For the most part, Afghanistan is portrayed today as violent and war-torn and with an ineffective and corrupt government. The consensus seems to be that there is little hope that the country will hold together or defend itself against the Taliban and other terrorists after U.S. and NATO combat troops leave two years hence. The conclusion is that much blood and treasure has been wasted since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
But there is another view of this story. The majority of Afghans see their future quite differently.
The Asia Foundation has just completed its eighth survey of public opinion in Afghanistan since 2004. These surveys have established a valid, long-term barometer of the Afghan people's views over time. Last June nearly 6,300 Afghans were interviewed across all 34 provinces on a wide variety of issues. Respondents were divided between men (56%) and women (44%), and included both urban (22%) and rural (78%) households. The fact that 16% of polling sites were not accessible for security reasons -- potentially creating a bias -- is taken into account and does not overturn the major findings. The survey's sampling error is +/- 5%.
What is most striking in this latest survey is that 52% of the respondents -- up from 46% in 2011 -- believe that Afghanistan is moving in the right direction. 93% have a positive view of the Afghan armed forces (although many have doubts about the ability of the Afghan army and police to operate today without the support of foreign troops). 89% give their government good marks for the provision of educational services. 72% say their national legislature is addressing the problems of ordinary citizens. 50% believe their financial wellbeing has improved in the last 12 months. The performance of the Afghan central government gets a positive rating of 75%. Indeed in several substantive areas, Afghans' positive assessment of government performance is at its highest point in years, including in education (89%), security (70%) and healthcare (66%).
The survey does, as one would expect, reveal some negatives. Insecurity, lack of employment opportunities, and corruption are major issues for most Afghans. Fear for personal safety has declined in the last year from 56% to 48%, but is still high and varies among secure and less-secure regions. 70% say the unemployment situation is bad. 79% think corruption is a major problem.
The survey did not ask specific questions about the post-2014 outlook, but some future concerns and aspirations were revealed nevertheless. 81% hope for peace and reconciliation - an overwhelming proportion of Afghans want a political solution to the conflict in the country, rather than merely a military one. 84% believe elections are the right way to choose their leaders. 87% think women should have the same educational opportunities as men. 83% percent agree that everyone should have equal rights under law, regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion.
Understandably, Afghans often compare the present with the pre-1978 era, when war and destruction had yet to begin. And they have seen enormous strides since 2001. 8 million children, including almost 3 million girls, are now in school. 80% of Afghans have radios, 52% have television, and 71% have mobile phones. A new American University in Afghanistan graduated its second class last spring and is now establishing a business school.
Despite the substantial problems that still confront the Afghans, they now stand on more solid footing than they have at any time in the last three decades. But they are also aware that they are in the midst of three transitions that will determine whether the gains of recent years will be lasting: a security transition as American and NATO combat forces depart; an economic transition as foreign assistance levels decline; and a political transition in the run-up to presidential elections now scheduled for April 2014, and the post-Karzai era begins.
Each of these transitions will need to be successful for Afghanistan to proceed to a more secure and prosperous future. And while it is true that most of the responsibility here lies with the Afghans, foreigners can help.
The Obama administration's strategy includes a strategic partnership with Afghanistan that is set to last through 2024. America's NATO allies and the larger international community remain committed to assisting Afghanistan's economy and security. These pledges are consistent with the following recommendation made almost a decade ago by the 9/11 Commission in its 2004 final report, which remains valid today.
"The United States and the international community should make a long-term commitment to a secure and stable Afghanistan, in order to give the government a reasonable opportunity to improve the life of the Afghan people. Afghanistan must not again become a sanctuary for international crime and terrorism."
Theodore L. Eliot, Jr., U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 1973 to 1978, is dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Karl F. Inderfurth, assistant U.S. secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001, is a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Both are trustees of The Asia Foundation. This year's survey can be found at www.asiafoundation.org.
Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
Above, children sift through the debris of a school destroyed by the Swat Taliban in 2009.
All the claims about Pakistan's most successful military offensive against militants in the country came to naught when armed assailants targeted a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Swat on October 9.
Hours later, while the country's political and military leaders were issuing statements of condemnation along with the usual promise of "bringing the culprits to justice," a Taliban spokesman daringly claimed responsibility for the attack, and warned that they would again target Malala Yousafzai if she survives.
As the ‘Swat Diary Girl' -- known for writing articles during the dark days of Taliban rule in Swat in 2008-9 -- slowly recovers at a hospital in Britain, the entire Pakistani nation from Khyber to Karachi is simmering with anger. The most frequently asked question during the public and private discussions, TV talk shows, and newspaper columns is: Are the Taliban staging a comeback in Swat?
Following the ill-planned and haphazard attack on the students and teachers of the Red Mosque in Islamabad ordered by then-President Pervez Musharraf in mid-2007, the Swat-based Mullah Fazlullah, aka FM Mullah, backed his armed Taliban volunteers, unleashed a reign of terror in the serene valley that lasted almost two years. Their rule culminated in April 2009 with the occupation of Mingora, the commercial capital of Swat, and their advance on the neighboring district of Buner.
It was a time when Swat's women were forced to stay inside the four walls of their houses, girls were banned from attending schools, police stations were bombed, music shops were forcefully closed, barbers were forbidden from shaving men's beards, parallel courts were established to solve private disputes, and public executions of policemen, government officials and those disobeying Taliban became the order of the day.
Under immense pressure at home and abroad, and encouraged by the public outcry over the fact that the Swat Taliban were only 70 kilometers from the capital Islamabad, the Pakistani army launched Operation Rah-e-Raast (Right Path) in May 2009. Earlier, the failure of the first and second phases of the military operation Rah-e-Haq (Just Path) in Swat had forced an influential elder and political leader from the area, Afzal Khan Lala, to tell the army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani that the army and Taliban were "two faces of the same coin."
Lala, who survived an attack believed to have been carried out by the Taliban, earned praise for his exceptional courage by staying put while much of the rest of the population (nearly 2.5 million people) left the area for fear of the Taliban and the looming military operation.
The nearly two-month-long Rah-e-Raast operation, closely covered by this writer, successfully ousted the Taliban from Swat and helped return the displaced population to their villages by restoring public order. However, like what happened with other militant and Taliban leaders, including Mangal Bagh in Khyber, Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur, and Hakimullah Mehsud in the Waziristan tribal agencies, the leader of the Swat Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, miraculously survived and escaped the valley.
Within a few months of the military operation, the Taliban attempted to stage a return, targeting and killing a member of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assembly, Shamsher Ali Khan, in a suicide attack outside his house in Swat on December 1, 2009. Since then, any tribal elder, politician, social worker or journalist who dared to criticize the Taliban or pointed out the Army's failure to root out the militants -- or at least block their entry back into Swat -- was kidnapped, beaten, threatened or killed, by either the Taliban or sometimes even the Army.
One such voice was that of Zahid Khan, president of the Swat Hotels Association and one of the leading figures of the Swat Qaumi Jirga, an organization striving for peace and development in the valley. Khan used to criticize the Taliban for their inhumane practices both in public and in private. I still remember my last meeting with him in November 2009 at his home in Swat. During our conversation, Khan showed me an AK-47 assault rifle that was left behind by armed men who ambushed him near his house after he had returned from a meeting with army officials at the Circuit House in Swat.
Khan's family members exchanged fire with the unidentified attackers in the dark of night, and forced them to flee and leave the AK-47 behind. After the restoration of calm (though not peace) to Swat, Khan began to criticize the Pakistani security forces as well as the Taliban, for what he called the army's failure to kill or arrest the Taliban's leadership.
Zahid Khan is now on a hospital bed after receiving severe injuries in an armed attack in August this year. According to police accounts, the unidentified attackers managed to escape. Khan is no longer likely to attend meetings to discuss peace and development in Swat, nor will he be talking to the media.
Two months before the attack on Zahid Khan, armed men gunned down a local leader of the Pakistan Muslim League party in Swat, Muhammad Afzal Khan, spreading fear among Swat's people. While speaking to this writer soon after the attack on Malala Yousafzai, a number of Swat's notable elders and political leaders questioned the role of army troops stationed in the valley, if not to prevent such devastating attacks on civilians.
Just like the outspoken Zahid Khan, Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai were the real voices for peace in Swat; both of them criticized the Taliban for their medieval practices, and the military for not restoring real peace in the valley. Though a shadow Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for attacking Malala, many Swat observers believe that the aim of the shooting was really to silence her father, who is also the spokesman for the Swat Qaumi Jirga.
So what does all this mean for the people of Swat, Pakistan and the wider world, who believed in 2009 that the Taliban, led by Mullah Fazlullah, had been expelled from Swat once and for all? Are the Taliban gradually staging a comeback? "No", said Mukhtar Khan Yousazai, leader of the Swat Qaumi Jirga. But the threat of their return will continue to haunt the people of Swat, who bravely fought back against the ruthless militants by supporting the army in 2009.
To believe that the Taliban cannot regain power in Swat is not without reason. Before the emergence of Mullah Fazlullah, Swat was a modern and well developed district of Pakistan, not because the government of Pakistan carried out exceptional developmental work there, but because it was a tourist destination, and had enjoyed a golden period as the State of Swat until a merger with Pakistan in 1969.
The level of education among Swat's population is higher than several districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Banr Bazaar, the narrow street of two-story houses in Mingora, has been popular for its dancing girls since the period of the princely state. Such was the secular trend among Swatis that one of the rulers of Swat married one of the dancing girls, in an effort to mix the families of musicians and dancing girls into the rest of the population.
Unlike the people of the tribal areas, who are suffering both under the threat of Taliban violence for their non-compliance as well as the fear of arrests and interrogations by the Pakistan army, the people of Swat united more than three years ago to fight back and forced the Pakistani military leadership to carry out a serious operation against the militants. And when the militants were defeated in July 2009, the people rushed back to settle into their villages without giving a second thought to security concerns or the threat of destruction of their houses and businesses in Taliban attacks and army operations.
Further hit and run attacks such as the one carried out on October 9 cannot be ruled out, but a full return or the establishment of a base in any part of the valley by the Taliban seems to be a distant possibility, mainly because the militants have lost support among the population. Their organizational structure has been shattered, their leadership in hiding, and they have been unable to re-establish a single strong base anywhere in Swat.
The questions and concerns of the people of Swat remain, with one question coming above all others: was there any truth to the military's tall claims about the successful military operation? The Swatis also question the role of those hundreds of intelligence operatives and the surveillance devices deployed to spy on local journalists, politicians, notables of the area, and common people.
In addition to the Swatis, other Pakistanis are searching for meaning in the recent back-to-back statements from Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Kayani and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in which they reiterated that the country's security forces are ready "to render any sacrifice" in the fight against extremists.
A similar statement was issued by the Army Chief on Independence Day this year, and the Pakistani nation hoped for a while that their all-powerful military forces now meant business. Nothing came of their promises. But perhaps Malala's cry, which awakened Pakistanis from Khyber to Karachi, will compel the top brass to make a decision. Let's keep our fingers crossed!
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
In recent personal interviews with three would-be suicide bombers aged 15-19, who were caught in April 2010 by security forces in Pakistan, I was told a strikingly different story than one might expect of a Pakistani youth's journey towards militancy. These young men from North Waziristan were not religious, nor motivated by supposedly Islamic ideas, and had no substantial animosity toward the United States or the Pakistan Army - in fact they knew very little about the world outside their small tribe. How, then, were they recruited to carry out something as violent and psychologically traumatic as suicide bombing?
When one of my students at Quaid-e-Azam University, where I am a professor, mentioned that his cousin had been in a militant rehabilitation facility in the Swat valley, I contacted the Pakistan Army's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) to find out if I could interview some of the young men from this rehab center. I was put in touch with three boys who had been released from custody, but were still under surveillance by the loose network of informants the Army's intelligence division maintains in the rugged tribal regions. I interviewed each one of the teenagers separately on June 23, 2012, and had a follow-up group meeting with them on September 10, 2012. No security official was present during our meetings, and the boys seemed comfortable enough to speak freely. They did all request complete anonymity, though, because of the small communities they come from, before describing to me the way they grew up in the tiny villages of Machikhel and Dande Darpa Khel, which some may recognize as the sites of frequent U.S. drone attacks.
The common thread between the lives of these youths was their complete isolation from rest of the Pakistan and from the world at large. The lack of access to TV, Internet, and formal education meant they were almost completely oblivious to such massive events as 9/11, and as such they were unaware of where and what exactly the United States was. One of the boys mentioned that there was only one TV in their entire neighborhood, and even that one didn't work half of the time. Their only access to information was the radio, which has for years been dominated by the jihadists who were using the name of Islam to mobilize the people. They would also listen to the views of their parents, who were concerned about a possible war in Pakistan due to the influx of militants into the local tribes bordering Afghanistan.
The absence of formal, state-run schools in the tribal areas forced the three boys to enroll at local madrassah just as the United States was in the early phases of waging war in Afghanistan. They learned about the war from their teacher, who said that America wanted to destroy Islam and Pakhtun culture. What was more dangerous than hearing such rhetoric was that children were all trained in the madrassah to submit and not question the elders - something that would have serious repercussions later when they were being recruited to be suicide bombers. Despite the propaganda against the United States, one boy recalled, "The anti-American rhetoric didn't bother us too much, since we still hadn't felt the war".
But that all changed when the United States stepped up its drone strikes across the borders inside Pakistan's tribal areas. "My parents' fears became a reality as our areas became unsafe, and we started getting frustrated with the jihadis in the nearby areas. The militants had brought the war to Pakistan, and the tribal people of Pakistan were forced to be a part of it. Those who opposed the militants were murdered, and everyone else was forced to support them by providing either their children to be militants, or by paying for the cause of jihad." After several years of being under the brutal militant rule nobody in the tribal areas, no one wanted their children to be militants fighting an unknown enemy, one of the boys said, so the militants had to find a new strategy of recruiting - by instilling fear in the youth. As one of the boys recalled, "We were taken for a short trip to a wrecked house by a kind man who had been living in our village peacefully for a few months. We were told that the wreckage was caused by a drone strike from the United States that killed women and children. We were taken to several such wreckages every time the drone strike would happen. The sight frightened all of us."
The kids I interviewed mentioned how they were told by the recruiters not to discuss these fears with their family members because they would get scared. "We were told to abandon our houses, leave our parents and siblings in silence, in order to protect them."
However, this was only the first step. What came next in the militant's strategy to transform the youths into suicide bombers is much more disturbing. "For an entire month we were made to watch videos of men raping women, and other such videos that depicted pain, and agony of women at the hands of white men," one of the boys told me. "And we were repeatedly told that this is what the Americans are doing to women on the other side of the border, and precisely what they will do to your women if you don't take up weapons against them. The videos would leave me sleepless at nights - they changed the person I was."
Another young man said, "I would wake up in the middle of the night, desperate to see or call my mother and sister to see if they were safe because of the fear I felt picturing my mother and sister to be in the same situation as those women in the videos. However, we were not allowed to make contact with the family because it would weaken us."
Their families told me that they repeatedly pleaded with the militants in the area to return their children, but to no avail. "We were threatened and told that the kids are working for a noble cause," one of the parents said. "We were offered money to be silent on the topic so that the people in the neighboring tribes wouldn't become cautious of the new recruitment methods."
The stories of these three young men suggest that the upper echelon of militants in Waziristan and other tribal regions of Pakistan might be fighting a religious and ideological battle - at least this is what they present in their narrative - but their recruitment strategy has taken a shift away from the big ideas of pan-Islamism and protecting their religion from the outside world, toward much more psychologically sophisticated techniques to keep the wheel of insurgency in Afghanistan and terrorism in Pakistan turning. Could this shift be a sign of militants losing strength due to the surge in drone strikes? Or of locals' frustration with the militants for bringing the drones to the region, and the increasing difficulty of running operations in those areas?
It appears that youths in the tribal areas who are turning to militancy are not recruited and trained in Islamist fundamentalism and ideas of Islamic jihad in the way militant organizations once did. The idea of the global Islamic cause against the Judea/Christian world doesn't sell in this age of capitalism and self-interest, in which people are more concerned with making ends meet, or rising from their socio-economic class. The works of Syed Qutb, one of the intellectual fathers of modern militant jihadist groups, show precisely this difficulty in mobilizing masses for the cause of Islam. Qutb called on jihadists to mobilize Muslims through the use of powerful sentiments of fear, rather than ideas of Islamism and religion.
What makes it easy for militants to hypnotize these young kids is the lack of exposure the kids have of the world outside their tribe, and the close knit communal structure of the society. With little access to media and to rest of the Pakistan, and no state education, the youth and people in tribal areas live isolated lives. Their naiveté is what makes them vulnerable to militant propaganda - something the allied forces have failed to take into account in their war against terrorism. It was not out of any ideological or religious inclination, but largely due to the isolation of the tribes from rest of the world, that allowed the militants to easily penetrate into these areas, which later became their safe havens. The people on the ground showed very little understanding or knowledge of the events of 9/11 and the "war on terror" when I inquired. They are not allies of the militants, but are caught in the midst of an asymmetric battle between the United States and the militants, a battle in which innocent tribe-members are suffering the most.
The militants have also been able to successfully invoke fear amongst young children by repeatedly showing them rape videos, and telling them how their mothers and sisters will be treated by the "white men." And it was out of this fear of losing their mothers and sisters that the boys I interviewed agreed to become suicide bombers. In their minds, they were out to sacrifice themselves to protect their loved ones, but little did they know of the reality that rest of the world was viewing on TV.
People in the tribal regions have gotten weary of the militants' behavior. As long as the militants were not bothering the locals, villagers allowed them to spread through the region. But now that the same militants are disturbing ordinary lives, the tribal regions are witnessing a wave of anti-militant sentiment. The United States and Pakistan must seize this unique opportunity to flush out militants from their safe havens. By establishing direct links with the locals and filling in the information vacuum, officials can offer the people a different narrative about the "War on Terror" and the United States.
There are hundreds of kids aged 9-21 that are being recruited in a similar way by the militants. As long as the United States and Pakistan do not come up with a counter-radicalization policy that will allow the kids to become more integrated with rest of the Pakistan, and the world at large, it will be hard to stop the wave of insurgency and suicide bombing against both, the Pakistan and the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Hussain Nadim is a faculty member at the Department of Government and Public Policy at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), in Islamabad. He was previously a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
A significant step was taken on Sunday by 20 Afghan political groupings and factions in Kabul to sign a Democratic Charter and announce the formation of a cooperation and coordination council as a prelude to the political transition and presidential elections expected to be held in 2014. This initiative, in the works for weeks, aims to forge a consensus to strengthen democratic governance, assure free and fair elections and act as a pressure point on President Hamid Karzai to commit to electoral reforms and a legitimate process for a peaceful transfer of power when his term ends in less than two years.
While this step will be touted as a show of strong support for a constitutional order and democratic gains made since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, the initiative is also a reflection of deep-seated uncertainty and concern among elites about the political process leading to elections, which coincides with the end-of-mission date for NATO combat troops in 2014 -- and that uncertainty is compounded by weak governance plagued by corruption and dim prospects for reconciliation with diehard Taliban leaders.
Karzai has indicated that he will step down at the end of his second and last term, and intends to abide by the constitution, but his critics are not convinced and point to attempts by members of the president's inner circle to subvert or postpone elections.
Interestingly, the formation of the new council not only garnered the support of most loyal opposition groups, but was also endorsed by several factions that are part of Karzai's ruling coalition in government, including Hezb-i Wahdat under Vice President Karim Khalili, the Hezb-i Islami faction under the current Minister of Economy, A. Hadi Arghadewal, Jamiat-e Islami headed by Salahudin Rabbani (also head of the High Peace Council) , Mehaz-e Mili Islami under Pir S. Ahmad Gailani and Afghan Milat Party headed by current Minister of Commerce, Anwarul Haq Ahadi.
Other groupings and prominent leaders represented in the council - formally named the Cooperation Council of Afghan Political Parties and Alliances (CCAPPA) - include former presidential contender Dr. Abdullah Abdullah of the National Alliance, Hanif Atmar, former interior minister and head of the Right and Justice party, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohamed Mohaqeq of the National Front, Ahmad Wali Massoud, and former chief of national intelligence, Amrullah Saleh.
Describing the country as unstable, insecure and facing "a deep crisis", council members support a political settlement to the on-going conflict. However, they stressed that a reconciliation process needs to be "Afghan-led, comprehensive, just and part of a political process that safeguards constitutional values."
They also expressed strong support for freedom of expression and social justice, as well as women's and minority rights. Fearing that the political system has created a "deepening fissure between the people and the government," they called for an inclusive system that enhances popular participation in the political life of the country.
Probably most significant of all, the council was able to agree on a common platform to deal with a host of election-related challenges that have created angst and heightened suspicions as a result of lukewarm approach to a reform agenda, and new appointments perceived as pre-election political consolidation by a lame duck president and his allies.
Karzai recently reshuffled and replaced 10 governors, a move seen by some as more political in essence than administrative. There are indications that a similar reshuffling may be announced soon, affecting several cabinet positions, part of the judiciary and heads of several key independent state commissions.
Furthermore, a recent comment by first Vice President Qaseem Fahim that elections will not be held at all if security conditions are not permitting, has ruffled feathers and put the opposition in an offensive mode.
The joint statement issued by the council on Sunday not only stressed on the "full independence and neutrality" of the Election (IEC) and Complaints Commissions (ECC), but also requested that measures be taken in order for 1.Elections to be held on time as stipulated by the Constitution; 2. A census to be completed and new national ID cards be issued on time; 3. Voter registration and lists be compiled and the voting system be computerized; 4. Assigning national and international election monitors; 5. Assuring security for elections and 6. Assuring non-interference in the electoral process.
On Monday, a day after the council was formed, the Lower House of parliament voted to reform legislation regulating IEC responsibilities, and allowed two international experts to sit as ECC commissioners, a setback for those who were opposed to international monitoring and adjudication.
With Karzai attending the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this week, he will be hard pressed once he returns to Kabul, either to agree with the demands, seek a compromise, reject them or, as has been the case in the past, ignore such recommendations.
But the buildup of pressure from numerous political heavyweights cannot be easily ignored this time around. The ball is now in Karzai's court, where two contending interest groups around the president - one made up of a small clique of reformists, and the other representing narrow ethnic and financial interests - are at odds over the way forward.
There is talk in Kabul's political bazaar of convening an all-Afghan national assembly to define the contours of a national agenda based on the country's vital interests before all sides engage in electoral contest. If agreed to by all major actors, this idea may constitute a step toward the normalization of relations between the presidential palace, parliament and the loyal opposition, and help level the playing field.
There is little chance, however, for the newly formed council to become a political coalition fielding a single candidate in 2014. Due to different political priorities and platform inconsistencies, the council may prove more useful as a pressure group aiming for electoral reform than as a political vehicle for contesting power.
Cognizant of this, Karzai may be tempted by the palace's narrow interest group to take a hard stance and avoid any compromise, while it uses its leverage through subversive tactics to create an un-even playing field. The prospects for such posturing will not only be detrimental to the political and reconciliation processes, but will also further complicate the NATO withdrawal and transition to a stable and secure Afghanistan.
Omar Samad is Senior Afghanistan Expert at USIP in Washington DC, and a former Afghan Ambassador to France and Canada. The views expressed here are his own.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Revolt is a loaded word, conjuring up images of the Free Syrian Army, the Anbar Awakening, and the Libyan civil war. In small pockets across eastern Afghanistan, however, farmers, shopkeepers and others are taking the fight to the Taliban over the group's abusive tendencies. Though entirely isolated from one another, instances of violent resistance to harsh Taliban rules have spiked this past summer-brought on by school closings in Ghazni, music bans in Nuristan, beheadings in Paktia and murders in Laghman, among other causes. While a small number of Afghans admire the Taliban, most who support it do so because they are coerced, or believe that the group is less predatory than the government, though that's hardly an endorsement. So what precisely does it take for Afghans to stand up to the Taliban, and what are their options?
When I served in eastern Afghanistan as a civilian advisor to the U.S. military, I closely monitored the Taliban's relationship with the local population and discerned a number of red lines the Taliban could not cross, depending on the retaliatory options available to their victims. While working closely with a dozen or so of these nascent rebel groups in Laghman and Nuristan Provinces, I noted that the amount of Taliban abuse most Afghans will endure before considering rebellion in one way or another depends on a number of inter-related factors (incidentally, the calculus for whether Afghans will join the Taliban due to government abuse is similar): the severity of the grievance, the locals' ability to retaliate, and the community's resilience to withstand inevitable counter-attacks if they do rise up. More specifically, they ask:
1. Does this abuse or restriction prevent my family from earning a living or even surviving? ‘Prevent' is the key word here. Afghans will walk an extra five miles every day to avoid a Taliban checkpoint on the way to a bazaar, and as long as they are able to get to the bazaar, the obstacle can be classified as a mere nuisance. If, however, the Taliban is restricting movement to such a degree that there is a threat of being shaken down or attacked every time Afghans leave their home, the Taliban is playing with fire.
2. Does it prevent the men in my family from receiving an education? Again, as long as they get the education, even if the Taliban dictates that Islam should be taught in a certain way, such slights are likely to be overlooked in the face of overwhelming force. Tactful members of the Taliban will usually encourage changes in a ‘dangerously westernizing' curriculum through intimidation but stop short of actually closing them by force, given the value Afghans place on education and their willingness to fight for it.
3. Do I have the support I need (fellow fighters, weapons, fortifications) to retaliate? Afghans make decisions collectively, so if the village elders do not support a counter-attack, it will rarely happen. If an individual retaliates without consulting his elders, he risks becoming a social pariah or being thrown to the wolves when the Taliban comes hunting for payback. When the community does approve, it is usually in the form of revenge for a very specific grievance (such as a murder), targeted accordingly and proportionately to convey to the Taliban that the community does not intend to start a war but rather to secure limited retribution and make it known that a line was crossed. For instance, a specific Talib may be singled out and attacked for a crime he committed. Sometimes the Taliban will allow the retaliation to go unanswered and sometimes they won't. If the retaliation simply entails chasing the Taliban out of an area with sticks, the insurgents are likely to let it slide and come back in a few days as though nothing had happened. Yet frequently the leader of an uprising will be beaten or executed if he is viewed as a threat, rather than simply helping his community blow off a little steam.
4. Do I have the support I need to retaliate continuously and maintain a heightened defense posture indefinitely? If the goal is permanent expulsion of the Taliban or if the community knows any retaliation will be met with a harsh response, they must feel confident that their supply of ammunition and fighters runs deep. Men have to quit work or school and devote all their time to defense; all movement and communication becomes riskier and more costly; intelligence networks of spotters and infiltrators have to be established and maintained; and savings are spent in days on matching the Taliban's capabilities, including makeshift bunkers, RPGs, PKM machine guns and even DSHKA heavy machine guns. If the community lacks the resources or connections to live under siege or project power at least a mile in every direction, they will not survive permanent enmity with the Taliban.
Careful not to push the community too far, the Taliban dances a fine line as well. Abuse the population too little and they won't fear you, but abuse them too much and you give them nothing left to lose. Inevitably, the Taliban either misread the population's redlines or arrogantly exceed them, confident that no one would dare challenge their writ no matter how cruel they are. When faced with a possible rebellion, the Taliban will frequently roll back their demands (re-opening schools, for instance) and the population will resume its previous indulgence of modest though frustrating restrictions, such as the requirement to stay at home at night. And the dance continues.
Ultimately, it is not rare for Afghan civilians to fight the Taliban independent of the government; far harder is sustaining the battle beyond the adrenaline rush of the first few days or weeks. Once a community warns or attacks the Taliban, they become perpetual targets in repeated and intense firefights requiring ample ammunition that most civilians lack. Moreover, any area where the Taliban can exert control is remote and by definition difficult for Afghan and NATO forces to reach, so the concept of ‘back-up' becomes laughable to these minutemen. Once locals retaliate or decide to revolt, then, where do they get help?
Extended family and friends are the first people these fighters ask for assistance. Nearly every family in eastern Afghanistan has at least one very old weapon, typically an AK-47 with maybe one magazine of ammunition-enough for a single brief encounter with the Taliban. Families and friends will loan out these weapons and offer their sons (especially if they are unemployed) to help defend rebel homes and safe houses, sure to come under Taliban fire in the coming months. Next, depending on how reliable and trustworthy local law enforcement is, these fighters will ask for ammunition, sand bags and other supplies from the District Chief of Police, who may give a token offering-despite it being illegal to do so-simply out of sympathy and guilt that he and his men lack the resources to help in any meaningful way.
Next they will ask any senior official in the provincial government who will listen, including the Chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Chief of Police, and the Governor himself. They may make progress here if they are well connected, but the best the rebels can hope for is that powerful provincial figures will call in favors to wealthy civilian colleagues who are in a position to offer money and men to their cause. Alternatively, rebels may get referred to Kabul or to the U.S. military, both of which work jointly on the most legitimate form of assistance any anti-Taliban fighters might secure-namely, sponsorship under the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program or some variant.
In 2010, the Afghan Ministry of Interior developed the ALP to train groups of several hundred local men to secure and defend their own communities, frequently in secluded and key locations that restrict Taliban movement (e.g., at valley mouths). They currently number about 16,000 with an additional 14,000 planned before the drawdown of NATO's ISAF combat forces in 2014. In contrast to other Afghan police units deployed to these areas from elsewhere, these men have a greater stake in their community's security and superior knowledge of its people and terrain. The program has been hailed by ISAF as a key ingredient to stabilizing volatile areas where traditional military and police are unable to patrol, while human rights groups have lambasted it as simply the latest installment of predatory government-sponsored militias in Afghanistan.
Regardless, Afghans and particularly members of nascent uprisings are clamoring for ALP sponsorship as the next logical step in permanently expelling the Taliban, insistent the program is the perfect mix of local initiative and distant governmental support. When I met with leaders of these rebel groups, for instance, they would frequently mention ALP before I even learned their full names. Most rebels are banking on support of some kind from their government, but many are surprised and dismayed to learn that Kabul either won't or can't help, despite their shared goal of defeating the Taliban and the government's terrible track record of going it alone.
The ALP waitlist is long and subject to many months of preparation, horse-trading, ethnic rivalries and personality clashes at the provincial and national levels. Because it takes many months to get an ALP unit off the ground (even after it has been approved in Kabul), the U.S. military also relies on a number of ad hoc substitutes or precursors to the ALP, which allows ISAF to fill a security void without as much red tape. As with the ALP, the results of these programs vary considerably, with some securing the population and others exploiting it. In the last year, most U.S. efforts have been shut down by President Karzai, who sees these groups as a threat and competitor to Afghan forces. Regardless, most ‘uprisings' fail to secure any kind of sponsorship, as neither Kabul nor ISAF have the resources or flexibility to offer anything of substance to such a large number of groups in equal need. That Special Operations Command recently suspended all ALP training for a month to better screen for infiltration threats only furthers the backlog, though for an entirely justifiable reason.
Ironically, despite the widespread resentment of the Afghan government, there is no shortage of local minutemen begging for support simply because-for many of them-the government is the only game in town. Yet there are some uprisings that are refusing Kabul's assistance, even when it is forthcoming. At first glance, of course, any group that can fight the Taliban without government support frees up resources for other much-needed efforts, but there is a dreaded word in Afghanistan for civilian groups of fighters with well-stocked armories-militias-and they typically behave like the Taliban with a different name.
This summer's uprising in Ghazni, for instance, has been so overwhelmed by factionalism, co-option and internal conflict that it has become a case study in the perils of encouraging the wrong rebellion.
[Continue reading David H. Young's analysis of the Ghazni uprising here]
David H. Young is a conflict resolution expert based in Washington, DC, and was a civilian advisor to the US Army in eastern Afghanistan. His website is www.justwars.org.
Over the past decade U.S. drone strikes have killed between 1,800 and 3,100 people in Pakistan, along with hundreds more in drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia, as a result of the United States' efforts to combat al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The rise in strikes since the beginning of the Obama administration, and the growing stridency of questions surrounding the legal, moral, and practical efficacy of the program, have led to a lively debate among the commentariat. This debate is indeed important, but it is also crucial to understand how the drone program has affected the jihadis, and how jihadis have deployed the issue of drones in their propaganda. This is a necessary part of gaining a wider understanding of whether the program is a worthwhile endeavor.
Surprisingly, one does not see much discussion of drones by al-Qaeda Central (AQC), or by the Taliban (though it is possible that individuals in these groups are talking more about this in face-to-face encounters than online). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), on the other hand, has exploited the drone issue extensively in the newsletter put out by their front group, Ansar al-Shari'ah (AS). As a result, question of whether drones are drawing more individuals into the arms of AQAP has been raised frequently in the past year.
In the documents collected by Navy SEALs during their raid of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan last May, bin Laden nicknamed Pakistan's tribal areas the "circle of espionage" for the network of spies that helps identify targets and place tracking devices for the strikes. The issue of spies has become so prevalent that Abu Yahya al-Libi wrote a book in 2009 regarding rulings on how they should be treated and prosecuted once captured.
The fear of infiltrators has created an atmosphere of paranoia within the jihadi movement, and has led many of al-Qaeda's operatives in the Pakistani tribal areas to move to more urban areas like Karachi. In one of bin Laden's Abbottabad documents, he advises the "brothers" with "media exposure" to move "away from aircraft photography and bombardment." Bin Laden also suggested that individuals flee to Afghanistan's Kunar province, where he thought they would be safer from the spy networks that have supported the drone campaign.
In the same document that bin Laden suggested his associates move, he also warned that even if one is in a safer place, one should still be cognizant that spies are lurking. The drone danger has also forced the Taliban to think twice about which journalists they meet with. A local Taliban leader remarked to Pakistani journalist Pir Zubair Shah: "You never know who is a reporter and who is a spy." But even if drone strikes provoke a higher level of distrust of outsiders (which itself is a normal characteristic of a terrorist or insurgent group), it does not appear to have hindered the Taliban's ability to project power into Afghanistan over the past few years. Many individuals look to the Taliban's shadow shari'ah courts for solving disputes, and the Taliban has been collecting taxes at the local level.
Frequent drone strikes in northwest Pakistan have also degraded al-Qaeda's ability to train individuals over long periods of time. In the past, AQC could spend a month (if not longer) training an operative in bomb making. In some cases, such training lasts as little as a few days now. Abbreviated training is less effective. Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, received five days of training in the tribal areas with AQC's affiliate the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This lack of training proved decisive when Shahzad's bomb malfunctioned and he was spotted acting suspiciously.
Similarly, AQAP has been forced to change the locations of their training camps. The move to more mountainous areas like Ibb and al-Daleh provinces came about because AQAP was exposed to airstrikes when they had been training in Radaa directorate. Like the Taliban, however, AQAP has still been able to plot large-scale attacks against the West - even if they have failed - as well as occupy towns locally. And although there have yet to be any extensive academic studies on the wider effects of the drones in Yemen, Patrick B. Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi concluded in a working paper that the drones in Pakistan have actually decreased suicide attacks across the country.
Although AQC and the Taliban have been under severe drone pressure for the past several years, they have said little about the strikes in the propaganda they release. When eulogizing Abu al-Layth al-Libi in 2008 after he was killed in a drone attack, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid described the drones as cowardly, since the United States did not confront him on the battlefield, but rather in a manner of "treachery and betrayal." More recently, Ayman al-Zawahiri called in a message directed toward Pakistanis in March for them to rise up against the government and "compel them to stop drone strikes."
Unlike AQC and the Taliban, AQAP has only seen frequent drone attacks for the past year and a half, but AQAP has exploited the issue extensively in their media work. (It should be noted that the United States has also used cruise missiles in attacking AQAP and al-Shabab operatives. There have been claims that what have been reported as Yemeni airstrikes have really been drones, and vice versa). AQAP has been especially active in highlighting the achievements of its counter-spy networks. In February 2012, AQAP sentenced three spies - two Yemenis and a Saudi - to death in a shari'ah court in Ja'ar. They had allegedly been placing tracking devices on cars for drone targeting. One of the individuals was killed in Azzan by way of crucifixion while another was shot at point blank range in Shabwa as a circle of men cheered. The execution was shown in a video as part of AS' "Eyes on the Event" series. This was not only a message to the locals to deter them from becoming spies, but also a way for AQAP to show the United States and Saudi Arabia that they were bringing the war back to them.
In addition to highlighting civilian casualties and showing pictures of dead children, AQAP has used critical analysis of the drone program from individuals in the West to gain sympathy for their plight. In issue nineteen of Ansar al-Shari'ah's newsletter they write an exposé on Obama's "crusade." In it, AS points out the "signature strike" policy, which allows the United States to target individuals based on behavioral patterns without actually identifying the individual: "Hellfire missiles ... troll the skies of Yemen to kill ... in cold blood and without accountability, as usual!" In the past, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen has pointed out that signature strikes pose the danger of targeting and killing individuals that are not members of or associated with AQAP. In issue three of the newsletter, AS also questions the United States' commitment to the rule of law in light of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son Abdul Rahman in a U.S. drone strike "without charging them [Anwar and his son] with a single crime."
Some analysts believe there could be blowback from the drone program from AQAP, which might be encouraged to plan a revenge attack on the United States. AQAP hinted at this in the eulogy for Fahd al-Quso, who was killed in a drone strike in May this year: "war between us is not over and the days are pregnant [and] will give birth to something new."
While the militant response to drone strikes in Yemen remains to be seen, there is scant evidence that drones strikes have been mobilizing AQC to conduct attacks in response. After Faisal Shahzad's Times Square plot failed, he told investigators that one of his primary motivations had been the increased pace of drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal belt. Al-Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri was also reportedly frustrated over the drone strikes in the tribal areas, leading him to plan an attack on the CEO of Lockheed Martin, according to the testimony of prior associate David Headley, a key operative in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But besides Shahzad's failed attack and Kashmiri's aspirational plan drone strikes do not appear to be the primary reason why al-Qaeda, its branches, and its affiliates are plotting attacks against the United States.
During the Obama administration, drone strikes have taken out many top al-Qaeda, AQAP, and Taliban leaders, and killed hundreds of mid-level fighters. The losses have pushed these militant groups to establish counter-spy networks, as well as beef up their operational security. Al-Qaeda Central's ability to operate in Pakistan has been severely degraded. At the same time, the drone campaign does not appear to have had an appreciable impact on AQAP or the Taliban - both still show the ability to plan attacks against the United States (either into Afghanistan for the Taliban or against the American homeland for AQAP) and still have influence in their local areas of operation. Defeating these groups with drones is unlikely, but the strikes have at the very least created a nuisance for the militants, as well as prevented more invasive military action that might have otherwise occurred. There are still lingering questions on whether or not the drones have played a significant role in radicalizing a new generation of fighters, but understanding how the drones are affecting and changing these groups can provide new perspective on a vexing challenge.
Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
Ethan Miller//Getty Images
Paul Ryan's views are evolving with his time on the Republican ticket. And while most attention has gone to his opinions and policy prescriptions on domestic issues, most notably Medicare and the federal budget, he also has moved closer to his presidential candidate's position on the war that won't be named: Afghanistan.
No candidate - neither President Barack Obama, nor Mitt Romney, has wanted to devote significant policy airtime to the unpopular war in Afghanistan, which polls show 60 percent of Americans see as "not worth its costs." The president, when he mentions Afghanistan, focuses on his role in "winding down the war in Afghanistan," a conflict the AP recently called America's "forgotten war" and which has now claimed 2,000 American lives.
Romney has struggled on the campaign trail to differentiate his position on Afghanistan from the president's, but in a recent interview with TIME he said that while he agreed with the decision to send a "surge" of troops to Afghanistan and to bring all troops home by 2014, he "would not have announced publicly the withdrawal date of the end of 2014." In other words, he agreed with the date, but would not have shared it. Romney also said he would have started the drawdown of surge forces this December, rather than September, to give the military another fighting season with more forces at the ready. And Romney asserted he would have given US military leaders the additional 40,000 troops they requested in 2009, rather than sending 30,000, as the president decided.
Ryan, in among his first foreign policy comments with his presidential candidate, channeled Romney in New Hampshire this week.
"The president, in my opinion, has made decisions that are more political in nature than military in nature," Ryan said, in comments noted by ABC News' Emily Friedman. "A drawdown occurring in the middle of a fighting season when we are still giving our military the same mission, we don't want to do something that would put them in jeopardy. We want them to fulfill the mission in the safest way possible and that, to me, means you make decisions based on what is right for the country, for our national security and let our men and women serving in our armed forces do their job in the safest possible way. Period. End of story. Elections notwithstanding."
And in 2009, Ryan wrote that the "President deserves credit for adopting an urgently needed counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan," but "I am deeply troubled by the President's decision to publically announce a time limit dictating troop withdrawal."
In the recent past, however, Ryan's views on the war have not strayed far from Obama's policy. In fact, they have sounded much closer to Vice President Joe Biden's push for "counter-terrorism plus," a strategy that calls for fewer U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan, in combination with a focus on drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets and training the Afghan security forces. Though Ryan has supported the president's decisions on Afghanistan, he also has echoed the widespread voter skepticism about the war's ultimate objectives.
"What matters to us is our national security and that is, are we going to make sure that this place doesn't become another hotbed for terrorism?" Ryan said to a local Wisconsin radio station in a March interview. "We can do that with a very limited footprint, special forces working with tribes who hate the Taliban as well. We can deny safe haven for Al Qaeda terrorist in Afghanistan without the kind of enormous sacrifice in troop numbers and money that we are dedicating now."
Continued Ryan, "I think that there is a great consensus in Congress, Republicans and Democrats, that the President is on the right timetable, that he has given the right timeline to have what we would define as an ultimate victory."
As the campaign winds on, look for the ‘forgotten war' to remain so. But when it does surface, it's unlikely Ryan will praise Obama for coming up with the "right timeline" again. Now that Romney has found the ground upon which he will stake his differences with the president on the war in Afghanistan, he will certainly make room for Ryan to join him.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
A beat was missed on U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon's late July visit to Beijing. Described in the Chinese press as a "fire extinguisher visit," it came as tensions continue to ratchet up in the South China Sea and the United States continues to butt heads with China over Iran, Syria and theoretical war plans. These disputes obscure the one area with scope for much greater cooperation between China and the United States: Afghanistan. Building on mutual goals in Afghanistan could have a positive effect on the overall relationship, showing that the distance between the two sides is not the Pacific-sized gulf that it is sometimes made out to be.
In discussions with Chinese officials about their objectives, the uniform answer is "a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan." This is almost identical to answers given by their American counterparts. That said, there is a difference in tone that reflects the underlying concerns that craft it.
For Beijing, Afghanistan is primarily a domestic problem. With a common border in the sometimes lawless Wakhan Corridor, what happens in Afghanistan can potentially spill over into some of China's most sensitive spots. This past spring, we visited China's border in Wakhan and witnessed the ease with which militants or smugglers can cross over. Even if trouble from Afghanistan does not cross directly into Chinese territory it is likely to have a destabilizing effect in Central Asia to the north, and Pakistan to the south. China has invested heavily in both, and both have strong trade and cultural links to China's underdeveloped and at times restive Xinjiang province. Beijing's interest in Afghanistan turning out positively is first and foremost about China's internal cohesion.
For Washington, the problem of Afghanistan is physically far away. The decision has been made to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, so the discussion is no longer what to do about the country, but how to exit in a dignified manner. What security concerns the United States continues to have will be covered by the residual force left behind, but the overriding priority is for the draw down from Afghanistan to not descend into chaos as soon as the majority of American and NATO forces leave. In our recent visit to Kabul, we could not help but note the principal focus of U.S. officials on this one goal. Washington's interest in Afghanistan turning out positively is about leaving behind a country more hopeful than when U.S. forces arrived.
This clear confluence has led American diplomats to encourage their Chinese counterparts to invest in Afghanistan's future. Beijing has responded in its own way. Chinese state owned enterprises (SOEs) have invested in a copper mine southeast of Kabul at Mes Aynak and an oil field in Amu Darya. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is seriously looking into a trans-Afghan natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China that does not necessarily rival U.S.-backed plans for a similar line to Pakistan and India.
China's engagement is not only economic. It made Afghanistan an ‘observer' member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at its June summit. While in Beijing, President Karzai also signed a strategic partnership agreement with his Chinese counterpart. Last week, China's Central Military Commission publically called for closer ties with the Afghan Defense Ministry.
There is also increasing evidence of low-profile cooperation with the United States on the ground in Afghanistan. There have been joint U.S.-China training programs for Afghan diplomats, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton providing a recorded message to open one session. Beijing has also indicated that it would be willing to provide counter-terrorism training for Afghan forces, coordinated with U.S. efforts. Chinese officials we spoke to in Beijing and Kabul were quick to downplay their potential role in the future of Afghanistan. But, their actions show that they understand the regional implications of the looming U.S. withdrawal.
A neighbor will always be more aware of the blighted house next door than will someone living across town. The limited collaboration between American and Chinese officials on the ground in Afghanistan is a pragmatic and sensible step. Their principals in Beijing and Washington should support them by discussing the modalities of a partnership for Afghanistan's future.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Alexandros Petersen is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West. Their joint research can be found at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
Terrorism watchers are engaged in a heated debate about the strength of al-Qaeda, the central leadership of which is believed to be in Pakistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has claimed that al-Qaeda's "strategic defeat" is within reach, a message that was amplified by prominent analyst Peter Bergen's proclamation that it is time to declare victory over the group.
Though this debate is unlikely to be resolved soon, it suffers from an under-theorized argument. How resilient is a network like al-Qaeda? How much attrition can it endure? Often, claims related to such questions represent assumptions about al-Qaeda's resiliency, but lack an overarching framework. A new monograph by one of the U.S. Army's most innovative thinkers may shed light on this debate. Recently published by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), Lt. Col. Derek Jones's Understanding the Form, Function, and Logic of Clandestine Insurgent and Terrorist Networks is of relevance far beyond the debate about this one organization, albeit an organization that has dominated the past decade of the U.S.'s national-security priorities. Yet it is also an important read for thinkers who desire a more contextualized assessment of al-Qaeda in 2012. (Full disclosure: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross knows Lt. Col. Derek Jones personally, having first become acquainted with him at a Special Operations Command-hosted conference in the fall of 2009.)
Jones, having observed the rise of "counter-network" military theories, analyzes whether these theories correctly understand the nature of the threat posed by twenty-first century violent non-state actors-and whether counter-network operations have been as effective as many theorists believe. (For one review of counter-network theories, see this article by David Tucker.)
Given the advances in communication technology that were well underway before the 9/11 attacks, it is natural that many counter-network theorists have employed models explicitly rooted in the information age. Many theorists thought of al-Qaeda and other contemporary violent non-state actors as social networks much like those observed on the Internet.
Jones rejects the idea that the information age has caused revolutionary changes to clandestine networks. To be sure, they have evolved: al-Qaeda represents the first violent non-state actor capable of posing a truly global challenge at a strategic level to a superpower nation-state. But he points to a phenomenon that captions the way new technologies can fundamentally change groups like al-Qaeda: as networks employ such technologies more frequently, risks grow "due to the increase in electronic and cyber signatures, which puts those types of communications at risk of detection by governments." Instead, al-Qaeda employed traditional tradecraft to avoid detection: recall that the U.S. tracked down Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound by following a courier. This older tradecraft in turn "slows their rate of communication down, thus denying the information-age theorists the monolithic, information-aged, networked enemy that they have portrayed since 9/11."
If information-age theorists aren't getting it quite right, what kind of network is al-Qaeda? To answer this question, we need to understand the mechanisms by which its own theorists expect to defeat us.
Historically, the overt and visible parts of a guerrilla group are not the most important components. Instead, look to the clandestine underground. It is a well-worn adage that, by slowly eroding the opponent's will, a guerrilla network "wins by not losing."
Of course, this network doesn't require mere survival in order to win, but must also maintain the ability to mount attacks. However, as Lukas Milevski notes in a perceptive essay for the Royal United Services Journal, the network need not win outright through battles: battle avoidance can effectively deprive counterinsurgent forces of the control they desire. Hence the truth behind the observation that the United States won all of the battles in Vietnam but lost the war. If a military power cannot use battle to annihilate an adversary, nor push the cost of war beyond what its irregular adversary can afford, it cannot gain strategic control over an important territory or outcome. But to outlast a superior foe, the irregular enemy must first minimize its vulnerabilities to attrition.
Unfortunately for us, al-Qaeda long ago understood how to lessen its organizational signature.
The Anti-Social Network
Jones argues that al-Qaeda and similar groups are clandestine cellular networks, rather than information-age social networks. They are clandestine in that they are designed to be out of sight; and they are cellular in that they are compartmentalized to minimize damage when enemy neutralizes some portion of the network.
Social networks are open, and expand by multiplying their connections. They use open tools, and have small transaction costs. Occupy Wall Street, for example, used social media extensively to build a network stretching across many cities. While connection is beneficial for an open political movement, it can be fatal to a terrorist group. So a clandestine network functions radically differently from a social network. We use Facebook to make ourselves more connected, but al-Qaeda's network survives by limiting connections and compartmentalizing information.
Compartmentalization takes two forms. First, at a cell level, a minimum of personal information is known about other cell members. Second, there is strategic compartmentalization between different elements within the organization. Counterinsurgents can capture one person in a cell without destroying the cell itself; and in cases where cell members must interact directly, structural compartmentalization attempts to ensure that the cell cannot be exploited to target other cells or leaders.
The U.S. Army's Special Operations Forces doctrine recognizes three components of an insurgency: the auxiliary, the underground, and the guerrillas. The guerrillas are the fighters. The underground is responsible for command and control, logistics, subversion, and intelligence. The auxiliary is "the clandestine support personnel, directed by the underground which provides logistics, operational support, and intelligence collection to both the underground and the guerrillas."
If insurgencies grow to the point that they are "near-peer competitors to the state," they begin to take on characteristics of a conventional force. Secrecy is traded for efficiency, and building networks rather than cells becomes important. But should insurgencies suffer defeat at this stage, their hidden component-the underground-is designed to survive and regenerate the network.
While al-Qaeda aspires to being a near-peer competitor to the nation-state, it has only reached this point in a few theaters where multiple challenges confront the traditional government. In the vast majority of places where the jihadi group has a presence, it operates as a network of compartmentalized cells.
Such networks are largely decentralized at the tactical level, but have more hierarchical control at the strategic level. The core leadership may be an individual, with numerous deputies, or it may be a coordinating committee. But without centralized control, the network cannot effectively develop a strategy for action. The network's leadership can replace members of the tactical cells easily, but it is harder to replace core members. However, a strong network will ensure redundancy in key areas, so that the group remains viable even if its leaders are captured or killed.
Mistaking Appearances for Reality
Jones writes that counterinsurgents routinely mistake the more overt parts of an insurgency-which can be easily replaced-for the clandestine cells that generate them. But some of the seemingly spontaneously generating cells may say less about the supposedly decentralized nature of a network than it does about the clandestine leadership's ability to hold itself out of view and recover from seemingly fatal reverses.
The more contact that cells have with counterinsurgents and counterterrorists, the more adept they are at defeating interrogation procedures, protecting their own information, and feeding false information to their enemies. Survival creates a Darwinian cycle in which the core members of an insurgency can adapt, learn, and advance.
If there is one weakness in Jones's study, it is, as he acknowledges, that it is based largely on Cold War insurgencies and newer insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. From these we can draw inferences about the covert dynamics of al-Qaeda and other Islamist cells outside of war zones-but more study remains to be done.
Overall, though, this is an extremely valuable study. Its most troubling implication is that al-Qaeda may be well positioned to recover from its losses. As Jones argues, the form, function, and logic of this organization are designed to maximize its chances of survival, and thus "the removal of single individuals, regardless of function, is well within the tolerance of this type of organizational structure and thus has little long-term effect." This point is almost certainly overstated as applied to leaders like bin Laden or effective ideologues like Anwar al-Awlaki. Nonetheless, the powerful point remains that the logic of organizations like al-Qaeda is such that their ability to recover from leadership and other losses is maximized.
Is al-Qaeda's network core still intact? Most specialists would answer yes. If they are right, al-Qaeda may be able to opportunistically re-grow new cells when it is safe, or when public opinion is more favorable.
Most crystal balls are disturbingly cloudy, and only time will tell how well Jones's study predicts the course that the admittedly weakened core of al-Qaeda will chart. However, Jones offers a persuasive framework for approaching the issue. He thus raises a significant challenge to those arguing that al-Qaeda has been defeated, and offers great insight to others studying twenty-first century violent non-state actors.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Ph.D. candidate in world politics at the Catholic University of America, and the author of eleven books and monographs, including Bin Laden's Legacy. Adam Elkus is a Ph.D. student at American University in the School of International Service and an editor at the Red Team Journal. He is also an Associate at the Small Wars Journal's El Centro profile, and blogs at Rethinking Security.
There is talk of civil war in the mountains of Khost, the fields of the Helmand River Valley, and on the streets of Kabul. With 2014 looming, Afghans, journalists, diplomats, and military officers alike are wondering what the future holds for this troubled country straddling the Hindu Kush.
Will there be civil war or not? In a recent report I co-authored with Scott Bates for the Center for National Policy, we pointed to civil war and the related problem of security force fragmentation as two of the biggest risks Afghanistan faces. Dexter Filkins penned a persuasive essay in the New Yorker full of vivid details about the factional and ethnic rivalries within the Afghan National Army (ANA) and among its glut of militias. One of his interview subjects memorably remarked:
This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government. Mir Alam will take Kunduz. Atta will take Mazar-e-Sharif. Dostum will take Sheberghan. The Karzais will take Kandahar. The Haqqanis will take Paktika. If these things don't happen, you can burn my bones when I die.
Another journalist, Robert Dreyfuss, insists that such dire predictions are foolhardy. Citing Afghanistan's former Ambassador to France and Canada, Omar Samad, he argues that Afghans will look into the abyss, lean back, and compromise.
However, people on both sides of this debate are missing the forest for the trees. This misperception begins with our collective failure to take Afghanistan's history seriously.
We often act and talk as if Afghan history began on 9/11, but our reaction to al Qaeda's attacks was an intervention in a long-standing and still-unresolved civil war.
It began over thirty years ago, when the Khalq faction of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the regime of President Mohammad Daud Khan in 1978 and instituted a series of far-reaching radical reforms that sparked rebellion across the country. Against their better judgment, the Soviets occupied the country in support of their beleaguered communist allies, inflaming conflict, which saw seven main mujahideen parties supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a host of Arab volunteers pitted against the Soviets and the PDPA, who were also divided into two factions.
The mujahideen parties fought each other almost as much as the infidels. The "national" character of these parties was always a screen for a myriad of local conflicts over water, land, tribe, sect, ethnicity, prestige and power.
The Afghan civil war can be divided into different phases. The first was the nascent period of unorganized rebellion that followed the overthrow of Daud Khan. The second phase witnessed the gradual organization of the rebels into the Peshawar Seven and the introduction of Soviet troops. These troops withdrew in 1989 and the mujahideen parties turned on each other along with various quasi-government militias, marking the third phase. The regime of President Najibullah held onto pockets of the country and Kabul. Then the Afghan security forces buckled as Soviet largess vanished into history. Kabul fell in 1992 and the mujahideen continued to fight each other for supremacy, beginning the fourth phase. The Afghans looked into the abyss and jumped straight in.
The fifth phase saw the Taliban - a movement led by mujahideen veterans - storm through the south, take Kabul, and come to a stalemate with the Northern Alliance, a coalition dominated by members of Jamiat-i-Islami. The sixth phase began with Western intervention and the toppling of the Taliban regime in Kabul in response to 9/11. And the current phase has witnessed a return to rebellion, with the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, and Jalaluddin Haqqani's network battling the American-supported regime. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has reprised its role in the Soviet-Afghan War, now sponsoring and directing rebellion against an American-led coalition.
The leaders of the current rebel movements are rooted in the Peshawar Seven. Taliban leader Mullah Omar fought the Soviets in the south as a part of Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami. Gulbuddin, an old rival of Ahmad Shah Massoud, has been causing trouble ever since he took to throwing acid at the faces of unveiled women and brawling with rival student activists at the University of Kabul in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Hizb-i-Islami fought Jamiat-i-Islami and others for control of Kabul in the early 1990s. Haqqani cut his teeth fighting Daud Khan in the 1970s and as a mujahideen commander under Mohammad Yunus Khalis in the 1980s.
And we see the same cast of characters elsewhere. The same mujahideen and government officials who were fighting for God and/or country, selling narcotics, and committing atrocities since the 1970s are some of our closest friends and allies in the war's current phase.
There are differences in scale between these phases in terms of ferocity of combat and destruction, flows of internally displaced persons and refugees, as well as the numbers of casualties. Estimates of casualty and, to a lesser extent, refugee figures in the last thirty years of war vary widely.
In 1978, an estimated 40,000 Afghans were killed, followed by 80,000 in 1979. By 1987, less than a decade after the Soviets entered the conflict directly between 1 and 1.5 million Afghans had been killed in the war. This represents about 9% of the entire Afghan population, which is higher proportionally than the deaths suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II. Losses were more than twice as high among refugees, who were often more vulnerable to attack, disease, infection, and starvation than those who remained in their villages. By the Soviet withdrawal, there were 6.2 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan.
During the 1990s, estimates of civilians killed range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands as the mujahideen fought over territory. Much of Kabul was reduced to rubble as various mujahideen commanders fought from neighborhood to neighborhood.
In 2001, different tallies claim somewhere between several thousand and 20,000 Afghans were killed as a result of the American-led intervention. Casualties dipped between 2002 and 2005. Since 2006, over 12,000 Afghan civilians have been killed due to the war. Most of these have been killed by the insurgency. These figures were increasing over the last few years, but have dropped in 2012. Regardless, they still pale in comparison to the 80s and likely the early and mid-1990s as well. More than 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, but 2.5 million Afghan refugees remain, mostly in neighboring countries.
But war is not only a balance sheet of death and destruction. It is a political activity in which force is assessed to be an appropriate means by which to pursue political interests.
The underlying political disagreements, factional rivalries, toxic personalities, and Pakistani interventions and proxies that have been driving war in Afghanistan remain unresolved. The modern bureaucratic system that Western technocrats have willed into existence has not sufficiently vested Afghans in non-violent politics. Afghanistan is already divided into fiefdoms. An ocean of money and the American-led occupation force are all that holds them all together. Both will soon get much smaller.
So the question of whether or not Afghanistan will devolve into civil war after 2014 is the wrong one. The civil war will, of course, only continue. The question is, what will the next phase look like and how can we shape it for the better?
The greatest risk and most likely outcome is the fragmentation of the Afghan National Security Forces. The biggest danger is posed by the divisions within the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan Local Police (ALP) destabilizing the larger security force institutions. Most of the personnel in both of these forces are deployed in or near their home districts.
And like politics, all civil war is local.
The Nahr-e-Saraj police force in Helmand, for example, is divided between competing narcotics thugs, former Hizb-i-Islami fighters, former communists, and their children all of whom share a history of rivalry, murder, war, and hatred that have barely been contained over the last several years. Different ALP militias in Central Helmand also hail from different factions. Once their special operations mentors withdraw, they may begin to clash with each other, the ANP, and the ANA.
As long as the United States and its allies stay abreast of these factional politics, they can mitigate -- but not avoid -- this fragmentation through proactive in-country diplomacy, firm mentoring, and appropriate mechanisms for the distribution of funding and supplies. ALP militias must be integrated into the Afghan National Police now rather than later. As the ALP force currently stands, it poses an unacceptable risk to the long-term integrity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The trouble is, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not been systemically mapping these factional conflicts down to the local level and incorporating this information into their planning. ISAF, the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, and the US Embassy in Kabul should create a large and mobile cell of officers, diplomats, aid officials, analysts. This cell would be tasked with traveling around Afghanistan and achieving a granular understanding of the local conflicts that are driving the war and threaten to tear the ANSF and the country apart.
What will the next phase of civil war hold? How many will die? Despite the thousands dead over the last decade, the current phase pales in comparison to the 80s and early 90s. Afghans may come to remember the last ten years as the orange slice in the middle of the soccer match. Some in Washington and London have vested hope in negotiations, but there is little evidence for optimism on that front.
Afghanistan is no longer a counterinsurgency problem. Most foreign troops will be heading for the exits over the next two years. Only by taking its politics and history seriously down to the local level will we be able to help ensure sufficient stability as the International Security Assistance Force itself becomes history.
Ryan Evans is a Research Fellow at the Center for National Policy.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst and the editor of the AfPak Channel, sat down with Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post, to talk about his new book Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. Listen here as they discuss whether the American surge strategy worked, the factors hampering Afghanistan's development, Richard Holbrooke's impact on peace talks with the Taliban, and the state of those talks today.
This video was originally published by the New America Foundation here.
The Afghan political system is broken, just as the country finds itself juggling multiple political and security challenges. Among the most pressing is ensuring the transition of power from President Hamid Karzai to a capable successor by 2014. Getting this right will go a long way toward salvaging U.S.-led efforts over the past decade. Unfortunately, with Kabul torn apart by infighting and factionalism, the prospects of succeeding are bleak.
The 2014 election has started to engender a new view of politics in Afghanistan under an incredibly curious public, the skeleton of democratic rule, and a vibrant, if not particularly well-trained media. Karzai has repeatedly stated that he will not seek another term in office and that he is looking to find a successor to stand for elections in two years' time - one that would be acceptable to the Afghan people and tough with allies. Many names have been floated as possible candidates, ranging from Karzai's own brother to some of his close aides and confidantes. While questions remain about what Karzai will actually do, it is clear that a failure to hold free and fair elections could easily contribute to further unrest across the country. If President Karzai handpicks a successor, it will most likely compromise the legitimacy of that succession. A disputed leadership could lead to Afghanistan's security forces splintering along ethnic lines, a situation that other regional actors might exploit for their own interests.
This dismal scenario is avoidable. But it would require Afghan leaders - irrespective of their political and ethnic affiliation - including President Karzai, to put aside their perceived differences, compromise, and settle on two or three vetted candidates acceptable to all sides ahead of the election. As it is said, "politics makes strange bedfellows," so the incentive for Afghan leaders to come together and compromise, however perverse it may appear, should be quite clear: If doing it for the "good of the country" is not enough of an incentive, then not doing it directly puts at risk the power, money, and personal security these players have not deserved but largely enjoyed over the years. Over the long-term, Afghanistan needs issues-based political parties with viable candidates, but this goal would be impossible to pull off before the next elections. A compromise on a shortlist of presidential nominees would mark a real turning point that could also reduce the prospect of electoral fraud. However, the level of uncertainty that presently dominate opinions of Kabul's politically influential proves that taking the necessary risks required for vetting and uniting over a handful of candidates very unlikely. The feasibility of this prospect is contingent as much upon the loyal opposition - including members of the erstwhile Northern Alliance - as upon Karzai himself.
In the absence of alternative mechanisms, one way of commanding greater political legitimacy would be the convening of a Loya Jirga. The Jirga - an old social institution representative of all Afghans often convened to resolve disputes or reach consensus on major events - could serve as a mechanism to vet and approve presidential nominees and also establish the ground rules for reconciliation with the Taliban. The delegates to the Jirga must be chosen through district-level elections - similar to the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) that ratified the new Afghan Constitution in 2003 - and must include members of Afghanistan's both lower and upper houses. President Karzai was an unknown figure until the Loya Jirga settled on him as an interim leader in 2002. The unanimous support Karzai received from the Jirga for finalizing the recently signed U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement is equally noteworthy.
The United States and its European partners have also earned a responsibility to ensure that the 2014 elections are credible and legitimate. However, the election clause embedded in the U.S.-Afghan strategic pact and reiterated in the recent Tokyo conference Declaration now directly impedes "interference" - by foreign governments in Afghan elections - specifically foreign embassies supporting one political candidate or party over another. One way to respect the agreement and still ensure free and fair elections would be to employ a robust independent international election monitoring and observers' mission under the United Nation's auspices and direct supervision. This will not only avoid violating the agreement but will also dismiss concerns of the United States' so-called "kingmaker" or "Big Brother" role controlling internal matters in Afghanistan.
The lack of issues-based parties and candidates in Afghanistan, as noted above, is a major deterrent to the country's long-term political development. At present, while Afghanistan's electoral system clearly mandates voting for independent candidates and not political parties, there are still over 90 registered parties in the country. Nearly all of the parties carry a history of factional splits, ethnic politics and oft-changing alliances. Factions that do form alliances are often in search of a military advantage and not a "soft" political consensus. Most of the parties are small, lack sufficient resources and funding, and often pursue and promote factional and ethnic politics. Most importantly, the bulk of the parties in Afghanistan lack a systematic political role, a clear national vision and mandate, and thus most are largely useless. Those candidates who do win seats in Afghan Parliament and the Provincial Councils are, for the most part, people with strong support from the grassroots, not political parties.
Nevertheless, political parties have shown progress in recent years. Many parties are fielding candidates and many candidates are now showing their affiliation to political parties. The United States and the European allies must capitalize on this opportunity by making them credible political players. This can be done, among other things, by building their capacities through election training and education, providing them with necessary resources and skill sets: effective leadership, campaigning and fundraising skills through foreign exposures, study-tours and visits. Most importantly, the international community should educate them to work together by building healthy coalitions with an inclusive political dialogue and a pan-Afghan vision. Doing so will lay the foundation for Afghanistan's long-term political development. In turn, the Afghan government must stipulate strict guidelines and set parameters for party registration to curtail the current unhealthy growth of parties.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to Afghan leaders and those politically engaged and influential taking responsibility for their own destiny. The support pledged by a number of foreign countries post-2014 will unquestionably help, but even that would require Afghanistan to have a viable and functioning government. While graft in Afghan bureaucracy has largely undermined the government's legitimacy and its relations with international donors, and does need to be tackled, finding a short-term and realistic political consensus is more pressing and must be prioritized. The country's current trajectory, however, provides little encouragement. A failure to compromise could easily plunge the country into a brutal chaos in a frenzy to mark personal territories reminiscent of the 1990s where the very unhealthy interests of these conflicting parties will be directly challenged. Before it is too late, Afghan elites must realize that it is time to come together and act.
Javid Ahmad is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. The views expressed here are his own.
The season for Track II initiatives aimed at promoting intra-Afghan political dialogue is gathering steam both inside the country and abroad. Participants at two recent informal gatherings, one in France and the other in Japan, did not issue any statements but, according to sources at the meetings, they opted to discuss pressing items on their political agendas and agreed to meet again in a few months.
The Paris gathering on June 20-21 attended by representatives of the country's main political factions, High Peace Council (HPC), parliamentarians and members of civil society, was organized by the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS) and provided strict instructions to all delegates to keep a low profile. The first of such off-the-record meetings organized by FRS was held last November in Paris and was attended by a smaller number of Afghan political actors.
From the loyal Afghan opposition groupings, Yunus Qanooni, Homayun Shah Assefi and Noor-ul-Haq Olumi of the National Coalition (headed by former presidential candidate and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah), head of the National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud, Hanif Atmar representing the Right and Justice party, and former Interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali were in attendance. There was no representation from two other political aspirants, Ashraf Ghani and Amrullah Saleh.
While no active Taliban member took part in the Paris meeting, several ex-Taliban officials, including Mullah Salam Zaeef - who was also invited to Japan - Abdul Hakim Mujahed and Habibulah Fowzi, as well as Hezb-i Islami Hekmatyar group members Ghairat Baheer and Amin Karim, did attend.
Two sources present at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that although the Afghan government had decided against sending an official representative to Paris, two individuals with strong ties to President Hamid Karzai, his former campaign manager Haji Deen Mohamad, and Hekmat Karzai, a cousin heading a Kabul-based think tank, offered views at the meeting that did not contradict the president's political thinking.
Nader Naderi, Rida Azimi and Farkhonda Naderi were among the civil society activists and legislators who presented independent viewpoints at the meeting. It is reported that the only non-Afghan to take part was Abdullah Anas, an Algerian-born scholar, who has dealt with Afghan issues since the 1980s, and has been playing a behind-the-scenes mediating role at the behest of the HPC by reaching out to active Taliban.
Over a two day period, delegates mulled over election laws, decentralization and devolution, governance, constitutional reform, regional interference, the NATO pullout and reconciliation. Each side expressed its respective opinion and presented arguments to back their position. There was no agreement or common stance taken over any discussion topics.
The Kyoto meeting on the other hand, organized by the Doshisha University's Graduate School of Global Studies on June 27, was a rare occasion for HPC head Masoom Stanekzai to meet face-to-face with active Taliban representatives. Not only were Hizb-i Islami Hekmatyar representatives invited, but Qari Din Muhammad, a member of the Taliban's political office handling foreign affairs also spoke at the Kyoto conference on peace-building and reconciliation.
In a rare interview with the Asahi Shimbun daily on June 26, Din Mohammad said "we can have dialogue with him [President Karzai] as Afghans if foreign troops leave." He added, "as long as foreign troops remain, it is impossible to have any confidence, to have any dialogue, to have any negotiation with each party in the Karzai administration."
The unprecedented appearance of a Taliban delegate on the global scene, days ahead of the Tokyo conference on Afghan reconstruction assistance, indicates a willingness on their part to raise their international profile. It may also be a prelude to signaling a return to talks with the United States, suspended in March after the killing of civilians by an American soldier.
However, Din Mohammad explained that the talks were suspended after the United States refused the precondition to swap prisoners. Reiterating the militia's policy, he vehemently opposed continued American troop presence beyond 2014.
As the 2014 NATO withdrawal date approaches, and Afghanistan advances toward the complex triple transition processes relating to its political, security and economic sectors, it is becoming evident that there is more at stake than just a military drawdown or evaluating future candidates.
The momentous changes to take place over the next two years are not only a source of concern for most Afghans, but also an opportunity to deal with shortcomings, improve governance, assure a fair and free electoral process and become more self-reliant.
Historically, intra-Afghan talks have led to few tangible outcomes due to destructive outside patronage or inflated egos. However, the willingness of a diverse group of Afghan political actors to agree to have a dialogue, define their priorities, and propose solutions to outstanding challenges as part of Track II initiatives today, is a step in the right direction.
While some parties might show political flexibility and aim for compromise, others might harden their position and act as political spoilers later if talks lead to negotiations. Eventually, confidence-building and moving toward sustainable political coalition-building will be key elements of informal diplomacy and politicking.
A long and heated season of Afghan Track II initiatives are to be expected.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. D.C. He was Afghanistan's ambassador to France (2009-2011), to Canada (2004-2009), and spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). This article reflects his personal opinion.
The June 5, 2012 drone strike that killed Abu Yahya al-Libi is a major milestone in America's long-term effort to break the back of al-Qaida's general command. With Abu Yahya al-Libi's death, al-Qaida has lost its last great unifier, a man who possessed the rare talents and credentials to keep an inherently unwieldy global movement on track and in line. Without their ideological enforcer standing guard, the various al-Qaida affiliates and militants will invariably begin to wander off al-Qaida's sanctioned path.
Although depicted by the U.S. government as al-Qaida's "number two," his role as an administrator was hardly what made him so critical to al-Qaida. Abu Yahya al-Libi will be remembered within al-Qaida's circles as one of their staunchest ideological defenders, uncompromising internal whips and charismatic, populist leaders. He epitomized the "mujahid shaykh" archetype, one of only a handful of leaders who al-Qaida's rank-in-file intellectually revered, emotionally loved and religiously emulated.
A revolutionary to his core, the bureaucratic success of the al-Qaida organization was never Abu Yahya's end goal. Al-Qaida was a matter of convenience, a ready-made architecture that he almost begrudgingly joined after escaping from an American military prison in July 2005. As the last group standing, al-Qaida would be Abu Yahya's best chance for advancing his agenda, one that far exceeded the goals of even al-Qaida's top brass. Abu Yahya not only wanted to get the Americans out and tear Arab regimes down, he wanted to remake Islam from the inside. Abu Yahya was an intellectual insurgent of Machiavellian proportions.
For most of his early career, Abu Yahya was of the same mind about al-Qaida as many of his Libyan jihadist compatriots who joined the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Osama bin Laden was a man to be respected from arms-length. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, could not be trusted, and should be avoided. Instead, Abu Yahya - whose real name is Hasan Qaid, dedicated the next ten years of his life to gaining the religious knowledge he needed to help support the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's (LIFG) cause to oust Muammar Gaddafi and implement Shariah in Libya.
Under the moniker Younis al-Sahrawi, Abu Yahya did at least two separate stints in Mauritania during the mid-1990s studying under heavyweight hardline Salafi shaykhs. The combination of his natural intellect, easygoing populist appeal, and this formal religious credentialing vaulted him into the LIFG's upper echelon. Returning to Afghanistan in the late-1990s with many of his Libyan jihadist colleagues, Abu Yahya forged close bonds with the Taliban's media and public relations managers, even serving as one of their webmasters in 2000-2001. He would be arrested in his Karachi flat in 2002 by Pakistani security forces, who transferred him to American custody, eventually landing him back in Afghanistan in one of America's most tightly guarded military prisons at Bagram.
After spending three years in American custody, Abu Yahya and three colleagues staged a daring jailbreak from Bagram in July 2005, which would mark the beginning of his meteoric rise to global jihadist stardom. At this time, al-Qaida's brand was getting hammered. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's gratuitous use of violence in Iraq and Jordan had provoked a catastrophic public relations backlash for the organization. Then al-Qaida number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, tried to control the damage through a recalibration of al-Qaida's public messaging and a sternly phrased letter to Zarqawi, but neither was enough. Without a heavy-hitting religious defense, usually provided by a troika of Saudi shaykhs who by then had all been jailed, al-Qaida could not make a meaningful religious defense. They needed an in-house shaykh who had the charisma and media-savvy to push back against external critics and internal miscreants. Enter Abu Yahya al-Libi.
His initial post-escape media appearances on a Taliban-affiliated media outlet, Labaik Media, reflected Abu Yahya's reticence to officially link himself to al-Qaida's organizational apparatus. In December 2005, Abu Yahya penned his own letter to his longstanding personal friend Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That relationship, combined with Abu Yahya's clerical gravitas and a follow-on letter from another respected Libyan, Atiyah abd al-Rahman, helped muzzle Zarqawi in a way that Zawahiri was not able to do alone.
It would not be until 2006 that Abu Yahya decided to appear under the auspices of al-Qaida's official media outlet, As-Sahab. Some of the prodding to play a formal role in al-Qaida likely came from his close friend and confidant, Abu Laith al-Libi, who not long after would announce the formal merger of his offshoot of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group with al-Qaida. By 2006, Abu Yahya was releasing new products at a feverish pace, each one seeming to up the ante in its extremism, absolutism and militancy.
Abu Yahya's decision to shift from his local focus on Libyan Islamist militancy to that of al-Qaida's global jihadist terrorism may have been an outgrowth of his personal need for vengeance against the United States for the treatment he claims that he endured while in captivity, three years of conversations with other detainees about their treatment and experiences with the United States, and a pragmatic realization that al-Qaida was the only game in town with any real chance at mobilizing a global revolution. Whatever the case, it was precisely the kind of intellectual sophistication and scholarly depth for which al-Qaida had been so desperate.
In the short six years that Abu Yahya al-Libi had been affiliated with al-Qaida, he helped resuscitate the senior leadership, which had been operationally defeated and religiously battered. He breathed new life into their ideology and restored their position as the vanguard of al-Qaida's global movement. His importance to al-Qaida cannot be overstated and, therefore, neither can the impact of his death on its future.
A near-term uptick in al-Qaida affiliate attacks on soft targets would not be surprising - neither would increased levels of in-fighting within and across the multiple levels of al-Qaida's global movement. With no one left to check the zealotry of al-Qaida's eager but undisciplined young generation, the future of al-Qaida without Abu Yahya will be more chaotic and interested in using violence for the sake of violence. All the public relations efforts that the senior leadership have made in recent years to spin al-Qaida as a kinder, gentler movement will be squandered, eventually culminating in the dissolution of what limited coherence al-Qaida's global movement has managed to maintain.
Jarret Brachman is a counterterrorism expert currently on faculty at North Dakota State University.
When the U.S. and Afghan governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on handing over Bagram jail and its detainees, both of the governments and the media -- including myself -- saw the agreement as a real transfer of sovereignty and a victory for President Karzai. Now I am much less sure. It seems a system may be emerging where the gains in sovereignty are illusory and, though there is an Afghan face on security detentions, the U.S. military remains in control.
There is another twist to the handover of Bagram prison, which is officially known as the Detention Facility in Parwan -- or DFiP. The MoU committed the Afghan state to using detention without trial for some security prisoners and both the United States and Afghanistan have moved swiftly to set up the system for doing this. However, the government denies having made any such commitment. The Presidential spokesman, Aimal Faizi, was unequivocal:
We signed the MoU... mainly to put an end to detentions without trial because they are not in accordance to the Afghan laws... The President has always been absolutely against detentions without trial and this is his stance today as well... We have not signed or agreed anything which allows detentions without trial.
The Bagram MoU was a response to President Karzai's ultimatum in January 2012 that the United States had a month to hand over both prison and inmates after reports of maltreatment. This MoU -- along with a second one on Afghan-izing special operations (dealing with the especially sensitive topic of night raids) -- were pre-conditions on the Afghan side for the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which the United States wanted in place before the recently-held NATO summit in Chicago.
The United States was worried about the possible release of men whom it considers the most dangerous in detention, as the 3,000 odd people currently held by the U.S. military without trial in Bagram could well be considered illegally incarcerated under Afghan law. Hence the Afghan and U.S. negotiators took recourse to the Laws of Armed Conflict. Both MoUs cite the 1977 Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (APII) as the legal basis for detention without trial. APII acknowledges that when a state is fighting a war, it may deprive its citizens of "their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict."
Is it possible that President Karzai might not have understood what using APII entailed? The English version of the Bagram MoU says only that the Afghan government would be using "administrative detention" at Bagram, but the Dari version is more specific. It is "gheiri qazayi", or non-judicial, and the Afghan president's legal advisor confirmed at the time this would be without trial. A presidential decree on the handover also appears to have been passed. A reference to an undated, un-numbered, and as far as I know as yet unpublished decree appears in another document -- the (also unpublished) Procedure for the Transition and Management of Bagram[i] -- which was signed by the ministers of justice, interior, and defense, the head of Afghan intelligence (the NDS), the head of the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General on March 3 (read a translation here). The Procedure also cites APII. It is possible that the Afghan government does not want to admit it is now using internment because it would be politically unpopular, or because using APII means implicitly acknowledging that Afghanistan is fighting a civil war.
Getting information on what exactly is happening at Bagram is difficult, but from interviewing those involved in the handover, none of whom would speak on the record, and after getting hold of the Procedure, it has been possible to paint a fuller picture.
The mechanisms for handing over the prison have been rapidly established. Since at least mid-April, the U.S. military has been passing on detainees' case files (in English, with Dari translation) at a rate of 30-40 a day to an Afghan technical committee (made up of representatives from the ministries of interior and defense, from the NDS, Supreme Court and Attorney General's office). The Committee sends cases with prosecutable evidence to NDS for trial under Afghan criminal law. The remaining case files are passed to a review board (made up of representatives from the ministries of interior, defense, and NDS) which, for just over a week, has either assented to continued detention without trial, if it believes the individual is a continuing security threat, or has recommended release. There is no detail about the nature of the required evidence here, but according to the Procedure, continued detention can be ordered even if the Board believes the prisoner is only a "potential supporter of an armed group engaged in hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or international forces."
If the review board recommends release, the file is sent back to the Bagram Transfer Commission (made up of five ministers), which can order a release. However, if the U.S. military believes an individual continues to be a terrorist threat, the MoU says this assessment should be "consider[ed] favourably." Such an (apparent) veto on release may not seem unreasonable given the way detainees frequently use influence, bribes, or intimidation to secure their freedom once inside the Afghan justice system. Still, it does not look like a transfer of sovereignty.
There are other indications that the U.S. military may still retain control. After initially reading the MoU, I assumed, like others (including the BBC) that, after six months, Bagram and its detainees would be handed over, once and for all, to the Afghans. The MoU says:
The United States Commander at the DFIP is to retain responsibility for the detainees held by the United States at the DFIP under the Law of Armed Conflict during the processing and transfer period, which is not to last more than six months. (Article 6c)
Re-reading all the documents and interviews, I rather think the U.S. military may intend to also have the option of retaining control of each freshly detained person for a maximum of six months before transferring him to the Afghan authorities. When asked about this, the U.S. embassy spokesman would only say: "We have nothing further for you on this topic at this time."
One can well imagine a scenario in which Afghan forces, working with the U.S. military, knock down the doors of Afghan homes and make the arrests (as per the second MoU on special operations), but the detainees, if considered interesting, stay in U.S. custody. The United States would still control initial detention, classification, and release, but the Afghan government would be in the firing line, either under pressure from the relatives of detainees wanting their people freed or criticized on human rights grounds relating to indefinite detention and the lack of legal recourse to evidence, independent counsel, and the like.
Now that the legal doors to internment have been opened, one can also imagine detention without trial spreading to other Afghan facilities. This must be a concern, given the many abuses, including torture, already staining the Afghan justice system, particularly for security detainees.
The new arrangements in Bagram are not yet set in stone. The MoU itself makes clear that, "this arrangement is subject to review as part of the Bilateral Security Agreement to be negotiated between the Participants after the signing of the Strategic Partnership." Up till now, however, voices of protest about the nature of the handover have been few. One belongs to MP Shukria Barakzai, chair of the Afghan Lower House Defense Committee, who has questioned the very legality of detention without trial. Otherwise, the start of the state interning its citizens has taken place quietly, with almost no comment in the media or in parliament. Afghans are simply not aware of their loss of one of the most fundamental rights - for a prisoner to have his or her day in court. The opportunity for an honest debate on detention without trial is not yet over, but there are no signs yet of the discussion even beginning.
Kate Clark is the senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network and is based in Kabul.
[i] ‘The Procedure for Transition and Management of Bagram Detention Facility and Pul-e Charkhi Detention Facility from the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan'
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May 2012 will stand as a historic time for Afghanistan. Beginning in Kabul on May 1, Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which I had the privilege of attending. It has been followed by a steadily growing wave of additional international support, most recently seen in the signing of a partnership agreement with Germany in Berlin and the imminent signing of a partnership agreement with Australia. The third security transition phase also commenced this past week on May 13, and the month will end with the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21. These events illuminate the immense efforts made by the Afghan government and the international community to fulfill their mutual commitments made throughout the Kabul Process that was begun with President Karzai's inauguration in 2009. Each event is an accomplishment on its own, but together they chart a clear course for Afghanistan's future over the "Transformation Decade."
The historic signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States gives both countries an opportunity to solidify our common vision and define our relationship for the years to come. After months of hard negotiations, a commitment has been forged to guide our steps towards a prosperous future built on mutual respect and support between two sovereign nations. The agreement was crafted in the best interests of both countries and to the benefit of regional prosperity and stability. The United States' commitments should serve as a shining example of the opportunities now on the horizon in Afghanistan.
The transition of Afghanistan's security from international coalition forces to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ranks amongst the most crucial to sustain overall success. Since its start in July 2011, the transition process has seen many successes and is well on its way to being fully completed. Afghanistan's security forces have grown in strength and capacity well ahead of schedule. The ANSF are partnering with international coalition forces on 90 percent of operations and are in the lead 40 percent of the time. These statistics, coupled with the completion of the third security transition phase that put Afghan forces in the security-lead for 75 percent of Afghanistan's population, show just how much progress has been made. While our security forces have proven able to maintain security in areas already transitioned, there are still challenges that require commitments from Afghanistan and the international community throughout the remaining transition period and beyond. Both Afghanistan and its international partners recognize that the success of the transition process and its sustainability is dependent upon continued ANSF capacity improvement and financial support.
For this reason, the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago is crucial to Afghanistan and the effectiveness and sustainability of the ANSF. The NATO Summit will be an opportunity to reaffirm that the close partnership between Afghanistan and the international community will continue beyond 2014 and reflect on the progress made together over the last decade. As agreed upon in Bonn last December, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) nations will announce their support of training, financing and building the capacity of the ANSF after the end of the transition period. It is important to reiterate, though, that the Afghan government is steadfast in our promise to increase our share of financing the ANSF from $500 million in 2015 to total fiscal responsibility after the Transformation Decade.
The commitments to be made in Chicago will have a central role in sustaining the accomplishments of the last ten years. They have already built up additional positive momentum going into the upcoming Kabul Conference focusing on regional cooperation in June and the Tokyo Conference in July where we will outline and agree upon an integrated plan with our international partners to achieve self-sufficiency by developing a sustainable economy by the end of the Transformation Decade.
Ultimately, when it comes to building a stable, self-reliant, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, we are ready and willing to face the challenges ahead.
His Excellency Eklil Hakimi is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States.
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In March, the United States and Afghanistan announced that the U.S.-run Bagram prison near Kabul will soon be handed over to Afghan control. It was a major diplomatic breakthrough that paved the way for the signing of a Strategic Partnership Agreement by President Obama and President Karzai on May 2. But the agreement to handover Bagram is leading to a dramatic and dangerous expansion of detention power in Afghanistan-and a potentially disastrous legacy for the United States.
As part of the agreement to transfer control of Bagram, the Afghan government is creating the authority to hold individuals without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time on security grounds-a power it has never before said it needed.
While such "administrative detention" regimes are permissible under the laws of war, this new detention power is being established in order to hand over a U.S. detention facility, not because changes in the conflict have convinced Afghan officials that it is necessary. A surge in U.S. detention operations like night raids has driven the prison population to over 3,000 detainees, most of whom the United States lacks evidence against for prosecution under Afghans law. Because the Afghan constitution, like the United States', protects individuals from being detained without charge or trial, the Afghan government needs a new detention law, which is now being modeled on deeply problematic U.S. detention policies and practices.
As a result, Bagram's real legacy may be the establishment of a detention regime that will be ripe for abuse in a country with pervasive corruption and weak rule of law.
Despite potentially far-reaching consequences, the development of this new detention power has been hidden from public view. When I met with leading Afghan lawyers and civil society organizations in Kabul several weeks ago, few knew that the government was proposing to create a new, non-criminal detention regime. Their reaction was disbelief and dismay. None had even seen a copy of the proposed regime, which the Afghan government has not made public and is trying to adopt by presidential fiat.
The Open Society Foundations recently obtained a copy of the proposed detention regime, and after review, we have found what it details deeply troubling. The proposed changes leave open critical questions about the nature and scope of this proposed detention regime, which if left unanswered make it ripe for abuse. Who can be held in administrative detention and for how long? Where will it apply? When will the government cease to have this power? How will the government ensure it will not be abused to imprison the innocent or suppress political opposition?
Most alarming is the failure to address the serious, long-term risks posed by such a regime. From apartheid South Africa to modern day China, administrative detention regimes adopted on security grounds have too often been used as tools of repression. In Egypt, the former government used administrative detention for decades to commit gross human rights violations and suppress political opposition, relying on a state of emergency declared in 1958, and nominally lifted only after last year's revolution.
Across the border in Pakistan, the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations are another stark reminder of the long, dark shadow that such legal regimes can cast. The ongoing imposition of these British, colonial-era laws, which among other things legalize collective punishment and detention without trial, are cited by many as a key driver of the rise of militancy in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
But there is still time for the United States to avoid this legacy in Afghanistan. If the Afghan government cannot be dissuaded from adopting an administrative detention regime, then the United States should urge the Afghan government to include provisions that limit its scope and reduce its vulnerability to abuse.
First, a ‘sunset' provision should be adopted, which would impose a time limit on such powers, or require an act by the Afghan Parliament to extend their duration.
Second, the regime should be limited to individuals currently held by the United States at Bagram prison. There is no clear reason why the handover of Bagram detainees requires the creation of a nation-wide administrative detention regime. More generally, the scope of who can be detained must be clearly defined and limited.
Third, detainees must have right to counsel as well as access to the evidence used against them in order to have a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention-a fundamental right in international law. At present it seems the government will follow the well-documented due process shortfalls of the U.S. model.
The United States and its Afghan partners must be honest about the serious, long-term risks of establishing an administrative detention regime in Afghanistan-particularly one that lacks clear limits and is democratically unaccountable. Protection from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life or liberty is at the constitutional core of the United States, and is essential to lasting stability and security in Afghanistan. Living up to the President's promise of responsibly ending the war in Afghanistan requires defending, not betraying this principle.
Chris Rogers is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Since NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010, debate has raged over the decision to draw-down troops from Afghanistan by 2014. And in less than a month, NATO is to hold its 25th heads of state summit in Chicago on 20th May. Unsurprisingly, among the summit's major themes will be the seemingly intractable Afghan question, controversy over which has continued with increasingly ferocious attacks by militants - the synchronised 18-hour assault on Kabul on April 16 being an outstanding example - along with persistently strained U.S.-Pakistani relations since NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. But rather than endlessly debating troop numbers - whose link to stability is at the least exceedingly unclear - NATO allies would be better off focusing on how to maximise the impact of programs which pave the way for long-term stability by dramatically re-shifting the focus of aid funding from security to development.
The full transition of responsibility for Afghanistan's security from NATO to Afghan forces poses deep questions about the efficacy of international intervention and traditional military approaches. For some critics calling for a faster transition to Afghan control, NATO's presence is the problem. Two years ago, NATO Afghan war veteran Lt. Col. Thomas Brouns warned presciently that "the possibility of strategic defeat looms" as "violent incidents" increase in direct proportion to the troop surge. The war is "a losing battle in winning the hearts and minds of nearly 30 million Afghans."
Others argue that a quick NATO withdrawal could be a grave mistake, precipitating a downwards spiral into endless civil war - a view expounded last year by the German military, the RAF, and a British government review ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron. Even the Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak warned of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a more abrupt withdrawal - no doubt fearing a Taliban come-back in the wake of the vacuum left behind by NATO's departure.
Amidst all the controversy about NATO in Afghanistan, the curious assumption is that the country's stability is somehow purely correlated with troop numbers, rather than underlying socio-economic conditions and political accountability. Indeed, commentators have overlooked the single component of international intervention which has had resounding success - development aid, through Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Under the programme, the Afghan government disburses grants to village-level elected organisations, Community Development Councils (CDCs), which in turn identify local priorities and implement small-scale development projects.
The NSP has reached out to 24,000 villages, mobilising nearly 70 percent of rural communities across all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - including enrolling over 100,000 women into new local CDCs. An independent evaluation by academics from Harvard, MIT and the New School found that the NSP had led to "significant improvement in villagers' economic wellbeing" and "their attitudes towards the government" - "reducing the number of people willing to join the insurgents" leading to "an improved security situation in the long run."
Yet the evaluation report also observes that development mitigates militancy only in regions facing "moderate violence" - but not where there are "high levels of initial violence." Here, the impact of the war is palpable - 2011 saw a record number of 3,021 Afghan civilian deaths. And a UN assessment for that year found the average monthly number of "security incidents" - such as gun battles and roadside bombings - was 39 per cent higher than the preceding year.
So if the exit strategy is the right one, it's still not enough. From June 2002 to September 2010, the United States - though the largest NSP donor - has given $528 million to the programme (as well as another $225 million from FY 2010 funds, with Congress appropriating a further $800 million or so). This is a tiny fraction in the total of about $18.8 billion in foreign assistance over the last decade, and much more needs to be done. Over two-thirds of Afghans still live in dire poverty; only 23 per cent have access to safe drinking water; and just 24 percent above the age of 15 can read and write, according to the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Thus, a recent report by the Center for a New American Security urges that the US government "not only continue its [NSP's] funding but should also help expand the program across Afghanistan. Only through steadfast support of the NSP and similarly structured enterprises can hard-won military gains be consolidated into an enduring, Afghan-led peace."
Yet the NSP is a virtual carbon copy of a longstanding development model being implemented just across the border in rural Pakistan, including the Taliban's strongholds in the northwest frontier province: the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN). As Pakistan's largest NGO, the RSPN has run quietly for nearly thirty years, with a staggering success rate - having mobilised over 4 million Pakistani households through local community organisations, provided skills training to nearly 3 million, and reached approximately 30 million people.
The RSPN's model - replicated so successfully in Afghanistan under the NSP - is distinguished by its unique participatory approach, based on partnership with communities. The programme began in the early 1980s through the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), in the Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize nominee Shoaib Sultan Khan, the AKRSP model was replicated by establishing a further ten autonomous Rural Support Programmes (RSP) across three quarters of the country's districts - which together form the umbrella that is the RSPN.
The secret of the RSPN's success is deceptively simple. The poor are mobilised to establish local community organisations where citizens are involved in every aspect of decision-making - designing and selecting projects, managing them, and monitoring expenditures - in projects which have immediate, tangible impact. The programme thus empowers villagers to see themselves as citizens with the skills, tools and acumen to work together in managing disbursement of government funds to lift themselves out of poverty.
In the northwest province of Chitral, for instance, local micro-scale hydro-electricity projects now supply power to over half of the population. Elsewhere, RSPN has empowered locals to establish 1,449 community schools, whose pupils out-perform their peers from government schools, and enrolled 681,000 women in community activism - the largest outreach to poor rural women of any Pakistani organisation. That is why the RSPN's work is so critical to the future of the country - for a strong, representative Pakistani state to emerge, it must be grounded in strong local civil society institutions capable of holding it to account and engaging with it constructively.
But like the NSP, the RSPN receives only a fraction of the overall U.S.-U.K. aid budget to Pakistan. The ongoing debate about troop numbers and drone strikes - while important - has served to distract attention from the critical role of development aid in building resilience to radicalisation. Thus, across the region, the obsession with traditional security solutions has arguably been its own worst enemy. As the countdown to withdrawal continues, the international community must strengthen and expand these proven development models. Otherwise, the quagmire will become an abyss.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) in London, author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization (2010) among other books, and writer/presenter of the critically-acclaimed documentary film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011). His work on international terrorism has been used by the 9/11 Commission, the Coroner's Inquiry into 7/7, the US Army Air University, and the UK MoD's Joint Services Command & Staff College. He has also advised the British Foreign Office and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and consulted for projects funded by the US State Department, the UK Department for Communities & Local Government.
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Pakistan warrants concern, and not just because it is sitting on the fifth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The country is in the throes of a destabilizing and dangerous energy crisis. It faces gas shortages, and electricity outages of up to 20 hours a day. As a result, factories have been forced into closing. There is double-digit inflation. Infrastructure is crumbling for want of resources. And harrowing stories of the newly impoverished setting themselves on fire or resorting to crime have become the new normal.
Good deeds never go unpunished in Pakistan. The United States, Pakistan's most generous ally, remains public enemy No. 1 for reasons that do not withstand any rational scrutiny. But then Pakistan has never been accused of being terribly rational. As someone invested in Pakistan's progress, I have always maintained the U.S. must provide an energy lifeline to our ally country to establish in real and rapid terms the consideration it accords the 190 million people of Pakistan. If the U.S. were to help solve Pakistan's energy crisis-and it can-there could be no better measure to manage and mitigate anti-America sentiment in the country and no better billboard to showcase that the U.S. means business.
Unfortunately, far too often the urgency of U.S. economic support announcements and photo ops in Islamabad are dulled by inaction or bungled by red tape in Washington. This fuels disenchantment at many levels. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last April, Pakistan's finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said his country had "not even received $300 million" of the $1.5 billion in annual economic support promised to Pakistan under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009.
It is also true that the government led by President Asif Ali Zardari is crippled by compulsions of keeping intact a coalition of disparate parties often at odds with each other. Thus, Mr. Shaikh is the country's fifth finance minister in four years. The turnover at the other key ministries-water and power, and petroleum and natural resources-is just as alarming. The government's capacity for economic and information management also seems woefully inadequate.
Then there are the corruption allegations Mr. Zardari faced in the 1990s and which didn't lead to a single conviction. These are still in circulation and, coupled with Pakistan's governance crisis, provide Zardari critics in Pakistan's freewheeling media and opposition virtually uncontested space to hurl with indignant certitude all manner of accusations against foreign, and local, investments made on his watch. In other words, any projects during the last four years for the economic advancement and eminent good of Pakistan-including the Enhanced Partnership Act with the U.S.-are, in the popular imagination, either Trojan horses or sweetheart deals.
As if things weren't bad enough for Pakistan's image abroad, the country's irreversibly sensational and bizarrely anti-business media gleefully peddles self-fulfilling prophesies of an economic and political meltdown. If you strip down the self-righteous rhetoric, the media in particular is determined that Pakistan's economy fail-at least while Mr. Zardari is around.
We have seen this picture before. In the mid-90s, when Mr. Zardari's assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto, charmed investors into setting up privately-owned power plants, her government was accused of corruption. When Nawaz Sharif's government took over, it launched "investigations," arresting not only the executives of these foreign and local power companies but also their family members. The effects were disastrous. The investment climate became toxic and would remain so until 9/11. And potential investors like Gordon Wu, who had wanted to invest $6 billion in Pakistan, ran for the nearest exit.
Faced with international censure and arbitration proceedings, Islamabad eventually agreed to a settlement: the power companies reduced their tariffs to afford the government some face saving, and the government rewarded the companies by extending their contracts with public sector power buyers. Today, the "independent power plants" Bhutto set up provide almost 30 percent of Pakistan's total electricity supply. One hopes that Bhutto and Zardari opponents realize how much worse the energy crisis would have been had these power plants not been installed.
Since the summer of 2006, Pakistan has seen recurrent and riotous protests over power shortages. These picked up after the Zardari-led government was elected in 2008 and as outages grew, exacerbated by the government's liquidity problems. The protests have resulted in the destruction of public property-and deaths. The opposition has led several of these protests while simultaneously ensuring through litigation and an unrelenting media trial that no new power generation capacity comes online during Zardari's term. Yet, no one has called out the opposition over its rank contradictions and persecutory power past.
For the last two years, Pakistan's Supreme Court had been hearing three "human rights" petitions, including one filed by a Sharif lieutenant, challenging the installation of fast-track power plants as a short-term solution for the country. On March 30, the eve of another power protest by the opposition, the court delivered its verdict: all "rental power" contracts were declared illegal and rescinded and an independent agency was ordered to launch inquiries in support of the judgment. At 7:40 p.m. that day, we were directed to shut down power supplies to Naudero, Bhutto's constituency. American personnel at the plant have been flown back. Almost all Pakistani staff has been laid off.
In Pakistan's increasingly cynical society, all success is suspect. Unless you're Chinese, all foreign investors are viewed not as risk takers and growth drivers for the Pakistani economy but as usurpers, looters, and worse. After the recent court judgment, even the Ankara-supported "Turkey-Pakistan friendship" power ship has been impounded. And the proposed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is popular not just because it is critically required but because it also provides the added bonus of showing down the United States., which is opposed to the project.
There's also the Tethyan Copper Company, a partnership between Chile's Antofagasta and Canada's Barrick Gold, which spent $220 million working toward a $3.3-billion copper and gold mine in Reko Diq in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province only to be stamped as colonizers by the courts and media. When the company was forced into placing advertisements to push its facts forward in the public domain, it was slapped with a gag order and disallowed to challenge the fevered narrative of misrepresentations against it. Tethyan is headed for international arbitration, an all too familiar venue for foreign investors who put store in Pakistan.
Pakistan is complicated. It hates the U.S., yet America is the second most popular destination for Pakistani immigrants. It resents American economic support, yet complains that there is too little of it. It craves investment, but will rescind legal contracts in paroxysms of nationalist hysteria casting a cloud over every existing and future contract.
America can help. It needs to emphasize to all Pakistani stakeholders-politicians, the judiciary, the Army-that their country must abide by its legal contracts and that it must unreservedly depoliticize the energy sector and the economy. Pakistan must enact a real defamation law that provides economic disincentives to the incendiary media and sets it on a path to self-correction. The U.S. must facilitate capacity building, especially in key Pakistani energy ministries and agencies, to effect durable, long-term economic planning. It can and should provide speedy debt support, for example through the U.S. State Department's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to expedite energy projects that can visibly and meaningfully improve the lives of Pakistanis. The U.S. must make its aid to Pakistan conditional on the country delivering on these basic and essential reforms.
The opposition and torch-wielding media lynch mob claim to have the best interests at heart of the tens of millions of Pakistanis-whose everyday lives are roiled by energy shortages and rendered meaningless from darkening economic prospects-but if they think they're doing well by the people of Pakistan, they should think again.
David Walters was the governor of Oklahoma from 1990 to 1994. He is the founder and president of Walters Power International, a power solutions firm doing business in over 14 countries, including the U.K. He is a partner in Pakistan Power Resources, LLC, and Walters Power International Limited owns a 51-megawatt power plant in Pakistan.
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The controversial Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline has become an increasingly problematic issue in the vacillating U.S-Pakistan relationship. The United States has strongly condemned the project, but such rhetoric seems only to have made Pakistan more determined to continue with it. An energy agreement between Iran and Pakistan would be detrimental to U.S efforts to isolate Iran and force the shutdown of its nuclear program. And while it could potentially alleviate Pakistan's energy crisis, the proponents of the project seem more interested in defying the West than inquiring about its ‘real' benefits.
Pakistan is crippled by an energy crisis that causes power outages for hours, daily, leading to violent protests around the country, such as those in Lahore last week. Many do not have gas for heating or cooking purposes, and electricity outages affect schools, hospitals, businesses and industries, bringing an already dwindling economy to a halt. In such a scenario, Pakistan is forced to look elsewhere to meet its needs.
The IP gas pipeline is one such prospect. The idea, conceptualized in 1990 with negotiations starting in 1994, is to construct a pipeline that would pass solely between the two countries. As the prospect developed, India entered the game, and the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline -- popularly known as the "Peace Pipeline" -- came into existence. In 2008, however, India signed a civil nuclear power deal with the U.S and pulled out of the project; many analysts accused it of succumbing to American pressure.
On March 16, 2010, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on the pipeline during a meeting in the Turkish capital city of Ankara. The revised pipeline, with a projected cost of $1.5 billion, would start from the South Pars gas field in Iran's southern city of Asalouyeh and pass through Bandar-Abbas and Iranshahr, until it reaches Khuzdar, Balochistan. At Khuzdar, a section is planned to extend to Karachi while the rest of the pipeline would continue through Sui to Multan.
In July 2011, Iran claimed that it had almost completed 900 km of its construction of the 56 inch diameter pipeline, though this assertion remains unconfirmed. Pakistan is to lay 781 km of the pipeline in its territory, and the project is expected to be completed by December 2014. Although completion remains two years away, Pakistan views this project as a medium-term investment to pull it out of a crippling energy crisis. Iran has also expressed its commitment to alleviating Pakistan's woes, and once operations begin it will provide 750 million cubic feet of gas per day for 25 years.
Pakistan can no longer depend on domestic resources to address its crippling energy problems. During the third Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran trilateral summit held on February 16, 2012, turning to Iran, Pakistan has reiterated its commitment to the IP gas pipeline project, a 1,000-megawatt electricity transmission line, and a 100-megawatt power supply from Gwadar to meet Pakistan's energy woes. In return, Iran has offered to enhance bilateral trade to $10 billion by importing specific commodities such as rice and wheat, in the following few months. But, it is difficult to predict whether such bold developments will ever actually be implemented.
The United States, meanwhile, supports an alternate gas pipeline -- known as the TAPI pipeline because it would run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The TAPI pipeline project has, however, been rejected by Pakistan for a number of reasons. It will take much longer to materialize, will pass through treacherous and unreliable terrain, and involves too many regional players -- specifically India and Afghanistan -- which Pakistan views with suspicion.
The TAPI pipeline would flow through war-torn Afghanistan, and until the end game there is clear, Pakistani authorities, justifiably, are not ready to take such a risk on their energy survival. The situation recently grew more complicated when Afghanistan hinted at possibly withdrawing from the project. Though the final round of the TAPI negotiations are to be held on April 19, if Afghanistan does indeed withdraw from the project, America's proposal of a viable alternate to the IP gas pipeline would be in grave danger.
On February 29, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton expressed frustration with Pakistan's intention to push ahead with the IP pipeline at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. She threatened sanctions that "would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky," should Pakistan continue with its commitment to build the IP gas pipeline and hence, violate the Iran Sanctions Act. While a proposed Iran-Turkey pipeline appears to progress sans sanctions, Pakistan could face an immediate termination of financial and military assistance.
Secretary Clinton's remarks have raised serious objections, and have only made Pakistan more adamant about continuing with the project. The "threat" prompted brave words from Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar: "We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan. All of these projects are in Pakistan's national interest, and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous considerations."
In November 2010, similar defensive posturing was prompted when Ambassador Munter stated that "the plan to get gas from Turkmenistan is a better idea" than the IP pipeline. Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan slammed the comment, stating, "Islamabad will not accept any dictation regarding its internal affairs from any foreign country. Gas from Iran is in the country's best interest."
However, it is still unclear whether the IP gas pipeline is indeed in the best interests of the country. The pre-feasibility study that will determine whether the pipeline should be built by estimating the finances needed and the expected timeframe of the project has only just begun. The most pressing issue Pakistan will face if it decides to construct the IP gas pipeline, is that of raising finances. The issue has gained geo-political attention, and a consortium led by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has recently pulled out of the project, prompting the Pakistani government to look elsewhere for finances. The federal government is currently negotiating a deal with Russian giant gas monopoly, Gazprom, for financial and technical assistance. While no agreement has currently been reached, senior level discussions are underway. With a crippled economy and diminished finances, Pakistan may very well be unable to embark on the project due to lack of funds from international investors.
With Pakistan still grappling for funds, and the feasibility study commissioned by Pakistan not expected to be completed before October 2013, vehement U.S opposition and rhetoric is premature at this moment. Sanctions would severely affect the economy, and Pakistan is unlikely to be ready to take that risk. Most recently, Pakistan hired experts to study the consequences of the sanctions, should it move ahead with constructing the pipeline. While the country can benefit immensely from an energy pipeline with Iran, being closely associated with a nation receiving so much negative international attention may do it more harm than good.
Without a clear argument and only an unclear picture of the project itself, Pakistan's determination to construct the pipeline is simply a political move in response to foreign interference in internal matters, and nothing more than that at this moment.
Armed with this realization and an awareness of the rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan, the United States needs to adopt a more sensitive and informed approach to tackle the equally sensitive issue of the IP pipeline. The United States must differentiate between nuclear development and regional cooperation. By encouraging trade and energy agreements, it could illustrate a genuine concern for peace and stability in the region, as well as repair America's image abroad. The United States must show a serious commitment to alleviating the energy crisis in Pakistan, and hold talks with key players in the private sector. The private sector will not only serve as a wealth of information and a vehicle of action but also as a prime interlocutor.
The State Department is currently helping Pakistan with thermal energy generation, and investing in dams, but it must also consider working jointly with Pakistan on stand-alone power projects that utilize wind and water, contain leakages that remain a prime reason of energy wastage, suggest mechanisms to avoid energy theft, and foster dialogue between experts in the field.
Finding support for a conciliatory approach may not be easy. The Obama administration is facing tough questions at home on its continued engagement with the Af-Pak region, having achieved the objective of killing former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Defending the war in Afghanistan and securing a $2.2 billion budget in economic and security assistance for Pakistan will be difficult. Additionally, pressuring South Asian countries to ostracize Iran will only lead to more animosity. The need of the hour is cooperation, not sanctions. Illustrating a true commitment to addressing Pakistan's greatest handicap, instead of condemning regional policy decisions, will open up a world of opportunities for both sides.
Arsla Jawaid is Assistant Editor at the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. Arsla holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies. She can be followed on Twitter @arslajawaid.
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After ten years of war and countless lives lost, the tragic murder of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier has focused renewed attention on the abundant flaws of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Coupled with the recent deadly riots in Afghanistan over the burning of Qurans by U.S. service members -- and the retaliatory killing of U.S. advisors by Afghan forces -- these events place the failure of U.S. strategy in stark relief. The relationship with the Karzai government, America's nominal ally, is frayed and torn. The Taliban, while bloodied, remain resilient and unbroken by the U.S. military surge. Lastly, the American people have made clear they want U.S. troops to come home sooner than the already announced end of combat operations in 2013 and the withdrawal of all foreign troops by 2014.
If ever there was a time to accelerate the process of ending the fighting in Afghanistan and spurring nascent political negotiations it is right now. For this reason, the United States should not wait a year and a half to begin the process of disengagement, but rather take immediate steps to end the war in Afghanistan now.
This would not mean accelerated and precipitous troop withdrawals.
Instead, it means dramatically curtailing offensive military operations against the Taliban including the ever controversial night raids; initiating and negotiating local cease fires with Taliban insurgents; and, more broadly, adopting a defensive posture by identifying key terrain that must be held by the Afghan government and limiting military operations to the defense of such critical areas. This could mean ceding territory to the Taliban, but it wouldn't be the first time the United States has taken such an approach. These steps would be consistent with a responsible strategy for transition, which must be predicated on a realistic assessment of those parts of the country can be kept under Afghan governmental control after the U.S. departs.
It also means completing the transfer of Taliban detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison facility to the custody of Qatari authorities, who are now hosting a Taliban liaison office in Doha. Above all, it means ensuring that the stated policy of pursuing a political settlement with the Taliban finally be integrated with U.S. military policy.
Calibrating the use of force in such a fashion would represent a good faith measure toward building confidence and seeking a political resolution with the Taliban insurgency for ending the war in Afghanistan. Despite the Taliban's recent suspension of talks through its liaison office in Doha, a political settlement remains the only possible path to an orderly U.S. withdrawal, and to stability in Afghanistan. If the United States is not willing to expend political capital to nurture and further the process, the prospect for a negotiated settlement will collapse.
It has been said countless times that NATO cannot kill its way out of the war in Afghanistan. Yet, this is precisely the current U.S. strategy -- and it is one that will likely ramp up with the traditional spring fighting season that begins soon. While the Obama administration has begun exploratory talks with the Taliban, it is the larger military effort that remains the dominant U.S. frame for the conflict.
Yet, the physical fight hardly promises much in the way of sustainable gains, and is arguably nothing more than tactical noise. Ironically, continued kinetic operations in Afghanistan, particularly the targeted killings of mid-level commanders, will undermine the prospects for a political settlement. Mullah Omar still retains considerable moral authority among the disparate groups that comprise the insurgency. But, as recent strains make clear, the longer the fighting goes on, the greater likelihood that the insurgency will become more fragmented and radicalized, and less amenable to heeding the directives of the Taliban's central leadership.
In reality, little of Afghanistan's future will be determined by current U.S. military operations - and they may in fact be counter-productive. So why then should Americans or Afghans continue to die needlessly?
The rationale for a dramatic adjustment in U.S. policy is not simply driven by anti-war fervor, but rather a belief that measures geared toward spurring a political settlement are in the best long-term interests of the Afghan people, regional stability and the United States.
If the last two years have shown us anything it is that the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily at a reasonable cost, especially when the insurgency can consistently regenerate itself and launch attacks from the safety of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.
To be sure, a political process is fraught with risk and is far from assured of success. Still, it is the only viable approach for bringing bloodshed in Afghanistan to an end, and averting a potentially bloody civil war after the lion's share of U.S. troops have returned home.
While there are still some signs of division among the insurgency, there are also multiple indications of interest among senior members of the Taliban to engage in political talks, including Mullah Omar's ‘Eid statement in August 2011 acknowledging contacts with the United States, a series of exploratory talks with the United States and other intermediaries, and the public announcement of the establishment of a liaison office in Qatar for the purpose of negotiations. Indeed, the Taliban leadership has publicly recognized the legitimacy of pursuing their goals via non-military means -- and have made that case to their rank and file. Quite simply, it is no longer credible to argue that there is nothing to talk about with the Taliban or that the U.S. lacks a potential interlocutor among the insurgency.
The question for the United States is not whether the Taliban wants to talk; it's how the U.S. can increase the chances for success.
And it's not as if the Taliban are confused about immediate U.S. intentions. The President has made clear that the US is leaving Afghanistan in 2014 (as stated at the Lisbon Conference), and in recent weeks Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that U.S. combat operations will end by the middle of 2013. Everyone in the region understands that the U.S. presence will significantly decline in the next 18 months. So why delay the inevitable? A break in fighting would allow all sides to more clearly explore the options for peace.
Critics will argue that a respite in the fighting would give the Taliban a clear military advantage, but there is another alternative -- that serious olive branches to the Taliban will force them to clarify their political intentions and will strengthen their ability to bring along the recalcitrant fighters in their ranks.
If the Taliban use a break in combat operations to ramp up their attacks on U.S. and Afghan government targets and/or shun the reconciliation process it will make clear their lack of interest in a political settlement.
This would inform the current discussions regarding a strategic partnership agreement (SPA) between the United States and Afghanistan. While current negotiations between the Karzai government and the United States over a reduced long-term military presence are proceeding slowly -- but with some signs of progress -- these talks would be clarified by a clearer understanding of the Taliban's intentions. The discussions around the SPA would provide the Taliban with a decision point -- if they want to rid their country completely of the "foreign occupier" then they will have to address this issue at the negotiating table, and by countenancing their own concessions. This would include, obviously, a public break with al-Qaeda, and a verifiable pledge that the terrorist organization will never again find shelter in Afghanistan.
If the Taliban view this proposed new U.S. military position as an opportunity to ramp up operations, the Afghan government will be more inclined to ensure that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will endure past 2014, albeit in reduced form. Under this scenario, the current military stalemate will be maintained, and with continued international support from the United States, chances of a Taliban takeover will continue to remain remote. From this standpoint the SPA serves as a hedge and a critical tool of leverage for the United States vis-à-vis the Taliban -- by putting the ball squarely in the insurgents' court.
In the end, the United States has nothing to lose by taking these steps in the pursuit of peace. Tactical gains in the near-term will not be decisive. But taking chances for peace and a long-term political settlement might just stop the war, put the region on the path to stability and above all, end the bloodletting in Afghanistan.
Michael Cohen and Michael Wahid Hanna are fellows at The Century Foundation.
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Michael O'Hanlon and Bruce Riedel insisted in an op-ed last week that the United States must stay in Afghanistan "until the job is done." While they are wise to warn against making rash decisions based on the particularly tragic events of the last few weeks, they never convincingly explain when the job should end and how we can expect to accomplish it in the next few years if we - to borrow a phrase from the last war - stay the course. The mission and objectives O'Hanlon and Riedel envision are of the never-ending variety: creating a viable, stable nation where none has previously existed. They also ignore their former, wiser caution on the future of the war.
At a July 2010 debate in New York, hosted by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), O'Hanlon collegially squared off against Ambassador Peter Galbraith on whether or not the war in Afghanistan could be won. I was just three months away from deploying to Helmand Province as a civilian member of a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team. I was rooting for O'Hanlon. I wanted this leading defense intellectual to justify the commitments and risks I would be embarking upon.
Ambassador Galbraith, with a sour taste in his mouth from his own experiences with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, insisted the war was doomed because our Afghan partners in the Karzai regime are hopelessly corrupt, inept, and illegitimate in the eyes of the Afghan population. O'Hanlon insisted that the new "counterinsurgency strategy" could work.
O'Hanlon described himself as seeing Afghanistan as a glass that is "55-60% full" and expressed optimism grounded in caution and caveats. He noted that in a year's time, if insufficient progress has been made, he might be arguing on the same side as Ambassador Galbraith. Noting President Obama's July 2011 deadline to major force commitments in Afghanistan (which has come and gone), O'Hanlon remarked, "I agree that if the strategy is not showing certain signs of hopefulness over the next 12 months, then we have to fundamentally re-assess."
Just months before, Riedel commented, "If, by the middle of 2011...we don't see any sign of change, then we've learned something. The patient was dead."
Two years later, reading their article on "finishing the job" in Afghanistan (which recycles the same old arguments) it is clear to me that O'Hanlon has not fulfilled his promise to call for a re-assessment, and Riedel has not been frank about our lack of success. After a nine-month tour with the brave British and Danish troops of Task Force Helmand, I saw little reason for the optimism O'Hanlon and Riedel maintain. Granted, this is only one province, but it has seen our greatest effort and investment, with too little to show for it. As of the beginning of this year, 30,000 troops - one out of every five ISAF military personnel - were in Helmand.
To turn a phrase, we have gotten too much bang (in the explosive sense of the word) for our buck.
This is not to say there has not been positive change. But the changes we have seen are not sufficient and will not meaningfully endure. Even Gen. (retired) David Petraeus is famous for noting that all progress in Afghanistan has been "fragile and reversible." There has been Afghan political institutional growth, but no political progress towards a settlement or stable accommodation. There has been significant Afghan security force development, but units that can plan and operate independently are precious few. Even if current force levels and spending were maintained to 2014, there is little reason to think that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be able to stand on their own. Aside from being plagued by incompetence, illiteracy, and a fatal dependence on our logisticians, planners, and administrators, the ANSF are riddled by internal factions and divisions that threaten to fall apart in the absence of a large presence of foreign troops.
The patient is dead.
As O'Hanlon and Riedel note, the Taliban have been pushed out of many (but not all) key populated areas of the south, but no one I know who has served over there seriously believes that the Afghan government's "hold" on these areas can endure absent another decade of high ISAF force levels and unacceptable costs in blood and treasure. By presenting a few selective statistics and re-framing a couple more that do not fit the narrative, they present a misleading picture of what "progress" in Afghanistan has meant. Indeed, other analysts of the conflict, such as Anthony Cordesman, have long presented a more complete and consequently negative picture of the campaign based on the same set of statistics. However, their biggest analytical sin is continuing to view counterinsurgency operations as discrete from larger policy and strategic concerns. When one widens the aperture, it becomes evident that the campaign in Afghanistan is not in step with American interests in the region. Operational success has not led to strategic gain.
What is the supreme purpose of this war? How can we create a viable nation-state in Afghanistan? Why should we bother? O'Hanlon and Riedel do not answer these questions. Indeed, Riedel's support for an expanded counterinsurgency campaign was always premised on weak suppositions. He based his recommendation for a "surge" in part on his concern that the Pakistani Army would strike a deal with al-Qaeda that would put Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the hands of terrorists. Riedel insisted that the war was winnable simply because the Taliban are mostly Pashtuns and Pashtuns are not a majority in Afghanistan (although, they are a plurality). This statement, repeated at a number of different venues, betrays confusion about Afghanistan's ethnic history (Afghanistan has almost never had a non-Pashtun ruler) and how insurgency can work as a method to impose the will of a driven minority on a passive and cowed majority.
Our only strategic interest in Afghanistan is ensuring transnational terrorists cannot establish a haven from which they can launch attacks. Through aerial drones and special operations forces, the United States has become adept at keeping al-Qaeda on the run. Al-Qaeda is not a sufficient reason to build a thus-far fictive Afghan state with a thus-far aspirational monopoly on violence in its own territory.
As Riedel has argued before, Afghanistan cannot be de-linked from regional issues: namely Pakistan. But we also cannot afford to have a military campaign de-linked from our national interests. Our campaign in Afghanistan has not had a stabilizing effect in Afghanistan or the region. To argue that "more of the same" - at predictable cost to life and limb - will somehow lead to stability is an exercise in amnesia.
Despite the analytical shortcomings of their article, Riedel and O'Hanlon identify the correct end-state in Afghanistan: a residual force of 10-15,000 US troops to serve in training, mentoring, air support, special operations, and logistic capacities. Why not get there sooner?
Ryan Evans is a Research Fellow at the Center for National Policy.
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March 12 was my last day in Helmand, concluding in a joint transfer ceremony with Maj. Gen. John Toolan of the U.S. Marines to our successors. It's a good moment to take stock of progress.
Helmand Province has been transformed in the past two years, building on foundations lain in the preceding years by ISAF and Afghan forces. Threats still persist - as the tragic deaths last week of six British soldiers showed. But the situation is very different from 2010. When I visited Marjah for the first time that July we were not able to leave the military base because of high levels of insecurity. That summer and autumn Royal Marines, U.S. Marines, and Afghan troops took heavy casualties in Sangin. Almost all of northern Helmand was accessible only by air. Even in central Helmand large parts of Nad-Ali were under insurgent control.
A year on, Nad-Ali was a 20-minute drive from Lashkar Gah. In December, Governor Gulab Mangal took Afghan parliamentarians to Marjah to meet local officials in a café where my successor and I had lunch the month before. In January, Governor Mangal was the first governor in 30 years to drive from the northern District of Kajaki down to Lashkar Gah in the centre, approximately a 130 kilometre drive. Last month 3,100 Sangin elders registered for its first local election. Seven districts now draw funds from Afghan systems under the District Delivery Program.
Life for ordinary people is changing for the better. Today 120,000 children go to school - a quarter of them girls - a 50% rise from late-2010. In the last two years 744 kilometres of roads were built, 45 major canal assets were repaired, and the number of justice officials doubled. Currently, 49 health centres are open, up from 27 in 2009. Since July 2011, 3,500 students completed vocational training in Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, with over 70% of those finding new jobs. By November, 20,000 will have graduated from 15 training centres across Helmand, including five centres for women.
This remarkable progress has come through the efforts of an exceptional team of Afghan and international partners, led for four years by Governor Mangal. His firm leadership and the service and sacrifice of Afghan and international security forces have been the foundation for improved security, new freedom of movement and a better life for the people of Helmand.
The Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) typifies the combined team. A U.K.-led, multi-national, civil-military body, it includes over 200 British, U.S., Danish, Estonian and Afghan staff: diplomats, military officers, civil police, engineers, lawyers and experts in agriculture, infrastructure, governance and other fields. It is a mark of progress in Helmand that the PRT is now drawing down as we hand over to Afghan leadership. But its work is not yet finished. Few now dispute Helmand's progress. One example is in education, from 2010 to date, there has been a 26% increase in number of schools open and a 49% and 58% rise in male and female students respectively.
The task ahead is to ensure it is sustained to 2014 and beyond - when international assistance will continue, but in different forms from today - as our own numbers reduce. Considering the progress made since 2010, this is a realistic goal.
Plenty of challenges remain - and won't end by 2014. More work is needed to develop the Afghan Army and Police. Key PRT priorities are to strengthen the systems of governance, in particular links to Kabul, investment in economic infrastructure - roads, canals, power - and facilitating private sector growth for jobs and prosperity. It's a demanding agenda but a good roadmap for the future, with foundations that have become progressively stronger since 2010.
Michael O'Neill is the outgoing U.K. Senior Representative, Southern Afghanistan.
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In September 2010 Afghan President Hamid Karzai named Maulvi Qalamuddin to the High Peace Council, an Afghan organization set up to negotiate with the Taliban-led insurgency. Qalamuddin has a notorious past as the former deputy minister for the General Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Elimination of Vice (Amr-e-Bil M'arouf wa Nahi Anil Munkar) during the Taliban regime. He oversaw the implementation of the extreme and strict Islamic laws through religious police squads who ran surveillance on the Afghan populace. Activities included public beatings of women who were deemed to be dressed or behaving inappropriately, banning women from working in public space, smashing televisions, and forcing men to grow beards and spend more time in mosques.
Maulvi Qalamuddin is among the most controversial of the five Taliban members who have been appointed to the HPC as part of the Afghan government's efforts to include more hardliners into the peace process. He is considered to be among the few of Taliban members who still have significant clout and connections among insurgents, including the Taliban leadership. Qalamuddin is a product of the Dar-ul Uloom Haqqania madrassa in the town of Akora Khattak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the same madrassa that produced Mullah Omar and other Taliban ministers and commanders, including Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network and one of the most dreaded insurgent leaders in Afghanistan. In an effort to build trust with insurgent leaders, Afghan government has petitioned the U.N. Security Council to remove Qalamuddin and 19 other former Taliban members from a sanctions list that has prevented them from travelling or sending money abroad since 1999.
As the rush towards withdrawal gathers momentum, and the search for political solution intensifies, the urge to portray a moderate face of the Taliban is gaining traction. While those who have joined the peace process appear to have moderated their views, the key question of whether there has been a genuine change of heart or whether nominal moderation represents mere opportunism remains unanswered.
Afghans who have been fatigued by the unending war and uncertainty of the international presence are broadly supportive of the peace and reintegration processes, but they, too, remain sceptical about the motives and intent of the former Taliban leaders who are eyeing a return through political negotiations. Concerns remain over how the Taliban might behave once they are allowed into some kind of power sharing arrangement. Moreover, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, remains elusive, with little or no real indication of his thoughts on the peace processes.
Through my discussions with the members of the High Peace Council, as well as the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), it was interesting to observe the various strands of thinking on reintegration, reconciliation and peace processes. The HPC and APRP members were optimistic about the reintegration process, though they expressed concerns about the reliability of guarantees from the government of protection, compensation and employment opportunities to prevent the militants from re-joining the insurgency. As for the reconciliation and peace process, members lamented the lack of clarity on the role and powers of HPC with the U.S. having set up the parallel Qatar process. Most feel that this should be an Afghan-led negotiation, and any parallel process should be in consultation with the Afghans, and needs to be gradually integrated into the Afghan effort. They perceive the present U.S. effort at negotiation as a face saving formula rather than a serious stake holder in the negotiation process. However, some concede that the Qatar track may also take the heat off of the Afghans to find a political solution, given that the HPC had lost a lot of steam after the assassination of HPC head Burhanuddin Rabbani last year. Concerns remain over the potential spoiler role that could be played by Pakistan, and the belief that the Pakistani establishment has control over the Quetta Shura or at least continue to provide sanctuary to Taliban militants.
During a conversation with Maulvi Qalamuddin in Kabul, I had a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into his personal views on the various issues that have confounded the Afghans and the international community, and threatened the viability of the peace process. He paints a very optimistic picture of the prospects of reintegration and reconciliation, though he remains wary of the role of the United States and neighbouring countries.
Below are Maulvi Qalamuddin's responses to my questions.
Shanthie D'Souza: Why do you think peace and reconciliation is important? Do you think the Afghan government can bring peace?
Maulvi Qalamuddin: Reconciliation and peace are important to bring an end to the war. The people of Afgahnistan are tired of war and violence and want peace. So it is important to work with the government to bring peace. The Afghan government by working through the provincial offices of the High Peace Council has been able to reach out to large segment of tribal elders that has helped gain grass root support.
SD: Why didn't you support or join the government earlier?
MQ: By direct political negotiations, there were many like Maulvi Qalamuddin who were ready to join the government but were arrested in 2002. There were many like him who wanted to join the government earlier but were captured or killed. This created a trust deficit.
SD: Why did you join the Taliban and why are you supporting the Afghan government now?
MQ: The rationale for joining the Taliban was to put an end to the conflict caused by the incessant infighting among the mujahideen in the 1990's. The Taliban were the only ones who were able to being security and justice to Afghanistan. Likewise, my present decision to join the government is to help bring peace to the country. Eleven years of war has worked to no one's advantage. I will support any government that has and serves the interest of the Afghan people.
SD: Was the Taliban regime better or more effective than the present government?
MQ: The Taliban regime was good because there was a security, justice in Afghanistan and it was a pure Islamic state. The present Afghan government is good because it has money, professional cadre and international support. In the time of the Taliban, one could not visualise offices with young people working on computers that one sees today. That is a good sign. I have three television sets at home and I watch Televison programs[The Taliban during its rule and under Qalamuddin's direction had carried out public executions of TV sets as it was considered as ‘idolatry']. For a man averse to photography, he was open to being photographed.
SD: Are the Taliban ready for talks? Who should be included in the talks and negotiations?
MQ: Taliban has shown inclination for talks. Not all Taliban are useful and they do not depict the Afghan culture. The present excesses of the Taliban like beheadings and suicide bombing are unacceptable. There is a need to separate the criminalised networks from the real Taliban.
SD: What are the challenges to the reconciliation process?
MQ: The presence of criminal groups who function under the name of Taliban are a main challenge. There are also issues of night raids [by the international forces], torture, detention centres, black listing of Taliban member and role of neighbouring countries. More importantly, there is lack of trust and confidence between the government, international community and the Taliban
SD: How do you think these challenges can be addressed?
MQ: For reconciliation to work there is a need for change in the constitution, provide guarantees, build trust and international community's support.
SD: What do you think of the Qatar Process? Do you think it will help establish contact and official address for the Taliban?
MQ: The Qatar process is an informal dialogue and not an official channel. Thus, it has its limitations. Taliban had only a presence in Qatar, not an office. This window has opened on to a path that might lead eventually to peace negotiations. [His emphasis was on the Afghan process].
SD: What should be done after 2014 in case of international withdrawal?
MQ: There is a need to work together with the Afghan government and the international community.
SD: If the Taliban were to come back to power in some form, would women's rights be protected?
MQ: The west does not understand the Afghan society. I am not against women working in offices or going out in public alone. Look, you are a foreigner. If you can cover your head and respect our culture, we appreciate and expect the same from Afghan women. The present breed of Afghan women appearing on TV without head scarves is not acceptable. Women need to adhere to the sharia laws in consonance with the Afghan culture.
When I asked other HPC officials about women's rights, they were adamant that the respect and protection of women rights would not be compromised by reconciliation with the Taliban. Based on my own observations in Afghanistan, there appears to have been a marginal (or tactical) shift in letting women in public space, but not letting them dress the way they want to, for example . While most Afghan women would like to wear the traditional attire or cover their head, there are others who believe they should have the freedom to make that choice themselves. Interestingly, Qalamuddin let me photograph him, but declined to have his picture taken with me, presumably because I am a woman. I perceive this as a marginal change, and not a full, attitudinal change.
The Afghan women leaders with whom I have had discussions, such as Fawzia Koofi, Sima Samar, Shukriya Barakzai and others in Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Nangahar, are very apprehensive. They feel that once back in power, the Taliban will resort to old ways. Unless the international community ensures some guarantees on women and human rights, Afghanistan risks reverting to its pre-2001 ways.
Do Qalamuddin's views signify a dramatic shift in thinking among the Taliban? Are these early signs of transformation or tactics of opportunism? It is important for the United States and its allies, who are pushing for hasty deals through multiple negotiation channels, to sieve through these strands of thinking to prepare for eventualities when the Taliban are back in some form in the Afghan society and polity. Obviously, these attempts at peace making and negotiations should not fritter away a decade-long achievements in areas of democracy, human and women rights.
Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institute.
Shanthie Mariet D'Souza
When anger erupted last Tuesday over the U.S. military's mishandling of a large number of Qurans, it was clear that this was going to be big and bad - but nobody knew how bad. After three days of protests across the country, some of which turned violent, last Friday was going to be the litmus test: Would the whole country erupt into anger? Would it set off chain reactions that would be difficult to undo? Would the police and army maintain discipline? The day ended in a mixed picture: relief over the sense of restraint that prevailed in many areas; and sadness and resignation over the reports of violence and deaths coming from a handful of places.
All in all, it was not as bad as could be feared: people did not join in large numbers, the police and the army held together, most leaders used their influence to defuse rather than to ignite. In the following days the intensity and spread of the protests waned and by Monday no more protests or riots were reported. Afghanistan, it seemed, was not in the mood for protracted rage and all the violence that comes with it.
We have seen this pattern before: after incidents provoking wide-spread anger there are several days of demonstrations, some violent, with provinces taking their turn to express their outrage. And although some areas have multiple days of violence, in most places the protests start dwindling after there has been a significant gathering or flare-up. But there were reasons why it could be different this time: nastier, more widespread, more difficult to contain.
The Quran burning on Afghan soil was potentially far more emotive than other incidents in the past, like for instance the outrage over particularly tragic cases of civilian casualties or fatal car accidents involving U.S. forces (not the same sense of desecration and mostly felt locally) or last year's Quran burning in Florida (in a far-away country). There was also the issue of cumulative anger - people asking: how often should we forgive, how long can we tolerate - and of conflicted loyalties, particularly on the part of the police and the army who could be called on to protect internationals from angry attacks.
If Afghanistan was going to erupt into even more violence over the Quran burnings, it would have been on Friday. On Fridays you don't have to gather people, they naturally congregate in mosques. And it doesn't take much to get an angry crowd, just a passionate sermon and a few people who help heat up the mood. So on Friday most of us, Afghan and foreign, were waiting - to see what the day would bring and what the country would look like at the end of it.
Throughout the day protests were reported in about half of Afghanistan's provinces. There were escalations in the vicinity of American or government sites. Attempts to storm military bases in Baghlan and Khost turned violent and several protesters were shot. Towards the end of the day demonstrations escalated in Herat and Kabul - two cities that also experienced violent demonstrations in the past (2004 and 2011 in Herat and 2006 in Kabul). In Herat demonstrators tried to march towards the U.S. Consulate and clashed with the army when it tried to stop them. In Kabul the protests turned ugly and chaotic in the well-known hotspot of Pul-e Charkhi at the edge of town.
But the outright majority of the population either stayed inside or went home peacefully after attending Friday prayers. Most demonstrations ended without incident and none of them were massive (the largest seem to have counted a few thousand demonstrators). There was anger, for sure, but there was also a lot of restraint. Across the country people have been calling for calm and patience in their communities, not wanting to see more bloodshed. They did not manage to pre-empt all violence and there were still nasty riots in the days after, but it will be difficult to argue that the rioters were acting on behalf of the whole population.
After a week of violence, with around thirty dead and many more injured, it may be difficult to explain to the rest of the world, but in a way this is what relative restraint looks like - in a country awash with weapons and frustration, and that has suffered for decades from the young men itching for a fight and the leaders accustomed to using religiously fuelled violence as a political tool.
Despite the heavy hand of conservative religious power, the main debates have not been fully settled. There is a sprouting vocal new generation - not automatically democratically-minded or un-implicated in political deals, as is sometimes assumed, but certainly with a mind of their own and many of them determined to make something more out of their country than is currently on the books. And among the older generation, many are not sure they want to rally to the same rhetoric as they used to, having seen what can come of it. Afghanistan is still very violent and deeply conservative, but it would be a mistake to paint the whole population with the same brush.
But where do you go from here - with relationships so damaged and trust so badly undermined? The burning of the Qurans has greatly exacerbated lingering resentment and suspicion among Afghans towards the international presence. And the murder of two senior military advisers in the Ministry of Interior has left the international military feeling very exposed and angry over what they consider the much too feeble response of the Afghan government. Patience at home is running dangerously low, as angry stereotypes fill the comment sections of news sites. It has always been a complex relationship, coloured by high hopes, misunderstandings, and an increasingly resentful dependency. If it is allowed to settle, it will be possible to patch things up and to muddle on. But it will remain a relationship under a cloud and under very difficult circumstances.
For a discussion of the different faces of anger, click here.
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which published an earlier version of this piece on February 24, 2012. The original article can be found here.
In cold blood: Gunmen wearing Pakistani military uniforms ambushed four passenger buses carrying mostly Shi'a Muslims in the Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province on Tuesday, ordering the passengers off the bus and killing at least 18 of them (NYT, AP, CNN, Tel, AJE, ET, Reuters, LAT, BBC). The commander of the banned Sunni militant group Jundallah, Ahmed Marwat, contacted the media soon after the attack to claim responsibility on behalf of his organization.
Pakistani Finance Secretary Abdul Wajid Rana on Tuesday suggested that the United States will soon release money owed to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) (ET, Dawn). Pakistan had been slated to receive $1.3 billion from the CSF this year, but the closing of NATO supply routes through Pakistan resulted in the money being withheld for several months. The Pakistani rupee hit a record low of 90.97 against the dollar on Monday, as the State Bank of Pakistan made its first installment of $400 million to repay IMF loans, and officials told National Assembly members that the country's debt had reached $130 billion (The News, Dawn).
An email from the U.S. security think tank Stratfor obtained and published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks on Monday alleges that there were "Mid to senior level ISI and Pak Mil with one retired Pak Mil General that had knowledge of OBL [Osama bin Laden] arrangements and safehouse" (Tel, ET, BBC). Meanwhile, some residents of Abbottabad, where bin Laden was found and killed last May, want a girls school built on the site of the terrorist leader's compound, which was razed this weekend (ET).
Stick to the plan
U.S. officials on Monday defended the Obama administration's decision to stay the course in Afghanistan despite the protests and attacks on NATO personnel over the last week, and the growing unpopularity of the war at home (AP, Bloomberg, NPR, McClatchy, Reuters). Pentagon officials said the "cowardly attacks" will not deter the United States from pursuing its goal of improving security conditions in Afghanistan, and spokesman George Little pointed out that U.S. troops "work alongside thousands of Afghans every single day."
The United Nations pulled international staff from their office in the northeastern province of Kunduz on Monday, a day after protesters attempted to storm the compound in which the office is located (WSJ).
A nation's pride
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Monday announced that Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy would receive a civil award for becoming the first Pakistani to win an Oscar (AP). Obaid-Chinoy received the prestigious award for her documentary "Saving Face," which follows a London-based surgeon who travels to Pakistan to do reconstructive surgeries on female victims of acid attacks.
-- Jennifer Rowland
HASHAM AHMED/AFP/Getty Images
This piece is based on a policy paper by Thomas F. Lynch III entitled "The 80 Percent Solution: The Strategic Defeat of bin Laden's al-Qaeda and Implications for South Asian Security," published on February 3, 2012 by the New America Foundation's National Security Studies Program. To read the entire 30-page paper, please click here.
With the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the United States and Western governments scored a major but still underappreciated victory in the nearly decade-and-a-half-old war against al-Qaeda. Bin Laden's death did not eliminate all of the features of al-Qaeda that make it dangerous as a factor in terrorism internationally. Its role in assisting regional jihadist groups in strikes against local governments and by inspiring "lone wolf" would-be martyrs in acts of violence will remain with us for many years. Yet the manner in which U.S. intelligence and military operatives found and eliminated bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was devastating to three of the five most critical features of bin Laden's al-Qaeda:
Bin Laden's demise also degraded by half - but did not eliminate - the fourth and fifth elements of al-Qaeda's essence: its role as a "vanguard" of a wider network of Sunni Salafi groups and its ability to serve as a key point of inspiration for "lone wolf" terrorists around the globe. As a consequence, the death of Osama bin Laden has produced an 80 percent solution to the problems that this unique terrorist organization poses for Western policymakers.
This 80 percent solution has multiple, important implications. Globally, it means that al-Qaeda's growing isolation from alternative, nonviolent approaches to political change in the Muslim world must be reinforced - and is best reinforced - with a deliberate and visible reduction in the U.S. military footprint in Islamic countries worldwide. Washington can best isolate al-Qaeda and limit its ability to reclaim relevance in the struggle for reform in the Islamic world by quietly enabling security forces in Muslim states to counter al-Qaeda affiliates while simultaneously providing judicious and enduring support for Muslim voices for nonviolent political change.
Yet the most immediate implications of this historic development matter to the trajectory of U.S. policy in South Asia. Bin Laden's demise fundamentally alters the current framework of U.S. and coalition strategy in Afghanistan, and challenges the underpinnings of U.S. policy toward Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda's earliest conception of itself - developed in the late 1980s - included the bedrock function of serving as the base for continuing guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan. Its largely Arab and Egyptian core leadership shared a bond forged in the fight against the Soviet Union and felt the victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan to be of Allah's will and making. Since late 2001, al-Qaeda has shared with the Afghan Taliban a view that Pakistan is the natural location for vital efforts to free Afghanistan from foreign rule - to validate the victory over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by another successful guerrilla war.
At the same time, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda's core leadership have long diverged in goals and aspirations. These differences were papered over by the personal history between bin Laden and key Afghan Taliban figures - especially the late Younis Khalis, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar. With bin Laden's death, the glue that papered over these fissures is gone. His personal oath (bay'a) to Mullah Omar has no analog with Ayman al-Zawahiri or the cohort of Egyptians and Libyans now at the helm of al-Qaeda's remaining core elements in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda may continue to drape itself in the Taliban flag and proclaim allegiance to Mullah Omar, but with bin Laden's death the Afghan Taliban faces one stark certainty. While it shares a loose but important Salafi jihadist credo with al-Qaeda, it remains dependent on all manner of support for its insurgency from elements within and beholden to the Pakistani security services. Afghan Taliban leaders must calculate their futures based upon this dominant reality. As they do, al-Qaeda's ability to repeat its propaganda performance following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan - taking credit for any (unlikely) defeat of the United States or any important role in the (more likely) successes the Taliban may have in carving out political space in the country - will wither rapidly.
Absent bin Laden, the risks of al-Qaeda's return to unfettered sanctuary in Afghanistan or western Pakistan have dropped dramatically, while the risks of a devastating proxy war between India and Pakistan - nuclear armed nations that have fought three shooting wars and indulged in several other martial crises since 1947 -- over their relative positions in Afghanistan continue to grow. Absent the onset of a stark proxy war between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan, Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership will have very little interest in seeing al-Qaeda again set up shop from which to wage a bloody campaign of international terrorism and will utilize the tools at their disposal to constrain this possibility.
American policy must wake up to the fact that the risks of devastating proxy war between India and Pakistan now dwarf the risks of al-Qaeda's return to unfettered sanctuary and recalibrate its diplomatic energies and military priorities accordingly. The United States must reduce its present focus on killing off every last al-Qaeda affiliated leader or mid-level Haqqani Network operative in Pakistan and pay far more attention to the factors necessary to inhibit proxy war in Afghanistan: a tense but enduring U.S. diplomatic relationship with Pakistan designed to calm its fears that growing Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will become an Indian-directed dagger aimed at Pakistan's back, and diplomatic engagement with Pakistan and India on an acceptable political and security framework for Afghanistan into the next decade. NATO force planners then must devise processes to draw down to the residual U.S./coalition military stabilization forces necessary to stay on for the rest of the decade, enforce this essential Indo-Pakistani framework agreement, and serve as a buttress against points of friction or violence in Afghanistan that could descend into the chaos of a proxy war conflict. These vital outcomes will require earnest and difficult negotiations with the Pakistanis, Indians, Afghan Taliban, and northern ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Negotiations focused on these outcomes have not even begun. It is time that they do.
Dr. Thomas F. Lynch III is Distinguished Research Fellow for South Asia and the Near East at the Center for Strategic Research, part of the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
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In the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, Stanford political scientist Stephen Krasner claims that "current U.S. policy toward Pakistan has failed" and recommends that the United States take a radically different approach: credibly threaten to sever all forms of cooperation, including all U.S. aid - military and civilian - to force Pakistan into cooperating with the United States on security matters. Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall responds.
Stephen Krasner ("Talk Tough to Pakistan: How to End Islamabad's Defiance," Jan/Feb 2012) wants to change the Pakistani government's behavior. He argues that its failure to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan and on terrorism is not due to its weakness as a state. Instead, it is a rational response of Pakistan's military leadership, whose priority is to defend itself against India - with a nuclear deterrent and support for terrorists and the Afghan Taliban. Therefore, the only way the United States can win cooperation from Pakistan is to threaten "malign neglect"- cut off military and civilian assistance, sever intelligence cooperation, maintain and possibly escalate drone strikes and initiate unilateral cross-border raids. If that isn't enough, then the U.S. could move on to "active isolation" -- declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, making it a pariah, and impose sanctions.
If only it were this easy. Krasner fails to mention that the U.S. has tried this approach before. In the 1990s it cut off military and civilian assistance to Pakistan and imposed sanctions in an effort to dissuade Pakistan from developing a nuclear capability. We all know how that story ended. But let's suppose this time the threats or the follow-through worked and brought the military and intelligence establishment to heel in Pakistan. Let's suppose the United States got what it wanted on the security front - helping assure a timely U.S and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Would that solve the problem Pakistan poses for America's security in the long run? No.
What Krasner doesn't say is that the U.S. wants something more than compliance from Pakistan's military and intelligence communities with its immediate security needs. The U.S. wants a capable and stable civilian government that plays by the rules of the international community. It wants a democratic state that would not abuse and misuse its nuclear capability and that would find its way to peaceful relations with India.
In other words the U.S. has a long-run vision for Pakistan, very much in its own interests, as well as a set of short-term demands. In the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (known as Kerry-Lugar Berman, or KLB) Congress recognized the resulting need for a two-track approach. That legislation made U.S. security assistance (not actually authorized in the legislation) conditional on Pakistani cooperation on security matters. But its fundamental purpose, and the money it authorized for civilian aid, was the rebuilding of a serious partnership with the civilian government and the people of Pakistan. With KLB as the framework, since 2009 the Obama Administration has engaged fully with the civilian government and with civil society and private sector leaders in Pakistan on a range of issues -- energy, water, agriculture, macroeconomic issues, private investment and trade.
In short, the purpose of U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan is to help build a better state. It is not to bribe or reward the "government" (neither the military nor the civilian leadership). Withholding military aid would likely not punish the military anyway. It would, however, reduce the resources available to the civilian government, since the evidence is that the military can get what it wants from the government's overall available resources. And withholding civilian aid obviously would not punish the military. It would, however, take away a modest tool of America - investing to educate kids, create jobs, and strengthen civil society and representative institutions and thus give Pakistan a better shot at becoming a stable, prosperous and democratic country in the long term.
There are of course real questions about the effectiveness of U.S engagement with the civilian government - with aid and dialogue - given the prevailing suspicion there of U.S. motives, the inherent difficulties of operating in a complex and insecure environment, and the bureaucratic shortcomings of the U.S. aid system itself. But then those are reasons to put relatively more emphasis on other forms of engagement: trade, investment, and encouraging the normalization of relations with India. They do not warrant bullying the weak civilian government that the U.S. wants to strengthen.
Krasner begins and ends his article by invoking the testimony of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during his last appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Krasner is right in pointing out that Mullen was critical of Pakistan's role in supporting extremist organizations and the need to get tough with Pakistan. Yet, Krasner fails to mention the conclusion Mullen reached in his statement. Mullen recognized that the U.S. has a variety of objectives in Pakistan and the region, and that by focusing too intensely on short term interests, the U.S. will end up short-changing itself over the long haul: "We must also move beyond counter-terrorism to address long-term foundations of Pakistan's success - to help the Pakistanis find realistic and productive ways to achieve their aspirations of prosperity and security." Mullen concludes, "Isolating the people of Pakistan from the world right now would be counter-productive."
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, DC based think tank.
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Afghanistan is ruled not by law, but by power and patronage. The absence of the rule of law fuels the country's savage insurgency. When citizens can't rely on the state to protect them against systemic abuses, then rebellion becomes a far more attractive option. Tragically, in Afghanistan the abusers, more often than not, are from the government itself - including ministers, governors, police chiefs and militia leaders.
It needn't be this way. If there is one policy reform that all the main actors in Afghanistan purport to agree on, it's the critical importance of building the rule of law. President's Karzai's speeches are liberally salted with promises to reform the legal system and tackle corruption. The Taliban understands that a key way to win Afghans' hearts and minds is to provide them with the justice they so desperately desire. It does so by setting up mobile courts, delivering a very rough and ready justice, but one that is often preferred to the arbitrary rule of local commanders. And Western governments have spent billions on rule of law reforms, with little tangible impact.
So with this apparent unanimity on the need for the rule of law, why in Afghanistan do the powerful continue to abuse the weak with near total impunity?
The answer is that the purported commitment is largely in name only. True rule of law requires laws that are public, clear, and apply equally to everyone. It needs government officials who accept that they are subject to the law. It requires reasonably fair, competent, and efficient courts, prosecutors and police who respect the presumption of innocence and due process. It needs judges who are reasonably independent and impartial, and have the confidence in their safety to properly perform their jobs.
But the reforms necessary to achieve all this present an existential threat to the power of the ruling elite in Afghanistan. Building the rule of law involves challenging vested interests at the highest levels of the government. It is far more a political exercise than a technical one. Many Afghan power holders -- from President Karzai downwards -- benefit from a patronage based system. It enables them to buy and maintain loyalty. Corruption is an integral part of such a system.
It's not just corruption that thrives in such an environment. Equal treatment by the law requires that those who have committed atrocities against their people be held accountable for these crimes. Failure to do so promotes a climate in which the powerful continue to commit abuses with impunity. But in Afghanistan those responsible for grave human rights abuses continue to occupy positions of power. These include officials like Vice Presidents Mohammad Fahim and Karim Khalili, who face credible accusations of war crimes or crimes against humanity during the brutal civil war. They also include a generation of post-Taliban leaders -- such as the Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs, Asadullah Khaled, as well as powerful provincial governors allied to Western forces -- accused of serious human rights violations since 2001. A report soon to be released by the Afghan human rights commission -- if not blocked by the government -- will document many of the past crimes.
International intervention encouraged and promoted this impunity by returning to power warlords and commanders. Influential international actors continue to rely on alliances of convenience with these abusive power holders to promote perceived stabilization goals.
Meanwhile the Taliban also preys on the local population, and subjects those it is purporting to liberate from foreign occupation to horrendous abuses, including suicide bombings, assassinations and the use of civilians as human shields.
For Afghans, the tragic result is that today's reality is not much different from that of the last thirty years, and their lives are still dominated by powerful men with guns.
Achieving accountability is not a question of naïve aspiration: the culture of high-level impunity must be challenged, as failure to do so will undermine all other rule of law efforts and perpetuate an environment in which conflict will flourish.
The culture will not change until some of those responsible for the worst abuses against the Afghan people are prosecuted. The best option would be for the government itself to pursue some of these abusers. This would increase its legitimacy in the eyes its people and would send a clear warning to those in authority and to those seeking to do deals with the government who believe they can continue to kill with impunity. It would also undermine one of the claimed attractions of the Taliban -- that it provides harsh, but fair, justice where none otherwise exists.
Unfortunately, there is no prospect of the government providing high-level justice. The Karzai administration has consistently opted for expediency over principle when it comes to accountability, most notably in enacting a law giving amnesty to former warlords. Most international actors have been largely silent on this law. In fact, it appears that a desire for a quick exit by NATO countries may have stifled all discussion of the critical need to link reconciliation with accountability and to tackle Afghanistan's longstanding culture of impunity.
But expediency will not promote stability, and a failure to build the rule of law will lead to more instability, not less. It will also ensure that Afghan power holders - government and Taliban alike - continue to commit abuses that shock the conscience of the international community and fuel the very instability that led, a decade ago, to such a costly international intervention.
Nick Grono is the Deputy President of the International Crisis Group.
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