With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
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A report released in September by human rights researchers at Stanford Law School and New York University Law School sets out to demonstrate that U.S. drone policies are "damaging and counterproductive."
Media outlets from CNN to BBC hailed the report as new evidence of the U.S. government's false narrative on drones and the New York Times' Scott Shane described the study as "among the most thorough on the subject to date."
While the Stanford-NYU report certainly presents a comprehensive review of existing drone research, its new contributions to the evidentiary record are far more modest than its sweeping conclusions would suggest.
The U.S. government claims that civilian casualties caused by drones are in the "single digits" during Obama's years in office, while the Stanford-NYU report seeks to establish that there is significant evidence that U.S. drone strikes have killed and injured a larger number of civilians. This is a low bar, and would merely necessitate proving that more than 10 civilians have been killed by drones since Obama assumed office, a claim that has been made by all three major databases aggregating information on drone strikes. The Stanford-NYU report goes further, claiming that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed since 2004.
However, this does not represent new evidence. Stanford and NYU researchers made no attempt to offer new statistical analysis on the number of civilian casualties caused by drones. Rather, their report is essentially an extended endorsement of a database compiled by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a small team of journalists based out of City University, London. In doing so, the report rejects the findings of two other widely cited databases, The Long War Journal, which reports 138 civilian deaths and New America Foundation's Year of the Drone, which lists 152-191 civilian deaths and the deaths of 130-268 "unknowns."
If the Stanford-NYU team wants to paint a picture of the U.S. as a human rights abuser, then the Bureau, whose casualty statistics dwarf the more conservative estimates of the other databases, is best suited to that purpose, but that does not make it the most reliable source.
While a comprehensive assessment of the Bureau's data should have been conducted before giving it a resounding endorsement, just a cursory review of its account of 2012's drone strikes reveals problems:
- On May 5, 2012 the Bureau reports that a strike in North Waziristan killed 8-10 people, of whom between zero and ten are listed as civilians. Upon reviewing the accompanying sources one find that early reports said the identity of the dead could not be determined, but subsequent reports from government officials identified them as militants. Of the 15 sources cited by the Bureau, not one states that the victims were civilians.
-On June 2, 2012 the Bureau reports that 2-4 people were killed and between zero and two of them were civilians. These civilian deaths were inferred based on a report that a motorbike was accidentally hit, but the Bureau fails to take note of a later report from The Express Tribune identifying the motorbike victims as suspected militants Khalil Yargul Khail and Rehmanullah Gangi Khail.
-On July 23, 2012 the Bureau references 25 sources for a drone strike, only one of which described the victims as local residents and based on this the Bureau reports that up to 14 civilians were killed.
The Stanford-NYU report critiques the Long War Journal for not making its data available in a verifiable strike-by-strike format, over-relying on U.S. intelligence sources, and identifying all victims as militants unless they are specifically identified as civilians. These are reasonable criticisms, but when the critique turns to New America Foundation research, it becomes logically inconsistent.
While Stanford-NYU researchers admit that all three databases rely on "the same universe of publicly available press reports," they criticize only the New America Foundation for over-relying on the anonymous Pakistani government officials cited in such news reports. The Stanford-NYU report laments that these officials are cited in 88% of articles referenced in New America's 2012 data but fails to consider that these same articles are referenced by the Bureau. Furthermore, the only reason the researchers were able to generate that statistic is because New America compiles a highly transparent summary of media sources relied on for each strike with a list of which sources reported which casualty estimates, something no other database provides.
The Stanford-NYU report goes on to question the "deep reporting" capabilities of New America's sources (The New York Times, Reuters, AP, BBC, etc.) while uncritically accepting the veracity of reports from fringe outlets such as the Kuwait News Agency, the South Asian News Agency, Central Asia Online, and Punjab News, which are sometimes the sole sources for the Bureau's reports of civilian casualties.
This is not to suggest that the Bureau's research is without merit, but it should be noted that it represents an interpretation of the facts with a bias toward reporting civilian casualties. The Bureau's database does not even have a category for reporting militant deaths. It seems counter-intuitive that the organization's researchers can have such absolute faith in their civilian casualty estimates, but not have the confidence to label any of the deceased as militants.
And the Stanford-NYU team was not impartial. By the report's own admission, the research project it undertook in Pakistan to interview family members of drone strike victims was commissioned by Reprieve, a UK based advocacy organization. Reprieve, which filed two lawsuits on behalf of alleged drone victims in May of 2012, arranged, paid for and collaborated on many of the victim interviews conducted by the Stanford-NYU researchers.
No database is perfect, but a strong argument could be made that the New America Foundation's policy of attempting to identify both militants and civilians while maintaining an explicit category for "unknowns" to represent the uncertainty surrounding many of the strikes is a more balanced representation of the facts. After all, if the public is to assess the efficacy of drone strikes then we need to consider the strikes that hit their targets as well as the ones that do not.
Stanford and NYU's analysis of the three drone databases, in some respects, misses the forest for the trees. A comparison of the annual data collected by the Bureau with that compiled by the New America Foundation suggests that while their numbers may differ, their underlying findings are substantially similar. Both the Bureau and New America have observed a general decline in the percentage of civilian fatalities since the high in 2006, with a sharp decrease during the Obama administration. According to the Bureau's data, the proportion of civilians killed in drone strikes fell from 35 percent in 2008 under President Bush to 9 percent thus far in 2012. Similarly, New America reports that the rate of civilian and unknown casualties decreased from 23 percent in 2008 to 2 percent in 2012. This stands to reason when we consider that the Bureau tends to err on the side of assuming that unidentified dead or individuals of disputed identity are civilians, while New America prefers to accommodate ambiguity by listing "unknowns" and only reports a civilian or militant casualty when it is reported by two independent sources.
If one takes the average number of civilian and unknown deaths counted by the New America Foundation from 2004-2012 as a percentage of the total number of people killed in drone strikes, the civilian and unknown deaths represent 15 percent of the total. The Bureau's data suggests that civilian deaths account for 22 percent of the total killed. These numbers are in fact, not so very far apart. And while the Bureau has criticized New America for reporting that in 2012, civilian deaths are approaching zero, the Bureau's own data suggests that the percentage of civilian casualties in 2012 is at nine percent, an all-time low and significantly less than the 23 percent the Bureau reports during Obama's first year in office. This suggests that the choice is not between two very different data sets, but rather two different interpretations of similar evidence. Contrary to the Stanford-NYU report's claims, the New America Foundation is not underreporting civilian casualties; its researchers have simply chosen not to feign certainty in the face of ambiguity.
What They Didn't Say
The Stanford-NYU researchers also fail to incorporate evidence that might temper their claims. Their report makes numerous references to an AP investigative report that interviewed 80 villagers at the sites of the ten deadliest attacks in 2011 and 2012 but neglects its conclusions that "a significant majority of the dead were combatants" and the numbers of casualties gathered by AP investigators "turned out to be very close to those given by Pakistani intelligence on the day of each strike."
Numerous media accounts, including the LA Times, have highlighted that "the [Stanford-NYU] study concludes that only about 2 percent of drone casualties are top militant leaders." The study reached no such conclusion. This claim is based on research conducted by New America and published last month on CNN. While the Stanford-NYU report summarily dismissed New America's militant and civilian casualty estimates, they have been quick to make this statistic a centerpiece of their argument. In doing so, they also take the conclusion out of context, and ignore the possible tactical utility of deliberately targeting low-level militants. Indeed, destroying communication centers, training camps and vehicles undermines the operational effectiveness of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and quotes from operatives of the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network reveal that drones have forced them into a "jungle existence" where they fear for the lives on a daily basis.
A second key contention of the Stanford-NYU report is that drone strikes are "damaging and counterproductive" to U.S. national security. However, it is shortsighted to evaluate U.S. security in isolation from Pakistani domestic order. Terrorist attacks have been a pervasive problem in Pakistan, especially since 2007. While the report references these attacks and the frequent assassinations carried out by Taliban forces, it makes no reference to recent research by an analyst at the RAND Corporation, who identifies a negative correlation between drone strikes and militant violence inside Pakistan, indicating that the rate of violence has gone down as the rate of drone strikes has gone up. Analysis by New America suggests that while only 10 percent of drone strikes target al-Qaeda operatives, approximately 50 percent hit Taliban targets and in 2009, 19 of the first 32 drone strikes targeted the organization of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, and the alleged mastermind of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud was a far greater threat to Pakistani security than that of the United States.
These criticisms are not to suggest that the Stanford-NYU report is without merit. The anecdotal evidence on the adverse mental health impact of drones, the economic hardships created by attacks and the restriction of movement caused by FATA residents' anxiety about potential strikes are all valuable contributions to the public's understanding of drones, as is the report's succinct and cogent summary of some of the key legal issues. Both of these topics merit further research and the teams at Stanford and NYU seem well poised to continue contributing in these areas.
However it would be a mistake to unequivocally accept all of the report's conclusions or its stance on the civilian casualty debate. The U.S. government's claims that civilian casualties from drone strikes during Obama's term in office are in the single digits are manifestly untrue, but there is no need to overstate the rate of civilian deaths to make the point that drones strikes are legally suspect and morally hazardous.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Much like the rest of the world, Pakistan initially responded to Malala Yousufzai's shooting by the Taliban on October 9 with widespread uproar and outrage. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, officials and the population displayed a rare show of unity against the Taliban, in stark contrast to the country's response to the assassinations of the Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by extremists last year. As I wrote in an op-ed for the Express Tribune last week, this reaction against the Taliban in the wake of Malala's shooting offered a glimmer of hope for Pakistan. But what should have been a powerful opportunity for the country to silence its inner demons and focus on development has turned to a dangerous pastime: finding someone else to blame.
The shift in the national conversation began with questions about the extensive media coverage Malala received: "why such focus on just one girl," some said, "what about U.S. drone strikes that kill innocent people." Fingers started being pointed everywhere but inward. Afghanistan was blamed for harboring the Pakistan Taliban after the Pakistani army operation against the militant group in March 2009. Elaborate conspiracy theories were hatched, the most insane of which held the United States responsible for first mentoring Malala and then having her shot narrowly enough to ensure her survival, in order to garner support for a potential Pakistani army offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan.
This is not the first time a productive national conversation in Pakistan has been hijacked by convoluted, paranoid thinking. Why does this happen time and again? Perhaps because looking inward is painful and difficult for Pakistanis. According to the 2012 Pew Global Attitudes survey in Pakistan, a meager 12 percent of respondents are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. Pakistan is in a state of malaise, at war with itself, and in a perilous economic decline, and its view of this shooting and the correct response to it have become blurred. Let's be clear about the facts and what Pakistan needs to do.
First, the war against the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan is Pakistan's own war. The Taliban, and no one else, is responsible for shooting a girl who had the audacity to go to school. Pakistanis must get it straight: this incident has nothing to do with drone strikes. If drone strikes were to stop tomorrow, the Taliban would still exist in Pakistan, and they would still be burning down girls' schools, targeting innocent women and children, brutally silencing anyone who dares to raise her voice. This is not speculation or conjecture: the group wreaked havoc over Swat in 2008 and early 2009, before the current level of drone strikes began.
Second, Pakistan needs to invest in development, and in particular, in education. In fact, the long-term solution to rooting out radicalization and militancy in Pakistan lies in girls' education, precisely the thing which threatens the Taliban. The development dividends of female education are clear: a great deal of empirical evidence from across the world demonstrates that investments in female education give rich benefits in terms of economic, educational, and health advancements for the entire population, not just women. Importantly, my recent research establishes that the education of girls also makes them less supportive of terrorism and militancy. Specifically, I use data from a recent, large-scale public opinion survey in Pakistan to show that while uneducated women exhibit higher support for militant groups relative to uneducated men, educated women show much lower support for militant groups relative to educated men. These are militant groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. No wonder the Taliban are so frightened of girls' schooling.
It is a fact that the Pakistani government has not prioritized the country's development. Last year development spending in Pakistan was a paltry 2.8 percent of GDP. It is then no surprise that education, let alone girls' education, has not been a priority. A new UNESCO report shows that two-thirds of children not attending school in Pakistan are girls, and the poorest girls in Pakistan are twice as likely to be out of school as the poorest girls in India, almost three times as likely as the poorest girls in Nepal and around six times as likely as the poorest girls in Bangladesh. Pakistani women desperately want their daughters to be educated, regardless of whether they are poor or illiterate themselves. I heard this from every woman I interviewed in Punjabi and Sindhi villages for a World Bank study I helped conduct a few years ago. The supply of schools is a problem for girls in Pakistan because the government builds one girls' school for every two boys' schools. Compounding the problem of access to schooling are cultural challenges to girls' mobility, because girls cannot travel alone, especially after they reach puberty.
However, building more schools is by no means the entire answer. For the lucky ones who get to go to school, often the education they receive is poor and their learning is very limited. According to a large survey in Punjab, children at the end of third grade are functionally illiterate and innumerate. They are not able to perform basic mathematical operations, unable to write simple sentences in Urdu, and unable to recognize simple words in English. In addition, it is no secret that Pakistan's national curriculum is biased and does not promote critical thinking. The education system as it currently stands perpetuates the cycle of poverty because the youth in Pakistan do not get the skills they need to get good jobs and lead productive lives.
Instead of getting mired in a murky conversation about the world machinating against Pakistan, it is time for Pakistanis to think about what we need to do to advance its development and to invest in girls' education in particular. The government is blundering in its response to half of its population's most basic and fundamental rights: to education, to speech, to work, to a dignified and purposeful life. This is a time for introspection: it is time for Pakistanis to take a long, hard look inward, and to get to work.
Madiha Afzal, a Pakistani citizen, is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The biggest debate surrounding the Afghanistan-Pakistan region today concerns the U.S. drone program in Pakistan's tribal regions, which target the militants who terrorize and kill local residents, and who attack American soldiers inside Afghanistan. Ironically, the anti-war group CODEPINK -- members of which visited Pakistan last week to protest drone strikes -- along with much of the American left, the Pakistani establishment, and the Taliban are all on the same side in their opposition to drone strikes. While silent on the many more targeted killings of innocent civilians by Taliban militants in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pakistani establishment and the American left both loudly criticize U.S. drone strikes, albeit for different reasons.
Pakistani officials cite Pakistan's sovereignty as their main justification for opposing drone strikes. But sovereignty is neither the actual reason for their anger, nor is it a legitimate argument against drone strikes. The actual reason is that the United States blames Pakistan for its failure to clear militants out of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. FATA serves as a base for militants and is therefore the target of drone strikes. In return, Pakistan uses anti-drone campaigns to stir up anti-Americanism through the media and insists on its national sovereignty over FATA.
Pakistan's sovereignty claim itself is completely invalid. Pakistan does not now nor has it ever had a complete sovereign control -- as modern nation-states define the term -- over FATA. In fact, it is precisely Pakistan's lack of sovereign control over FATA that allows the militants, many of whom are not Pakistanis, to operate so openly there and invite drone strikes. And that is the best case scenario for Pakistan; the worst case, many believe, is that Pakistan houses and trains these militants in FATA. Indeed, we just saw a fitting example of Pakistan's lack of sovereignty over FATA last week. An anti-drone march to the FATA area of Waziristan on October 7 led by Pakistan's leading politician, Imran Khan, and accompanied by CODEPINK members, failed to reach Waziristan. The march was halted when the Pakistan security forces could not guarantee the safety of the participants. Moreover, there is at least some evidence that the drone attacks are taking place with Pakistan's consent. If the Pakistani government was seriously against drone strikes, it could take a number of actions against the United States, including blocking the NATO supply route that goes through Pakistan, the way it did in late 2011 when NATO forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two military posts near the border with Afghanistan.
For CODEPINK and the American far left, the opposition to drone strikes rests on the idea that drones kill innocent civilians. The recently published "Living Under Drones," a report based on 130 interviews with family members of drone strike victims, studied the negative impact of drone strikes on civilians. But the debate on the drones' effectiveness and its impact on civilians is far from settled. For example, a February 2012 investigation by the Associated Press, which interviewed people inside FATA, reported that civilian casualties from drones are far lower than Pakistan civil society figures, journalists, and party officials assert publicly. Another study, relying on open-source data on reported U.S. drone strikes and terrorist activity in FATA between March 2004 and 2010, also found a negative correlation between drone strikes and militant violence. The strikes have also killed high-level Taliban leaders, like Baddrudin Haqqani and Baitullah Mehsud, and key Al-Qaeda militants, like Abu Kasha Al-Iraqi and Saleh Al-Turki. The New America Foundation estimates that around 84% of the people killed in drone strikes from 2004 to the present were al-Qaeda or Taliban militants. The drone accuracy rose to an amazing 95% in 2010.
It is perhaps for these reasons that polls show that the residents of FATA, who are the target of drones, are less opposed to drones than the rest of Pakistanis who are not the target of drones. FATA residents are eight times more supportive of drones than are the rest of Pakistanis. Moreover, a mere 48% of FATA residents believe that drones kill innocent civilians, compared to 89% of people in the rest of Pakistan. Surveys consistently find that FATA residents fear bomb blasts by Taliban and the Pakistani military more than they do drone strikes. According to the Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP), a Pakistan-based research group, when asked open-ended questions about their greatest fears, very few FATA residents ever mention drones. Even the Peshawar Declaration, a conference organized and attended by leaders of these tribal areas, showed strong support for drone strikes.
That being said, there is little doubt that civilians have died in drone attacks. But that just raises the bigger question: is there a better alternative to drone strikes for counterterrorism in northwest Pakistan? To answer that question, we can look to the Swat Valley, just north of Waziristan, where 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban militants last Tuesday for advocating for girls' education.
Swat, like Waziristan, has been a stronghold of the Taliban. But unlike Waziristan, Swat has not seen any drone strikes. Instead, in Swat, the only available alternative approach was taken. For much of 2007 and 2008, the people of Swat were left at the mercy of the Taliban, who operated with impunity and killed, tortured, wounded, and displaced countless people. Then, after being pressured by the United States, the Pakistani military entered Swat and conducted an operation to root out the Taliban. The military operation resulted in thousands of deaths, many more wounded, and over one million people displaced, with a quarter million refugees crammed into mere 24 camps -- the worst crisis since Rwanda in 1994, according to the United Nations. The operation also resulted in the destruction of hundreds of schools and egregious human rights violations by the Pakistani military - some of which I witnessed personally. By comparison, there are far fewer cases of displacement, civilian deaths, and other destruction in Waziristan where drone strikes are used.
Nevertheless, by yet another comparison of hypocrisy, those who are loudest about casualties from U.S. drone strikes have rarely protested the far higher numbers of civilian casualties as a result of Pakistan Army operations or Taliban violence in the Swat Valley and FATA. Silenced in this double standard are the varying motives of different parties as well as the voice of the Pashtun people in these tribal areas. At least one voice -- that of this native Pashtun -- is speaking out to say that there are serious downsides to these drone strikes, but they may be a necessary evil and the lone option to combat those who are responsible for the severe suffering of our people - like Malala Yousafzai.
Zmarak Yousefzai practices national security litigation in Washington, DC for an international law firm. He was born and raised in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This month marks the end of the American surge in Afghanistan: the 33,000 additional troops President Barack Obama authorized in his administration's first months will complete redeployment, leaving behind a force of 68,000. By launching the surge in December 2009, President Obama attempted to remedy the previous administration's inattention to the Afghanistan effort and fully resource a civilian and military stabilization campaign.
Although the surge's primary military objective was to reverse the Taliban's momentum and train Afghan National Security Forces, it also aimed to "promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government." It would focus on local Afghan government institutions. After widespread acknowledgment that international assistance had concentrated too heavily on Kabul in the years after the 2001 Bonn Agreement, the new U.S. approach aimed to connect local-level governance structures to national ones "from the bottom up." The new strategy endeavored to build governance and development in regions of the country recently "cleared" from a security perspective-largely in Regional Commands South and East. For the first time, U.S. personnel and resources would flow directly into the district level in some of Afghanistan's most volatile areas.
Over three years after President Obama's initial strategy announcement, and as the international community shifts to transition mode, what lasting impacts has the surge had on Afghan subnational governance? A new paper from USIP, drawing on over sixty interviews with Afghans and Americans based at the district level, explores this question. Examining both the U.S. military's localized CERP-funded "governance, reconstruction, and development" projects and civilian stabilization programming, this paper argues that despite policymakers' proclamations of modesty, the U.S. surge aimed to profoundly transform Afghanistan's subnational governance landscape. Although the surge has attained localized progress, its impact has fallen short of this transformative, sustainable intent because its plans were based upon three unrealistic assumptions.
First, the surge overestimated the speed and extent to which specific types of governance intervention would yield progress. In military parlance, it assumed that the campaign's quick success in "amassing security effects" would be mirrored by (or closely approached by) the speed with which it amassed governance effects. Plans assumed that in the realm of governance, more resources could make up for less time. For example, surge policy presupposed that with enough assistance, local governors could rapidly foster legitimacy and durable local support. It also assumed that American aid could quickly establish vertical linkages for service delivery-connecting increasing local "bottom up" demand for services to the "top down" of ministries' delivery systems. Finally, plans assumed that governance successes would quickly gain momentum of their own and spread "ink blot" style, rather than continuing to require great amounts of U.S. inputs.
A second miscalculation was the expectation that the surge's "bottom up" progress-the result of dedicated work by locally-based U.S. and Afghan personnel-would be matched by "top down", Afghan-led systemic reforms to make this local progress durable. Where surge personnel encouraged district governors' responsiveness to their local populations in the short run, they hoped that in the longer term, these local officials' incentive structures would shift to ensure they were more accountable to their constituents and not Kabul. Instead, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance's subnational appointment system made claims of reform and merit-based improvements but in practice left Kabul's longstanding patronage system largely unchanged.
In addition, as U.S. officials worked with district-level councils to improve the competence of these shuras, they assumed that, in the longer term, the councils' makeup and authority would be formalized by the Kabul-based government. Instead, Kabul showed little appetite to reconcile the confusing, competing array of local councils or to standardize their powers. (Very recently, after the Tokyo conference, a committee led by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) is drafting district council regulation, but any implementation will come too late for the surge.) Finally, some surge personnel labored to increase local officials' budgetary prioritization skills so that local needs could be reflected in central line ministries' decisions. But any meaningful fiscal deconcentration, apart from a nascent and currently-stalled provincial budgeting pilot, was unlikely during the lifespan of the surge. In short, the surge showed that one key ingredient-Afghan political will to undertake needed structural reforms-was not malleable from the "bottom up."
Finally, the surge rested upon the assumption that "lack of governance" was a universal driver of the insurgency, for which service delivery was the appropriate cure. Though this analysis rang true in some districts and municipalities, in others, particularly some remote parts of Regional Command East, observers suggested that presence of government became a fueling factor. In these regions, the local insurgency represented a response to the intrusion of the Afghan government, viewed as extortive and foreign. The presence of ISAF troops facilitating this extended Afghan government reach represented a further grievance for communities who wanted to be left alone. Stabilization programs attempted to win popular support by providing services, but in some areas these initiatives were just atoning for the fact that outsiders-Western and Afghan alike-had shown up in the first place.
More broadly, there is genuine debate over whether "more service delivery" is truly the appropriate prescription for the most contested areas of Afghanistan targeted by the surge. Beyond a deep local desire for security and justice, most other international offerings of "service delivery" found themselves abutting preexisting Afghan arrangements to locally manage everything from karez (irrigation canal) cleaning to equitable water distribution. Many service delivery offerings targeted local requests that were never before expressed, thus creating newly inflated expectations. Meanwhile, the insertion or elevation of local government officials to administer these programs often facilitated extortion, further alienating the local community.
What to make of the surge's governance track record? In many ways, this record merely echoed criticism of the surge's plans from the start, from those inside and outside of U.S. government: the campaign was overly ambitious for an externally-driven effort on a short timeline. So why was optimism so high at the outset? Partial explanations reside in American confidence about perceived counterinsurgency success in Iraq, and enthusiasm at finally resourcing the "good war" in Afghanistan. In addition, Capitol Hill and the American electorate would have been unlikely supporters of an effort billed as a very long, hard slog.
But once the surge was in motion, other American miscalculations emerged that fueled optimism. One was the confusion of discrete successes with replicable progress. When a previously hostile district such as Helmand's Nawa transformed into a peaceful one, the unrelenting stream of VIPs sent to visit did not necessarily see the unusual combination of tribal makeup, leadership calculus, and disproportionate American inputs that prevented the "Nawa Model" from being generalizable, or sustainable. Another common miscalculation was mistaking a local Afghan official's individual advancement with wider progress in building the institutions of local government. In a country where subnational officials are regularly reshuffled or, unfortunately, assassinated, this metric was deceptive. Finally, on a separate note, American officials often placed considerable faith in the power of technical and technological solutions to resolve problems that were fundamentally political in nature. New solutions fed new optimism.
As the surge recedes, the upcoming transition offers an opportunity to apply its lessons toward future governance and development planning. The U.S-Afghan Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement[i] represents a promising opportunity to embrace strategic planning that is longer in term but more realistic in ambit. As the international community draws down, it should exert its remaining governance-related leverage to impact select systemic issues rather than tactical-level ones, such as standardizing the system by which district council members are selected, improving ministries' recurring services, and bolstering provincial and municipal administrations. The international community should also prioritize a few key, attainable efforts, such as providing training that is consistent with current Afghan government functions, while avoiding creating additional structures. Finally, the surge proved once again that all the usual Afghan local governance recommendations still apply: resolving Afghanistan's subnational challenges requires long-term commitment and systematic execution.
Frances Z. Brown is an International Affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Afghanistan Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
When people began pouring out onto the streets in Pakistan to protest on Friday, there was little chance that the government would take any action against them. After all, it was a declared public holiday to mark love for Prophet Mohammad, and religious and political groups had taken the government's move as a sign that the protests were sanctioned by the state.
Pakistan has been engulfed with protests against the controversial film the Innocence of Muslims. Over the course of a week, members of a religious grouphave broken through police cordons to amass outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and protestors attacked the enclave reserved for diplomatic missions in the capital city of Islamabad. In Hyderabad, the second largest city in the Sindh province, a businessman was accused of blasphemy for not participating in the protests.
Friday was a free-for-all in Pakistan. Television channels broadcast footage of riots from nearly every major city. Protestors burned down cinemas in Karachi and Peshawar, as well as a church in Mardan, and attacked banks, police vehicles, buildings and even a public hospital.
In Karachi, hundreds of members of groups as diverse as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a mainstream political party, to the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan dominated the streets. Dozens of effigies of U.S. President Barack Obama were burned along with American flags, and protestors chanted against the U.S., Israel and the filmmaker behind Innocence of Muslims. Police were deployed at several key locations, but did not act to stop the protestors. In any case, they were largely outnumbered: about a half-dozen police officers are no match for hundreds of angry rioters.
The issue in Pakistan is not just of one day, or one week, of protests. The problem is institutional. The outrage at issues like an allegedly blasphemous film or cartoons has a legal basis, which stems from controversial laws that make blasphemy punishable by death, and excommunicate an entire sect. Government officials not only support the law, but the Interior Minister Rehman Malik once declared that he would kill a blasphemer himself. In a speech on Friday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf questioned why those denying the Holocaust were punished while there was no consideration for the feelings of Muslims.
The government has supported the outrage ensuing from the film, not just by declaring a holiday, but also by summoning the current U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Pakistan to protest the film, blocking YouTube and reportedly approaching Interpol. These measures do little to control violence. More importantly, the government has failed to act against banned organizations that operate openly and protest without anyone batting an eyelid.
Acting against the protestors -- as the Karachi police did when members of a Shiite group protested outside the U.S. Consulate -- is construed in Pakistan as the state attacking civilians for the sake of protecting ‘foreign governments.'
The outrage is also politicized, though not entirely. Many of the groups protesting are used by political parties for support during election campaigns. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a coalition of over 40 religious organizations that also protested on Friday, seeks to become a pressure group to raise issues of religious ‘honor' and issues related to foreign policy, and will likely support many of the candidates from coalition parties in the upcoming elections.
However, many protestors in Karachi said that they were not linked with political parties or religious groups, but had taken to the streets because they genuinely felt angry over the film. In a country where religious honor is tied in with nationalism, it is not surprising that many felt the need to protest. The protestors were from a wide spectrum, ranging from office workers to students to clerics. And for many of them, it was an opportunity to vent: President Asif Ali Zardari was condemned as vociferously as President Obama was.
The protests will likely die down in a few days, if not earlier. The pattern of these protests has been fairly consistent over the years, and the issue will be abandoned in favor of something else.
But the question of what the government can do to stop the protests may now be too late. The rot in Pakistan has been many decades in the making. Sectarian conflict has been stoked by successive rulers, including military dictators, religious outrage has received state approval by governments and political parties, and those responsible for massacres of various religious sects continue to fundraise to kill more. The military backs anti-U.S. sentiment, as evidenced during the debate in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar bill, or the outrage over the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. What is undoubtedly worse, though, is that there is no attempt to reverse any of the damage that has been done over the decades. Instead, the current government - and successive ones - will likely play a game of appeasement with religious groups in the hope that they will one day back them. That bet, as history has proven, will not pay off.
Saba Imtiaz works as a reporter for The Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan. She can be reached at email@example.com.
On Wednesday August 29, the dismissal of Afghan intelligence chief, Rahmatullah Nabil was officially confirmed. The news, which first began circulating some 48 hours earlier on BBC Persian, was met with shock by many Afghans in the capital city of Kabul.
A majority of the members of the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament were so outraged by the news that they immediately began drafting a demand letter to President Karzai to ask him to clarify the logic behind the dismissal, so widely respected was Nabil's tenure.
Some Members of Parliament (MPs), including the acting speaker of the house Haji Zahir Qadir, a Pashtun strongman from eastern Afghanistan, went further, demanding that Nabil be reinstated as the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Around the capital, many social media outlets published opinion pieces expressing the widespread fear that Nabil's dismissal would be disastrous for the national security of Afghanistan.
Many Afghans wondered why in a time of growing insecurity, evidenced by the increase in terrorist attacks in and around the capital, the president would deal such a blow to the nation's main defense against the insurgency.
According to Nabil himself, his dismissal was routine. President Karzai, he indicated, wanted to change the NDS head every two years, and because he was aware of this he did not contest the action.
Other high-ranking officials corroborated Nabil's account, although they would not go on the record.
The official account, however, fails to reconcile the fact that Nabil only served some eight months in the position. Also notably absent from the statement about the dismissal was the fact that Nabil's appointment was approved by an overwhelming majority of the lower house: 208 out of a total of 249 votes. It is the apparent inconsistency between the official account and the reality that has perplexed so many Afghans and left them wondering whether there are other unstated reasons that led to Nabil's dismissal.
Nabil's accession to the highest ranks of the Afghan government was not typical to say the least. Unlike most high-ranking officials, he had no family connection to President Karzai. He began his ascent to the top serving as a junior staffer in the Presidential Palace, eventually making his way to the top of the President's Protection Force (PPF), where he served for six years. During that time he remained a virtually unknown figure outside of the innermost presidential circle.
Inside sources say that because of his quiet efficiency in the PPF, Nabil was President Karzai's first choice to replace his predecessor at the NDS, Amrullah Saleh, who had resigned over disagreements with Karzai.
According to those who have worked closely with Nabil, he is widely respected for his frankness and honesty, traits that are not always apparent, as he is reluctant to promote himself and his achievements.
Nabil also refuses to take ethno-centric positions, making him something of a lone ranger in a capital often consumed by tribalism and clannishness. While many Afghans who have watched him closely have taken comfort in his lack of ethnic or sectarian partisanship, his objectivity may have left him vulnerable, without the type of inside supporters on whom he could rely to promote his cause inside the president's inner circles.
Moreover, prior to Nabil's dismissal he had intensified efforts to rout out suspected Pakistani and Iranian spies at the highest levels of the Afghan government, making him a possible target of some of Afghanistan's neighbors and their emissaries inside the country.
Earlier this month some Pakistani senior officials went so far as to accuse the NDS of plotting to attack strategic targets inside Lahore and Islamabad. Although there was no proof offered to support these claims, the Pakistani reaction itself may have been telling. Whatever it was the NDS under Nabil was doing, it was enough to ruffle the feathers of these various Pakistani officials.
Some Afghan analysts believe that it was the pressure that such outside powers were able to exert on the Afghan leadership via their domestic interest groups that led to Nabil's demise.
Other Afghans believe that Nabil's departure is just one of many upsets that are slated to take place. In the past month, rumors of other possible high-ranking changes have surfaced daily on Facebook, Twitter, and in other media. On August 4, for example, president Karzai issued a decree that replaced Nabil by Asadullah Khaled, the current minister of tribal affairs; Interior Minister Bismillah Khan by Mojtaba Patang, deputy minister of Afghan Public Protection Forces will replace; Bismillah Khan is named as the minister of defense; while there are speculations that further changes will occur with the president's chief of staff, Karim Khorram, will replace Fazal Ahmad Manawi, the head of the Afghan Independent Commission (IEC); and Manawi will be made Attorney General.
This long list of changes is seen to be the beginning of a broad transformation of the country's political landscape that will culminate in the presidential elections of 2014. From this perspective, Nabil's dismissal is regarded as part of the president's survivalist overhaul, which some see as his attempt to block what should otherwise be a stable and democratic transfer of power. They see an Afghan president trying to concentrate power in the hands of the Karzai or Popalzai clans, a move similar to what Vladimir Putin did in Russia with Dmitry Medvedev.
In this scenario, there is speculation that President Karzai is looking to Qayom Karzai as his successor, or if he meets with too much opposition, perhaps paving the way for an alternative Popalzai or Kandahari president.
Whether he will be successful in his power grab is another question. Already, the president's aspirations for 2014 are being challenged by many opposition figures, and by his fellow Pashtuns, some of whom have criticized him vociferously. Haji Zahir Qadir and other leading Pashtun figures outside the Kandahar region, for example, are his loudest critics. If these voices gain support, President Karzai's ploys could backfire and move the Pashtun center of power from the south to the east or in between.
As beloved as Nabil may be in many circles, the National Directorate of Security itself still looms as a dark force in the minds of many Afghans. Ten years of democratic rule have not been sufficient to erase the deep memories of what the organization was like during the previous eras of communist, warlord, and Taliban rule.
To change that image, many believe that it is critical that the NDS cleanse its ranks and replace them with younger, more educated Afghans who do not have the same blood on their hands that many of their elders do. These are the types of changes that Nabil was attempting to make in the organization, the types of changes that earned him the respect of so many that yearn for a more modern and progressive Afghanistan, one that protects their rights and provides them opportunities as citizens, regardless of ethnicity, sect, or tribal affiliation.
They point to the hard work he was doing in places like Ghazni to rout out the Taliban and the insurgents who have been wreaking havoc on the general population there. His plan was to motivate Afghans to join the fight against the Taliban and other extremists in the heartland, and outside Afghan borders.
To many Afghans, Nabil's dismissal is more evidence that they are losing the battle for their country, and a painful betrayal by a democratically-elected president who now seems bent on hurting the country if that will allow him and his kind to keep their monopoly on power. It's a sad time for Afghan patriots and a sadder one for Afghanistan as a whole.
Waliullah Rahmani is an expert on international security and terrorism. He is currently running the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
Hours before flying off to Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit on Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai dismissed the country's intelligence chief and indicated that a slate of three nominees would be submitted soon for parliamentary approval to fill three key vacant security portfolios - defense, interior, and now, intelligence (National Directorate for Security).
A statement released earlier in the day by the President's press office confirmed rumors that NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil had been removed. It did not specify any reasons for the dismissal. At a special meeting, Karzai thanked Nabil for his accomplishments and pledged to appoint him as ambassador soon.
The statement also stressed that the head of NDS shall not hold the position longer than two years.
Nabil was put in charge of NDS almost two years ago when his predecessor, Amrullah Saleh, and then-minister of interior Hanif Atmar, resigned as part of a politically-motivated shakeup.
Former defense minister, Rahim Wardak, and interior minister, Bismillah Mohammadi, received a no-confidence vote at the Afghan Lower House of Parliament three weeks ago, caused by what parliamentarians termed "security lapses" and outrage at reports of Pakistani cross-border shelling that killed scores and displaced thousands in Kunar province.
However, in addition to Afghan frustration vis-à-vis the shelling incidents, political motivations may also have played a role in the abrupt rejection of the two key ministers.
It is expected that Mohammadi, who is respected by many within army and police ranks for his tenacity and sense of duty, but faces opposition from political foes, will be nominated for the defense portfolio. Many see his re-nomination as a way for Karzai to maintain a semblance of ethnic equity, however, his approval by a temperamental House is not guaranteed.
The slot for the Ministry of Interior is expected to go to Mojtaba Patang, who is now in charge of the Afghan Protection Police Force (APPF), while current Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs, Assadullah Khaled, who is also responsible for security in the South and is seen as a member of the president's inner-circle, is slated to head the NDS.
Nabil's unexpected dismissal is thought by some analysts to be tied to the recent surge in green-on-blue attacks that have rattled nerves in Washington and Kabul.
The former head of NDS is also known to have been at odds with top-level government officials who claim to belong to an offshoot of the Hezb-i-Islami group, whose controversial leader, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, is believed to be in hiding in Pakistan's tribal belt. He is said to have opposed recent efforts by groups such as the Hezb to take credit for or take control of recent local anti-Taliban uprisings.
This latest shakeup in the country's most important security institutions is not only a reflection of growing unease about the overall security condition in the country, but may also be part of political realignments at play domestically, as well as a prelude to the gradual NATO/U.S. drawdown by 2015.
Not only will Karzai attend the summit in Tehran and meet Iranian leaders to discuss sources of regional tensions, but he is also scheduled to visit Pakistan soon to raise bilateral concerns over stalled reconciliation efforts with Taliban leaders known to reside in sanctuaries across the border.
Relations between Afghanistan and its two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, have been strained in recent times, over border skirmishes and allegations of collusion with Taliban and other extremist groups.
Political pundits reacting in Kabul's media consider the shakeups to be politically-motivated, while others attribute them to leadership disarray or even the meddling of neighboring governments.
While rumours circulating about the potential nominees are not confirmed yet, all new names will have to put forward for approval before the Lower House.
Official sources indicate that new appointments are also expected for the ministry of Finance, whose minister is fighting corruption allegations, the directorate in charge of local governance (provincial and district-level appointments), the head of the all-important Independent Election Commission and the Attorney General's Office among others.
One area, almost out-of-sight, where key nominations are overdue, is the judiciary, where two senior members of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, need to be replaced. As a constitutionally set appointment, the term limits for the departing justices have not been respected. The judiciary represents an independent branch that can, and ought to, help promote rule-of-law and good governance, and play an effective check-and-balance role.
Each new appointment will be telling of the aims and trends developing over the next two years as Afghanistan deals with the NATO end-of-mission objectives, the security transition, holding credible presidential elections, and efforts to prevent an economic collapse.
These dynamics are at play at a time when the Taliban are resorting to more violence, while some of their external advocates toy with the notion of immediate negotiations leading to a political deal. Meanwhile, Karzai, mindful of his legacy and future prospects, seems to be setting the course during the last leg of his last term toward security, political and economic transitions that will not only assure stronger political predictability and avoid a security vacuum, but also allow him to shape the post-2014 outcome to the extent possible.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington DC, and the former Afghan Ambassador to France and Canada. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the USIP.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Two weeks ago, senior officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan revealed that an Afghan delegation had met secretly with former deputy commander of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has been in jail in Pakistan since he was captured in Karachi in 2010. The goal of the meeting, according to Rangin Dadfar Spanta, President Hamid Karzai's national security advisor, was to "know his view on peace talks," and move toward restarting the stalled reconciliation process.
In his second stint as the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai has dramatically accelerated his efforts towards peace and reconciliation with the Taliban and its spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, once the host of Osama Bin Laden. The establishment of the Afghan Peace High Council in October 2010 was a part of Karzai's major strategy for negotiating with the Taliban and other insurgents.
But the assassination in September 2011 of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president and chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council (APHC), a body responsible for negotiation with the Taliban, signaled the re-assertion of a clear message by the Taliban and their cohorts: They have no inclination to negotiate or reconcile with the Afghan government.
In the months before Rabbani's assassination, the Taliban also claimed responsibility for the killing of several senior political and military figures, including Ahmad Wali Karzai, the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan and the younger brother of President Karzai, Jan Mohammed Khan, a senior advisor and friend of President Karzai, Ghulam Haider Hameedi, the mayor of Kandahar, and Gen. Daud Daud, head of police in northern Afghanistan, and some MP members.
The ongoing attacks on civilians in different parts of the country and the chain of assassinations of senior Afghan officials raise several major questions about the feasibility of negotiation and reconciliation with the Taliban and other insurgents:
Is the Afghan government's offer of peace negotiation from a position of weakness or strength? Do the Taliban and other insurgents have the self-autonomy and willingness to negotiate? Has the government adopted the right approach to negotiate with the insurgents? What is and will be the backlashes of unilateral negotiation offer? Is the composition of the peace council well chosen?
First, to negotiate with the insurgents, whom President Karzai consistently refers to as his "disenchanted brothers," he has set conditions for the Taliban groups to begin peace talks; the terms are to lay down weapons, cut ties with al-Qaeda, and abide the Afghan Constitution, which is not acceptable for the Taliban. These preconditions raise one fundamental question: is it a call for negotiation or surrender? Some Afghan analysts argue that the preconditions set by the Afghan government are unrealistic.
Aziz Ariaey, an Afghan political analyst believes that "In the current armed conflict, the Taliban has the upper hand and President Karzai knows it well," giving the Taliban little incentive to consider peace talks with such conditions.
Ariaey argues that the call for negotiation and the "lack of an inherent strength in the Karzai administration," which exists in large part due to the massive amounts of international aid it receives, has enabled the Taliban to manipulate the situation in their favor.
Some Afghan analysts agree with Ariaey, saying a good example of the Taliban strength is that they are imposing their own preconditions for the negotiations. The Taliban's preconditions include complete withdrawal of the international troops from Afghanistan, the removal of Taliban names from the United Nations' blacklist, and the release of all Taliban prisoners, which - at this stage - is neither acceptable for the Afghan government nor for the international community.
Secondly, the Taliban and other insurgents neither have the autonomy nor the willingness to negotiate with the Afghan government. According to Ahmad Saeedi, a former Afghan diplomat and political analyst, all active insurgent groups in Afghanistan are being trained, equipped and inspired by one single source: ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency. Saeedi points out, "Pakistan, particularly ISI, has invested in the Taliban for many years, aiming to ensure its interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan has entrapped the Taliban and other insurgents and there is no willingness within ISI to leave their multi-year investment in insurgents overnight."
Pakistan is not the only obstacle to negotiations and reconciliation; the composition of the peace council itself poses another problem.
According to Vahid Mojdeh, an Afghan political analyst and a former official of the Foreign Ministry during the Taliban regime, "The Afghan High Peace Council is made of three different groups with different opinions and approaches."
"One of the groups, consisting of former Taliban, pushes for talks with the high-ranking Taliban leadership, insisting that without incorporating the Taliban leadership, a peace deal is impossible. However, the second group, namely Rabbani's team, is pushing for talks with the mid-level Taliban, arguing that this will force the Taliban leadership to begin negotiations. Finally, the third group consists of members of civil society who support the peace process, provided the democratic values achieved in the last ten years are not compromised, a condition which is not welcomed by the Taliban. Given the differences within the members of the High Peace Council, it looks ambitious to expect a relatively successful outcome from the negotiation," Mojdeh argues.
The Afghan High Peace Council is acting as a mediator between the Afghan government and the Taliban. According to Saeedi, "Most key members of the peace council are those who fought against the Taliban for many years. Therefore, before those members act as a mediator, first there is a need for a third party to mediate between the Taliban and those members, who fought against the Taliban for many years."
Members of the peace council are said to have had a series of contacts with mid-level Taliban, a claim frequently rejected by the Taliban. While the government's level of contact with the Taliban remains unclear, what is very clear is the rigid position of the Taliban: they continuously perpetrate suicide attacks and road-side bombings, and have intensified their attacks against high-ranking military and political figures.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the current U.S. administration and the Afghan leadership has been tense from the start and continues to deteriorate. The Obama administration has accused the Afghan government led by President Karzai as unreliable and ineffective." Likewise, the Afghan President publically criticized the United States and the United Nations in 2010 for supposedly tampering with the Afghan elections, accusing them of coming close to being perceived as invaders. He has also persistently demanded that American troops end night raids and drastically reduce civilian casualties.
Some Afghan analysts believe that the Afghan government, for the sake of its political survival, uses negotiation and reconciliation as a tool to get on good terms with the Taliban. The Karzai administration knows that its relation with the West, and in particular with the United States, is deteriorating. And in the long-run, once the U.S. and international troops leave Afghanistan, President Karzai needs the support of the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the southern and eastern parts of the country. But the question is whether such a move is pragmatic? Vahid Mojdeh points out, "In Taliban's views any kind of negotiation with crusaders or their associates is a great sin. If the Taliban feel weak, they hide themselves and if they are strong, they fight-not negotiate. And President Karzai knows it very well."
The current peace process in Afghanistan has greatly increased the Taliban's military manpower, and they are a serious threat to the country's already fragile status. As Aziz Ariaey, pointed out to me, "The unilateral call for negotiation with the Taliban provoked and encouraged hesitant villagers, particularly in the south and southeastern region to join the Taliban because they feel as if the future of the country will be in the hand of the Taliban. So why not join them now?" The Taliban believe that they are in a position of strength and they have caused a major setback to the Afghan government and its international allies, particularly the US."
Ten years after being toppled, there are no apparent changes in the Taliban's attitudes and behavior. They lynch anyone opposing them, decapitate those working with the Afghan government and international organizations, and disfigure women if they do not act according to their wishes. To achieve their goal -- the reestablishment of the Islamic Emirate -- the Taliban continue to kill military forces and civilians alike. The decapitation this week of 17 civilians, including two women, in the southern Taliban stronghold of Helmand is a vivid example of Taliban harsh behavior against civilians. As Ariaey, points out, "They [Taliban] want to achieve their goals by hook or by crook."
President Karzai has been striving to convince those who he refers to as "moderate Taliban" to end the violence, but to a large extent, he has failed. Indeed, those fighting against the government are hard-line and irreconcilable Taliban. Those "moderate Taliban" including Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, former Taliban foreign minister, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, who was Taliban representative in the United States, and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, who were against the al-Qaeda network even before the 9/11 attacks, have already renounced violence.
Given the aggressive behavior of the Taliban and other insurgents, the soft policy of the Afghan government, the continuous support of Pakistan for insurgents, and the withdrawal of international combat troops in 2014, it seems that as with previous efforts, the ongoing endeavors by the Afghan government to negotiate and reconcile with the Taliban are not only a waste of time and resources, but also embolden these insurgents to increase their violent activities.
Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.
AREF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images
Religion matters in Afghanistan in significant ways. However, U.S. policy over the past decade has paid it insufficient attention, costing the United States in its effort to build a stable country that does not foster violent extremism. I diagnosed the problem in my last posting, providing a coup d'œil of sorts about the tactical and strategic advantages of thoughtfully engaging Afghanistan's religious terrain. Now I am returning to offer specifics on how to advance religious tolerance and freedom in Afghanistan in a way that doesn't create a backlash. Much depends on fostering a legitimate government that respects, rather than represses, fundamental rights and provides the civic space needed for peaceful debate on issues of religion and state.
Granted, the legitimizing role of religion has been sought after in the Afghan nation-building enterprise. Military counterinsurgency and stability operations doctrine places much emphasis on fostering a government viewed as legitimate, attempting to pull the "uncommitted middle" away from the irreconcilable insurgents into the government's orbit through outreach to religious leaders and communities. Yet U.S. doctrine and practice does not contemplate the consequence of pulling religious leaders with a Taliban-like religious viewpoint into the government fold.
A recent example of this error comes from President Hamid Karzai's endorsement of a so-called code of conduct issued by the Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, which permitted spousal abuse and promoted gender segregation. Yet Karzai has the legitimacy equation backwards. While it is doubtful the Afghan populace viewed him differently after his statement, the Ulema Council emerged with greater perceived influence as an entity that impacts political power. This is seriously problematic. The Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre highlighted two years ago how the result of such accommodation "has been both to sustain the former jihadi leaders' influence and contribute to the marginalization of more moderate Islamic forces."
The key is to change the equation, so political leaders see the benefit of legitimizing voices supporting religious tolerance and rights, instead of trading them for ephemeral political gains.
To advance this idea, the United States needs to foster and build an indigenous movement of religious leaders and public figures who can shape the environment in a positive way through their deeds and interpretations of Islamic law and practice. For those courageous enough to step forward, speaking out can be life-threatening. The murders of Salman Taseer and my friend Shahbaz Bhatti in neighboring Pakistan speak to this danger, as they resolutely criticized Pakistan's deeply flawed blasphemy law, but did not enjoy wide support and were vehemently opposed by the clerical class.
How can we avoid this? Iraq offers a surprising example of how the U.S. government engaged the religious dynamic constructively.
From 2006 to 2007, the Command Chaplain of Multinational Force-Iraq, Col. Michael Hoyt, together with Anglican clergyman Cannon Andrew White, began to engage Sunni and Shia religious leaders about the sectarian violence ripping the country apart. Over a year of tireless and dangerous work, Chaplain Hoyt and Cannon White found voices willing to denounce the violence. Far from being one chaplain's good initiative, the process had political backing from both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as well as enjoying the support of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and his National Security Advisor.
The outcome was the issuance of a remarkable document that denounced violence, which included the two major Islamic sects, as well as religious minority leaders who were also being victimized. The document was issued the day after the second bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, an attack that was followed by none of the widespread killing unleashed after the first Samarra bombing. In addition, observers credit this initiative with creating the conditions under which Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged calm and Shiite militant leader Moqtada al-Sadr chose not to incite his fighters.
Chaplain Hoyt's effort made a difference, sowing the seeds of tolerance by finding key leaders to embrace the effort, and a similar approach could work in Afghanistan. What follows are specific suggestions for how the U.S. government could increase its efforts to foster religious tolerance and freedom, creating the civic space needed to undercut extremists and to empower many voices that can legitimize this approach.
Prioritize: Decide that creating civic space through the promotion of religious tolerance and freedom will be a priority and act accordingly. For those skeptical about the ability of the United States to move the needle on sensitive issues woven into societal and religious mores, look no further than the progress made on women's rights. The Taliban were terrible persecutors of women, denying them education and forcing them under a burqa, and tradition-bound Afghan society was thought to be beyond moving on sensitive social issues. While much work remains, the international community's emphasis on women's rights has already benefited millions of Afghans.
This did not happen by accident. It happened because the issue was made a priority and woven throughout U.S. and international engagement. For instance, the Chicago NATO Summit Declaration on Afghanistan had very strong language on women's rights. The emphasis of the international community likely compelled President Karzai to condemn the brutal assassination of a woman for alleged adultery. A similar commitment could do the same for religious tolerance and freedom, which could further concretize gains for women.
Change the conversation: To push extremist voices out of the civic space, steps must be taken to change the domestic conversation and educate the population about other interpretations of their faith. The United States should flood Afghanistan with Americans and religious leaders who can speak credibly about issues of religion, society, and law. The visits of the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, to Afghanistan have been very successful. He is able to "talk religion" with high-level Afghan Government officials, religious leaders, civil society representatives, and students. More of these trips are needed, but also with delegations of religious leaders crossing sectarian and/or religious lines. Further, the U.S. government can facilitate trips of religious leaders to the United States or through Islamic democracies.
Utilize military chaplains: The United States has at its disposal religious leaders in uniform in the chaplaincy corps. In 2009, the Pentagon issued Joint Publication 1.05 for religious affairs in joint operations, which gives commanders the option of using chaplains to engage religious leaders in their area of responsibility. The change in doctrine reflects that chaplains understand religion in unique ways and can be deployed in conflicts where religion is a driving factor. Smartly using chaplains in this role worked in Iraq. Of course Afghanistan is not Iraq, but religion matters in both. With the chaplaincy corps still in theater, there is an opportunity to deploy them with like-minded partners to build a movement for tolerance and religious rights.
Bolster and protect: Any effort must privately encourage the Afghan leadership to appoint politically moderate religious leaders, political reformers, and human rights defenders to key positions. This would be in government ministries, but also in Afghanistan's court system, Ulema councils, the human rights commissions, and other places of influence. Once in place, the international community can bolster their progressive work by supporting and funding initiatives. At the same time, the international community must emphasize that their security is a matter of serious concern and press for the provision of adequate protections.
Educate. The children of Afghanistan need to understand that "the other" has value, even if they have different religious or political views, thereby countering the narrative that leads to violence. USAID has a major role in such an effort, in developing primary and secondary education materials and textbooks that incorporate themes of religious tolerance and religious freedom. Curriculum for both secular and religious schools should incorporate international human rights standards and speak of Afghanistan's pluralistic record in prior times.
Talk about it: To demonstrate a deep interest, matters of religious tolerance and freedom should be a prominent part of the bilateral conversation and agenda. Despite no reference in the Strategic Partnership Declaration, these issues can be addressed in communiqués from donor and contact group meetings. As recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), where I am policy director, the U.S. government should include a "special working group on religious tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues" and integrate "human rights concerns into the reconciliation process looking toward a post-conflict Afghanistan."
Train: Along with efforts of this sort should come a commitment to train U.S. personnel, both civilian and military, on Islamic law and Afghan custom. The Afghan constitution in Article 3 enshrines Islamic law, stating "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam," and Article 130 states that Hanafi Islamic law shall apply when the law is silent. Together, these two provisions bring Islamic religious law into the realm of secular application. The JAG corps, the military's lawyers, are embracing this reality by including training on Islamic law, but more needs to be done. The U.S. government has no role in theological debates, yet it must be able to understand and engage with the law of the land.
All these steps, if taken together and vigorously executed, could foster a wider understanding of the benefits of religious tolerance and freedom, which could begin to give reformers the support they need to guide Afghanistan toward a progressive future. Without a course correction, President Karzai will continue the flawed approach of attempting to build legitimacy by pulling neo-Taliban religious actors toward the government and trading human rights for political support. This won't work and is done at the peril of U.S. interests. And while engaging the religious terrain to promote religious tolerance and freedom is not a silver bullet, to quote Chaplain Hoyt from Iraq, it should be "part of the ammunition belt" that brings stability.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
"If [the] United States claims to be a humanitarian power set out to free the people from tyranny, then why does it refrain [from intervening] in Baluchistan?"
This was a question put forward by a student from Balochistan studying at Quad-e-Azam University, Islamabad, to a senior member of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad whom I had invited to lecture on U.S. foreign policy in my international relations course. The question naturally came as a surprise to the visiting U.S. delegation.
What the student pointed out was the alarming rise of the Quetta Shura, a council of Taliban leaders who took refuge in Quetta, Pakistan after the Taliban regime was toppled over by the United States in 2001, as a major power broker in the area, and the frustration it is causing among the local Balochis who are suffering at the hands of this new class of militancy.
According to the locals, the Quetta Shura has within the span of a decade gotten to the point where it "runs the show." From managing neighborhood security and harassing those who oppose them, to investing in hospitals where militants returning from Afghanistan are treated and in real estate as far as Karachi, the Quetta Shura has not only become the face of insurgency in Afghanistan, but indeed, it has become the face of destabilization in Pakistan.
Several of the locals that I talked to suggested that Quetta Shura is openly collecting funds through its hoax Islamic charity fronts in major cities of Pakistan, and recruiting local Balochis to torch the NATO supply tankers. "They tell us that each truck that we will blow up will get us several ‘hoors' in paradise. We don't get fooled, but many do."
As another local suggested, "[A] few years back, Quetta Shura was passive and was only urging people to wage war against the U.S., but now they are forcing people to wage war, not only on the US, but also on Pakistan."
Daily life has also been severely disturbed, as suggested by a local woman who was frustrated with Quetta Shura's moral policing in their neighborhoods and restrictions upon women to move freely in the city. As a part of its moral policing, militants working for the Quetta Shura have bombed internet cafes, music and CD shops throughout the city. The police force, I have been told, is ill equipped, powerless, and scared to confront the growing power of the militants who possess automatic and sophisticated weapons and have recently targeted and killed the policemen who opposed their power.
While the media in Pakistan remain obsessed with U.S. involvement in the country's affairs, the radicalization and breach of sovereignty by the Quetta Shura is going unnoticed, allowing it to grow exponentially.
The people in Balochistan are frustrated over this foreign intrusion into their territory, as depicted in the question asked by my student. Many Balochis will tell you that radicalization started not because of the drones, but the moment the Taliban began reorganizing as Quetta Shura in parts of Balochistan after being pushed into Pakistan by NATO.
Contrary to the polls that suggest around 75% of Pakistanis are anti-American, Balochistan is an area where, surprisingly, people are relatively less anti-American, severely critical of Taliban, and are looking towards the United States for help. Although no official polls have been conducted in Balochistan due to the lack of access in the area, I conducted an unofficial survey of 1,500 people from Balochistan, of which only 38% had a negative stance towards the United States. This is because people in Balochistan have been suffering for decades under the complex sardari (feudal) - Pakistan Military alliance, and recently under the suffocating presence of the Quetta Shura. Because Balochis are the direct victims of the Quetta Shura's militancy, they have a better understanding of the threat posed by the terrorists, and are more amenable to the U.S. campaign against terrorism, unlike the urban centers of Punjab where the anti-American sentiment runs high for political reasons.
Most of the Balochis with whom I have spoken about the matter expressed their acceptance the United States as a possible third party, which could alter the status quo in their area by not only flushing out the Quetta Shura, but also weakening the control of the Pakistan Army in the province.
While the official stance of the Pakistan Army is to reject any notions that Quetta Shura exists, the research I have conducted suggests quite the contrary. The Army is indeed aware of the presence of the Quetta Shura and the significant role it is playing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the hands of the Pakistan Army are tied because of the large Pashtun population within the Pakistan Army, domestic instability in the province, a lack of means and resources, and particularly by their reluctance to open another war front. Matt Waldman wrote in a 2010 report that the continued presence and growth of the Quetta Shura in Balochistan is a clear sign that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) supports the militant group.
But there is a difference between all out support and an effort to influence militant organizations, something that has been confused in many policy circles in Washington, DC. The Pakistan Army -- or for that matter any military -- does not have the ability to fully control militias. However, in warfare militaries do try to maintain communication channels with these groups in order to influence them through either direct or indirect means. The efforts of the Pakistan Army to influence the groups are at times taken out of context, and amplified in the media as direct sponsoring and support of terrorism - which doesn't quite compute, especially keeping in mind the fact that the Pakistan Army has been the major target of violence by these militant groups.
Rather, in an already troubled province, where the Pakistani Army has been engaged in a war and is not well liked, it is left with little or no resources or morale to wage a full-out war. This is especially true when Pashtuns in the Pakistani Army increasingly defy orders to kill the Pashtuns in the Quetta Shura. A senior army official who requested anonymity stated, "The American policy until 2008 was focused strictly on curtailing al-Qaeda; hence, the Pakistan Army was more relaxed towards massive migration of Afghanis flooding Quetta. It's hard to distinguish between a Taliban fighter and a civilian migrating to save his life. It becomes even harder when civilians carry an arm for protection in Pashtun culture."
The Pakistan Army has, for the past decade, attempted to strike a balance between the domestic repercussions of waging a war on its own people, not losing legitimacy internationally, and keeping the economy afloat.
However, its efforts to maintain balance have been deemed suspicious and labeled "backstabbing" by both the international community and by the Balochis, who are now highly frustrated with the rise of the Quetta Shura in their province, and the incapacity of the Pakistan Army to provide security.
Balochistan's gas and mineral reserves and strategically located Gwadar port are crucial to energy-starved Pakistan, making it an important strategic area for stability to both the Pakistan and the United States. More importantly, the current instability and radicalization fed by the Quetta Shura, and especially the sentiments of the Balochis opposed to this group, provide a unique opportunity for the United States to play a constructive role in the region by cooperating and facilitating the Pakistani government and allowing it - not the Army - to take the lead. The United States could be providing the Pakistani government with the means and resources to secure and develop the area, and eventually free the people from the tyranny of Quetta Shura.
While the Pakistan Army is not well liked in Balochistan due to the number of missing persons whose disappearances are blamed on security forces, the recent court cases against the Army by the Supreme Court, along with the Balochistan Package and other trust-building measures by the Pakistan government, provide a unique opportunity for the government to play a dominant role in Balochistan. The government has a unique opportunity to take charge of making policies towards Balochistan, instead of letting the Pakistan Army call all shots on the province. The move, if played right, will not only bring peace to the turbulent province of Balochistan and raise the status of the U.S. and Pakistan governments among the people, but will also ensure the security of Afghanistan by rooting out the center of Afghan insurgency
Hussain Nadim is a Visiting Scholar with the Asia Program Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
The Tokyo meeting on Afghanistan of July 8 exceeded expectations in terms of both the total civilian aid funding indicated by donors ($16 billion over four years, or $4 billion per year on average) and the commitments agreed to by the Afghan government. This favorable outcome in turn has generated expectations for the future. "Mutual accountability" is the framework for implementation established at Tokyo to ensure that such expectations aren't disappointed. Mutual accountability means that the Afghan government and the international community are both responsible for -- and are accountable to each other for -- achieving mutually agreed objectives in the areas of improving governance, political transition, and development performance (by the government), and delivering aid and improving its effectiveness (by the international community). But will mutual accountability work? A recent paper sheds light on this question based on international experience and Afghanistan's recent history.
This is not the first time that sets of commitments and benchmarks have been used to try to move forward progress in Afghanistan. The past decade has seen numerous declarations and agreements, reflecting the multiplicity of donors and the plethora of high-profile international meetings since 2001; some prominent examples are briefly discussed below.
The Bonn Agreement of December 2001 required a number of political and institutional actions on the Afghan side, and the international community undertook to provide support. Most benchmarks-such as convening of a national assembly (Emergency Loya Jirga), adoption of a new constitution, and presidential and parliamentary elections-were achieved, on-time. However, the broader objective of state-building was elusive, and progress toward stable political institutions and normal political life was limited. Moreover, the Bonn process did not set in motion self-sustaining dynamics for continuing progress after it was completed in 2005. On the contrary, there were reversals in some respects, and the second round of elections in 2009-2010 turned out to be more problematic than the first round in 2004-2005.
The Afghanistan Compact of 2006 is a good example of how not to do mutual accountability. The wide range of areas covered and the sheer number of benchmarks-well over 100 of them in some 52 different areas-represented a "Christmas tree" approach which included almost everything and thereby ended up prioritizing nothing. It soon became largely irrelevant. Moreover, the mechanism for overseeing implementation, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), became an unwieldy, largely diplomatic forum.
There has been good experience with policy-based budget support (funding provided directly to the Afghan government budget by international financial institutions, in return for implementation of an agreed set of policy measures as part of a coherent reform agenda), and also with the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund's Incentive Program (ARTF IP). These initiatives took on board lessons from international experience; supported reform constituencies in the Afghan government; and built constructive dialogue between government and donors. The ARTF IP, with its agreed benchmarks and financial incentives, is a good example of coordinated financing (pooled funding) by the ARTF donors. However, these initiatives accounted for only a small proportion of total aid, did not include political conditions, and did not work well where highly connected political and financial interests were involved. For example, the Kabul Bank crisis was of a magnitude that could not be effectively addressed through the ARTF IP and its benchmarks; indeed the entire ARTF was put at risk as donor contributions dried up during the crisis.
The Tokyo Framework of July 8 clearly reflects learning from experience. There are 20-plus benchmarks for the government in five main areas, far fewer than in the Afghanistan Compact. There is a long-term perspective-the "decade of transformation" (2014-2025), and the responsibilities of Afghanistan and the international community are clearly set forth and demarcated.
However, major issues and challenges lie ahead in implementing the Tokyo Framework. On the international side, the multiplicity of donors means there is fragmented accountability, which could adversely affect coherence as well as the ability of the international community to be meaningfully held accountable for total funding, particularly given severe fiscal constraints faced around the world. Coordinated funding will be essential, but is it realistic to expect most aid to go through the Afghan government budget/trust funds? This would require a wholesale change from past patterns whereby the bulk of aid was fragmented, project-based, and off-budget.
For the Afghan government, uncertain political and security prospects raise doubts about its ability to meet commitments. The reform constituency may be weakening; there has been an inability to fully address issues where high-level political connections are involved (e.g. Kabul Bank); and more generally, political will for meaningful reforms understandably may decline as the security transition proceeds and the next election cycle approaches. Preparations for elections-presidential in 2014 and parliamentary in 2015-will be an important early test of political will, including as called for in the Tokyo Declaration developing a comprehensive election timeline by early 2013 and a robust electoral architecture to enable successful and timely elections. Fighting corruption, including meaningful asset declarations of senior officials in the executive, legislature, and judiciary, will be another good indicator of the extent of political will for reforms.
Moreover, it is doubtful whether major political issues can be adequately handled through an articulated mutual accountability framework with benchmarks and calibrated financial incentives. Other mechanisms, such as that set up to oversee implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Afghan and US governments, may be better suited for handling "big-ticket" issues, such as the preparations for and conduct and quality of the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
Inability by the international community to deliver the level of funding committed could provide a justification for the Afghan government failing to achieve its benchmarks. Mutual accountability could then degenerate into each side accusing the other of not delivering on promises, rather than working as a framework with incentives to achieve positive results and improve behavior on both sides as intended.
How will achievement of benchmarks be monitored and enforced? Given past experience, there are doubts about how well the JCMB (mandated to oversee implementation), and the series of further high-level meetings agreed at Tokyo, will work. Declining aid for Afghanistan means the funding lever potentially will be stronger than in the past, when aid was increasing and pressures to spend more money were overwhelming irrespective of performance, but it is not clear how effectively it can be deployed given donor fragmentation and also that some funding (e.g. for Afghan security forces) is seen as an integral part of international drawdown strategy and hence will be difficult to hold back.
In conclusion, while the outcome at Tokyo exceeded expectations and hence was a success, the challenge henceforth will be implementation. Mutual accountability-the cornerstone of the Tokyo Framework-is intended to put in place a set of responsibilities and incentives for the Afghan government and for the international community that will foster better behavior and performance on the part of both. There are serious questions about whether and how well mutual accountability will work, most important among them the level of political will in the Afghan government for taking difficult actions and the degree of coherence of donors as well as their ability and willingness to use financial leverage both positively and negatively to encourage fulfillment of government commitments.
William Byrd is a visiting senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace. This note is based on his remarks on mutual accountability at a USIP panel discussion on the subject. The views expressed here are his own.
The following article was adapted from the author's recently released report, "Breaking the Bonds Between al-Qa'ida and Its Affiliate Organizations."
The death of Osama bin Ladin and the fall of Arab dictators have left al-Qa'ida's leadership in disarray, its narrative confused, and the organization on the defensive. One silver lining for al-Qaida, however, has been its affiliate organizations. In Iraq, the Maghreb, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, al-Qa'ida has used local groups to expand its reach, increase its power, and grow its numbers. This string of mergers is not over. In places as diverse as the Sinai Peninsula and Nigeria, al-Qa'ida-linked organizations are emerging. However, the jihadist world is more fractured than it may appear at first glance. Many Salafi-jihadist groups have not joined with al-Qa'ida, and even if they have, tensions and divisions occur that present the United States and its allies with opportunities for weakening the bond.
The role of affiliates is perhaps the most important uncertainty when assessing whether or not the United States and its allies are "winning" the struggle against al-Qa'ida. If affiliates are really part of the al-Qa'ida core, then the overall movement Zawahiri champions is robust and growing. But if the affiliates are al-Qa'ida in little more than name, then Zawahiri's organization, the core of which has been hit hard in recent years, may be close to defeat.
The Rewards and Risks of Affiliation
Al-Qa'ida has always been both a group with its own agenda and a facilitator of other terrorist groups. This meant that it not only carried out its own attacks, but it also helped other jihadist groups with funding, training, and additional logistical essentials. Toward the end of the 1990s, al-Qa'ida incorporated Egyptian Islamic Jihad into its structure. After September 11, 2001, this process of deepening its relationship with outside groups took off, and today a number of regional groups bear the label "al-Qa'ida" in their name, along with a more local designation. Some of the most prominent affiliates include al-Qa'ida of Iraq (AQI), al-Qa'ida of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qa'ida of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Shebaab in Somalia.
Groups have joined with the core after losing recruits and popular support and otherwise seeing their original goals frustrated. For much of its history, al-Qa'ida was flush with cash, which made it an attractive partner for other terrorist groups. Al-Qa'ida ran training camps, operated safe houses, and otherwise established a large infrastructure in support of terror that offered local groups a safe haven and created personal networks among those who trained and sheltered there. At times, groups sought to replace their more local brand with that of al-Qa'ida, believing the latter is more compelling. Because groups share havens, training facilities, and so on with al-Qa'ida, when these locations are targeted by U.S. or local government forces, the individuals from these join al-Qa'ida in fighting back.
Having a diverse array of affiliates helps al-Qa'ida extend its reach, gain access to hardened fighters, and fulfill its self-image as the leader of the jihadist community. Today, amid the U.S. drone campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the group, the actions of al-Qa'ida's affiliates can serve as proof of the group's continued strength.
Despite the benefits to joining with al-Qa'ida, not all Salafi-jihadist groups choose to affiliate with it, including Egypt's Gamaat al-Islamiyya and Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and fighters in Chechnya, Gaza, and Pakistan, though some individual terrorists from these groups did join up.
Doctrinal disputes divide the jihadist community, and some groups go so far as to declare others to be unbelievers, which has tremendous consequences for how a group chooses its targets, and on a group's popularity. In addition, an ideological divide over issues like targeting civilians has caused a rift among jihadists. Local versus global outlooks have also played a role in keeping some groups from linking up with al-Qa'ida. Even if a group shares al-Qa'ida's goals and ideology, going global brings a host of downsides, particularly the wrath of the United States and other strong powers.
Strains in the Relationship
Different aims and divergent strategies may strain the al-Qa'ida-affiliate relationship. Because al-Qa'ida's affiliates started out with local goals, linking with the al-Qa'ida core and expanding attacks to global targets can make it harder for a group to achieve its original aims. On the flip side, the core's anti-Western brand can become hijacked or contaminated by local struggles. Often, local groups have markedly different convictions from al-Qa'ida, particularly when it comes to nationalism and democracy. Expansion also creates tensions inside and outside the core. As the number of affiliates increases, the overall security of the al-Qa'ida network decreases. In cases where al-Qa'ida sends its own operatives and other non-locals to join an affiliate, these foreign fighters may alienate locals through their personal behavior or attempts to alter local traditions.
These issues, and others, may not only create tension between the core and its affiliates, they may be cause for like-minded groups or prominent jihadists to publicly condemn al-Qa'ida-something that costs al-Qa'ida heavily in terms of prestige, and possibly recruitment.
How to Fight Affiliates Better
Often only a small portion of an affiliate's organization focuses on Western targets and an even smaller portion focuses on operations against Western targets outside the local theater of operations. By lumping an unaffiliated group with al-Qa'ida, the United States can drive it into Zawahiri's arms. It is also important to consider how some Sunni groups like Hamas that act against U.S. interests can still serve to weaken al-Qa'ida.
An information operations campaign can try to widen these gaps within the broader movement, highlighting differences and thus encouraging them. In addition, the foreign nature of al-Qa'ida should be emphasized and local nationalisms used to discredit the jihadis. The United States and its allies should also call attention to al-Qa'ida's unpopular stand against democracy and contrast it with statements by peaceful Salafi leaders, including some former jihadists, in support of elections.
Intelligence services can monitor radicals within diaspora communities and work with law enforcement officials to curtail fundraising for affiliate groups. If the core's money diminishes, the core will be less likely to be able to attract new affiliates to its banner. Moreover, depriving affiliate groups of revenue often leads them to undertake illicit activities to make up the funding shortfall. These actions paint the group as more criminal than heroic.
Washington must also understand how actions its takes in the region may influence the al-Qa'ida-affiliate dynamic. In deciding whether to intervene abroad, for instance, U.S. policymakers should consider, along with other more obvious costs and benefits, how doing so may impact al-Qa'ida affiliation.
Ultimately, there are no simple choices when confronting al-Qa'ida affiliates. On the one hand, ignoring groups until they become affiliates, or ignoring affiliates until they strike at U.S. targets, risks leaving U.S. intelligence and security officials in a defensive and reactive mode and vulnerable to a surprise attack. On the other hand, too aggressive an approach can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, strengthening bonds between al-Qa'ida and other jihadist groups by validating the al-Qa'ida narrative and leading groups to cooperate for self-defense and organizational advancement. So, as with most difficult counterterrorism issues, judgment and prudence are essential
Daniel Byman is a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, and the Research Director at the Saban Center at Brookings.
MOHAMED MOKHTAR/AFP/Getty Images
It is generally
believed in the West that military action can resolve the terrorism problem in
the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region as well as help efforts to thwart
violent radicalism throughout the region. This idea, while sounding sensible
when peering at Pakistan from the outside, misses an important reality on the
ground: according to a new
report released today by the Asia Society, it is the domestic police force
that can best root out terror networks, find and disable their financial
support, and even manage de-radicalization programs in association with local
When faced with a serious internal security crisis, it is crucial that a state pursue reform that entails capacity building not just in the military and civilian government, but within the law enforcement sector. Pakistan is a case in point. The state is facing a variety of internal security challenges that are severely limiting its citizens' potential as well as creating tension between neighbors and potential allies abroad. Without police and law enforcement reform, stability is likely to continue eluding Pakistan.
Meaningful reform is not going to be an easy endeavor. A high number of terrorist attacks and increasingly troubling crime patterns tell the story of a state under siege. An increase in targeted killings of political and religious leaders, attacks on armed forces and police, kidnapping for ransom by the Taliban, and ‘mob justice' incidents show just how daunting the challenges for the police have become. Pakistan's efforts to combat crime and to counter terrorist activities are being outpaced by the innovation and agility of criminal networks and protean terrorist organizations. Radicalized elements within the political and religious spheres further complicate security challenges.
One might assume that, as a result, the government of Pakistan has prioritized reform of the police and other law enforcement agencies, allocating budgets accordingly. This simply is not the case. A lack of resources, poor training facilities, insufficient and outmoded equipment, entrenched corruption, and political interference mar law enforcement institutions throughout the country. Still, the police force is one of the country's few institutions in which internal reform is actually underway. This struggle merits attention and needs support.
Interestingly, the international support provided to Pakistan for antiterrorism operations in the last decade was largely geared towards the defense sector, and very little of that ever reached police. This created a situation in which military control trumped local knowledge and know-how. . A balanced approach is needed to help Pakistan tackle both internal and external challenges more effectively.
Few know that Pakistan is among the top five police-contributing countries to the United Nations over the last decade, and the professional performance of Pakistani officers in UN peacekeeping operations is rated highly. However, Pakistan has no mechanism in place to utilize the services of these officers in such a way that police institutions in-country might benefit from this experience. Many Pakistani police officers were successful in getting Fulbright scholarships and Hubert Humphrey fellowships in the United States in recent years as well. Thus, there is a lot of untapped potential in the country that can help transform the law enforcement institutions.
This week, Asia Society is releasing a report by an independent commission on police reforms in Pakistan that includes contributions from many seasoned and reputed Pakistani police officers, as well as a few American scholars and experts. The report recommends a host of reform measures, with a few key points being:
1. In the face of increased terrorist attacks specifically targeting Pakistan's police, the force has rendered many sacrifices. Two of Pakistan's best police officers - Safwat Ghayur and Malik Saad - died at the hands of suicide bombers. Stories like these demand proper media attention to help drive reform.
2. Focused and targeted international help can play a significant role in enhancing the capacity of Pakistan's law enforcement structure to fight crime as well as terrorism. Technical assistance, training, and modern equipment top this list. Creation of regional mechanisms for sharing of information about organized crime and terrorist networks can enhance Pakistan's standing in the international arena in turn increasing the prospects of such support.
3. The government of Pakistan must provide police with critical technology such as independent facilities for the interception of terrorists' communications, mobile-tracking systems, and telephone call data analysis. Better coordination between police, intelligence organizations and the private sector can make this possible.
4. Legal reform to provide for an effective witness protection system, changes in anti-terrorism law to broaden its scope and a simpler procedure for admissibility of modern types of evidence (e.g., cell phone call data) will strengthen the broader criminal justice system in the country.
5. An improvement in working conditions and salaries and changes to organizational culture would help to create a force that is respected by the people and thus be more effective in maintaining security and stability. The success of the National Highways and Motorway Police is particularly instructive in this respect.
Evidence suggests that a law enforcement model, which by its very nature is linked to rule of law as well as democracy, offers the best bet to confront the menace of terrorism, transnational crime, as well as insurgencies. Placing a priority on law enforcement reform can help Pakistan in more ways than one.
Hassan Abbas is Senior Advisor at Asia Society and Editor of the report "Stabilizing Pakistan Through Police Reforms" being launched by Asia Society on July 24, 2012. He is also Professor at National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs.
we lose, it's going to be because of the civilians."
This pre-emptive attempt to define the epitaph of the Afghanistan war (made by a U.S. official at NATO) could almost be the one-line summary of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America. The author himself spreads the blame even wider. "Our government was incapable of meeting the challenge. Our generals and diplomats were too ambitious and arrogant. Our uniformed and civilian bureaucracies were rife with internal rivalries... Our development experts were inept. Our leaders were distracted."
Little America is a well-researched, clearly-written exposé of the debates, disputes and political skullduggery between those involved in the Afghanistan "surge" in 2009. I found it easy to read: it mixes together comedy, tragedy, suspense and political analysis.
It is inevitably influenced by the people who talked to the author, who include (to judge from the endnotes) a large number of people in or close to the U.S. military; military perspectives predominate. And the losers in the book are more numerous than the winners.
Loser: Little America. It turns out that this project, intended to revitalize Afghanistan's agriculture in Helmand in the 1950s, essentially failed. The story of its failure -- over-ambitious, overfunded projects unsuited to Afghan realities -- is eerily prescient.
Loser: The Afghan Army, which comes across as badly-led and inept. "It's better for us," an Afghan soldier tells Chandrasekaran, "to let the Americans chase the Taliban."
Loser: The civilian surge. The image of drunken party-goers urinating against the outer wall of the U.S. Embassy's political section is hard to forget. But there is a lot of truth in the broader, more serious point. Security rules stopped civilians from engaging with Afghans, making the civilians' presence in Afghanistan in the first place a very expensive exercise in futility.
Loser: USAID. Chandrasekaran describes its bizarre war against the sensible, if
short-term, idea of combating drugs production by subsidising alternative
crops. "Their thinking is all about free trade," a USAID official is quoted
saying about the agency's management. "But what about the goal of keeping
people from shooting at our troops?"
Loser: The Brits and the Canadians. I thought this was going to happen as soon as I read the sentence "British commanders planned to show the Americans... how the pros executed counterinsurgency". As ever, pride came before a fall. By the end of the book, the British are suffering casualties at a higher proportion than the Americans, and are not too proud to ask the Marines for help. The Canadians, who preferred to run Kandahar with far fewer troops than the British and without Marine help, also come in for criticism. (As Chandrasekaran hints, the underlying problem was the original decision that provinces of Afghanistan should each be farmed out to separate NATO allies. Surely, the reader might think, there could have been a better way for NATO allies to work together than this.)
Loser: The chain of command. A U.S. company commander was transferred to a desk job as a punishment. His crime? Posting up remarks made by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. This was apparently an unwise move in a brigade whose commander disagreed with McChrystal's approach. And that wasn't the only time that McChrystal was thwarted by technically more junior staff. The Marines were largely outside his control, thanks to a deal they had made with the Pentagon prior to their deployment to Afghanistan (they reported to a separate, three-star general at US Central Command). McChrystal, despite nominally being the most senior military officer in Afghanistan, wasn't even able to shut down fast-food restaurants at the Kandahar Airfield, which he felt were distractions in a warzone.
Loser: President Obama, whose decision to surge and withdraw comes across as the worst of all worlds - not giving Afghans any reassurance that the Taliban would not come back in a few years' time, while meantime costing tens of billions of dollars and reducing pressure on the Afghan Army to do its job properly. "To many Afghans...more troops meant more insecurity," Chandrasekaran suggests. The book also makes the case that the President was ill-served by bickering among his senior staff.
Winner: The warlords and their militias - presented by Chandrasekaran as brutal and exploitative, but also as effective fighters against the Taliban. Take Spin Boldak police chief Abdul Razziq's militia: "Unlike Afghan army units, many of which needed to be prodded and led into battle, Razziq's troops charged right in."
Winner: Joe Biden, whose proposal of "counterterrorism-plus" in Afghanistan looks to have been dead on. Raids against Taliban commanders could still have continued without pinning down tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the field day after day.
Turning the pages of this book, I felt that I was reading the obituary of muscular nation-building. Chandrasekaran's conclusion suggests not only that America has failed in Afghanistan, but that it was bound to fail. "It wasn't America's war," he concludes.
the reduction in the Pentagon's budget and a shift to East Asia - where the
United States is less likely to get directly involved in combat -
Afghanistan-style interventions may indeed be things of the past. And it's hard
to feel sorry about it after reading this sentence:
"The United States was spending more each year to keep Marine battalions in Nawa and Garmser than it was providing the entire nation of Egypt in military and development assistance."
Nawa and Garmser: population, 160,000; remote agricultural communities; few from the area have ever travelled outside it. Egypt: population, 85 million; highly urbanised and connected by direct flights to the USA; birthplace of modern Islamic militancy and of the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
We need not stop at Nawa and Garmser. The whole operation in Afghanistan departed far from its original objectives, which were to deal a blow to al-Qaeda and reduce its chances of attacking America again. The United States could surely have dealt al-Qaeda a greater blow with the half a trillion dollars that it has spent in Afghanistan, if it had spent a large part of that money elsewhere (Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Mali...). As this book implies, it would have done a better job in Afghanistan, too, if it had spent less money and been more focused on its original goal.
That is what makes me just a little bit more optimistic about Afghanistan than Chandrasekaran. He is giving the war in Afghanistan a fail grade: it was winnable, he says, but the West lost it -- and maybe was bound to lose it, because we just aren't configured to conduct and win such campaigns.
This may be premature. Public discontent with the war and President Obama's determination to pull back combat troops will likely now force a move to a new kind of U.S. presence in Afghanistan -- one that is small-scale, out of the faces of Afghan civilians, and long-term. It may or may not be enough to save Afghanistan from a renewed plunge into civil war; it will almost certainly set a limit on Taliban ambitions and make them keep their distance from al-Qaeda. It makes a great deal more sense than the Sisyphean labors that the United States has set itself for the last six years or so.
Gerard Russell headed the U.K. Government's
outreach efforts to Muslim audiences worldwide after September 11, 2001. He
subsequently worked as a diplomat in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where
he headed the U.K. Government's political team. He was a Research Fellow at
Harvard 2009-10 and is writing a book on religious minorities in the Middle
East, to be published by Basic Books in 2013/14. He is fluent in Dari and Arabic.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
In February 2011, Pakistan and India resumed formal peace talks, which New Delhi had broken off following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Although the peace process has sparked cautious optimism among analysts, all of the core issues between the two countries remain and several new ones may be emerging. Moreover, the wounds of Mumbai have yet to heal fully and can still infect the peace process. This was evident when India took custody of Zabiuddin Ansari, an Indian jihadist who joined Lashkar-e-Taiba and played a pivotal role in those attacks. A previous post employed his story to examine the jihadist threats facing India and the role official Pakistani support is believed to play in them. The aim here is to address the impact, if any, on India-Pakistan relations.
Ansari was arrested by Saudi authorities in May 2011, but handed over to India only days prior to last week's bilateral meeting between the countries' foreign secretaries. Indian officials took pains to make clear that Ansari's capture (specifically) and Pakistan's failure to curb terrorism (in general) would not derail the planned meeting. The two sides did make slow progress on several economic issues and it is arguable that for some time the greatest barriers to action on that front have been internal and bureaucratic rather than geopolitical. This should be cause for cautious optimism. Read another way, however, it is emblematic of the limited expectations for this process, the enormous hurdles to be overcome, the delicate balance each side must strike in terms of how to engage, and the domestic dynamics in each country that further complicate the process.
It's helpful to recall that previous attempts at normalizing relations focused too heavily either on engagements at the bureaucratic level or personal initiatives by political leaders. This current phase has sought to combine both approaches, initially aiming to make parallel progress on economic engagement as well as the more intractable problems of settling Kashmir, demobilizing the Siachen Glacier, or satisfying New Delhi's demands for an end to Pakistani support for anti-India militancy. This approach of de-linking economic engagement from normalization on political and security issues in the short term has merit to the degree that the former can be used to built trust and create space for the peace camps that exist in both countries. But it is not without drawbacks, particularly in terms of the potential for mismatched timing and objectives. To date, the slow progress made has come mainly in the area of economic integration.
The Pakistan Army, which still largely controls foreign policy, remains leery of incremental talks that could enable India, the status quo power in Kashmir, to consolidate an economic relationship without budging on territorial disputes. Moreover, although the government in Pakistan is incredibly enfeebled at the moment, such integration could empower either of the main civilian political parties - the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) - in the event that one of them wins the next election, to wrest at least some power from the military. Nevertheless, given Pakistan's struggling economy, strained relations with the United States and failure of its all-weather ally, China, to ride to the financial rescue, the Army is more prepared than in the past to endorse economic engagement with India.
Yet, various members of the Pakistani security establishment maintain that settling territorial disputes cannot take a backseat to such engagement for too long. Once the United States draws down from Afghanistan, there is likely to be a refocusing within Pakistan's security establishment on its neighbor to the east. In the meantime, and as discussed in the previous post, the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) appear to be attempting to restrain Lashkar-e-Taiba from launching another terrorist spectacular along the lines of Mumbai. However, there is no indication that state support for that group or the indigenous jihadist movement in India has ceased. Lashkar's amir Hafiz Saeed continues to enjoy a public pulpit, from which he has declared the mujahideen will resume a "full-scale armed jihad" in Kashmir once the Afghan war is resolved. And on this most recent visit, Pakistan's foreign secretary made a point of meeting with Kashmiri separatists from the Hurriyat Conference the day prior to engaging with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made no secret of his desire for a breakthrough with Pakistan or his desire to accept an invitation to make an official visit to the land of his birth. But he also has acknowledged that, "a visit to Pakistan that does not bear fruit would be of no use," meaning that an agreement on at least one core issue is perceived as necessary in order to make such a trip viable. Resolving a boundary dispute in Sir Creek, located between Singh in Pakistan and Gujarat in India, is arguably the easiest of the core issues to resolve, and the two sides were scheduled to discuss it in May. Shortly before, Pakistan cancelled the talks with no explanation, though the conventional wisdom was that it sought to force progress on Siachen Glacier first. The two sides are further apart on this issue and there is significant opposition within the Indian military, which holds the high ground, to any compromise on it. So it was no surprise when the talks dealing with Siachen in mid-June came to naught.
In lieu of progress on any territorial issues and without much expectation that the Pakistani security establishment will make a significant attempt to dismantle the militant infrastructure, New Delhi is happy to pursue "progress" on issues such as economic integration. As several Indian officials and diplomats sought to make clear to the author, this is not the same as normalization, which they claim can only occur if Pakistan ends its support for jihadist militants who target India. To that end, while pursuing "progress," India also has sought to exert maximum pressure on Pakistan vis-à-vis terrorism.
This approach demands a delicate balance and it is sometimes difficult to determine the degree to which it is carefully calibrated or the result of differing views within the Indian government. Thus, while the Indian external affairs minister was trying to play down the impact of Pakistani inaction against the Mumbai planners and promising the issue would not hold the dialogue hostage, the home minister was holding a press conference in which he proclaimed Ansari's allegations proved Mumbai could not have happened without state support. A month earlier, the Indian home minister, P Chidambaram, declined a Pakistani request to travel to Islamabad to sign a much-awaited liberalized visa agreement as a way of sending the message that Pakistan needed to take action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks.
Ansari has not provided any major new insights into those attacks, but he nevertheless provides India with additional means to pressure Pakistan because of his intimate involvement in planning Mumbai and presence in the control room during the operation. He has reaffirmed much of what was suspected, including the involvement of the same two officers believed to belong to the ISI that David Headley, who conducted reconnaissance for the attacks, identified in his testimony to Indian investigators.
Despite these revelations, Islamabad still insists New Delhi has not provided usable information. Yet, plausible deniability only works as a policy if the denials are in fact plausible. Pakistan's increasingly are not, and its failure to commit fully to prosecuting all of the alleged perpetrators is becoming another major stumbling block to normalizing relations. A conviction of the seven Lashkar members currently on trial is far from certain, and even were it to occur, India has shown no indication that this alone would be an acceptable outcome. New Delhi has said publicly that Pakistani action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks - especially Hafiz Saeed and the two aforementioned ISI officers - would be the "biggest confidence-building measure of all." Privately, Indian diplomats go further and assert that this has become a de facto litmus test regarding the Pakistani security establishment's willingness to end its support for Lashkar.
New Delhi has already won its case in the court of public opinion. Unlike in the 1990s, when Washington and New Delhi held politically disparate positions regarding Pakistani support for militancy, today they are united both on their acceptance of the problem and their inability to find a solution to it. Ultimately, two things must happen for Pakistan's behavior to change. First, the real costs - direct and indirect - of supporting groups like Lashkar must be understood to outweigh the (mis)perceived utility they provide geopolitically and domestically. Second, those who already recognize this is the case must take control of the country's security policy.
Bilateral progress between India and Pakistan, even short of a normalization of relations, is an essential component in this regard. It has the potential to bring real economic benefits to people on both sides of the border and in doing so to begin reshaping the environment. But it will remain a slow process and one beset by numerous challenges - foreign and domestic, political and bureaucratic. On its own, Ansari's deportation to India prior to the foreign secretaries meeting was a bump in the road, and the information he provided in the days that followed is unlikely to have taken any of the key players on either side by surprise. This in and of itself, however, is a symptom of just how far the two countries have to go and the way in which new issues, like Mumbai, can make overcoming those that are already difficult to surmount all the more difficult. In the meantime, containing the threat from Pakistani militants will require the type of international coordination, described in the next post, that led to Ansari's capture and deportation.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
Over the last few weeks, Pakistani doctors have staged several strikes and taken to the streets to protest. The most recent strike ended on Monday morning after a 20-day work stoppage.
The chief demand of these physicians, most of them young and based at public facilities in Punjab Province, has been the establishment of a formal pay structure-one allowing for regular promotions to higher pay scales-already available to other public servants in Pakistan. "I have personally seen doctors who have served for more than 18 years and still remain in the same pay scale," one young doctor wrote several days ago.
The doctors' discontent, however, represents only one symptom of the disease afflicting Pakistan's troubled medical field.
Recall, for example, the much-publicized case of Imanae Malik. This three-year-old girl died at Doctors Hospital in Lahore in 2009 after an ER doctor (who her parents claim was half asleep) injected her with too much anesthesia-even though Malik had been admitted for a small burn on her hand (Malik's father now runs a website that catalogues dozens of other allegations of mistreatment at the same hospital). Or consider the seven newborns who burned to death last month in a fire caused by a short circuit in the nursery of another Lahore hospital. Grieving parents alleged that the hospital had no fire extinguishers, and witnesses reported that hospital staff ran away from the burning room instead of attempting to save the babies (hospital spokespeople later clarified that extinguishers were present, but staff didn't know how to use them).
Unfortunately, such medical malpractice and negligence are legion in Pakistan. One recent report tells of a surgeon who left a pair of scissors inside a man's stomach; of a doctor who removed a teenager's appendix when the actual diagnosis was colorectal cancer; and of physicians' constant failure to detect common jaundice in newborns, leading to many deaf and brain-damaged babies. Little wonder the striking doctors have not garnered overwhelming public support; some Pakistanis have denounced them as "heartless" and even as "miscreants"-an epithet the nation often invokes against terrorists.
Incompetence may be partially to blame, yet these problems are largely attributable to a severely overburdened and underresourced medical profession. In most rural areas, there are more than 1,200 patients for every doctor; another estimate finds that, nationwide, there are 18,000 people for every doctor. These are profound paucities for one of the world's sickest nations. No country has more polio cases, only Nigeria suffers more stillbirths, and only five nations have more tuberculosis patients. A third of Pakistan's population is undernourished, and nearly half of it lacks access to safe water. Meanwhile, according to an Al Jazeera study, up to 16 percent of Pakistanis suffer from mental illness-and the ratio of severely-ill patients to doctors is 2,000 to 1. Not surprisingly, doctors speak of having to work for 28 days per month and up to 30 hours in a row.
Unfortunately, government support is woefully insufficient. Only 0.2 percent of the 2012-13 federal budget is expected to be allocated to the health sector (this compares to 24 percent for the United States). In fiscal year 2010-11, a mere 0.27 percent of GDP went to health. A doctor fresh out of medical school working for a public sector facility receives about $250 per month, claim those who have gone on strike; by comparison, a court stenographer receives nearly $700 (last year Islamabad announced doctors' salaries would be increased to about $530 a month; it's unclear if this change has gone into effect).
With overworked, underpaid medical workers facing a constant stream of patients, the Hippocratic Oath is often turned on its head. According to doctors speaking anonymously, harried medical staff-in their haste to get to the next patient-become careless and leave surgical materials (from cotton to the aforementioned scissors) inside patients' bodies. And in their desperation to earn more income, physicians often tamper with pathology reports to justify surgery-which can generate lucrative fees-even if prescribing medication is the proper course.
Predictably, in light of this sad state of affairs, Pakistani doctors often voice a desire to leave the country. Many have already done so-and quite a few have come to the United States. According to a New York Times study, doctors account for the fourth most common profession of Pakistan-born U.S. workers. The Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA)-which just held its annual convention at the cavernous Gaylord Convention Center near Washington, DC-is one of the larger Pakistani diaspora organizations in America.
Still, many choose to continue practicing in Pakistan, despite the problems-and the risks. I recently spoke with a young vascular surgeon based at one of the country's better public hospitals. His main concern is not a low salary or high caseload, but rather his own safety. He told me that frustrated people-denied care, or forced to endure long waiting periods-often roam around the hospital looking for doctors to beat up. The problem is so severe, he said, that he wears his telltale scrubs only when absolutely necessary.
Ultimately, Pakistan's medical crisis exemplifies the disparities between the nation's public and private sectors. The most overburdened and underpaid doctors-and those on the picket lines-work for public institutions. Private medical care is generally more expensive but of better quality and more sufficiently resourced than public care (the private Doctors Hospital, where Imanae Malik died, is one of the few exceptions).
A stark illustration of this public-private divide is ambulatory services. Several years ago, the Karachi mayor's office presented me with a glossy publication highlighting the city government's accomplishments. One photo depicted a fleet of new and sleek government-issued ambulances. Yet today, they likely no longer exist. According to media reports last month, Karachi's few public ambulances have been abandoned due to technical problems, "and are rusting away somewhere." A bevy of private ambulance operators have filled this vacuum. They include the Edhi Foundation, run by octogenarian philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, which manages hundreds of ambulances. Across the nation, the supply and capacity of private ambulances far outstrip those of publicly provided ones. (Sindh's health minister has even suggested that public ambulances have been used for shopping excursions instead of emergency response.)
Pakistan's medical crisis is unlikely to be resolved unless the Pakistani government takes several unprecedented steps. One is to allocate more public funding to the health sector-an adjustment that may not please Pakistan's powerful military, which for years has enjoyed a disproportionate share of the national budget. Another is to actually implement (as opposed to merely formulate or approve) public policies that seek to improve the health of the Pakistani people.
Unfortunately, Islamabad seems to be moving in a very different direction. Last year, the government passed the 18th constitutional amendment, which devolves many central government functions to the provinces. The responsibilities and resources of Pakistan's federal health ministry have been passed on to provincial governments-which lack the capacities to take on such a vastly expanded portfolio.
Additionally, Pakistan's private sector is playing an increasingly prominent role in medical care; it presently accounts for about 80 percent of outpatient health care visits. On one level, given the crisis in public care, this is a welcome development. Promising new initiatives abound, including one called Naya Jeevan. For a nominal monthly fee, this program offers low-income domestic household workers and uninsured factory laborers access to private health care services.
However, the growth of private medical care is of no use for the millions of poor and unemployed who can afford neither the high standard costs of private care nor the subsidized costs levied by the likes of Naya Jeevan. And expanded private health services offer little consolation to the overburdened public sector doctors who must minister to Pakistan's public care-dependent ill and impoverished.
The takeaway? As is often the case, the Pakistani masses-and those charged with helping them-are the biggest losers.
Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
During the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which Pakistan-based handlers from Lashkar-e-Taiba provided instructions via voice-over-internet protocol communications, Indian intelligence heard an individual speaking with a Mumbai accent directing some of the gunmen on the ground. Last year that same voice was heard again - this time in Saudi Arabia. It belongs to Zabiuddin Ansari (a.k.a. Abu Jundal, a.k.a. Abu Hamza) who Saudi forces arrested in May 2011 and finally turned over to the Indian authorities two weeks ago.
Ansari is proving to be a treasure trove of information regarding past attacks against India, most notably the 10-person assault on Mumbai for which he also helped to prepare the attackers. This understandably has been big news in India, as has Ansari's connections to the Indian Mujahideen network that has claimed a slew of bombings since 2005. However, his story, which began in a small village in Maharashtra's Beed district and reached a crescendo with his arrest by Saudi authorities and subsequent deportation to India, despite significant Pakistani protestations, has wider implications.
To begin with, this development comes amidst a warming in India-Pakistan relations. Early indications suggest that New Delhi will leverage information from Ansari's arrest to pressure Pakistan, albeit with minimal expectations of a positive result. However, the Indian government appears intent that the fallout should not stand in the way of progress on issues such as economic integration, even as territorial disputes and Pakistani support for militancy help keep full normalization out of reach. While it is unclear how long such an approach can last, it is notable that this thaw has been accompanied by intensified counterterrorism cooperation with the United States and various regional actors. Indeed, the most significant aspect of Ansari's arrest and deportation may be that it came at the hands of one of Pakistan's most reliable allies, Saudi Arabia. Such cooperation is intrinsically connected to Pakistan's increasing isolation at a time when India is an emerging global player with growing clout.
Thus, Ansari's arrest provides a prism through which to examine several inter-related issues: the variegated nature of the jihadist threat confronting India today, and the roles that both a small number of Indians and Pakistani state support play in it; how incidents such as this one impact the renewed India-Pakistan engagement; the feasibility of containing Pakistan-based or supported militants via enhanced international counter-terrorism cooperation in the absence of a serious commitment by the Pakistani state to dismantle the jihadist infrastructure on its soil; and Pakistan's increasing international isolation, primarily as a result of growing concerns about its inability or unwillingness to dismantle that infrastructure. This is the first of four articles intended to address these issues and it aims to contextualize the jihadist threat facing India today.
The full story behind Ansari's entrance into militancy is still obscure, but in the words of one Indian journalist, "it is likely that part of the answer lies in the communal violence which formed an organic part of the cultural fabric of his early life." Thus it appears he was part of a small number, in relative and absolute terms, of Indian Muslims motivated to wage jihad against their homeland as a means of exacting revenge for socio-economic deprivation and communal pogroms perpetrated by elements of the Hindu majority.
Some of these would-be Indian militants linked up directly with Pakistani groups like Lashkar, while others began joining India-based cells that simply benefited from Pakistani support. Since 2007, these Indian modules have been known as the Indian Mujahideen, which is best understood as a label for a diffuse and protean network rather than as a proper organization. While one can distinguish between Indians who join Lashkar and those that belong to an IM-branded module, in practice there is significant interplay between the two. Most of the jihadist attacks against India in recent years have been executed either by Indians working directly for Lashkar, those belonging to the IM, or a hybrid of the two. Incidents of expeditionary terrorism, in which Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar deploy Pakistanis to execute terrorist strikes such as the 2008 Mumbai attacks, may be the highest profile threat to India. But these attacks are also the most rare.
There are several reasons for this. First, in some cases Indians may be acting almost entirely on their own, albeit possibly with some form of foreign support, which means they strike when the opportunity presents itself. Second, in those instances when they are working with Pakistan-based actors, Indian operatives are able to move more freely than their Pakistani brethren and so provide greater operational utility. Third, interlocutors in the U.S. and Indian governments believe the ISI is putting pressure on Lashkar to refrain from deploying Pakistani operatives, particularly since the international opprobrium that followed Mumbai. Fourth, according to one Lashkar official interviewed by the author in Pakistan in July 2011, a growing number of Indian Muslims are assuming operational roles in the group, enabling greater collaboration with indigenous actors in India. Hence, it is not surprising that Ansari was arrested in Saudi Arabia, where more than a million members of the Indian diaspora live, while on a mission to recruit more of his countrymen for future attacks.
The domestic grievances motivating would-be Indian militants pose difficult questions for India. However, it is impossible to overlook Pakistan's role in promoting and sustaining these actors. Indian authorities assert that ISI support for Indian militants includes the provision of training, financing, explosives, and logistical support such as false passports like the one Ansari was carrying when arrested. It also entails providing safe haven for Indian operatives, again like Ansari, who fled to Pakistan via Bangladesh in 2006 and allegedly confirmed that others like him are still sheltering in Karachi and continuing to plan terrorist operations.
Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, among others, has admitted the country can no longer point to cross-border modules as the source of all jihadist violence in India, and must acknowledge the role a small number of its own citizens play. Yet India also points to Pakistan's continued support for these actors and assert that its willingness to provide safe haven to some of them enables the ISI to exert direct influence over the Indian Mujahideen. Thus, Chidambaram admitted Ansari was an Indian radicalized in India, but also called on Pakistan to admit he was given safe haven there and played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Notably, Ansari claims his initial task was to provide Hindi lessons to the Mumbai assault team in order to pass off the operation as the work of Indian jihadists.
True or false, this allegation contributes to the belief among many Indian officials and analysts that Lashkar and its ISI patrons are cultivating Indian operatives in part because they provide a greater level of deniability for Pakistan. It also helps to explain why many Indian officials with whom the author spoke during the past several weeks make only a minimal distinction between the IM and Lashkar, viewing both as tools of the Pakistani state. Ansari's revelations regarding the involvement of officers allegedly working with the ISI in the planning and execution of the 2008 Mumbai attacks have reinforced this perception. Yet contrary to the evidence, Pakistani officials insists no state actors - rogue or otherwise - were involved in Mumbai and that such accusations are designed to malign the ISI.
India has stated publicly that Pakistani action against all of the Mumbai perpetrators would be the greatest confidence-building measure, but when the author spoke with high-ranking officials in New Delhi following Ansari's arrest, none expressed any hope that such action would be forthcoming. Such low expectations did not keep the argument over Ansari and the information he has provided from overshadowing other bilateral issues when foreign secretaries from the two countries met several days prior. Still, despite the Ansari issue clouding the talks, the two managed to touch upon additional topics and to pursue limited progress in improving bilateral ties. The next piece in this series will explore this process and the impact events like Ansari's arrest have on it.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
In mid-June, after the fifth drone strike in two weeks, militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan resorted to taking hostages. No Americans being readily available, Bahadur decided that the Western-funded effort to eradicate polio would suffice, declaring a ban on vaccinations until U.S. drone strikes cease. Militant leader Mullah Nazir of South Waziristan soon followed suit, announcing his own ban on June 26th.
From Bahadur's perspective, there is something to the argument that drone strikes do more damage than polio. North Waziristan suffered from only 14 new polio cases last year, even as U.S. drone strikes killed over 250 of its residents, many of them armed militants allied with Bahadur. Of course, that these same militants are in fact largely responsible for both the mayhem and the public health crisis in Waziristan likely doesn't enter into Bahadur's calculations. As it stands, however, the polio vaccination campaign in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) matters more to outsiders than it does to the tribal areas' residents themselves, and as such it provides a tempting target for militant groups desperate for any kind of leverage over the United States.
Bahadur's and Nazir's bans fit into a broader pattern of Pakistani militants using intimidation and violence to halt polio vaccination campaigns in FATA. Militants have long spread rumors that the vaccines are part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize or poison Muslims, leading to high rates of vaccination refusal. Extremist groups have specifically targeted health workers for kidnapping or assassination, killing the head of the polio vaccination campaign in Bajaur in 2007.
The United States stands behind both drone strikes and health programs in FATA, blurring the lines between the two. This has always created tension, as seen in the debate over USAID's on-again/off-again demand that its programs in FATA be overtly branded as "from the American people," even as those carrying out such programs are labeled as spies and targeted by militants. Suspicions of U.S.-funded health programs have been compounded by revelations that CIA informant Dr. Shakil Afridi attempted to collect information on Osama bin Laden's family in Abbottabad under the guise of a vaccination campaign.
Pakistan's remaining polio sanctuaries have become closely linked with anti-Western militancy and pose a growing challenge to the worldwide effort to eradicate polio. Globally, this effort has succeeded in reducing the annual incidence of polio from over 350,000 cases in 1988 to less than 700 in 2011. The eradication campaign has foundered with the increase in militancy in Pakistan, however, as polio cases there have risen each year since 2005. Last year Pakistan was responsible for more cases than any other country, most of which were concentrated in the Pashto-speaking areas along the Afghan border, including Waziristan.
Polio can easily spread from the tribal areas to elsewhere in the country. Labor migration and conflict have resulted in regular movement between Waziristan and Karachi, where polio has repeatedly surfaced. From the sprawling port city's volatile slums the disease can spread onward, back to India, Bangladesh, and other countries which earlier rid themselves - at least temporarily - of polio. This potential danger was underscored in late 2011, when the World Health Organization traced China's first polio outbreak in ten years back to Pakistan.
In addition to Pakistan, polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan and Nigeria. In all three countries it occurs nearly exclusively in Muslim areas home to anti-Western insurgencies. Polio persists here for two reasons: militants deny vaccination teams access to areas under their control and parents refuse to let their children be vaccinated. Both of these can be traced back to fears that vaccination is part of an anti-Muslim plot. These fears, however laughable they may appear to outsiders, need to be taken seriously.
The global campaign must be transformed into a Muslim-led effort if it is to eradicate polio from these remaining sanctuaries. Through no fault of their own, the World Health Organization's director for Global Polio Eradication, Dr. Bruce Aylward, and representative in Pakistan, Dr. Guido Sabatinelli, are no longer the most effective choices for the campaign's visible leadership. Polio has been eradicated in Muslim-majority countries as varied as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Tajikistan, leaving behind a capable cadre of public health officials who could take over such posts.
Western funding and technical support will remain necessary,
but it should be discretely channeled through the World Bank or World Health
Organization. The United States in particular must publicly disassociate itself
from the vaccination effort. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation needs to
help provide funds for polio eradication, securing at least token donations
from all its poorer member states and significant amounts from the wealthier
members. Polio concerns all Muslim-majority countries; if eradication continues
to falter it is only a matter of time before the annual Hajj pilgrimage, attracting
hundreds of thousands of Muslims from across the world, becomes a site of polio
At the national level, Pakistan must continue its efforts to brand polio vaccination as Islamic. Some progress has already been made in securing the support of religious and nationalist leaders such as Imran Khan and Fazlur Rehman. International religious figures popular among FATA Pashtuns, including Dr. Zakir Naik of India and Imam Abdul Rehman al-Sudais of Saudi Arabia should also be encouraged to lend public support to Pakistan's eradication efforts. If jihadist figures such as Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba are willing to pose for photo-ops giving oral vaccination drops to three year olds, that too would be helpful.
For FATA residents to care about polio vaccination, this public relations campaign should be expanded to include health issues with a more immediate and devastating impact. In 2002, the World Health Organization found that tetanus was responsible for over a fifth of all infant mortality in FATA. Taking into account population and birth rate estimates, this suggests a rough figure of at least two thousand infants in FATA dying every year from tetanus alone, which is easily prevented with proper vaccinations for expecting mothers. The same militants who have banned the anti-polio campaign have also kept health workers from saving these and the thousands of other children who die from preventable diseases in FATA. The tribal areas' residents should be enlisted in the effort to pressure militants to cease banning health programs as a weapon in their struggle against the Pakistani Government and the United States. To do this requires speaking to their concerns and assuaging their fears of foreign-funded vaccination campaigns.
Events along the remote Afghanistan-Pakistan border have a global impact for two reasons: terrorism and polio. Despite Bahadur's and Nazir's threats, U.S. drone strikes will continue in Waziristan, and perhaps the tribal areas will eventually fade as a center of anti-Western terrorism. In order for polio eradication to succeed, however, it must be separated from the United States and its drone strikes. It will be much easier to make the polio eradication campaign Islamic than it will be to erase anti-Western sentiment in FATA and other polio-endemic areas. Only by handing over the reins - and the credit - for polio eradication to Muslims, will Waziri, Pakistani, and American children together live in a polio-free world.
Sean Mann is currently in the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University. He speaks Pashto, and recently spent a year conducting research on the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
In a country where ethnic differences and institutional alliances have dictated loyalties and national policies for decades, Pakistan is rapidly cultivating an ideological paradigm that has the ability to put the nation on a starkly different trajectory than it is now.
Since its establishment, Pakistan has fostered a sociocentric culture - one that emphasizes the role of community and groupthink, and encourages its members to act in a way that is best for the community or institution they belong to. It is no surprise then that Pakistanis have deep ethnic allegiances that spill over into politics. Ethnic groups, political parties, and even political institutions, as we have seen with the military and more recently with the Supreme Court, require a deeply imbedded sociocentric approach from all of its members.
On the polar end of a sociocentric perspective of society is the individualistic viewpoint - people examine issues and make moral decisions based on what is best for the individual and individual rights and liberties, and not necessarily that of the group. Individualism is much more common amongst people who can be classified as W.E.I.R.D - Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic - a recently coined term to classify a distinct group of people.
While Pakistan is firmly a sociocentric nation, there are a growing number of Pakistanis who fall into the WEIRD classification, and more importantly, they are being provided the platform to better propagate their views. This is undoubtedly a minor shift, but it has the ability to impact Pakistani politics and policy in significant ways.
At the center of this shift are an increasing number of western educated liberals who find themselves contributing to the national dialogue for a host of issues, thanks to an emerging, robust media. Browsing through the Opinion pages of Pakistan's leading national publications, the Express Tribune, Dawn, and The News International, amongst others, one will find no shortage of liberal viewpoints from a very educated, nearly WEIRD pool of authors - perspectives that are not representative of the population at large, and come from writers who have backgrounds that are not indicative of that of the average Pakistani.
A more ubiquitous media presence, coupled with greater access to information mediums such as televisions and Internet, has contributed to a stronger dissemination of these progressive views. As Pakistan's Internet users approaches 20% of the population, a 66% increase in just four years, and television viewing continues to rise, educated, progressive intellectuals have been able to draw attention to small, yet meaningful issues that display the changing attitudes in the country. This past January, the outrage over Maya Khan and her "Vigil-Aunties," a group of women who swarmed a public park to confront unmarried couples on live TV, exemplified the potential Pakistan's media has in mobilizing and creating outcry over practices that damage individual autonomy. It is not hard to imagine a time recently where such practices may have gone overlooked in Pakistan by the masses.
The rise of a liberal media in Pakistan is a significant trend in the country's ideological development. Individuals like Mir Ibrahim Rahman, the former Goldman Sachs Investment Banker and Harvard educated founder of GeoTV, have created a landscape that, while still nascent, has recently become formidable. Despite its other travails, the democracy that has remained in the country over the past five years has allowed the media to become a more impressive institution capable of catalyzing a paradigm shift in the country.
The proliferation of highly Western media publications is a case in point. Hello! Magazine, a weekly celebrity news publication, a concept that has thus far been foreign in Pakistan, began circulation earlier this year. While condemned by some segments of the population, such publications, along with the views they espouse are becoming more palatable and accessible. Liberal publications and a progressive, ubiquitous, and more accessible media can slowly chip away at sociocentric perspectives that have been steadfast in the country.
But not all WEIRD Pakistanis find themselves channeling the media as their primary vehicle for progress. Members of civil society, like Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch who was educated at Oxford, businessmen such as Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi, who has served as the President of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA, and the hoard of Western-educated employees of companies like the Acumen Fund, have a much more subtle way of spreading a philosophy that is starkly different from the sociocentric approach that Pakistanis are accustomed to.
The infiltration of such individuals into the world of Pakistan's civil society and political institutions will be critical for any robust change. Pakistani politics is too dominated by ethnic loyalties, dynastic politics, and institutional obsessions. This has damaged and regressed the country in the past, and continues to be one of its main deterrents from progress and stability.
Any national paradigm shift will be gradual, and reliable polls investigating changes in social attitudes in Pakistan have yet to be undertaken, but signs of such a shift are already present in Pakistan's media and politics. While Imran Khan is far from being classified as a liberal, he does champion many of the perspectives that one would find in a WEIRD individual. He has called for an end to political parties being dominated by families, and instead establishing a norm of party leadership being selected on merit, not kin; he has advocated for an end to cultural segregation in the country's politics as well, and instead sees himself as a representative of all Pakistanis - a much disparate stance than the current major political parties who are all known to be supported by specific ethnic groups.
In espousing such viewpoints, Imran Khan has digressed from the sociocentric model of politics that parties in Pakistan have followed for decades. Having spent many of his formative years in England, which included an Oxford education and a marriage to a Briton, it is not surprising that Imran Khan views politics in acutely different terms than is the sociocentric norm.
While this a slow developing trajectory for Pakistan, successful integration of a progressive, individualistic, equality-based framework can help the country become a more politically inclusive nation. Political inclusiveness and true equality will in turn create a more stable Pakistan. The shift being catalyzed by the WEIRD members of Pakistan's society seeks to change the fundamental foundation of how the country's political and economic policies function. Such changes may be slow and subtle today, but are promising for the future.
Aziz Nayani is a student and writer whose research interests focus on South Asian culture and political institutions. You can follow him on Twitter @AzizNayani.
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Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA track down the world's most wanted man in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, is undergoing a 33-year jail term on charges of lending financial and physical support to a banned militant outfit in Khyber, one of the seven tribal districts partly overrun by the Taliban and their supporters. Afridi's punishment -- which many see as merely retribution by the Pakistani government (as opposed to a normal court proceeding) for his cooperation with the United States' intelligence community -- came exactly a year after he was subjected to secret Pakistani interrogations and under the legal auspices of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
The colonial-era law has been under serious criticism from civil society representatives in Pakistan and human rights organization both inside the country and abroad because a number of its clauses are in violation of basic human rights. Although the elected Pakistani government has boasted of introducing reforms in the tribal areas and amending the FCR, Afridi's "trial" has exposed the grim reality of a judicial system where an individual can be sentenced while denied the proper recourse to defense. However, the illegitimacy of these charges against Afridi only masks a far more complex state of affairs.
Before being whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agents on May 23, 2011 in the outskirts of the tribal Khyber Agency and his subsequent court appearance a year later, Afridi had already once experienced something similar when he was brought blindfolded to the warlord Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam.
It must have been déjà vu.
In 2008, he was arrested and presented before Mangal Bagh under the shadows of guns and bayonets and was asked to explain why he did not provide medical treatment at the time to Lashkar-e-Islam militants after battle. Afridi was lucky, at least at that time, that one militant testified before Mangal Bagh that the doctor had treated him well when he (the militant) visited the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Dogra after receiving a bullet injury. The statement saved Afridi's life but his family had to procure a payment of two million rupees, roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars (obviously a hefty sum for an average Pakistani family) to win his release.
In 2008, Afridi stood alone before a warlord without any counsel and without any right even to speak in self-defense. The judge, the counsel, and the plaintiff were one person -- Mangal Bagh. Four years later, Afridi found himself faced with a similar situation. This time he was presented before an officer of the Pakistani state. But again he found himself without counsel and without a chance to speak in his own defense. And this was the court of the Assistant Political Agent (APA), who charged him for his "close links with defunct Lashkar-e-Islam and his love for Mangal Bagh."
If it was really a "love", then much better to call it "love under duress", as living and serving in Bara, a town located less than 15 miles from Peshawar and a fiefdom of Mangal Bagh, requires one to have ample courage and strength.
The clear and cruel paradox in Afridi's case is that the state of Pakistan found him guilty of involvement in anti-state activities by "providing medical assistance" to militants of the very group that charged and punished him before for not sufficiently aiding their efforts -- and who subsequently robbed him of his family's wealth. If payment of a ransom to save one's life -- or the lives of his family -- from a group of thugs and its elusive leadership is an anti-state act, then roughly half of the tribal area's population could be charged under the offense and punished along the lines of Afridi.
Furthermore, if we applied the same investigation process used against Afridi to some in the state security agencies then it wouldn't be hard to establish links between certain sitting members of parliament from FATA and militant outfits. It was the Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam that issued a fare list for transporters and a code of conduct for candidates contesting the 2008 general elections from the Khyber Agency. Interestingly, no state security agency, not even the powerful army involved in the tribal areas over the past 10 years, seemed to notice Magal Bagh and his army of volunteers running a parallel state by imposing fines, forcing people to pray five times a day, punishing men for walking bareheaded, kidnapping people for ransom, and carrying out executions.
The more pertinent question one must ask is whether Afridi's "links" with Manal Bagh was the real charge against him? It has been clear from the time of his arrest soon after the May 2 raid in Abbottabad and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the answer is definitively "no". That Afridi, being a citizen of Pakistan and employee of the state, worked for a foreign intelligence agency is in no way an act that could be defended. But for reasons well known, he was not tried under those charges. Rather, he was implicated in a low-hanging fruit charge of a ludicrous association with a group that once abducted and fined him two million rupees -- thus raising more questions about Pakistan's sincerity in fighting militants in the country.
The two verdicts handed down to Afridi -- one by Mangal Bagh in 2008 for not providing medical assistance to his men, and the second by the Pakistani state in 2012 for "providing medical and financial assistance" to militants -- are enough for the international community to understand the dilemma of tribesmen sandwiched between the state security agencies and the militants.
For years, tribesmen have looked to their government and state security agencies for protection against the groups of thugs operating in their areas, and have at times taken up arms to fight. Yet they find scant change in their circumstances. Is it little wonder that they invariably surrender and sometimes even agree to "support" militants, in the way Dr. Afridi did?
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Among the more interesting revelations from the documents recovered during the raid on Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound was bin Laden's angry reaction to Faysal Shahzad's effort to detonate a bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010, based on the notion that Shahzad had violated the oath of allegiance he swore to the United States in a naturalization ceremony. The critique was included in an October 2010 letter from bin Laden to ‘Atiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, a veteran Libyan fighter who would go on to become al-Qaeda's second-in-command after bin Laden's death. The dispatch is part of a larger selection of documents that the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released on May 3, 2012.
In the letter, Bin Laden criticizes both Shahzad and Hakimullah Mahsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader who offered him training and advice:
Perhaps you monitored the trial of brother Faysal Shahzad. In it he was asked about the oath that he took when he got American citizenship. And he responded by saying that he lied. You should know that it is not permissible in Islam to betray trust and break a covenant. Perhaps the brother was not aware of this. Please ask the brothers in Taliban Pakistan to explain this point to their members. In one of the pictures, brother Faysal Shahzad was with commander Mahsud; please find out if Mahsud knows that getting the American citizenship requires talking an oath to not harm America. This is a very important matter because we do not want al-Mujahidn[sic] to be accused of breaking a covenant.
The concern reappeared in another letter, likely from bin Laden or ‘Atiyatullah to Nassir al-Wuhayshi, emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The author counseled the emir:
If the government does not agree on a truce, concentrate on the Yemeni emigrants who come back to visit Yemen and have American visas or citizenship and would be able to conduct operations inside America as long as they have not given their promises not to harm America.
Bin Laden's (and ‘Atiyatullah's) sensitivity towards this issue reflects a sustained debate in the jihadist universe. Although the idea of covenants have a long pedigree in Islamic theology, stretching back to the Prophet Muhammad's arrangements with the various non-Muslim tribes throughout the region, the issue gained relevance for jihadists only recently. In 1998 Bin Laden formally articulated his strategy to abandon the jihad against "near enemy" Arab regimes and redirect the war towards the west. But making the West (as opposed to the Islamic world) the battleground posed a series of theological challenges, including identifying the rules that governed the conduct of jihadists already living in or travelling to the West.
Probably not coincidentally, around this time a community of predominantly London-based sheikhs and commentators began discussing the obligations of jihadis residing in the West. Abu Baseer al-Tartusi, an exiled Syrian scholar known for his radical, if often dissenting views on the conduct of jihad, lectured publicly about the importance of maintaining what he saw as a "covenant of security": Muslims in the West were not allowed to attack the countries in which they lived or had taken refuge in. Al-Tartusi also spent a portion of his 1999 treatise al-Istihlal on the issue, and his followers later translated this section and issued it as a pamphlet (these works are available on Tartusi's website). Tartusi explained that he was motivated to comment on the covenant because:
[A] great number of Muslims -both those living in the West as ‘citizens' and others- who enter the lands of non-Muslims in a covenant, do not really know what rights Sharia Law gives them and what responsibilities it assigns to them... And what makes this matter worse is that those wrongdoers' ignorance about the teachings, rulings and "purposes and intentions" of Islam makes them commit such acts in the name of Islam and under the impression of holding fast to Islam, while Islam has nothing to do with such irresponsible acts!
While some prominent jihadis criticized Abu Baseer's view, other London-based jihadist figures expressed their adherence to the idea of the covenant. In fact, after the 7/7 bombings in Britain (carried out by British Muslims) Tartusi issued a strongly-worded refutation of the attacks, arguing that tactics and strategy must always be grounded in theology, not vice versa. Tartusi's ruling and subsequent controversy that erupted in militant circles was one example of the sensitivity around the issue. The recent decision of the British government to re-launch their anti-radicalization "Prevent" strategy has revitalized the discussion among British extremists.
The implications of bin Laden's far enemy strategy also ignited criticism from Middle Eastern-based jihadist figures. Most prominently, in 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, aka Dr. Fadl, a former leader of the Egyptian group al-Jihad, leveled a series of theological, strategic, and personal attacks on Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda. Al-Sharif opened with an interview for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat in which he castigated al-Qaeda for violating this covenant. In the most colorful portion, Sayyid Imam warned that "the followers of Bin Ladin entered the United States with his knowledge, on his orders, double-crossed its population, and killed and destroyed. The Prophet, God's prayer and peace be upon him, said: "On the Day of Judgment, every double-crosser will have a banner at his anus proportionate to his treachery." Shortly thereafter, Imam released a book which expanded on many of these criticisms. As he wrote in Guiding Jihad Work in Egypt and the World: "Whoever receives permission to enter the unbelievers' countries, even if they do so with a forged visa, they must respect this as a religiously-approved security contract, and any Muslim must honor it...(pg. 20)"
For their part, al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri tried to brush off the criticism. Zawahiri countered with a book of his own a short while later, The Exoneration, in which he defended the decision to reject the covenant. As he argued:
If we assume for argument's sake that a visa from America or from any other crusader country allied with America in its more than 50-year-long aggression against Muslims is an aman (grant of safe passage), this aman is void for two reasons. First, no aman protects the life of someone who wages war against God and His prophet, harms Muslims, and insults their prophet and religion. Second, America and its allies violate the aman every day. (pg. 154)
At the time there was little evidence that the exchange caused a reassessment. In the following years, public statements from al-Qaeda-affiliated figures showed little interest in revisiting the issue. For instance, in late 2010 Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric, wrote in the fourth issue of Inspire, AQAP's magazine, that "Muslims are not bound by the covenants of citizenship and visa that exist between them and nations of dar al-harb." (pg. 56). It is worth noting that in another Abbottabad document, bin Laden was skeptical of al-Awlaki, politely but firmly rejecting al-Wuhayshi's suggestion that al-Awlaki be designated the leader of AQAP.
A complete judgment will have to await additional information, including the release of more than 17 carefully selected documents. But these two passages point to a tension between those who, like bin Laden and ‘Attiyatullah ‘abd al-Rahman, remained concerned over the theological foundations of al-Qaeda's war against the west, and those who apparently subsumed the theological questions to the urgency of carrying out high-profile attacks. These same types of tensions and conflicts have historically riven the jihadist movement, and al-Qaeda itself. Now, with bin Laden, ‘Attiyatullah, and al-Awlaki dead, it remains to be seen if Ayman al-Zawahiri will overcome or exacerbate these divisions.
Steven Brooke is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
This month's NATO summit in Chicago has provided many writers and analysts a moment to debate possible outcomes of the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan. Commentary ranges from David Ignatius "thinking the unthinkable" about the Taliban returning to Kabul, to former First Lady Laura Bush urging the international community to remember the women of Afghanistan. The meeting provides a timely inflection point about the price paid in blood and treasure, and the future return on this costly investment.
Yet there is a glaring gap in this conversation, one that ignores the on-the-ground reality of Afghanistan. It is the role of religion and its influence on the trajectory of the Afghan government. By paying it little or no heed, the United States is omitting a key piece of the complex jigsaw puzzle that is Afghanistan's future.
My meeting with Afghan Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghalib in Kabul drove home the importance of religion and its influence on matters of state. Our conversation in December 2010 quickly turned to the application of Islamic religious law to the affairs of men and women, especially the issue of apostasy, a topic which places core freedoms of religion and conscience at the center of government policy. At the time, a convert to Christianity was being detained, but similar cases had arisen where Muslims were charged with "criminal" activity considered blasphemous. He justified government actions on Islamic law, brushing aside my counterarguments for freedom of religion and belief based on international standards, the Afghan constitution, and even Qur'anic references.
It wasn't surprising that the Minister was unmoved in his view that apostasy and blasphemy were crimes to be punished by the state, as it reflected past Afghan government actions against Muslims and non-Muslims to stifle freedom of thought and restrict expression. However, it underscored the cost of not addressing the role of religious tenets in law and governance.
Afghanistan's legal system is a big part of the problem, despite Article 7 of the Afghan constitution stating that the Afghan government "shall abide by" the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In practice, Afghanistan has established a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law through the vague repugnancy clause in Article 3 that states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Consequently, there are no protections for individuals to dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate the role of religion in law and society, advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or question interpretations of Islamic precepts.
David Ignatius' "unthinkable" thought of a Taliban return to Kabul could happen, but perhaps even faster than he imagines. The Afghan constitution's provisions referencing undefined notions of Islamic law give Taliban sympathizers legal cover to apply their regressive religious interpretations through laws against human rights, religious freedom, and women's rights.
Religion matters in Afghanistan, and promoting religious freedom and tolerance can help achieve human rights and security goals. Repression of religious freedom strengthens the hand of violent religious extremists. As I've written elsewhere, conditions of full religious freedom allows for the peaceful sharing of differing views and interpretations. This openness can displace extremist influences from social and religious networks, thereby limiting their ability to influence populations of concern and turn them towards violence. Recent studies and research are building an empirical case that limitations on religious freedom lead to more, not less, societal instability.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- where I work -- has documented Afghanistan's poor religious freedom record and placed Afghanistan on our Watch List. USCIRF has described the situation as "exceedingly poor for dissenting members of the majority faith and for minority religious communities." Regarding religious minorities, USCIRF reported how "the small and vulnerable Christian community experienced a spike in arrests, with Christians being detained and some jailed (and later released) for the ‘crime' of apostasy." The Hindu and Sikh communities continue to face discrimination and violence, while the small Baha'i community operates basically underground, especially since a 2007 ruling by the General Directorate of Fatwa and Accounts decreed their faith to be a "form of blasphemy." Even the much larger minority Hazara Shi'a community, which has experienced greater freedoms, was targeted by suicide bombers in late 2011.
A string of events in recent months bears further witness to religion's unmistakable role in Afghanistan:
Taliban response to Strategic Partnership Agreement - There were two Taliban responses to this agreement, one violent, but the other focused on religion. The violent response received much greater attention, since this was the attack on Bagram Airbase after President Obama left the country. However, the Taliban also issued a statement in April, immediately after the announcement of a deal, outlining five ways the Karzai government was caving. Four of the five focused on issues relating to Islam - preventing a true Islamic government; bringing in secularism and liberalism; creating an army hostile to Islam; and being a continuous threat to Muslim countries in the region. The Taliban believes this issue to be relevant to the Afghan populace.
Qur'an burnings - The accidental destruction of Qur'ans and other Islamic materials triggered a nationwide backlash, attacks on U.S. and ISAF personnel, and an apology from President Obama. Dozens were killed and scores more wounded. Sensing a public relations bonanza, the Taliban pressed to exploit the situation to their advantage, issuing statements urging violence and offering this as further evidence of America's supposed war against Islam.
Ulema Council statement and Karzai response - The Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, issued a "code of conduct" for women that permits husbands to beat their wives and promotes gender segregation. If that wasn't alarming enough for human rights and women's rights advocates, President Karzai endorsed the statement. He had other options, such as refuting the findings or at least ignoring them, but Karzai felt the need to endorse them, saying they were in line with Islamic principles. Why? Because the role of religion in politics and governance has a great influence in Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, a response is not to be found in the Strategic Partnership or the recent NATO summit declaration. No mention was made of promoting religious freedom and religious tolerance, key elements of any attempt to see human rights and women's rights protected and respected.
While these high-level documents are silent, there is increasing recognition of this challenge in U.S. government policy. The State Department has initiated a program to counter extremist voices, which looks to bring other Islamic perspectives into Afghanistan to help expose Afghanis to the broader Islamic world. After 30 years of civil war and the impact of a narrow Taliban-imposed view, there is little understanding of how their religion can work successfully with democracy and human rights. USAID is also doing interesting work with Afghanistan's informal justice system, introducing human rights into the centuries-old traditional system, and doing so through the lens of Islamic law. However, these efforts, while positive, are not enough to have a lasting impact.
In other words, the current level of programming won't move a needle that is pointing dangerously in the wrong direction.
It's getting late in the game, but it's not too late to move the needle. There is still time for concerted action. The U.S. government can ramp up its efforts to increase public diplomacy relating to religious freedom and religious tolerance, and bring more delegations of Afghan religious and NGO leaders to the United States and take American religious and NGO leaders to Afghanistan. The United States can jump-start training about the balance between religion and state and the compatibility of Islam with human rights and religious freedom. Continuing to press for greater freedoms in public and private is critical, as well as starting new initiatives, such as creating a special working group on religious freedom/tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues. U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces should be trained to understand international standards when engaging with Afghan religious leaders, local government officials, or Afghan local police forces. U.S. government personnel also need to increase their "religious IQ" on the role of Islam in Afghan society, as well as understand how religious freedom can promote stability and security.
As Afghanistan goes about building institutions as the international community departs, getting the religion question right will be a part of every answer. The Taliban and the Afghan government talk about religion, apply religious law, and use it to their advantage. Considering religion is the lens through which everything passes, significantly increasing engagement on religious freedom and tolerance will advance U.S. human rights and national security interests.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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It was 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Mossarat Qadeem was sitting on the floor of a house with about a dozen young Pakistani men -- some of whom had nearly become suicide bombers. Qadeem's goal: to undo the destructive brainwashing of the al-Qaeda and Taliban teachers who trained them in extremism, in part by asking the students to narrate their life stories.
"We were handling one of the boys, and he just came, put his head here in my lap, and he started crying and weeping," Qadeem recalls. "I was taken aback. It is very unnatural in my country that a man that tall can just sit at your feet and put his head here. [The other men] were all crying with him, and I was looking at him, and thinking, ‘my God.'"
All in a day's work for Qadeem. She's the national coordinator of Aman-o-Nisa, a coalition of Pakistani women that convened in October 2011 to combat violent extremism in Pakistan at the grassroots level. A delegation of 12 women from Aman-o-Nisa, sponsored in part by the Institute for Inclusive Security, recently traveled to Washington, DC to share their work with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Washington policymakers. The AfPak Channel sat down with three of the women -- Qadeem, the founder of Pakistan's first center for conflict transformation and peacebuilding, Sameena Imtiaz, the founder and executive director of the Peace Education and Development Foundation, and Bushra Hyder, the founder and director of Qadims Lumiere School and College -- while they were in town for a conversation about why so few women work in counterterrorism, and the tactics they use to reverse the violent, extremist mentality.
The interview is condensed and edited below.
Of course, Islamic extremism is a major problem in many other countries besides Pakistan. Why are there so few groups like Aman-o-Nisa, and so few women working to counter extremism?
Bushra Hyder: Most of the women are not even aware that they can play a positive role combating extremism. Secondly, there are security reasons involved. In our part of the country, if a woman goes out and starts getting involved in such activities, she is definitely going to be at risk. Naturally, the males of the household and family would not like their women and females...facing any kind of security threat. That could be the reason, but the fact is the majority of the women are not aware of it.
Sameena Imtiaz: [Women] are also not recognized by men as [people] who could play a very supportive role in combatting extremism in countries such as Pakistan. [In] the security sector in countries like Pakistan, for instance, women are hardly visible. They are not at the dialogue tables, they are not consulted and valued in the policymaking processes that are there.
Mossarat Qadeem: Extremism per se has never been recognized and debated upon in Pakistan as a threat. We feel that there is a foreign hand involved in the incidence of extremism that takes place in Pakistan. And ...we leave it to the government to respond to it. Even the men in the community and society have never thought that they can do something at their level to combat it or to address it. Everyone says it's the responsibility of the government , and they should respond to it because it's a foreign threat - it has nothing to do with Pakistanis, it's not our issue.
Why do Pakistanis see it as a foreign threat? Is it because the extremism in Pakistan isn't homegrown, as it tends to be in Morocco, for example?
MQ: In Pakistan...it's so unobtrusive. It's not obvious that someone is coming and asking the people to become Taliban, to become an extremist, unlike Morocco. That's why this invisible enemy, this invisible hand, is so dangerous, because you don't know who to counter and how to counter.
What are the origins of extremism in Pakistan?
SI: Talibanization and extremism are not new phenomena in Pakistan. We have to go back into the early 80s when many Pakistanis were fighting in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. There was a lot of money that was poured into Pakistan to help these militant groups who are now called Taliban and who have become a monster. They have been thriving on foreign aid.
A lot needs to be done to undo what has been done in the past. But what we are expecting from Pakistan at the moment is there should be a magic wand and all this disappears. It [requires a] change of mindset. You have for decades taught young people that they have to fight this fight in the name of Islam. If you have trained young people to become fighters and warriors, you cannot expect them to become mercenaries of peace immediately. You have to work with them...deradicalize the people who already have this mindset now, and to stop the slide of these young people into extremism. You have to provide them other opportunities, you have to open up avenues for alternative work opportunities for them. What do they do if they don't fight? If they don't become militants? Do they have then food to eat, places to sleep in? You have to look at them as human beings and treat them as human beings.
How do you go about trying to transform the mindsets of radicalized youth?
MQ: We use the Quranic verses -- the true interpretation of the Quran, and of course the teachings of the Holy Sunna. We give examples of the Prophet Muhammad. That's the best way to counter radicalization and extremism in Pakistan, because the [verses] have been misquoted and misinterpreted [by extremist trainers]. We use a lot from the history around the world, giving examples of why peace is important.
What are the subjects - or verses - that you bring up the first time you speak to a radicalized young person?
MQ: Before doing all of this, I conducted research [to find out] what tools have been used to transform these youth. I came across certain verses that were misinterpreted and misused -- particular verses about jihad. And I had to take different sources and different interpretations of various religious scholars and accumulate them. I had to actually work with some of the trainers and scholars [who had radicalized the youth] because I wanted to know, what should be my approach?
How did you get these trainers to talk to you? And what did they tell you?
MQ: Two are transformed now. They told me, these are the verses we have been using, these are the tactics we have been using, this is the picture we used to draw for these students. I did it in a very different way. I used the same tactics, but it was real, it's what the Quran says.
What's an example of a verse that has been misinterpreted?
MQ: There is a particular verse in the Surah Maidah that says ‘go out and fight.' But the fighting in that particular verse was misinterpreted. That verse was used in a particular period of time when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was living in the state of Medina, and the people wanted to kill every Muslim. So they really had enemies to face - [they] were being killed, and [there was the risk that] Islam would [disappear].
Obviously, you all do very risky work. How often do you feel directly threatened?
SI: All the time. We are working in such a sensitive area. The risk is always there. We have so many times received life-threatening messages. There have been attempts on many of us. So yes, that's part of the game.
Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation.
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On May 14, 2012, Pakistan took a wise step toward transforming the potentially impotent Afghan reconciliation efforts into some that may be relatively productive and viable. As all interlocutors involved have acknowledged, without Pakistan's sincere efforts at reconciliation, only instability in Afghanistan can be guaranteed. The decision-makers in Pakistan are increasingly recognizing that leveraging their ability to create instability in Afghanistan is no longer a desirable policy option. Irrespective of what their fears, temptations and externally-created compulsions are, Pakistan's civilian and military rulers understand that three decades of instability in Afghanistan have generated an acute security crisis at home.
Washington shifts its Afghanistan policy away from a focus on force to a policy
that finally moves towards political reconciliation -- as Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton had recommended in
her February 2011 Asia Society address -- it appears logical for Islamabad to
seek a genuine partnership with Washington and Kabul for peace in Afghanistan.
Accordingly, to revive a partnership with the United States on the Afghan reconciliation process, Islamabad has recognized the importance of sending a positive signal by making tangible moves toward reopening NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan. U.S. and NATO officials had made it quite clear that Pakistan's participation in the imminent summit in Chicago was contingent upon its lifting of the blockade on NATO supplies destined for Afghanistan, a move that could also score points for the ruling party in the next elections.
Pakistani government, with its political opposition vehemently
opposed to the reopening of the routes to NATO, has taken a major
calculated risk in making the announcement. Washington has not yet made a
public apology for the November U.S.-ISAF helicopter strike at Salala, which killed 24 Pakistani
soldiers; the terms for NATO's use of Pakistani supply routes are not yet
finalized; Pakistani officials have not yet negotiated a deal ensuring that
drone attacks are no longer conducted unilaterally by the CIA; and ISAF has
given no concrete guarantee that there will be no repeat of the deadly attacks
on Salala. Drawing on these facts, the opposition accuses the government of
abject weakness, incompetence, selling out, and surrendering to U.S. power. It
is being blamed for its failure to fully leverage control of the supply routes
to Pakistan's advantage, and for making this decision to please Washington.
Indeed, while at least some of these accusations cannot be rejected without careful consideration, the fact remains that governments must take calculated risks, and they must balance the potential costs and benefits of those risks. That is what Pakistan's present government has done. In a less than perfect context, it concluded that the NATO summit is important because it brings Pakistan into the policy-making discussion regarding the future of Afghanistan. Clearly, when Karzai and the United States are having that discussion -- and now also pursuing the dialogue with the Taliban that Pakistan has been advocating -- Pakistan must not abandon the opportunity to be part of the process.
Pakistan's relevance to Afghanistan's peace is arguably greater than that of
other countries, Pakistan cannot "go it alone." Finding a solution to the
conflict in Afghanistan is not a unilateral affair. Peace cannot and has not
come by simply engaging with or trying to control the Taliban. All the parties
involved need to work in partnership, on the best negotiated terms possible.
These realizations within Pakistan augur well for the Afghan reconciliation process, but some domestic truths still need to be acknowledged in Washington. For reasons of pragmatism, self-interest, and in order to maintain a viable partnership with Pakistan, the Obama administration needs to go beyond its present policy of stalling on issues that are of immediate concern to Pakistan. First, Pakistan needs an immediate apology, which the U.S. president himself must issue at his Chicago meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. Second, the United States must draw up measures to ensure Pakistan's prior knowledge of planned drone strikes, as well as its clearance of intended targets, areas of operation, and the number of attacks. Third, both nations need to agree on fair payments for the use of Pakistani ground supply routes to Afghanistan. And fourth, NATO must make comprehensive guarantees that a repeat of Salala never happens.
These steps would create a Pakistan-U.S. partnership that
genuinely promotes their shared objective of regional peace and stability, not
to mention the likelihood that they would make this highly controversial
partnership more palatable to the Pakistani public and political opposition.
Pakistan's government has indeed taken the risky political path to pursue
responsible policy, and so must Washington. President Obama needs to be
the statesman, and leverage his credentials as the one who authorized the
successful raid on Osama bin Laden's compound to invest in a peace partnership
with Pakistan, and not shy off for fear of Republican attacks, even for an
apology for the Salala killings.
Meanwhile, given the political, security and financial realities, Afghanistan's future will realistically be determined by a four-way engagement, involving Afghan political leaders, the Taliban, Pakistan and the United States. It would be both unwise and counter-productive for Pakistan to stay on the margins, particularly now that Pakistani and American interests converge in Afghanistan.
Considering the typical framing of Pakistan's popular- and political-level foreign policy debates, the opening of NATO supply routes and Pakistan's participation in the Chicago summit may in some circles be interpreted as damaging to Pakistan's security interests, undermining national pride, and working against the wishes of the people of Pakistan. However, it is important to be clear where the interest of the people lies within the context of foreign and security policy. It lies in creating security and socio-economic conditions within which governments can fulfill their Constitutional responsibilities towards the people. Hence, the government should make decisions that promote internal security, economic prosperity, social development, and the defense and dignity of the country. This is where the people's relevance is key. The public's sentiments cannot dictate decisions on whether NATO supply routes should be shut or open; governments must decide -- and take responsibility. In Pakistan, like in many other countries, the people's sentiments have often been part of a circular political strategy: institutions opposing civilian policies fed their views to a segment of the public, and were then played back as peoples' sentiments.
But another interesting question within Pakistan's domestic context is, how valid is criticism of the parliamentary process that presented terms for the re-set of Pakistan-U.S. relations? Many argue that policy-making is an executive function, and thus handing this task to the parliament was misguided. On one hand, the parliament's involvement on a key foreign policy issue that has been discussed and debated for three decades was necessary to get a general consensus. On the other hand, the criticism that the issue dragged on for too long is valid. The long drawn-out process triggered the law of diminishing returns to some extent, a fact that Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman continuously raised with the Pakistani government.
Washington was almost in awe of the process, and began
recognizing its own mistakes, including unilateral drone attacks, its hesitation
to re-negotiate the terms of NATO supply routes, and blocking the release of
the Coalition Support Funds (CSF). And when the U.S. was ready to make an
apology, Pakistan suggested it be held back until the parliamentary process
ended. A senior White House official and the Pakistani ambassador jointly
announced an agreement to release the withheld CSF, but the parliamentary
process dragged on, and talks on the NATO supply routes were not resumed.
With the deadlock on the supply routes now broken, Pakistan will take a seat at an important global policy reflection and discussion forum on Afghanistan and the region. And, provided that seat is wisely utilized, Pakistan will have also promoted its own security and economic interests -- just as it is doing in opening up trade and conflict resolution dialogue with India. Fortunately, as PML-N President and leading opposition politician Nawaz Sharif repeatedly says, there is national consensus at least on these landmark policy moves.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Last month, an avalanche on the Siachen glacier in Kashmir killed 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians. The tragedy has intensified debate about the logic of stationing Pakistani and Indian troops on such inhospitable terrain. And it has also brought attention to Pakistan's environmental insecurity.
Siachen is rife with glacial melt; one study concludes the icy peak has retreated nearly two kilometers in less than 20 years. It has also been described as "the world's highest waste dump." Much of this waste-generated from soldiers' food, fuel, and equipment-eventually finds its way to the Indus River Basin, Pakistan's chief water source.
Siachen, in fact, serves as a microcosm of Pakistan's environmental troubles. The nation experiences record-breaking temperatures, torrential rains (nearly 60 percent of Pakistan's annual rainfall comes from monsoons), drought, and glacial melt (Pakistan's United Nations representative, Hussain Haroon, contends that glacial recession on Pakistani mountains has increased by 23 percent over the past decade). Experts estimate that about a quarter of Pakistan's land area and half of its population are vulnerable to climate change-related disasters, and several weeks ago Sindh's environment minister said that millions of people across the province face "acute environmental threats."
The last two years have provided ample proof of Pakistan's climate-change vulnerability. According to climatologists, the devastating floods of 2010-which submerged a fifth of the country and displaced millions-constituted "the worst natural disaster to date attributable to climate change" (a judgment rendered in 2010). They argued that a combination of high temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and lower ones in the Pacific "created the perfect conditions" for the deluge.
The floods' destructiveness was exacerbated by Pakistan's rampant deforestation. UN data and Pakistani media reports paint an alarming picture of this emissions-releasing scourge: Pakistan suffers from the highest annual rate of deforestation in Asia (the nation lost 33 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010), with barely 2 percent of the country's total area remaining forested today. One of the prime perpetrators is the Pakistani Taliban, which has long recognized the revenue-generating potential of logging. During its rule over Swat in northern Pakistan, the Taliban's timber sales eliminated up to 15 percent of the picturesque region's forest cover. Separately, back in the 1990s, wealthy landowners in Sindh ordered laborers to clear forestland for crop cultivation; one small village alone lost 10,000 acres of forest. In both Swat and Sindh, the loss of forestland has facilitated riverbank erosion and deprived the country of a natural bulwark against raging floodwaters.
The next year brought another climate-related disaster: record-setting monsoon rains. Though they produced less destruction and garnered less media attention than the preceding year's floods, nearly nine million people were affected and more than a million homes damaged or destroyed. September 2011 witnessed the most rain ever recorded in southern Pakistan, with monsoon amounts 1,170 percent above normal. Deforestation once again made matters worse. Torrential rains swept away illegally cut logs, with the timber eventually coming to rest under small bridges, blocking the flow of rainwater and diverting it toward populated areas.
Pakistan's environmental insecurity is not merely a matter of nasty weather. In three specific ways, it also threatens the country's fragile stability.
First, climate change vulnerability risks inflaming relations with India. Some Pakistani hardliners accuse their upper riparian neighbor of contributing to the flooding that has ravaged their country in recent years. India, they allege, manipulates Indus Basin river flows so that water gushes downstream into lower riparian Pakistan. "Liberating" India-held Jammu and Kashmir, they argue, is the only way to stop India's hydro machinations. Given the warming trend in Pakistan-India ties over the last year, such rhetoric-produced by an admittedly small minority-is not presently a major concern. However, with flood-exacerbating glacial melt well underway, and with anti-India sentiment becoming more vociferous thanks to the emergence of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, or DPC (a new political movement of militant organizations and conservative religious parties), the relationship could in time be put to the test.
This scenario becomes even more likely if Pakistan's next national election brings to power a more conservative governing coalition that is willing to trumpet the DPC's aggressive views on water-which accuse India not only of flooding Pakistan with the resource, but also of withholding it. At a DPC rally in February, one of the movement's most notorious spokespersons, Hafiz Saeed (leader of the extremist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba), thundered that India was preventing water from flowing into Pakistan.
Second, environmental stress could deepen Pakistan's urban violence. Karachi is often convulsed by such strife, and much of it arises from fierce competition over precious land. Yet Karachi-a coastal, low-lying metropolis-is vulnerable to flooding, cyclones, and other climate-related phenomena that could easily wipe out vast swaths of the city's heavily contested real estate. This means the land that remains could become even more precious, thereby raising the stakes for the city's fighting factions and likely increasing violence. Additionally, many impoverished farmers and fishermen, their livelihoods shattered by water shortages, have migrated to cities. Pakistan's government is woefully unprepared to meet the soaring demand for basic services and natural resources sparked by this influx of migrants. Such privation, over time, could increase poverty and joblessness, breed anger, and spark more urban unrest.
Third, and perhaps most troubling, Pakistan's environmental insecurity imperils nuclear security. The fear here is not of militants seizing nuclear weapons, but rather of the nation experiencing the type of disaster that befell Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant last year. The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) sits not only in a flood- and storm-prone area, but also in one of the most densely populated parts of the country. In fact, a study released by the journal Nature and Columbia University this spring concludes that more than eight million people live within 30 kilometers of KANUPP-the largest such figure for any nuclear facility in the world. Nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy describes the 40-year-old KANUUP as a "chronically incontinent" reactor that frequently leaks heavy water. Given the combination of a dysfunctional plant, a large surrounding population, and Pakistan's poor emergency-response capabilities, the consequences of a tsunami or cyclone strike on or near KANUUP could be truly catastrophic. Hoodbhoy predicts not only the release of deadly radioactivity, but also clogged roads, a collapse of vital services, and Karachi-Pakistan's financial capital-taken over by "looters and criminals."
To its credit, Islamabad does not ignore the country's environmental threats. Back in 2002, the Global Change Impact Study Center was formed to undertake climate change research and to advise policymakers and planners on climate issues. In 2005, the government established a Committee on Climate Change (overseen by the prime minister). And in 2010, a task force set up by the Planning Commission issued a report on climate change impacts in Pakistan, which prompted the Ministry of National Disaster Management to fashion a National Climate Change Policy and Action Plan. This strategy was approved in principle by Pakistan's cabinet in March.
Pakistanis have also implemented adaptation and resource-conservation measures. For instance, a new Aga Khan University building in Karachi plans to use stormwater harvesting for plant-watering and wastewater re-use for fountains, fire control, and toilets. Meanwhile, to commemorate Earth Day last month, Karachi officials announced a project to plant 5,000 trees.
Pakistan must do much more to address its climate challenges, which are daunting. Still, while the country is powerless to stop glacial melt or fend off tsunamis, it can nonetheless blunt some of their effects. This can be done by passing more stringent laws on deforestation, repairing leaky and dilapidated dams and canals, and establishing more robust disaster risk reduction mechanisms.
A former Pakistani environment minister has projected that climate change effects could cost Pakistan's economy up to $14 billion per year. Given the inevitability of global warming, Pakistan will undoubtedly be saddled with some of these debts. Yet by taking steps to manage, and reduce, the impacts of climate change, Pakistan can be spared some of these costs-not to mention some of the death and destruction visited on the country by an angry and abused environment.
Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @michaelkugelman
PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
On April 26, Pakistan's Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of convicting Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of contempt of court. While the prime minister avoided a jail sentence, the conviction could force him from the premiership, has ramifications on Pakistan's internal political dynamics and could distract from the reconciliation process currently underway with the United States.
No Jail Time, but a Time Out
Prime Minister Gilani was in the dock on charges of contempt for repeatedly refusing to write to Swiss authorities to reopen old corruption cases against Asif Ali Zardari, the sitting President and co-chairman, along with Gilani, of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The contempt charges could have landed Gilani in jail for six months but the court chose instead to sentence him to symbolic detention in the courtroom until the judges left the chamber, a sentence lasting no more than a minute. The verdict served as a final flourish to the high drama that had surrounded the judicial proceedings ever since the court first summoned Gilani on January 19.
What remains unclear is whether the ruling is a victory for Gilani and the PPP or an albatross around their neck that will bring them down in the next election. Although Gilani is not serving a jail sentence, he is now a convicted felon and the first sitting prime minister in Pakistan's history to be convicted of contempt of court. The conviction might cost Gilani his seat in parliament and, by extension, the premiership, since Pakistan's constitution forbids anyone with a criminal conviction from serving as a parliamentarian. Indeed, the court's justices, while reading their verdict, made specific reference to this fact, indicating that they hoped to see exactly that clause invoked in order to sack Gilani. The leaders of major opposition parties called on Gilani to resign after the conviction, saying he had lost all "moral authority." Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, threatened to start a massive civil disobedience movement if Gilani did not step down. Analysts further questioned whether the PPP's coalition partners would stick with the PPP and a convict prime minister "enmeshed in controversy." Opposition parties are sure to use the conviction as a campaign slogan against the PPP in the upcoming election to be held sometime within the next ten months.
The Long Road to Joblessness
The PPP has rallied strongly around the prime minister since his conviction and has vowed to both fight the ruling and oppose his ouster. The process by which Gilani could be forced from office is long, tortuous, and could be challenged and delayed at every step. Gilani could keep his post for months.
Gilani and the PPP have publicly stated their intention to appeal the ruling. Only once the appeal is dismissed can petitions be brought in parliament for Gilani to be disqualified to hold a seat in the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house (and even the dismissed appeal can be filed for "further review," dragging the process out even longer). Authority over the proceedings rests with the Speaker of the House, Fahmida Mirza, who is herself a PPP stalwart and would have the ability to delay if not derail the process. Even if a petition were to successfully get through the National Assembly, final authority rests with the Election Commission of Pakistan. Any decision taken by the commission to unseat Gilani would be subject to challenge and appeal as well. The PPP holds enough seats in parliament to be able to pick the next prime minister, meaning little would change politically even if Gilani was dismissed.
The PPP's Response
The PPP is fully aware of these facts and is openly pursuing a strategy to prolong any final decision for as long as possible or until the prime minister's term in office lapses (Gilani is already the longest serving premier in Pakistan's history) and any ruling becomes irrelevant. It is also clear that the PPP plans to use the conviction as part of its own rallying cry come the next elections. The PPP will likely try to present Gilani as a political martyr and the contempt decision as the witch-hunt of an activist court acting on the direction of an interventionist military with a historical agenda against the party. While opposition parties will be trying to paint Gilani as a criminal, it remains unclear if contempt of court is a crime that could get the blood of the masses boiling, given that they have repeatedly and knowingly elected leaders whom they generally believed to be guilty of much more visible criminality such as corruption and graft-the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have, for example, made repeated returns to power at the ballot box despite having their tenures cut short on grounds of rampant corruption.
In the end, while not clear-cut, the verdict can be considered a victory of sorts for the PPP. In what had become a charged, almost personal battle of wills between the government and the judiciary, the judiciary seems to have blinked first. Gilani is still the prime minister for the time being and, more importantly for the PPP, Zardari is still the president. Zardari was the ultimate prize throughout the whole proceeding; putting Gilani in the dock was the court's way of attempting to force the government to open corruption proceedings against Zardari. The government consistently refused judicial pressure on the grounds that Zardari has presidential immunity from prosecution; the court-initiated procedure for sacking the prime minister could take months; and a new prime minister will likely be from the PPP as well. For better or worse, Zardari remains inviolate and looks to remain so until the next elections.
The ruling relieves much of the pressure from the government and lessens fears of an irreparable institutional clash between the judiciary and executive. What it does do, however, is throw the matter out of the courts and back into the highly charged political arena in an election year; all parties are likely to latch onto and spin the issue in their favor during campaign time.
Alongside the political drama, Pakistan is currently engaged in a complicated and long-drawn out reconciliation process with the United States. Pakistan is renegotiating its entire terms of engagement with the U.S. and is in the vital stages of finalizing agreements over the reopening of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, resumption of reimbursements for counter-terrorism assistance and other cooperation issues. While the verdict provides for cast continuity, the internal political wrangling prompted by the court ruling could distract the government from focusing its attention on these key issues. The government is also less likely to support controversial or unpopular requests from the U.S. in parliament, since it will want to limit the number of issues on which opposition parties can vilify it and score political points against it in front of a broadly anti-American electorate. There is also the question of whether, given the now questionable legality of Gilani's status as prime minister, any decisions signed by him following the conviction could be dredged up later as illegal and therefore void.
While the ruling is a positive development for Pakistan in terms of furthering the democratic process and strengthening a historically weak judiciary in Pakistan, it does not bring closure to the issue of Gilani's status or to Zardari's corruption charges. It complicates the political debate in Pakistan in an election year, and possibly delays and complicates finalization of agreements with the U.S. on key bilateral issues. Where the dust settles remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the ruling muddies far more issues than it clarifies.
Reza Nasim Jan is the Pakistan team lead at the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The Pakistan parliament has now completed its action on a resolution defining the terms of reference for future Pakistan-U.S. relations, adopting it without formal dissent. Action now passes to the Pakistani cabinet, which must formally initiate discussions with the United States. All eyes will be on how the U.S. and Pakistani governments negotiate the actual working of this troubled relationship. The parliament's central role in this process also tells us about some things that have changed - and some that have not - in the way Pakistan's government institutions work, both internally and with the United States. Both countries should take this opportunity to revise their well-practiced negotiating tactics, which have become a recipe for failure.
The parliamentary resolution laid down guidelines for Pakistan's negotiators. Its most important points were predictable. It provided for resumption of ground shipment of supplies other than arms and ammunition for NATO and coalition forces in Afghanistan, at a higher price. It also demanded an immediate cessation of U.S. drone strikes or "hot pursuit" by U.S. forces into Pakistan; directed the government to seek an unconditional apology for last November's attack by NATO forces on a Pakistani border post at Salala; and rejected past or future verbal or implicit agreements between Pakistan and the United States. It concluded that the "footprint" of the United States in Pakistan needed to get smaller. It also threw in one curveball - a demand that Pakistan seek a civilian nuclear accord with the United States matching India's - and apparently rejected a second one, the release of Dr. Afia Siddiqui, currently serving an 86 year sentence in the United States for assault with intent to kill U.S. officials trying to question her. The context for all these recommendations was respect for Pakistan's sovereignty.
The Pakistani Cabinet now needs to turn these principles into an Executive Order that, after vetting in the Law Ministry, will guide officials working out the details with the United States. Like the three-week parliamentary deliberations, implementation is likely to be slower than anticipated. The resolution also specifies that all future agreements of any kind must be reviewed in detail by "all concerned" government ministries and submitted to the parliamentary committee. This uncharacteristically rule-bound process probably mirrors the legalistic approach Pakistan considers typical of American negotiators.
More importantly, the pace and content of negotiations will reflect the explosive politics in Pakistan of relations with the United States. The issues themselves are complex. Priorities have shifted during the four months since the Salala incident put relations in the deep freeze. Pakistan's civilian leaders will be reluctant to take advantage of ambiguities in the resolution in ways that might look like weakening of resolve. They will be concerned that another downward swoop on the U.S.-Pakistan roller coaster could expose them to public outrage. The resolution's directive that the government put all U.S.-Pakistan agreements in writing will shine an unwelcome spotlight on how the two governments address their most sensitive military and intelligence issues. Take drone attacks. To the United States, they are uniquely useful for reducing the terrorist threat, and some of them have been welcomed by - and quietly coordinated with - the Pakistani leadership, both civilian and military. But as we know from Wikileaks, this coordination flew in the face of what Pakistan's leaders had told their own public.
The most unusual feature of this "reset" of U.S.-Pakistan relations was the central role of parliament. This was intended to provide broad political cover for the resumption of more normal and better defined ties between the two troubled partners. It was probably also designed, at least by some participants in the process, to reduce the government's negotiating leeway. The army, which was a party to the agreement setting up the parliamentary committee, almost certainly did not see this process as supplanting in any way its own decisive voice on issues connected to Pakistan's security. In the army's eyes, national security includes relations with the key countries: India, Afghanistan, China and the United States.
The results of the committee's work suggest that the army's role is still intact. Senior representatives of the army and the government met about a week before the committee started work, and agreed on a set of recommendations to the committee. As is normal in Pakistan, all of these recommendations apparently found a home in the final report. In the week or so before the committee concluded, there were indications that the army was becoming impatient with the slow pace of its work, and this was apparently communicated more directly to the committee.
But some of the issues that made their way into the committee's discussions provide a useful reminder that the army, even in concert with civilian political leadership, cannot always control the processes it starts. Even after the end of the parliamentary process, on April 16, a statement by Hafiz Saeed, leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and now the object of a special reward offer of $10 million from the U.S. Justice Department, charged that any resumption of NATO ground shipments to Afghanistan would be "treasonous." He was speaking in the name of the Defense of Pakistan Council, whose members - some 30 militant groups as well as most of Pakistan's religiously oriented political parties - threatened to stop any such shipments "with force." The council is widely believed to have discreet connections with the army.
It is clear that if the army wants to take a hard line, an engaged parliament and an energized and anti-American public will provide it support. But the army's prestige has taken a hit in the past year, and that will constrain its ability to shape policy in other directions. If the army wants to preserve the flexibility it has traditionally enjoyed in shaping its privileged ties with the United States, it will have more trouble doing this behind the scenes than it is accustomed to. It will need to show its hand, and incur a measure of political criticism in the process.
How should the two governments now proceed? Their traditional operating styles are likely to set them up for failure. We described in a recent book, How Pakistan Negotiates with the United States: Riding the Roller Coaster, the way Pakistani leaders and negotiators often worked to create in their American counterparts a sense of obligation toward Pakistan. They wanted U.S. officials to feel that they had to compensate for having let Pakistan down. Pakistan's leaders also relied heavily on the conviction that the United States needed Pakistan more than the reverse, and that Pakistan could and should therefore play hardball.
This approach has often served Pakistan's purposes well. Under today's circumstances, however, Pakistani hardball will feed into a high level of anger and frustration in Washington, and could lead to a breakdown in relations that neither side wants. After the revelation of Osama bin Laden's long stay in Pakistan and the "deep freeze" of the last few months, U.S. officials are more aware than ever of the differences between U.S. and Pakistani goals in Afghanistan, and are unenthusiastic about making special accommodations. Moreover, in the past four months, the United States has found partial substitutes for ground transit through Pakistan. Resumption of the ground links is certainly desirable for the U.S., but may no longer be a trump card in Pakistan's hand. The traditional U.S. negotiating approach - offering a broad strategic relationship accompanied by generous aid, and stressing Pakistan's indispensability to U.S. policy - is out of step with U.S. fiscal realities and with the mood of key U.S. officials. Moreover, it is not credible to Pakistan. It is likely to encourage Pakistan to fall back on what one of our Pakistani friends referred to as "the victimization card."
The key to a better outcome is to focus on goals both sides know they genuinely share. This starts with more realistic mutual expectations and a better definition of the security issues on which they can cooperate. The United States wants to see a peaceful region and a more prosperous Pakistani economy. Pakistan wants the U.S. departure from Afghanistan to be orderly, and to leave behind a reasonably stable and governable Afghanistan. The negotiators' task is to identify and obtain the minimum requirements that serve these common goals, even if they fall well short of the robust strategic partnership both countries once aimed at.
Teresita and Howard Schaffer are retired U.S. diplomats who served in Pakistan. Teresita Schaffer is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a senior adviser at McLarty Associates; Howard Schaffer is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Both edit southasiahand.com, a web site devoted to South Asia.
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As Sunday's spectacular attack in Kabul showed, the war in Afghanistan may be winding down in Washington, but it is heating up on the ground with spring's arrival.
And in Foggy Bottom and, to a lesser degree, on Capitol Hill, a battle is on for American hearts and minds even as calls for immediate withdrawal grow louder. The objective: to keep Afghan women from falling off the political agenda while Washington and its NATO allies hunt desperately for a diplomatic solution to America's longest-ever war. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches - and women to date still have no formal role - that fight gets more urgent.
"Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all," said Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at a luncheon for the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, an organization started under President George W. Bush to support programs benefiting Afghan women. "We will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women. And we will be working closely with the international community as well, because we all need to be vigilant and disciplined in our support and in our refusal to accept the erosion of women's rights and freedoms."
Former First Lady Laura Bush echoed the Secretary's comments.
"The failure to protect women's rights and to ensure their security could undermine the significant gains Afghan women have achieved," said Mrs. Bush. "No one wants to see Afghanistan's progress reversed or its people returned to the perilous circumstances that marked the Taliban's rule."
Clinton, Bush and their allies face an uphill fight. Today a record-high 69 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. And the recent alleged killing of unarmed Afghan civilians by an American soldier has cemented public desire to call an end to the war that began just after the attacks of September 11.
It wasn't always this way. In 2001, Washington leaders regularly invoked the plight of women, who had just endured years of Taliban rule that barred them from school and work. Afghan women became something of a cause célèbre worldwide, and the return of women to public life was seen as among the most positive byproducts of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Then-First Lady Laura Bush spoke out in support of Afghan women during a weekly presidential radio broadcast in 2001, and made high-profile visits to women's projects while visiting the country.
A decade later, members of Mrs. Bush's team acknowledge the challenge they face convincing the American public that supporting Afghan women on the way out of the country matters.
"It is hard for people to see the endgame and that is what I think contributes to the frustration," says Mrs. Bush's former chief of staff, Anita McBride. "This is not high on the radar screen because it is challenging and the solution seems so far away."
Those working closely with Sec. Clinton acknowledge the battle to keep women front and center is not easy. But they say they see an increased acknowledgment throughout the State Department and in the president's recent executive order on U.N. Resolution 1325 that women matter when it comes to peace.
"While clearly there is a strong, strong desire for the end of this (war), the big concern is the state of the women -- what happens to Afghan women and that they not somehow be forgotten," says Ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. "There is a recognition that for the genuine end of conflict and for the ability to reconcile with whomever it is possible to reconcile with, that the women have to be a part of that."
Those who have spoken out about the need to end the war swiftly say they agree.
"I came away strongly feeling that as we do draw down there that we have to retain a focus on these gains and whatever is necessary diplomatically or through our aid, that we can't neglect women," says Rep. Niki Tsongas of a recent trip to Afghanistan. "You have to publicly continue to raise the issue. That is the very least what we can continue to do, to publicly raise the issue and the importance of just trying to protect and secure those gains."
did just that at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing with Gen. John
"The question is, as we draw down from Afghanistan over the next several years, what can we do to make sure that we don't lose the hard-fought gains for the rights of Afghan women, 50 percent of the population? And what, if any, leverage will we have as we go through this process and after our withdrawal is complete?" she asked.
But is more than rhetorical support from those who support Afghan women's progress even possible?
"It is difficult, because I think that even for those who care very deeply about the status of Afghan women there is a little bit of schizophrenia, because I think some of us recognize that whatever the future is for Afghan women, the kind of military footprint that we have in Afghanistan can't go on another decade," says Rep. Donna Edwards, who co-chairs the Afghan Women's Task Force in Congress. "I believe that it is possible for us to construct a strategy where we make those kinds of civilian investments that will enable investments where it is possible to support women entrepreneurs, to support women in education, to support women as parliamentarians, I think it is possible to do that and I don't think we have too many more options left."
So what do the women at the center of all the discussion think of all the discussion of their future? Most say they simply want to be part of the conversation about their own country, particularly as they work to elbow their way into the discussions in Chicago next month. And they want to know what, exactly, leaders of the international community means when they say to women that "we will not abandon you," as Sec. Clinton has repeatedly.
women are no more the priority for the world, that is true," says Samira Hamidi
of the Afghan Women's Network. "The
international community is in a rush for withdrawal, but at the same time they
keep repeating and pushing the theme that we will remain with you."
Hamidi says women want clarity on what, exactly, those assurances mean. Says Hamidi, "in ten years whatever has happened for women is because of the struggle and participation of women. We are still fighting for our rights, for our inclusion, to be part of decisions and to be decision makers."
What Hamidi and other women leaders say they seek are assurances that any Taliban negotiations will keep in tact the Afghan constitution of the past decade, with its guarantee of equal opportunities, including the right to work and go to school, as well as a set-aside of a quarter of parliamentary seats for women. More than two million Afghan girls are now in school, with thousands in university, and civil society leaders want them to stay there. Women also want to be at the table, not outside the room, in any diplomatic discussions that will decide their country's future shape. That starts with Chicago next month.
Women say they are not asking for favors, but to be part of their own societies. They can speak up for themselves, and they are, but they could use the backing of big-dollar international donors who will be funding their government's security forces for years to come.
"The worrying part for me in 2014 is not that the international community is leaving -- troops are leaving, they have to leave this is a reality. We can't expect them to stay in Afghanistan for years and years, but for me what is important is how powerful our own security forces will be in 2014, how responsive they will be to women's needs. Those are things that the international community can really make their funding conditional on."
Those who support Afghan women say that if the world wants to see any progress achieved in Afghanistan continue, it will support civil society leaders like Hamidi - between now and 2014, and beyond.
"Increasingly, across the board, people get the fact that this is pragmatic, that you can't get from here to there on the items all of us want to see [in Afghanistan] without women," Verveer says. "Is it a guarantee? Well, we can't write the future. None of us knows exactly what is going to happen. We are dealing with a hypothetical and the best we can all do is to make sure that everything is in place as best as it can be as this continues to go forward."
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
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Last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai surprised U.S. and coalition officials by announcing the creation of a special tribunal and prosecutor to seek redress for the almost two year old Kabul Bank scandal. And earlier this month, the Afghan House of Representatives rejected the proposed federal budget in part because of the allocation of U.S. $80 million to Kabul Bank. Already, the Central Bank has poured $450 million into the beleaguered bank after it lost almost a billion dollars in the 2010 financial scandal. This money has been traced to interest-free loans given to Mahmoud Karzai, brother of President Karzai, to buy shares in the bank itself, and also to former CEO Khalil Frozi, who used bank funds to finance the President's 2009 election campaign.
Though Afghan authorities arrested Frozi and Kabul Bank founder Sherkhan Farnood approximately nine months after the crisis, it was recently reported that neither can be found in their jail cells, and both are collecting rent from tenants occupying Dubai villas bought with illegally obtained loans. A year after the debacle, only 10% of the missing money had been recovered.
Kabul Bank is more than a symbol of the pervasive corruption plaguing Afghanistan's government, it is the largest private financial institution in the country and an integral piece of infrastructure that has direct consequences for the country's security and financial stability. If Afghanistan is to have any chance at a legitimate economy and stable future, it will need an efficient and trustworthy financial system.
In particular, Kabul Bank is a conduit for government payments to Afghan soldiers, police, and teachers. The United States aims to reduce American troop presence by 2013 and shift security duties to the Afghan military and police force. Absolutely vital to a "successful" drawdown is the establishment of a reliable and transparent payment system. The rampant corruption plaguing Kabul Bank shows that traditional banking systems may not be suitable for the Afghan economy at all. However, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with Afghan companies to provide an alternate solution - mobile money.
In the past year, mobile phone-based money transfers have taken off in Afghanistan. Three out of the four largest mobile network operators now offer mobile money services, two of which were launched in the last six months. Roshan, the telecommunication company that deployed the country's first mobile money product in 2008, M-Paisa ("paisa" meaning money in Dari), has grown to 1.2 million registered customers that can receive salaries, pay bills, and make domestic financial transactions over their mobile phones. Last month, the company announced a partnership with Western Union to allow these customers to receive transfers from around the world directly to their mobile phones.
USAID has made mobile money central to Afghanistan's financial development. According to USAID, while less than five percent of Afghans have access to a bank account, more than 60 percent of the population has access to a mobile phone. To accelerate the pace of its development, USAID has allocated more than $2 million to mobile network operators as part of its Mobile Money Innovation Grant Fund, and spearheaded the forming of the Afghan Mobile Money Operators Association. Currently, there are five USAID mobile phone payment projects underway, which range from the payments of teacher stipends to police force salaries, and 14 more mobile transfer projects in planning, according to a USAID official who spoke off-the-record. With the scaling of mobile money, an estimated $60 million annually could be retrieved that had been lost to corruption and fees.
Although promising, mobile money is not entirely immune to the harsh realities on the ground. In 2009, the Afghan government worked with Roshan to pilot a mobile phone-based salary payment system to 54 officers of the Afghan National Police Force who had previously received cash from their superiors. When the policemen took their SIM cards to the local M-Paisa offices to directly collect their entire salaries, they thought they had received a 36 percent raise, while what they were really seeing was a full salary untouched by crooked officials, according to a U.S. Air Force Colonel overseeing the project.
However, a confidential State Department cable released by Wikileaks revealed that a corrupt Afghan commander, frustrated that he was no longer able to skim off the top, fraudulently registered phones and collected his officers' salaries. In a separate incident, the same commander ordered subordinates to handover their SIM cards and attempted to retrieve the salaries himself. Though the local M-Paisa employee refused to hand over the salaries to the commander, he was forced to go into hiding for fear of retribution. Despite direct reports to the Ministry of Interior and pressure from the U.S. Government, no one has been prosecuted.
The ability to efficiently pay Afghanistan's security apparatus is critical to any post-war strategy, especially in the face of a U.S. drawdown and the ousting of private security firms. It is especially important for USAID efforts because $899 million worth of development programs they administer are in jeopardy without a functioning security force, according to a recent letter from Steven Trent, the acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Though USAID says this claim is exaggerated, it still highlights the significance of dealing with the systemic corruption within Afghanistan's financial system and in particular Kabul Bank, given its central role in government payments to soldiers.
Despite the importance of anti-corruption measures to security efforts, a clear disconnect between Afghan and U.S. officials gives reason to believe that Karzai's recent announcement to prosecute those involved in the Kabul Bank crisis will not amount to much. As Afghans rushed to withdraw $800 million in deposits in the two weeks following the scandal's breaking, Mahmoud Karzai insisted the bank was stable and not in danger of collapse while simultaneously asking the U.S. Treasury for monetary help in averting a crisis. When the U.S. refused a direct injection of capital, President Karzai publicly blamed the collapse on a lack of foreign technical support rather than the illegal activities of the bank's leadership. A few months later, he banned U.S. government advisers from working with the country's central bank, as they attempted to assist Afghan officials in regulating the financial system and tracking foreign aid, both of which were conditions for releasing $1.8 billion of donor funds.
While the ideal situation for USAID is an end to corruption's hold on financial infrastructure, the reality is that they are working within a delicate political climate. According to a NYT/CBS News poll released this month, almost 70% of American respondents want an end to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan. With this dramatic fall in American public opinion and election year politics putting the focus on a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops and transition to Afghan forces, the Obama administration is loath to engage in a battle with the Karzai government over corruption that is almost guaranteed to fail. Yet there are still ways for USAID to recognize the restraints of corruption and push forward; one of the promising solutions involves integrating mobile money to build a stronger financial system and more transparent post-transition payment system.
After all, the reality is also this: the results of development projects will have significant bearing on America's legacy in a country where it has spent over 10 years, half a trillion dollars, and countless lives. USAID's success, and ultimately that of the entire U.S. mission in Afghanistan, will depend on our ability to acknowledge that "success" is not an all or nothing proposition. Corruption exists but that doesn't mean that the development community cannot adapt to work within its confinements.
Anjana Ravi is a Research Associate with the New America Foundation's Global Assets Project, where Eric Tyler is a Program Associate.
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