Just after Christmas, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) offered a peace deal of sorts to the Pakistani government. In exchange for a cessation of TTP violence, they demanded Pakistan's constitution be brought into conformity with their version of Islamic law and the government break ties with the United States. In response, a senior Pakistani government official reportedly called the offer "preposterous."
Yet it may not be, especially regarding the implementation of religious law. Similar demands were met in 2009 after the TTP took the Swat valley, with the Pakistani government giving away these very rights. The local government led by the Awami National party agreed to establish sharia law in Swat and the broader Malakand Division, which was approved by the national parliament and signed by President Zardari. It was only when the Pakistani Taliban pushed for more territorial gains that the government responded with force of arms. If past is prologue, the government may bend to get a deal now.
However, the status quo arguably meets TTP demands regarding religious law, as much of what they seek already exists - Islamic law plays a major role in governance, and militants are free to violently force their religious interpretations on the population.
This slide towards religious governance goes back to the country's founding. From the outset, the Objectives Resolution of 1949, which preceded the first of several constitutions, tilted Pakistan towards an Islamic state where citizens and their rights were defined by religion. This occurred despite Jinnah's famous speech two years earlier to the Constituent Assembly, in which he said, "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State." The Objectives Resolution went in a different direction, and while it recognized the presence of religious minorities, it only promised "adequate provision" of basic rights, while defining the entire state in Islamic terms. Constitutions that followed built off and expanded this foundation.
The biggest leaps came from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's secular Prime Minister from 1973-1977, and General Zia ul Haq's reign from 1978-1988. Under Bhutto, the Ahmadis were effectively outlawed through constitutional changes that created a definition of a Muslim that excluded Ahmadis. The constitution was also amended to establish the Council of Islamic Ideology to advise on whether proposed laws are compatible with Islam. Not considered particularly devout, he took these and other steps to shore-up his flagging political fortunes, currying the support of religious leaders.
Zia went even further, setting into place much of what the TTP wants today, changing both statutory law and constitutional provisions. He amended the blasphemy law, a colonial era holdover, and increased the penalty to include death, but without requiring the provision of evidence. This alone has had far-reaching effects. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) where I work knows of at least 17 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and 20 others serving life sentences. Many more are in jail awaiting trial or appeal. The surprising outcome of the Rimsha Masih case is an exception to the sad norm.
In addition, Zia altered the penal code to criminalize the basic acts of the Ahmadi faith. He amended the constitution to create the Federal Shariat Court to review legislation that may conflict with sharia law, creating an unclear legal structure that appears to run parallel to or oversee the secular system. In addition, Zia Islamicized the education system, the banking system, and the penal system through the Hudood ordinances.
And today, for what the law does not forbid (which is much), militants have free reign to impose their religious views at the point of a gun.
This was shockingly evident last week, with the January 10 attack that killed 81 Shi'a Muslims in twin bombings in a Shiite area of Quetta. The attack was tragically predictable, as the targeting of Shia Muslims steadily increased throughout 2012, with rights groups estimating (before this attack) more than 400 murdered. The TTP, and fellow travelers like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, regularly claim responsibility. Human rights organizations continue to criticize government inaction, but the body count keeps rising.
Another case in point is the TTP murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs and the only Christian in Zardari's cabinet. Working bravely against the blasphemy law, the TTP answered Shahbaz's efforts in 2010 by assassinating him steps from his mother's Islamabad home in broad daylight. The TTP were so brazen as to leave fliers at the scene claiming responsibility, but no one has been held accountable and the investigation fizzled.
Ahmadis continue to suffer discrimination, abuse, and violence. 80 Ahmadis were killed in May 2010 when two of their mosques were attacked by the TTP. Violence continues today throughout the country - in July of this year the president of a local Ahmadi community outside Karachi was murdered and in December over 100 Ahmadi graves desecrated in Lahore. Hindus too are among the victims of Pakistan's climate of intolerance. The forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls has increased in Sindh Province, and in 2012 upwards of 250 Pakistani Hindus from Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces have migrated to India to avoid increasing violence. Christians remember the violence of Gojra in 2009, where an entire village was burned to the ground and no one held to account, and last year the National Commission for Justice and Peace found nine places of worship were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, including 5 churches and 3 Hindu temples.
Clearly, the Pakistani Taliban's demand for enforcement of their version of Islamic law is not far from reality. In the current environment, Pakistani law is used to enforce religious views, and militants act with impunity against those they consider un-Islamic. Both the majority Muslim population and minority religious communities are at risk. Pakistan's active civil society must continually retreat and retrench to protect the small openings for peaceful debate and human rights work. Consequently, the very fabric of Pakistan is being torn, and if this "preposterous" ask is implemented, it could unravel more.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
While Washington phases out its combat mission and withdraws troops from Afghanistan this year, the Taliban continues to increase its use of violence and refuses to negotiate with the Afghan government towards a political settlement. With no military victory over the Taliban in sight, the White House needs to make peace talks with the Taliban a centerpiece of its exit strategy in order to ensure that Afghanistan will not lapse back into civil war after most of the U.S. troops leave by 2014.
Currently, about 66,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, but the number is expected to be cut drastically this spring and into 2014 when the U.S. combat role ends and Afghanistan takes full responsibility for its security. Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Washington this week and one of the key items on the agenda was for the two governments to discuss the various options for and potential effects of a residual U.S. military presence beyond 2014 that would train and equip the Afghan security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Numerous discussions and scenario planning occurred this week in regards to the drawdown of security forces and its implications on potential peace talks. Sending ripple effects across the policy making community, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on Tuesday that President Obama is not ruling out the possibility of withdrawing all U.S. troops by the end of next year. While many in the policy community deem this as a negotiation tactic by the Obama administration, a complete troop withdrawal would undoubtedly have lasting implications for potential peace talks with the Taliban. The scenario of zero U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan would create an opportunity for the hardline elements of the Taliban to wait out the American withdrawal and subsequently emerge as an inhibiting force for peace which has no interest in a negotiated political settlement.
On Friday, escalating concerns by both the Afghan- and American policy communities were realized when in a joint statement President Obama and President Karzai agreed to speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces. The potentially bleak realities resulting from a hastened U.S. troop withdrawal are an increasingly likely end. The move also highlights the Obama administration's growing posture to end a nuanced and unfavorable war.
Despite the recent developments, it remains a critical security imperative for Washington that Afghanistan does not once again revert into a safe haven for terrorist activities, anarchy and civil war. A resilient Taliban insurgency, widespread corruption within the Afghan government, and the inability of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to protect the Afghan nation on its own after foreign troops leave require Washington to reevaluate its strategy vis-à-vis peace talks with the Taliban. For the talks to succeed and a durable peace process to emerge, Afghans must lead the talks with the Taliban in an inclusive and transparent manner, with full support from their regional neighbors and Washington. Above all, the White House and Kabul must be on the same page and adopt a unified policy towards reconciliation. Moreover, Washington must provide strategic economic and political support for the Afghan government to lead the process and must adopt a firm stance toward Pakistan through constructive diplomacy.
Following the assassination of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, Head of the High Peace Council, in September 2011, the reconciliation process became dormant. The talks gained a renewed momentum after the French think tank, Foundation for Strategic Research, organized a meeting between representatives of the Taliban, Afghan political parties and civil society groups last December. Senior members of the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami, the High Peace Council, political opposition groups, civil society and the Afghan parliament attended the two-day talks, marking the significance and increased inclusiveness of the reconciliation process. Numerous Afghan and international policy analysts believe that the seniority of the Taliban representatives attending the Paris Talks indicates they are serious about the possibility of a negotiated political settlement.
While some Afghans and foreign observers consider the Paris Talks as a positive catalyst for the overall peace process, others remain skeptical that the talks will result in a durable and inclusive peace agreement. The Taliban continue to reiterate that they would not talk with the Afghan government. Recently, the Taliban envoys at the Paris Talks restated their position that neither the Afghan constitution nor the Kabul government were legitimate and they had no plans to negotiate with the latter now or in the future. However, Taliban representatives cooperated in talks with the opposition leaders in Paris representing the Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek ethnic groups, indicating a greater potential for movement towards increased factionalism and bringing the legitimacy and cohesiveness of the central government and the gains made during the past 11 years into jeopardy.
In May 2012, Washington and Kabul signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement in which the U.S. designated Afghanistan as a "Major Non-NATO Ally" and committed to protecting and remaining engaged into 2024 in an advisory capacity. Yet, certain regional actors still maintain the belief that the U.S. will once again abandon Afghanistan and therefore continue to support the Taliban and other extremist militant groups as a proxy to exert influence over Afghanistan's future. This scenario would not only have security implications throughout the region, but would also affect wider, global security. It would allow al-Qaeda and its affiliates to reestablish themselves in parts of Afghanistan, where they could plot against America and its allies.
The Peace Process Roadmap recently issued by the High Peace Council proposes a negotiated political settlement by 2015 with the Taliban and other insurgent groups including Hizb-e-Islami. However the roadmap fails to address key issues such as the disarmament of these groups. If there is a power-sharing deal within the government that includes the Taliban and other armed extremist groups without a provision for the disarmament of these groups and their acceptance of the legitimacy of the government, the outcome of the reconciliation could pave the way for a divided Afghanistan with a weak central government, and would compromise the gains of the past 11 years. Additionally, such a politically negotiated settlement would face considerable backlash from political opposition groups, as well as civil society.
After three decades of war, Afghans are weary of war and desire peace. However, peace must not come at the cost of human rights and democracy. In the absence of a democratic government, Afghanistan could become a hotbed for terrorism once again. Washington invested heavily in Afghanistan over the past 11 years in order to combat extremism, and the U.S. government should have a vested interest in deterring the emergence of terrorism hotbeds and ensuring a stable Afghanistan beyond 2014. A peaceful, democratic Afghanistan where human rights are protected should be a security imperative for Washington, necessitating that it put its full support behind an inclusive, transparent peace process led by Afghans and promoted by regional actors. Furthermore, any peace talks with the Taliban must not come at the cost of compromising human rights and setting back the hard won gains of the past 11 years, making it ever more an imperative that the U.S. closely reevaluate its troop withdrawal strategy.
While it remains unclear how a politically negotiated settlement will play out in the coming years and who the key stakeholders will be, it is clear that the Taliban does not wish to talk with the current Afghan government, leaving Washington to think outside the box and tap into other credible stakeholders in Afghanistan that could help lead the process. Afghan civil society leaders represent various ethnic and interest groups including religious minorities, women and youth and could be key players and stakeholders in the peace process. National consensus at all levels is critical to whatever peace process emerges in Afghanistan. Bringing in a neutral third party to broker a peace negotiation is not a bad idea, but the devil is in the details of who could serve as a neutral third party with the ever-growing list of stakeholders and spoilers to peace in Afghanistan. Without a unified reconciliation policy between Kabul and the White House and regional countries' sincere cooperation, achieving an acceptable peace agreement before the 2014 elections and troop drawdown would prove considerably more challenging and endanger the progress the country has made over the past decade. The new window of opportunity rests in the recent endorsement in the joint statement issued by President Obama and President Karzai of the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar in hopes of bringing insurgents to inter-Afghan talks.
Hamid Arsalan, a founding member of Afghan
Analytica, is a Program Officer for the
Middle East and North Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Hodei Sultan, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Officer for the Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The views reflected here are solely those of the authors.
A version of this piece was originally published here.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Massacre in Kandahar: A United States Army Sergeant on Sunday walked a mile from his base to go on a shooting rampage in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province, murdering 16 Afghan civilians, nine of whom were children (NYT, Reuters, CNN, Post, WSJ, BBC, LAT, AP). President Hamid Karzai called the attack an "inhuman and intentional act," as U.S. officials scrambled to find out how the incident happened. The sergeant is reportedly a father of two on his fourth tour of duty, after three in Iraq, and came from Washington state's Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which was also the home base of three soldiers convicted in 2010 of the sport killings of three Afghan civilians (NYT, AP). Coming just weeks after the accidental burning of Qurans by NATO troops sparked deadly protests across the country, the murders not only complicate the U.S. withdrawal strategy as allies and Afghans alike lose confidence in the NATO mission, but may also fuel the Taliban's campaign against NATO soldiers there (AP, NYT, CNN, Post, Politico, Bloomberg).
A delegation of Afghan government officials visited the U.S. military facility at Guantánamo Bay last Monday, where the top five Taliban leaders held there told the officials that they would agree to being moved to Qatar, though the United States has yet to make a decision on the transfer (AP, AJE, BBC, Reuters, AFP, Reuters). Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool will reportedly travel to Qatar sometime in the next ten days to speak to government officials there about reconciliation with the Taliban (Reuters). German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for a surprise visit to German troops in Mazar-i-Sharif, where she told reporters that Germany is not sure it will be able to pull out all of its troops by the 2014 NATO withdrawal deadline (AP, AFP, Reuters).
Afghanistan has opened its first major railroad, and has several others in the works via partnerships with China, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Turkmenistan, part of a plan to encourage trade with neighboring countries (AP). Railways were banned by an Afghan king over one hundred years ago for fear of being overrun by the competing British and Russian empires. The AP's Deb Reichmann reported Saturday on the many families of Afghans buried in a massive avalanche in the remote village of Daspai, where the United Nations said 145 are missing and "presumed dead" (AP, AFP). And another avalanche buried two more remote villages in eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan Province on Monday, trapping as many as 45 people in the snow (BBC, AP).
Rising anti-Americanism and deteriorating security in Afghanistan, along with President Karzai's mandate to ban private security firms by March, have left private aid organizations questioning whether they should stay in the country (NYT). If the groups decide to leave, Afghanistan could lose development projects worth billions of dollars.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest in the middle of a funeral procession on Sunday in the outskirts of Peshawar, killing at least 15 and injuring dozens more (ET, Dawn, Tel, AFP, Reuters, CNN, AP). The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the blast, stating that the target had been the anti-Taliban Deputy Speaker of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Khushdil Khan - who was unhurt. Police in Peshawar said Monday that they had foiled another attack on Friday when they received a tip about a suspicious car and found it loaded with explosives (ET).
At least two people were killed and 17 injured when a bomb exploded next to a bus on Monday in Pakistan's Kurram Agency, where the military has been carrying out intensive operations against militants since the beginning of the year (Reuters). The Taliban claimed responsibility for killing the leader of a pro-government militia leader on Friday, and a security official was killed Monday by a homemade explosive device placed at a check post in Mohmand Agency (ET, ET, Dawn). In Balochistan, meanwhile, six pro-government tribesmen were ambushed and killed by suspected insurgents on Saturday (ET).
Around 60 militants were killed Saturday in two separate operations in Khyber and Orakzai Agencies. A day before that, U.S. drone strikes targeting a militant hideout and a vehicle killed 14 militants in Pakistan's South Waziristan (CNN, AFP, BBC, AP). On Monday, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik invited militant groups to hold peace talks with the government, saying groups will be delisted from the government's list of banned organizations if they "closed down their militant wings" (ET, AFP). And the AP's Kathy Gannon reported Saturday on the growing feeling within the Pakistani military that its sacrifices and hard work go unappreciated by the West, where authorities often call on Pakistan to "do more" in the fight against militants (AP).
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Friday appointed a new head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Lt. Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam, who replaces the three-and-a-half-year veteran ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha (Reuters, NYT,Dawn, ET, CNN, AJE, Post, Tel, LAT, The News). Gen. Islam's appointment maintains some continuity at the ISI, as he previously headed the directorate's domestic operations, and may improve the intelligence agency's ties with its U.S. counterpart, which had seen its relationship with Gen. Pasha deteriorate recently.
Meanwhile, former ISI chief Asad Durrani admitted to Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday that he had distributed millions of dollars to opposition politicians on the orders of then-chief of the Army Mirza Aslam Beg, in an effort to defeat the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in the elections of 1990 (Guardian, ET, McClatchy, Dawn, DT, The News, AP). And Prime Minister Gilani said Sunday that the parliament is responsible for his decision not to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking them to reinstate a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, because the legislators approved a constitution that gives the president immunity (Dawn, ET, DT).
Pakistani native Shad Begum was one of ten women activists to receive the 2012 International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. government last Thursday (Dawn). Begum has provided political training, microcredit financing, education, and health services to women in the conservative Lower Dir District through an organization she founded called the Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation.
-- Jennifer Rowland
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the muchneeded conversation over counterinsurgency (COIN) has returned. Ryan Evans' COINis dead, long live the COIN attempts to addto this debate, but his efforts fall short, because he and other COINproponents refuse to understand the underlining flaws in counterinsurgency as astrategy. COIN as a strategy cannot work in today's world, given the currentlimitations in available resources, time, and national will.It was a collection of tactics and operational arts developed for twentiethcentury wars of nationalism and communism. Strategy, defined as the ends, ways,and means of American policy, must rise above a collection of disjointedtactics that have no proven cumulative effect.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
We can work it out
The United States and numerous other countries pledged continued economic and political support to Afghanistan after 2014 during today's conference at Bonn, on the 10-year anniversary of the first Bonn conference, which laid the groundwork for a post-Taliban Afghanistan (AP, Tel, AFP, CNN). Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked the nearly 1,000 delegates for financial support through the next decade, as the German newspaper Bild, citing German intelligence reports, suggested this weekend that Karzai plans on staying in power past the end of his second term in 2014 (Tel, BBC, Post, Reuters, AFP, Tel). Many observers and Afghans were skeptical this weekend about the prospects that real progress would be made at the conference, as Pakistan reiterated its pledge to boycott (McClatchy, BBC, WSJ, DW, AJE, Reuters, AFP, Dawn, AFP, ET, Reuters, DW). Bonus read: Bonn, 10 Years On - an FP Roundtable (FP).
The conference takes place as the American and Afghan governments continue to negotiate a long-term partnership agreement, one the Times suggests today is being delayed as Afghanistan pushes for an end to controversial "night raids" by Special Operations Forces (NYT). Julian Borger reports that NATO forces are planning a two-year push into eastern Afghanistan, including aggressive efforts to target militant sanctuaries and perhaps even Special Forces raids across the border into Pakistan (Guardian). And the Monitor follows a detachment of Marines after an offensive into Helmand's Kajaki Valley (CSM).
Iran claims it shot down an RQ-170 stealth drone this weekend, as American forces said the drone may have been an aircraft that disappeared over Afghanistan near the border with Iran last week (Post, Guardian, WSJ, LAT, CNN). Iranian officials have not yet produced evidence of the drone, known informally as the "Beast of Kandahar."
Three stories round out the Afghanistan news: The Telegraph reports that nearly 350 Afghan women remain imprisoned for "moral crimes," about half of the country's female prison population (Tel). Thirty Pakistanis are still being detained at the prison at Bagram, out of nearly 2,400 inmates (Dawn). And the AP reveals that as many as 2.6 million people are at risk of hunger as Afghanistan's north faces its worst drought in decades (AP).
It's not you, it's me
President Barack Obama telephoned his Pakistani counterpart President Asif Ali Zardari Sunday to express his "condolences" for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers last week in a U.S. airstrike in Mohmand, an attack that Obama told Zardari was not deliberate (CNN, Guardian, WSJ, AFP, ET). Pakistan has reportedly refused to take part in a joint investigation of the incident, as the Telegraph on Saturday spoke to Pakistani officials who said Pakistani officers who approved the strike were given incorrect target coordinates by their American interlocutors (Tel, NYT, CBS/AP, ET, Reuters, WSJ, Tel). U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter told a Pakistani TV station this weekend that U.S. personnel were leaving Shamsi airbase in Balochistan (AP, Dawn, ET, DT). Karen DeYoung and Karin Brulliard discuss the succession of Pakistan-U.S. crises this year, while the Tribune reports that Pakistan will likely "redraw" it's anti-terrorism relationship with the United States (Post, ET, Tel). Bonus read: Daud Khattak, "Calling Pakistan's boycott bluff" (FP).
Pakistani-American "citizen diplomat" Mansoor Ijaz, who is at the center of the "Memogate" scandal that has shaken Pakistan's civilian government, claimed this weekend that Zardari and former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani knew in advance of the U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2 and even gave the raid a "green light" (Daily Beast, ET, CSM). Both Haqqani and the White House denied Ijaz's claims, while Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said this weekend that Ijaz was trying to "destabilize Pakistan" (Dawn, ET, ET). And former senior investigator and police officer Tariq Khosa, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry's choice to head the judicial investigation into the "Memogate" incident, declined Friday (ET). Bonus read: Peter Bergen and Andrew Lebovich, "What's behind the furor in Pakistan?" (FP).
The AP reports that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has splintered in recent years, and is now short on cash and split between 100 different groups (AP). Security is being beefed up in Pakistan in advance of the upcoming Shi'a holy day of Ashura, usually marked by large processions that have been attacked in the past by Sunni militants (ET, Dawn, ET, Dawn, ET). And a Pakistani-born Virginia man, Jubair Ahmad, pleaded guilty Friday to producing and uploading a propaganda video on behalf of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (AP, Reuters, AFP, DT).
Five stories finish off the weekend: Pakistani film star Veena Malik is threatening to sue the Indian edition of FHM magazine, after they ran nude photos purportedly of Malik with "ISI" tattoed on her arm, photos that caused an uproar in Pakistan and that Malik says were doctored (BBC, WSJ, AP, ET). Pakistan has called on Australia to sell it uranium after the country's parliament lifted a ban on selling to India this weekend (BBC). Pakistani Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh said this weekend that the Pakistani government has spent nearly Rs1 trillion ($1.1 billion) in the last four years to cover electricity subsidies and the losses suffered by the country's state-run power companies (Dawn). The United Nations said this weekend that a secret American effort to obtain Osama bin Laden's DNA through a fake vaccination drive has hurt efforts to eradicate polio in Pakistan, making it harder for health workers to operate in key areas (WSJ). And Pakistan has issued 25 hunting permits for the rare Houbara bustard, which can only be hunted by falcons, to notables from the Arabian Peninsula (Dawn).
An unusual effort to bring stability to Afghanistan is being led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is training Afghans to preserve their unique environment and many of the rare species that live there (NYT). Afghanistan sits at the juncture of three distinct "biogeographic regions" and nearly 80 percent of Afghans rely on natural resources to survive.
OLIVER BERG/AFP/Getty Images
On December 5, an international conference on Afghanistan will open in Bonn, Germany, 10 years after the first Bonn conference set up the political system that would help govern Afghanistan for the next decade. The AfPak Channel asked a group of experts and practitioners what should have been done at Bonn 10 years ago, what might happen at this conference, and what Afghanistan needs in the future.
-- Peter Bergen and Andrew Lebovich
HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images
On 5 October 2001, the London Evening Standard reported that a veteran commander of the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad was calling for then-U.S. President George W. Bush's imminent bombing campaign of Afghanistan to be delayed. The commander, whose name was Abdul Haq, needed time, he said, to implement his plan for an internal, peaceful toppling of the Taliban.
‘Every time I meet commanders who cross the mountains in darkness to brief me,' he said, ‘they are part of the Taliban forces, but they no longer support them. These men will join us and there are many of them. When the time is right they and others will rise up and this Taliban Government will be swept aside.'
Haq went on to add: "The people are starving, they are already against [the Taliban]."
But his voice, so authoritative when visiting President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to call for more support to the mujahideen during the Soviet war, was barely heard in the aftermath of September 11. The bombing started, and Abdul Haq began his perilous mission. Two weeks later, on 25 October 2001, he was dead.
In November 2001, after his death, Abdul Haq's obituaries were dismissive, even overtly condemning. Not only was the manner of his death questioned, but so too was his life and, implicit to that, his ‘value.' When the New York Times described him demeaningly as "a middle aged man on a mule" or a "privately financed freelancer trying to overthrow the Taliban" the implication was that there should be nothing to regret about his loss. In London, an unattributed piece in Private Eye added snidely, "Like so many erstwhile terrorists, Haq managed to reinvent himself as a ‘moderate' and a ‘peacemaker' -- so successfully that his murderous exploits were entirely omitted from every single obituary."
Other pieces begged to differ and one, written by a cultural anthropologist and former U.S. Diplomat to Afghanistan, had a different take on the story:
To hear them talk in Washington and Islamabad, you'd think there was some doubt. In fact, you'd think his death no great loss. Listen carefully. It's scared talk, the kind of stuff you hear from bureaucrats whose backsides are exposed.
Abdul Haq, they rush to insist, was on a mission of his own. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. Either way, it's shameful to demean him.
There is some doubt about how the man died and where and when. We know he was ‘questioned' and then executed. But was it by hanging with his body then used for swaying small-arms target practice, or was he shot in cold blood in a prison courtyard? It was in eastern Afghanistan -- but Jalalabad or Kabul? It was two weeks ago -- but late Thursday or early Friday? There's some doubt about who sent him and who betrayed him. There could even be confusion about his name were it not so well known:
‘Born Hamayoun Arsala 44 years ago, he became "Abdul Haq" -- Servant of Justice -- in the crucible of our Cold War's most decisive battleground.'
Kabul, January 2004
Towards the end of January 2004, I finally met the Taliban's Deputy Interior Minister, Mullah Khaksar. It was his boss, the Taliban Interior Minister, Mullah Razzaq, who had apparently given the orders for Haq to be killed.
The family told me that Khaksar had visited Haq in Peshawar after September 11 and helped him with his plan to overthrow the Taliban, intending to work with Haq in forming a broad-based government. The plan was for Khaksar to work with Khan Mir, another of Haq's jihadi commanders, in Kabul as Haq went into Afghanistan from the East on his mission. The two would work on turning over several divisions of the Interior Ministry. In the event though, Haq had been killed and captured before the fall of Kabul.
Khaksar had apparently turned himself over to the Karzai government following the routing of the Taliban and was now hiding out in a "safe house." At this stage there was still no Taliban Reconciliation Program.
I hooked up with my interpreter, Hanif and we headed in the direction of Khair Khana on a cold January day, the air thick with a winter freeze. Eventually we arrived at a rundown suburban house, stepped into a concrete hallway and were shown into a curtained room. The Mullah sat there alone. He had a shaggy dark beard, a voluminous dark grey turban and dark, spaniel-shaped eyes. I could see my breath in the cold air and was relieved when a young man arrived to stoke the bukhari stove heater and bring us green tea and nuts.
Khaksar's dark looks were utterly incongruous with his quiet, high-pitched voice and the phone which periodically jingled ‘happy birthday' from inside his salwar kameez. After some explanations of who I was, I asked whether, given the current situation, it might have been better for many members of the Taliban if Haq had not been killed?
Khaksar replied, "At the last days the friends of Abdul Haq in the Interior Ministry practically began a war. We were ready to act" he said, telling me Haq had wanted a broad-based government, like himself. Later, he had stayed at the Arsala house in Peshawar and spoken with Haq's brothers Haji din Mohammad and Haji Qadir. He told me that he had known the regime would collapse two years before it did. I asked why Mullah Razzaq had wanted Haq dead and Khaksar said:
He used his competence as it was an emergency situation. But he also said that, at this time, the Taliban still did not believe they would lose their power. They thought, rather naively, that Afghans would rise up against the foreign invaders in their support. They executed [Haq] as they thought the USA would rescue him and then he'd stand against the Taliban again. But the act [of killing Haq] was against human rights law and [Islamic] law. As he was killed without a fight and without a trial.
As to why the Taliban had killed Haq so fast, he said:
If he was alive and his programme had been a success, then from my point of view he would now be President of Afghanistan...If they had put him in jail the people would have been rising up and pushing for a revolution.
Again, his phone tinkled ‘happy birthday' from somewhere deep within his salwar kameez. Fixing me with his bottomless dark eyes he added, "A lot of people supported his plan, even in Khost, Paktia, Gardez and throughout Afghanistan."
These were the same places one of Haq's British supporters, nobleman and famed Afghan war photographer Sir John Gunston, had mentioned as being the backbone of the Taliban's hold over the south: the places which had fallen due to Haq's commanders and the willingness of the people who were fed up with the regime. Not due to some ‘secret deals' made by MI6 -- as asserted in the British press -- who had been nowhere to be seen when help was needed.
His comments echoed Gunston's assessment of the sad irony that, in Kabul, Abdul Haq had been deemed a threat to the Taliban, yet in Washington and London, those charged with knowing better were just blithely unaware. I asked Khaksar if it was too late to include moderate Taliban in the government. "Yes of course," he snapped. "But if not 100 percent fruitful, it could be 20 percent at least." It was a short interview. He had people to see, but he agreed to meet again the next day to talk more about the circumstances surrounding Haq's death.
Lucy Morgan Edwards is a former Political Advisor to the EU Ambassador in Kabul and author of The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan, from which the above passages are derived.
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1. The question to ask about radicalization is not "why?" or "who?" but "how?" In the aftermath of 9/11, Western security services tried to profile potential attackers. Results were mixed at best. In the United States especially, conservatives even spoke of inherent "Arab" or "Muslim" propensities to terrorism. On the Left, much effort was devoted to analysing the potential motives of attackers or the environmental factors that led them to violence. Ten years on however, intelligence services are no longer searching for inherent qualities common to large numbers of people or trying to identify "root causes" which convincingly explain why one person becomes involved in extremist violence while others do not. Increasingly, it is the dynamic and complex process of radicalization itself that is seen as key, with peers, relatives or small group dynamics playing a very significant role in the radicalization process. One conference of international intelligence services in 2008 focussed almost entirely on this aspect of militancy. That should not be a surprise. Terrorism is, after all, a social activity.
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By mid-2008, the local branches of the Tehrik-i-TalibanPakistan (TTP) had forced out Pakistani security forces and taken power inlarge portions of Mohmand and Bajaur, the northernmost of the FederallyAdministered Tribal Areas (FATA). For three years the militant group exercisedopen territorial control, levying taxes and administering its own brand ofjustice in the mountainous areas along the Afghan border. Pakistani militaryoperations aimed at destroying the TTP insurgency came in regular cycles, yeteach declaration of success was followed by the swift resurgence of militantpower. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled the violence to reside inInternally Displaced Person (IDP) camps or with family members elsewhere inPakistan.
Recently, however, the tide in Mohmand and Bajaur has turneddecisively in the Pakistani military's favor. For the first time in four years,militants have lost the territory they once openly controlled. Whether the tideturns back, or whether these tribal areas even matter given the largerchallenges Pakistan faces, is another question entirely.
Information from the FATA is scarce, as few independentreporters are fearless enough to venture into the area, and their number isdwindling. Over coffee in Islamabad last February, Asia Times Online's SyedSaleem Shahzad told me, "journalist access in the tribal areas is difficultnow, you need strong contacts with the government, the locals, and also withthe militants." Tragically, three months later Shahzad's body was found dumpedin a canal southeast of the capital. Many blamethe Pakistani security services for his death, and interpret his killing asintended to intimidate the Pakistani media.
Given that the military's public relations wing possesses anear-monopoly on information coming out of the FATA, it is no wonder thatrecent declarations of victory over the TTP in Mohmand and Bajaur have gonelargely unnoticed. Military announcements now fall on deaf ears, as U.S.policymakers, not to mention the Pakistani public, have become jaded by earlierdeclarations of success that later proved meaningless. In this informationvacuum the best indicator that security has truly improved is the sustainedreturn of IDPs to their homes.
In June 2011, the Pakistani government declared the entirety of Bajaur safe for IDPreturn, with the soleexception being Loi Sam, a market town flattened by Pakistani airstrikes in2008. Jalozai camp near Peshawar has been emptied of tens of thousands of IDPs,many of them families who fledBajaur two or three years prior and are only now returning home.Additionally, of the two camps established tohouse Mohmand IDPs, Danish Kol is empty and Nahakki camp is nearly so. Whilethe government has attempted to coerce IDPs to return to their home areas inthe past, this has had only limited results, as IDPs have shown they are morethan willing to flee insecure areas once again if the security problems havenot been resolved. In this context, it is remarkable that IDPs have stayed putsince their return to Mohmand and Bajaur earlier in the year.
The paramilitary Frontier Corps, backed by the army, hasreestablished its presence in troubled hotspots along the border, including theChamarkand, Nawagai, and Mamund areas of Bajaur, and the Lakaro, Khwezai andBezai areas of Mohmand. Local tribal militias, referred to as "PeaceCommittees" or lashkars, receive nominal government support to police theirvillages, supplementing the established Khassadarand paramilitary forces whose membership is culled from the local populations.The TTP no longer openly patrols the roads and villages, replaced instead bygovernment checkpoints.
Though they no longer control territory in the area, theinsurgency has by no means vanished. Some fighters have chosen to lay low,putting down their weapons and returning to agrarian life, at least for now.Others, including the militant leadership, have fled across the border into theinsecure Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Just as North and South Waziristanhave served as a safe haven for Afghanistan-focused militants such as theHaqqani Network, the mountainous borderlands of Eastern Afghanistan are nowfunctioning as safe havens for militants expelled from North FATA by thePakistani state.
Lack of territory inside Pakistan has not prevented theBajaur and Mohmand TTP from continuing their campaigns of terror andintimidation, however. Pro-government tribal leaders have been assassinated,Frontier Corps checkposts attacked in cross-border raids, and most recently 30teenagers were kidnappedin the Mamund area of Bajaur. Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Bajaur TTP, hasreestablishedan illegal radio station and is again broadcasting propaganda along theborder. Local militants who agreedto cease attacks against the state in return for amnesty could easilymobilize again if the TTP appears poised to retake control of the borderlands.
Meanwhile, sectarian violence in the nearby tribal area ofKurram has resisted both the efforts of Afghan militant leaders and thePakistani government for mediation - with the Shi'a Pashtuns stuck in thearea's major city, Parachinar, still deeply suspicious of the true intentionsof both would-be peacebrokers. Zones of Shi'a and Sunni control have hardened,as the TTP and other sectarian militant groups such as Sipah-e-Sihaba Pakistan(and its subsidiary Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) have proved unwaveringin their attacks on Shi'a traveling along the main road through Lower Kurram.Pakistani military operations began in July of this year in Central Kurram, amountainous Sunni-dominated region along the Afghan border long ignored by thestate. Tens of thousands of IDPs have fled the area. Though the militarydeclared the operations a success in mid-August, only a smallminority of IDPs have since begun to return home, and questionsremain about the value of staging operations in Central Kurram, rather thanother parts of the agency.
Militants in other parts of FATA also remain strong. In muchof Khyber, armed groups such as Lashkar-e-Islam, Ansar-ul-Islam, and the TTPview each other, rather than the government, as their main competition forpower. An uneasy truce between Afghanistan-focused militants and the FrontierCorps persists in North Waziristan, even as sporadicfighting between the TTP and the state continues in South Waziristan. Inaddition, other challenges increasingly overshadow the conflict in FATA,including concerns about tensions with India, extremistinfiltration of the armed forces, and escalatingconfessional violence in Karachi.
Sustaining the state's victory in Mohmand and Bajaur willdepend on its ability to provide services and especially security to thereturning IDPs. The years-long conflict between the military and insurgents hasdevastated both the traditional civilian authorities and the tribal leadershipof FATA. The military has used the ongoing conflict as a justification forblocking the implementation of long overdue political reforms meant to startincorporating the tribal areas into the mainstream of Pakistani politics andlaw. Whether the government can maintain security and normalize life in Mohmandand Bajaur will be a crucial test of its ability to succeed in the rest of thetribal areas.
Sean Mann is currentlyin the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University.He speaks Pashto, and spent the previous year conducting research on the borderareas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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The last time I met with Burhanuddin Rabbani, he had just taken up his post as head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council. He was looking unusually fit and energized and was in a jocular mood, his dark eyes laughing as he regaled his visitors with witty appraisals of Afghanistan's nascent peace process. President Hamid Karzai had taken his time in announcing the names of the High Peace Council members, officially announcing them in October 2010, and less than a month later Rabbani was already complaining that the Karzai administration had been dragging its feet on establishing an office for the council.
Holding court in the garishly ornate salon of his mansion in downtown Kabul, Rabbani bitterly joked about the then-recent revelations that the Afghan government and its Western backers had been duped into talking to a Taliban impostor. As details emerged of the Afghan government's efforts to begin brokering a deal with a man they believed to be Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, a close adviser of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, it became clear that the Afghan peace process had a long way to go, and that the Taliban and its allies in the Pakistani military were prepared to go to great lengths to derail the peace process.
Mansour -- it turned out -- was not Mansour at all, but variously was believed to be a shopkeeper from Quetta, a Taliban spy, an agent of Pakistan'sintelligence services, or all of the above. The unseemly tale of subterfuge and betrayal was, Rabbani said at the time, a sign of the disarray in the Afghan government and the desperation in Washington to cut a deal that would quickly end America's longest war. The ruse, the former Afghan president declared, was a stain on the peace process.
Rabbani was in rare form then, back in the limelight, relishing being at the center of Afghan politics again -- the place where he always felt the most comfortable. Confident of his position and ever critical of those he called his allies, there was a sense of hope in Rabbani's tone that somehow the four years he spent as president, presiding over the destruction of the Afghan capital in the 1990's, would be erased as he spent his twilight years recasting himself as peacemaker. In many ways, Rabbani's quest to burnish his troubled legacy was emblematic of the entire peace process itself, which has emerged as little more than a theatrical exercise in appeasing the vanities of powerful men.
One of a series this year of assassinations of high-powered Afghan politicians, Rabbani's death at the hands of a suicide bomber in the heart of Kabul should send a strong signal to the Afghan government and its backers in Washington and London that cutting deals with the Taliban is not and never will be the solution for Afghanistan. For many, the death of Rabbani, one of Afghanistan's most towering Tajik leaders, brings tragic punctuation to the pervasive sense of anxiety among non-Pashtun political factions and Afghan civil society actors that the international community is willing to jettison commitments made in the wake of the 2001 Bonn conference to support a model of multi-ethnic inclusive governance in favor of a Pakistani sanctioned quick and dirty deal with the predominantly Pashtun Taliban. The international community has done little to assuage these fears, only occasionally and often reluctantly ceding space to civil society in the reconciliation and transition process. Though a sustainable political settlement will without doubt entail prolonged engagement with a broad range of Afghans -- from civil society activists, to political party leaders, women and youth groups, religious and legal scholars as well as members of the armed opposition -- neither Washington nor Kabul has indicated any genuine interest in expanding the national dialogue on reconciliation since Karzai convened the Consultative Peace Jirga in Kabul in June 2010. Instead of expanding the national conversation about reconciliation, Karzai has narrowed the avenues of public participation by rewarding the mercurial, glorifying the venal, and making a mockery of the peace process by doling out dollars and divvying up patronage positions like a card dealer at a Las Vegas casino.
As a result, conditions on the ground in the wake of the U.S. military surge authorized by President Obama preclude the near term possibility of negotiating a sustainable political settlement in Afghanistan. With Karzai's government in freefall, the insurgency gaining ground across the country, and ethnic divisions deepening, all signs point away from settlement and toward are invigoration of the conflict as NATO and the U.S. enter the final phase of the planned withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Although there is substantial support among Afghans for the cessation of violent conflict in the country, the elements necessary for a sustainable peace are far from being in place or agreed upon. While much has been made of attempts to broker a deal with the Taliban in the lead up to the Bonn II Conference on Afghanistan in December 2011 even Western diplomats involved in the negotiation efforts agree that contacts with Afghan insurgents have so far been insubstantial, amounting to little more than "talks about talks." Afghan government attempts to cut deals with factional leaders within the insurgency have been haphazard and while Pakistani military support for the insurgency remains strong there are few signs that the insurgents are anywhere near prepared to enter into negotiations.
There is also little evidence that the U.S. and its allies have succeeded in breaking al-Qaeda's sway over the most radical elements of jihadist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death in May 2011, there have been no signs that the Taliban is inclined to make a public break with al-Qaeda. Instead, there are stronger indications that Taliban and other Afghan insurgent leaders across the border in Pakistan view their perceived association with al-Qaeda as a strategic trump card critical to strengthening their position at the negotiating table. The Afghan insurgency's backers in Pakistan's military have concurrently managed to preserve their control over their Islamist Afghan proxies in spite of reported frictions among Taliban leaders over the movement's longstanding dependence on the Pakistani militaryfor guidance and support. For Afghan jihadist Sirajuddin Haqqani and his network, in particular, the maintenance of their links with the Pakistanimilitary and al-Qaeda, the network's strongest external source of support for nearly two decades, remains a strategic imperative.
The insurgency's continued reliance on the Pakistani military and surviving elements of al-Qaeda, therefore, raise serious questions about the political import, and, indeed, relevance of the handful of recently reconciled Taliban involved in efforts to broker a deal with the Karzai government. By all accounts -- including their own -- this small cadre of reconciled Taliban is not as yet empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Taliban's leadership council in Quetta, Pakistan. What's more, it is becoming increasingly obvious that no matter how splintered Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura may have become in recent years, it is its very fragmentation that precludes the possibility of the Taliban making a definitive break with the Pakistani military and its other allies.
The attack on the U.S. Embassy last week and Rabbani's assassination on Tuesday comes on the heels of news that the U.S. and its international partners have backed an Afghan plan to open a political office for the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar. It is also notable that within days of these events, the embassy of Saudia Arabia, a state which until recently was viewed as a potentially heavyweight broker in the negotiation process, has decided to pull up stakes and evacuate its staff from Kabul. The Saudi pullout may only be temporary, but it is an important harbinger of things to come as regional states around Afghanistan begin shifting their positions in the run up to the transition. The international community has a long way to go before it will convince states such as Iran, India, Russia and China that the U.S. prescription for peace in South and Central Asia is the cure for what ails the region.
If there is one lesson to be learned, it is that it is time for Washington and Kabul drop their illusions that unconditional appeasement of Taliban demands is the answer to Afghanistan's problems. At the very least, the events of the last few months should put all concerned on notice: it's time to rethink reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan. Until the Pakistani military withdraws its support for the Taliban and Haqqani network's safe havens across the border, and until Karzai reconciles himself to putting his government back in order, political settlement will remain out of reach.
If the U.S. and NATO want to ensure the stability of the Afghan republic, more must be done to guard against the return of the Islamic emirate. A switch in orientation will necessitate considerably more high-profile Afghan and international investment in unsexy things like electoral and constitutional reform. Instead of spinning its wheels on cutting deals, the U.S. and its allies need to throw their backs into a whole of government approach that engages Afghans on all levels -- not just a handful of powerful men. No amount of dealmaking will erase 30 years of entrenched conflict. Ensuring that the Afghan public is fully engaged in the peace process from start to finish is the only thing that will prevent the next civil war.
Candace Rondeaux is based in Kabul and is the senior analyst in Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group.
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Last Friday agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jubair Ahmad, a 24 year-old Pakistani immigrant living in Woodbridge, Virginia. He has been charged with "providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT]," specifically producing and uploading a propaganda video to YouTube, allegedly at the direction of Talha Saeed, son of the group's founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. According to an affidavit, Ahmed received "religious training" from LeT as a teenager, and later attended its "basic training camp" while living in Pakistan, before entering the U.S. in 2007 with other members of his family. The religious training to which the affidavit refers is likely the Daura-e-Suffa, a three-week program focused on teaching the principles of LeT's interpretation of Ahl-e-Hadith Islam, converting those from other sects to this school of thought. Its basic or general training also lasts three weeks, and is known as the Daura-a-Amma. This latter program involves additional indoctrination, physical training and minimal instruction in the use of light weapons.
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In southern Punjab, a fierce battle rages for the future of Islam. For the first time in this region's history, its 700-year-old blue tiled Sufi shrines are being challenged and overshadowed by hundreds of new mosques and madrassas espousing jihadi ideologies. Multan and its sister cities have traditionally been centers of spirituality, housing some of Pakistan's strongest religious networks. As a result, this region has always played a defining role in Pakistan's socio-political and religious identity. However, since 9/11 the "Punjabi Taliban" are undermining traditional power structures to establish their own legal, social, and cultural writ.
We travelled to Multan and across southern Punjab, in addition to other regions of Pakistan, to understand the dynamics of jihadi recruitment and how a range of mainstream groups -- including traditionally conservative Sunni and Shi'a organizations -- are waging their own counter-insurgencies. This is part of a broader project led by the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) to explore how Pakistan's civil society is tackling extremism.
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