Bonus read: "Talking to the Taliban: Hope over History?," the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and the New America Foundation, report found here.
Ambassadors from Afghanistan and Pakistan traded sharp accusations at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday, each criticizing the other of not doing enough to address the presence of terrorist safe havens on their lands (Dawn, ET, Pajhwok, Reuters). Zahir Tanin, the Afghan U.N. envoy, told the council that "terrorist sanctuaries continue to exist on Pakistan's soil and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy." Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Masood Khan, responded by saying that he rejected Tanin's argument "root, trunk and branch." Khan argued that there were terrorists operating "on both sides of the porous border" and that many attacks in Pakistan were actually planned on Afghan soil. It was the latest diplomatic setback for the region in a week full of them.
Ambassador Tanin also told meeting attendees that the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar is to be used for peace talks only (Pajhwok). He stated that "any other activity or function undertaken by or with the Taliban office outside the Afghan-led peace talks purposes is unacceptable, " and reiterated that "the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sole sovereign and legitimate authority" in the country, a direct reference to the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" signs that were posted at the Taliban office and prompted the halt of talks earlier this week (NYT).
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report Thursday detailing heightened security risks to Western workers and companies in Afghanistan over increasing complaints of non-payment by local subcontractors (Post). These subcontractors, of whom 90 percent are based in Afghanistan, allege that U.S.-based businesses working in the country are not honoring their contractual agreements, namely paying the subcontractors for work performed. As a result, the SIGAR report documents threats to "blow up a compound of U.S. contractors and government agencies," detonate suicide bombs, pull weapons on employers, kidnap employers, and damage property in an effort to collect payment.
In anticipation of next year's presidential and provincial council elections, Ziaul Haq, the secretary of the Independent Election Commission, announced that official registration for candidates will begin September 16 (Pajhwok). He also said that 53,000 eligible voters have been registered during the latest registration drive, a quarter of them women. The elections are scheduled for next April.
Pakistan distanced itself from tensions between the U.S. and Afghan governments over the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, by saying Thursday that it "recognizes the government of President Hamid Karzai as the legitimate government of Afghanistan" (Dawn, ET). Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudry said that Pakistan's support for the Taliban office was "in keeping with [its] consistent call for a peaceful and negotiated solution in the Afghan conflict," and reiterated the government's official position that an all-inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue is required for successful reconciliation.
At least 14 people were killed and 32 were injured Friday when a suicide bomber attacked a Shi'a mosque in Peshawar (BBC, Dawn, ET, NYT). Rural Shafiullah, the Superintendent of Police, said there were originally three attackers, but two fled after they faced resistance from security personnel guarding the mosque. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred during the Friday sermon.
Provincial lawmaker Mohammed Sajid Qureshi, his son, and a passing civilian were shot and killed Friday by unidentified gunmen outside a mosque in Karachi (AFP, ET). Qureshi, a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and his son were returning home from Friday prayers when the attack occurred. The MQM has announced three days of mourning in response to the killings.
One month after launching an operation against militants in the Tirah Valley, Pakistani security forces hoisted the national flag atop the historic Bagh Markaz mosque Thursday (Dawn, ET). A statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations office said the area had been successfully cleared of militants, and the 50,000 residents who had fled to safer locations were encouraged to return home.
More than 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment have been shredded, cut, and crushed into scrap metal as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw all combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 (Post). Because complicated rules govern equipment donations to other countries, and few would even be able to retrieve it from Afghanistan, military planners have destroyed equipment worth more than $7 billion, turning it into scrap metal the Afghans use in construction projects or as spare parts.
-- Bailey Cahall
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
In complex post-conflict environments such as Afghanistan, security and development needs are intertwined. Without addressing both at the same time, it would be hard to ensure an environment that enables sustainable economic growth. In other words, bullets alone cannot remedy Afghanistan's current situation. In fact, as former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said, "it's the economy stupid," something that is even more relevant in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Terrorism in the country is fueled by a large number of Taliban foot soldiers former ISAF Commander General David Petraeus used to call "ten-dollar-a-day Taliban." They are non-ideological, but have resorted to violence in the absence of a sustainable livelihood that supports themselves and their families. Many of these rental fighters can and should be weaned off the battlefield with an alternate long-term income.
Hence, it is the creation of more jobs for Afghanistan's youthful population in urban and rural areas that can ensure durable stability in the country. But those jobs should be sustainable in a productive economy, since the lessons learned so far demonstrate that employment created through "quick fixes," like cash-for-work projects, has only temporarily addressed what remains Afghans' top need and concern. In the final analysis, short-term job creation measures are sure to fail-unless they are geared towards promoting and facilitating sustainable income generation in the Afghan economy.
Around 70% of Afghanistan's 35 million citizens are below the age of 25, a vast majority of whom are the breadwinners of large households that include war widows and children. Given the personal experience of this author, because Afghans begin working from an early age to support their families, they are resilient and enterprising. And despite a high rate of illiteracy, they constitute a responsible, energetic, and industrious workforce. Unfortunately, they lack access to skill development opportunities, capital, and credit to grow the small- and medium-sized businesses that make up Afghanistan's vast informal economy.
This situation provides for numerous investment opportunities in every sector in Afghanistan. During last June's Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan, for example, the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Industries presented potential investors with a detailed list of investment opportunities in Afghanistan. These investors, representing 320 international businesses, were informed of investment opportunities in the agriculture, construction, energy, finance, health services, information and communication technologies, minerals, small- and medium-sized industry, and transportation sectors.
However, with the exception of a few domestic and foreign "first movers" in each of these sectors and their related markets, most of the Afghan markets remain under-invested. The government of Afghanistan frequently encourages regional and international investors to visit Afghanistan and see for themselves the countless, highly profitable investment opportunities that exist.
Last November, during his state visit to India, President Hamid Karzai also encouraged the Indian business community to explore investment opportunities in Afghanistan. Meeting with a group of business leaders in Mumbai, he even promised to roll out a red carpet for major Indian firms, if they made moves to enter Afghanistan's virgin markets.
However, most investors are genuinely concerned about the overall business environment in Afghanistan, as security and governance are two of the key enablers for any business to flourish. Insecurity and weak governance undermine business efforts and put investments at risk; and like most post-conflict countries, Afghanistan is not free of these challenges. But the country continues to confront and address them, in partnership with the international community.
Despite sensationally negative news reports on Afghanistan, the country has made monumental gains in building the civilian and military institutions of the state, which are based on one of the most progressive constitutions in the region. The Afghan Constitution also provides for a private sector-led economy.
In January, the World Bank welcomed Afghanistan's 2012 double-digit growth rate of 11 percent, and listed the country as the fasted growing economy in South Asia in its Global Economic Prospects report. Moreover, the World Bank's Doing Business Index for 2013 ranks Afghanistan 28 out of 185 countries in establishing a business in the country. These positive rankings have been made possible by the work of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, which serves as a one-stop-shop for investors, both foreign and domestic, enabling the easy registration and establishment of a business in Afghanistan within a couple of weeks.
Over the past 12 years, Afghanistan has also enacted a number of commercial and investment laws, including a company law, a consumer protection law, a competition law, a partnership law, and an arbitration law. These laws have streamlined many of the problems associated with Afghanistan's former central-planned economy. However, there are times when a lack of institutional capacity prevents the Afghan government from implementing and enforcing these laws, which meet international business and investment standards. But these bottlenecks can be addressed through Afghan business consulting firms or joint ventures with successful, reliable Afghan firms that have local investment experience.
As for security, there are only a handful of districts in Afghanistan where it is hard to do business. Most of the country is secure, and open for business and investment. Domestic and foreign investors have prospered in provinces throughout the country, including Balkh, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, and Nangarhar.
Besides vast investment opportunities inside the country, Afghanistan serves as a gateway to a region that includes some of the fastest growing economies in the world. This makes the country a natural trading hub that connects the Indian subcontinent with Central Asia, the Middle East, and China, markets that include over 50 million consumers. Also, its central location makes Afghanistan a natural locus for an emerging regional network of trade routes and pipelines.
The ease of competition and the ample potential for growth in Afghanistan are relatively new developments. For the first time in decades, Afghanistan enjoys the most investment-friendly environment in the region. Afghans see these new opportunities as a way to rebuild their homeland. They are proud of their long, 2000-year history as a commerce and cultural exchange.
With each economic opportunity that is fulfilled, the people of Afghanistan move one step closer to reconnecting with their heritage and securing a good future for their country. Afghan and foreign investors can play a major role in helping the Afghan people fulfill their national destiny.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
The Taliban office in Doha is officially open for business, though it is unclear when now-stalled talks will begin. President Obama and officials in his administration have been quick to dampen expectations that peace is at hand -- or even in immediate sight -- which has proved wise given the current anger from Afghans over the way in which the Taliban office opened.
"This is an important first step towards reconciliation, although it is a very early step," President Obama said during a bilateral meeting with French President Francoise Hollande. "We anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road." A senior government official echoed those words, stressing to reporters that everyone needed to "be realistic. This is a new development, a potentially significant development. But peace is not at hand."
The United States has long spoken about winding down the war in Afghanistan and bringing its longest war to what the president has called a "responsible end." The 2009 announcement of an American troop "surge" in Afghanistan was accompanied by a drawdown timeline. But as the Iraq example suggests, the United States is better at withdrawing on schedule than withdrawing while leaving peace in its wake. Sectarian violence is surging in Iraq and as National Public Radio noted Tuesday morning, many analysts place the blame for the skyrocketing death count and rising insecurity on an America that washed its hands too soon of a country whose leader it had toppled.
America has vowed it will not "abandon" Afghanistan, including the country's women, with the president promising that the United States would "stand by" Afghans during the country's political and security transitions. A presidential election is scheduled for next April and already questions have surfaced about voter fraud and the willingness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to transition himself out of office.
Alongside the political transition is the pressing question of what, exactly, the economic transition will bring. The past decade of economic openness has transformed a slew of sectors in a country that was largely isolated from the global economy just twelve years ago. While many in the U.S. think of Afghanistan as simply an aid-dependent basket case, green shoots abound.
The telecommunications sector is booming in a nation that counts nearly two-thirds of its population under the age of 25. Three-quarters of the country is covered by mobile networks and one in two Afghans say they have access to a mobile phone. The Afghan government notes that "over a period of five years from 2002 to 2007, there was tenfold increase in the telephone subscriptions, indicating an annual growth rate of about 60 percent." Media is thriving and the country now counts more than 70 television stations, with radio remaining an information staple in a country that counted the BBC and Voice of America as it news mainstays before 2001.
While the technology sector is very much in its infancy, technology start-ups are found in Kabul, Herat and the north, and 3G reached Afghanistan in 2012. Social networking is especially popular among urban twenty-somethings, with the country now home to roughly 400,000 Facebook users who talk and hang out online in ways they never could in person.
On the natural resources front in this mineral-rich country, Afghanistan has been doling out contracts to foreign firms, even as security has blocked some from advancing. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is now developing the Amu Darya oil basin in the north of the country and the Atlantic noted that "an American chemical company and a consortium of diaspora Afghans are seeking to build refineries to service CNPC's extraction activities, as well as expected future extractors."
As the fountain of aid slows to a trickle, however, Afghanistan faces a funding cliff of daunting proportions. The World Bank estimated that in 2011 the country's foreign aid tally was the same size as its GDP, $15.7 billion. Since then, the economy has expanded with an outstanding harvest season and the start of mining activities, leading GDP to climb from 7.8 percent to nearly 12 percent. But the question of what 2014 means for the Afghan economy looms large -- and remains largely overlooked by many outside Afghanistan.
Harvard University tried to change that recently by convening a group of entrepreneurs, diplomats, and security types to harvest ideas for developing a "job-creating infrastructure," but scant attention has been paid to economics, despite its intimate relationship with security. The World Bank, among others, has cautioned that the "political and security uncertainties of the transition period are likely to take a toll on business confidence."
The political uncertainty ahead, and the funding cliff to come, has left Afghanistan's economic future filled with question marks. While the world pledged continued economic support for the country at the Tokyo conference in July 2012, actual funding levels remain unclear. And as the world's attention wanes, making sure these dollars reach Afghan coffers should be a priority for all those who have invested a decade of blood and treasure in the country.
In last year's vice presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden told America "we are leaving in 2014, period, and in the process, we're going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We've been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
This week's news makes clear that, like it or not, America remains very much in the center of bringing a lasting peace to Afghanistan. And while the United States may want to shed its Afghanistan obligations -- including its commitment to supporting the Afghan economy -- those who care about Afghanistan's security, and America's, will want to make certain the green shoots get tended.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
After praising the opening of a Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar as an "important first step," senior U.S. government officials spent most of Wednesday scrambling to appease an Afghan president who felt betrayed by both parties (NYT, Pajhwok, Post, Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called President Hamid Karzai at least twice to defuse the situation, and publicly stated the president was "justifiably" upset over the Taliban raising their flag and standing under a banner reading "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" during their office opening. Qatari officials met Karzai's demands to remove an "Islamic Emirate" plaque the Taliban had placed on the building and issued a statement saying it would be officially known as the "political bureau of the Taliban Afghan."
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman also stated that reports of a U.S. delegation meeting with the Taliban on Thursday were false (Pajhwok). Jen Psaki told reporters that no meeting was "on the books" and that Ambassador James Dobbins, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan who was supposed to lead the delegation was still in Washington. She went on to say that the exact process for this discussions was still being figured out and that "if there's a role for the U.S. to play...that's up to the Afghans to decide."
In a call to the Associated Press on Thursday, Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail announced the group is ready to free a U.S. army solider held captive since 2009, in exchange for five senior operative imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay (AP). The conciliatory offer came a day after the Taliban opened a political office in Doha, Qatar. The only known American solider held captive is Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared on June 30, 2009. Suhail said that Bergdahl "is, as far as I know, in good condition," and his parents received a note from him earlier this month via the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is believed he is being held in Pakistan but Suhail did not comment on his whereabouts.
As U.S. officials worked to save the budding peace talks, security experts began voicing opinions that Pakistan had likely played a crucial role in getting the Taliban back to the negotiating table (Dawn). No one is entirely sure what happened behind the scenes but Scott Smith, a former U.N. official who worked in Afghanistan, noted that with a deteriorating security situation at home, Pakistani officials may have decided their ambivalence to the talks was "getting too dicey." While these observers see Pakistan as a potential broker for the Taliban, Pakistan's legislators petitioned the government on Wednesday to know what its stance was on the Doha office opening, and if the government had been consulted in any way in the weeks leading up to its opening (Dawn).
Weeks after information on the National Security Agency's PRISM and Boundless Informant internet-monitoring programs was leaked to the press, a new report has found that Canadian software filtering technology has been used by the Pakistani government to create an Internet firewall that blocks sensitive political and social topics, including secessionist movements, religious discussions, and independent media (Dawn). The technology has been installed on the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited's network, which provides broadband Internet connectivity to over one million subscribers, and blocks content from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, and YouTube. Previous reports from Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory in Toronto, found the Canada-based Netsweeper technology was also used in Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, and the UAE.
Representatives from the new Pakistani government and the International Monetary Fund met in Islamabad on Wednesday, opening a week's worth of discussions on the country's latest fiscal and macroeconomic adjustments, as well as its request for a $5 billion bailout package (Dawn, ET). Pakistan's main priority during the talks is securing a Letter of Comfort from the IMF that will allow Asian Development Bank and World Bank loan programs to resume. The letter would be an official show of support for Pakistan's financing requests, and the resumption of these loan programs, which have been on hold since 2009, would open access to another $6 billion from other international lenders.
General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, announced on Thursday that the Pakistani army will stay in Waziristan until peace is restored (ET). He confirmed "the army is engaged in the area to bring peace and provide protection to the people," and encouraged people who had fled during the army's operation against militants to return home and resume their lives. Gen. Kayani added that the government is working to provide civic amenities to the people of Waziristan, as well as construct roads that connect the area of the rest of the country.
At least six security personnel were killed and three others were injured on Wednesday when their convoy was ambushed by militants on the outskirts of Peshawar (Dawn, ET). The army officers were conducting a routine patrol when their vehicles were hit by rocket-propelled grenades. No one has claimed responsibility for the assault, but the Pakistani Taliban has launched similar attacks on military convoys in the past.
-- Bailey Cahall
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
As coalition troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next December, reports of an impending civil war, sensationalized and embellished by foreign press mostly, have dominated many international headlines. These reports cite rampant corruption in the Afghan government, violent insurgency, spectacular attacks by the Taliban in major cities, fears of more restrictions on women's rights, and ethnic divisions as signs of a doomsday awaiting to befall post-2014 Afghanistan.
But if you ask ordinary Afghans about their future in 2015 and beyond, they are more likely to express fears about an economic recession, increased violence by militants, total abandonment by the international community, and uncertainty about President Karzai's replacement than a civil war or a triumphant return of the Taliban to power.
This discrepancy is because the political dynamics in today's Afghanistan are radically different from those in 1992, when various armed factions of anti-Soviet rebels took power. Back then, the mujahedeen, as they called themselves, enjoyed a certain level of public support. There were no independent media outlets, no civil institutions, and no major commitments by the international community to support Afghanistan after the communists' fall. In 1992, Afghans did not have the opportunity to democratically elect their leaders and thousands of armed rebels took positions outside the gates of Kabul, effectively cutting off the capital from the rest of the country. Most importantly, the Soviet Union, Afghanistan's primary patron, not only ended all of its aid to the Afghan National Army (ANA), but ceased to exist as a country itself.
Afghans take these factors into account when they calculate their future. Uncertainty and economic fears may be well founded and prevalent, but no one in Afghanistan believes the takeover of a half-finished construction site by a bunch of violent extremists, whose grim visions are so far away from the realities of today's Afghanistan, is an indication of a looming civil war like the one they experienced in the 1990s. In fact, many are dismayed when foreign analysts and reporters call fighting between Afghan security forces and foreign extremists in the mountains of Kunar and Nuristan provinces a civil war, but consider NATO advisers training and supporting the ANA as part of the invasion.
While some foreign analysts appear to have concluded a post-withdrawal Taliban takeover is inevitable, public opinion surveys inside Afghanistan show that Afghans beg to differ en masse. For example, a 2012 public opinion survey by the Asia Foundation found that Afghans' confidence in their security forces and in their future has steadily risen over the last six years. In fact, the foundation found that this confidence, especially in the ANA, runs in the 90th percentile (93 percent of Afghans expressed a "fair amount" or a "great deal" confidence in ANA). Meanwhile, sympathy for insurgents has declined steadily, especially in the last few years as the Taliban and other militant groups have stepped up their violent terror campaign, primarily attacking and killing civilians in the country. The survey's findings show that almost two-thirds of Afghans now oppose the armed insurgents. This data clearly indicates that the elusive leader of the Taliban is as likely to win a free and fair election for the Afghan presidency as the Newtown shooter would for becoming the governor of Connecticut.
Some analysts have expressed concerns that there will be more restrictions on women, and that gains made over the last 12 years will disappear once the coalition troops withdraw. These are genuine fears, especially as the Afghan government attempts to reach a peace settlement with the Taliban. However, over the past decade, Afghan women have gained the confidence to organize themselves and fight for their own rights. For example, when the Afghan government wanted to take control of shelters for battered women in 2011, female activists successfully fought back. This was a unique victory for Afghan women, who could never have raised their voices under the Taliban, let alone protest.
Also, using local media and support networks across the country, women's rights activists have brought national and international attention to domestic cases of violence against women that have shocked the Afghan public. In December 2011, for example, local media extensively covered the story of Sahar Gul, an Afghan girl who had been brutally tortured for months by members of her husband's family. First reported by local female journalists, it was one of the first cases that allowed the Afghan public to see the level and extent of violence against women in their country. Had the Taliban still been in power, Sahar Gul and the brave female reporters who covered her story would have been quietly suffering behind their all-enveloping burqas. But this is no longer the case. Even though there are still many cases like Sahar Gul's which go unreported, extensive coverage by the local media and courageous Afghan reporters are gradually raising awareness about domestic violence and women's rights in the country.
This is not to say the suffering of Afghan women has ended since the arrival of coalition forces. What is different though is that now Afghan women have at least a fighting chance to protect the achievements they have made over the last 12 years. For many leading Afghan rights activists, fighting for women's rights is more than a battle for equality. It's a fight to ensure the gains they have made since 2001 never again disappear in the alleys of a Taliban-governed country.
Some analysts have also pointed to the pervasive presence of former mujahedeen warlords in the government, as well as the power and wealth they have accumulated over the last 12 years as signs of a potential political resurgence. A flurry of foreign press reports have even suggested the warlords are re-arming themselves and waiting for international troops to leave before they go back to waging wars against each other. For example, Ismael Khan, a powerful warlord from the wealthy province of Herat, was reported to have urged his followers to "coordinate and reactivate their networks" and ready themselves for the upcoming civil war.
What many of these outlets failed to mention, however, is that Khan was removed from his traditional seat of power seven years ago when President Hamid Karzai appointed him Minister of Water and Energy. Khan, who is believed to be around 70 years old, does have influence in Western Afghanistan but his once-feared militia members were disarmed in the mid-2000s. It would take substantial resources to re-arm them, and he cannot justify this rearmament if there is already a national army operating across Afghanistan. Khan may be boasting about his influence in his calls for rearmament, but he also understands there has been a generational shift which is not necessarily in his favor.
This is not to say that the warlords have lost all of their leverage in Afghan society. Ethnic grievances and traditional tribal patronage network systems still exist in Afghanistan, and tensions remain high in light of growing uncertainty about 2014. However, there is a new outlet that allows these tensions to be addressed: local Afghan media.
Tolo TV, for example, a well-known local station in the country, aired a report last January which implicated the three major so-called warlords -- Governor Noor Mohammad Atta of Balkh province, Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Hezbi Wahdat leader Mohammad Mohaqiq -- of being involved in the embezzlement of millions of dollars in revenues from a major land port in northern Afghanistan. The report noted that the three men were "gleaning personal benefits from the Hairatan region's income."
In the past, such reports would have caused violent reactions from these men and could have even led to the death of the reporter. However, instead of staging an armed raid or an assassination, they took to the airwaves to defend themselves and there was no violent reaction from any of them. Even those warlords involved in the armed insurgency have recognized the growing influence of the local media.
Some of them, like the infamous warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose militant group Hezb-e Islami once assassinated a BBC reporter, has given interviews from his hiding place to a select number of local outlets in the hope of rebuilding his image. But Hekmatyar and other warlords are finding it increasingly difficult to connect with larger swaths of the Afghan population, namely because most reporters and media workers in Afghanistan are quite young and grew up in a very different age, with values that are a stark contrast to the traditional views of the aging warlords. In fact, Afghans under the age of 25 make up almost 70 percent of the population, and are more likely to remember the atrocities committed by the warlords than the battles waged against the Soviets. This new generation is also more likely to connect with their friends on Facebook than to find themselves captivated with calls of war by warlords.
The Taliban and other insurgent groups have also failed to make their usual talking points gain attention in the local media. This is primarily because their vision of a post-2014 Afghanistan is radically different from what the majority of the public wants to see. Nader Nadery, a famed Afghan human rights activist, recently highlighted this fact in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Having met with the Taliban delegation at a meeting in France in December 2012, Nadery wrote: "The gap between the perceptions of the Taliban and the rest of the participants was stark."
But the Taliban have learned that staging spectacular attacks on Kabul and other major cities in Afghanistan gives them plenty of international media coverage instead. Such attacks achieve little in terms of military significance, but they confirm the narrative that the Taliban are "at the gates of Kabul." As a journalist friend once commented, such attacks throw cold water on reports concerning positive developments in Afghanistan. The insurgents know this and they have masterfully chosen their targets to hit the heart of major economic and diplomatic hubs, something that reaffirms this inaccurate view of inevitable doom. In contrast, the improving conduct of Afghan security forces and police units in repelling these attacks is often given little or no coverage in the foreign press.
For many Afghans, the Taliban's mass suicide attacks and roadside bombs, which are the two biggest killers of civilians, represent nothing but the militants' attempts to spread fear and kill their way back to power, something very unlikely now and in the future. In post-2014 Afghanistan, Taliban militants and terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network may continue to stage suicide attacks on government facilities and major population centers but this will not indicate the beginning of a civil war. If the United States is unable to stop Mexican drug lords from spreading violence into some southern U.S. cities, nobody should expect the Afghan government to end attacks by Taliban militants who operate from safe havens in Pakistan.
It is true that Afghanistan may continue to face an assortment of issues, including corruption, ethnic rivalries, regional power struggles, poppy cultivation, and a weak economy, for some time beyond 2014. But with some sort of democratic continuity and a peaceful political transition, as well as continued international support -- especially from the United States -- for the growing civil society and security forces, Afghanistan can address these issues.
Ahmad Shafi is an Afghan journalist and a former producer for National Public Radio.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Open for business
The Taliban officially opened their office in Doha, Qatar around 6:30 pm Tuesday during a ceremony that included Taliban representatives, Afghan foreign ministry officials, and Qatari officials (NYT, Pajhwok). In a statement, the group said they had opened the office to meet with other Afghans, contact the United Nations and other international agencies, and improve their relations with the international community. The announcement also said the Taliban would welcome every political and peaceful solution that could bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, but made no direct reference to peace talks.
U.S. officials hailed the move as a positive first step and confirmed that Ambassador James Dobbins, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, headed to Qatar Tuesday to begin direct talks with the Taliban as soon as possible (Pajhwok, Pajhwok). Dobbins and his team will first stop in Turkey and then head to Qatar before moving on to Afghanistan and Pakistan. While no official date has been set for the Doha meeting, U.S. senior officials expect it will occur later this week (AFP, Guardian, VOA).
Once the U.S. announced its intention to meet with the Taliban officials in Qatar first, however, President Hamid Karzai protested Wednesday by suspending the countries' fourth-round talks on the Bilateral Security Agreement (AFP, BBC, Pajhwok). Afghan officials said the U.S. precondition that the Taliban renounce violence did not go far enough and should have included a commitment to talk directly with the Karzai government - something the Taliban has been unwilling to do - and an acknowledgement of the Afghan constitution. Karzai also objected to the Taliban calling the office the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" and flying the Taliban flag, believing it gives the insurgent group too much legitimacy (NYT). He has pushed to have the talks moved to Afghanistan, something the U.S. has supported (Pajhwok).
Four coalition service members were killed Tuesday night in an insurgent attack, though neither the exact location of the attack or the victims' identities were revealed in the NATO statement (NYT, Pajhwok). However, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid released a statement saying the group had fired two rockets at Bagram Airfield in Parwan province, killing four U.S. soldiers and wounding six others, overshadowing the positive steps taken earlier in the day (AFP). To date, 91 coalition soldiers, including 68 Americans, have been killed across the country.
After a Guardian report on the U.S. government's PRISM and Boundless Informant programs revealed that nearly 13.5 billion pieces of Pakistani "intelligence" had been collected in March, the Pakistani Foreign Office in Islamabad and the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C. have asked the U.S. government for an official explanation, though few expect one to be forthcoming (Dawn, Dawn). The "intelligence," collected by Boundless Informant in particular, includes online information, telephone metadata, and the locations, dates, times, and durations of phone calls. It is still unclear, however, whose information was collected or how it was used.
At least 34 people have died after a suicide bomber attacked a funeral ceremony for a local businessman Tuesday in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, according to Pakistani officials (NYT, Post). The funeral for Haji Abdullah, the owner of a local petrol station who was killed by unknown gunmen on Monday, was attended by dozens of local leaders and provincial figures, including some aligned with the anti-Taliban Awani National Party, and at least two legislators are among the dead (Dawn). Sixty other funeral attendees were injured when the bomb was detonated shortly after the last rites were performed. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party continued its push against the U.S. drone campaign on Wednesday when party chairman Imran Khan took the oath of office and urged Pakistan's government and military leaders to create a strategy that halts U.S. strikes in the country's tribal regions (ET). Khan's speech comes one day after Dr. Shireen Mazari, another PTI leader, asked the National Assembly to consider what they would do if the drone campaign didn't end. The PTI leads the ruling coalition in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which has borne the brunt of the strikes.
Top Gun, Part 2
Colonel Latifa Nibizada, the first female pilot in the Afghan air force, chronicles her journey in a BBC profile out today (BBC). In it, Col. Nibizada talks about how she joined the Afghan military in 1989, with the support of her father, and raised her daughter on the helicopters she flew as there was no one to take care of her at home, and there was no kindergarten in the military. Col. Nibizada, whose daughter is interested in space, hopes her daughter follows in her footsteps but goes one step farther to become an astronaut.
-- Bailey Cahall
FAISAL AL-TIMIMI/AFP/Getty Images
In the lead
NATO forces transferred the control of 95 remaining districts to Afghan security forces in a ceremony on Tuesday, completing a transition process that began in 2011 (AFP, BBC, Pajhwok). Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that beginning Wednesday, for the first time since 2001, Afghan forces will lead all security activities across the country. As the New York Times points out, Afghan security personnel have already taken the lead across three-quarters of the country but after Tuesday, these forces must operate without American air support, medical evacuation helicopters, or partnered combat units (NYT). The 100,000 coalition troops remaining in the country will serve as mentors and trainers to the growing Afghan forces, providing help in only the most dire of circumstances.
Shortly before the official handover on Tuesday, three Afghan civilians were killed and 30 others were wounded in Kabul when a roadside bomb ripped through the convoy of Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqqiq (AP, NYT, Pajhwok). The blast occurred moments after Mohaqqiq's convoy, which was heading to the transition ceremony, passed the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission office on the outskirts of the city, suggesting he was the intended target of the attack.
After months of stalled peace negotiations, sources close to the Taliban confirmed that they are opening a political bureau in Doha, Qatar, possibly as early as Tuesday, to discuss a way forward with the Karzai government (BBC). Former jihadi leaders and prominent politicians met with President Karzai on Monday to assess the progress of the government-initiated peace process and agreed the office's opening would help them begin answering Afghan demands for security and stability (Pajhwok). President Karzai announced Tuesday that the country's High Peace Council would travel to Doha to begin the negotiations, before moving them back to Afghanistan (Reuters).
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Monday that he was putting a hold on a portion of U.S. aid to Afghanistan until the White House offered "sufficient assurances" that the alleged "ghost money" received by President Hamid Karzai from the CIA was not fueling government corruption (NYT, Pajhwok). The $75 million being withheld was intended to help Afghanistan organize its national elections, including next April's presidential vote.
Education for all
In the wake of Saturday's attack in Quetta that killed 14 female students, Malala Yousufzai became the first signatory of a new U.N. petition to ensure 57 million out-of-school children worldwide are given the chance of an education (Dawn, ET). In a statement about the petition, Yousufzai, who was shot by Taliban militants in October 2012 for her public stance on female education, said: "Obtaining education is every man and woman's birthright and no one is allowed to take away this right from them." The petition, which was launched by the U.N. Special Envoy for Education, is part of an effort to establish universal primary education by December 2015.
Dr. Shireen Mazari, a Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) party leader, raised the issue of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan during Tuesday's session of the National Assembly and asked lawmakers what they would do if the campaign was not ended (Dawn). Mazari said the attacks could not just be met with protests and stressed that the government may have to adopt stronger measures. In response to Dr. Mazari's question, Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on foreign affairs, said Pakistan has already conveyed its serious concerns about the campaign to the U.S. and that it will continue to raise the issue in all forums, including an upcoming meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (ET).
Responding to the weekend's violent attacks across Quetta, Balochistan's Acting Inspector-General of Prisons, Shujah Kasi, put prison authorities at all of the major and sensitive facilities on high alert Monday (ET). Kasi said officials at prisons in Gaddani, Khuzdar, Machh, Naushki, and Quetta have been instructed to remain within the prisons at all time and not to leave without prior permission. Kasi also claimed the move was an attempt to prevent an incident like last year's jailbreak in Bannu, when hundreds of militants stormed the jail from several directions and several high-profile terrorists escaped.
Six months after the U.S. State Department shuttered the Office of Guantanamo Closure, Secretary of State John Kerry effectively reopened it Monday when he named Clifford Sloan as the department's new special envoy for closing the U.S. detention facility in Cuba (Pajhwok, Post). Sloan, a lawyer with extensive government experience, will be responsible for transferring the remaining detainees who have been cleared for release to their home or third countries, and managing a multitude of diplomatic issues that surround presidential directives to close the facility. There are currently 166 detainees at the prison complex, 86 of whom have been approved for transfer.
-- Bailey Cahall
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
A separatist group and a militant organization attacked a variety of targets in Quetta on Saturday, killing at least 25 people and shaking the newly formed government (ET, NYT, Reuters). Early Saturday morning, the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army destroyed the former Ziarat residence of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in a bomb attack, claiming it was a "symbol of slavery" from the former British Empire (ET). Hours later, a female suicide bomber from the anti-Shi'a group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi attacked a bus from the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women's University, killing at least 14 students and wounding dozens of others (Dawn, ET). Once the injured were moved to a nearby hospital, a male suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest in the building's emergency room, killing at least eight more people, and gunmen stormed the building, launching a firefight with security officials that last several hours (ET).
In response to the twin suicide attacks, the Balochistan government observed a day of mourning Sunday and local businesses observed a shutter-down strike in Quetta (Dawn). The women's university also released a state saying it was closed for an indefinite period of time to mourn the deaths of the 14 female students who died in the attack. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who expressed condolences on behalf of the government, announced that all of those killed at the hospital complex would be awarded a medal of courage for laying down their lives for the country (ET). Khan also said Jinnah's Ziarat residence would be restored to its original condition in about three to four months (ET).
Both members of a two-man polio vaccination team died Sunday after being gunned down by suspected militants in Swabi district (ET). The two men were administering anti-polio drops when gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire. Two police officers were guarding the men but, according to eyewitnesses, fled when the firing began.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, released an audio statement Saturday rejecting an order from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to end the merger with Syria's al-Nusra Front (Post). The merger between the two al Qaeda affiliates, which was announced by Baghdadi in April, created a cross-border movement known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Ready to lead
A joint Afghan-NATO transition board met in Kabul Sunday and agreed that Afghan forces were ready to take over security for the country (Pajhwok). Afghan security forces number around 350,000 and will take the lead combat role sometime this week (BBC). As the Afghans have taken over operations, their casualty rate has also increased, particularly in Sangin province (NYT). In an area that has already seen high numbers of British and American deaths, Afghan security forces have lost about 20 officers in over three weeks of fighting with the Taliban while another 35 have been wounded.
At least 15 Taliban insurgents were killed and five others were detained in Logar province Saturday during a joint security operation (Pajhwok). Coalition forces provided air support for the Afghan security personnel on the ground, and there were no civilian casualties. Elsewhere in Uruzgan province, six civilians were killed and four were wounded Sunday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb (Pajhwok).
Mohammad Nabi Ilham, the police chief of Helmand province, survived a suicide attack in Lashkar Gah early Monday morning, but two of his guards and a nearby shopkeeper were injured (AP, Pajhwok). An unidentified attacker drove his explosives-laden car into Ilham's vehicle as he headed to work Monday.
While there are still no official candidates for next year's presidential election, an anonymous source told Pajhwok on Sunday that several key political parties have rallied behind Commerce and Industries Minister Anwarul Haq Ahadi (Pajhwok). Ahadi, who briefly ran for president in 2009, was reportedly picked as a consensus candidate during a meeting at the residence of Wihdat Party leader Haji Mohammed Muhaqqiq on Friday. Attendees included Economy Minister and Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan leader Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, and former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar. While the decision on Ahadi's candidacy has not been confirmed, spokesmen for Arghandiwal denied reports that he had participated in the meeting.
Defense of others
At a judicial hearing last week, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan said he was protecting Taliban leaders in Afghanistan on November 5, 2009, when he opened fire at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas and killed 13 people (NYT). While the judge has postponed any rulings on that defense strategy, former military lawyers claim Hasan failed to meet the legal criteria of "defense of others," which requires proof that defendants were protecting victims of unlawful force and faced immediate threat or danger. They claim the threat to the Taliban was neither immediate nor unlawful.
-- Bailey Cahall
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
The United States, Afghan, Qatari, and Pakistani governments have all voiced their support for the opening of a Taliban office in Doha in order to promote peace negotiations. Some consider transforming the Taliban from an armed insurgency into a legitimate political group to be the critical first step in the Afghan peace process. However, to date, reconciliation efforts have stalled and focus more on rhetoric rather than substance.
There is no concrete evidence that Taliban leadership is either worn down or desperate to reach a peace agreement. Attempting to secure his legacy as a peacemaker, Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to reach an agreement before the end of his term in April 2014. Because the Taliban have also cooperated somewhat with this principle of reconciliation, it is not immediately clear why the current approach has achieved nothing.
The answer is that the Doha peace process has been riddled with unrealistic expectations, and remains hopelessly inconsistent. Such reconciliation efforts without strategy and clear objectives reflect a hook without bait - while encouraging, these talks are doomed to fail without significant reform. Only with realistic expectations, a coherent strategy, national solidarity, and lots of patience, will reconciliation stand a chance of materializing.
Where We've Been Thus Far
The reconciliation offer requires three specific things from the Taliban: ending violence, breaking ties with al-Qaeda, and accepting the Afghan Constitution. The fourth, less advertised condition is the acceptance of a residual ISAF element in Afghanistan post-2014. At a recent summit in London, British, Afghan and Pakistani leaders set a six-month timeline to reach a peace settlement.
But substantive results are unlikely to emerge until after the 2014 Afghan Presidential elections. This is the single most important date in the reconciliation process and will set the tone for future debate. A six-month deadline to reach an agreement is not only unrealistic, but also damaging to the credibility of the process.
A more realistic approach to the peace process would be both accepting that this dialogue will take a long time and recognizing the importance of Afghan national consensus on the issue. Key stake-holders should focus efforts on reaching internal consensus between now and mid-2014, when the elections will take place. With reconciliation playing a significant role in Afghan political dialogue leading to the elections, the next president should enter office with a clear mandate on how to tackle engagement with the Taliban. Any further wavering will increase the likelihood of infighting amongst regional powerbrokers and warlords.
Negotiations are also unlikely succeed until the majority of Coalition Forces leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Why would the Taliban want to reconcile with the Afghan Government on the eve of ISAF's withdrawal? Still in control of significant swaths of land across the country, the Taliban will be hesitant to strike a deal until it becomes clear that Afghan security forces can maintain control without ISAF support.
Lessons Learned and Relearned
The most opportune moment for reconciliation has likely already passed. The Bonn negotiations, which took place immediately following the Taliban's swift defeat in late 2001, failed to peacefully incorporate Taliban loyalists into the new government. At that point, the Taliban were the defeated foe and their long-time enemies, now at the forefront of Afghan politics, circumvented any reconciliation efforts.
When the Taliban re-emerged as a significant threat between 2006 and 2009, Coalition COIN strategy focused more on marginalizing the Taliban through the "clear-hold-build-transfer" model, and did not pay enough credence to reconciliation efforts.
Additionally, the Afghan-led reconciliation process is fractured. While Afghan security forces are more focused on reintegrating individual insurgents willing to give up the fight, President Karzai's reconciliation program is focused on reaching a deal with the Taliban core leadership. This is not a "grand bargain" with the Taliban, but rather a presidential appeal to Afghan nationalism in an attempt to erode Pakistani influence on the Afghan Taliban's senior leadership. The result of the two incongruous approaches has been failure.
A Change in Direction is Required
For the peace process to work, it must change course. First, there must be national solidarity and consensus on the peace platform. The current plan, though basic, does not have widespread support among loyal Afghan opposition parties, such as Afghan Mellat, Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, or Jamiat-e-Islami. In fact, the process appears monopolized by a small group of Presidential Palace senior aides, rather than made transparent in order to seek buy-in from a wider sector of Afghans.
Second, we must understand the influence of external regional and international players on the Taliban as well as the Afghan government. Finally, the lead negotiators will need time to develop the proper relationships between opposing parties; this role is probably best handled by a group of mediators, supported by the key western stakeholders and accepted by all sides. All indicators point toward limited progress between now and the April 2014 Afghan elections.
The current Afghan government faces opposition from all the major ethnic groups in the country. Most ‘loyal opposition' parties and leaders - some of which are presidential contenders - are missing from the negotiating tables; these are the political parties featuring moderate Afghan party leaders who have worked with NATO over the past twelve years. By ignoring the "loyal opposition" parties, reconciliation officials are also excluding from the negotiation table the largest segment of the Afghan population - the youth. Afghan political leaders are increasingly paying attention to the youth-movement in an effort to "get the vote" from the most dynamic - and potentially volatile - segment of the population.
Part of the reconciliation process must start inside urban centers, where the majority of the population and the biggest opposition to the Taliban live. Only with a national consensus on reconciliation will the peace process move to a stage in which the Qatar office can start delivering results. This will take time and considerable trust-building measures.
While Pakistani support to the Taliban is an undeniable issue, the fact remains that poor governance from the Afghan government and deficiencies in the Afghan security apparatus make areas of the country vulnerable to insurgent (as well as criminal elements) influence. If the Qatar peace process is to work, all involved must understand that the peace terms can only be Afghan-generated. External entities can facilitate the peace process but cannot set the terms. One of the challenges for the reconciliation process is that few possess the patience to approach it as a long term process. Many hours of deliberation and countless cups of tea will be required to build the trust and goodwill necessary to start the reconciliation process and a vital - to the ultimate peace - drop in violence.
In order for the international community to support the peace process and help it move forward, the Taliban must be better understood. Although the Taliban are most often associated with their strict adherence to Shari'a Law and violent insurgent tactics rather than their Foreign Ministry's diplomatic efforts, they have pursued basic diplomatic solutions in the past and may still be open to such activities. Twelve years of conflict since the end of the Taliban's regime have made it difficult, but not impossible, to leverage Taliban diplomacy in future negotiations.
Ultimately however, no reconciliation can start unless there is pause in the carnage supported by the Taliban senior leadership. Similarly, there must be a willingness on the part of the Afghan government to adhere to some form of cease-fire. The negotiating parties must be willing to compromise, as concessions are essential for both sides to achieve realistic goals.
The most important thing the United States can accomplish on reconciliation this year is to give up on the idea that reconciliation will be accomplished this year. Only by realizing how far the reconciliation process is from the end goal can the U.S. avoid doomed-to-fail quick fixes that reinforce hopelessness. The U.S. must see reconciliation in the context of the political transition that will come after the mid-2014 Afghan Presidential elections. A good first step toward national reconciliation will be the commitment of each candidate to making the peace process a key element of their platform and laying out their plan to achieve lasting peace during their term.
With this more modest understanding of 2013 as the year to begin a real dialogue rather than expect results on reconciliation, there are three key components that set the table for future breakthroughs.
First, international engagement must be persistent and consistent rather than episodic and occasionally even working at cross-purposes. More specifically, this means committing to the Doha process, which is the closest credible option for most Afghan factions, and having permanent international staff working with the parties, rather than visiting delegations. Similarly, clarity of purpose from these engagements would be useful, as the Coalition and the Afghan Government send conflicting signals on whether insurgent groups are considered the "enemy" or, albeit "upset," brothers.
Second, the United States and its allies must recognize that real reconciliation in Afghanistan requires the involvement of all parties, not just the false binary of the Karzai Government and the Taliban. Talks must include other armed resistance groups, as well as the loyal opposition (i.e. parties and individuals who choose political means of opposing government policies without violence) which has consistently acted as the Afghan government's conscience and challenged the carnage caused by the fighting between the government and insurgents. Given that this latter faction probably represents a substantial majority of Afghans and aligns most closely with priorities of the international community, reconciliation must not further marginalize them.
Third, much of the 2014-2019 Presidential term should set the conditions for reconciliation. In effect, the new Afghan President should be sworn in with a national agenda and a mandate to push toward a potential breakthrough during their time in office. But reconciliation should not be attempted at all costs. In other words, unless there is real intent to stop the violent insurgency in earnest, the idea of negotiations is absurd. For example one cannot expect positive results on reconciliation efforts when civilian casualties are going up significantly. According to the U.N. data, 3,092 civilians were killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict between 1 January and 6 June this year, with children accounting for 21 per cent of all civilian casualties.
Ultimately, true reconciliation will take generations to materialize. Abandoning the current failed ‘foolosophy' in favor of a more realistic - but much longer term - approach is a good first step in our collective "12-step process" to reconciliation recovery.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Dr. Kamal Alam specializes in 21st century relations between Arab states, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. lawmakers are set to vote on two different pieces of legislation Friday that could impact thousands of former and current Afghan interpreters who are seeking U.S. visas (Post). The Afghan Allies Protection Act was passed in 2009 to help Afghans who were risking their lives by working for the U.S. mission, and are seen as legitimate targets by the Taliban and other militant groups, move to the United States once their work had concluded. But only a small percentage of these visa requests -32 of more than 5,700 applications - has been approved. A Senate bill would extend the program, set to expire next September, to 2015 and broaden coverage to include interpreters for coalition forces, media organizations, and non-governmental organizations. A House proposal would also extend the program but would cut the number of available visas by two-thirds.
A mob attacked an Afghan medical doctor and his female patient in Sar-i-Pul province on Thursday after reports that he was treating her in a private examining room without a chaperone (NYT). Provincial authorities said there was nothing indicate the relationship between Dr. Ajmeer Hashimi and Mahboba, a midwife, was anything but professional, but local villagers from the town of Sar-i-Pul stormed the office, throwing Hashimi from a second-floor window, and stoning him in the street. There were conflicting reports about the doctor's health -- whether he was killed or being treated at a local hospital -- but the midwife is recovering at a local women's shelter.
Three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed and three were wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Badghis province on Friday, while one border guard died and another was wounded in a similar attack in Herat province (Pajhwok). And according to Afghan and U.S. officials, six militants were killed in separate clashes with security forces in both Paktika and Khost provinces (Pajhwok, Pajhwok).
Hundreds of women from Jamiat-i-Islah took to the streets of Kabul on Thursday to protest the proposed "Elimination of Violence against Women" law and asked parliament to reject it (Pajhwok). The activists chanted that parts of the law - such as prison sentences for husbands who threaten, intimidate, or beat their wives - are un-Islamic and against Koranic teachings. Saeeda Hafeez, the chief of the party's female wing, said that Islam gives females all rights and there is no need for other laws.
A siege on the production office of an Ahmadi-owned magazine in Lahore has entered its second month, according to the Express Tribune (ET). The magazine, The Lahore, had been published every Friday for 62 years until members of the United Khatam-i-Nabuwat political party, an anti-Ahmadi group, forced the magazine's owners from the premises in April. Since then at least eight men have patrolled around-the-clock to prevent the removal of anything from the building. Founded by poet Saqib Zervi in 1951, The Lahore published cultural, economic, literary, political, and social material - content the United Khatam-i-Nabuwat members believe is blasphemous.
Islamabad police revealed on Friday that they had arrested Abdullah Umar, an alleged al Qaeda militant involved in the killing of Chaudhry Zulfiqar, at a private hospital in Rawalpindi on Tuesday (Dawn). Zulfiqar was the prosecutor in the Benazir Bhutto murder case and was killed last month while he was on his way to court. Umar was found recovering from injuries he sustained during the attack.
More than 1.6 million Afghan refugees currently living in Pakistan may find their legal statuses nullified if the new government doesn't extend their stay past June 30, according to Ziaur Rehman, Commissioner of Afghan Refugees (Dawn, Pajhwok). Nearly one million of these refugees reside in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and some have been there since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
Pakistan is considering an end to it's nine-month ban of the popular video-sharing website, YouTube, but only if Google installs a "proper filtration system" to remove content Muslims may find offensive (RFEFL). The site was banned in September 2012 after clips of the movie "Innocence of Muslims" sparked protests throughout Pakistan. While Google has restricted service in a number of other countries, it will take time to research Pakistan's laws and build partnerships with local content creators.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Bonus read: "Al Qaeda's boss asserts himself," Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland (CNN).
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told congressional lawmakers on Wednesday that negotiations between Afghanistan and the United States on a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) have entered a final phase (Pajhwok). While the U.S. has not confirmed how many troops will remain in Afghanistan post-withdrawal, sources familiar with the talks say the two countries have established several working groups to discuss issues like air-space management, bases, telecommunications, and transit routes.
A U.N. report on children and armed conflict released Wednesday revealed that 1,304 Afghan children were killed in conflict-related violence in 2012, and the number is likely to rise in 2013 (Pajhwok, VOA). The deaths were caused by actions of all parties currently involved in the conflict. UNICEF, the author of the report, also stated that there were 414 conflict-related child casualties between January 1 and April 30 this year, a 27 percent increase from the same period last year.
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania announced Wednesday that the country has closed two of its bases in Afghanistan following multiple militant attacks on its facilities that killed 10 Georgian soldiers over the past four weeks (Post, RFEFL). Alasania said Georgia will not be reducing its troop contingent in the immediate future, but did not elaborate on where they would be housed. Separately, Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro confirmed that Italian troops will continue to be a part of the coalition until 2014 (Pajhwok).
Six policemen, four of whom were members of the Afghan Local Police, were killed at their checkpoint in Helmand province on Thursday, though it is unclear who is responsible for the incident (AP, Pajhwok). Omar Zwak, the governor's spokesman, said he believed the killings were part of "an internal conspiracy" as two other policemen are missing, but the Taliban also claimed responsibility for the attack.
Twelve assembly ministers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province were sworn in on Thursday, none of them women (Dawn, ET). The ceremony at the Governor's Palace comes just days after Dawn reported the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government in the province was considering a merger between the Social Welfare and Women Development and Zakat and Ushr Ministries, a move that would likely give the ministerial position to its coalition partner, Jamaat-i-Islami (Dawn). While no official decision has been announced concerning the merger, many women in the province believe it will deny them a crucial voice in the new government.
U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that the U.S. is gradually rebuilding its relationship with Pakistan following years of increased tensions (ET). Recognizing that failure to achieve stability in Afghanistan would have implications for Pakistan and the greater region, Dempsey said the recent signing of a tripartite border document would standardize cross-border operations and continue a steady level of engagement with the new government.
Ayesha Farooq, a 26-year-old Pakistani woman from Punjab province, made history this week when she became the first female fighter pilot in Pakistan's Air Force (Reuters). Farooq is one of 19 female pilots who have joined the service in the last decade, five of whom are also training to become fighter pilots.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Alex Wong/Getty Images
At least 17 Afghan civilians, including six judges, were killed and more than 40 were wounded Tuesday afternoon when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside of Kabul's Supreme Court (BBC, Pajhwok, Post, NYT). The powerful explosion, which occurred hours after the top U.N. official in Afghanistan said the Taliban had "signaled a willingness" to talk about reducing civilian casualties, targeted several buses of court workers who were headed home for the evening. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said the court employees had been targeted for "legalizing the infidels" and "cruel" behavior against Afghans. The attack was strongly condemned by Canada, NATO, the United States, and President Karzai who said civilian killings had no justification in Islam or Afghan culture (Pajhwok).
At least 60 non-Afghan detainees - mostly Kuwaitis, Pakistanis, and Saudis - remain imprisoned in a small portion of Afghanistan's Bagram jail that is still controlled by U.S. forces, according to a new report by Agence France Presse (AFP). While the U.S. handed control of the prison to the Karzai government three months ago, these prisoners are still considered enemy combatants and are denied access to lawyers, despite having not been charged with any crimes. The situation has prompted comparisons to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, especially as at least one U.S. official has said the detainees will remain imprisoned as long as U.S. forces are in Afghanistan.
Bomb attacks across Afghanistan killed twelve Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and four civilians on Wednesday, according to government officials (Pajhwok). Eleven soldiers were killed and six were wounded by roadside bomb explosions in Kandahar and Badghis provinces, while a twelfth soldier died when a remote-controlled motorcycle bomb was detonated in Helmand province. Although ANA soldiers were the targets of the attacks, civilians in the area were also killed and wounded by the bombs.
Ten militants who were planting roadside bombs in Paktika province were killed in a government airstrike on Wednesday, while an additional six insurgent fighters were killed by security forces in Ghazni province (Pajhwok).
One month after Pakistan's historic national elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) declared the results of the national election in Punjab's Hafizabad district void on Wednesday (Dawn). In response to a complaint by Shahid Hussain Bhatti, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader who lost to independent candidate Liaquat Hussain Bhatti, the ECP requested a vote recount on May 18. In the wake of large-scale vote rigging reports, however, it decided to hold a re-election instead. No date has been set for the re-election.
Police officials from Quetta arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday to arrest former president Pervez Musharraf in the Akbar Bugti murder case (Dawn). Bugti, a former Minister of State for the Interior and Governor of Balochistan, was killed in 2006 during a military crackdown ordered by then-President Musharraf. This new arrest, ordered to occur by June 24, will bring the number of cases against the former leader to four.
Anger over Pakistan's electricity shortage continued in Faisalabad on Tuesday when a large number of villagers attacked an electric company's grid station and offices, and blocked traffic on a nearby road for about 10 hours (Dawn). The protestors pelted police and vehicles with stones, causing injuries to four officers. Police chased the protestors away and arrested 10. Similar protests, which lasted only five hours, occurred in the same area on June 3. There were a number of other energy-related protests across Pakistan Tuesday, but those were largely peaceful.
U.S. intelligence operatives covertly sabotaged al Qaeda's English-language online magazine, Inspire, last month in an attempt to sow confusion among the group's followers (Post). The hacked magazine, which appeared online May 14, showed garbled text on the second page and 20 blank pages. It was quickly removed but a new issue, dedicated to the Boston Marathon bombing, appeared May 30.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Jan Kubis, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, told a press conference on Tuesday that the Taliban had given a "signal of willingness" to meet to discuss civilian casualties and how to reduce them (NYT). Kubis noted that according to U.N. data, Afghanistan saw a 24 percent increase in civilian casualties during the first half of this year, three-fourths of which were caused by anti-government forces. Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai met with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar to discuss the Taliban reconciliation process (Pajhwok). Al Thani promised to help pave the way for talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, despite the Taliban's refusal to negotiate with the Karzai administration.
Following a day of multiple attacks on government facilities across Afghanistan, several coalition and Afghan military officials say they expect the surge in attacks to continue as the country prepares for next April's presidential election as well as the withdrawal of foreign troops over the next two and a half years (Post). While it is difficult to know the exact number of Taliban and other militant fighters operating in the country, many observers believe the group lacks the manpower or capability to be a strategic threat. Instead, according to several Afghan officials who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, the weakness and corruption of the central Afghan government is the biggest security threat to the country's future.
Two young boys, aged 10 and 16, were found beheaded by the Afghan Taliban in Kandahar on Monday, according to government officials (BBC, Pajhwok). The boys had last been seen on Sunday scavenging for food near the local police headquarters. While the Taliban is known to target those it suspects of working with the police, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, the group's spokesman, denied their involvement and denounced the incident.
A Kyrgyz citizen captured in central Logar province with nine other foreigners about two months ago was released on Tuesday in a gesture of goodwill by the Taliban (Pajhwok). The men, including several Turkish engineers who have already been freed, were kidnapped in April when their helicopter made an emergency landing. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, announced the release but made no mention of the Afghan and Russian citizens who were also taken hostage at the time.
Two high-speed Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistani airspace Tuesday morning but the reason for the incursion is unknown (Dawn, ET). The planes were reportedly five to seven miles inside Pakistan and stayed there for about two minutes, according to the Pakistan Air Force. A Pakistani air traffic controller contacted the planes as soon as the planes crossed the border but the Indian jets did not respond.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party seem poised for their first parliamentary clash after the PTI submitted a resolution calling upon the government to use military force to halt U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal region (Dawn). Minister of State Khurram Dastagir Khan called the PTI's move "premature." While he did not discount the use of military force, he said it was an option that should be used "only after exhausting all diplomatic means."
A Shia Muslim doctor was seriously injured in Peshawar when terrorists in police uniforms tried to kidnap him late Tuesday night (Dawn). His brother, another doctor, was also injured and one of his bodyguards was shot and killed.
In response to a statement by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, the Afghan Taliban denied allegations that it was involved in preparations for an assault on TTP bases in Pakistan's tribal regions on Monday (ET). Ehsan claimed that hundreds of heavily armed militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Ansarul Islam, and Al-badr Mujahideen were using the name "Afghan Taliban" while planning attacks against the TTP. Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denounced the claims as false, saying the group is involved in major operations in Afghanistan and does not allow its fighters to interfere beyond the country's border. Abdullah Ghaznavi, a LeT spokesman, joined in the war of words to note that LeT was focused on Indian-controlled Kashmir, not the tribal regions.
No electricity, no vaccines
Tired of a lack of government services, elders in Pakistan's tribal regions have said that government polio eradication teams will not be able to vaccinate the area's children until they have electricity, mosquito nets, bug spray, and an ambulance (RFEFL). One elder was even quoted saying, "Our children die of scorching heat and mosquito bites; what difference does it make if they die of polio?"
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
In the run-up to Pakistan's general elections, which were held on May 11, the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) once again reiterated its call for Pakistanis to reject the system of democracy in favor for the rule of Islamic law (shari‘a). The militant movement, like other Sunni jihadis, seeks to implement a state governed by its interpretation of shari‘a and sees other governing systems, including the democratic nation-state, as running counter to what it believes has been divinely commanded by God. In addition to its religio-political argument, the TTP has increasingly employed appeals to populism in an attempt to tap into widespread public discontent in Pakistan over the state of the economy, unemployment, regional discontent in the province of Baluchistan, and rampant corruption.
The TTP released a statement in late March on jihadi Internet forums via its Umar Media office urging Pakistanis to dedicate themselves to changing the governing system in the country. In it, the group lambasts the outgoing and past Pakistani governments, saying that instead of instituting reforms and leading the country to prosperity, these governments have brought upon the country oppression, injustice, and corruption. Indeed, argued the TTP, the country's entire history has shown the farcical nature of democracy in Pakistan.
Similar arguments have been made by TTP leaders in the past. In his speech marking the annual Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in 2011, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud addressed the Pakistani people at length about the "future of the country." He noted that the majority of Pakistanis, despite living in a country that has been blessed with many natural resources, continue to languish in poverty while a few elites enjoy massive wealth.
Mehsud specifically pointed to water shortages, "provincial" and "ethnic" inequality, and the misdistribution of profits from natural resources as proof that political and social elites are willing to do anything to satisfy their insatiable greed. These elites, he said, have shown themselves time and time again to not only be unwilling to reform the country for the better, but in fact complicit in the country's continuing stagnation, suffering, and poverty. Meanwhile, their "unbelieving" allies, such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Western governments, have compounded the suffering of the country's majority poor by imposing taxes and other economic charges in return for their economic aid.
Accordingly, the TTP's March statement urged Pakistanis to redirect their energy and hopes for change away from the farce of simply changing politicians while leaving the existing governing system in place. It is this system, the movement has continued to argue, which is to blame for Pakistan's malaise. Thus, it would be more productive for the people to reject democracy, which the TTP and many other Sunni jihadis allege is "un-Islamic," and work toward the implementation of shari‘a. The TTP is working to overthrow the vestiges of British colonialism in the country, which has continued to suffer from a kind of "intellectual, mental, educational, and civilizational slavery." What is needed in Pakistan is an uprising like that of the "Arab Spring."
In a video released by the TTP, also in late March, TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan attempted to broaden the war of words against the Pakistani state by invoking the ongoing conflict in Baluchistan, and vowing to avenge the government's killing of the region during the presidency of General Pervez Musharraf. Ihsan also called upon Baluch separatist rebels to join hands with his movement to target the state and implement shari‘a.
In addition to a call to arms, Ihsan's statement forbade the Pakistani people from participating in the upcoming elections and said the TTP was temporarily postponing its offer of negotiations with the government. People were warned to stay away from political party gatherings and events. A day before the elections, a written statement issued in the name of Ihsan stated that Pakistan's political parties were being targeted because of their adherence to a secular national system, which is contrary, he claimed, to Islam, and because of their support for the military operations in Pashtun regions such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
A significant segment of the TTP's argument against the democratic system in Pakistan rests on the very real failures of policy that have occurred under the country's outgoing government. As Mehsud did in his 2011 Eid al-Adha message, Ihsan's March 2013 statement points to the suffering of the country's majority while the governing elites continue to enrich themselves. Electricity shortages, increasing fuel and food prices, and the decline of national industry have all worsened under the Pakistan People's Party-led government, the statement said. The government has also been duplicitous in its cooperation with the U.S. military and drone campaigns in neighboring Afghanistan and over Pakistan, the TTP notes. The government is blamed for political and inter-communal violence in Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar, as well as for continuing a "war" against the country's tribal peoples. The military is no better, the TTP argues, because its generals have shown themselves to be greedy for continuing U.S. economic aid.
Despite fears that TTP-perpetrated violence, including a number of shootings and bombings prior to the elections, would hinder participation on May 11, voter turnout reportedly reached record levels. Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won the largest number of seats in the new parliament, has said that in addition to the new incoming government's focus on reviving the Pakistani economy, he will take seriously the TTP's offer for negotiations. After "postponing" its offer of peace negotiations, the TTP said talks would be suspended and retaliation taken following the killing of TTP deputy leader Waliur Rehman Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike on May 29. In the meantime, the TTP and its allies remain engaged in a brutal war with the Pakistani state, attacking military and Frontier Corps outposts, police stations, and other targets throughout the country.
The TTP, perhaps recognizing the limits of its religious arguments, is attempting to broaden its attack on the Pakistani state by utilizing populism to bring in issues of concern, such as the flagging economy and widespread corruption and cronyism, to all Pakistanis. It has also attempted, rhetorically at least, to woo some Baluch regionalists to their side, though with little success so far. TTP leaders seem to have realized that lofty ideological statements and goals, such as the implementation of a reactionary form of shari‘a and exhortations to self-sacrifice and militancy, alone are less likely to attract new support for the TTP leadership than by also portraying themselves as champions of populism and "reform." The TTP's "reform" will be made possible, they say, through the implementation of "God's laws," under which society will rebound and prosper. It remains to be seen if this rebranding effort will succeed in convincing and winning over new supporters in broader Pakistani society.
Given the commitment with which the TTP has pursued its campaign against the Pakistani state, it remains unclear which individuals or segments of the TTP the incoming Pakistani government will actually be able to negotiate with, if any. And if peace talks do happen, there seems to be little chance they will succeed. The incoming government should begin its assault on the TTP by addressing the populist issues the group has subsumed into its rhetoric: poverty, education, government corruption, and the sense of inequality felt by many of Pakistan's minority communities, particularly the Pashtuns and Baloch. This strategy would likely hinder the attractiveness of armed rebellion and activism against the central government, though only if pursued in a genuine, rather than just a rhetorical, manner.
Christopher Anzalone is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, contemporary jihadi movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual cultures. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat. He is also an adjunct research fellow at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University and the managing editor for the center's forthcoming web portal Islamium.org.
NASEER MEHSUD/AFP/Getty Images
In a recent article for the AfPak Channel, Megan Reif and Nadia Naviwala argue that the violence attending last month's elections in Pakistan should be interpreted as "a sign that electoral administration is getting stronger and that democracy is maturing." While they do not condone electoral violence, they argue that it is a normal part of the democratization process and signals the strengthening of institutions, reduced opportunities for fraud, and a crowding out of extremists from the electoral process. To prove their points, they provide historical examples of electoral violence in France and the United States as a reminder that many of the world's consolidated democracies also experienced violence as part of an incremental, centuries-long move toward democracy.
Part of Reif's and Naviwala's motivation may be to defend the democratic process under adverse conditions and to encourage nascent democracies to trudge forward in their pursuit of democratic consolidation. However, the authors fall short when they argue that more reform can lead to more violence and, hence, violence can be interpreted as a sign of democratic and institutional progress. Such a conclusion is troublesome and misleading. Their thesis, while provocative, conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of the motivations behind the use of violence, which in many cases is a deliberate strategy employed by political actors.
The Pakistani Taliban did claim responsibility for much, but not all, of the electoral violence that occurred before the national election in Pakistan. According to their statements, the violence was meant to disrupt and delegitimize the democratic process. However, there were also many instances where violence seemed to be employed as an electoral strategy by both the Taliban and political party agents.
Commentators noted that Taliban-friendly political parties and candidates had been largely spared from violent attacks and that these parties, in fact, benefited from the violence. Violence was used to deter certain candidates -- primarily those representing liberal parties -- from participating in the election. Pamphlets were distributed that warned of the dangers of electing women and "infidels" into office. There were also reports of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement by political party agents on Election Day.
The use of violence by political parties is not new to Pakistan. Indeed, the European Union's Election Observation Mission report for the 2008 national and local elections notes that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement is known for using violence Additionally, there is a precedent of Pakistani politicians using attacks by extremists as a cover for their own political gains; a new working paper by Paul Staniland of the University of Chicago details the collaboration between extremist groups and politicians. Thus, there is sufficient reason to believe that the electoral violence that occurred in Pakistan had many purposes besides preventing the election, one of which was to affect the outcome.
The strategic use of violence may masquerade as an indicator that groups have no legitimate option by which to express their opposition to elections due to improvements in the electoral process. But our research on Kenya shows that this use of violence suggests insufficient institutional reform, a critical failure of the state to protect the franchise of its citizens, and a high level of impunity for the past use of violence. The presence of electoral violence indicates weak institutional development, not democratic maturation.
Much like the attacks in Pakistan, electoral violence in Kenya has historically taken many different forms and has been used for many different purposes. It been used both to suppress and mobilize voters, deter aspirants from participating in elections, punish perceived political opponents, and to delegitimize the electoral process.
Prior to elections in 1992, political elites allied with President Daniel arap Moi and the Kenya African National Union (KANU) party supported organized gangs, through which they orchestrated ‘ethnic clashes.' While the clashes mainly pitted Kalenjin communities against non-Kalenjin and perceived KANU opponents, it also encompassed many different ethnic groups . Approximately, 1,500 Kenyans died as a result of the violence -- first in a bid to demonstrate to Kenyans the dangers of transitioning from single party elections to multiparty elections, and later in an attempt to scare Kenyans into either voting for incumbent Moi or not voting at all. This pattern repeated itself in 1997 when approximately 100 people were killed in Coast Province (eastern Kenya) as part of Moi's electoral strategy. The Kikuyu ethnic group, which comprises approximately 22 percent of the population, was the main target of the violence, although other groups considered as non-indigenous to Coast were also affected.
After the 2007 elections, a serious political crisis broke out in Kenya. The Electoral Commission of Kenya declared incumbent Mwai Kibaki the victor of a close and highly contentious presidential election, amid myriad allegations of fraud and vote rigging. Violence -- instigated by supporters of Raila Odinga, Kibaki's opponent -- began as a ‘punishment' for supporters of Kibaki, a Kikuyu. Over the course of the next month, inter-ethnic violence claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Kenyans.
This post-election violence was a turning point in Kenya. Its resolution required international mediation and led to the adoption of several major political reforms. Most notably, a new constitution was approved in a 2010 referendum, significant electoral reforms were enacted to prevent fraud and increase confidence in the election, and steps were taken to reform the police -- which were responsible for almost 40 percent of the fatalities.
Elections in 2013 -- Kenya's first since 2007 and the major reforms that ensued --have been widely lauded for their relative peacefulness. But here the world has focused only on the post-election period. In fact, in the months leading up to the election, more than 300 people died as part of the campaign process. Some of the violence, appearing as ethnic clashes, could be linked to aspirants vying for the new county-level positions, as documented by a Human Rights Watch report. In other cases, the objective was to prevent the vote from taking place. The Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a separatist organization, attacked election officials and facilities to disrupt what they argued was an illegitimate election, much as the Taliban in Pakistan has denounced democracy as un-Islamic. The MRC felt that by using violence and intimidation to lower voter turnout they would deprive the elections of their legitimacy and, ultimately, lend credence to the MRC's claim that Coast Province should be independent of Kenya.
The pre-election violence of 2013, which took place after considerable reform, is not a signal of institutional progress in Kenya. Rather, it is a reflection of insufficient reform. Devolution spawned new competition for elected office, while an atmosphere of impunity for past attacks facilitated violence in other areas. More to the point, ineffective and partisan electoral management bodies and a weak, corrupt judiciary have facilitated the use of violence as a part of the electoral process.
To date, although the violent tactics employed by Moi and his associates are widely known, no one has been charged with a crime. Furthermore, despite repeated calls from civil society and demands from the international community, none of the perpetrators of the 2007 electoral violence have been brought to justice. In Kenya, electoral violence has never signified the strengthening and deepening of democracy, but rather it has served as an indicator of democratic fragility.
In addition to spotlighting institutional inadequacies, in rare but extreme cases, electoral violence may also be the first shot fired in what then becomes a deadly civil conflict. In Congo-Brazzaville's 1994 legislative elections, the three leading candidates all had private militias, which clashed after the results indicated that Pascal Lissouba's party had won. The resulting violence left 2,000 dead. After fighting broke out again between Lissouba and Denis Sasso-Nguesso in 1997 over electoral rules, 15,000 died before Lissouba took over. Another 20,000 died from related violence over the next two years.
Instead of accepting violence as a sign of democratic progress, we should learn from countries that have successfully navigated democratization without a call to arms. There are many counter-examples of peaceful processes in Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, and Mauritius.With greater understanding of the motivations behind electoral violence, we can do more to prevent it. Strengthening political institutions, improving electoral management, and ensuring those who commit electoral crimes are brought to account are all ways in which violence can be and has been successfully counteracted.
Most importantly, violence is not an indictment of electoral democracy. Instead, it should be seen as a means to help reformers identify where the breakdown of democracy is occurring. Violence in Kenya has highlighted problems with electoral management, corruption in security forces, and judicial incapacity -- all of which were targeted by significant reforms after 2007. Kenya's 2013 election was much improved from previous contests in terms of the integrity of electoral management and the monitoring of violence, but violence was still a part of the electoral process and it suggests that more reforms are necessary to protect the gains Kenya has made thus far. The lessons learned in Kenya can easily be applied to the Pakistani case. In both countries, we can congratulate courageous voters who cast their ballots under duress while still decrying violence and identifying areas for future reform.
Stephanie M. Burchard and Dorina A. Bekoe, the editor of Voting in Fear: Electoral Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, are research staff members at the Institute for Defense Analyses. The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and should not be viewed as representing the official position of the Institute for Defense Analyses or its sponsors. Links to web sites are for informational purposes only and not an endorsement.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Seven heavily armed Taliban fighters launched a pre-dawn attack Monday morning on the military side of Kabul International Airport, where a large international base is located, though damage was limited to a tent inside the facility (AP, AP, NYT, NYT, Pajhwok). The militants were equipped with suicide vests, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms, according to government officials. Two Afghan civilians were wounded and all seven attackers were killed - two when they detonated their vests and five in gunfire from security personnel. It was one of three attacks on state facilities Monday morning.
Three other suicide bombers attempted to attack a district police headquarters just outside of Kabul, while another six tried to take a provincial council building in Zabul province. The six attackers in Zabul were killed by security forces later Monday morning (Pajhwok). Twenty people were injured in the attack, including two council members, but they are all recovering at a nearby hospital. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, at least nine Taliban fighters and one Afghan Local Police officer were killed in separate incidents (Pajhwok).
Two American soldiers and an American civilian were killed on Saturday when a soldier with the Afghan National Army opened fire at a base in Paktika province (NYT, Post). The gunman, identified as a company commander, was killed almost immediately and a second man was detained in relation to the incident. Afghan officials said the incident followed an argument, though it is unclear what the argument was about. The confrontation marked the deadliest insider attack this year. In Farah province, an Italian solider died when two men on a motorcycle threw a grenade at his convoy. The Taliban praised the attack but did not take responsibility for it.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party submitted a resolution in the Punjab Assembly on Monday calling for the end of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Dawn). Similar to the parliamentary resolution that was passed in April 2012, the PTI measure said the drone strikes were a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. However, it added a demand that the federal government abolish all agreements with the United States pertaining to the drone campaign.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also hoping to end U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory by offering to eliminate "terrorist sanctuaries," according to a senior government official (ET). Speaking anonymously, the official acknowledged that there are reasons for the drone attacks and that the new government must address those concerns. He said Sharif's newly elected government was working on a new anti-terror strategy that would be discussed at Monday's cabinet meeting, the first for the new government. That report comes just days after seven people were killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan and an official protest was lodged with U.S. Embassy officials (NYT, Post).
Sharif met with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Saturday to discuss finding a middle ground with Pakistani Taliban leadership (ET). While the Pakistani Taliban rescinded its peace offer after the death of deputy leader Waliur Rehman in a drone strike, Pakistan's Minister of Information, Pervaiz Rashid, said the new government was working to create an environment that would bring them back to the negotiating table.
Violence that broke out on Saturday following the death of Arif Baloch, a local youth, continued on Monday with five deaths throughout Karachi (ET). Fighting broke out between the Kutchi Rabita Committee, a local community group, and an unidentified rival organization after Baloch's death, though it is unclear who attacked Baloch and which group, if any, Baloch belonged to. To date, at least 11 people have died and 18 have been injured in the fighting (ET, ET).
Six people were killed in Khyber Agency on Monday when militants attacked three NATO containers (Dawn, ET, Pajhwok). The drivers of the vehicles were killed when militants set the containers on fire, but it is unclear if the other deaths involved the militants or security forces. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a recent letter, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ruled against the merger of the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq, saying the groups should have consulted or at least notified al Qaeda’s leaders beforehand (AlJ). The ruling, which comes two months after the merger was announced, is an attempt to end defections, increasing tensions, and infighting among the groups’ members. However, sources familiar with the situation say the new group – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – has consolidated about 90 percent of the Arab and foreign fighters currently in Syria, making its disbandment extremely unlikely.
Months after Asadullah Khalid, Afghanistan's spy chief, was wounded by a suicide bomber, a spokesman for the National Directorate of Security has confirmed the attacker, who was stripped searched, hid the bomb inside his rectum (NYT). The Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, evaded direct questions about the body-cavity bomb saying, "There is a commission...organizing and masterminding these sophisticated and complicated operations. We can't reveal the secret because we may use these tactics again in the future."
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (New York: Penguin Press, 2013).
Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013).
It's instructive to linger over the scene-setting, thematic quotations that book authors choose to open their stories. It tells you something about where the tale is going. And where the author is coming from.
Mark Mazzetti, a national security correspondent for the New York Times, opens his new book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, with a passage from John Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:
"Good intelligence work, Control had always preached, was gradual and rested on a kind of gentleness. The scalphunters were the exception to his own rule. They weren't gradual and they weren't gentle either..."
Jeremy Scahill, a national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and the author of a previous book about the military contractor Blackwater, begins his new book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield with an observation from Voltaire:
"It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."
These are ominous openings. They signal that the story you're about to read wrestles with the darkest aspects of our human nature. What turns men into killers? What drives them from "gentleness" to savagery? How should we judge them for that?
They also tell you that each writer, who has been widely praised for the strength of his journalism, is after something more substantial here. Maybe even novelistic. You don't invoke Le Carré and Voltaire without a hefty dose of ambition. Fortunately for Mazzetti and Scahill, their gambles largely pay off.
Taken together -- and if you have the time, you really should read these books as companions -- The Way of the Knife and Dirty Wars are among the most comprehensive and soul-searching histories of the now 12-year-old 'Global War on Terrorism.' The authors are covering the same ground, the same organizations, and frequently the same people. Each book examines how the Central Intelligence Agency and the Special Operations forces of the military took leading roles in the terror war and were fundamentally changed by it.
In broad strokes, the CIA turned from an espionage agency steeped in the intrigue of Cold War spying into a global hit squad, killing terrorists in the most unforgiving reaches of the globe with its 21st Century weapon of choice, a remotely-piloted aircraft armed with air-to-ground missiles. The military has always been in the killing business, but the war on terror turned soldiers into spies, made them collectors of intelligence, jailors and interrogators, and deposited them in a world of covert affairs and skullduggery for which they'd never been trained.
Neither the CIA nor the special operators chose this war, which, from the beginning, knew no borders. Soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Scahill writes, "[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld wanted plans drawn up to hit Somalia, Yemen, Latin America, Mauritania, Indonesia and beyond. ...The world is a battlefield -- that was the mantra."
It didn't matter if the host governments of these nations invited American forces to clean up the dens of terrorist and fundamentalists, or their loose network of "supporters." The United States would find its authority through congressionally-enacted authorizations of force, secretive military and intelligence directives, and a broadly articulated doctrine of self-defense. The CIA and the special operators would be on point, and there was no peace in sight.
Practically from the beginning, it was clear that while the two forces might be after the same enemy, they weren't fighting as partners. "By early 2002, Afghanistan was neither a daily shooting war nor a hopeful peace but a twilight conflict beset by competition and mistrust between soldiers and spies," Mazzetti writes. Navy SEALs and Marines spent eight days digging up graves in a fruitless search for Osama bin Laden, whom intelligence wrongly indicated might have been killed in a recent air strike. In a far costlier communication breakdown, Green Berets shot up a compound they thought was filled with Taliban gunmen. After they'd killed more than 40 fighters and returned to base, they discovered that days earlier the CIA had convinced the men to switch sides and fight with the Americans. The Green Berets never got the message.
The two sides were institutionally at odds. Mazzetti and Scahill chronicle the military's effort to set up its own human spying networks in various countries, behind the backs of CIA station chiefs. There were predictable clashes, and much head-butting and chest-thumping, as the lines between the two sides started to blur, and at times neither was sure which business they should really be in.
The spies and the soldiers were like pubescent teenagers, clumsily responding to the rapid and explosive changes to life as they knew it. On these accounts, the authors agree. But it's when they look for the reasons behind these cultural shifts, and the motivations of the spies and the soldiers and the higher-ups pulling their respective strings, that their stories diverge.
In Mazzetti's account, which is the more empathetic, the responses of the CIA and the military seem biological, a set of almost organic responses to a changing environment. About the CIA's decision to start killing suspected terrorists outside internationally recognized war zones, he writes that "each hit the CIA took for its detention-and-interrogation program pushed CIA leaders further to one side of a morbid calculation: that the agency would be far better off killing, rather than jailing, terror suspects." The CIA was run mostly by men who, like Le Carré's aging spymaster Control, seemed utterly unprepared for the new war, and fought at every turn to preserve the agency to which they'd devoted their careers and pledged their lives. The CIA saw targeted killing with drones as "cleaner, less personal" than detention and interrogation. Killing was new business, to be sure, but doing it at a distance, and with deniability, echoed the old ways. Institutional preservation was their guiding instinct.
In Scahill's story, which is generally more concerned with the military's side of the tale, the transformation of special operations into a global "assassination machine" seems largely engineered by the government's most powerful men, particularly Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who used the crisis of terrorism to create private, "unaccountable" armies. Scahill sees leaders who had a moral choice and took a dark path, because it freed them from the moorings of the Constitution and reset the balance in the separation of powers decidedly in favor of the President. For him, the special operators become a private death squad, answering only to their commander-in-chief, not the Congress, not the public. The response to crisis wasn't about self-preservation, but seizing an opportunity to reengineer power in government.
Again, the authors' choice of opening quotations is instructive. Mazzetti approaches the story with the fascinated, occasionally even cold remove of a newspaper reporter who is drawn to the cultural shifts in the spy game. It's their mindset, how they slowly learned "the way of the knife," that most intrigues him. He's drawn to the humanity of killing, and how it twists people, as evidenced by his choice to close the story, in cinematic fashion, on a face-to-face meeting with an Dewey Clarridge, a complicated and deeply flawed old Cold Warrior-turned-terrorist-hunter who represents as well as any single man the uneven evolution of the CIA.
Scahill, by comparison, is a moralist. He is a journalist in the tradition of the ink-stained wretch, throwing rocks at the castle walls from the outside. Bill Moyers has called him "a one-man truth squad." Scahill inserts himself at times into the narrative (the book has photographs of him reporting in the field, and he is the subject of a new documentary film about his work), but he's not writing in the first-person for the sake of glory. When he asks, on the final pages, "How does a war like this ever end?" he does so with a personal stake. Like his subjects, Scahill has traveled to the frontlines of the dirty wars, and one gets the distinct impression he'd like to come home.
It's these subjective, stylistic differences that make the books such a palpable pair. The subject is the same, but the history is written through different lenses. The final results, however, are equally illuminating.
The books are also especially timely. Right now, the spies and the soldiers find themselves at a turning point. The armed forces are unwinding from a decade of war and relentless counterterrorism operations. The new Director of the CIA, John Brennan, himself a career intelligence officer who was schooled in the Cold War, has said he wants to emphasize the agency's traditional work in espionage and bring the days of killing to an end.
The soldiers and the spies want to return to their old ways. They may succeed, but only if they haven't lost them.
Shane Harris is a senior writer at The Washingtonian magazine and the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State. In September, he will be joining the New America Foundation as a Future Tense Fellow.
C.E. Lewis/U.S. Air Force via Getty Images
When citizens of NATO allies look at the record of failure of military interventions in Afghanistan over the past century-and-a-half, they may be tempted to ask: "What chance of success does NATO have?" People should realize, however, that comparing the present-day stabilization mission to past military adventures is not appropriate.
Past foreign involvements in Afghanistan-including those of the British and Russian Empires in the 19th century, and, more recently, the Soviet Union in the late 20th century-were motivated by imperial and ideological competition. Those powers were not striving to build a stable, democratic and self-reliant society. And they certainly signed nothing like the Afghanistan Compact or the number of strategic partnership agreements that NATO member states have with the country.
Today, more than 40 nations are working together to stabilize Afghanistan and consolidate its new democracy. This truly international endeavor enjoys the overwhelming support of Afghans, who constitute an important strategic asset in the fight to contain terrorism. Thus, it is clear that NATO is in Afghanistan for different reasons altogether, including the national security of its member states. One cannot deny the real security risk NATO allies will face if Afghanistan's stabilization efforts fail and the country once more becomes the domain of terrorists, criminals, and drug traffickers, as it was under the Taliban.
We know from 9/11 and other terrorist attacks that threats to global security are increasingly transnational in nature. Non-state actors are more dangerous today than state actors were during the Cold War when security threats primarily came from interstate hostilities centered on the ideological differences between the members of the Warsaw Pact and NATO.
Third World proxy conflicts characterized the Cold War between the two ideological blocs for more than four decades, and Afghanistan featured as one of the main Cold War theaters from 1979 to 1989. However, with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism at the end of the 80s, NATO's Cold War role ended.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a tragic reminder to NATO members that despite the demise of Communism, there were still many threats posed to the West by radical forces, threats that represented a dark side of the new world order shaped by globalization, and posed a direct challenge to NATO itself.
It is generally agreed that premature disengagement from countries like Afghanistan, and a failure to recognize the rising threat of terrorism, eventually contributed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Securing Afghanistan now and beyond 2014 is one of NATO's most important post-Cold War tasks-its raison d'être in a way-which must be strongly reaffirmed in the Brussels defense ministerial meeting this week. A firm commitment by the NATO allies to fighting and defeating the Taliban wherever they find safe sanctuaries and institutional support is the key to winning the war in Afghanistan.
In addition, NATO allies must commit to a robust program of training, equipping, and maintaining Afghanistan's national security forces (ANSF). The annual cost of afghanizing the security sector pales before NATO's yearly spending of more than $100 billion on their own military operations in Afghanistan. The staggering difference in cost-effectiveness between NATO and ANSF aside, it is Afghans' foremost duty to defend their country against any external aggression, including terrorism and organized crime. And they're already doing so, as they lead 80 percent of all military operations and provide protection for 90 percent of the Afghan population across the country.
In the meantime, NATO allies must firmly commit to the long-term implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which in many ways resembles the Marshall Plan in vision and scope. NATO allies understand that Europe could not have rebuilt on its own in the aftermath of the Second World War, under the increasing threat posed by the former Soviet Union, without external aid. Thanks in large measure to the Marshall Plan, war-ravaged Europe was able to rebuild rapidly, and today it is hard to believe that the previous century's two devastating world wars were fought primarily on European soil.
The success of the Marshall Plan in Europe in the 20th Century is an excellent reminder for the NATO allies in the 21st century that when nations come to each other's aid with firm and full commitment, no force-no matter how formidable-can prevent their victory if they stand together until the job is done.
Afghans have contributed significantly to the fight against terrorism and organized crime, two of the most dangerous threats to global security. Much remains to be done on their part to combat militancy, improve good governance and rule of law, and stimulate the economy, but a resolute NATO, armed with requisite security and development resources to deliver on its core mission, will be critical to securing Afghanistan. Afghans look forward to finding a strong and determined partner in the NATO alliance in the years ahead, a partner who can help finish the job started by the international community twelve years ago.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a late night rampage in 2012, pleaded guilty on Wednesday (BBC, NYT, WSJ). The plea ensures he will avoid the death penalty and leaves a jury to decide whether he should face life in prison with or without the chance for parole. The plea has angered many family members of those killed, with some even promising revenge (Post). When asked why he killed the villagers, many of whom were women and children, Bales said, "This act was without legal justification...there's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."
After a two-day meeting in Brussels, NATO defense ministers endorsed an outline on Wednesday for Operation Resolute Support, the coalition's scaled-down post-2014 Afghan mission (Pajhwok, RFEFL). While the final troop numbers are still unknown, member countries have determined where they will serve. Germany has agreed to serve as the lead nation in the north, Italy will support the west, and Turkey is "favorably considering" being the lead nation in Kabul (Reuters). The U.S. will take the lead training role and support districts in the south and the east (Post).
Three children were killed and seven others were wounded on Thursday when their house in Kunar province was struck by what locals reported was a drone (Pajhwok). Surviving family members have insisted they are innocent of any wrongdoing and it is unclear who in the family could have been a target. Elsewhere, two tribal elders were shot and killed, and a third was seriously injured by unidentified gunmen in Farah province on Thursday (Pajhwok). No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Abdur Rahman Zhwandai, the governor's spokesman, blamed the Taliban.
The leaders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan officially inaugurated the construction of a new railway system connecting the three nations on Wednesday (RFEFL). Presidents Hamid Karzai, Emomali Rahmon, and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov buried a time capsule under the first section of the railway line in Turkmenistan's Lebap province. It is hoped the 400 km, $1.5 billion project will boost trade between the three countries and the rest of the continent (Reuters).
Call to end strikes
In his first address to parliament since being re-elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes (BBC, ET, NYT, Reuters). While he reiterated that these strikes violate Pakistan's sovereignty, Sharif also noted U.S. concerns about militancy in the country need to be addressed - though he stopped short of mentioning any particular groups by name. "We must learn others' concerns about us, and express our concerns about them, and find a way to resolve the issue," Sharif said, highlighting the need for a joint strategy to end the campaign (BBC).
After Sharif was officially sworn in, representatives from both Afghanistan and the United States welcomed his appointment and expressed hope that the countries would continue to work together. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Sharif on Thursday and said strong ties between the two countries would bolster peace and stability in the region (Dawn, Pajhwok). Jen Psaki, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, commended the historic, peaceful transfer of power in Pakistan and stated there was a "strong, ongoing dialogue" between the two countries on all aspects of their relationship, including security and counterterrorism cooperation (Dawn).
At least one woman died and another was injured on Thursday after being hit by stray bullets fired by supporters celebrating Sharif's swearing-in (ET). According to police, around 100 Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) activists in Sindh province took to the streets and fired their weapons into the air.
Three Pakistani Taliban members and two women died, and 16 security personnel were injured on Thursday when a search operation in Quetta turned violent (Dawn, ET). During the four-hour siege, militants attacked the security forces with hand grenades and gunfire, which caused the injuries. The siege ended when three militants blew themselves up and the security forces cleared the area.
No, no, you go
With this week's peaceful transfer of power between two democratically elected civilian governments, many people in Pakistan believe the days of military supremacy are over. But Pakistan's traffic patterns belie that optimism. As Nawaz Sharif left his house to be sworn in as Pakistan's new prime minister, his convoy was stopped for about two to three minutes to let the Army chief's convoy move towards parliament unobstructed (Dawn). While it may have just been a coincidence, one can't help wondering if it was a sign of tensions to come.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Mamoon Durrani/AFP/Getty Images
On Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif made history by becoming a three-time prime minister of the embattled nation of Pakistan. His thumping 244-vote victory in the 342-seat house was a foregone conclusion following his party's runaway success during the May 11 general elections.
But the unprecedented success, followed by the oath of office that President Asif Ali Zardari administered, hardly brought any smiles for Sharif. His glum face during the parliamentary proceedings betrayed the enormity of critical challenges that stare him in the face: crippling power-outages, a stagnating economy, crushing inflation, massive unemployment, and the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban insurgency in the northwestern territories are but a few of the daunting issues Sharif would need to attend to on a war-footing.
During his acceptance speech after his election today, Sharif struck a conciliatory tone toward all friends and foes, promising to take them all on board in the "national interest." But he also chose to touch on an issue that has been a major source of friction with the United States: controversial drone strikes.
"The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop. We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty," Sharif said to the thumping of desks by MPs. Sharif seemed to be repeating what is already the consensus among most of the political elite, which as of now -- at least publicly -- stands united in its opposition to the drone attacks.
With this, Sharif upped the ante, signaling that his government is ready to undertake a critical review of relations with the United States, including the thorny issue of the unmanned Predator drones that have been targeting al-Qaeda and its Pakistani auxiliaries in the rugged Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan. The new prime minister's statement not only raised expectations at home but also sent a clear message to the U.S. administration that both countries must find a way of conducting this warfare in a way that minimizes, if not eliminates altogether, the resentment and anger that such strikes fuel in Pakistan.
This should ring alarm bells within the Obama administration, especially as John Kerry, the secretary of state, is set to fly in this month for his maiden meetings with the Sharif government and the military.
U.S. officials are worried about the volatile conditions in the region being exacerbated by Afghanistan's impending presidential election -- set for April 2014 -- followed by the withdrawal of the bulk of U.S.-led NATO troops from that country in December.
For an extremely cost-effective and peaceful exit via Pakistan, the administration is anxious to draw on as much Pakistani support as possible, which will require rubbing off as many sources of friction -- drone strikes being one of them -- as possible.
Meanwhile, some of the headaches confronting Sharif and his team are servicing the whopping $60 billion in external debt, preventing further bleeding of some four dozen public sector enterprises, just eight of which cost the nation at least three billion dollars annually, containing the spiral of deficit financing (that the previous government set in motion) and the ensuing inflation.
Another worrisome specter facing Sharif is a tenacious new entrant to the parliament: Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI), the political party of the cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan. Khan ran his election campaign on a platform that challenges the status quo and is directed at almost all the parties who have alternated power in the last two decades. Sharif was his special target in the run-up to the elections.
The PTI not only won a respectable number of votes in the national parliament (roughly 8 million) but will also lead the government in the volatile northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP).
This province has seen massive bloodshed and destruction as a result of the vicious Taliban insurgency being waged primarily in the neighboring tribal regions, where al-Qaeda and allied militant groups have been sheltering.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a central PTI leader, says his party will serve as a real watchdog in the national parliament. "We will not allow any mischief in the name of public interest," he told the media after parliament's inaugural session. "The PTI will jealously guard the interests of those who have voted us all into this privileged position."
The heavy burden of responsibility and the fear of an extremely focused opposition -- particularly the PTI -- are not likely to allow Sharif any missteps.
Much now depends on how Sharif's government aligns the need for urgent structural reforms and the revision of foreign policy, with the agenda of the mighty military establishment. That will also be critical to Sharif's desire for improving relations with India, which remains wary of the militants who draw support from inside Pakistan for their militant campaign in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies -- CRSS-Islamabad -- and is the author of The Most Dangerous Place.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's new government takes office this week, and optimism is in the air.
Pundits point to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) resounding election victory on May 11, and suggest it will use this mandate to implement critically necessary policy reforms. Presumptive prime minister Nawaz Sharif, observers insist, is more mellow and mature than he was during his previous terms as prime minister. They cite his post-election conciliatory moves-from a visit to the hospital bed of political rival Imran Khan to an invitation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend Sharif's swearing-in ceremony.
Some of this optimism is warranted. But let's be realistic: despite Pakistan's political transition, the nation's troubling structural realities-from reform-resistant vested interests to state-sponsored support for militancy-remain entrenched. We should therefore keep our expectations in check, and hope for relatively modest achievements from Islamabad's new leadership. These include improving the economy, stabilizing civil-military ties, and maintaining adequate relations with India and the United States. Success, however, will hinge on four unpredictable factors.
Wildcard #1: Tax reform
Sharif appears determined to address Pakistan's sinking economy and debt-driven energy crisis. The PML-N's election manifesto depicts "economic revival" as a chief concern, and in recent days PML-N officials have said they hope to phase out costly subsidies and institute energy pricing reforms.
The question, however, is if the party can truly engineer an economic recovery. The answer will depend on Pakistan's ability to secure new revenue sources-and expanding the national tax base is a much-needed step (according to one recent report, only 768,000 Pakistanis-0.57 percent of the population-paid income tax last year).
Given its dire economic straits, Pakistan is likely to request a fresh loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-and the IMF will probably condition future lending on tax reform. How much political capital is Sharif willing to expend to produce this long-elusive outcome? How hard will Sharif, who has made a fortune in the sugar industry, push back against entrenched agricultural interests that resist tax reform?
Recent comments by Sartaj Aziz, a former finance minister and top PML-N official, raise additional questions. Aziz said the PML-N isn't yet ready to approach the IMF, and will instead focus on its own economic recovery efforts. Optimists may interpret this to mean the government will use the next few months to implement reforms before going to the Fund. Pessimists, however, may conclude that Islamabad simply wants to go it alone-a troubling prospect for a country with dwindling reserves that, if needed, could cover only five weeks of imports.
Wildcard #2: Pervez Musharraf
The man who overthrew Sharif in a 1999 military coup is now under house arrest outside Islamabad. What Sharif chooses to do with Musharraf will help shape the trajectory of the premier's volatile relationship with the institution that once ousted him.
In 1997, Sharif won an election by a wide margin-and promptly used this mandate to challenge the military's authority. Some may fear he'll use his latest large mandate to again undercut the military-not necessarily by challenging its authority directly, but by taking a sharply anti-military position on a key policy issue. One possibility could be pushing for more reconciliation with India than the military is willing to sanction.
However, early indications suggest the two sides are ready to bury the hatchet. Sharif is blaming Musharraf personally, not the military as a whole, for the events of 1999. One week after the election, Sharif held a three-hour meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani-and the army chief pledged full cooperation on all of the issues that Sharif wants to tackle. Soon thereafter, the Finance Ministry released budgetary projections for the next fiscal year. Strikingly, defense services funding allocations were 15 percent higher than those in this year's budget.
So does this all portend smooth sailing for civil-military relations? Not necessarily. The army wants Musharraf out of Pakistan, and Sharif has reportedly informed Kayani that he'd like Musharraf gone before taking office. However, the PML-N announced last week that it plans to try Musharraf for treason-a prospect that would anger the army, which is already displeased about its former leader's detention. It's still possible a deal will be brokered that sends Musharraf back into exile-and perhaps one is already in the works: This week, rumors abounded that he will visit his ailing mother in Dubai. Yet if a trial does take place, Sharif's relations with the military could again be plunged into crisis.
Wildcard #3: Extremism in Punjab
Militancy in Pakistan's most populous province threatens prospects for better ties with India-and the economic benefits that would arise from rapprochement.
Sharif desires improved relations with New Delhi-and trade normalization is a prime objective. Economists estimate that normalization would increase bilateral trade from less than $3 billion to $40 billion. It would also bring much-needed relief to Pakistan's free-falling, revenue-starved economy by placing at Pakistan's disposal, literally next door, one of the world's largest and fastest-growing markets.
Such a tantalizing vision, however, could be shattered by militancy in Punjab. This province, which borders India, is the PML-N's stronghold-and a bastion for anti-India militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which orchestrated the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Some, like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), are based in southern Punjab. Others, like Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, have a strong presence in Rawalpindi, the city that hosts Pakistan's military headquarters. LeT leader Hafiz Saeed lives free in Lahore.
Neither Sharif nor his brother Shahbaz-the last chief minister of Punjab's provincial government, which the PML-N has run for years-has dealt with this problem. During the recent election season, the PML-N chose cooperation over confrontation. Punjab's law minister campaigned with the leader of one sectarian extremist group, while rumors abounded of a PML-N electoral alliance with another.
Encouragingly, Sharif promises to be tough on anti-India militants-he has vowed to ban speeches that "incite jihad" against India, and specifically singled out Saeed's. Yet questions remain about his actual willingness to target these actors (some Indian analysts allege-without elaboration-family "links" to the LeT), much less his ability to do so (Pakistan's security establishment has long regarded these anti-India groups as strategic assets). Ultimately, Sharif's ability to boost ties with India will depend on the extent to which he confronts the militants who wish to destroy it.
Wildcard #4: The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)
This province, which abuts the militancy-ravaged tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, will be governed by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The PTI stridently opposes U.S. drone strikes, and favors non-military solutions to extremism, including peace negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban (TTP). The PTI's ability to stabilize this volatile region, just across the border from where the United States is fighting a war, will bear heavily on Islamabad's relations with Washington.
Sharif's relations with the United States have been relatively friendly since the 1990s, when as premier he worked closely with Bill Clinton (photographs of the two leaders adorn the walls of Sharif's Lahore mansion). Though Sharif's campaign rhetoric featured sharp criticism of drones and the U.S. war on terror, his post-election comments about Washington have been cordial. Last week, during an appearance with James Dobbins, the new U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sharif said the two nations would work "in complete cooperation to curb terrorism."
KP's PTI-led government, however, could jeopardize this goodwill. If it engages the TTP, the latter could enjoy more freedom of movement in KP-affording it greater opportunities to target the NATO supply vehicles that pass through the province, and to intensify its cross-border attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Such a prospect would pose a conundrum for Sharif, who wants a workable relationship with Washington yet also shares the PTI's desire to talk to the Taliban. Would Sharif, to protect his relations with Washington, pressure the PTI to change course? Or would he honor the party's engage-the-TTP position, and throw his support behind the PTI?
Either way, the PTI will be tested immediately. Last week, after the TTP's top deputy was killed in a drone strike, the organization withdrew its offer of talks with Islamabad and threatened new attacks. The PTI's response to stepped-up violence will have major ramifications for American efforts in Afghanistan-and also for Pakistan, which receives billions of dollars of U.S. aid.
There's reason to believe Pakistan's new government can kickstart the economy, peacefully coexist with the military, improve relations with New Delhi, and cooperate with Washington. Yet it's important to acknowledge the spoilers that could sabotage each of these prospective success stories. Pakistan, after all, remains a troubled country where soaring hopes are often sorely dashed.
Ultimately, by keeping our expectations about Islamabad's new leadership in check, we set ourselves up for less disappointment-while also allowing for the possibility of being pleasantly surprised.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is available at email@example.com or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
After securing 244 votes in the 342-member parliament on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif was formally elected as Pakistan's 18th prime minister (BBC, Dawn, ET, RFEFL, VOA, WSJ). Returning to power after surviving a military coup, a seven-year exile in Saudi Arabia, and a government dismissal, Sharif told the elected body the time had come for the politics of principles, not power (Dawn, Pajhwok). He went on to say that his government's priorities would be giving the country a solid infrastructure, bringing in economic reforms, and tackling corruption. He vowed to improve the conditions of religious minorities in the country and reached out to media organizations for their assistance in reviewing the performance of his cabinet and their reform efforts.
At least seven people died in Hangu on Tuesday as violent protests over the killing of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party leader and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assemblyman Farid Khan on Monday flared across the region (ET). The news of Khan's death spread quickly and angered hundreds of people, some of whom resorted to arson attacks on nearby shops, gas stations, and private offices. Elsewhere in Khyber Agency, local authorities placed a one-day ban on the movement of NATO shipping containers Wednesday as re-polling occurs at 21 stations accused of vote rigging during the May 11 election (ET).
Following last week's attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound in Jalalabad, the international humanitarian organization said it was withdrawing part of its staff Tuesday (RFEFL, VOA, WSJ). ICRC spokesmen reaffirmed the group's commitment to Afghanistan and stated that this was a temporary measure as they assessed the security situation (Pajhwok). While it is unclear how many staff were pulled out of the country, the ICRC said it would continue to provide orthopedic services to disabled Afghans, support a hospital in Kandahar, and facilitate contacts between detainees and their families.
During a two-day NATO meeting in Brussels this week, U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander and head of international forces in Afghanistan, said the coalition will likely wait until after this year's fighting season to decide the how many coalition troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 (Pajhwok, Post, Reuters, WSJ). Regardless of the size of the international military force, any remaining troops will only train and assist the Afghan troops who are now taking the lead in planning and executing military operations against the Taliban. Gen. Dunford also noted the significant losses the Afghan security forces have sustained since taking over military operations but expressed confidence in their abilities to defend the country on their own (VOA).
Family members believe they have found the bodies of the last three men who went missing with 14 others in Wardak province earlier this year (NYT). The bodies were found lying facedown and covered by large, flat stones about 800 yards from a base formerly used by an American Special Forces team. Four other bodies were found nearby late last week, which raised the total number of corpses discovered near the base to 10.
Six civilians died in two separate explosions in the Sangin district of Helmand province on Wednesday, according to government officials (Pajhwok). The individuals, who had left the area due to Taliban harassment, were killed when they returned to their homes after Afghan security forces had cleared the area. Omar Zwak, the governor's spokesman, said security forces were currently busy defusing additional explosive devices.
Please don't go
While much of the international community breathes a sigh of relief every time Afghan President Hamid Karzai pledges not to try for a third term in office, some in Afghanistan wish he would (Pajhwok). Hundreds of Kandaharis gathered on Tuesday to show support for changing the Afghan Constitution and allowing Karzai to seek a third stint as president.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
A recently published jihadi Internet magazine, Azan: A Call to Jihad, produced by a group calling itself the "Taliban of Khurasan," has led to speculation about disappearing lines between Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Afghan Taliban, and other affiliated groups in the region. The numerous "Taliban" groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the TTP umbrella movement to factions of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, pay allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Umar, the founder of the original Afghan Taliban movement. However, the degree to which this rhetoric translates into active cooperation and coordination on the ground remains hotly debated. Using available primary sources, it is possible to sketch out the complex militant milieu in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal regions, and get a picture of the types of cooperation and inter-group dynamics at play among the different organizations.
The TTP, for example, has forged a close alliance with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an Uzbek militant group that has had a presence inside Pakistan's Pashtun tribal regions for over a decade. Having previously been aligned with the Afghan Taliban, the IMU shifted many of its fighters and senior leadership to Pakistan following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In late 2003, the IMU's leader, Uzbek preacher Tahir Yuldashev, met with his followers in Waziristan and announced that he was dedicating himself to fight the Pakistani state due to its targeting of the IMU's local allies and protectors. Since then, the IMU has integrated into segments of the local societies that have sheltered it for over a decade. It has forged alliances with local militant outfits such as the TTP, with which it has carried out joint attacks on Pakistani state targets, though it also carries out independent operations.
Most recently, the IMU claimed responsibility for the May 12 "martyrdom operation" that targeted Pakistani police in Quetta, which it said was carried out in retaliation for an attack by the Pakistani military on one of the IMU's "jihad schools." And one of the most successful joint operations was the April 2012 attack on Pakistan's Bannu prison, an operation which freed nearly 400 prisoners. Among those freed was Adnan Rashid, a former member of the Pakistani military who had been imprisoned for his role in an assassination attempt on then-Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Rashid has since been featured in media productions produced by both the TTP's Umar Media and the IMU's Jundullah Studio.
Both the TTP and IMU have acknowledged the groups' integration, as well as some instances of intermarriage between non-Pashtun/non-Pakistani members of the IMU and local Pashtuns, including the daughters of one of the IMU's most important local patrons, Hajji Nur Islam. In addition to drawing upon a pool of foreign fighters from Central Asia, Europe, and the Arab world, the IMU recruits local Pashtuns in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The two groups have shown ideological cross-fertilization, too. TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud has said that one of his earliest influences was Yuldashev, whose example played a significant role in his decision to join the "jihad in Pakistan." The TTP and IMU also share the juridical voice of Abu Zarr al-Burmi, a militant Pakistani preacher and religious scholar. Al-Burmi is a key jihadi religious scholar and has long been featured in TTP, IMU, and other regional jihadi audiovisual productions. He starred in a widely discussed audio exchange with a Pakistan military spokesman, who fared rather poorly in the debate, and was at the forefront of attempting to delegitimize Malala Yousafzai, who was severely wounded in an attack carried out by the TTP's Swat faction earlier this year.
With regard to the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Umar, the TTP continues to pledge at least rhetorical allegiance to him as the so-called "commander of the believers." In his 2011 message for the annual Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Hakimullah Mehsud stated that Mullah Umar was the TTP's "amir, guide, and leader," for whom he and other TTP leaders and fighters were "loyal soldiers."
Yet, the TTP is first and foremost engaged in a war with the Pakistani state -- both its political leadership and military establishment -- the latter of which has historically been one of the primary patrons of Mullah Umar and the original Afghan Taliban, as well as affiliated groups such as the Haqqani Network.
The TTP has, according to its own statements, participated in some joint military operations inside Afghanistan alongside the Afghan Taliban. Most recently, the TTP issued a statement in late March about an operation against NATO and Afghan government forces in Paktia, claiming that over 200 of its fighters had participated. Photographs purportedly showing captured weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment were released with the statement. And according to a 2010 IMU statement, Bekkay Harrach, a senior al Qaeda media operative, was killed during a coordinated attack by the TTP, Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda Central (AQC), and IMU on the U.S. military base at Bagram Airfield. However, the extent and frequency of this type of military cooperation remains debated.
AQC, which has been primarily based in Pakistan since 2001, has tried to integrate itself more deeply into the Pakistani militant milieu, in part to counter the significant losses it has suffered over the past three years. Between 2010 and 2012, the organization lost some of its key leaders and nearly all of its major ideological voices, including alleged AQC "chief financial officer" and Afghanistan commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (2010), founder Usama bin Laden and senior ideological and juridical voice Atiyyatullah al-Libi (2011), and unofficial AQC "mufti" Abu Yahya al-Libi and missionary preacher Khalid bin Abd al-Rahman Husaynan (2012). Before their deaths, both Abu Yahya and Husaynan delivered religious lectures to members of other militant groups active in the region, such as the Islamic Jihad Union and the East Turkestan Islamic Party.
These losses mean that the organization is increasingly reliant on its chief Pakistani ideologue, Ahmad Faruq, to attract new recruits from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Faruq, a shadowy but prolific figure has written numerous tracts and recorded many audiovisual lectures supporting the organization, militancy in Pakistan, and global jihad. AQC's leaders, including the late Abu Yahya al-Libi and the group's current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have contributed to the Sunni jihadi discourse legitimizing the Pakistani state as a target of violence due to its ongoing alliance with the United States and other foreign powers seen as actively oppressing Muslims throughout the world.
As for Azan, questions remain about whether it is actually a publication of the TTP, Afghan Taliban, or one of their affiliates or allies. It does not feature the logo of known militant media departments and contact information given for the Azan "team" is a Yahoo e-mail address, not one known to be connected to any group. As yet, no group has claimed responsibility for the magazine, and the TTP issued a statement in January saying any official media releases would be released by its Umar Media department.
Azan's layout, graphic design, and writing style are very similar to two previous English-language Internet magazines, Jihad Recollections and Inspire, brainstormed and stewarded by the late Samir Khan, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. Jihad Recollections was an independent magazine produced by Khan for four issues in 2009, before he left the United States for Yemen. Inspire emerged the next year as a production of AQAP's Al-Malahem Media Foundation.
Like Jihad Recollections and Inspire, Azan includes original content and previously released material, as well as some translations and common features like a dedication to Muslim prisoners. While some of these things are common in Sunni jihadi media, there are a few possible hints as to the background of the magazine's producers, including the bad phonetic spelling of "Khost" as "Koast," which is similar to how the Afghan province's name is often pronounced in English, as well as the preponderance of Pakistan-related content, particularly among the original articles. There is also a lengthy "exclusive" interview with Rashid, who is now a member of the TTP, and a translation of an article by Pakistani jihadi religious scholar Maulana Asim Umar.
Though the significance of Azan to the interactions between jihadi militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains unclear, it is likely that the main militant groups operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to coordinate at least some of their military and media operations. They share a common opposition to those they see as U.S. lackeys in the region, as well as to the continued NATO military presence inside Afghanistan. But it also remains unclear whether these groups' long-term political goals are in sync, particularly with regard to the Afghan Taliban and more globally or "glocally" focused militant groups such as the TTP and IMU.
Christopher Anzalone is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, contemporary jihadi movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual cultures. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat. He is also an adjunct research fellow at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University and the managing editor for the center's forthcoming web portal Islamium.org.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Image
A tragic accident
Investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority determined Monday that quickly shifting cargo contributed to the crash of a civilian cargo plane on April 29 (NYT, Post). The Taliban claimed responsibility for the crash, which killed all seven people on board, but the joint investigation found that the plane's cargo of heavy military vehicles shifted suddenly, causing the center of gravity of the plane to change and preventing it from reaching its necessary altitude. The investigation is ongoing, though the crash has been ruled an accident.
Factoring in the deaths from yesterday's twin blasts in Paktia and Laghman provinces, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said that 125 civilians have died and 274 have been injured in conflict-related violence over the past two weeks (NYT). These numbers represent a 24 percent increase from last year and, according to the agency, insurgents were responsible for 84 percent of the deaths. In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that killing civilians, especially children, is an "unforgivable crime" and that the perpetrators would be "held accountable on the Day of Judgment" (Pajhwok).
The civilian death toll rose on Tuesday morning when a family car hit a roadside bomb in Farah province (Pajhwok). A father and three of his children were killed while his wife was rushed to hospital in critical condition. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
According to the latest Department of Defense report, 2,213 American service members have died as part of the Afghan war and related operations (NYT).
In preparation for Wednesday's vote in parliament to elect the new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif formally submitted his nomination papers for the post to the National Assembly on Tuesday (Dawn, ET). Nomination papers for Javed Hashmi from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and Pakistan People's Party candidate Makhdoom Amin Fahim were also accepted. The recently sworn-in assembly members will vote for the future prime minister Tuesday around noon and the new premier will be sworn in around 5 pm Tuesday night.
Farid Khan, a newly elected member of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, was gunned down Monday when unidentified armed men opened fire on his vehicle (ET). His driver, who sustained injuries in the attack, died at the hospital later that night. Khan, who was elected as an independent candidate but then joined Imran Khan's PTI party, had hoped to restore peace to the restive area. He was buried Tuesday (Dawn).
Everyday I'm hustlin'
The streets of Kabul are full of children who peddle everything from fruits to prayers but the T-junction outside the gates of the International Security Assistance Force complex is the most lucrative (NYT). The elite group of young hustlers who sell their wares here have steady access to Westerners, and their money, though they say not everyone spends alike. The children know their income stream will dry up as coalition troops begin to depart in 2014 but for now, they'll sell scarves, hats, maps, and books to any passersby.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
SABYR AILCHIYEV/AFP/Getty Images
Perhaps confirming the deep pessimism amongst the Afghan people about the fairness and transparency of Afghanistan's 2014 presidential elections, there is a lot of political jockeying underway that appears aimed at pre-engineering its result.
The date for the presidential election has been set by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) for April 5th, 2014. The announcement of a specific Election Day was meant to provide a measure of clarity for Afghans on the future of their government, and raise the public's confidence in the upcoming election. But uncertainty still surrounds the potential presidential candidates as well how the election is to be held.
A group of prominent individuals has emerged, who call themselves the "national consensus" advocates and seek to select from amongst themselves the next electable candidate. This group consists primarily of former and current government officials, as well as leaders of the opposition political parties. The list includes, among others: former interior ministers Ali Ahmad Jalali, Hanif Atmar and Mohammad Yunus Qanooni; current Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Anwar ul Haq Ahadi the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad; current Head of the Transition Process Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai; Head of Wahdat Party Mohammad Mohaqiq, President Karzai's governance advisor Ghulam Jilani Popal; governor of Balkh Province Atta Mohammad Noor; Minister of Finance Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal; and Senator Ehsan Bayat.
In a country where politics-of-patronage is dominant, the concept of reaching consensus on such a vital and sensitive matter as the next president is a mirage. Historically, Afghan political leaders -whether part of the regime or the opposition - have been fragmented and have rarely agreed on a common political platform on which to unite. The "national consensus" advocates are faced with a similar impasse. It is unlikely that strong candidates will comply and sacrifice their candidacy if they are not chosen by this group, although they have all claimed to be ready to give up their individual ambitions and appetite for the country's top job in order to come to a broad-based agreement on a single candidate. "We are trying to reach a consensus on a candidate through this mechanism, but at the same time we are encouraging other politicians to unite behind our candidate," said an advocate to Waheed Omar, President Karzai's former Spokesman.
Nevertheless, some of these advocates for national consensus believe that through this process, they might surface as the candidate of choice, and may not have to face a strong opposition during the election campaign that is scheduled to kick off late this year. But most of the ‘national consensus' front-runners face a lack of trust from the public due to their political affiliations and past loyalties, as well as some allegations of criminal activity and corruption. For example: individuals like Mohammad Yunnus Qanooni, Mohammad Mohaqiq and Atta Mohammad Noor have been labelled warlords, while Mohammad Hanif Atmar is known for his affiliation with former communist groups. Potential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Ali Ahmad Jalali and Zalmai Khalilzad have been criticized for being technocrats with dual citizenship and little mainstream support.
It is clear that President Karzai and some other members of his inside circle do possess significant political leverage at this point, but not to the extent that they will be able to discourage other candidates from declaring their candidacy. The fact that President Karzai is an outgoing president and may not have the degree of influence he had back in 2009 is interpreted by some potentially strong candidates as a signal that they should go ahead and declare their candidacy, form campaign teams, and publicize their political platforms. They have recognized that waiting for Karzai's approval might not pay off. But the reality is that no one expects the President to be completely hands-off with regard to elections, as his own survival could depend on who is going to be his successor. Historically, it has often been the case that rulers of Afghanistan meet a grisly end when they fall from power.
Some potential candidates are still waiting for President Karzai's green light in order to kick off their election campaign, in the belief that his support and resources will increase their chances. And while President Karzai is aware of his key role in the upcoming election, he is using the time he has left in office to further boost his authority and impose his candidate of choice, who will carry on his legacy and who is expected to maintain a degree of loyalty to him. Last month, President Karzai's younger brother Mahmoud Karzai told Reuters that their older brother Qayum Karzai is planning to make an "independent" run for president in 2014, though it remains unclear whether the current president will actively support him.
Although conspiracy theories abound that Karzai may wish to remain in power post 2014, many analysts agree that he wouldn't risk his political legacy by making such an irrational decision. "President Karzai will not jeopardize his legacy and the stability of Afghanistan by impeding elections or favor alternatives to election," said a close member of President Karzia's inner circle on condition of anonymity. Notwithstanding the outcome of the so-called ‘national consensus' effort promoted by some Afghan politicians, the free and fair nature of elections will determine the faith that Afghans have in the next President of Afghanistan. But it is widely anticipated that the decision - if any - of the national consensus advocates, due in September 2013, could be a pre-engineered selection of the future president, and the ‘election' merely an instrument for its legitimacy.
Hamid M. Saboory is a political analyst, former employee of the Afghan National Security Council, and a founding member of the Kabul- based think tank Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness(A3).
S. SABAWOON/AFP/Getty Images
A new chapter
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who will officially take office on June 5, and other newly elected members of Pakistan's National Assembly were sworn in on Saturday, marking the first time power has been transferred between two democratically elected civilian governments (ET, Guardian). While this is Sharif's third turn as prime minister, almost two-thirds of the legislators are first-time assembly members. The new government, dominated by members of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, faces many challenges including an ailing economy, massive energy shortages, and ongoing militant activity that has killed thousands. Elsewhere in politics, after the poor showing of the Pakistan People's Party in the recent parliamentary elections, current President Asif Ali Zardari confirmed that he will not run for another term when his presidency expires in September (ET).
In response to a letter by the World Health Organization about the recent closure of the Monitoring and Coordination Cell for polio, Pakistan's caretaker Premier Mir Hazar Khan Khoso ordered its immediate restoration Sunday (Dawn, ET). Khoso announced the reversal after learning about the implications of the cell's closure on national eradication efforts, including a potential loss of $130 million in aid from the Bill Gates Foundation (ET). There have been 1079 cases of polio in Pakistan since 2001 (Dawn).
Haji Rehman, the principal of a government high school in Pastawana, was killed Saturday night when armed militants entered his home and opened fire (ET, UPI). It is unclear why Rehman was targeted, though locals believe the Pakistani Taliban killed him for being "pro-government."
Seven senior Afghan Taliban negotiators returned on Monday from a three-day visit to Tehran (AP, ET). The delegation, led by Tayyeb Agha, traveled from the Taliban's political office in Qatar to Iran at the invitation of the Iranian government - an interesting development as the Sunni Taliban have long been enemies of Iran's ruling Shia clerics. While the exact topics of discussion are unknown, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the group's political wing would accept any invitation for conferences, a possible sign of movement in so-far fruitless negotiations. An unknown Taliban source was also quoted as saying the visit was aimed at reassuring Tehran that all ethnic and sectarian groups will be represented in any post-NATO government (Pajhwok).
In a separate statement, Ahmadi denied the Taliban's role in last week's attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Jalalabad (NYT). Though the Taliban was widely linked to the unprecedented assault, he claimed it was neither behind the attack nor does it support such attacks, citing respect for the aid group's neutrality.
Ten schoolchildren were killed and 15 were injured in a suicide bombing in Paktia province on Monday, according to the provincial police chief (Pajhwok). Brig. Gen. Zalmai Oryakhel said the attacker detonated his explosives-laden motorcycle in front of the school around noon. One Afghan Local Police officer and two U.S. soldiers were also killed in the as yet unclaimed attack. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, seven family members were killed early Monday morning in Laghman province when their car stuck a roadside bomb (Pajhwok). The casualties included four women, two children, and one man.
On Sunday, the Washington Post profiled Farhad Akbari, a 33 year-old former construction engineer who is now leading villagers and gunmen in a rebellion against insurgents in Logar province (Post). Since taking up arms after his mother's death in a roadside shooting last July, Akbari estimates that he has recruited about 70 young men to his cause and has pushed Taliban fighters from more than a 100 hamlets. He says he works closely with the Afghan Local Police and has urged many jobless men to join the security forces that protect their villages, but Afghan officials are concerned his freelance vigilantism could inspire copycats and ultimately undermine the authority of government forces.
So so scandalous
Middle-aged, heavily armed, mustachioed men wooing much younger women who often sing in the region’s hillsides are common features in Pakistan’s Pashto cinema. While the films, simple love stories focused on valor and Pashtun identity, would be considered tame by Western standards, they’ve become more “vulgar” in an attempt to attract viewers (Reuters). Because of the increasingly scandalous films, the Taliban have stepped up attacks on theaters, driving down attendance, so theater-owners have made the odd decision to fill time between the shows with “blue movies” -- pornographic films -- cinema that is likely to only increase attacks on theaters.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the U.S. and international community has never known quite what to make of the former mujahideen party Hizb-e Islami (HIG). Is it really two distinct entities? Is the registered political organization which split from the militant wing in 2004 and whose members occupy some of the most powerful cabinet posts in the Karzai government really autonomous from the insurgent group claiming responsibility for the deadliest attacks in Kabul in the last two years? The one pledging allegiance to the party's founding father, Pakistani-based uber-warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps the most widely reviled man in a country with no shortage of reviled men?
Our continued befuddlement was highlighted in a recent article by the New York Times' Matthew Rosenberg. In it, an advisor to Gen. John Allen, a former commander of the International Security Assistance Force, concludes that the political party had "a certain degree of autonomy from the militant wing" and was not quite operating like "Sinn Fein and the I.R.A." However, Rosenberg also cites an Afghan official who invoked the Northern Ireland example to make the exact opposite point, explaining that HIG "has a political face and a military face, like Sinn Fein and the I.R.A."
Understanding the real and perceived links between the legitimate political party and the Pakistani-based militant group is especially important given the role that the former may play in the upcoming elections and future reconciliation talks, and our diminishing capacity to target, either militarily or diplomatically, the latter.
"It didn't matter who your father was"
HIG is rooted in the Muslim Youth Organization, an Islamist student group founded at Kabul University in the late 1960s to counter the larger leftist movements that would seize control of the state in a bloody coup a decade later. In the mid-1970s, the Muslim Youth split into two wings: a moderate faction led by Professor Burhanunddin Rabbani, the man who would twice serve as President of Afghanistan before his assassination in 2011, and a radical group led by an engineering student named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
HIG earned a reputation throughout the 1980s as the most organized and ideologically driven of the various mujahideen parties. HIG's Islamist ideology borrowed heavily from the Muslim Brotherhood but, like most things in Afghanistan, the nature of the party owes a great deal to the more personal fact that Hekmatyar was born into a land-poor family from an inconsequential Pashtun tribe and was thus held outside traditional power structures.
HIG recruited across ethnic lines and unlike factions reliant upon traditional networks of tribal elders or religious figures for recruitment and leadership, HIG was based upon a centralized party system -- a system more closely related to those of the Communist parties it waged war against during the 1980s than to the Taliban insurgency with which it is often lumped today.
As one former HIG mujahideen told me in Kandahar in 2012: "When you joined Hizb-e Islami you became part of a party -- it didn't matter who your father was or what you did, everyone was given an ID card and was on equal footing." This aging mujahid went on to explain that party loyalty was so fierce that HIG members from his village in Helmand had buried their ID cards during the Taliban regime to avoid persecution "but they dug them up when the regime fell. They dug them up because once you are a member of Hizb-e Islami there is this feeling that you never stop being one."
Hizb-e Islami in ‘14
The legacy of HIG's composition and structure -- that is, ethnically and tribally diverse mid-level bureaucrats and other educated individuals otherwise excluded from traditional power structures participating in a fairly meritocratic system grounded in party rather than personality politics -- is that today, Hizb-e Islami Afghanistan (HIA), as the licensed political party is called, is one of the most well-organized and represented parties in the nation.
Though reliable numbers are difficult to come by, after four and a half years spent conducting research on sub-national governance in eastern and southern Afghanistan, I estimate that in Pashtun areas HIA is second only to a strong network of former Communist party members in the number of provincial and district government positions it holds. Not the type of posts that attract international attention, but those which are crucial to actually running the country and which will be instrumental in organizing voters in the run up to the 2014 presidential election.
At the national level, HIA has claimed it controls 30 to 40 percent of government ministries. While this is probably both an overstatement of its power and an oversimplification of how power is divided in Kabul, the fact remains that three of the most influential men in Afghanistan, Minster of Education Farooq Wardak, Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Daudzai, and presidential Chief of Staff Karim Khurram, are all long-time HIA party members and important allies of President Karzai.
Among these three, the individual to watch in the coming months is Farooq Wardak. Though the presidential race is wide open given that none of the possible contenders have declared their candidacy and formal registration is not set to begin until mid-September, elders I spoke with in Karzai's political heartland of Uruzgan Province claim the President had informally endorsed Wardak as his successor. A Pashtun from the province of the same name, Wardak may also have unofficial support from Pakistan, support which could impact regional security and any future reconciliation talks. However, he is also seen by some inside Afghanistan as an ethnically polarizing figure.
Pragmatic Party Loyalists
In trying to decipher the exact links and loyalties between Hekmatyar and legitimate party leaders like Wardak, it is important to keep a few things in mind.
First, HIG and the Taliban have never gotten along. When the Taliban swept to power in 1994, they specifically cut former HIG commanders -- even the most hardline Islamists among them -- out of the power hierarchy. From what they knew of the HIG party structure, the Taliban never believed that HIG commanders would fully pledge allegiance to the movement's emir, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The take away here is not that any contemporary cooperation between Taliban and HIG insurgencies is at best pragmatic (this is by now boilerplate analysis of the two groups), but that while hardline Taliban remain loyal to Mullah Omar as a divinely ordained leader, HIA partisans, violent or not, are loyal foremost to the party and not Hekmatyar. (The irony is that HIA is one of the few political parties in Afghanistan that has consistently functioned as such, in contrast to the loose tribal and economic patronage networks we have come to associate with Afghan politics.)
So, while Hekmatyar still wields power as the head of one faction of HIG, his power is limited by the nature of the party itself. Thus, the idea that stability will somehow flow by either eliminating him or cutting him into the political fold misses the point.
Second, when you look more closely at areas in Afghanistan with an active HIG insurgency, you see that the individuals leading these groups are not necessarily seeking the overthrow of the government, but are usually protecting their territory, often from encroaching out-of-area Afghan Taliban fighters who say, in effect, "either you oppose the government or we will come into your territory and do it for you."
In essence, the competition is not between HIG and the state, but between HIG and the Taliban for control of areas in which the state has yet to establish a definitive writ. It is a reality that is difficult to understand because competition often looks like collusion.
In the end, HIG does have a political and military face. However, the correct way to engage the militant wing is not by targeting Hekmatyar and hoping for some grand bargain, but by continuing to include its legitimate political party in the government with the understanding that while HIG and the Taliban regime may have been incompatible, this does not mean the party-based political Islam of HIG is somehow at odds with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
In fact, the upcoming presidential elections, rather than the fitful reconciliation talks, seem to be doing more to bring HIG militant leaders "in from the cold." As Borhan Osman of the Afghanistan Analysts Network recently noted, one of Hekmatyar's top deputies, Qutbuddin Helal, has relocated to Kabul and tapped into the provincial HIA network in advance of the 2014 presidential election. From a larger policy standpoint, this is another example of an emerging position among pragmatic Afghanistan analysts -- that the route to stability leads first through the 2014 election and a successful transfer of national power, with any meaningful reconciliation talks with insurgent groups to follow.
Casey Garret Johnson served as a political analyst in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2012, conducting research on tribes, local politics, and the insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan for The Liaison Office, a private Afghan research organization. During 2010, he was a governance adviser in central Kandahar Province for the United States Agency for International Development, working in conjunction with American military forces. The views expressed in this essay are his own.
Casey Garret Johnson/Author Photo
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a statement on Thursday that the group will not participate in peace talks with Nawaz Sharif's incoming government and will exact "revenge in the strongest way" for the death of its deputy commander Waliur Rehman in a drone strike on Wednesday (ET, Post). Ehsan blamed the Pakistani government for not stopping U.S. drone strikes in the country and said it was complicit in the CIA campaign. Meanwhile, six Taliban commanders allied with Rehman unilaterally declared Khan Said as Rehman's successor on Thursday morning, a decision that didn't appear to go through Taliban central command and could indicate a fracture in the coalition (Reuters, NYT).
In the tribal region of Orakzai, at least three soldiers were killed and 15 were injured in a clash with militants on Friday (Dawn). Government officials said more than 100 fighters assaulted a security checkpoint and that at least 20 militants were dead and 13 were injured. Sources familiar with the incident said the attack had been launched to avenge the death of Rehman.
In a meeting with James Dobbins, the U.S. Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif emphasized the need to end drone strikes Pakistan's tribal regions if the country is to support the United States' Afghan exit strategy (Dawn). Dobbins is the first senior administration official to visit Pakistan since its national election early this month.
Najeeb Khan, a member of the Masho Khel Aman Lashker peace committee, was killed in roadside bomb blast early Friday morning in Peshawar (Dawn, ET). The buried improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated remotely as Khan passed on his motorbike. In Swat, another local peace committee member, Mian Sher Ali Jaja, was killed and seven others were wounded when a remote-controlled IED was detonated by his car (ET). No one has claimed responsibility for either attack.
Following Wednesday's suicide attack on its office in Jalalabad, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has halted its operations across Afghanistan (Dawn, Pajhwok). ICRC spokesman Abdul Haseeb Rahimi confirmed the humanitarian organization had closed its office in Nangarhar province and suspended work in 16 regions of the country (ET). The ICRC has been in Afghanistan since 1987 and currently has about 1,800 employees in the country.
Afghan security forces killed seven militant fighters in Logar province Thursday night, preventing them from launching an attack on the district government's headquarters (Pajhwok). Another seven militants were killed and two were detained for questioning in a separate operation in Paktika province (Pajhwok).
In the recently released Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, the U.S. State Department states that while al Qaeda may have been weakened due to attacks on its senior leadership, it still has the ability to inspire, plot, and launch terrorist attacks from its Pakistani safe haven (Pajhwok). The report also notes that groups like the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and the Haqqani Network can conduct operations against U.S., coalition, Afghan, and Pakistani interests from both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Make it work
Earlier this week, Karachi Fashion Week held the country's first-ever Men's Fashion Show, showcasing collections from leading menswear designers in Karachi and Lahore (Dawn). The two-day event featured 10 designers and was organized to gain global support and recognition for Pakistan's established and emerging menswear mavens. The looks featured eastern cuts, sporty formals, traditional sherwanis, and men's jeans.
-- Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Image
A review of Con Coughlin's Churchill's First War (London: MacMillan, 2013).
To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. -- Winston Churchill
This book, by the defence editor of the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, has a double significance. It gives an insight into the early life and career of one of the twentieth century's most famous statesmen, Winston Churchill. It also assesses Western strategy in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan today in the light of Churchill's experiences there almost 120 years ago.
By 1897, the British - stung by two costly wars in Afghanistan - had long since abandoned the idea of controlling that country directly. They were practising instead the marvellously named policy of "masterly inactivity" - watching developments from afar, controlling events within Afghanistan through judiciously applied bribes, and holding their massive destructive power in reserve. Their iron fist, as they had found, could punch deep into Afghanistan and do immense damage there, but was hard to pull out again afterwards.
The British remained keen, however, to assert their dominance over the peoples on their side of the newly-drawn and much-resented southern border of Afghanistan, which divided that country from the British-controlled territory that is now Pakistan. Most of those peoples were Pashtuns, the same ethnic group as today's Taliban (and, for that matter, Afghan President Hamid Karzai.) And they, in turn, were afraid that their prized autonomy was under threat. A brutal conflict resulted: Pashtuns with bright banners, well-aimed rifles and superior numbers against British and Indian soldiers with machine-guns.
Both sides were ruthless. The British suffered twenty per cent casualties, while unnumbered thousands of Pashtuns were killed. "There is no doubt that we are a very cruel people," one of the British participants wrote. The same man added, "I have not soiled my hands with any dirty work," but since he had no compunction in destroying the homes of rebellious Pashtun villagers, the unnamed "dirty work" was apparently something darker.
The writer was Winston Churchill, at an early stage of his career. He covered the conflict - writing, like Coughlin, for the Telegraph. He also took part in it, as a cavalry officer. Strange as it may seem today, he was reporting on battles in which he himself had taken part. Using British soldiers as war reporters was patriotic; it was also cheap, as Coughlin wryly notes.
In examining history, Coughlin always has the present day in view, and draws frequent comparisons between past British experiences and those of NATO in Afghanistan now.
Despite a few minor inaccuracies (he is not quite right to say that the Popalzai are not an Afghan royal tribe, or that the Taliban vandalised the British cemetery in Kabul, or that the "ghazis" who fought the British in the nineteenth century were salafis; the Pakistani mullah Fazlullah is spelled here "Fazullah"), it makes for an engaging and thought-provoking read. Darting into Churchill's own life story, Coughlin drags up some fun facts to enliven his narrative. I had never known that the New York Times was once the proud owner of a couple of machine guns (bought to protect it against rioters); or that Churchill picked up his fondness for whisky in what is now Pakistan; or that his mother, an American heiress, had quite so many lovers.
In Britain at present there is a controversy over the fact that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, once belonged to an Oxford club whose members sometimes trashed restaurants. Churchill and his fellow cavalry-officers went some way further than this: they brought a pony into their living-room and made it jump sofas, once allegedly fixed a horse race, and equipped their dining room with furniture made ready to smash.
But the core of this book is a grimmer story. Churchill's articles for the Daily Telegraph were brutal and devoid of compassion: they make for unpleasant reading. He described the Pashtuns as "pernicious vermin," whose clearance from their valleys would be a boon to humanity. Their religion was "the most miserable fanaticism." Twenty-three years old, with no prior experience of war, he was seeing the Pashtuns only through the barrel of a gun. "The religion of blood and war," he wrote sententiously in one of his columns, after hearing of the warlike behaviour of certain Pashtun clerics, "is face to face with that of peace. Luckily the religion of peace is usually the better armed." One would think that the Pashtuns had invaded British territory, rather than the other way around.
In mitigation, the book points out that Churchill had seen his friends killed around him, and had come close to death himself. Also, despite his brutal rhetoric, Churchill privately drew sombre conclusions about the value of the fighting in which he was taking part. "Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Militarily it is an open question, and politically it is a blunder." But then he concludes: "But we can't pull up now." Honour was now at stake, he felt. He always resented the political officers who wanted to talk to the enemy rather than fighting them.
Fighting is sometimes better than talking: proving that in the fight against Nazism would later be Churchill's greatest achievement. This earlier time, he was wrong. It proved entirely possible to "pull up." After the brief and bloody conflict in which Churchill fought - a "violent campaign to impose order on a part of the world that has never tolerated outside interference," as Coughlin terms it - the British adopted a similar arm's-length approach to the Pashtuns south of the Afghan border as they had done towards Afghanistan itself. This time, the result was decades of relative peace.
"Masterly inactivity" is not the same as negotiating with the enemy, though it may involve doing so. It is a careful and bloodless application of sustained diplomacy. Coughlin - no peacenik, and often a robust defender of Britain's military - seems to hint in this book that after years of war and drone strikes in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, masterly inactivity might once again be worth a try.
Gerard Russell was head of the British Embassy's political team in Afghanistan in 2007-8, and a political officer at the United Nations in Kabul in 2009.
As the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) assumes greater control of its sovereignty, and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan diminishes, the enduring challenge of partnering with GIRoA as it fights the Taliban will continue. While large Afghan army and police forces will play a crucial role in any long-term strategy to provide stability to Afghanistan, conventional forces are very expensive and, without an adequate local-level partner force, cannot alone provide sustained rural security to Afghanistan's countryside.
An unconventional problem requires an unconventional approach. Beginning in 2010, U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) in Afghanistan began a new and innovative program to fight the Taliban insurgency using the movement's structure and strategy against it. Instead of utilizing a top-down heavily military approach where security was often something done to a village and not with it, SOF inverted the strategy by replicating the Taliban's methods of leveraging the population by using a bottom-up initiative that was de-centralized and village-based. This new method of war fundamentally changed the terms of the conflict with the Taliban all across Afghanistan and yet, even though its successes have been significant, it is little known in the United States. Rooted as much in the traditions of U.S. Army Special Forces as much as an outgrowth of the lessons learned in the broader SOF community from its years of counterinsurgency work in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program defeats the Taliban insurgency by utilizing a holistic approach.
The VSO program consists of small Special Operations Forces teams living in key villages and districts throughout rural Afghanistan where they partner with the villagers to fight the Taliban insurgency. Each SOF team assesses the dynamics of the local community looking both for opportunities to partner with villagers as well as determining those issues (e.g. tribal, economic, and political) which separate the people from the government and prompt them to side with the insurgency. The SOF team then seeks to address these grievances through community engagement work and the empowerment of village elders through local governance initiatives. As this local partnership develops, the elders begin to volunteer their young men for service in the Afghan Local Police program, which is a defensively-oriented and part-time security force focused solely on protecting the community from which it is drawn against the insurgency. These forces are registered with GIRoA, trained by the SOF team, and receive logistical support (e.g. pay, weapons, uniforms, etc) from the Afghan National Police to which they report.
As more villagers join the ALP, the Taliban are not just physically pushed out from the village but a psychological distance from the insurgency is created for the population -- Afghans can travel more freely, attend school without fear, engage in greater commerce, and use traditional justice systems to address disputes. By blending civil-military methods relatively seamlessly -- community engagement with security -- while enlisting the population in its own defense through locally-recruited Afghan Local Police, VSO prevents the insurgency from intimidating the population, appealing to their grievances to separate them from the government, or enticing them to fight through economic incentives. Instead of using approaches that often have temporary effects, such as clearing operations by outside security forces, VSO seeks to defeat the Taliban insurgency by harnessing the villagers against it, and in so doing freeing them from the oppression of insurgent violence in a sustainable manner.
The Village Stability Operations program and its ALP initiative is a fiscally sustainable way to provide enduring security for Afghanistan in a manner that fights the Taliban holistically. Afghan Local Police forces serve a useful role as an enduring rural security force and a local partner to Afghan army and police forces working to provide stability within Afghanistan. The costs of the program are a fraction of both Afghan army and police forces and may provide a fiscally supportable initiative for a light, lean, and long-term program of continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan following the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. As with most Afghan security forces there have been concerns about potential human rights abuses by Afghan Local Police members. One mitigating factor in this respect is that since the ALP answer to local elders and protect their home villages, abuses are limited since some local accountability exists. Additionally, efforts are continuously made by Special Operations Forces to prevent abuses from taking place through effective recruiting and training as well as fostering a culture of the rule of law. All ALP members are registered with the Ministry of Interior and also receive ethical training in how to work with community residents. If abuses take place, it is relatively easy to identify those responsible.
As with any new security force in Afghanistan, concerns about fostering militias and empowering warlords were active concerns as the Village Stability Operations program was being created. In this respect, Special Operations Forces adopted several safeguards to prevent this from taking place. Afghan Local Police forces are drawn from the communities they protect in a way that balances tribal affiliations and village clusters which prevents one group from dominating others. All logistical support including pay, weapons, vehicles, uniforms, etc. is controlled by the Afghan National Police to which the ALP report. This arrangement mitigates the growth of militias by allowing the state to retain control of its resources. Additionally, the ALP are organized as defensive forces which means they receive weapons consistent with a local protective force such as AK-47s which most Afghans already possess. In some limited instances machine guns are also included at select check points but only in areas where the presence of the Taliban is quite strong and never to individual ALP members as personal weapons.
As a program that confronts the insurgency both militarily, politically, and economically, VSO harnesses the Afghan people against the Taliban in a manner that is more sustainable than alternative approaches since the people are successfully enlisted in their own defense in a manner they support.
[This introductory piece is based on a new report co-written by this author that aims to both familiarize the broader public with the tenets of the VSO program and prompt a conversation about the requirements for success in Afghanistan. The authors seek to fight "a better war" whose goal is to defeat the Taliban by supporting a light, lean, and long-term presence in Afghanistan that is fiscally sustainable and partners with the Afghan people. The views expressed are their own and do not represent the U.S. Department of Defense.]
Dr. Daniel R. Green is the Ira Weiner fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy focusing on Yemen, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, counterinsurgency, and stability operations. He is the author of The Valley's Edge: A Year with the Pashtuns in the Heartland of the Taliban published by Potomac Books in 2011. Green served in southern Afghanistan with the U.S. Department of State at a Provincial Reconstruction Team (2005-2006) and as a mobilized reservist with the U.S. Navy (2012). He also served in Kabul as a mobilized reservist at ISAF Joint Command (2009-2010), and in Fallujah, Iraq (2007).
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images