Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (Little Brown and Company, New York 2012), 673pp. $29.99.
On October 3, 2009, an assembled impromptu force of hundreds of Afghans overran a deeply vulnerable U.S. outpost, killing eight American soldiers. In retracing this tragic battle and the events that led to it, Jake Tapper has written perhaps the best book set in Afghanistan to date.
This deeply researched book covers the four successive cavalry squadrons -- reconnaissance units of about 300 soldiers, mostly men -- who serve in what will become known as Combat Outpost (or COP) Keating. Albeit written without ever visiting the small outpost of the title, Tapper traces its three-year (plus) history from its establishment in the summer of 2006 through the major attack on the base in October 2009. The COP would be destroyed by American airpower just days later, denying its use to local Afghans. Tapper's narrative arc clearly lays out the human drama, which, in full disclosure, involves friends and acquaintances of mine from my previous military service. I know these men well enough to know that Tapper has accurately captured them.
At one level, this book is simply a piece of tightly crafted narrative non-fiction. Divided into three sections, with a very helpful list of the shifting cast of characters, Tapper chronicles life in this desolate piece of remote, and majestically beautiful, Eastern Afghanistan. The work depicts the all-too-human struggles encountered, from the physical challenges of the soldiers on the ground, to those more strategic and moral with which the more senior officers wrestle.
While Tapper clearly admires his subjects, this book is no whitewash. With the possible exception of then-Lieutenant Andrew Bunderman who finds himself unexpectedly in command during the attack, there are no unambiguous heroes. But Bunderman is a rare under-developed character. Elsewhere, compromised situations force compromised decisions, from the seniors leaders to the privates on the ground. Perhaps because Tapper never embedded with these units, instead reconstructing events post hoc, he maintains an admirable detachment, highlighting flaws even in those men he most clearly admires. This narrative alone is more than worth the price of admission.
Tapper is equally effective at capturing the Army's socio-economic breadth and depth, adding nuance and texture to the oft-depicted cliché of a divide between officers and grunts. Upper middle class officers such as Michael Howard, Chris Kolenda and Brad Brown, who despite having command responsibility for Keating (and numerous other bases), did not live there or share its hardships, come to life in the narrative. So do Keating's more humble denizens, such as both the newly married, recently orphaned Ryan Fritsche, who dies on a hillside near the outpost under the tenure of the second occupying squadron, and the Army mechanic and de facto bigamist Vernon Martin, who perishes in the final battle some years later.
However, the book works most powerfully as a metaphor for the entire Afghanistan project. In the cycle of four units relieving each other over the course of three years, the mood comes full circle. The first squadron shows great enthusiasm, ignoring the clear tactical vulnerability of an outpost in a valley in order to be near to the Afghan villagers. Three years later, this inherent vulnerability and ineffectiveness can no longer be ignored, but the last unit cannot marshal the resources necessary to close the base before it is over-run. While the commanders of the last unit will shoulder much of the official blame, it is not clear that they could have done any more than the final commanders of a similarly indefensible valley fortress, at Dien Bien Phu-the infamously mis-sited French base in Vietnam, whose similar, if larger scale, vulnerability put an end to the French campaign in IndoChina. Tapper's prologue deals with the incredulous analyst who details the laundry list of reasons why Keating should not be positioned where it was-base of a peak, rivers on two sides, no good road, far away even by helicopter. While the analyst does not use the words "rice bowl" as Viet Mihn General Giap famously did the soon-to-be-surrendered Dien Bien Phu, the sentiment is clearly the same.
In these four units we see the complete cycle that characterizes most encounters with Afghanistan-naïve idealism, then modest success, then decline, then concern....and finally disaster. Perversely, it is the modest successes that encourage continued investment in the campaign. Afghanistan seems to have become a "baited ambush" at all levels of war, with just enough enticement to keep investing. The limited tactical successes of Chris Kolenda (the second squadron commander) give the illusion of military and political progress, though they quickly fade. And at the grand strategic level, the 2009 elections that return President Karzai to power are lauded despite being widely considered fraudulent-because they are. But at both levels, being able to "check the box" on an accomplishment seems to justify more effort. The ability to convince one's self that things are improving, or at least that improvement is "just around the corner," has been instrumental to this decade-long debacle.
The irony, of course, is that the Army, like most American institutions, uses a short-term rewards system. Therefore, the officers (and their civilian advisors) who conceptualized the fatally placed base continue to progress through the ranks, based on their glowing "report cards" for establishing COP Keating. Meanwhile, the commanders who were flabbergasted and scandalized by the placement of the inherited outpost are forever tainted by it being destroyed under their watch.
Tapper has done a two-fold service with this book. First, he lays out a highly engaging narrative that fully engages the reader across three years in one desolate corner of Afghanistan-albeit via the American viewpoint. But more importantly, he provides a window into the false hopes and visions that enabled this failed experiment, an attempt to create government in spaces that had actively avoided such. Tapper shows-without telling-that the United States had, and has, no national interest remaining in Afghanistan, other than eliminating Al Qaeda safe havens. The U.S. presence in general was misguided and the "outposting" push into the remote valleys of Nuristan and Kunar particularly inane. Tapper's characters show the price that was paid-in blood, in careers, in broken relationships, in damaged psyches, not to mention in money.
Tapper's book is not anti-war by any means. But it is anti-stupid war. And he clearly shows that, while there was a clear justification for the overthrow of the Taliban regime, by the time of the events he narrates, this was a war of choice.
A bad choice.
Douglas A. Ollivant, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a retired Army officer. He spent 12 months in 2010-2011 as the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commander, Regional Command East, Afghanistan. He is on Twitter at @DouglasOllivant.
The reported killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi in a U.S. drone strike on the morning of June 4 in the town of Mir Ali, North Waziristan, if confirmed, is a significant loss for Al-Qaeda Central (AQC), and comes at a tumultuous time for the militant organization. U.S. government officials announced a day after the missile strike that Abu Yahya, whose real name is Hasan Muhammad Qa'id, had been killed, though official confirmation has not yet come from AQC itself. Within the organization Abu Yahya served as its chief juridical voice, whose job was to justify, support, and defend its ideological positions. He was also at the forefront of the global jihadi movement as one of the juridical and ideological architects of AQC's positions, particularly vis-à-vis the Pakistani government and military. Abu Yahya's influence extends to AQC's regional affiliates such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al-Shabab in Somalia. The United Nations Security Council noted in September 2011 when it added him to its sanctions list that he was also a key strategist and field commander for AQC in Afghanistan. His loss would be a significant blow to both AQC and the wider transnational jihadi current.
Inside job: Militants believed to have been helped by a member of the police force and a suspected Taliban infiltrator killed nine Afghan policemen on Thursday in the southern province of Uruzgan (AFP, Tel). There were ten officers at the post, and nine were killed, leaving security officials believing that the tenth was an infiltrator who has since fled with his Taliban accomplices.
British Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond on Thursday maintained that the United Kingdom and its troops are dedicated to completing their mission in Afghanistan, after six British troops were killed by a roadside bomb on Tuesday (AP). And Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that the incident will not impact Britain's plan for a "proper and orderly" withdrawal of troops from the country (Tel). The number of U.S. Marines in Helmand Province will be reduced by about half this year, one of the first steps by the United States toward a withdrawal to be completed by the end of 2014 (AP).
The death toll from an avalanche that buried a remote village in northern Afghanistan this week has climbed to at least 50, as relief groups warned of another impending disaster - flooding - when the snows begin to melt (NYT, AP, Reuters). Reto Stocker, the head of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) told Reuters Wednesday that as development aid to Afghanistan slows in the lead-up to the 2014 withdrawal deadline, the country risks reversing the gains made in health care over the past 10 years (Reuters).
U.S. military officials are probing allegations that members of the Afghan Air Force are using military aircraft to smuggle drugs and illegal weapons within the country (Reuters). Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department's March 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report -- released Thursday -- found that the Afghan government has had "demonstrable success" in the last year reducing the cultivation of drugs, though the "gains remain fragile" and dependent upon security and the state of the Afghan economy (AFP).
Members of Osama bin Laden's family who lived with him in his Abbottabad compound were purportedly suspicious that his eldest wife, recently returned from Iran, planned to betray the al-Qaeda leader, according to a retired Pakistani army officer, Brig. Shaukat Qadir, who obtained exclusive access to Pakistani intelligence transcripts of the interrogation of bin Laden's youngest wife (AP, Tel, NYT). And two separate "insiders" have given two of Pakistan's leading newspapers differing accounts of Interior Minister Rehman Malik's testimony to the judicial commission investigating bin Laden's presence in Pakistan (Dawn, ET). One person told Dawn that Malik claimed the Pakistani government was unaware of bin Laden's presence, while another told the Express Tribune that Malik asserted that Pakistani authorities "were about to catch Osama when U.S. Navy SEALs raided his compound."
Another "insider," this time with access to the Pakistani Taliban, has said the militant commanders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are in talks to repair splits over peace talks with the government that have divided the leadership (ET). In the southern province of Balochistan, two Punjabi-speaking "settlers" were shot and killed by gunmen on Wednesday, while five others were injured (ET, ). And the Pakistani Senate unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday condemning the security establishment's practice of enforced disappearances, particularly prevalent in Balochistan (ET, Dawn).
A spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office responded to allegations in a report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) that Pakistan has 90-110 nuclear warheads, calling the report "highly exaggerated and part of an insidious propaganda campaign" (The News, Dawn). And the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday once again ordered Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to write a letter to Swiss authorities requesting that they reopen a graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari (ET, Dawn, BBC, The News). Gilani must either file a statement or testify in person on March 21, the same day his trial for contempt of court is set to resume.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry has blocked a bill drafted three years ago that would raise the criminal age in the country from nine years to 12, simultaneously preventing the bill from introducing a ban on child pornography, trafficking and abuse (Tel). The statement from the ministry contends that children in Pakistan mature faster than in other countries because of various factors, including the hot climate and "exotic and spicy food."
-- Jennifer Rowland
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's immediate reaction to the tragic November 26 airattacks on two check posts located barely 400 meters from the Afghan border inMohmand tribal agency, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, was to declare thatthe attacks were "unprovokedaggression" and convey impressions to the local media that the attackwas a premeditated assault by U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Thisaroused a nationwide furor, further roiling an already tense relationship andleading to immediateretribution against American military and political interests in Pakistanand Afghanistan.
Soon after the incident, Pakistani army officials reportedlychangedthe rules of engagement for forward-based units on the country's westernborder, authorizing them to fire on any such air intrusions without having toseek permission from senior commanders or headquarters, and indicated that airdefenses would be beefed up in that sector. But amid the hue and cry withinPakistan, somealso questioned why Pakistan's large and expensive military forces had notresponded with air defenses to protect the posts, especially since the armyclaimed the supposedly "unprovoked" NATO aircraft attacks had lasted up to 2hours. Why were Pakistani Air Force (PAF) fighter aircraft notscrambled and dispatched to the scene? Did the PAF prudently stay out of anarmy screw-up (if, as U.S. officials insist, Pakistani forces fired first), ordid they just not get the word? It would have been an acute irony if Pakistan hadsent up its American-built F-16 fighters against American helicopters orslow-flying AC-130 gunships being used against the Taliban insurgency inAfghanistan.
In fact, the furor masks the fact that Pakistan's close-in airdefenses along the border with Afghanistan are thin, and long-range radarsfacing Afghanistan are notalways on , as they were hardly needed in the past, except against Soviet airforces during the Afghan occupation of the 1980s. Ground-based radars'line-of-sight detection provides virtually no early warning against low-flyingaircraft coming through gaps in the mountains, either, although triangulationof their beams coupled with GPS coordinates of mapped border locations mayallow them to judge whether an aircraft has crossed into Pakistani air space. Whetherthey did on November 26 is not yet clear, since the firing on the posts couldeasily have been at standoff range, behind the Afghan side of the Durand Line.
The bulk of Pakistan's fixed site and other long-range groundradar constituting the national air defense system (ADGES) are orientedprimarily to detecting threats from India, along the Line of Control dividingKashmir to the north, or coming across the main Indian border along the east, andprovide, from southern locations surveillance of potential threats from theArabian Sea. They also provide general surveillance of high-altitude trafficfrom Afghanistan but are not oriented to close-in mountain border surveillance.Most of Pakistan's large numbers of low-altitude radar, anti-aircraft artilleryand surface-to-air missile (SAM) launchers travel with armored and mechanizeddivisions and independent brigades deployed to counter a possible Indianinvasion. Pakistan has a large inventory (about 1,900 as of 2010) of transportableanti-aircraft guns of various types and calibers, and also has concentrationsof such AA guns and SAM defenses around air bases and sensitive facilities inthe interior. The PAF operates the national air defense system from a commandcenter in Chaklala (on the outskirts of Rawalpindi) through a network thatcontains high-and low-level ground radars.
RecentPAF acquisitions also include three Swedish (Saab 2000 Erieye) and two Chinese-madeZDK-03 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, which have360-degree vision and look-down radars that can detect aircraft at any altitude,as long as they are not hidden in ground clutter. Their primary missions areregarded as strategic, i.e., early warning, air defense and close-in,ground-based missile surveillance. And the PAF also deploys Pakistan's mainstayair defense weapons, namely fighter aircraft with air-to-air interceptormissiles.
The vast majority of Pakistan's estimated 3,150 ground-basedair defense missile systems in 2010 were in the low-altitude MANPADS (man-portableair defense systems) category, though some heat-seeking, low altitude types (suchas the Crotale)are mounted on vehicles. The shoulder-fired missiles are in the same general categoryas the American-made Stinger missiles that the Afghan mujahideen used to bringdown Soviet aircraft in the 1980s. The Pakistani army deploys a contemporaryassortment of these types of infra-red, or heat-seeking, short-rangemissile systems, including some 2,500 Chinese Mk1/Mk2 (an adaptation of theRussian SA-7) and HN-5A, 230 French Mistral,200 Swedish RBS-70, as well as 60 up-to-date Stingers (Raytheon FIM-92A).
It would be very easy for Pakistan to shift additionalanti-aircraft machine guns and to introduce these shoulder-fired missiles to itswestern region, and reportssuggest that the army is actually doing that now. However, if Pakistanifront line border posts are equipped with these systems and expected to use themagainst any air intrusion -- accidental, pre-notified, or otherwise -- thereare almost certain to be further accidental collisions and disruptions of U.S.-Pakistanicooperation. If U.S. aircraft accidentally stray into Pakistani territory andtake ground fire from anti-aircraft guns or missiles, they will almostcertainly retaliate as a standard operational procedure. Second, Pakistan wouldface the threat that some of these advanced missiles could get into militanthands, which would put not only U.S./NATO aircraft, but also Pakistani aircraft,at serious risk, and also broaden suspicions in the West of Pakistanicomplicity with militants. Stinger proliferation to militants might further deterthe Pakistani military from establishing control over its tribal territory, andwould, in effect, provide insurgents with yet additional cover in safe havensin Pakistan. Third, Pakistani firing of Stinger-type missiles against U.S.aircraft operating in Afghanistan may be seen as acts of war against the UnitedStates. While the Pakistani public increasingly views America's war on terroroperations in Afghanistan as "not Pakistan's war," they may be locked byescalation into owning "Pakistan's war on American forces." It should takelittle imagination to grasp where that would lead.
The westward deployment of these MANPADS or low-altitudeanti-aircraft guns would probably not be able to threaten U.S. drones, because bilateralprotocols for U.S. drone activity along the Afghan-Pakistan border alreadyexist and are followed. Normally drones fly at altitudes above the ceiling of shoulder-firedmissiles, and their infra-red signatures, even at low altitude, are much moredifficult for infra-red sensors to detect than those of manned aircraft. Dronesmay not even be readily detectable by Pakistan's existing ground radars in theregion. By diverting AEW&C aircraft with advanced radar to that region, however,Pakistan probably could detect and shoot down drones with fighter aircraft and,possibly, in the unlikely event they were relocated to the tribal region, targetthem with its small number of high altitude SA-2 missiles. But thesecontingencies, which would disturb Pakistan's preferred strategies and airdefense deployments against India, seem far less likely than the prospect offurther (accidental or not) air-to-ground or ground-to-ground clashes betweenNATO and Pakistani troops. Risking the loss of Pakistan's scarce 4thgeneration fighter aircraft and pilots in cross-border shoot-outs with U.S. forceswould be a recipe for further disaster.
Although the U.S. Central Command's assessment of theMohmand incident is still a week away, the findings will likely blame communicationsbreakdowns and fog of war confusion, exploited by deceptive firing frommilitants close by Pakistan's border posts, for the tragic case offriendly-fire. This was after all the most lethal, but not the first,cross-border incident of its kind. This may turn out to be one case where theextremist tail did wag the dog.
Lessons will be gleaned from this incident, but the crucialones concern the vital importance of transparent military-to-military communicationand information-sharing on the activities of militants, and dedicated measuresof mutual support for efforts to run them to ground. Neither side can afford tobe responsible by inconsistent strategy for taking the lives of the other. Technicalmeasures for avoiding collisions that have not yet been exploited include theuse of reprogrammable, identification-friend-or foe (IFF) transponders. Whenplaced with personnel at Pakistan's forward check posts and supportinstallations, these should serve to ward off inadvertent fire by US forces,supplementing existing communications protocols. Frequently updating codesshould protect these instruments from theft and successful spoofing use bymilitants.
Beyond that, both sides must get back to basics onharmonizing policies on the future of Afghanistan. This would include pursuing asfar as they prove viable the so-called "reconciliation" negotiations with thoseinsurgents who might be induced to withdraw from combat in favor ofparticipation in the Afghan political process. Secretary Hillary Clinton'srecent visit to Islamabad warmlyinvited Pakistan to be a central player at the front end of this process, aprocess and role which Pakistan itself has long urged. Moving forward withrelevant bilateral working groups developing road maps and strategies couldhelp calm ruffled feathers while, importantly, working together for peaceful,internationally-supported outcomes in Afghanistan that will also satisfyPakistan's legitimate long-term interests.
Dr. Rodney W. Jones isPresident of Policy Architects International in Reston, VA, and an expert onsecurity in South Asia.
TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
After a week of delay, as anger against the United States mounted inside Pakistan over the November 26 attack by U.S. forces that killed two officers and 22 soldiers of the Pakistani army at border posts Volcano and Boulder in Mohmand agency, the President of the United States finally entered the picture directly. He called Pakistan on Sunday to express his sorrow at this incident that is threatening to take the teetering Pakistan-U.S. alliance off the precipice. According to the White House:
Earlier today the President placed a phone call to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to personally express his condolences on the tragic loss of twenty-four Pakistani soldiers this past week along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The President made clear that this regrettable incident was not a deliberate attack on Pakistan and reiterated the United States' strong commitment to a full investigation. The two Presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, which is critical to the security of both nations, and they agreed to stay in close touch.
About time, many would say, that the President got involvedin saving this relationship. The signaling effect of his personal interventionis huge, especially since it follows a "business as usual" approach to the promised investigation up until now. The U.S. Central Command had said it would take three weeks to produce a report on this incendiary incident that has led to the formal closing of the ground line of communication into Afghanistan and theremoval of U.S. personnel from Shamsi air base in Balochistan -- a delay that allowed the wounds to fester inside Pakistan.
But why did President Obama call President Asif Ali Zardari and not Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani? Pakistan has had a parliamentary system of government since April 8, 2010, when President Zardari was reducedto a mere constitutional figurehead. Prime Minister Gilani now heads thegovernment, and indeed has been the point-man in denouncing the United Statesin the days following the Mohmand attack. He should have been the one thatPresident Obama called. By calling President Zardari, President Obama may havebeen led to the source of political power in the Pakistan Peoples Party towhich both Zardari and Gilani belong. A pragmatic move perhaps in light of Zardari's tight hold over the party he took over from his murdered wife BenazirBhutto, but also one that downgrades the prime minister. This call will likely be seen in the eyes of many Pakistanis as a snub of their constitutional system. By this logic, they might ask, would President Obama call President Pratibha Patil or Mrs. Sonia Gandhi in India rather than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?
The United States has been trying to forge a long-term and consistent relationship with Pakistan during the Obama administration. But 2011has been the annus horribilis betweenthese two estranged allies. The Pakistani government has used the recent attackto stoke public anger and garner support for its tough stance against theUnited States, partly to counter the power and prestige of the military in thepublic's eyes. The feedback loop created by government and the army's own toughlanguage against the United States will make it difficult for either to resilefrom its position. The signaling effect of President Obama's call to thePresident of Pakistan and not to the Prime Minister may well magnify thatdivide and be felt in Pakistani politics and on the street, where every nuanceof words coming out of the White House is parsed and debated.
Recall that President Zardari's personal popularity has beensinking, and with it his ability to affect public opinion in Pakistan. The PewGlobal Survey of June 2011 had his popularity at 11 percent. A later GallupPakistan poll of July 2011 had his negative rating 39 percent. Gilani cameout better, with 29 percent negativity rating overall, but also in the red. Inthe same Gallup survey, the Pakistan army got an approval rating of 15 percentin fighting terrorism. But the people of Pakistan also gave it a negativerating of 12 percent in running the country and a 3 percent negative rating inits political activities. Yet the military seems to be calling the shots onforeign policy, especially after its recent losses at the hands of U.S. forces.
If the United States is to mend its relations with Pakistan,it must recognize the need to heed the wishes of the people of Pakistan and toconnect with them more than the political leaders who appear to have lost theconfidence of their citizens. Turning back the clock to the Musharraf regime,when the President of Pakistan was the be-all end-all of decision making, isnot the best move. President Obama can retrieve the situation by acceleratingthe investigation into the November 26 attack and sharing credible evidencewith Pakistan of what happened and why. And, if it turns out that it was amistake on the part of the coalition and U.S. forces that caused the tragedy atVolcano and Boulder, an apology would be in order. Better that than having toput together a new policy for the troubled South Asian region without Pakistan.
Shuja Nawaz isdirector of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Awar of words erupted in Pakistan this week, following reportsthat the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had declared a ceasefire with thePakistani government, as part of allegedly ongoing talks between the two sides.TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan deniedany ceasefire Wednesday, but the prospect of negotiations require that weexamine the TTP's current orientation, and how the group's outlook on its fightagainst Pakistan and the West has changed.
OnNovember 8, a written messagefrom Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP's amir, was released on jihadi Internetforums on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic holiday that ends the annualHajj pilgrimage season. The message was released simultaneously in Urdu,Pashtu, Arabic, and English on Internet forums used by transnational Sunnijihadis and their supporters. It was distributed by the GlobalIslamic Media Front (GIMF), a shadowy network of translators and media operatives whoproduce numerous translations of key jihadi texts, videos, and songs, as wellas original material. Earlier this year new videos and written statements fromthe TTP were being distributed by a branch of the GIMF, Al-Qadisiyyah MediaFoundation, which is devoted to translating jihadi texts, primarily fromArabic, into languages of the Indian Subcontinent including Urdu, Bangla,Pashtu, Hindi, and Persian. The shift to GIMF distribution earlier this year suggeststhat the TTP continues to draw upon the transnational Sunni jihadi rhetoricdeployed by groups like al-Qaeda Central (AQC) and its regional affiliateswhile continuing to maintain a strong focus on waging a domestic insurgency inPakistan. The result is a type of "glocal"militancy that combines both elements of transnational jihadism with the TTP's morecountry- and region-specific goals.
Inhis message, the TTP amir addresses four main groups: the worldwideMuslim community (Ummah), the Pashtuns living in Pakistan's Khyber-Pukhtunkhwaprovince and Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Pakistani peoplegenerally, and the Pakistani military and security agencies. Mehsud alsoreaffirms the TTP's allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar,and delivers an overview of his movement's widespread targeting of Pakistanimilitary, security, and other government agencies as well as targets connectedto the United States. Mehsud further claims that the TTP has regained controlof many Pashtun tribal areas and have launched an "open war" in others,including Dir, Swat, and Buner, after the movement made a "strategic"withdrawal earlier in order to draw the Pakistani state into a costly guerillawar.
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In his last official event as an ambassador, barely an hour after the un-redacted transcripts of his alleged Blackberry Messenger (BBM) conversations with Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz were released, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani bore a grim expression as authors read out from short stories and poetry at the Pakistan Embassy (in the interest of full disclosure, I frequently cover issues relating to U.S.-Pakistan relations, and have interviewed Ambassador Haqqani a number of times).
Later that evening, he lost his cool with the media after they harassed him for a sound byte on Ijaz's accusations that Haqqani was the "senior diplomat" who led a plan following the death of Osama bin Laden to solicit American assistance to prevent a coup in Pakistan, and to help remove the country's senior military and intelligence personnel, by means of a "backchannel" memo to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. At the time he denied any involvement and said his fate was in President Asif Ali Zardari's hands, a position he maintains.
A day later, he boarded a flight to Islamabad.
This morning, news outlets reported on a meeting taking place at the Prime Minister's House with President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and intelligence head honcho Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha with the ambassador. Not long after the meeting, Haqqani tendered his resignation, which was then accepted by the PM. According to Pakistani news channels, the Prime Minister asked for the Ambassador's resignation. In an official statement, a spokesperson for Gilani said, "As a result of controversy generated by the alleged memo which had been drafted, formulated and further admitted to have been received by Authority in USA, it has become necessary in National interest to formally arrive at the actual and true facts." Further details on what really happened in the meeting weren't available, but for days, many had speculated that this would be the expected outcome.
Several names for replacements for Haqqani have been making the rounds since he offered to resign last week, in light of the "memogate" disclosures. These include current Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi, the current Pakistani representative to the United Nations Hussain Haroon, and former Pakistani Army chief Gen. Jehangir Karamat.
Lodhi, when asked about whether she would want to be ambassador, said at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) last week that she had picked up the American expression, "three strikes and you're out." Lodhi has twice served as Pakistan's Ambassador to Washington under Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf's governments respectively.
Bashir, who at 59 years old is due to the reach the age of retirement soon, could be asked to resign from the Foreign Office and become a political appointee to the United States. Bashir's brother is Admiral Noman Bashir, the former Chief of Naval Staff, and he is viewed as being close to the military and establishment. He was also part of the Pakistani delegation that met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York in September.
But beyond the rumours on Ambassador Haqqani's replacement, there are dozens of unanswered questions about "memogate." Who was responsible for the contents of the memo, which did not reflect Haqqani's polished and erudite English prose? (Though by all accounts the alleged BBM transcripts closely resemble Haqqani's style). Why did they decide to use Mansoor Ijaz, who has a history of making extravagant and sometimes false public claims? And lastly -- what motive did all the players have for their roles in this episode?
More importantly though, it is unclear how this affair will impact civilian and military relations within Pakistan. It is no secret that the Pakistani Army was not Haqqani's biggest fan -- and if it turns out they insisted on his resignation, one can expect that they plan to call the shots with Pakistan's next emissary to Washington.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News in Washington DC, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
While regionalism in Europe is under stress due to a monetary crisis, South Asian efforts at regional cooperation are gaining some tentative strength. The seventeenth summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), held in Addu Atoll in the Maldives, concluded last Friday with a greater sense of regional purpose and international approval. The United States sent Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, and, for the first time, China sent a team of observers to the event.
SAARC was established as a permanent organization in 1985, with a secretariat hosted in Kathmandu, Nepal created in 1987, in partial competition with other regional blocks such as The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. Its original seven members: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, also agreed to add Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2007. The addition of Afghanistan was particularly significant because SAARC could thereby act as a forum for India and Pakistan to negotiate their strategic influence over Afghanistan's development path. In Pakistan, there has been recurring suspicion about ulterior motives for the high level of development aid that India has given to Afghanistan. This is believed to be a major cause for the Pakistani security establishment's interference in Afghanistan's political trajectory. Allowing for a transparent exchange on regional development investment in Afghanistan could be an effective means of assuaging some of this mistrust. A glimmer of this prospect was realized at last week's meeting, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with both the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers for talks on regional development and security.
The persistent acrimony and nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan has often hampered substantive progress at regional cooperation. Yet SAARC is evolving into a forum that links civil society and governments in the region through common denominators such as education, the environment and human rights. At this year's summit, "People's SAARC," a parallel initiative to the official SAARC, which was established originally in 1996 as a stakeholder feedback mechanism to regional governments, emerged with a clear "memorandum" that made detailed but practical "demands" on the rights of fishermen in regional waters, migratory populations and communities impacted by climatic changes and disasters.
Several weeks ago, Pakistan indicated that it would say "thanks, but no thanks" to more than $3 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as internal political issues proved stronger than the need for Pakistan to bring in much needed money. But while this incident says much about the conflict going on within Pakistan's ruling bodies, it also shines light on the flawed American strategy of trying to use economic aid to ensure better behavior from Pakistan's military and intelligence services.
For the past three years, Pakistan has had an IMF program backed by a loan of more than $11 billion. Of this, the IMF has so far released almost $8 billion in several tranches-each dependent on Pakistan's civilian government making progress on key tax and energy sector reforms. Over a year ago, as progress on those reforms stalled, Pakistan asked for -- and received -- more time to comply with promised changes and collect a final $3.6 billion tranche. But at the end of September the Minister of Finance announced that Pakistan would not continue the IMF program at all, and he has since emphasized that Pakistan would work on its own "home-grown" reform program. Though Pakistan can go back to the IMF anytime (and indeed there were rumors recently that it would), the civilian government clearly wants to avoid locking itself into another IMF program involving promises for reforms that it will not be able to fulfill.
Why would Pakistan, which has benefited this past year from high agricultural prices, but nonetheless is battling serious revenue problems and rising inflation, turn down big IMF money -- and while pressing ahead with its own reform package, avoid seeming to seek a fresh new round of IMF money?
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Assuming for a moment that many of Afghanistan's security problems originate outside the country's borders, the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan to be held in Istanbul on November 2 could be a unique occasion to address the many obstacles inhibiting a just and durable peace in the country. But the possibility of obtaining any tangible result from Istanbul is more remote than some may expect. Under the veneer of diplomatic nicety and rhetoric lies a set of mini-Great Game maneuvers that will put to the test the current efforts to bring about Afghan reconciliation, transition, sovereignty, and a sustainable paradigm shift in regional relations.
The Turkish initiative, backed by Afghanistan and major Western donors, will bring together a core group of leaders from 14 nations that form the "Heart of Asia" consortium, along with observers from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, Japan and others, to try to improve region-wide security and cooperation prospects through confidence-building measures and economic integration initiatives, such as the "New Silk Road" project.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explained that the United States and others are working in forums such as the Istanbul meeting to help secure commitments from regional countries "to respect Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity and to support Afghan reconciliation." Another aim of the gathering is to smooth the way for December's much larger conference to be held in Bonn, Germany, where decisions will be made for the post-2014 international engagement and long-term Afghan aid strategy.
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Countries that have experienced decades of conflict and political turmoil, and have historically featured persistent executive-judicial disputes tend to have less judicial autonomy. Afghanistan epitomizes this. The country has not only lacked comprehensive, integrated laws for much of its history, but what laws existed were culturally dictated and enforced, and in most cases, still are.
As an Afghan, articles about the emergence of the rule of law in the West make me think about the intersection of culture and law in Afghanistan and its challenges. Even before its formal establishment as a nation, the United States began to create common law by using centuries-old written precedents from Great Britain, and applying American notions of reason and justice. Since there is little written tradition in Afghanistan, it does not have such a heritage, nor common law texts, as a starting point. Its starting point is a religious text, the Quran, written in Arabic, a language understood by only a small number of Afghans, the oral history of past decisions, and "felt necessities of the time," as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. characterized one aspect of the development of the common law in the United States.
The Afghan idea of a justice system is also defined by Pashtunwali, a social code of conduct and way of life that predates the Anglo-Saxon common law. Pashtunwali defines the fundamentals of the Afghan culture, identity and, above all, personal honor. What distinguishes the practice of Pashtunwali is its emphasis on using influential local and tribal leaders (Maliks, Khans and mullahs), or respected outsiders chosen arbitrarily by the conflicting parties, to act as fact-finders and decision-makers. Furthermore, decisions must be seen as arbitrary and impartial, not compelled by any of the players in the conflict. This is one of the key reasons people in rural Afghanistan have historically opted to use customary shuras (councils) and jirgas (assemblies) as the primary decision-making forums in which to resolve their disputes. Over the course of Afghan history, the ideals of Pashtunwali have driven and influenced local decisions and rulings, primarily in rural Afghanistan, though the ethos of the system may be seen in all Pashtuns. The few attempts by the central legal authorities to supplant this indigenous centuries-long system of beliefs have been, and may continue to be, largely unsuccessful.
Laws in the United States made by federal, state and local representatives are designed to supersede and override the common law, while in the absence of a statute (or the Constitution), the common law prevails. Although broad policy objectives are not well mapped by use of the common law, it is a filler of necessity and provides an indispensable resource for judicial decisions in the absence of legislative guidance. By contrast, Afghans are usually handed oral, extemporized rulings influenced heavily by village elders, local and tribal leaders, Khans and mullahs, through the long-practiced shura and jirga system. Shuras and jirgas are said to be more efficient, accessible, cost-effective, less corrupt and more trusted by the Afghans than the formal state justice institutions. But these rulings often occur without reference to - mostly because of a lack of knowledge of, indifference to or defiance of - the Afghan Constitution, statutory laws or any other written records. Instead, these leaders rely on their understanding of the Quran, oral histories of past decisions known to them and to their people, Pashtunwali, and their "felt necessity."
Thus, there is no cohesive thread connecting these oral decisions across villages and tribes to any common national public policy objectives. Afghans who have experienced both the formal and non-formal justice systems find the latter more in line and in compliance with local norms, customs and traditions, including the promotion and encouragement of consensus and avoiding a culture of impunity. Ignorance of and disregard for the country's written law , as well as prevalent corruption, mean that people have little confidence in the laws and low expectations of justice brought through the formal court system. A report released last year by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes that in 2009 alone, Afghans paid an estimated $2.5 billion in bribes, equivalent to 23 percent of Afghanistan's GDP, and that judicial officials topped the list of those who received the bribes. By contrast, judges in the United States use a more consistent process and look to the written precedents in common and statutory law, as well as publications of scholars and retired judges when they do not have written precedents in their own jurisdiction to guide them. This reduces the incidence of corruption, since wide departures from these precedents would bring critical attention to anomalous decisions.
So what happens in Afghanistan? The disparate sense of "felt necessity," guided by various interpretations of a religious text many cannot read and many misunderstand - together with flawed oral histories of past judgments - drive local decisions, creating a confusing and conflicting hodgepodge of rulings devoid of broad public policy considerations. A key point to note here is that a lack of nationally accepted laws permits subversive elements such as the Taliban and leaders who may be unaware of the formal justice system or distrust government institutions, to intuit and then adopt the most draconian of these incongruent decisions. These actors then form "public policy" based on their interpretations, and enforce it in the areas that they control with attribution to the Quran and use of brutal penalties for non-compliance.
The solution, it seems, would be for Afghan scholars and those with legal education and background in Afghanistan to go to village and tribal leaders across the country and record the background and results of recent their rulings and judgments. These scholars could then tease out common public policy threads from dispute resolutions that were build on factors ranging from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad to local conditions and "felt necessities." Having distilled the core essence of such decisions, a "Restatement of the Law of Afghanistan" could be written, similar to the one that exists in the United States, which would set out the main principles of a developing Afghan common law. It would have no legal power, but it would provide a starting point of the type the founding fathers of the United States received from Great Britain. Through this mechanism, the future decisions of village and tribal leaders in Afghanistan would be guided but not bound by the past. They would at last be put into writing, further developing coherent and better reasoned guides for Afghanistan's judicial system and a foundation against which ill-conceived and corrupt decisions can be measured and criticized.
It would be these written decisions of village and tribal leaders that would begin the long process of codifying the actual common law of Afghanistan, providing a place to look back for precedent and forward for the common threads of a rule of law.
There are no effective alternative power centers in Afghanistan that could create incentives for the people to take their disputes and disagreements to courts. Indeed, there are only a few courts now in existence and most are distrusted and discredited. However, codifying the actual common law of Afghanistan and applying it in the formal court system could create an incentive for the Afghan people to more formally and habitually refer their disputes and problems to the justice system.
Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington DC.
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Last year, Qasim, a construction worker from eastern Afghanistan, was detained in a joint US-Afghan raid on his home in Kabul. He eventually ended up in the hands of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency. For over a week, Qasim was hung by his arms, taken down only to go the bathroom and pray. Several times a night he was beaten with pipes and electrical cables, his head bashed into walls, and threatened with much worse. After a week and a half, he could no longer walk, not even to bring himself to the bathroom. My organization, Open Society Foundations, and its Afghan partners have interviewed many other Afghans who, like Qasim, have suffered acts of torture at the hands of the NDS, ranging from beatings, and burns, to electric shock, and sexual abuse.
In a ground-breaking report released yesterday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the true scope and severity of such abuse is made clear. The UN found evidence of torture and mistreatment in 16 Afghan detention facilities, including electric shocks, hanging detainees from ceilings, beatings, and threat of sexual assault. As a result of the report, the Afghan government dismissed several NDS officials implicated in the report, though it unclear whether there will be any criminal prosecutions. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has temporarily halted the transfer of ISAF detainees to the 16 facilities.
ISAF's halting of transfers to facilities identified in the UN report is an important first step. The Afghan government's initial response was certainly less positive, but will hopefully improve following now that the report has been publicly released. Looking forward, however, there is real concern that the ISAF and Afghan government responses will prove rather superficial, and ultimately fail to fully grapple with the depths of the problem.
One area that the Afghan government and ISAF should prioritize is accountability. Though perhaps politically difficult, accountability for abuses is key, and must be pursued vigorously and publicly. The UN report is an opportunity for the right signals to be sent, both within the Afghan justice system as well as to the Afghan public.
Without sustained efforts on this front, it's likely that even if those Afghan officials who are responsible for abuse are removed, they will only re-emerge elsewhere in the justice system or government. Shuffling the problem around only sows the seeds for future abuse, and reinforces perceptions of impunity that are at the heart of the Afghan government's struggle for legitimacy.
An independent, external body should be empowered to monitor facilities, receive complaints, and investigate allegations of abuse, with findings and remedial actions made public. Full, unfettered access should also be granted to outside monitors, including Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, ICRC, and UNAMA. Those responsible for abuse should not only be removed from their positions, but also subject to criminal prosecution and civil liability.
The international community can play an important role in ensuring those responsible are truly held to account. Governments should not only apply conventional diplomatic pressure, but should think creatively and ambitiously about how to strengthen accountability. Funding, training, as well as military and intelligence relationships with the Afghan government and security forces should all be utilized to ensure those responsible for abuse are held accountable. The US is prohibited by the Leahy Law from supporting foreign security forces which engage in gross violations of human rights.
The pervasive lack of due process also leaves detainees vulnerable to abuse. Detainees and defense lawyers we have interviewed consistently decry Afghan authorities' denial of legal counsel, in addition to preventing family notification or contact. In some cases we documented, defense lawyers have themselves been arrested or harassed simply for contacting their clients. The Afghan Government should implement measures to ensure detainees' access to legal counsel, and adopt strict rules regarding family notification (just as the Afghan government advocates for in ISAF detentions), while international donors should provide funding to Afghan legal aid organizations to represent conflict-related detainees. Ensuring detainees have their most basic due process rights respected while in detention provides an additional, necessary check on Afghan authorities' power and strengthens transparency and accountability.
For their part, international forces must acknowledge that there are no
quick fixes for detainee abuse in Afghanistan. Detainee monitoring, for
example, is too
often posited as the solution to abuse, although it only focuses on
detainees transferred by international forces, not the wider prison population.
While monitoring is a potentially important part of protecting detainee rights,
international forces must be honest about its practical limitations, and
confront the fact that, in the current context, monitoring alone cannot satisfy
their legal obligations to prevent torture.
Indeed, the fact that the UN has documented abuses despite the existence of various ISAF countries' monitoring mechanisms and oversight by organizations like the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) speaks to the insufficiency of such measures. Given the sheer number of facilities and detainees, logistical and security challenges, and detainees' fears of reprisals for disclosing abuse, even the most well-designed monitoring mechanisms may in practice be incapable of ensuring detainees are free from torture.
International forces must also grapple with the problem of torture beyond the narrow issue of transfers, not least because they have been working so closely with the Afghan intelligence authorities, including using intelligence that may very well have been extracted through the use of torture. Appropriate assessment of the risk of torture will also always have to take into account treatment of all detainees at a particular Afghan facility-not just those transferred from international custody. Conceiving of the problem as one of detainee transfer also biases policy solutions towards bureaucratic box checking in order to resume detainee transfers-not actually halting abuse.
To be sure, there are real dilemmas and constraints facing the Afghan government and ISAF. There is a lack of professional capacity at every level of the Afghan justice system, from guards to judges to prosecutors. The sheer number of persons detained in connection with the conflict means the system is under severe strain, burdened further by the military as opposed to law enforcement nature of operations. But the Afghan government and all ISAF nations have strict legal obligations to refrain from and prevent torture, and as the UN report lays bare, they have fallen well short.
The looming troop drawdown and transition only give greater urgency to this issue. With more and more responsibility for security being shifted to Afghans, the strategic risk and political liability posed by abusive detention practices will only grow. Right now the US and other ISAF nations have the most leverage to shape the Afghan justice system and leave behind institutions, laws, and mechanisms that uphold the rule of law and protect Afghans from torture. As the war in Afghanistan marks its tenth anniversary, time is not on the side of either ISAF or the Afghan government. The UN report marks a perhaps singular opportunity to marshal momentum behind detention reforms that will be long-lasting and effective at protecting the most basic of human rights.Chris Rogers is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Despite their origins as part of an obscure border tribe from the hills of Afghanistan's Khost and Paktia provinces, the Haqqani clan now find themselves center-stage in the Afghan conflict. On 1 October, only days after former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, in congressional testimony, pointed to the Haqqanis and their supporters (possibly including Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)) as key threats to stability in Afghanistan, NATO announced the arrest of Mali Khan, a "senior leader" of the Haqqani Network. Sometimes these revelations of insurgents killed or captured exaggerate the importance of the "trophy." Not so this time. Mali Khan really has been one of the lynchpins of the Haqqani Network, and his capture will pose a whole series of challenges for those who lead and cooperate with them.
Mali Khan was a trusted confidant of the patriarch of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin, and his son Siraj. Khan was an effective commander directly involved in supervising operations and the myriad logistics and organizational activities required to keep a clandestine insurgency underway. His effectiveness as a leader was in part due to the fact that he spent much of his time on the ground in southeastern Afghanistan. Although he had made his main residence in Waziristan's main town of Miranshah, Mali Khan did not spend much of his time at home. This point is important because the NATO kill-and-capture campaign has made it difficult for known senior commanders to travel inside Afghanistan. Until now, Mali Khan had managed to stay a step ahead of the targeters. However, they got close - in June ISAF announced that they had killed the deputy to Mali Khan in an airstrike.
The Haqqani Network is in its essence a clan within the Zadran tribe, in addition to the clan's manifold alliances built up in different stages of the Afghan conflict. Mali Khan achieved his senior status in part because he was a member of the clan, rather than just an ally. His family is doubly related to Jalaluddin and Siraj; Mali Khan's sister is Siraj's mother, and Mali Khan's uncle is married to Jalaluddin's sister. As a family insider, Mali Khan has helped play a role in the network's dynastic succession -- the passage of the leadership from Jalaluddin to Siraj. Recent analyses have stressed Jalaluddin's "Islamist internationalist credentials." But the patriarch was foremost a leading commander of the anti-Soviet mujahideen and one of the pillars of the "commanders shura" in the final stages of the jihad, which famously tried to unite the field commanders across party and ethnic divides. His 1980's role has given Jalaluddin genuine prestige -- he is a peer of the old men Hamid Karzai invites to his informal "leaders shura" in Kabul. Siraj, however, has never had either the public exposure or the battlefield experience of his father. Having a senior loyalist family commander like Mali Khan in the field helps offers continuity in the network, as he can encourage cooperators to transfer the respect they have for Jalaluddin to his lesser-known son.
It was this privileged insider status which allowed Mali Khan to be involved intimately in a wide range of Network activities. More light needs to be shed on the span of the command chain employed in the Haqqanis' trademark spectacular attacks -- the group clearly draws on the expertise of their range of allies in Waziristan, including al-Qaeda. However Mali Khan has played his own role in these attacks. Afghans who know the network well suggest he probably supplied some of the "fidayeen" recruits and supervised some of them in the attacks, such as the storming of the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel. And in addition to his military functions, Mali Khan had also served as one of the Haqqani business managers. Even during the jihad of the 1980's, fronts built up portfolios of assets, as military effectiveness depended upon having an economic base. And while the Haqqani Network is notorious for profiting from kidnapping, they have also been quick to take advantage of some of the business opportunities in post-2001 Afghanistan. Afghan researchers in the southeastern provinces believe that Mali Khan was responsible for managing many of those assets.
Given just how central Mali Khan was to Haqqani operations, the fact that he was taken alive makes his loss all the more troubling for the group. He is an example of how "capture" can be more effective then "kill." The Haqqanis have to work on the assumption that the Afghan Government and NATO are acquiring a rather better understanding of network operations than just about anyone else might have been able to supply them. Commander networks which have been targeted in a "kill and capture" operation always move to appoint a successor to the man they have lost, and the Haqqanis will do the same for Mali Khan. However, they have barely a handful of family insiders capable of taking over the kind of commander-cum-leader-cum-manager role which Mali Khan played. And although it is far too early to write off the Haqqanis, the experience should push analysts to think ahead to the question of who the non-Afghan Waziristan militants will work through if there ever really is a weakening of the Haqqani role. After all, the Haqqanis are by no means the only strategic threat originating in Waziristan.
Michael Semple is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.
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Much has been written and said about "the longest war," initiated 10 years ago (under a United Nations mandate) in retaliation for the tragedies of 9/11, as part of an effective U.S. and allied air offensive, backed by Special Forces and anti-Taliban Afghans on the ground to strike against al Qaida and oust their Taliban hosts from power. But for Afghans, that initiative did not end the ongoing conflict that is now in its fourth decade, affecting three generations of a frustrated, yet resilient nation.
Today, Afghanistan stands at a critical juncture: one path leads down to the abyss of more warfare and unforeseeable predicament; the other offers a sliver of hope along a slower and windier road to what Afghans hope will be durable stability, peace and prosperity. But to get to this point, Afghanistan must deal with four key issues: Pakistan and broader regional rivalries, persistent governance shortcomings, future economic prospects, and sources of tension and worry in the international community.
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In the rush to judgment following the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Tajik head of the Afghan High PeaceCouncil and a former president of Afghanistan, opponents of pursuing apolitical settlement with the Taliban presented the spectacularattack as proof of the Taliban's perfidy and the misguided naïveté ofproponents of reconciliation. This sentiment was aided by theconfusion surrounding responsibility for the attack, following an initialclaim of responsibility by the Taliban that was retractedthe very next day. Rabbani's killing hasexposed the frailties and vulnerabilities of the incipient Afghan politicalprocess, but the logic of pursuing a political settlement, even if only withfactions within the insurgency, remains. And if this admittedly fraught processfails, the United States, the Afghan government, and their allies will have atthe very least clarified whether a political settlement is practical, and providedclearer guidance as to the futureboundaries of strategic planning in Afghanistan as American and allied forcesaccelerate the transition and withdrawal process.
It has often been repeated, tothe point of cliché, that there is nopurely military solution to the ongoing war. As the conflict settles into aform of military stalemate, this truism is being borne out by the realities ofthe war we are fighting. With the recent series of spectacular attacks in Kabul, Wardak and Kandahar, the insurgency has again demonstrated its resiliencyin spite of the surge of troops and increased tempo of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations, which have taken a serious toll ontheir war-fighting capacity. While a political settlement might not be apossible outcome, all other options represent decidedly sub-optimaleventualities, with unfettered civil war representing a worst-case scenario.Most other alternative strategies also have the distinct disadvantage ofrelying upon two critical factors that will not be satisfied: first, afundamental transformation of the Afghan political order and, second, adefinitive break of the Pakistani security establishment's longstanding ties toAfghan militants.
Beyond the polemics of public rhetoric, some amongthe Taliban view themselves principally as a political movement and they mustbe accepted as a legitimate Afghan actor if a political settlement is to bereached. Recent developments indicate that there are, however, obvious divisionswithin the insurgency regarding the advisability of engaging in political dialogue as a means to achieve the Taliban's political goals.
For a political process to continuethere is now a great deal of pressure on the Taliban and their centralleadership to heighten their level of engagement with the process to reassurethose on all sides who favor a political resolution. The apparent Taliban retraction of the claim of responsibility was a necessary first step todistance the Quetta Shura from an action that would, if definitively linked tothem, undermine any purported claims about Taliban interest in a negotiatedsettlement. If the attack represents a fracturing of the centralized leadership,then the fundamental shape of political outreach would have to adaptaccordingly, with an emphasis on cooptation of portions of the insurgency.
As the weaker party, the Taliban haveoften placed the onus on the United States and its allies in terms of initiatingconfidence-building steps. In light of the current, tenuous circumstances,however, the initiation by the Taliban of appropriate and far-reaching confidence-building measures is also likely a pre-requisite to the continuationof a peace process.
Recent developments, including high-level contacts between U.S. officials and Tayyab Agha, a confidante of Mullah Omar, indicate a serious interest on the part of the Taliban leadership toexplore the parameters of a political settlement. Exemplary among recent developments was the August 2011 statement issued in the name of Mullah Omar commemoratingthe end of Ramadan. While the statement portrayed past contacts with the Afghan government or United States as tactical in nature, it explicitly recognized those contacts and endorsed the possibility for adopting political means to achievethe Taliban's goals. The statement was partly the product of ongoing backchannel talks with the Taliban with various intermediaries who have urgedsuch public signaling. As such, it represented an important indicator regarding the understanding among some Taliban as to the necessity of enunciating theirintent to their enemies and preparing their supporters.
This context, however, raisesimportant questions about the ability of the Quetta Shura to speak for theinsurgency and bind the rank-and-file to any political agreement and cessationof hostilities. This is particularly the case if, in fact, the Rabbani assassination was an unsanctioned military action carried about insurgentsseeking to derail any political process. Michael Semple has describedthe nature of this growing divide within the insurgency, which is largely anoutgrowth of the divergent trajectory of Waziristan-based militants. Even themost optimistic rendering of a political resolution to the conflict should notbe seen as ending all violence and instability in the country. However, theQuetta Shura and Mullah Omar still represent the central node of authoritywithin the insurgency, and Mullah Omar himself still retains substantial moralauthority among Afghan fighters and militants. Of course, it also possible thatthe Shura itself is divided and that the assassination was an unsanctionedreaction by hard-liners among the leadership to recent openings.
Questions about fragmentation and radicalization within the Taliban's ranks, however, cannot be answered intheoretical terms, and require actual testing that can only come through anactive political process. Such a process might result in further fracturing. But, such fracturing would also provide clarity as to the limitations ofpolitical engagement and channel political efforts toward a factional approach tothe insurgency.
Any viable peace process willalso require unanimity of purpose among the Afghan government and its loyalopposition. Despite its manifest limitations, the High Peace Council played animportant role in the delicate task of constructing broad-based politicalsupport for talks. In the wake of Rabbani's assassination, many of those Afghanleaders hostile to the very possibility of a political settlement with theTaliban escalated their rhetoric, with the possibility of civil war lurking not far behind.
The leaders of the formerNorthern Alliance secured their positions of power and influence when theAmericans joined them to oust the Taliban, and their dominance was ratifiedthrough the Bonn process by which the Afghan constitution was written and thecountry's current government structure put in place. However, their position is at present precarious, reflecting the brittleness of the Afghan government and the expansion of the insurgency. The military campaign by the Taliban threatenstheir personal security and, while unlikely, the specter of the Talibanoverthrowing the current regime represents the ultimate threat to their security,authority, and networks of patronage.
The death of Rabbani was also coupled with the political death of M. Masoom Stanekzai, who was seriouslyinjured in the attack. Stanekzai, the director of the Council's secretariat, wasone of the few Afghan advisors trusted by both President Hamid Karzai and theinternational community, and had played a key role in recent attempts toestablish consistent channels of communication with the Taliban, including thecontact that nearly cost him his life. In the wake of the attack, Stanekzai'scredibility is likely damaged beyond repair and the weak leadership guiding thepolitical process has now been further eroded. This growing leadership vacuum highlightsthe continued need for an internationally-designated facilitator to coordinatethe political process. The upcoming December 2011 Bonn conference wouldrepresent the logical forum to announce such an appointment, which could serveto refocus currently faltering efforts.
A peaceful resolutionaccommodating the Taliban within the Afghan state remains the most durable pathfor security and stability for Afghanistan, the region, and the internationalcommunity. A political settlement is a route for limiting the ambitions of theTaliban and securing a sustainable and enduring framework for Afghangovernance. With ongoing discussions regarding a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement that would entail a post-2014 U.S. military presence inthe country, such a settlement increasingly appears to also be the only avenueby which the Taliban could rid themselves and Afghanistan of foreign forces ontheir soil. As recent events have demonstrated, however, the prospects forreaching such an end-of-conflict political settlement are uncertain. If apolitical settlement is to be attained, it will now require heightened efforton the part of all interested parties, including the Taliban.
Michael Wahid Hanna is a fellowand program officer at the Century Foundation.
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As the deadline approaches for the transition to Afghan control ofsecurity in 2014, the Afghan government and its international backers haveembraced a high-risk strategy of funding and arming militias in the country'snorth (a process that was started by the Afghan intelligence agency, theNational Directorate of Security (NDS), in 2009), as well as a village-levelforce called the "Afghan Local Police" (ALP). But they have done so without providingthe necessary oversight mechanisms, thereby creating instability in the very communitiesthese forces are supposed to protect. Human Rights Watch has found that both government-backed militias in northern Kunduzprovince and some units of the ALP in Baghlan, Herat, and Uruzganprovinces have been implicated in rape, arbitrarydetention, abduction, forcible land grabs, and illegal raids. Those responsiblehave largely avoided accountability, encouraging future abuses.
The Khanabad district governor in Kunduz province told us that there areover 1,500 militia members in his district alone. And militias in Kunduz havebeen implicated in beatings, rape, and killings. In most cases no militia membersare held accountable for their actions because of their affiliation with alocal strongman or government official. For instance, in Khanabad in August 2009, a militia member killedfour men in a family dispute. An NDS official confirmed that the police couldnot arrest anyone involved in the killing because of the militia commander'sconnection to the provincial chief of police and a local strongman who isclosely involved with abusive armed groups. A prosecutor who is also the fatherof one of the men killed told Human Rights Watch, "No one has helped me, and Iwork for the government, so what about the other people? Who will listen tothem?"
Into this mix, the Afghan Local Police -- a U.S.-backed initiative -- wascreated in 2010 as a critical element of the current U.S. strategy inAfghanistan. The formerhead of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Gen. David Petraeus, called the ALP "arguably the most critical element in our effort tohelp Afghanistan develop the capability to secure itself." The use of communitydefense forces is not surprising given the weakness ofAfghanistan's national army and police and the lack of government securityforces in some conflict areas. An advisor to U.S. special operations forces explainedto us: "Local defense forces can be a bottom-up strategy in rural areas, and ifkept small, defensive, and under the control of legitimate elders."
As of August 2011, more than 7,000 men had been inducted into the ALP. TheUnited States is funding the program and is primarily involved in training newmembers. (The United Kingdom is training the ALP in Helmand province.) Despitethe word "police" in its name, the ALP, who receive 21 days of training, haveno law enforcement authority. Instead, they operate in a defensive capacity,inspecting checkpoints and reporting on insurgent activities.
Afghan and international proponents of the ALP point to safeguards suchas nomination and vetting of ALP members by village shuras (councils) and NDS, reporting to the national police, thefact that the program is under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, andtraining and mentoring by U.S. special operations forces. But in the areaswhere the ALP operate, they often outnumber the national police, whose weakcommand and control structures make for poor supervision of the ALP. Moreover,our research found that ALP forces often have separate, informal channels topowerful government officials and local strongmen who can protect them fromofficial accountability.
Interior Ministry officials conceded to Human Rights Watch that similarsafeguards of shura vetting and supervision by the national police had beenapplied to previous community defense forces, many of which ended in failure. An ISAF official acknowledged the weakness in vettingand told us: "I have no confidence in a local vetting process. Who will dare tosay no? That's just not the way things work.Anyone who has experience of working on such projects and is honest about itwill say the same. I was around for ANAP [Afghan National Auxiliary Police]. We've seen again and again that this kind ofvetting does not work."
Afghan officials admitted that the ANAP, created in 2006, was barelytrained, underwent minimal vetting, had poorly defined rules of engagement, andended up being infiltrated by insurgents. Another previouscommunity defense force, the Afghan Public Protection Force (AP3), created in2009 in Wardak province, was hijacked by a local strongman, Ghulam Mohammed. Shuraelders told Human Rights Watch that vetting for AP3 was minimal because ofMohammed's influence, and shura members were simply told to approve a list ofmen who were affiliated with Mohammed rather than nominate people from thecommunity for AP3. Residents of Wardak told Human Rights Watch about beatingsand intimidation they suffered by men working as AP3.
U.S. militaryofficials told us that the ALP has begun todeliver improvements in security in a number of areas including Gizab andArghandab, where they had previously established the "LocalDefense Initiative," (LDI) a precursor to the ALP. (The LDIwas launched in 2009 by the U.S. military and involved U.S. special operations forcesembedding in villages and training village forces vouched by shuras to providesecurity).
Human Rights Watch did not investigatethe ALP in Gizab and Arghandab, but in areas we did investigate there is reasonfor concern regarding oversight of this new force. Although the ALP is just a year old, wefound some of its members implicated in forcible land grabs, rape, abduction, andillegal raids. In Uruzgan province in December 2010, anALP commander forcibly tried to recruit men to the ALP and detained six elders forseveral days, two of them for one month, after they refused to agree to providemen to the ALP. In Baghlanprovince, four armed ALP men are suspected of abducting a 13-year-old boy andgang-raping him in April of this year. Although the assailants' identities arewell-known, no arrests have taken place. The police refused to investigateallegations implicating the ALP members due to their connections with powerfulgovernment officials and with U.S. special operations forces.
Some communities we spoke with acknowledged improvements in security dueto the ALP, but other residents raised concerns that the ALP members had notbeen properly vetted, citing criminal and insurgent elements they said werebeing absorbed into the police force. Many complained that the ALP, like otherirregular armed groups, are not held accountable when implicated in abuses andcould turn into just another militia. Such perceptions undermine support forthe central government -- perceptions that a group of elders from Shindand district in Herat provincetold me "will drive us to the Taliban."
The human rights consequences of supporting irregular armed groups mustbe taken into consideration in executing any military strategy in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgencytheory recognizes the protection of civilians as an integral pillar of itsstrategy. Yet both the Afghan government and its international backers areworking with militias, hastily training and arming men in remote areas, andcalling them "local police," without ensuring that the government has adequateresources to oversee and hold them accountable. The Afghan government isalready struggling to oversee and hold accountable its national police and armedforces. Adding ALP forces to the roster without the resources to supervise themand hold them accountable when they commit abuses is a recipe for disaster.
The Afghan government should investigate allegations of abuse by militiasand the ALP, cease support of militias, and start taking responsibility forprotecting the human rights of its citizens. At the same time, both the U.S.and Afghan governments should avoid the rush to set up ALP units around thecountry without proper vetting, training, and command-and-control structures.The Afghan government should be assisted in setting up adequate accountabilitymechanisms, which include dedicated staff to investigate abuses, and increating an external complaints body to act on reports of abuses by the ALP andother police forces.
Pressures resulting from the drawdown of international troops should not resultin solutions that ease transition at the expense of Afghan civilians. Long-term stability in Afghanistan canonly come if the Afghan government and its international backers implementsustainable policies that will protect local communities from both insurgentsand predatory government-backed forces, no matter which side commits theabuses.
Sahr Muhammedally, a human rightslawyer based in London, co-authored the Human Rights Watch report "'JustDon't Call It a Militia'": Impunity, Militias, and the 'Afghan Local Police.'"
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Military commanders deciding how toreposition and withdraw U.S. forces in Afghanistan are now confronting decisionswhere mistakes could doom the war effort. NATO has achieved considerablesuccess after brutal combat in the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand andKandahar. Violent incident rates are running in excess of 20 percent lower than during a comparable time period in 2010. Local Afghan government, for all its weakness,is expanding into districts that were long controlled by the Taliban. Even recruitment of southern Pashtuns into local police and security forces is going up in some districts that last year saw the local population watching passively while Americans fought Taliban insurgents. While such recruitment for the army is still well below what is desired, there are scattered reports, both in print and from local sources, of larger numbers of Pashtuns joining local police forces.
However, violence in eastern Afghanistan is not dropping. The threat from the Haqqani Network forces supported from bases in Pakistan has increased, as have Haqqani Network-originated spectacular attacks aimed at Kabul. The combination of apparent success in the south combined with the threat of eastern violence produce a strong argument for rapidly shifting forces east to mount a major campaign there before hard deadlines for U.S.troop withdrawals next year diminish the offensive power international forces can wield. Yet this military logic conceals critical political risks that deserve close attention.
The southern surge was intended to create conditions that would allow Afghan forces to take over population security and the expansion of governance and development. Claims by some serving and retiredAmerican generals that security gains in southern Afghanistan are irreversible seriously overstate the situation. None of my many Afghan contacts fully accept this view. Only half the mission is accomplished. Afghan Army performance has improved, and army units are supported by some police and a few small units of local village defense of varying political and military reliability. But nowhere have Afghan forces yet stood largely on their own. Their ability to do so remains an unproven theory, not an established fact.
The decisive battles for the south have also yet to begin. They will occur as U.S. forces thin out and insurgents try to regain control of the population. The Taliban's inability to confront Afghan security forces backed up by residual U.S. and NATO forces will not be the measure of success. Rather, success will only come when Afghan forces have the ability to maintain security for assistance workers, Afghan civil servants, and tribal leaders who have returned to their districts and cooperated with us and their government. All of them will be targeted by the Taliban, using threats and assassinations to intimidate others who might be on the fence. The struggle for control of the population will be the decisive battle.
The battlefield will also be psychological as much as physical. After 30 years of war, Afghans have a high pain threshold. If they believe they are on a winning side, they can and will put up with sacrifice, and replace assassinated officials. But if they become convinced that overall security is declining then we will again see local officials deserting their posts or living ineffectually in protected compounds.Tribal leaders will again flee to the cities. Confidence that has been slowly built in the south will be quickly destroyed. Worst of all, the word will spread rapidly that those who put their faith in improved Western- and Afghan-created security are taking suicidal risks, especially with the impending NATO force reductions. If this message goes forth it will undercut any possible military gains from repositioning forces.
These dangers do not mean that no forces can be withdrawn or repositioned. Indeed, transfer of control must occur if thewhole strategy of Afghan forces taking over responsibility for security by 2014 is to achieve credibility. Further, it is important to expand secure areas in the east and diminish the threats to Kabul. The need for troops in both the east and the south is real. The time to make decisions has been reduced by President Obama's accelerated withdrawal schedule for 2012. Risk, as my military colleagues always remind me, must be taken somewhere. The point is that the risks must be considered in political and psychological terms far more than on a strictly military basis if we are not to waste the major gains of the last two years. Such considerations demand great prudence in two areas that must be worked out by our civilian and military leaders on the ground.
One is that turn over must be undertaken slowly enough that Afghan security forces can be tested when we still have the ability to correct after setbacks. War is a hard school taught by a capable and reactive enemy. There will be bad days. We must ensure that we retain the margin to work with our Afghan allies to rebound from problems, not let them be shattered by them.
Second, risk must be decided jointly with Afghan civilian and military authorities. They bear the ultimate cost of failure, and their confidence in the possibility of success is crucial to strategic credibility and their willingness to take the losses required to succeed. More progress has been made in the last two years than many Americans recognize. It must be solidified before it is excessively risked.
RonaldE. Neumann was U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 until 2007 and hasvisited regularly since. He is author ofThe Other War; Winning and Losing inAfghanistan.
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On a day of suicide attacks in Quetta and bomb threats againstPakistani airliners, Ali Akbar Salehi's September 7 arrival in Islamabad attracted predictably little media attention in Pakistan.
For Pakistan's government, however, his visit was freighted with importance. Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, was in town for a meeting of thePakistan-Iran Joint Economic Commission (JEC). The two-day talks produced agreements on technical, financial, and media cooperation, with additional steps taken to strengthen cooperation on energy, money laundering, and trade.
This economic summit came on the heels of intensive efforts by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to reach out to Tehran. He visited Iran in late June for a two-day conference on terrorism, and then returned just a few weeks later. Both times, he was received by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And on both occasions, the rhetoric flowed freely. At the first meeting, Zardari praised Iran as "an important friend and player in the region," noting that bilateral ties "are rooted in historical, cultural, and religious bonds." During the second visit, Khamenei lauded Pakistan for being "a great nation with [a] long and deep background of struggle."
Shortly after the JEC meeting, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani traveled to Tehran. Talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad culminated in outcomes both symbolic (designating Multan and Rashtas sister cities) and substantive (pledging to boost bilateral trade from $1.2to $10 billion -- which would approach the $15 billion trade volume Pakistan seeks with China). On September 12, Gilani declared that his and Zardari's successive visits to Iran underscore the "highest importance"Islamabad places on relations with Tehran.
At first glance, Pakistan's courtship of Iran is puzzling. The two nations have rarely seen eye to eye in Afghanistan; Tehran has sided with the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban elements of the population (particularly Shia Hazaras), while Islamabad was once one of the fewnations to accord the Taliban full diplomatic recognition. Iran has also enjoyed a legacy of strong relations with India. Baluchistan province in Pakistan has long served as a sanctuary for Jundullah, an Iranian Baluch militant organization that Washington designates as a terrorist group and regularly attacks Iran's government and military. Perhaps most importantly, Shia Iran is regional rivals with Sunni Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan's most crucial allies.
However, the strategic sands in South Asia have begun to shift, creating new opportunities for Pakistan and Iran. The latter's view of the Afghan Taliban has softened, with some observers arguing that Tehran now perceives it less as a virulent Wahhabi Sunni threat, and more as a welcome anti-imperialist group that shares Iran's strong desire to expunge America's military footprint in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, India's relations with Iran have taken a tumble. Several times in recent years, India has backed American positions on U.N. Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency votes on Iran's nuclear program and human rights violations. Additionally, tighter international sanctions against Tehran have undercut India-Iran energy relations, a pillar of the bilateral relationship. India used to pay Tehran for crude imports through an opaque "clearing house" system, yet last December the sanctions prompted India to renounce this method and to request a more transparent arrangement. Tehran refused, and in July briefly suspended crude supplies to New Delhi. India immediately turned to Riyadh, concluding a deal this past summer that provided Indians with 3 million barrels of Saudi crude in August -- and sparked talk of a potential "strategic energy partnership" that could yield a 30-year oil supply contract.
Against this backdrop, Islamabad's diplomatic forays into Tehran can be seen as both politically and strategically driven. On the one hand, at a time of strained relations with Washington, Pakistan's government undoubtedly relishes the opportunity to thumb its nose at America by embracing what the latter regards as a pariah state. Pakistan may also wish to capitalize on Iran's pro-Pakistan gestures over the last year. These include the withering criticism Khamenei has directed at India's policies in Jammu and Kashmir, and the flood relief aid furnished byIran since last summer (Iran recently vowed to provide support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) until they are "completely rehabilitated").
Strategically speaking, deeper ties with Iran can enhance electricity-starved Pakistan's energy security. Islamabad is well aware that construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline has not begun, and has underscored its desire to expedite the construction of a pipeline with Iran -- which could be operational by 2015. The project is slated to provide 750 million cubic feet of natural gas toPakistan daily, and its power generation capacity is expected to approach 5,000 megawatts -- roughly equivalent to Pakistan's energy shortfall.
Furthermore, Pakistan badly needs allies in its efforts to forge a regional stability arrangement amenable to Pakistani interests, and it sees Iran as a key collaborator in formulating a political solution to the Afghanistan imbroglio.
It would be a mistake, however, to read these developments as the portent of a new strategic partnership. Pakistan's vital relationship with Saudi Arabia--undergirded by five decades of intelligence-sharing, military cooperation, and deep mutual trust -- precludes any such possibility. So does the House of Saud's largesse. According to the Center for Global Development, Riyadh's average annual grant assistance to Pakistan between 2004 and 2009 totaled nearly $140 million -- more than any other country aside from the United States. And the U.N. reported last November that the Saudis had provided $100 million in aid to deal withlast year's crippling floods -- again, more than any nation save America at the time.
The Pakistan-Saudi partnership has stayed strong even amid the geopolitically volatile Arab Spring. Recall how Pakistani organizations likely tied to the state dispatched security forces to Bahrain to help the Saudi-allied Sunni regime suppress anti-government protestors -- members of the country's Shia majority whose demonstrations have drawn strong support from Tehran. According to Al JazeeraEnglish, "at least 2500" former Pakistani servicemen deployed to Manama this spring, enlarging Bahrain's riot police and national guard by about 50 percent.Pakistan's decision reportedly prompted an infuriated Tehran to summon a high-level Iran-based Pakistani diplomat for an explanation.
Predictably, Zardari boarded a plane to Saudi Arabia soon after his return from Iran in July. His visit was billed as an effort to reduce tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, though it was likely also meant to assuage Riyadh's concerns about Pakistan's Iranian embrace. And if there was any lingering doubt about Pakistan's determination to smooth ruffled Saudi feathers, Gilani followed up with his own trip -- with the explicit objective of getting ties back on track. Predictably, he emerged from his meetings gushing rhetoric about the renewal of the partnership. Then, late last month, Riyadh committed 10 billion rupees (justover $114 million) to help repatriate IDPs in Pakistan's tribal areas, a gesture that Pakistani media identified as another sign of a revitalized relationship. And just a few days later, Riyadh officially endorsed the Taliban reconciliation process that Islamabad fervently supports. Tehran has not followed suit.
Tellingly, while Islamabad has soothed Riyadh,it has acted cautiously toward Tehran in recent days -- in deference to Saudi Arabia, but perhaps also to America. At the JEC meeting, Pakistan, "fearing the consequences" of international sanctions, demurred when Iran offered to help construct the Pakistan portion of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline. And Pakistani media reports now speculate that Washington may succeed in persuading Pakistan to abandon the pipeline altogether.
Foreign Minister Salehi and his delegation may have arrived in Pakistan last week laden with gifts and offerings, with Gilani impressively calling on Tehran barely 72 hours later. Yet at the end of the day, the Iranians will continue to play second fiddle to Saudi Arabia in Pakistan's strategic calculus.
MichaelKugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Centerfor Scholars. email@example.com
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There is no better way to understand Pakistan's connection to the war in Afghanistan than to travel to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and stand on a spot along the 1,600-mile border, which cuts through the heart of the region's Pashtun tribal belt. Because it isn't a border at all. Pakistan may have gained independence from India in 1947, but in the FATA, being Pashtun took precedence over citizenship. The FATA is often referred to as Pakistan's Wild West, since, despite its name, most control is in the hands of tribal elders, not the federal government. The female literacy rate is about three percent. The fiercely conservative tribesmen live by a strict code of honor -- Pashtunwali -- that above all else dictates that guests must be provided with warm hospitality and protection. That, combined with the fact that the FATA was the jihadi epicentre in the 1980s, made it the perfect place for the Taliban and al-Qaeda to find refuge.
But getting to the border in 2006 was going to require some serious help. This meant tagging along with experienced journalists, or enlisting the aid of the army. In the end, photographer Pete Power and I were fortunate enough to get both.
"You're in luck!" army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told me as we sat in his office in Islamabad. The military was organizing a junket to a remote outpost in Kundi Gar, on the Afghan border, which would give us an excellent view from ten thousand feet-even if it was a view controlled entirely by the Pakistani army. It was going to be hard, Maj. Gen. Sultan said, shaking his head, but he would do his best to secure us a spot. We drank more tea and talked of Canada.
Days later, we were in the company of a handful of journalists, including the BBC's Barbara Plett and the Guardian's Declan Walsh, one of the most respected foreign reporters in the region. Declan had the unassuming and easy-going nature of a foreign correspondent who had talked his way out of more than one precarious situation. Only when he darted around Islamabad in his battleship grey Volkswagen bug he had named Betsy, driving like a true Pakistani, did you see his aggressive side.
With brief stops at staging areas, ostensibly to have a tea-but in fact, we later learned, to repair our helicopter-we eventually arrived at a desolate Shawal Valley post that consisted of little more than well-worn goat paths and stone compounds that looked like they were constructed in the days of Ghengis Khan. The military outnumbered the journalists about five to one.
Maj. Gen. Sultan, an officious and compact officer who had been educated in the United States and had served as the public face of Pakistan's army since 2003, strode up the hill toward the base while some of the cameramen wheezed under the weight of their equipment at such an altitude. "You're the first women up here," he said, delighted. In our honor, an English sign that read "Ladies Urinal" had been erected with an arrow that pointed to a hilltop khaki tent. I went inside, to be polite and show that I appreciated the effort, but changed my mind as I was about to drop my pants over the dugout hole and a fierce wind shook the tent. I feared that I would not be remembered as one of the first women to visit the base, but rather the Canadian reporter who mooned the troops.
The purpose of the trip was clear. The army wanted us to visit the tranquil base and report that its troops had the region under control. "This border is sealed," army Brigadier Imtiaz Wyne pronounced dramatically at a makeshift podium erected for the occasion. As if on cue, thunder began to rumble and the sky turned an angry shade of grey. "We stop any movement across the border from rear to front or front to rear," Wyne continued over the noise, adding that since operations were launched in the area, 325 "miscreants" had been killed, while the army had lost 56 of their own troops.
The visit was cut short as the angry weather rolled in. Although our group had arrived in two khaki Mi-171 helicopters, we all crammed into one for the quick descent. We rocked horribly as the helicopter struggled with the weight, slowly rising like an obese man attempting to stand after sitting cross-legged on the floor for too long. Looking out the windows we could see that the troops below were running, fast. It took a few minutes to realize that they clearly thought we were going to crash, and as we clipped a tree before clearing the ridge, Pete and I thought we would too.
In Rawalpindi at the end of the day, we drank more tea and Major General Sultan presented each of us with a small plastic trophy bearing the words "Gold Army Division." Although this type of formality may have been common in Pakistan, it still felt strange to have soldiers clapping for us, especially since I knew our stories would be unlike the glowing tales of military dominance that some of the local press would write.
The problem was that it was almost impossible to verify the army's claims that they had the upper hand in the area. Foreign journalists were forbidden from going alone, and many local journalists had been killed when they tried. We had been unable to talk to area residents during our escorted visit. We would find out later that in nearby Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, a convoy of paratroopers had been ambushed by Taliban-linked fighters on the outskirts of the city just after we left.
There were other telling and ominous signs. A few months earlier, another attack in Miranshah had shown just how brutal the frontier had become and how ineffective the army had been in protecting its residents. A local gangster named Hakeem Khan had ruthlessly ruled the region for months, but had made a fatal mistake when he killed four members of the local Taliban who refused to pay his required "tax." Vengeance was swift. Truckloads of black-turbaned Talibs arrived and not only was Khan beheaded for the murders, so were his relatives. Their bodies were hung in the centre of town and their houses were burned to the ground. A twenty-eight-minute video recording of the executions spread quickly throughout Pakistan, and a few days after our visit to Waziristan I watched the film at Declan's house. Men shouted, "Long live the Taliban of Waziristan," as the corpses were dragged behind a truck. Hundreds looked on with a mix of disgust and bemusement. The video ended with the words: "This is not drama. This is reality." The reality was that the Taliban was now firmly entrenched in the region.
Despite their claims otherwise, the Pakistani army was breathing its last gasps during our visit. A few months later, in September, the army pulled out of the area after a negotiated settlement with tribal elders known as the "North Waziristan Accord." The agreement amounted to a ceasefire, on the theory that if the army withdrew, the locals would have no trouble cracking down on foreign militants. Without having to worry about attacks from the Pakistani army-which was ill equipped to fight in the region and all too often killed civilians in the crossfire-the old order could resume and fight cross-border Taliban traffic. President Musharraf celebrated the deal during a trip to Washington, even though within Pakistan the Waziristan Accord was widely regarded as an admission of defeat. After a White House meeting President Bush told reporters: "When the president looks me in the eye and says, the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, and that there won't be a Taliban and won't be al-Qaeda, I believe him."
Gaining a foothold in the FATA region was critical and the Waziristan Accord would ultimately fail. Soon, that wouldn't be the only region of Pakistan in peril.
Michelle Shephard is the national security correspondent for the Toronto Star and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone," from which this piece is excerpted.
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Thereported killingin late August of Atiyyatullah Abu Abd al-Rahman (sometimes given in jihadisources as Abu Abd al-Rahman Atiyyatullah al-Libi or simply Atiyah Abdal-Rahman) in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, if confirmed, deprives al-QaedaCentral (AQC) of one of its most versatile and important leaders andideologues. Known more popularly in jihadi circles as "Sheikh Atiyyatullah," hestraddledthe operational, media, and ideological sides of AQC's global campaign. He wasalso at the forefront on a number of issues, including the militant organization's attempt to embrace and co-opt the uprisings in the Arab world, andintervened forcefully in debates among jihadis, actively counseling against theuse of mass violence against other Muslims.
His losswould be a severe blow to an organization that is already reeling from the lossof its charismatic founder-leader Osama bin Laden, and more recently the arrestof another key operational planner, Younis al-Mauretani. Atiyyatullah's deathhas been claimed by U.S.government sources but has not been confirmed by AQC itself, casting some doubton to whether he was actually killed. Reports surfaced in October 2010 that hehad been killed but were proven wrong when he surfaced in film and audioreleases from al-Qaeda's al-Sahab Media Foundation in mid-March of this year.
Much of Atiyyatullah'scareer, which began in the 1990s, as an AQC envoy and later one of its keyleaders, was spent out of the limelight and in the shadow of the organization'spublic faces, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Despite not being in the publiceye, though, Atiyyatullah played an important role in AQC, first in the 1990sas the organization's envoy to Algeria'sArmed Islamic Group (GIA, in French). He ultimately was unable to convince GIAleaders to modify their positions and was even imprisoned by them for a periodof time, after which he left the country. After the dispersal of AQC leadersfrom Afghanistan in thewinter of 2001, Atiyyatullah reportedly served as AQC's representative in Iran and to regionalaffiliates such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). His career as ajihadi began in the 1980s when he traveled to Afghanistan to participate in theanti-Soviet jihad. Atiyyatullah also reportedlywas in contact with Dr. Humam al-Balawi, the Jordanian who carried out theDecember 2009 suicide bombing inside the U.S.military base in Khost, Afghanistan.
For muchof his career his identity as Sheikh Atiyyatullah, a prolific AQC ideologue,was debated by analysts, some of whom argued that Atiyah and the "Sheikh" wereone and the same. Atiyah appeared withhis face fully visible and identified as "Sheikh Atiyyatullah" in The Westand the Dark Tunnel, a two-part video released by al-Sahab in lateSeptember 2009. He has subsequently been featured both solo and with othersenior AQC leaders such as fellow Libyan Abu Yahya al-Libi, who is theorganization's unofficial mufti or chief jurist, in a number of videos,audio messages, and written tracts -- including June's lengthy two-part video Youare Not Responsible Except for Yourself. It is not known for certainwhy AQC decided to connect Atiyah with the mysterious personality it had createdas "Sheikh Atiyyatullah," but it may have decided to cash in on the mystiqueand capital it had built up around him over several years. The organization hasdone this with other ideologues, such as AbuMansur al-Shami, who was killed in a drone missile strike in Waziristan in January 2010.
Mostrecently, Atiyyatullah was one of the voices spearheading AQC's attempt toco-opt the ongoing uprisings against autocratic governments in Arab countries,together with fellow Libyan al-Qaeda leaderAbu Yahya al-Libi and al-Zawahiri. OnMarch 18, as forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi besieged thecity of Misrata,al-Sahab issued an audio message online from Atiyyatullah that purportedlyidentified him by his real name, Jamal Ibrahim Ishtaywi al-Misrati, or the "onefrom Misrata." In this message, ATribute to Our People in Libya, he praised the people of Libya, Tunisia,and Egyptfor revolting against their dictatorial governments, and Libyans to establishan Islamic state. Interestingly, despite AQC leaders' general rejection of democraticsystems of governance and other forms of government they deem "un-Islamic," Atiyyatullahappealed to the Libyan people to ensure the primacy of Islam and Islamic law (shari‘a),and enshrine Islamic law (as defined by al-Qaeda, of course) in the country'snew constitution.
The Libyanideologue also played a major but often overlooked role in internal jihadidebates about the excommunication of (takfir) and violence against otherMuslims, two issues that have long dogged AQC and its affiliates and allies. Atiyyatullahurged other jihadis to be selective in their use of violence, in part becausemass killings of other Muslims has led to a backlash against jihadis in manyparts of the Muslim world. In late 2009 and early 2010, he also participated ina concertedeffort by AQC and its ally Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to shift blameaway from themselves and onto the U.S.and Pakistani governments and the military contractor Blackwater for a seriesof bloody attacks in civilian areas of Pakistan's Pashtun tribal regions.This campaign included the release of an audio message from AQC's then-generalcommander in Afghanistan,Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, and a video message from TTP spokesman Azam Tariq blamingthe attacks on their enemies. A lengthy Urdu e-book was also published onNovember 14 that identified Blackwater as the "Army of the Dajjal," ananti-Christ type figure who features importantly in Islamic apocalyptic literature.
Atiyyatullah'scontribution to this propaganda campaign was a question-and-answer tract thatwas issued to jihadi Internet forums on January 21, 2010, Advice andCompassion in Speaking about the Market Bombings: Questions and Answers aboutthe Bombing of the Peshawar Market. Ina series of responses to questions about whether it is permissible to rejoicein the killing of other Muslims, even if they are allegedly "impious," he bluntlystated that it was not. Such attacks, he continued, are a means of spreadingcorruption and division (fitna) within the Muslim community, and are instark contradiction to Islamic law (shariah). Further, he argued thatthe "mujahideen" could not havecarried out such attacks, because they are the "true followers" of shariah.Logically then, he concluded, the U.S. and its apostate Muslim alliesand mercenaries must be at fault, pointing to their long record of killingMuslims around the world.
He hasaddressed the issue of takfir in Advice and Compassion and asecond question-and-answer tract, Responsesto the Ruling on Leaving for Battle and the Precondition of Takfir,released on August 1, 2010, as well as in a video message, Maximizing theSanctity of Muslim Blood, released on March 18, 2011. While recognizing thewell-established Islamic tenet of "enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong"(amr bi'l ma'ruf wa'l nahy ‘an al-munkar) based on the words of God asexpressed in the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, he cautions Muslimsfrom misinterpreting it as a means of evaluating another Muslim's piety. It isimpossible for anyone to truly know the religious state of being of thoseMuslims killed in such attacks, he said, whether righteous or sinful, and thusit is not permissible for any other Muslim to rejoice in their death. Hiscautious views on violence against other Muslims, including Shi‘ites, who mostSunni jihadis view as being outside the fold of Islam, have also been sharedpublicly by other Sunni jihadis, including Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is oneof the most influential voices within the Sunni jihadi movement. There is atactical reason for this, namely that such mass excommunication alienates otherMuslims, whom jihadis view as potential supporters.
As I notedbefore, a question mark still hangs over reports of Atiyyatullah's death. Unlikewhen other senior leaders have been killed, AQC has yet to confirm and eulogizehim, casting some doubt as to whether the Libyan is actually dead. The organization confirmed the death of binLaden the same week he was killed and it also acknowledged the killing ofMustafa Abu'l Yazid soon after his death. Additionally, on August 30 whenAl-Sahab released a new audio message from Atiyyatullah, The Promise ofVictory in the Month of Patience (Ramadan) in which his name is followed bythe prayer, "may God protect him," which is only used for living persons.
It ispossible that AQC's surviving leaders, who were already reeling from the majorsetback of bin Laden's death, are seeking to minimize the fallout from Atiyyatullah'sdeath before announcing it publicly (something made especially important by thecapture al-Mauritani in Pakistanon Monday). The Promise of Victory features nearly identical backgroundto the previously released A Tribute to Our People in Libya with theexception of the text identifying him and the message's title. This may bebecause al-Sahab released the new message ahead of schedule in an attempt tocounter reports of his death. But if his death is confirmed, it will be anenormous blow to al-Qaeda; he was truly a jihadi renaissance man, combiningboth strategic and ideological savvy. Atiyyatullah will be very difficult, ifnot impossible, to replace, and his loss will further damage an alreadyhandicapped AQC.
ChristopherAnzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill Universitywhere he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi'ite Islam, andIslamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
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Less than a month after the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, in a quest to find Osama bin Laden and punish the Taliban for harboring him.
At the time, women's progress was touted as both a reason for and a powerful and positive product of the U.S. invasion. But while Washington showered attention on the plight of Afghan women going into the war, officials have gone largely silent on the fate of Afghan women as they look to its exit.
In November 2001, First Lady Laura Bush took to the airwaves on behalf of her husband -- marking the first time a president's wife has delivered the entire President's weekly radio address on her own -- to highlight the plight of Afghan women and girls.
"The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women," Mrs. Bush said.
"Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists...In Afghanistan we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us."
She concluded, "Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment. Yet the terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped." The State Department issued an accompanying report on the Taliban's "War Against Women," which stated that "restricting women's access to work is an attack on women today."
A month later, the President himself signed the "Afghan Women and Children Relief Act" and pledged that "America and our allies will do our part in the rebuilding Afghanistan. We learned our lessons from the past. We will not leave until the mission is complete."
In signing the bill, which funded health and education programs for Afghan women and children, the President told reporters that, "a central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women, and not only the women of Afghanistan. The terrorists who helped rule Afghanistan are found in dozens of countries around the world, and that is the reason this great nation with our friends and allies will not rest until we bring them all to justice."
President Bush even brought the first Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs, Sima Samar, to his first post-9/11 State of the Union.
"The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school," Bush said. "Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan's new government."
Later in his speech, the President said that "We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance."
And the Bush Administration was hardly alone in embracing the cause of Afghanistan's women in the context of America's fight for justice. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton also shined her powerful spotlight on the women whose lives changed with the American invasion.
"Thanks to the courage and bravery of America's military and our allies, hope is being restored to many women and families in much of Afghanistan," Clinton wrote in TIME Magazine.
And then she went further. "There is an immoral link between the way women were treated by the oppressive Taliban in Afghanistan and the hateful actions of the al-Qaeda terrorists," Clinton said. "The mistreatment of women in Afghanistan was like an early warning signal of the kind of terrorism that culminated in the attacks of September 11. Similarly, the proper treatment of women in post-Taliban Afghanistan can be a harbinger of a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic future for that war-torn nation."
Noted Clinton, "We, as liberators, have an interest in what follows the Taliban in Afghanistan. We cannot simply drop our bombs and depart with our best wishes, lest we find ourselves returning some years down the road to root out another terrorist regime."
Now, a decade later, talk of bringing terrorists to justice has given way to talk of Taliban reconciliation. No one sees another answer when it comes to ending America's longest-ever war. And, simultaneously and not surprisingly, nearly all talk of women has faded from hearing.
President Barack Obama offered no mention of women in his 2009 West Point speech on the war in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, in a telling quote to journalist Rajiv Chandrasekran, a senior administration official said, "Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities...There's no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down."
Privately, State Department officials I speak with say they are doing what they can, but acknowledge that Secretary Clinton's fight to keep women in the conversation about what comes next in Afghanistan is a lonely one. The upcoming 2012 presidential race looms large for Obama's policy and political staff. And with Clinton already promising to leave her post at the end of next year, Afghan women are losing their largest advocate within the Obama administration.
Today the question which looms large is, will women's rights be negotiated away in the quest to reach a graceful exit - or, in fact, any kind of exit, in Afghanistan? And if successful negotiations with the Taliban are a desirable inevitability for the United States, what are the lines (if any) that the U.S. must not cross if America is to keep Clinton's pledge to Afghan women that they will not be abandoned once more?
Women received much attention going into the war in Afghanistan. A new generation seized the opportunities created by the international community's presence to serve as midwives, teachers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, governors, army officers and civil society leaders. Today they fear a return to a time in which the world sat by while their government stripped them of their rights to work, to be educated, and to leave their homes unaccompanied.
The international community now seems to see Afghan women as unfortunate collateral damage along the path to peace, not valuable contributors who make stability possible. Meanwhile, women are fighting for a voice in the upcoming Bonn conference and a say in their future, including on the team negotiating with the Taliban for the country's future. Women I talk to say they try not to be despondent, but it is not easy to be hopeful given the facts on the ground and the talk of the future.
"Only Afghans can determine the future government of their country," the State Department said in its 2001 Taliban report. "And Afghan women should have the right to choose their role in that future."
Those words remain true today.
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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In a lengthy message on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday released last week under Mullah Mohammad Omar's name, the fugitive Taliban leader used a mix of "jihad-light" bravado and toned-down political rhetoric to express his group's position on key issues, as part of a push to influence public opinion that has garnered a variety of reactions from different Western and South Asian quarters.
Yet despite the hype among AfPak watchers, the message is more a reflection of an emerging dual-track strategy that promotes Omar as a credible interlocutor while masking his flaws, and is directly tied to the NATO decision to end its military engagement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
In Pakistan, you could probably live for years and never meet anyone with HIV/AIDS. Yet the fact that the virus is not often in the public eye does not mean that HIV/AIDS is not a problem in Pakistan. It is known to infect tens of thousands of Pakistanis, a figure that is certainly a gross underestimate due to both sexual taboos surrounding the disease and the often low social status of many of its victims. And while HIV/AIDS does not attract the kind of notice it once did in the developed world, in Pakistan the scourge has only recently been given more attention.
HIV/AIDS is believed to have been introduced to Pakistan by migrant workers returning from the Middle East. These workers, who went to the Gulf states on work permits, would frequently engage in risky behavior while abroad. Workers, however, needed medical screening in order to renew their work permits, and if one tested HIV-positive during screening, he was sent packing on the first flight back home -- in most cases without even being informed of his HIV status.
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It's been just over a month since the last time a hundred lives were lost to gun violence in Karachi, but even within that time span the guns never fell silent. In less than a week another 100 people have been murdered by what Sindh's Information Minister has called "terrorists, target killers, the mafia (land, or drug take your pick) and criminal elements." The roots of the violence and solutions have been discussed before, and one can go back decades to gain a fuller understanding of what ignites this city's violent restlessness.
Most of the victims this time around have been members of the Baloch community in Karachi and the Urdu-Speaking (Muhajir) community. The Baloch are a minority, whereas Karachi's most powerful political party has its roots in the Urdu-speaking Muhajir community.
The city is mired in a condition where ethnicity is shamelessly thrown around in verbal melees between political parties. This sentiment trickles down to supporters and members of ethnic communities because party propaganda is rife throughout the city. The MQM, who had managed to free their public rhetoric from the term ‘Muhajir,' over the last decade, has begun using the term again to shape a narrative of victimhood around the party and the overall Muhajir community. This will only further alienate the party, revive old wounds and create more ethnic tension. Politicians from the Pashtun-nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have been playing the ethnic card to shift blame and to promote the same sense of victimhood. As a result, every ethnicity in Karachi claims benighted status in the conflicts. Yet this most recent conflict, like those before it, is not about Muhajir or Baloch; it is simply another example of murder used as a tool to gain leverage in political negotiations. The violence will end temporarily when political wrangling over the local government system currently being fought over in political assemblies and meeting rooms has completed its course.
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The first tweet I saw was late at night on Thursday, already early morning in Kabul. It was a short, to-the-point burst of information from Sarah-Jane Cunningham, a British-Egyptian woman working in Kabul: "British Council being attacked in #Kabul. Fight ongoing. No reports of casualties yet."
From there it was almost embarrassingly easy to cobble together a real-time update, almost minute-by-minute of a Taliban gun-and-bomb attack in Karteh Parwan district of Kabul against the British Council - a cultural institution where, among other things, many Afghans have learned English. Bilal Sarwary; Jerome Starkey; Erin Cunningham; Massoud Hossaini; and Mustafa Kazemi were just some of the English-speaking reporters posting information via Twitter.
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On Aug. 12, two days before Pakistan marked 64 years of independence from Britain, President Asif Ali Zardari announced that the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) -- legislation that governs the country's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and dates back to the 1800s -- was being amended and that political parties would be allowed to operate in the FATA.
"Some may say that the reforms are not enough and much more needs to be done," read the official press release. "Let it also not be forgotten that no one took even a single step in the last one hundred years to reform the Frontier Crimes Regulation and give political rights to the people."
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Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Hostile conditions for journalists not only limit media freedom, they also threaten international development efforts and the strength of civil society in general. Together with Internews, an international media development organization, we at Development Seed mapped the conditions on the ground that journalists face in an effort to highlight the issue and better inform journalists on the situation in Afghanistan. The results can be found at data.nai.org.af.
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On August 12, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari signed the extension of the Political Party Order (2002) to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), fulfilling one of his government's key pledges related to the militancy-ridden tribal belt. This is the first piece of good news for residents there since Zardari's announcement two years ago, on August 14, 2009, to introduce reforms to FATA's oppressive system of governance -- reforms later blocked by the military.
This move will allow political parties to operate legally in FATA for the first time. Since adult franchise was extended to the tribal belt in 1997, its parliamentarians were elected on a non-party basis and had virtually no authority to legislate for their constituents. Yet, with twelve seats in the lower house, the National Assembly, and eight seats in the Senate, the FATA bloc formed a sizeable source of votes in a legislature typically led by coalition governments with thin parliamentary majorities. Held by independents, these 20 votes were often for sale.
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The first good news in a long time has emerged from Kabul in the ongoing dispute over the 2010 Afghanistan Parliamentary Election results. Afghan president Hamid Karzai issued a decree on Tuesday that dissolved the Special Election Tribunal he had created to investigate reports of fraud during last September's vote, and confirmed that the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) has the final word on determining who was legitimately elected.
This decree represents a significant step back from the brink of a Constitutional crisis that had been escalating between the President, the Parliament, and the courts. As such, it is a victory for the rule of law in Afghanistan, where politics has been winning the battle over the letter of the law and the Constitution in most disputes concerning the distribution of political power.
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