses - that you bring up the first time you speak to a radicalized young person?
MQ: Before doing all of this, I conducted research [to find out] what tools have been used to transform these youth. I came across certain verses that were misinterpreted and misused -- particular verses about jihad. And I had to take different sources and different interpretations of various religious scholars and accumulate them. I had to actually work with some of the trainers and scholars [who had radicalized the youth] because I wanted to know, what should be my approach?
How did you get these trainers to talk to you? And what did they tell you?
MQ: Two are transformed now. They told me, these are the verses we have been using, these are the tactics we have been using, this is the picture we used to draw for these students. I did it in a very different way. I used the same tactics, but it was real, it's what the Quran says.
What's an example of a verse that has been misinterpreted?
MQ: There is a particular verse in the Surah Maidah that says ‘go out and fight.' But the fighting in that particular verse was misinterpreted. That verse was used in a particular period of time when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was living in the state of Medina, and the people wanted to kill every Muslim. So they really had enemies to face - [they] were being killed, and [there was the risk that] Islam would [disappear].
Obviously, you all do very risky work. How often do you feel directly threatened?
SI: All the time. We are working in such a sensitive area. The risk is always there. We have so many times received life-threatening messages. There have been attempts on many of us. So yes, that's part of the game.
Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation.
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The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed by President Obama and President Karzai in the dead of night in Kabul on May 2nd, and the recently concluded Chicago Summit, have sent an important message that the international community is not abandoning Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan's stability and security remain a key objective of the United States and its NATO allies. The Chicago summit has ratified crucial details of the security strategy to meet these objectives. But the last decade in Afghanistan has shown that security strategies in the absence of political strategies do not translate into peace and stability. The international community's political strategy has always been muddled or murky at best, or missing altogether. But politics is happening in Afghanistan, providing new opportunities even as international troops withdraw. After Chicago, there is an urgent need to ensure that a strategy for the upcoming political transition in Afghanistan, and in particular the 2014 presidential election, receives similar policy attention as has been devoted to the security transition and the SPA.
We've just returned from a few weeks in Afghanistan, where we perceived both a new and energized spirit of politicking for the 2014 presidential elections, as well as baldly stated fears of a return to civil war. For many we interviewed, the two are inextricably linked - a massively flawed election in 2014, or a failure to hold an election at all, could easily result in a destabilizing situation where there is no legitimate civilian control, and security forces could break down and begin competing for power along ethnic and factional lines. If so, the tens of billions of dollars devoted to building the Afghan security forces, under the assumption that they would come under civilian control, could amount instead to an investment in a more ruthless and costly civil conflict that further destabilizes Afghanistan and its neighbors. Given this huge risk, not only for Afghans but also for core U.S. national security interests in the region, it is imperative to rectify the major imbalance between the time and effort devoted to planning the security transition vs. the political transition - especially given that the fate of both are so deeply intertwined.
In Kabul, the political transition discussions we had often boiled down to one question: what will Karzai do? He has repeatedly stated publicly that he will not be president after 2014. But there are few examples in Afghan history of orderly and peaceful transitions of power, and many Afghans refuse to take President Karzai at his word. If it is true, as Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said, that "information is the currency of democracy", then rumor is the currency of Afghan democracy (some might say, more simply, that currency is the currency of Afghan democracy). Karzai's statements have been dismissed by many Afghans with a raft of conspiracy theories on how he will extend his power. These range from the Constitutional (declaring a state of emergency-though this could only last two months before it would need to be ratified by the parliament), to the coercive (convening a rigged loya jirga to change the constitution), to the too-clever-by-half (resigning with his two vice-presidents before his term is up and running a few months later on the ground that he had not completed two terms).
President Karzai's recent proposal to hold elections in 2013, ostensibly to take advantage of the larger number of international troops, only fueled the suspicions of those who refuse to believe that he will respect the Afghan Constitution. At the same time, many of those we spoke to say that Karzai recognizes that any attempt to subvert the Constitution will lead to demonstrations in Kabul. One political figure said that the regime can only fall as a result of unrest in Kabul, not insurgency in the provinces. The one thing that would bring rioting to Kabul's streets, he argued, would be an attempt to hold onto power unconstitutionally, and that Karzai is aware of this and would not risk it.
If President Karzai does give up power constitutionally, there are several plausible scenarios. The first would be for the political elite, including Karzai and major opposition figures, to settle on a single candidate. An elite consensus along these lines would turn the election into a sort of referendum, and minimize the probability that electoral fraud would be as destabilizing as it was in 2009. The second scenario is that Karzai backs a candidate who many opposition figures find unacceptable, but a broad-based opposition coalition is able to agree on a single rival candidate. In the event of a hotly contested race that this scenario could result in, the quality of the election would play a crucial role in ensuring a legitimate transfer of power. A third scenario would be for Karzai to back a candidate while the opposition is unable to unite. This could allow Karzai to perpetuate his hold on power through the election of a political proxy-many in Kabul called this the "Putin-Medvedev scenario".
What happens next depends as much on the opposition as on President Karzai. At crucial moments, opposition figures have lost their nerve, preferring to be co-opted by the palace rather than face the real risks of confronting the existing power structure. Even now, the opposition is divided between those who claim that Karzai has become so powerful that he-or any candidate he backs-is invincible, and those who claim that he is intrinsically weak but that the international community's deference has made him artificially strong. The opposition appears to be waiting for signals-from Karzai that he will allow a fair election (for example, by setting an election date soon and by ensuring the appointment of independent election commissioners), and from the international community that they will insist on it. The danger of on-going ambiguity about the commitment to support and hold credible elections is that Afghan political figures will not take the required risks to participate constructively in the consensus-building process. It would not be surprising if Karzai tested the nerve of his opposition, in the hopes that it collapses under the test. It has worked in the past.
Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs of political activity aimed at the presidential election. Candidates and parties are organizing, opposition parties are making specific demands for electoral reforms, and a process to reform the election legislation has begun.
The international community, however, has greeted this activity with extreme caution. The common talking point of senior U.S. government officials is that elections in Afghanistan are a sovereign matter. Opposition figures listen to this in dismay, arguing that the sovereignty the internationals are protecting is not Afghanistan's, but Karzai's and the corrupt and predatory political mafias with strong links to the palace. A true respect for Afghan sovereignty, they argue, would require the promotion of a level political playing field. They have a point: it is curious at least that the presence of 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, and the provision of assistance worth about the equivalent of the country's GDP, is somehow not an infringement on sovereignty, while pressure to hold fair elections in accordance with the Afghan Constitution is perceived to be too intrusive and risky. The greater risk is that such misplaced sensitivities that are often interpreted by Afghans as lukewarm international support for democratic elections, and/or undue skepticism that credible elections can be held, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are, however, good reasons for international caution. Government and opposition figures alike noted that the international community's legitimacy on elections was undermined in 2009 by the perception that the late U.S. State Department Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, backed individual candidates against Karzai rather than supporting the process. President Karzai has used this to frighten the international community away from its legitimate concerns about the process, whereas the key lesson from 2009 should be to forcefully support the process but not individual candidates. Furthermore, a fundamental difference between the 2009 and 2014 presidential elections, which should reduce some of the sensitivities regarding international support for the process, is that Karzai has publically stated on numerous occasions that in accordance with the Constitution he will not be contesting the next election.
The U.S. government was particularly cautious about antagonizing Karzai, including by raising election-related issues, during the long and drawn-out process of negotiating the SPA. Many Afghans expressed concern that this caution will continue during the negotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement, which must be completed in the next 12 months, giving Karzai at least another year of tranquility on electoral matters. The U.N., which took positions in both the 2009 and 2010 elections that angered Karzai, is similarly reticent, and in public at least echoes the "sovereign process" talking point.
Given this reticence to date, the widely reported meeting President Obama had with President Karzai on the sidelines of the Chicago Summit, during which issues of electoral reform and planning for the 2014 elections were raised and discussed, are a very encouraging sign that the U.S. will now be prioritizing the political transition and supporting and advocating more publically for credible elections in 2014. While international support for elections must be done sensitively and respectfully, too quiet and soft of an approach would be a big mistake. The majority of Afghans who respect the Constitution and want a democratic future for their country need to be assured that the international community led by the U.S. is committed to doing everything possible to ensure relatively free and fair elections. The stakes of the 2014 election are very high, and the future stability of Afghanistan - ultimately the core strategic interest of the U.S. - is likely to depend on the perception of the election's legitimacy. While the challenges to holding credible elections in 2014 are undoubtedly great, and the risks considerable, the much greater risk is to continue to pay scant attention to the political transition, and to pin hopes on a stable and secure Afghanistan solely on the abilities of the Afghan National Security Forces. One need not look far in the region to see the negative consequences for peace and stability, not to mention democracy, of relatively strong security institutions and very weak civilian institutions.
For better or for worse, the international community has inherited a partial responsibility for ensuring that the next elections play the role of consensus-building and state legitimation that would be the most likely way to save the country from civil war. The international community can fulfill this responsibility by doing the following:
Given the recent history of Afghan elections, it may seem implausible to bet on Afghan democracy as a means of solving Afghanistan's deep-rooted problems, but almost everyone we spoke to were clear that it was the only bet to make. Democratic processes might not succeed, but everything else will surely fail without them.
Scott Smith is the Deputy Director for Afghan Programs, and Andrew Wilder the Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs, at the United States Institute of Peace. The views reflected here are their own.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama's surprise speech in Kabul on May 1 was a political stunt filled with the kind of mischaracterizations typical of a campaign, but the actual U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that he signed while there was something of greater substance.
Much of the agreement echoed the language and intent of the earlier 2005 Strategic Partnership Agreement. Both agreements sought to reassure the Afghans of the United States' staying power, and articulate broad principles on which the bilateral relationship rests. They are both "executive agreements," which lack the power of formal treaties ratified by the Senate. To that extent, the agreements are like cotton candy: pleasant, fluffy, but easily torn apart. That may explain why the Afghans, having the 2005 agreement in hand, felt the need to pursue further reassurances once Bush left office.
According to some reports, the Afghans were looking for a full-fledged mutual defense treaty. Such a treaty would have obligated the United States to treat an attack on Afghanistan as an attack on itself. If so, the Afghans are surely disappointed, but they were also unrealistic in their hopes. It is difficult to envision Americans accepting a defense treaty obligating American intervention in South Asia in perpetuity when most no longer welcome our actual intervention in Afghanistan to fight a war that two presidents have argued is vital to our national security. The Afghans probably got the strongest expression of support possible in the current U.S. political climate.
The crux of the long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in the new agreement is this: "The Unites States shall designate Afghanistan a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally.'" The Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) designation was created by Congress in 1989 as a way of identifying America's major strategic partners without the burdensome requirements of a formal treaty. It confers a range of benefits, including participation in U.S. Defense Department research and development projects, preferential access to U.S. military surplus supplies, the use of U.S. loans to finance weapons purchases, and expedited applications for space technology exports. More importantly, the designation has a powerful symbolic value: it is a public affirmation of a country's affiliation with the United States, a global badge of American approval. Although the designation does not technically carry a security guarantee or legally obligate the United States to come to the defense of a designee, the label of "ally" implies as much. Only 14 states and Taiwan have been given the MNNA status.
Critics may argue that MNNA status is merely symbolic, but symbols are important. Afghanistan is now in the same category as Japan, Australia, Israel, and Pakistan. And the agreement goes beyond the symbolic, stipulating that the United States will train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces "consistent with NATO standards and [will] promote interoperability with NATO forces." To cement relations between the newly-minted "allies," the Agreement commits the United States to negotiating a Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan over the next year, and the administration is also initiating talks on a Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) and a defense cooperation memorandum of understanding (the timing allows the Obama administration to delay decisions on difficult issues like detentions and night raids until after the election).
Collectively, these provisions communicate a relatively strong U.S. commitment to Afghan security and begin to undo the damage done by the Obama administration's various and shifting deadlines for the Afghan mission. In a best-case scenario, in ten years or so the Afghan Army could become one of the key developing-world partners and force-multipliers for U.S. and Western military forces in contingency and peacekeeping operations. Afghanistan could become the next Bangladesh, providing the manpower for peacekeeping missions that Western nations are willing to fund but not man, in exchange for which the Afghans get valuable operational experience and funding. (The Agreement won't, however, be a help in any future U.S.-Iran war, as it expressly prohibits the U.S. from using Afghan territory to attack another country. The clause, reflecting an understandable concern by the Afghans, may also complicate the U.S.'s ability to attack terrorist targets inside Pakistan).
Of course, these assurances only matter if Kabul defeats the Taliban insurgency, a topic on which the Agreement is oddly silent. The Agreement affirms the joint goal of defeating "al-Qaeda and its affiliates," the closest it comes to referring to the Taliban. There is vague language restating the long-standing reconciliation policy-that unspecified "individuals and entities" must sever ties with al-Qaeda, renounce violence, and accept the constitution-but fails to identify at whom the policy is aimed. The United States just pledged a decade's worth of security cooperation to a country in the middle of a civil war, but managed to avoid talking about the civil war.
The silence is probably calculated to protect the Strategic Partnership in the event the Taliban join the government following a negotiated peace. Kabul and Washington can claim that the Agreement is not aimed at the Taliban, who therefore have nothing to fear from it. In other words, out of fear of what the Taliban might do in a hypothetical future scenario, the Americans and Afghans gave them a seat at the negotiating table in the Strategic Partnership talks, effectively rewarding them for their threat of continued violence. This is a poor negotiating strategy. Instead, the Agreement should have identified the Taliban, committed the parties explicitly to its defeat, and only then reiterated the reconciliation policy.
The Agreement has other weaknesses. For example, it commits Afghanistan to providing the United States with continued access to military facilities through 2014 "and beyond as may be agreed," needlessly requiring Kabul and Washington to re-negotiate access to Afghan facilities again in two years. The 2005 agreement contained no expiration date on American access to Afghan facilities (like Bagram and Kandahar air fields), a much simpler arrangement that still respected Afghan sovereignty under the obvious understanding that the Afghans could ask the United States to leave at any time.
Similarly, the Agreement pledges the United States to "seek funds on a yearly basis" for Afghan assistance, a weak and unenforceable clause. The Agreement failed to commit the United States even to an aspirational target of financial aid to Afghanistan. For example, the United States could have promised to seek at least $2 billion per year for security assistance and $1 billion per year for civilian assistance, which would have afforded a small amount of protection for Afghan aid after 2014, when donor fatigue and Congressional inattention set in.
The most troubling aspect of the agreement, mirroring the overall weakness of the Obama administration's Afghan policy, is the evident imbalance between the military and civilian aspects of U.S. engagement there. For years, the United States has invested massively in building up the Afghan Army and police but comparatively little in building the Afghan government. The result is a strong Afghan Army and a weak Afghan state, a highly unstable and dangerous combination. If the Afghan Army ever successfully defeats the Taliban, it could itself suddenly become the greatest threat to Afghan national security.
The new agreement only perpetuates this unhelpful dynamic. After several pages detailing U.S.-Afghan security cooperation and a decent section on economic assistance, it contains a brief, vague, throw-away section on governance. Afghanistan promises to improve itself, and the United States promises to help, with no details, no promise of new resources, and no promise of training up to international standards. The one or two solid ideas regarding governance in the agreement-that the U.S. will channel more of its aid through the Afghan government, and align its aid to Afghan priorities-may be unachievable precisely because the capacity of Afghan institutions continues to lag and suffer from endemic corruption. Compared to the detailed, specific, and increasingly dense U.S.-Afghan security partnership, the U.S.-Afghan governance partnership is almost non-existent. The United States risks replicating the same error in Afghanistan that characterized U.S. policy towards Pakistan for the last six decades.
Nonetheless, as a whole, the new U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership is a strong signal of enduring American commitment to help one of the world's most failed states, and secure American interests in South Asia. After more than ten years of effort with halting progress and fragile, reversible gains, such commitment is welcome. The partnership is arguably one of Obama's best achievements on Afghan policy (after the 2009 military surge), and showed some political courage considering the increasing unpopularity of the war among the American electorate, especially in his own political base. The very fact that there is a strategic partnership agreement will help to buy time for Obama, or his successor, to improve on its weaknesses in 2014 and beyond. That will go a long way to upholding America's promise to the Afghans.
Dr. Paul D. Miller is an Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at the National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect those of the U.S. government.
Afghan Presidential Palace via Getty Images
May 2012 will stand as a historic time for Afghanistan. Beginning in Kabul on May 1, Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which I had the privilege of attending. It has been followed by a steadily growing wave of additional international support, most recently seen in the signing of a partnership agreement with Germany in Berlin and the imminent signing of a partnership agreement with Australia. The third security transition phase also commenced this past week on May 13, and the month will end with the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21. These events illuminate the immense efforts made by the Afghan government and the international community to fulfill their mutual commitments made throughout the Kabul Process that was begun with President Karzai's inauguration in 2009. Each event is an accomplishment on its own, but together they chart a clear course for Afghanistan's future over the "Transformation Decade."
The historic signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States gives both countries an opportunity to solidify our common vision and define our relationship for the years to come. After months of hard negotiations, a commitment has been forged to guide our steps towards a prosperous future built on mutual respect and support between two sovereign nations. The agreement was crafted in the best interests of both countries and to the benefit of regional prosperity and stability. The United States' commitments should serve as a shining example of the opportunities now on the horizon in Afghanistan.
The transition of Afghanistan's security from international coalition forces to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ranks amongst the most crucial to sustain overall success. Since its start in July 2011, the transition process has seen many successes and is well on its way to being fully completed. Afghanistan's security forces have grown in strength and capacity well ahead of schedule. The ANSF are partnering with international coalition forces on 90 percent of operations and are in the lead 40 percent of the time. These statistics, coupled with the completion of the third security transition phase that put Afghan forces in the security-lead for 75 percent of Afghanistan's population, show just how much progress has been made. While our security forces have proven able to maintain security in areas already transitioned, there are still challenges that require commitments from Afghanistan and the international community throughout the remaining transition period and beyond. Both Afghanistan and its international partners recognize that the success of the transition process and its sustainability is dependent upon continued ANSF capacity improvement and financial support.
For this reason, the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago is crucial to Afghanistan and the effectiveness and sustainability of the ANSF. The NATO Summit will be an opportunity to reaffirm that the close partnership between Afghanistan and the international community will continue beyond 2014 and reflect on the progress made together over the last decade. As agreed upon in Bonn last December, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) nations will announce their support of training, financing and building the capacity of the ANSF after the end of the transition period. It is important to reiterate, though, that the Afghan government is steadfast in our promise to increase our share of financing the ANSF from $500 million in 2015 to total fiscal responsibility after the Transformation Decade.
The commitments to be made in Chicago will have a central role in sustaining the accomplishments of the last ten years. They have already built up additional positive momentum going into the upcoming Kabul Conference focusing on regional cooperation in June and the Tokyo Conference in July where we will outline and agree upon an integrated plan with our international partners to achieve self-sufficiency by developing a sustainable economy by the end of the Transformation Decade.
Ultimately, when it comes to building a stable, self-reliant, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, we are ready and willing to face the challenges ahead.
His Excellency Eklil Hakimi is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
On May 20th, the United States will host a summit of NATO leaders in Chicago. Afghanistan will feature prominently in the summit's agenda. The recently concluded Strategic Partnership between the United States and Afghanistan provides a promising basis to build a partnership based on commitment to securing Afghanistan's democratic transition and the protection and promotion of rights for Afghan citizens. Delivering on its promises will require avoiding short cuts that carry the illusion of peace, and instead building a partnership with the real ally of stability: the majority of Afghan citizens.
There is a danger that the global debate is losing sight of the need to protect Afghan civilians and to consolidate the hard-won gains of the past ten years. The search for a quick deal in some American policy circles neatly coincide with those of Afghanistan's opportunistic and survival-driven political class, and especially elements within the government. This narrow policy consensus runs contrary to what most Afghans want: the preservation of the progress that has been won at great cost to both Afghans and the international community since 2001.
A sense of anxiety about what might happen after 2014 pervades Afghan society, and was caused primarily by the sidelining of human rights as a political commitment by both the Afghan government and its international partners since 2007. While the government has demonstrated increasing hostility to its human rights obligations, its international supporters have voiced only muted criticism, lacking penalties or action of any kind.
Against the wishes of generations of war victims, all civil war era actors have been granted broad immunity. The passage of the Shia Personal Status Law infringes on the legal rights of Shia women. The widely-praised Media Law that would have enshrined greater freedom of expression has been shelved. Known human rights abusers have been appointed to high-ranking positions within the national police force, while the Presidential Palace has lent its approval -- sometimes overt, sometimes tacit -- to a succession of regressive statements by the Ulema Council regarding women's rights. Afghan women, civil society, and human rights defenders are rapidly losing the space to speak out and organize freely, and these groups worry, with good reason, that government may soon try to silence them altogether.
The vision articulated by Afghans and their international partners in the Bonn Conference in 2001 entailed a commitment to building a democratic Afghanistan in which human rights and the rule of law prevailed. This vision was later reaffirmed by more than 500 delegates from across the country at the 2002 Loya Jirga. While neither of these historic agreements were flawless, as a participant in both I was filled with high expectations and energized with optimism for my country's future.
Whatever its weaknesses, the progressive vision for a post-Taliban Afghanistan provided civil society with room to grow. Hundreds of civic groups, including many devoted to women's rights, sprung up across the country. With international support and the enthusiasm of a new generation of Afghans, the independent media blossomed as never before in Afghanistan's history. But these gains have had little time to take root, and they are now at serious risk of being crushed.
This is the reality of Afghanistan in 2012. How did we get here?
First, since the end of the transition period established by the Bonn Agreement (2004), the Afghan political leadership has failed to implement an inclusive vision for Afghanistan's future. Instead, the government has opted for the politics of tactical, backroom deals as a strategy for guaranteeing their political survival. This brand of reactionary policy-making appeals to the most conservative and violent elements in Afghan society for support, and ignores the interests and aspirations of the vast majority. Unwilling to speak out or act upon major human rights issues, Afghanistan's political leaders have prevented Afghans from following the path that they chose and enshrined in their constitution in January 2004.
The international community has accepted these worrying trends, and has refrained from exerting real political pressure on the government to comply with its international obligations and the Afghan Constitution. Afghan human rights advocates have lobbied tirelessly, but their arguments, evidence, and pleas have been largely ignored. As time has passed, human rights have been mentioned less frequently in international discussions on Afghanistan and this is reflected in official documents. In the most recent U.N. Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan, passed on March 22, 2012, human rights were relegated to a sub-item.
Emboldened by recent international permissiveness, Afghan leaders have increasingly viewed justice and human rights as more of a luxury than an indispensable prerequisite for peace. In December 2007, President Karzai publicly announced that he would not challenge human rights violators and would not implement the Peace, Justice and Reconciliation action plan adopted by his own government in 2005. The vetting process for police reform that had managed to exclude at least 14 notorious figures from reappointment as chiefs of police was frozen indefinitely in 2007.
Other difficulties have aggravated the situation. The president's lack of desire for political development through political parties has hindered the establishment of active and effective political movements in the country.
In the absence of robust, democratic political pathways through which the majority could voice their aspirations, the Palace has relied instead on figures and factions who represent a tiny portion of society. While democratic voices have consistently marginalized, those advocating a non-representative form of conservatism, the Ulema Council, and a powerful minority seeking their own political and economic interests, have therefore exerted a disproportionate influence over the direction of national policy.
A second reason for the decline of the human rights and democracy agendas has had to do with the evolution of international strategy and priorities. Early on, at least rhetorically, Afghanistan's international partners (the United States in particular) embraced human rights reforms as a component of the state-building strategy in Afghanistan. Over time, however, the focus shifted to defeating the insurgency, then to counterterrorism, and then to containing the insurgency. With this shift towards military objectives, the human rights agenda suffered. The United States embraced nearly any party that would oppose the Taliban, regardless of their human rights records. Afghan prisoners were abused in American-run prisons. Night raids continued, providing powerful recruiting narratives to the Taliban who, undeterred, killed civilians in ever larger numbers with each passing year. Continued partnership between the international military and malign elements of the past contributed to a gradual but steady move of the Kabul government toward embracing the same abusive figures.
President Obama's review of the Afghanistan strategy, released in March 2009, further limited the objectives for the American engagement in Afghanistan, dropping the idea of supporting democracy and human rights entirely. Elements within the Afghan government took this cue and began to neglect their own commitments. Indeed, a senior aide to President Karzai told me that the Palace has come to believe that human rights and democracy are not priority issues for the United States because they want to achieve reconciliation; therefore, "we will also relax our practice and policy on that front".
The alliances between some of the members of the international community, the Afghan government, and local warlords have implications that stretch well beyond human rights issues. Militarily and economically empowered by these alliances the warlords have been able to block merit-based upward mobility in the public and private sectors. By dominating political decision-making in the government, they have established dominant roles for their old militia structure members, guaranteeing specific interest groups hefty government and international contracts while protecting their unaccounted wealth.
Since the current structures protect the warlords and enable their domination, they correctly view reform efforts aimed at good governance, rule of law and human rights as a threat that could drive them from power. Consequently, they have aggressively undermined all such reform efforts, actively manipulating systems. Through their influence at the Palace, a small group of wartime leaders are utilizing government appointments to expand their own network rather than serve the public interest. There is little risk of exposure or accountability and a high return. Those who are being formally appointed by the President (but actually at the behest of unaccountable and influential patrons) feel less loyalty to their official boss than to those who nominated them. The public understands that public office is being used to dole out favors to the informal leaders. Ultimately, public trust in the government is severely undermined.
In a desperate move to end almost ten years of military engagement, in 2011 the U.S. and Afghan governments set two potentially conflicting goals by opting to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban while simultaneously beginning the transition out of Afghanistan. In a situation where the Afghan government is increasingly weak, more hostile toward its international allies, and less capable of winning public support, Afghans fear that negotiating with insurgents from a weak position will further undermine human rights -- particularly the gains made with respect to women's rights.
Ordinary Afghans understand that a settlement at the expense of human rights and democracy will yield a very short-lived peace. Rather, such so-called "peace" protocols are likely to usher in a renewed, and more vicious, round of civil war. The key to a lasting peace by contrast is found in respect and protection of the rights of Afghans, ensuring good governance, and delivering justice for the wrongdoings of the past.
To address some of these problems, Kabul and Washington should consider a number of steps:
Build on the Strategic Partnership Agreement
The Strategic Partnership Agreement explicitly restates the shared determination of the United States and the Government of Afghanistan to achieving the goal of a stable and independent state of Afghanistan, ‘governed on the basis of Afghanistan's constitution, shared democratic values, including respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all men and women.' By recognizing and emphasizing the importance of the rights, needs and aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and of democratic values, the agreement is a first step towards reassuring Afghans that constitutional rights and freedoms are non-negotiable. The May conference in Chicago presents an opportunity for the international community to reinforce its commitment to rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan.
Peaceful and timely democratic transfer of power through elections
The end of the constitutional term of President Karzai coincides with the scheduled completion of the transition of security responsibility from international forces to Afghans. The Afghan government must ensure that Afghanistan makes a peaceful democratic transition of political power by 2014. Afghanistan's future stability depends as much on the capability of its security forces and their adherence to human rights and rule of law as it does on a peaceful transition of power to a next elected administration. Both should be key priorities.
President Karzai should therefore announce the date for the 2014 presidential elections, support a genuine electoral reform process and facilitate a peaceful democratic transition of power for the first time in the nation's recent history. The United States, NATO countries, and the United Nations should already be seriously focused on how to support Afghanistan's elections and should take care to learn the hard lessons of 2009 as well as from the positive experiences of 2002, 2004 and 2005.
President Karzai should immediately initiate a clear process for holding to account those who are guilty of past crimes, and clarify that any crimes from now on will meet the full accountability of the judicial process. To begin with, he should implement the government's action plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation adopted in 2007.
President Karzai and his government should abandon the politics of the back-room deal and embrace the aspirations of the vast majority for good governance, democracy and human rights. To do so, he must engage the Afghan parliament in the formation of policy, and the international community should provide technical support to parliamentary committees. This support would allow legislators to gain the ability to formulate, present and adopt specific policy options to the government, instead of debating in general terms -- and in a reactionary manner -- executive decisions that have already been made.
President Karzai must provide equal space for pro-democracy and reform voices in policy development and decision-making, and the international community should break its long silence when it comes to bringing onboard pro-reform agendas and voices. To facilitate ownership of national processes, the president should create incentives for political parties to generate alternative policy debates. The political parties and Afghan civil society must engage in a much more aggressive, structured, and realistic advocacy campaign for the implementation of reform agendas, and they should press President Karzai to remove from office those whose acts are undermining his own legacy in human rights and democracy. President Karzai must hold accountable officials who are involved in abusive practices and abandon the practice of simply reshuffling them to other senior positions.
Inclusive Talks with the Insurgents and Clearly Defined Redlines
It is also imperative for the government to show that it has begun -- in practice - to make the protection of human rights and promotion of democratic practices the center of its agenda. The Afghan government must publicly and explicitly assure Afghans that all rights and freedoms enshrined in the Afghanistan Constitution and the gains made in the past decade regarding human rights and democratic development are not negotiable in any talks with the Taliban. The United States must do the same.
Nader Nadery served as Human Rights Commissioner at Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and chairperson of Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) based in Kabul.