As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Watching your mentor fall from grace is never easy. This month many have questioned and saluted David H. Petraeus, who resigned from his post as director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair. Critics chide his judgment, and friends remind us of his brilliance and victories in Iraq. Most acknowledge his indelible mark on how America must fight wars amongst the peoples: creating local partners through peaceful interaction, rather than enemies through the sole use of lethal force. But Petraeus left another mark on a war to prevent future 9/11s, by fighting without troops but with trainers, spies and drones in Pakistan.
The war in Iraq was self-inflicted, the war in Afghanistan was necessary, but the war in Pakistan always carried the nightmare scenario: religious fanatics capturing nuclear weapons and setting them off in American cities. As the commander of U.S. Central Command and then as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Petraeus pushed the Pakistani military to go after the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network, enticing them with weapons and trainers, and reprimanding with unilateral action. Despite Pakistani military's duplicity - interdicting some insurgents while continuing to harbor the virulent Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis -with a mix of diplomatic and military acumen Petraeus was able to help stabilize a nuclear-armed country that seemed bent on imploding in the spring of 2009.
The question then was not how Pakistan can help us in Afghanistan, but how can nuclear-armed Pakistan stop self-destructing?
It was during that period that I met Petraeus, and after he read my Foreign Affairs article on ways to stem the tide of instability in Pakistan, he asked me to advise him. That year was the most difficult time in U.S.-Pakistan relations since 9/11. The Pakistani Taliban had routed the Pakistani military out of one third of the country. Taliban flags flew high in the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan's northeast, and the Swat valley, just sixty miles from the country's capital, was stained with the blood of many women and children. A year prior, India and Pakistan had come close to nuclear war after the Pakistani intelligence-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorized Mumbai, and Osama bin Laden was still on the run.
Yet there was a glimmer of hope. Since 2007, U.S. Special Forces trainers and weapons had slowly improved Pakistan's Special Services Group, Frontier Corps and 11th Corps troops. They began fighting harder and gaining public support against the Pakistani Taliban's nationwide suicide bombing campaign.
In late 2008, Operation Lionheart in the Bajaur tribal agency was led by junior officers that pushed their general to experiment with Petraeus' counterinsurgency principles: clear, hold and build. For years, clearing was easy for Pakistani troops, while holding was ignored and building was nonexistent. In 2009, they began to hold after clearing. Petraeus and former Admiral Mike Mullen - then Joint Chiefs of Staff - encouraged this slow improvement as the Pakistani troops pushed the insurgents out of the Swat Valley and South Waziristan by the winter of 2009. Not only did this stem the tide of suicide attacks, but also temporarily decreased cross- border attacks into Afghanistan. Pakistan did not self-implode in 2009.
During these years I frequently visited South Asia exploring questions about transnational insurgencies, India-Pakistan rivalry, and Afghanistan's future. I briefed Petraeus after every trip and authored a report and several memos for him. He was always encouraging, endorsing contrarian thinking, debating history and never judging my analysis on the basis of my age or religion.
Like many generals and diplomats, Petraeus understood the delicate dance of getting things done in Pakistan: feed the military beast but protect the nascent democracy. But he went one step further: he understood the negotiations culture and the contradiction between what Pakistani military and civilian leaders were willing to promise publicly and deliver privately. When I argued for the creation of institutional mechanisms to exchange lessons learned, he agreed but correctly pointed to challenges: the radioactive nature of American military instructors in Pakistan, and depleting patience of U.S. legislators with Pakistan's reluctance to target the Haqqani Network and Taliban leaders in exile.
When Pakistanis showed progress, Petraeus was willing to acknowledge their contributions. After the success in Swat and South Waziristan he cheered General Ashfaq Kayani, highlighting the sacrifices of the Pakistani military in his congressional testimonies, and he chided him in private when Kayani equivocated on expanding operations against the Haqqanis.
Petraeus understood the importance of personal relationships and changing the insurgents' master narrative: Pakistani soldiers were America's mercenaries. When the Indus River swelled up in July 2010, causing the worst floods in Pakistan's history, and leaving 20 million homeless and one-fifth of the country under water, Petraeus immediately sent help. Scores of U.S. troops and helicopters rescued thousands of Pakistanis and provided food and medicine.
But the U.S.-Pakistan goodwill didn't stick after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May 2011, and Pakistan closed NATO's supply lines for seven months after a NATO airstrike killed 24 of its soldiers, prompting the White House and Congress to cut aid.
Still, Petraeus showed guarded optimism about Pakistan as he made his transition to the CIA. He had helped stopPakistan from becoming a failed states, but he couldn't change its policy of fomenting insurgency in Afghanistan. In my book that's pretty darn good.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is a Provost Fellow at Tufts University, and the author of "Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering and Fomenting Insurgencies." (www.haidermullick.com @haidermullick)
Rifts revealed: Ousted deputy Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad told Reuters on Tuesday that he has held peace talks with the Pakistani government, but never without the "permission and advice of the TTP central leadership" (Reuters, Tel). TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, however, has rejected negotiations with Pakistan, which may be the reason for removing Mohammad. Pakistan's information minister for the northwest, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said Tuesday that Mohammad's dismissal "clearly shows the differences among Taliban ranks" (AP).
The hearing of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's contempt of court case was adjourned Wednesday after Justice Nasirul Mulk, who heads the seven-member bench overseeing the hearing, said time was being "wasted with irrelevant questions by [Gilani's attorney] Aitzaz Ahsan" (ET, Dawn). The Pakistani Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution condemning the burning of Qurans by U.S. troops in Afghanistan last month, and demanding that those responsible be punished (Dawn, AFP).
A nine-year-old boy was killed and three others were injured when a bomb placed in a sewer exploded in Peshawar on Wednesday (The News, Dawn, ET). And shelling by Pakistani security forces on Wednesday in Upper Orakzai Agency killed at least 17 militants (ET).
The commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, will reportedly travel to Pakistan in 10 days for talks with officials about reopening ground routes that have been closed to NATO supply trucks since the November 24 NATO attack on two Pakistani border posts (AP, AFP, ET). And the senior official in China's restive Xinjiang Province, Nur Bekri, said Wednesday that militants in Xinjiang have extensive ties to terrorist groups based in Pakistan, an uncharacteristically explicit suggestion of Pakistan's inability to restrain militant groups (WSJ, Reuters).
Six British soldiers were killed late Tuesday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in the Gereshk district of Helmand Province, in the largest single loss of British life in Afghanistan in six years (Tel, NYT, BBC, CNN, AP, LAT, Reuters, AFP). And on Wednesday, a bomb strapped to a motorcycle was detonated remotely in a crowded market in Kandahar, targeting the border security commander for the area but instead killing four civilians.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the recent violent protests in Afghanistan in response to the Quran burnings are a sign that "now is the time" to let Afghan security forces take the reins on combat operations (Reuters, LAT, AP). And Adm. William McRaven, the commander of U.S. Special Operations forces, recently hosted a quiet meeting with some of the U.S. military's most senior officials, to discuss the future of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan after NATO withdraws in 2014 (CNN).
Rescue teams are digging for survivors after an avalanche buried a village of 200 people in northeastern Badakhshan Province on Tuesday, leaving at least 47 people dead and dozens more missing (AP, BBC, NYT, Tel, AJE, LAT, CNN). And AFP reports on the reasons behind the self-immolation of teenaged brides in Afghanistan (AFP).
Slow - double penalty zone
The Punjab government has increased the penalties for a wide range of driving offenses by about 100 percent, raising fears about abuse of the new rules by traffic police, or increased road rage from drivers (Dawn). The increased fines were applied to infractions such as driving without a seatbelt, driving at excessive speeds, and using the horn in a silent zone, though drunk driving is still reportedly not on the list of offenses at all.
-- Jennifer Rowland
ANWAR ULLAH/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the international community met this past week in Bonn, Germany to discuss Afghanistan's future in the shadow of a NATO withdrawal oftroops. At the conference, key policymakers, from the United States to Afghan PresidentHamid Karzai, expressed the consensus that corruption is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to efforts at rebuilding and stabilizingthe country.
In a time of belt-tightening in aid budgets in the United States and Europe, andweariness at a lack of significant progress in Afghanistan's corruption outlook,donors may prove less and less willing to provide development assistance thatis then lost to graft. Similar to post-conflict and poor countries elsewhere,Afghanistan's government agencies lack accountability. Service delivery can beseverely compromised because of graft, in turn fueling mistrust of thegovernment.
Another example of malfeasance is the widespreadelection fraud perpetrated during the 2010 election for the Wolesi Jirga,Afghanistan's lower house of parliament. The voting itself and the subsequent dubious adjudication process provide a stark illustration of howcorruption can destabilize political institutions. The Afghan Electoral ComplaintsCommittee (ECC) had to delay the induction of parliament after adjudicatingnearly 6,000 allegations of malfeasance. Nine members have lost their seats evenafter serving for nearly a year.
With an eye towards understanding howinstitutions like the Wolesi Jirga could be strengthened through cleanerelections, we developed and evaluated a new approach to policing electoralcorruption for the 2010 races. It involves the implementation of a photo "quickcount" of election results. Specifically, we took photographs of tally sheetsfrom polling stations right after voting concluded, and compared them to whatshould be carbon copies of tallies from the same polling stations later in theaggregation process. We then took differences in results for specificcandidates as evidence of rigging. We implemented our project with funding fromthe newly established Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) at the United States Agency forInternational Development (USAID), a unit that embodies the organization'srenewed enthusiasm for improving development through rigorousevaluation procedures.We partnered with Democracy International (DI), the largest internationalorganization monitoring elections in Afghanistan.
To evaluate the effectiveness of thistechnology, we randomly announced monitoring in about half of a sample of 471polling centers. This sample spanned 19 of the 34 provincial centers in allregions of Afghanistan and was drawn from a universe of 5,897 polling centersscheduled to open on election day. We deployed a team of Afghan researchersthat delivered letters to polling center managers during voting on election day,announcing that the team would return the following day to photograph thetallies; teams visited the other polling centers without providing any priorwarning.
Through a comparison of these"treatment" polling centers and the "control" centers that were unaware thatour researchers would photograph results, we found that our program worked insignificant ways to decrease electoral corruption. Specifically, the monitoringprogram reduced vote counts by 25 percent for the candidate our team deemed mostlikely to rig the vote (generally the candidate with strongest links toofficials in the Election Commission or President Karzai, and those with ahistory of working in the government) and reduced the theft of vote tallies andother election materials by about 60 percent. In the study,we also found that candidates react to undermine the effort, and that they doso in a way that is predictable based on their connections to officials in theelection commission. Specifically,candidates with a connection to the Provincial Elections Officer moved theirfraudulent activity in the direction of manipulating the returns form inpolling centers that did not receive a letter. By contrast, candidates lackingthis connection committed fraud by altering the count before the form wasposted.
We assessed the effect of the programusing a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), the most robust form of programevaluation. In a RCT, researchers estimate the effect of a program on keyoutcomes of interest (in our case, election fraud) by first identifying apopulation of potential beneficiaries and then randomly assigning the programto a subset (usually half). The half receiving the program are "treatments" andthe remaining half are "controls." Themethod is therefore a straightforward adaptation of the approach used inmedical drug trials, only applied to questions of governance and institutions.A comparison of outcomes in the "treatments" and "controls" metes outeverything else that was going on in parallel with the program. For example,because we randomly assigned "treatments," we did not need to worry aboutwhether international monitors might be creating the change that we attributedto photo quick count. Additionally, one might worry that the effect we documentedis due to a selection of polling centers where fraud was less likely. But oneof the core strengths of RCTs is the ability to remove such a "selection bias"from our estimates of program effect. Because polling centers were selected bya random number generator, we can summarily rule out this concern.
We draw three important lessons from ourstudy. First, these results provide a convincing proof of concept that theapplication of new technologies can improve the fairness of elections and helpbattle corruption. In Afghanistan, we implemented the program using simpledigital cameras. In February of 2011 we replicated the experiment in Ugandausing smart phones and an application developed by Qualcomm to similar effect. Ultimately, webelieve this approach can be implemented via crowd-sourcing (essentiallyencouraging average people to document the process, as cell phones and evensmart phones become more accessible in the developing world), which woulddramatically reduce costs and increase coverage as citizens mobilize to policeelections.
Second, while corrupt candidates surely willdevelop their own innovations to undermine fair electoral processes, making theaggregation process impermeable will greatly increase the difficulty of theirtask. If the election returns form posted at the polling center must match thereturns form that enters the official count in the capital, a major avenue offraud is shut off to candidates. More generally, we need to worry more aboutconnections between candidates and officials at the lower and middle echelonsof election commissions. Such officials can use their position and influenceover the aggregation and vote-counting process to dramatic effect. Reflectingthis, known affiliates of candidates should not be allowed to staff thecommission. Similarly, punishments for using such positions to favor a givencandidate should be serious, and these officials should be monitored. While a variety of evidence demonstrates corruption in Afghanistan'selectoral commission, the country is not unique in this regard -- mostdemocratizing countries fail to establish truly independent election managementbodies and suffer fraud as a result.
Last, and most importantly, we only havescientific evidence of the effectiveness of a small numberof democracy assistance strategies. This is an area ripefor experimentation,which we encourage the international policy community to take seriously becauseof its clear importance for stability and welfare in fragile states likeAfghanistan. While clean elections will not solve all of the country's problems,helping to reduce corruption and strengthen confidence in institutions like theWolesi Jirga will pay important dividends as foreign donors exert less and lessinfluence over Afghanistan's future, and Afghanistan must take moreresponsibility for its own future.
MichaelCallen is a post-doctoralresearcher at the Institute on Global Conflict andCooperation at the University of California, San Diego. James Long is a doctoral candidate in political scienceat the Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego. Mohammad Isaqzadeh is an assistant professor of politicalscience at the American University Afghanistan, and provided researchassistance for the study.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
On the tenth anniversary of thehistoric Bonn Agreement that laid the foundation for the post- Talibandemocracy in Afghanistan, the Afghan Government and the international communitywill once again gather in the same venue today to assess the achievements andchallenges of a decade-long joint journey and to reiterate theirmutual commitment to working together on the path forward.
PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan women have long fought for a say in their country's future, but that fight has grown more urgent in the run-up to the Bonn Conference, a gathering charged with laying out a plan for Afghanistan for 2014 and beyond.
So far, women's battle to win a substantive role at Bonn - and any other peace talks that may come to the capital - has gained little traction either at home or abroad. And in the US, those backing women say they face an uphill fight convincing the Obama Administration to speak out more about the need for women's participation.
Afghan women leaders have issued press releases and formal position papers in the run-up to December's meeting demanding that civil society makes up 30 percent of Afghanistan's delegation to the Bonn Conference, with women accounting for half of that group.
The Afghan government has not yet announced its official delegation, but so far one man and one woman from civil society have been invited to Bonn, with the woman getting three minutes to address the plenary. Of the sixteen women attending a separate civil society forum, only one will have access to the official conference, according to the Institute for Inclusive Security, which recently brought Afghan women leaders to Washington to press their case on the Hill and with the Obama Administration.
"We would like to have strong participation in these processes, we would like to know what is being discussed, what is put on the table," says Orzala Ashraf, a peace activist and founder of an Afghan NGO for women and children. "We would like to ensure that these bargaining chips (in any peace process) are not women's rights or our achievements of the past ten years."
With the U.S. and its NATO allies focused on extricating themselves from Afghanistan, the task of laying out the path ahead has assumed extreme urgency for Afghans. "It is of high importance for women's groups and civil society to make sure their voices are included in any road map," says Ashraf, "in any direction that Afghanistan is going to take."
But whether those voices will be heard remains an open question.
As Human Rights Watch noted, "The Afghan government and its international backers say that women's rights are one of their ‘red lines' as they plan for the withdrawal of international forces. If this is the case, why are Afghan women struggling to get a seat at the table in Bonn?"
Those in Washington attribute part of the reason to a White House inner circle that sees the role of women as far removed from the issue of Afghan security. As the Washington Post famously noted earlier this year, women are seen as "pet rocks in our rucksack" that are "taking us down."
"These guys don't get it," said a senior administration official who has argued that women's participation is crucial for Afghanistan's stability, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell did in 2002. "Ten years on we still have to make the case that women are additive."
As I've written in these pages, it is far from the situation of a decade ago when leaders across Washington fanned out before the cameras to speak about the importance of supporting Afghan women. After five years of Taliban rule, in which women were denied the rights to work and education and to leave their homes, the international community offered its arrival in 2001 as a new start.
Secretary of State Clinton helped women leaders win a speaking role at last year's Kabul Conference and has promised women that "we will not abandon you," but with her departure imminent and 2014 looming, talk of a Taliban return is surging.
Fears of what the Taliban's ascendance would mean for women have only grown stronger with news of the stoning death of a woman and her daughter in Ghazni Province. Assassinations of leading human rights supporters and police officials and attacks on girls schools have skyrocketed in recent years - even as talk of a peace deal with the Taliban has come to be viewed in NATO capitals as the best option for ending the war.
Some American advocates for women say any talk of Taliban negotiations is misplaced, especially given the recent assassination of former President and head of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
"We don't think anybody should be negotiating with the Taliban," says Esther Hyneman of Women for Afghan Women, which runs family centers and safe homes for abused women across Afghanistan. "If the Taliban wanted a role in the government, why don't they run for parliament in a democratic election? They don't want a role in the Afghan government -- they want the Afghan government."
Women's group leaders say that just like in the 1990s, when they lobbied to stop the Clinton Administration from recognizing the Taliban government, they will not stand by quietly while women half a world away are denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights to work and education. They note that Afghan women are making progress for themselves, pointing to the rising number of girls attending school, as well as female midwives, police officers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, civil society activists, parliamentarians and educators as evidence.
"We will keep the pressure on and support women in any way we can," says Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which helped to lead the fight against Washington's recognition of the Taliban in 1996. "There is now a huge network of non-profit organizations within Afghanistan and we are talking to them and they are taking the lead. What we can do is continue to put pressure on the U.S. government not to agree to anything that omits half the population."
Yet some wonder just how committed the White House is to supporting women's participation in their country. The President has not spoken often about Afghanistan - and far less about the country's women.
"Perhaps the tremendous unpopularity of the war puts [President Obama] in an awkward position," says activist Mavis Leno, wife of talk show host Jay Leno and one of the women who put the issue on America's map -- and in PEOPLE Magazine in 1998 -- after the Taliban came to power in 1996. "I don't think he is doing as much as he could."
Hyneman goes further:
"I am at my wit's end at the lack of discussion by the media, by our government, by our president on the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan." Of Obama, Hyneman says, "I am appalled that he has not mentioned Afghan women's rights since his speech on withdrawing US troops."
Women's activists say they are watching closely to see exactly what the Afghan government -- with support from the United States -- agrees to in any peace deal.
"I just don't understand why the fate of these women has to be considered as special pleading," Leno says. "Are we just going to stand back and see this happen again? Women were making it a little way up the hill; can we at least make sure that they don't slide back down again?"
They say they share Americans' desire to end the country's longest war, but that a peace that leaves women out will not last.
"We are in favor of peace, but this is not the road to peace, it is the road to bloodshed and subjugation and civil war, a repeat of the years past," Hyneman says. "Everyone will be sitting in front of their TV sets wringing their hands as we see women brutalized."
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Today the Afghan government convenes its "traditional Loya Jirga," or grand assembly, despite mounting criticism from members of Parliament, political opponents of the current administration and many Afghan people. Two thousand people were expected to be in Kabul for the assembly.
In the past, the Afghan regimes would call a Loya Jirga over different national issues; however, the new constitution has limited the launch of Loya Jirgas. According to Article 110 of the Constitution, such a meeting is the highest expression of the people of Afghanistan. But based on Article 111, it can be convened only in specific situations: to make decisions on the issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the supreme interests of the country, to amend certain provisions of the Constitution, and to prosecute the President in accordance with Article 69 of the Constitution.
One Afghan lawyer, Sayed Sharif told me, "[The Loya Jirga] is totally against the Constitution. We have an active parliament in place; thus there is no need for a traditional Loya Jirga." He continued, "Due to systemic corruption within the Afghan government, there is an unbridgeable distance between the people and the government. Measures such as holding the Loya Jirga will definitely widen the distrust between the Afghan people and the government."
The main topics for discussion at the Loya Jirga are expected to be Afghanistan's strategic partnership with the United States and possible reconciliation with the country's insurgency. "The Afghan government should have approached Parliament to decide about our strategic partnership," Sharif stated.
Waheed Akbari, a member of the Afghan Women Skill Development Center, a local NGO, agrees. "If the government continues to ignore the role of Parliament, there will be no need for this body [parliament] to exist. Ignoring the role of Parliament means enhancing the establishment of a totalitarian regime," he added. "This so-called traditional Loya Jirga is unconstitutional. The government should be responsible for the expenses of the Loya Jirga and any other possible consequences from it, such as escalation of clashes between the government and the Afghan Parliament and any further tribal conflicts."
While some Afghan officials, such as Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the senior security advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, have argued that the Loya Jirga plays a consultative role (and would thus not be in violation of the Constitution), some analysts -- including Afghan parliamentarians -- have expressed their concerns about the possible executive role of the Jirga.
Ghulam Sarwar Fayez, a member of parliament (MP) from the northern province of Badghis, opposes the Loya Jirga. "I have a strong fear that the government will implement the decisions made by the Jirga," he said."Most members of the Jirga have been selected by government officials both at the provincial and district level; thus it is natural that the members will follow instructions of the government." Fayez added that approval for the strategic partnership between the United States and Afghanistan should occur within the proper legal framework, namely the Parliament, rather than gaining approval from people beholden to or dependent on Karzai and his associates.
Ramatullah Turkistani, the head of the provincial council of the Northern Province of Faryab, also considers the Loya Jirga unconstitutional. According to Turkistani, "The traditional Loya Jirga practically negates the existing Constitution and Afghan Parliament. The government has invited its supporters from across the country, and tends to impose its wishes on them. But any decision of the upcoming Jirga will not be implemented, because it has no legal basis. Thus, not only is it an unconstitutional act, but also waste of time and resources."
Although Turkistani does not support the traditional Jirga, he is strongly in favor of strategic partnership with the U.S. "provided this partnership ensures the national interest of Afghanistan and is approved by the Afghan Parliament -- not through an unconstitutional Loya Jirga."
The relationship between the Parliament and government has been antagonistic from the beginning. In many cases, the government has directly ignored the demands of the MPs, including by introducing the new cabinet ministers; for the past two years, seven Afghan ministries have been led by acting ministers, in violation of the Constitution. And the government has patently ignored the objections of many MPs to tomorrow's Jirga.
Sayed Zaman Hashemi, another Afghan lawyer and political analyst, echoed Turkistani's fears about the makeup and legality of the Jirga. "A large number of the Loya Jirga members will attend from southern Afghanistan, and many of them have sympathy for the insurgents or a similar outlook to the Taliban. What will happen if they demand the immediate withdrawal of international troops?" He concluded that,"such a potential demand will ensure the interests of Iran and Pakistani, who do not want Afghanistan to have a long-term partnership with the United States. This will lead the country to be again under the control of neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, a country which not only supports insurgents, but also provoke them to sabotage stability in Afghanistan." This concern about the ethnic and geographical dimension of the Jirga is shared by many northerners and non-Pashtuns, who see the Jirga as a Pashtun tradition that could further entrench elements unfriendly to the minorities, or lead to a deal with the mostly Pashtun Taliban that would put the gains made by minorities over the past decade in danger.
Pawiz Kawa, an Afghan reporter and political analyst, told me, "I welcome any initiation through which Afghans are consulted on important national issues like the strategic partnership." But Kawa went on to state his opposition to the Jirga on legal grounds, saying that, "The Afghan people at large will not welcome the outcome of the Loya Jirga. Afghanistan has a functioning Parliament, thus, there is no need to call a Loya Jirga."
Kawa also supports Afghanistan's strategic partnership with the U.S. "My personal expectation of the partnership is to improve and enhance the government's institutions and to ensure the national interest of Afghanistan-not just the national interest of the U.S. Strong Afghan institutions will pave a clear path for proper ‘give and take' for both countries. If we continue to have weak institutions in Afghanistan, the strategic agreement will turn out to be a useless document."
He also asked the international community, particularly the U.S., to focus on interests of the Afghan people-not just the few who hold government positions.
Overall, many Afghans want Afghanistan to sign a strategic partnership with the United States, provided that the national interests of their country are ensured. However, most of those I spoke with want the agreement to be approved by the Afghan parliament, which for all of its problems still represents the Afghan people. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the Loya Jirga, but considering the strong resistance within the Afghan parliament and political opposition of the government, it seems that the upcoming Loya Jirga will negatively impact the fragile democracy and further increase instability in Afghanistan.
Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.
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Those who argue about the Afghan war on bumper stickers and in sound bites would do well to pay extended attention to the Asia Foundation's annual survey of Afghan public opinion. The results cut both ways, demonstrating more progress than is admitted by the "Afghanistan is hopeless" crowd, while simultaneously calling into question the more extravagant declarations of those who claim a clear path to success. The survey is one of the most careful periodic studies of Afghan opinion. Conducted annually since 2006, this year's survey interviewed 6348 respondents in all 34 of the country's provinces, with sophisticated oversight and training of the pollsters. No survey can wholly correct for the tendency of some people, especially in countries like Afghanistan where the security situation is tenuous, to give the answers they think an outsider wants. The fact that 95 villages originally chosen (out of 876 villages and urban points originally selected for interviewing with a total of 166 later switched for various reasons) had to be replaced by others because of poor security in sampled areas probably slants the results somewhat more toward positive responses. However, it is fair to note that fewer villages were switched for security reasons in 2011 than in 2010 (95 compared to 138 in 2010). Despite these caveats, though, this survey is brim full of important results.
On the positive side, and at a time when many Americans have an undifferentiated view that everything Afghan is sliding downwards, nearly half the Afghans surveyed believe their country is moving in the right direction, a trend that has held up since 2008. The numbers who are optimistic about the country's economic future has risen since last year's survey. The survey also shows continued high esteem for the Afghan Army, the most highly respected institution in Afghanistan by a sizable margin (though those wanting to replicate the Iraq "awakening" example should note that the least respected institution are local militias). Confidence in local government shows improvement, particularly at provincial and district levels, although in this as in every aspect there are wide ethnic and regional differences that merit close attention.
There is strong support for a negotiated peace, although the regional differences evident in the survey results suggest great concern that a badly designed peace might bring the Taliban back to power. This fear of civil war if the Taliban returns to power is one I heard much about when I visited Afghanistan in March. The survey indicates that such fears are particularly wide spread among ethnic minorities, so the kind of peace we pursue matters, in order to prevent a move toward armed conflict from populations who are most concerned about a Taliban return. Support for the Taliban has declined, and there is clearly an increased revulsion among Afghans against the civilian casualties caused by the insurgents. Afghan respondents also show increasing awareness of improvements in health and education. In short, there is progress. But there is also a great deal about which to be concerned.
Afghan fears about security are growing, and now overshadow complaints about corruption (still a major problem). Afghans in the areas of heavy combat in the southwest, south and east show much lower levels of confidence in security than their counterparts in other parts of the country. Suicide bombers are increasingly rattling the confidence of city dwellers, who have more negative views of security than do villagers. More than half of the respondents say they fear for the safety of themselves and their families, a statistic that would presumably be higher if some of the excluded sample points had been included. More worrisome still, the number of respondents showing such fear has not declined from 2010 to 2011, and in eastern Afghanistan, where the Haqqani Network is predominant, such fear is rising.
There are also growing concerns about freedom of expression in the country -- a concern that reflects somewhat negatively on the Afghan government and warlords, but is specifically linked by many respondents to poor security and fears of the Taliban. The survey lays bare the great deal of doubt that Afghans see about the Taliban being rolled back, even in the areas where direct confrontations with U.S. and international forces have diminished substantially. Concerns about and resentment of the behavior of foreign troops are also a growing problem. There are wide variations on these views even in different districts within provinces, so it is a mistake to say the survey flatly challenges NATO views of success -- but counterinsurgency is as much about psychology as about statistics. These perceptions are a cause for concern that military analysts need to consider.
Ultimately, for all of the negatives in this survey, there are many areas of optimism as well. America has twice ignored Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and after our initial success in 2001. And twice we have paid substantially in blood for our loss of attention. Before we give up and declare everything hopeless, we need to look closely at how much has been achieved in the eyes of Afghans, and what that means in terms of the possibilities that still exist to succeed. But we need to look equally clearly at the negatives, the places where Afghans remain or have grown more skeptical, and think of corrective actions, even as international forces redeploy within Afghanistan and eventually withdraw. In doing so, the Asia Foundation survey is an important document, but only if we are willing to think in terms more complicated than slogans.
Neumann was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan 2005-07 and is the author of The Other War:
winning and losing in Afghanistan. He is
president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, but the views expressed here are his own.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
This is part 3 of a series contributed by WORDE researchers as they traveled to the two main theatres of Pakistan's war against the Taliban - Swat and the tribal belt - to explore how civil society is countering extremism at the grassroots level.
In Charbagh, a quiet town in Pakistan's fabled Swat Valley, storefronts perforated by bullet holes are a haunting reminder of how the Taliban insurgency brought militants dangerously close to Islamabad in 2009. Once romanticized as the Switzerland of South Asia, Swat is now heavily guarded by military check posts.
We attended a jirga, or assembly, in the town of Bahrain in Swat to understand how the Taliban came to power and how the locals challenged their reign of terror. According to village elders, the real problem began about twenty years ago, when Sufi Muhammad, the "godfather" of the Swat Taliban, established the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - The Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws). In 2002 he was arrested for leading 10,000 volunteers from Swat and surrounding districts to fight against coalition forces in Afghanistan, and his organization was officially banned. He was released in 2008, by which time his son-in law Maulana Fazlullah had taken up his cause.
Fazlullah, better known as Mawlana Radio for his broadcasts, targeted the uneducated in remote villages who were unable to distinguish religious conservatism from extremism. He presented himself as a liberator, exploiting age-old tensions between laborers, farmers, and the rich landowning class. Many Swatis readily bought into his narrative, and were made to believe that the United States and Pakistan were orchestrating a conspiracy to destroy Islam. According to locals, women in the area donated massive amounts of gold from their dowries to support Fazlullah's purportedly holy cause.
When the Taliban came to power in 2007 they revealed their true colors, embarking on a systematic, violent campaign to wipe out dissent. We were told the stories of countless moderate religious and political leaders who were targeted for speaking out against the Taliban. Revered Sufi leader Pir Samiullah was killed in the town of Matta along with 63 of his followers. He was hung from a tree for four days. In Kabal, Maulana Hamidullah was murdered during his evening prayers after he openly criticized the Taliban in one of his weekly sermons. Hundreds of schools were destroyed. Community leaders who refused to send their children to fight in the jihad were executed. It soon became evident that the Taliban had little to do with Islam.
To counter the Taliban's violent tactics, community leaders chose peaceful modes of resistance. A major anti-Taliban madrasa in Swat financially supported families of scholars who had been killed, and publically honored their late loved ones as fallen heroes. In Malakand, religious scholars organized a peace jirga and issued a fatwa accusing the Taliban of treachery. In Saidu Sharif, public events were organized in mosques to raise awareness that the Taliban were operating against Islamic law. When the Taliban tried to force the elders of Bahrain to sign a declaration in support of the insurgent group, the elders turned around and challenged the Taliban to a public debate on their beliefs. According to a prominent elder, "There was no doubt we would win the debate, so with the support of the entire town behind us, the Taliban relented and let us return to our mosques in peace."
In tandem with these local efforts, the people of Swat set out to raise awareness of the crisis at a national and global level. Zubair Torwali, a social activist from Bahrain, wrote a seminal article, "From Swat with No Love," revealing the plight of Swat in Pakistan's mainstream media for the first time. Others followed suit, and finally, images of the Taliban flogging a teenage girl sent shockwaves throughout Pakistan.
Torwali and other activists also set up Amankaar Tehrik, or "peace movement," to mobilize political institutions to counter violent extremism. Bushra Gohar, a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, convened jirgas of Swati activists and public intellectuals to bring awareness of the problem to policymakers in Islamabad. Meanwhile, religious figures from the frontier region of Pakistan briefed other anti-Taliban religious leaders from across Pakistan during the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Conference in Lahore. Together they pledged their support for military operations in Swat.
As the Taliban drew closer to Islamabad in 2009, the Pakistani military also waged a campaign to win "hearts and minds" in the region. Omar Tirmizi, a young army captain who lost his leg fighting in Bajaur explained how his unit gave their rations to villagers to gain their trust. The response was positive. That summer, with enough political capital and public awareness, the military successfully waged its offensive against the Taliban. A community activist in Swat explained, "Once the military arrived, we all hoisted white flags on top of our houses to signify our support for the state."
Today, Swat is once again considered safe, and tourists are slowly returning. According to Nasat Iqbal from the government's Social Welfare Organization, women are playing a major role in promoting education and leading rehabilitation projects. In nearby Malakand, the Jamia Subhaniyya Rizvia is building one of the first religious and vocational schools for women in the tribal belt, with accommodations for up to 200 students. There are other signs that people are gradually rebuilding their lives. Vibrant cultural traditions, which had been prohibited by the Taliban's puritanical decrees, are once again being celebrated. A week before we arrived in Swat, Mr. Torwali had co-sponsored the Simam Cultural Festival, attended by thousands.
Swat's success hinged on an integrated approach, which should be replicated at the epicenter of Pakistan's war against extremism, the tribal belt. There as in Swat, civil society actors, including religious and political leaders, elders, and educators, lead daring resistance efforts against all odds. We visited a flagship madrasa within a network of anti-Taliban educational institutions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In the surrounding hills, an infamous Taliban commander is waging one of the bloodiest wars in the region. A local educator explained, "When militants began threatening the schools, hundreds of our teachers publically pledged never to allow extremism to enter our campuses." His students established lashkars (militias) and even set up a radio station to challenge extremist narratives. However, given the increasing threats from militants and waning support from the government, these endeavors were ultimately short-lived.
Parallel efforts are being waged by Shi'a Muslim community leaders in FATA to reinforce mainstream Islamic principles of religious freedom and pluralism. According to Dr. Javed Hussain, a former member of Parliament from Parachinar (just across the border from Tora Bora), thousands of members of minority groups have been persecuted by the Taliban since 9-11. Just this summer, community activists from his region organized a major press conference at the National Press Club to demand greater media coverage of the targeted killings in FATA. "There was a time," a local Shi'a leader explained, "when we used to host musical evenings with our Hindu and Sikh neighbors. In the dead of winter, we even housed Christian families in our homes when they didn't have any heating sources." Today, at great personal risk, he affords safe passage for those fleeing the region. He added, "Every morning I think of my mother and pray that she doesn't have to witness the pain of her son passing away." Despite courageous efforts at the grass-roots level, much more is required to mobilize all of Pakistan behind a full-fledged counterinsurgency operation in the tribal areas.
Without ongoing action to counter radical ideologies and support the efforts of moderates, militants could eventually resurface under a different alias. Let's not forget that the Swat Taliban have already done this twice in the last two decades. As we were leaving Peshawar, a prominent poster on the road read, "Allah is our God and Jihad is our way!" This is a chilling reminder that military offensives have to be followed by a sustained campaign to counter Talibanization at its roots.
Waleed Ziad and Mehreen Farooq are leading a project to analyze the role of Pakistan's civil society in countering extremism for the Washington DC-based World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE).
ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images
When the mainstream media begins to compare Pakistani politicians to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it's time to take notice. And after drawing over 70,000 people (with some claiming as many as 100,000) to a rally in Lahore on Sunday, Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician and chairman of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, is being likened to the former prime minister and father of Benazir Bhutto. The parallel is meant to highlight Khan's populist appeal and ability to mobilize the masses at a grassroots level. Such comparisons may be premature: political rallies where so-called supporters are bused in at the party's expense are rarely good indicators of electoral prospects. But the unforeseen turnout -- almost double the number expected -- makes it worth considering what Khan's growing appeal may mean in the run up to Pakistan's general elections, scheduled for 2013.
Until now, Khan's political trajectory has been viewed with cynicism. His opponents argue that he is being funded and facilitated by Pakistan's intelligence agencies in order to erode the vote bank of the center-right Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which dominates politics in the populous Punjab province and leads the opposition at the federal level. This theory is fueled by soaring tensions between the PML-N and the Pakistani army. Former prime minister and PML-N president Nawaz Sharif continues to resent his dismissal from office in 1999 through a military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf. His party has therefore called for increased accountability for army generals and defense expenditures as well as improved ties with India, issues that run counter to the army's security policies. Owing to this context, few paid heed to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in June that found Khan to be the most popular political figure in Pakistan.
However, the attendance at Sunday's rally complicates this theory. While Khan may enjoy the support of some in the security establishment, he was able to attract droves of young men, women, students, children and representatives of minority communities to the Lahore rally to echo his "save the country" mantra. Moreover, the Lahore rally was not a one-off: a gathering in the Punjabi city of Gujranwala on September 25 also drew a significant number of attendees. Together, these rallies suggest that Khan has made significant inroads in Punjab.
Khan's appeal is not surprising. He is best known as the captain who brought back the Cricket World Cup to Pakistan in 1992. Pakistanis also appreciate his philanthropic instincts: in 1994, he founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center, which offers free care for cancer patients. As such, Khan is a departure from leaders who hail from political dynasties, such as the Bhuttos or the Sharifs, and boast immense rural landholdings. Since the PTI boycotted the 2008 general elections and has no representation in parliament, the party's record is also clean. Khan is thus better positioned than the PML-N to denounce the corrupt practices of "Mr. Ten Percent," as Pakistan's President and co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari is widely known.
But the real key to Khan's popularity lies in his public stance against U.S. foreign policy, and what he describes as Washington's interference in Pakistan's internal affairs. He has consistently condemned drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's tribal belt, and argued that Pakistan's alliance with the United States is the main reason why the country is now facing a Taliban insurgency. Khan was careful on Sunday to indicate that he would be open to continued ties with the United States if he came to office, but only on Pakistan's terms. This is a heartening message for millions of Pakistanis who are still reeling from the audacity of the unilateral U.S. raid against Osama bin Laden's compound in May, which many saw as a brash violation of Pakistan's national sovereignty and an act of betrayal by a so-called ally. If this tactic succeeds, Khan will not be the first Pakistani politician to convert anti-Americanism into votes. In 2002, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a conglomeration of religious parties, was able to form the provincial government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province by campaigning against the American use of force in Afghanistan and Washington's coercive policies that led Pakistan to join the fight against global terrorism.
Despite his populist appeal, it remains unclear what impact Khan will have on election day. The PTI's ability to win the support of district-level politicians and draw voters to the ballot box remains untested, owing to the party's boycott of the last elections. Moreover, Khan's popularity seems to be confined to the urban areas of the Punjab province and parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Urban voters in Pakistan are historically less likely than their rural counterparts to cast votes, and unless Khan can drum up support in the Punjabi countryside -- traditionally the stronghold of the PML-N -- the PTI is likely to fall short. One possible scenario is the PML-N and PTI could split the votes in the Punjab province, a situation that would strengthen the PPP's overall position and lead the incumbents to form the government in a second term.
In light of Pakistan's recent shift towards a culture of coalition politics, some analysts have also floated the possibility of a political divide along ideological lines, with center-right parties such as the PTI, PML-N and various religious political parties closing ranks against the more liberal PPP, Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and Punjab-based Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) faction. Given the fierce competition and animosity between Khan's PTI and Sharif's PML-N, a center-right coalition seemed difficult to imagine. But on Monday, Khan announced that he would be willing to consider reconciling with the PML-N if Sharif declared his real assets, in a step towards promoting taxation and eradicating corruption. In Pakistani politics, stranger things have been known to happen.
Huma Yusuf is a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn Newspaper, and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
As we pass the 10-year anniversary of the US-led war in Afghanistan, most attention has been focused on how much longer the United States intends to stay in the region. But a question that has not been addressed is who is going to be putting the pieces together afterwards. The European Union (EU) and the United States are clearly at the end of their tether, while Russia, India and other nearby powers continue to lack the capacity or means to dominate the region. Other rising regional power China may continue to be wary of becoming involved in any foreign entanglements, but as a friend put it in a meeting in Beijing the other day, China may not have broken the teapot of Afghanistan, but it is one that sits firmly on their borders.
And there is some evidence that this reality is sinking in at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. Chinese firms have made substantial investments in Afghanistan. The Aynak copper mine has been joined by an investment in oil fields in northern Afghanistan. And while Chinese firms in the end did not invest in the Bamiyan iron mines they have still cast their lot in terms of developing Afghan infrastructure - pouring money into telecoms, road-building and train lines linking Afghanistan to the rest of the region.
But this has not been supported by any large-scale investment in Afghan security. For that, China continues to look to NATO on the ground and more implicit protection from her close ally in Islamabad. As one senior Afghan put it to me, a reason that was often given for why the Chinese had gotten some of these deals was that it was known how close they were to Pakistan. The assumption was that if the deal went to China then the site would be protected in some way and the development would proceed.
While unclear to what degree this was the determining factor, the story plays into what seems to be China's main foreign policy factor when considering Afghanistan, and that is Pakistan. The Sino-Pak relationship is one of the closest in the world, spanning trade, nuclear weapons, counter-terrorism and regional hedging against India. As both sides characterize it publicly, it is "higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel, sweeter than honey, and dearer than eyesight." And into this fits Afghanistan, a troublesome country that borders both and is the source of regional instability. China, still a hesitant foreign policy actor, is unwilling to do too much to assert her authority in the region and is more than happy to let eager Pakistan take the lead.
And this approach is something that has worked for China for many years now. Unwilling to become involved in a conflict that could force it to take sides in a conflict in which it could be painted as part of some alliance against Islam and potentially support actors who would encourage separatists in the restive Xinjiang province, China has hesitated to do much in Afghanistan in support of NATO efforts in the country. For some in China, there was a sense that NATO's loss in Afghanistan was China's gain and that the potential encirclement that might result from NATO success on their borders would be to China's detriment, while for others there was a sense that this was a lost cause anyway and that Afghanistan was the "graveyard of empires."
Instead, China focused on investing in things that seemed like a good idea. A large copper mine at Aynak sits close to China's borders and consequently seemed a wise investment to first bid for it and then offer a whole package of deals including a local power station and train line to provide the backdrop to make the deal work for the Chinese firm. All of this would help supply China's need for copper, as well as develop a part of the country that was close to China and would therefore potentially have a knock-on effect in improving prosperity in neighboring underdeveloped Chinese province Xinjiang. Similarly with the deal to secure the oil fields in Amu Darya - China's unslakable thirst for hydrocarbons means it will reach out anywhere to get them, and when they are so close to home, all the better.
But while none of this disagrees with western policy in Afghanistan, there is no sense that China is willing to buy into any active policy supporting western goals in the region. China continues to be the ultimate hedging power in Afghanistan - while it seems clear that they are willing to support western aims in the country, there continues to be a lack of any clear evidence that they are as willing to expend political capital or effort to advance their goals actively in the country. This is not to say they are indolent in advancing their interests, but that they are wary of becoming entangled in a country that has repeatedly shown a capacity to reject foreign influence.
From a Chinese perspective, the answer to Afghanistan is clear. The tribes need to fight it out amongst each other - to paraphrase what one expert told me in Beijing, this is a country with "lots of big powerful men who need to be kept happy" and outsiders do not really stand much of chance moderating this. Ultimately, the country is poor, will clearly need investment going forward, and China will be there to support it. With deep pockets and no conditions, this support can be funneled to whomever is in charge and to whomever has the power of the provinces where China has direct interests. When it comes to border threats, China seems to have managed to secure strong intelligence links and is able to keep a quite firm lid on any potential threats from extremist groups with links to networks in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
China's play in Afghanistan has been very hesitant so far. The reason for this is a lack of certainty in Beijing about what Washington's game plan is. In the meantime, they have continued to make careful strategic investments with a view to the long game. And while from a western analysis this should mean a greater Chinese interest in stabilizing the current government, from Beijing's perspective it is far better to let things play themselves out while focusing on specific interests. This will not necessarily help western aims to re-shape Afghanistan, but it will strengthen China's hand when the west finally leaves.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation. He blogs at http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
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fundamentalist and extremist. This is the general impression of Pakistani
society in the world outside Pakistan, though a deeper look would lead the
observer to discover another layer - altogether different than the one visible
from Europe and America. Following the Urdu-language Pakistani media, one is
easily brought to the conclusion that there exists widespread radicalism and
fundamentalism among Pakistanis. The television anchors and their repetition of
‘national interests' aside, the key question is: Is the Pakistani society
really extremist? A cursory look at the events of the past few years can tell
Following the highly-rigged general elections in 2002 in favor of the now defunct religious alliance, Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Pakistan's religious parties looked poised to assert their newfound power in the country. But just six years later, in the February 2008 general election, Pakistanis overwhelmingly supported secular political parties such as the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP), while the religious parties managed to retain only seven seats in the country's National Assembly. The religious parties and their affiliates also failed on several occasions to start a political movement by using issues such as the jailing of Pakistani doctor Aafia Siddiqui, the US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal northwest, the Raymond Davis episode, or the U.S. Special Forces raid in Abbottabad and killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan's security establishment also contributes to the West's fundamentalist and extremist image of Pakistani society. Over the years, the Pakistani state has supported the armies of Kashmir-focused jihadists in order to gain leverage over its more powerful and several-times-larger rival India, as well maintain a Pakistan-friendly government in neighboring Afghanistan. To achieve these goals, the establishment willfully encouraged a number of elements within its own borders, ranging from pro-jihadist religious parties to extremist literature in schools, colleges and universities, in order to generate support for the jihadist cause.
Within Pakistan, the armed forces are often presented as heroes and the true custodians of Pakistan's ideological and geographical frontiers, while the liberal political forces are labeled (albeit with some truth) as vested interests, too corrupt and inefficient to run the country and ensure its defense. Pakistani youth are flooded with hardliner propaganda and find attraction in extremist views because of the stance of the esteemed military, the jihadist literature in classrooms, government-controlled electronic media, and a state policy of encouraging certain jihadist organizations.
This policy approach, although it dates back to the creation of Pakistan,
was institutionalized during the 10 years of military rule under the dictator
General Zia ul-Haq, who championed jihad and the Islamization of society. The majority
of the secular leaders at that time were either won over one way or another, forced to keep
silent, or pushed into exile, thus leaving room for the fundamentalists to come
forward and "purify" the society by holding mass gatherings in cities, speaking
on the official electronic media, becoming involved in educational institutions
and spreading jihadist literature. Zia and his rightist support base thus
maneuvered hard, and the ultimate result was the emergence of a hardliner
approach among the upper layer of the Pakistani society to Muslim causes - be
it Kashmir, Afghanistan,
Kosovo or any other place in the world. The support for extremists and
jihadists did not end with the death of Gen. Zia. Elements in The state security apparatus continued the same
policies, eventually resulting in the emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan
who converted areas of the country into a safe haven for extremists and
jihadists all over the world.
However, this is only one side of the picture. A few thousand miscreants fighting in the tribal areas, or some baton-wielding madressa students marching a street in Punjab, in no way represent the majority of the 180 million-strong Pakistani populace, who disapprove of the Taliban's terrorism and vandalism. Today, the tribal areas are being presented to the world as a tinderbox where everyone is a radical fighter or suicide bomber, only to convince the western world to shower more money on the Pakistani elites in order to avert this purported threat to global peace. In fact, this is a well-orchestrated plan in which the tribal people are the real victims. Victims in the sense that they are presented to the world as the trouble-maker while in fact, they are hostages at the hands of the Pakistani security agencies (and the militant groups), who over the years have supported or ignored the presence of jihadist and terrorist groups on Pakistani soil.
To understand the state's approach to the tribal areas, one must look at a few simple but thought-provoking questions: Why have the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) been discriminated against over the past 60 years? Why are they being run under the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) laws, and why were political parties banned from the area until very recently? How many schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, roads, canals, dams, power projects, and agriculture projects have been launched in FATA over the years? There are many other such unanswered questions, and the motive is clear: Keep FATA residents in the dark and mold their image as and when needed.
all of this, a vast majority of FATA residents are still in favor of education,
development, political reforms and (no doubt) peace. We are hearing more and
more accounts of tribal Pakistanis spending their hard-earned money to send
their sons and daughters to colleges and universities to become doctors,
engineers, teachers and scholars. Would a person sending his son or daughter to
university support the Taliban's jihadist agenda?
Pakistan's cities meanwhile,
despite the fact that the secular political leadership is often rendered
useless by criminal elements and their supporters, the vast majority of people
disapprove of militancy and extremism. The once popular religious political
parties are usually not able to gather more than a few hundred people at
rallies, even for flashpoint issues such as price hikes, power outages, fuel
shortages or foreigners' alleged disrespect of Islam. Anti-Americanism exists
in many countries and Pakistan
is no exception. But being anti-American does not necessarily mean being a
jihadist or a Talib. Protests in the United
States and around the world against the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan
are non-violent examples of this sentiment.
Now is the time for the western world to understand the situation by looking deep into Pakistani society instead of judging things on the basis of protest demonstrations by a few hundred bearded young men, or some gun-wielding men in videos from FATA. The key point to understand is that the real Pakistani society lies under the superficial layer of radicalism being presented as a serious threat to Pakistan and the peace of the world at large.
We need to know that despite security threats, hundreds of thousands of students are attending schools, colleges and universities; new private sector educational institutions are being opened; new think-tanks are being launched; the NGO network is spreading; and music, art and culture are flourishing. These developments are even occurring in areas presented as the most conservative to the outside world. It is high time for the world to look beyond the surface and see the vast majority of Pakistanis, who have been taken hostage by the few armed thugs who are propped up by the state to achieve the foreign policy goals.
Extremism is without a doubt a serious issue confronting the state of Pakistan and the region. But the approach should be to take it head on with the support of the bulk of Pakistanis who disapprove of terrorism and believe in political dialogue as a resolution to issues both inside and outside the country.
Daud Khattak is a journalist currently working for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto-language station Radio Mashaal.
S.S. MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images
It was ten years ago this month that Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan. Now, with the United States preparing to draw down its military forces and other NATO coalition member troops already gone, the focus is shifting to what an exit strategy from that country might look like. And a key component of the security hand-over to Afghan National Security Forces is the establishment of community defense forces, known as the Afghan Local Police (ALP).
The ALP was launched last year by the Afghan government to recruit local units to defend remote, insecure areas of the country against insurgent threats and attacks. Recruits are nominated by a local shura council, then vetted by Afghan intelligence and trained for up to three weeks by U.S. forces. General David Petraeus, the former ISAF Commander in Afghanistan, touts the ALP as successfully thwarting the insurgency.
But this narrative is very different from the one Refugees International discovered on a recent visit to the country. In May, we traveled to Afghanistan to conduct an assessment of the humanitarian situation in the country, in light of the increasing displacement caused by conflict. During the course of our 16-day mission, we conducted over 50 interviews with displaced Afghans, local organizations, UN officials, aid workers, human rights researchers, government officials, security analysts, and journalists in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and surrounding areas. To our surprise, the rapid rollout of the ALP program was widely criticized by Afghans and humanitarian actors. Almost every single one of our interviewees highlighted the growth of the ALP and the simultaneous rise of other pro-government militias as their top concern for the security of civilians and stability in the country, particularly in the north.
Many told stories of ALP forces using their newly gained power and guns - furnished by the U.S. - to harass, intimidate, and perpetrate crimes against the very civilians they were recruited, trained, and paid to protect. Some even reported that powerful warlords were pressuring local leaders to formalize pre-existing militias into the ALP - often around tribal, ethnic or political lines - to avenge personal disputes or strengthen their influence.
But despite the fact that some ALP units have been implicated in murder, rape, beatings, arbitrary detention, abductions, forcible land grabs, and illegal raids, U.S. forces are under pressure to quickly help recruit and stand up ALP units - with the goal of adding another 23,000 men to the existing force of 7,000 at sites across the country. In our June report we called on the Obama administration to pressure the Afghan government to halt further expansion of the ALP and address its shortfalls immediately.
Since returning from Afghanistan, we have met with Pentagon officials and congressional offices to raise Refugees International's concerns with the ALP initiative. By and large, the reaction from the Hill and Administration officials has been reserved, if not partial to the positive news coming out of the Congressional visits to "model" ALP sites and bi-annual Pentagon reports. Also, for many, it seems that the underlying assumption is that if the ALP program is halted, U.S. troops might not be able to depart from Afghanistan as rapidly as planned or expected, or that somehow Americans might be asked to spend more on this war.
This is a false choice: without a clear U.S. strategy to address the shortcomings of this program, abusive ALP units will only continue to spread fear, fuel tribal and ethnic tensions, and further destabilize the country. Moreover, left unchecked the ALP will become a catalyst for the insurgency.
Refugees International is calling on the Pentagon to take immediate steps to improve the vetting, training, oversight, and accountability of ALP forces. Furthermore, Congress can and should exercise its oversight responsibility by requiring the Pentagon to outline in detail how the U.S. is supporting the Afghan government's roll-out of the ALP program, as well as the Afghan government's capacity and efforts to effectively oversee and investigate allegations of abuse by ALP units or individuals and hold them accountable.
Similarly, the Afghan government should create an independent panel, including government officials and Afghan civil society representatives such as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), to evaluate the program's recruitment, vetting, oversight, and accountability policies and practices, and provide recommendations to the Government and its implementing partners.
Lynn Yoshikawa and Matt Pennington are advocates for Refugees International, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that seeks to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. In May, Lynn and Matt traveled to Kabul, as well as Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and surrounding areas to assess the needs of internally displaced people in Afghanistan.
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On October 4, 2011, the day that India and Afghanistan signed an agreement on strategic partnership, I traveled from Kabul to Kandahar, getting what was for me a rare glimpse of the average Afghan's perception of Indian developmental activity in his country. What was striking was the widespread support I saw in the Pashtun heartland for an even greater Indian role in rebuilding the Afghan economy and society. There is demand in Kandahar for India to add to the lone refrigeration facility it built, as Afghan goods are otherwise sold to the Pakistanis, who keep them in their own refrigeration facilities and then sell them back to the Afghans at much higher prices.
In the Arghandab Valley, traditionally known for its pomegranates, locals seek help in establishing storage, processing and transit facilities. The airport manager at the Kandahar International airport, Ahmedullah Faizi, highlighted the need for more cargo flights to export pomegranates and dry fruits. On direct flights from Kandahar to Delhi, there has been a notable increase in the number of visitors to India for health care, tourism and education. Women who had been queuing up with their young children since 5 o'clock in the morning at an Indian medical facility in Kandahar expressed appreciation for India's assistance. In discussions with Shah Wali Karzai, Qayoom Karzai and Mehmood Karzai in Kandaharthe day after the agreement was signed, the Karzai brothers were clear on their desire for India to invest in cement factories, irrigation and power projects, road and canal building, and an increase the number of scholarships for Afghan students to study professional courses like management and public administration in India.
The agreement came on the heels of the killing of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the subsequent suspension of reconciliation talks with the Taliban, leading many to conclude that it was signed in order to isolate Pakistan. What these critics have missed is that the agreement was more than five months in the making, designed to address the long-standing demands of the Afghan people. A series of official visits and private deliberations since January of this year culminated in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement in May of the two countries' plans for a strategic partnership. During an interview in Kabul in the days following the establishment of the pact, former Interior Minister Ali Jalali said he "recognizes the agreement as a document officializing [sic] the close ties that already exist between the two countries." Shah Mahmood Miakhel, former Deputy Minister of Interior, strongly supported the agreement as "useful for reconstruction and stability of Afghanistan to prevent civil war or proxy war."
This development should silence the critics of India's aid-only policy. Some senior Indian officials and former diplomats I have spoken to warned that India could get caught in a "reputation trap," where it is overstretched economically in a country of "negative security interests." The agreement is an affirmation of India's maturing foreign policy in the region. It is also a natural corollary of the constructive role India has played in Afghan development efforts thus far. In the last ten years, India has contributed close to $2 billion in aid, making it Afghanistan's fifth largest bilateral donor, and garnering much appreciation from the local population. The success of development efforts in Afghanistan is clearly a key aspect of achieving stability there. Thus, the Afghan-Indian strategic agreement may be seen as the consolidation of gains made by India's soft power approach, as well as an expansion of India's plans to secure its national security interests. A strong, stable and democratic Afghanistan would reduce the dangers of the return of extremist forces to the seats of power, and the potential spillover of radicalism and violence that would destabilize the entire region.
The agreement is important in that it touches on a wide range of issues that are critical to sustaining progress in Afghanistan. India's decision to expand the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), particularly the Afghan National Police (ANP), is a significant step toward building local capacity for providing security. The trade and economic agreements in the pact are a reiteration of India's commitment to Afghanistan's economic growth, and its role as a "bridge" between South Asia and Central Asia. The emphasis on "regional economic cooperation" in the ASP indicates India's vision of binding the countries in the region through a mutually beneficial cooperative framework. Finally, the agreement's capacity building and educational initiatives are a pledge from India to invest in the future leadership of Afghanistan.
India is indeed looking beyond merely engaging the Karzai government, or indulging one ethnic or political faction. The strategic agreement ensures the continuity of India's initiatives by making them free from the politics, whims and personal fancies of future leaders. Assertions that India's foreign policy does not usually have a long-term vision no longer apply in the case of Afghanistan. An institutional mechanism for continued engagement in Afghanistan in the form of this agreement is bound to cultivate a broad range of stakeholders in that country, preventing a complete reversal later of the gains it makes in the short term.
New Delhi and Kabul have insisted on multiple occasions that they are willing to accommodate Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. President Karzai said after the signing of the agreement that the new partnership with India was not meant as a form of aggression toward Pakistan. One hopes that in spite of the criticisms the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued of the strategic pact, the country will see reason in adopting a mature and rational Afghan policy. As one Afghan political leader in Kandahar said to me, "if Pakistan has to compete with India in gaining good will among the Afghans, it has to be on the plank of reconstruction and development, and not acts of subversion and selective assassinations or providing sanctuaries [to militants]."
No commentary on Indian-Afghan relations would be complete without addressing the most pressing question: Can India sustain or even expand its activities in Afghanistan beyond the NATO withdrawal date in 2014? The strategic agreement has provided a much-needed mechanism for a continued relationship beyond this deadline, without being subjected to the vagaries of future governments in Kabul or New Delhi, or to the prevailing regional security environment. For Afghans it is surely a sign that India is a reliable partner who has stepped in firmly when the West seems to be in a hurry to quit.
Dr. Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She can be reached at email@example.com. The views reflected in the paper are those of the author and not of the Institute.
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Last May I asked Major General Niaz Muhammad Khan Khattak, the Deputy Director of the ISI, Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, about his organization's links with the Haqqani Network. "If you always focus on the mosaic," he said, pointing to the Afghan rug in his sumptuous office, "that's all you'll see." Today it doesn't matter how Washington looks at this mosaic - as transnational terrorism or as Pakistan's anti-India partner in Afghanistan - one thing is certain: elements within the ISI help fighters belonging to the Haqqani Network who kill American soldiers. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is a tinderbox, one spark - U.S. soldiers on Pakistani territory or the Haqqanis killing dozens of American troops - could ignite war.
That spark may be more plausible than we think. Recent détente is encouraging but only a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the ISI to facilitate talks between Washington and reconcilable Haqqanis, and yet warned of "dire consequences" for Islamabad if the Pakistani military did not take action against the Haqqanis who are unwilling to negotiate. The Pakistani response was "yes" to talks, but "no" to military operations. Today, thousands of American troops are in the Haqqani Network's crosshairs in eastern Afghanistan during efforts to root out Haqqani militants, such as Operation Steel Rain in Khowst. Unless Pakistani generals act against the Haqqani Network's sanctuary in North Waziristan, which they have refused to do so far, American casualties will increase. In that case, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress and the White House to act unilaterally, quite possibly by putting boots on the ground.
What will happen if helicopters carrying American Seals are shot down in North Waziristan? How will America respond to a major attack that kills 100 troops in Afghanistan, like the September attack that wounded 77 soldiers in east Kabul? What if the perpetrators escape to Karachi, beyond the range of drones? What if American boots trigger a mutiny in the Pakistani army, leading to civil war? How will Washington secure Pakistani nuclear weapons?
Unfortunately, many of these dangerous scenarios are increasingly likely. A Pakistani official has told me that American-supplied Pakistani F-16 fighters are on high alert against a probable US raid. In March, Pakistani Air Force had orders to shoot down US predator and reaper drones. Last year, Islamabad shut down NATO's largest supply line for days, and three years ago, General Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistani military, ordered fire on a US helicopter carrying U.S. Special Forces that had crossed into North Waziristan. The Pakistani parliament, political parties and the media are supportive of the army's sentiments against the United States, but not against the Haqqanis. Anti-Americanism, always high, has reached unprecedented levels within the military's ranks, especially amongst junior officers. This is because most young officers are unaware of the past deals their generals have made with the Americans, and some may act independently in the name of national pride against an American incursion into Pakistan to target militants.
The United States is failing to change Pakistani public opinion because many Pakistanis are oblivious to American good will, and ambivalent about American aid as well as reconciliation with the insurgents. They hear about aid cuts and Americans talking to the same insurgents Pakistanis are asked to kill. Pakistani generals and politicians support such public confusion and often blame Washington for Pakistan's problems in order to cover up their own incompetence and corruption. More than 10 years and $20 billion worth of military and civilian aid has bought Washington the heads of top al-Qaeda leaders, the elimination of critical safe havens (Swat valley and South Waziristan), but not the Quetta Shura in Balochistan or the Haqqanis in North Waziristan.
At the same time, since 9/11 more than 30,000 Pakistanis have been victims of terrorism, of which 6,000 were soldiers and policemen. The city of Karachi, which contributes half of Pakistan's national income, is home to a brutal ethnic war, and resurgent Balochi militants and Sindhi flood victims are overstretching the military and an incompetent civilian government. Hyperinflation of food and energy prices, water shortages, massive floods, proliferating terrorists groups, and a fast-growing nuclear program are fast making Pakistan a threat to itself and the world.
To make matters worse, the Pakistan-based Haqqanis are killing American soldiers and disrupting the Afghan peace process, with what the United States says is support from the ISI. Clearly, US military aid cuts have done little to alter the ISI's support for the Haqqanis. Instead, General Kayani is rallying troops and political parties against expected U.S. raids into North Waziristan. He is pressing Washington's weakest point: threatening to close crucial supply routes to Afghanistan, without which there would be massive NATO fuel and ammunition shortages. It would take months, and improbable negotiations with the Russians, to get a viable alternative to the "Northern Supply Network."
It is not just a matter of Pakistani will, but also Pakistani capabilities. There is great need for American helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and yes, some American boots on the ground in the form of trainers and advisers. Even if Pakistani generals decide to attack the Haqqanis, they no longer have resources to clear and hold North Waziristan, and contain the blowback that could come in the form of a national suicide bombing wave.
In 2009, suicide attacks increased by 220 percent from the previous year (from ten to 32), targeting major cities: Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. This placed massive strains on poorly equipped national police forces. The same year, riding on an anti-insurgent public opinion wave, Pakistani commandoes, Frontier Scouts and 11th Corps infantry men - many trained and equipped by the United States - broke the insurgents' back in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. Today the Pakistani Army has no public support for a military operation against the Haqqanis. Furthermore, the population's opposition to the Pakistani Taliban - public enemy no. 1 in 2009 - is fading.
That was not always the case. In the summer of 2010, Pakistan's Commanding General for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, told me, "like Swat and South Waziristan [in 2009] with the help of the Pakistani public we will clean out North Waziristan this winter ." However, Pakistani intransigence regarding the Haqqanis, devastating floods, the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore by an American spy made the operation in North Waziristan impossible.
To renew ties we must start by replicating the 2009 conditions. American development dollars, weapons and trainers were flying in and al-Qaeda members were flying out or shot dead. U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, who rightly chides Pakistan today, said referring to the Pakistani surge against Pakistani Taliban that he "couldn't give the Pakistani Army anything but an 'A'." But absent a national narrative against the Haqqanis that unites Pakistanis, carved out of a transparent partnership with the United States, both countries may slip into war. Time is running out.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is the author of Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering & Fomenting Insurgencies. Mullick advised General (r) David H. Petraeus on Pakistan in 2009 and 2010. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program.(www.haidermullick.com)
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This is the second installment in a series contributed by researchers from the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) as they traveled throughout Pakistan to explore how civil society is countering extremism at the grassroots level.
In a pristine, remote valley in Kashmir, far from the theaters of war, some families are abandoning their religious and cultural traditions in favor of extremist ideologies. The trend began after the 2005 earthquake, when several Islamist organizations - notably Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD) - came to the forefront, providing food, shelter and health supplies to devastated communities. A village elder lamented, "Many of us were impressed by their sophisticated ambulance services, and families willingly joined in their relief efforts." Most of these families had no idea that JuD was in fact a front for the banned militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Pakistanis, particularly in such remote areas, require tools to recognize extremist ideologies and terrorist organizations so that they can create counter-movements within their own communities. We travelled throughout Northern Punjab and the Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to learn how certain grassroots organizations have designed effective awareness campaigns within a religious paradigm that are palatable even to the at-risk population.
We began with the leaders of Pakistan's moderate religious networks. Since 9/11, dozens of religious scholars have issued public statements and fatwas against terrorism. Dr. Raghib Naeemi -- son of Dr. Sarfraz Naeemi who was killed in 2009 after he publically denounced terrorist activities as un-Islamic -- appears regularly on TV to promote peace and social cohesion.
Traditional Muslim networks have organized nation-wide anti-Taliban public rallies from "Save Pakistan" to "Ulema and Mashaikh" conventions, bringing together religious scholars and community leaders. Last November, a "Long March" was organized from Islamabad to Lahore to protest the increasing number of suicide attacks on Pakistan's cultural and spiritual landmarks. Over 20 major shrines across Pakistan were bombed last year alone. One of the core organizers of the Long March explained, "As we proceeded, the participation grew by the thousands, and in every city, we gave speeches and handed out fliers teaching people how to recognize extremism."
Religious leaders have also developed rapid response mechanisms to denounce terrorism following major suicide attacks. Last year when the soup kitchen at the shrine of Lahore's patron saint was bombed, the imam Mufti Mohammad Sialvi invited the media and mobilized leaders from different mosques to condemn terrorism. When we visited the shrine a year later, we found that students groups had maintained the campaign with freshly painted banners.
To form a stronger unified voice against the Taliban, religious scholars have also created a number of new NGOs. In the rural outskirts of Rawalpindi, Pir Mudassir Shah, a dynamic young leader versed in 14 languages, established the think tank Center for Innovative Research, Collaboration and Learning (CIRCLe). Pir Mudassir was a prominent organizer in a 25,000 man National Flag Day march to demonstrate support for the military counterinsurgency operations in the Swat Valley. The march brought together various elements of civil society, from conservative Muslim groups to the Christian Progressive Movement of Pakistan. CIRCLe will soon launch a poster campaign, for which they are seeking international support. One of the posters features a girl crying with a caption: "The Taliban Took my Father."
Schools are another critical channel through which Pakistanis generate awareness. Our journey took us to Bhera, an ancient village known for its classic Mughal mosques, Hindu temples, and carved wooden balconies. Deep in the heart of Punjab, Bhera's Dar ul-Uloom Muhammadia Ghousia is the hub of a network of educational and social welfare institutions providing free education grounded in the Sufi ethos to over 25,000 women and men. Pir Amin al-Hasanat, who leads the school, explained, "We teach all of our students that it is not their duty to fight jihad, but to look after the wellbeing of their community - regardless of one's faith or ethnicity." Just last year, the school and its affiliate philanthropic and social welfare organizations distributed hundreds of hygiene kits, established medical facilities for over 7,000 people and rebuilt homes for flood victims. They targeted remote areas at risk of falling under the influence of radical groups who use relief as a means to win recruits.
We encountered other successful models. The Pak Turk International School system has campuses throughout Pakistan, including volatile regions like Quetta and Peshawar. Their teachers challenge radical narratives by providing students and their families the necessary tools for interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding, which allow them to deconstruct the tribal, cultural, and religious stereotypes that feed militancy. Successful counter radicalization, we were told, is not taught in a specific class or manual but rather by example. In the Pak Turk schools, teachers are available at all times for guidance, and visit students in their homes. Through these civil society efforts, Pakistanis are becoming aware of the dangers of violent extremism. According to recent public opinion polls, a greater number of Pakistanis have a negative view of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban than before. "At first people were hesitant to speak out against the Taliban," explained Pir Mudassir Shah, "but now they are becoming more comfortable challenging extremism because the issue is mainstreamed." Today, while barriers and police checkpoints can be seen lining the streets of Pakistan's capital, and the army mobilizes in the tribal belt, a parallel war is being waged in Pakistan's heartland by local communities.
In one instance in rural Abbottabad, not far from the compound in which slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was living, a group of radical mullahs offered to build a mosque on the condition that the clerics could provide their own teachers. Not long after, families were alarmed to see that their children were being radicalized in classes taught at the new mosque. When parents learned that their children were being taught that "J" stands for "jihad" and "K" for "kalashnikov" the community held the mosque under siege until the mullahs were forced out.
150 miles south, in a village near Bhera, a father learned that his son was being brainwashed by a fundamentalist community member to believe that he would enter paradise if he became a suicide bomber. The father, supported by the Dar ul-Uloom community, rescued the children by publically exposing the radical mullah. He challenged the mullah: "After sending my child to paradise, why don't you send your own son to join him so that mine won't be lonely?"
Even some segments of the population that had been involved in militancy are now condemning extremism. Irfan, a former "toll collector" for a militant outfit along the Pakistan-Afghanistan Durand Line explained, "After the Taliban bombed the shrine of the Rahman Baba, the great Pashtun poet-saint, I realized that militants are destroying our country." Now as a taxi driver, Irfan makes it a point to lambast the Taliban in conversations with all of his passengers.
Waleed Ziad and Mehreen Farooq are leading a project to analyze the role of Pakistan's civil society in countering extremism for the Washington DC-based World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE).
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The killing September 30 in Yemen of the militant American-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, arguably the most recognizable transnational jihadi figure beside Osama bin Laden, deprives the transnational Sunni jihadi movement represented by Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) of its premier ambassador to English speaking and reading audiences around the world. His killing also cuts short his further ascendance as one of the most promising members of Al-Qaeda's missionary vanguard of charismatic ideologues who harness their rhetorical flare and varying degrees of scholarly bona fides to further the goals of AQC and its sister groups. Using his gifts as a rhetorician, al-Awlaki fulfilled a key communicative role between Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which confirmed his death in a statement issued October 10, and the broader AQ movement and potential supporters. Al-Awlaki maneuvered himself into the position of being one of the transnational jihadi movement's key ideologues, the most effective missionary of its self-declared "jihad" among English-speaking audiences.
Al-Awlaki's influence has steadily expanded beyond this base since late 2008. His writings, sermons, and audiovisual messages have been translated into a number of languages beyond their original English or Arabic including Urdu, Bosnian, French, Russian, Somali, Indonesian, and Bangla. He has been referenced and praised by media networks affiliated with Somalia's Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabab) insurgent movement and the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus.
Based on open source information, including AQAP media materials, al-Awlaki's exact position within the organization, if any, continues to be debated after his death. There is no debate, however, that he was publicly endorsed by high-profile AQAP leaders including amir Nasir al-Wihayshi and Fahd al-Quso, who is wanted by the U.S. government for his alleged involvement in the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Al-Wihayshi pledged his group's support for al-Awlaki in a May 16, 2010 audio message. Al-Quso referred briefly to al-Awlaki in an interview with the London-based Arabic-language daily newspaper al-Quds al-‘Arabi that was published on September 19, saying that the American "agrees with the mujahideen in their vision and opinion." Neither al-Wihayshi nor al-Quso specifically listed al-Awlaki's position, if any, within AQAP.
The nature of al-Awlaki's relationship with AQAP and his importance to their broader media operation is indeed unclear. Despite frequent contributions by and references to him in AQAP's English-language Internet magazine Inspire, al-Awlaki has only been mentioned a couple of times and usually in passing in short "news updates" featured in AQAP's flagship Arabic-language magazine, Sada al-Malahem (Echo of Battles), which is aimed at its core base of supporters both inside and outside Yemen, whose native language is Arabic.
The level of support for al-Awlaki outside of AQAP and in particular within AQC's leadership is debated. Anonymous U.S. government officials have claimed that intelligence gathered from bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan shows that some wanted the American to replace al-Wihayshi as AQAP's amir but that the Saudi founder of AQC vetoed the suggestion. The evidence for this claim is not publicly available for public evaluation. A lengthy clip from al-Awlaki's last video message, "Make it Known and Do Not Conceal It," released on November 8, 2010, was included in the fifth installment of al-Zawahiri's series of audio and video messages about Egypt after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, which was released on April 14. A clip of al-Awlaki, taken from his "exclusive interview" with AQAP's Al-Malahem Media Foundation that was released in May 2010, was first used by AQC in an October 2010 video message from fellow American Adam Gadahn. Al-Awlaki was not, however, explicitly or publicly endorsed by AQC's senior leaders. Nor did he seem adamant about self-identifying or promoting himself as an official member of al-Qaeda, probably hoping to maximize the benefits of his image of relative autonomy in terms of freedom of speech and association.
The role of Muslim religious scholars (‘ulama) in supporting al-Qaeda's "jihad" was one of al-Awlaki's key interests, partly because he presented himself as a religious scholar and preacher, and he addressed the ‘ulama's responsibilities in much of his work. In "Make it Known and Do Not Conceal It," he calls on Sunni ‘ulama to fulfill their duties by supporting AQAP against apostate governments in the Muslim world, like that of Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, that are allied with the "Crusaders, Zionists, and Rafidah ("Rejectionists," a derogatory term for Shi'ites). Al-Awlaki, in effect, was attempting to dialogue with other ‘ulama by strongly questioning why they have not yet spoken out. Al-Awlaki was also at the forefront of the transnational jihadi attempt to delegitimize the March 2010 Mardin Conference in Turkey, at which a group of Sunni ‘ulama attempted to re-interpret and contextualize a series of juridical rulings by the medieval jurist Ibn Taymiyya with the objective of delegitimizing al-Qaeda's claim of juridically sanctified violence. "The [Mardin Declaration] is an ignominy... It is an insolent statement that shows no respect to the suffering of our ummah," he wrote in an eight-page article in the second issue of AQAP's Inspire magazine.
Although al-Awlaki has presented himself as a scholar in order to solidify his legitimacy on the transnational jihadi scene, it is really the pragmatic and socially relevant content of his message that has built and sustained his popularity. His straightforward and unambiguous advice, on matters ranging from proper diet to the legitimacy of suicide attacks, has fed the appetite of his followers for everyday guidance. In an article titled "The Ruling on Dispossessing the Disbelievers Wealth in Dar al-Harb," al-Awlaki has engaged in an extensive discussion on Islamic jurisprudence regarding the legal status of goods stolen by Western Muslims from their fellow, non-Muslim citizens. Claiming that the West was considered Dar al-Harb (from the Qur'anic concept of the "House of War") because of its repeated military interventions in Muslim countries, he concluded that Muslims could legally dispossess non-Muslims since covenants of non-aggression based on citizenship and visa were invalidated by the non-Muslims' attacks. The preacher had voiced arguments requesting that his followers abandon mainstream economic activities and stop paying taxes on previous occasions, with the ultimate justification that "income generated from booty taken by force from the enemies of Allah [was] purer and more virtuous" than any other type of income. These unconventional yet contextually-relevant exhortations were meant to alleviate the funding issues facing jihadi groups and to facilitate his followers' transition to the outlaw lifestyle required by jihadi militancy.
Part spiritual adviser and part self-styled legal expert, al-Awlaki also produced timely and compelling political analyses. In response to the massive public uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya against autocratic regimes, al-Awlaki attempted to spin the rapidly changing events in AQ's favor. In his article "The Tsunami of Change" published in the fifth issue of Inspire, al-Awlaki offered a rebuttal to the idea that the events of the Arab Spring had rendered al-Qaeda unattractive and irrelevant. Taking a pragmatic view of regional developments, he reassured his audience, which was wary of the seemingly secular trajectory of the Arab Spring, by declaring that there was no need for the immediate result to be Islamic governance because any political outcome could certainly not be worse than the regimes being overthrown. Al-Awlaki further claimed that the events in fact constituted an opportunity for jihadis across the Arab world to link up and pool their resources.
In addition to his role as a "missionary" ideologue masquerading as a learned religious scholar, al-Awlaki is perhaps best known publicly for his role in inspiring and in some cases actively counseling and encouraging the radicalization of a number of North American and European Muslims. The highest profile of those influenced either in exchanges over the Internet or in person with al-Awlaki were Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, and Faisal Shahzad. Lesser known, particularly in the U.S., is the American's influence on Mounir and Yassin Chouka, two German brothers who currently occupy high profile positions in the Pakistan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). In a written narrative of their "journey to the IMU" released online by the IMU in February, Yassin, who is known within the IMU as "Abu Ibraheem al-Almani (The German)," wrote that he and his brother "benefited greatly" from him during the "precious hours" in which the preacher spent with them. Al-Awlaki and one of his associates ultimately played a key role in the brothers' decision to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan to wage "jihad."
Parts of al-Awlaki's life story remain debated or shrouded in mystery. Little is known, for example, about his summer 1993 experience in Afghanistan, the degree of his foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and the exact nature of his role within AQAP. However, it is undeniable that he was an individual with unique abilities whom the transnational jihadi movement will no doubt have a hard time replacing. U.S. officials, and some AQAP experts , have claimed that before his death he had been playing a key operational role in the organization as the "chief of external operations," though this claim is debated. There is ample evidence that al-Awlaki played a very successful role as an ideologue in the radicalization process of members of his audience, but fewer concrete examples of his operational leadership. The real legacy of al-Awlaki lies in his popular message that lives on through his still widely-accessible lectures and online messages.
On October 14, al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdul Rahman, who was also an American citizen, was killed along with his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin in a second U.S. drone strike in the Yemeni province of Shabwa. The boy's family has spoken out forcefully against claims by Yemeni and U.S. government officials that he was a member of AQAP and was 21. The family released Abdul Rahman's Colorado birth certificate showing that he was born on August 26, 1995. The two teenagers' killings, which have also been condemned by the Yemeni Organization for Childhood Protection, have reopened the debate about the legality of the Obama Administration's extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
Bruno-Olivier Bureau is a master's student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies the modern history of the Middle East, radical Islamist ideology and the propaganda strategies of the transnational jihadi movement.
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With U.S. relations in Pakistan at a low point and the two countries' strategic disagreement over priorities in Afghanistan on full display, it is time to review U.S. strategic options. One that deserves a close look is a grand bargain: give Pakistan what it wants in Afghanistan - but on two conditions: Pakistan assumes responsibility for preventing terrorism out of Afghanistan, and Pakistan agrees to settle Kashmir along the present geographic lines. This is not a panacea, nor would it be easy to execute. But it addresses the principal stumbling block to the current U.S. strategy, and provides an incentive to settle the region's longest-running dispute.
For the past decade, U.S. policy has been based on the assumption that the United States and Pakistan shared the strategic goal of extirpating from the leadership of Afghanistan the Taliban and allied terrorist forces. This objective was at the heart of the partnership struck after 9/11. As with the two previous major U.S.-Pakistan partnerships, in the 1950s/60s and in the 1980s, the assumption of strategic agreement was at best only half true, and the differences between the two countries' goals have become increasingly difficult to paper over. This time, Pakistan's desire to ensure what its army chief has referred to as "a friendly government" in Kabul - meaning a government deferential to Pakistan and impervious to Indian influence - has intensified, especially since the beginning of 2011. During that time, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was devastated by the aftereffects of the shooting of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis and his subsequent arrest, by the raid that killed Osama bin Ladin, and by the harsh public criticism of Pakistan by retiring U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen.
The two governments have been trying to salvage some working elements of partnership. However, their ability to work together toward a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, badly strained by conflicting goals, was for practical purposes ended by the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Karzai government's designated representative for peace initiatives toward the Afghan Taliban. This was not the first time Pakistan's insistence on controlling negotiations inside Afghanistan had trumped its stated policy of supporting the Afghan government's negotiating role, but this incident has brought tentative peace feelers, already rickety, to a virtual halt.
Washington's response to this situation has been to seek a stronger basis for working with Pakistan. This reflects U.S. recognition of Pakistan's critical importance to peace in the region and to Afghanistan's future - as well as the major U.S. stake in nuclear-armed Pakistan's own political and economic health. These are indeed important considerations - but it does not follow that the U.S. should continue on essentially the same path that has repeatedly come up short.
There are two other strategic options: treat Pakistan as a hostile power, and try to impose an acceptable solution in Afghanistan in the teeth of Pakistani efforts to control the process; or build a strategy that allows Pakistan to have the major say in Afghanistan, but on conditions that protect U.S. strategic interests and give Pakistan a strong incentive to respect them. We believe that forcing an acceptable solution is almost certain to fail. It would depend, unrealistically, on the effectiveness of an intra-Afghan negotiating process and of the government that would follow. It would also presuppose, equally implausibly, that Afghanistan would remain able to withstand the Pakistani effort to upset the settlement that would surely follow.
The strategic alternative that remains is a grand bargain, initially between Pakistan and the United States, but eventually involving India. The major elements would be:
A deal along these lines would hand Pakistan one of its primary strategic objectives, but at a price Pakistanis would find very hard to swallow. Kashmir has a much tighter hold on the national heartstrings than Afghanistan. However, in practice Pakistan has lost its chance of gaining Kashmir, and many Pakistanis privately acknowledge this. They are well aware that for years, Pakistan's efforts have done nothing to remove India's hold on the state, and have succeeded only in deepening hostility and making the region less secure for everyone, including Pakistan.
Securing Pakistan against its military leaders' nightmare of an Indian threat from both east and west provides a strategic gain, especially when coupled with a possible Kashmir agreement that could lay the groundwork for transforming the hostile relationship with India into one that was merely chilly but improving. The bigger problem may be how to ensure that these gains are maintained. Afghanistan has never had sustained good relations with Pakistan, and may once again look to India as a balancer - an all too willing one - when it tires of being guided by Pakistan. And on the Kashmir side, even if the Pakistan government and its army agree to negotiate peace with India - by no means a sure bet - the militant movement in Pakistan includes many spoilers who will try to stir up trouble in Kashmir or elsewhere in India, providing acute temptation to the army to join in.
These difficulties make the grand bargain described here a long shot. Using military and economic aid as leverage might increase Pakistan's motivation to keep the bargain, though this is a tactic that has only worked for short periods in the past, and has never succeeded in dissuading Pakistan from following major strategic interests. To improve the odds, the United States would need to seek other international support, appealing to the desire of Pakistan's international friends to improve Pakistan's long term economic and security prospects. Bringing China at least tacitly on board would be the ideal. Other players would be the European aid donors, and some of Pakistan's Arab benefactors. The United States would also have to expend some diplomatic capital to dissuade India from trying to upset the balance in Afghanistan, noting that the U.S. had promoted a Kashmir settlement on terms quite favorable to India, and that reducing India's profile in Afghanistan had to be seen in that context.
But considering the results of ten years of engagement, and the tremendous risks flowing from a "hostile Pakistan" strategy, the long shot starts to look like the best available strategic bet.
Teresita Schaffer is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Howard Schaffer is Senior Counselor at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University. Both are retired U.S. ambassadors with long experience in South Asia. They are co-directors of http://southasiahand.com.
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The market has recently been flooded with books about Pakistan by academics, policymakers, and journalists. Many of these have sought to explain - and to some extent apologize for - contemporary Pakistani society to the western world. Pamela Constable's Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself is the rare exception that acknowledges this goal, and then lives up to its appointed task. Western readers could hope for no better guide to present-day Pakistan than Constable, a veteran journalist who has reported extensively from Pakistan for over a decade with The Washington Post. Her new book is a sound introduction to Pakistan's contradictions, inequalities, tumultuous politics, and every fluctuating national identity.
As newspaper headlines about Pakistan policy choices become increasingly shrill, readers seeking context will find much of use in Playing with Fire. The book traces political and security developments across the country, primarily since 2007, that fateful year when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and the army's poor handling of a siege at the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad led to a spate of nationwide suicide bombings. In addition to political upheaval and terrorist attacks, Constable documents new laws, corruption scandals, media trends, civil society movements, and more, making her book one of the few holistic backgrounders on Pakistan.
Indeed, Playing with Fire benefits immensely from its author's journalistic background. The book covers those aspects of Pakistan that are rarely examined in works by political scientists or retired diplomats focused on Pakistan's security issues or regional geopolitics. Constable includes chapters on women and their divergent experiences in different social classes, upper-class Pakistanis, religious minorities, and life in rural Pakistan (in the interests of disclosure, I read an early draft of one of these chapters while Constable and I overlapped as fellows at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC).
Like good journalism, the book also combines faithful documentation with sharp analysis: Constable bookends extensive quotes from Pakistanis - whether brick kiln workers or land-owning politicians - with her own insights into Pakistan's problems. These insights are inevitably the best nuggets in the book; for example, Constable observes that the dynamics of landed feudalism have trickled down into the contemporary industrial sector, where factor workers remain indebted to their employers.
Constable's most profound insight into Pakistan is stated at the outset, in the book's introduction. She argues that Pakistanis are essentially powerless: "they see the trappings of representative democracy around them but little tangible evidence of it working in their lives." The various chapters of Playing with Fire then show how this powerlessness is manifest: in the vestiges of the feudal system, in the failings of the judicial system, in the endless paperwork of a bloated bureaucracy, in the limited circles of dynastic politics, and in the ‘honor' codes of a patriarchal society. Through characters, narratives, statistics, and direct quotes, Constable shows how Pakistanis are denied rights and opportunities in a way that perpetuates the status quo. One only wishes that with each example of a powerless Pakistani she offers, Constable reiterated the theme more explicitly for emphasis.
Interestingly, while acknowledging their powerlessness, Constable allows Pakistanis to speak for themselves in her book. The liberal use of direct quotes provides an insight into Pakistani perceptions of global trends and political issues. Numerous excerpts from newspaper editorials and columns (including one of mine) also give a taste of public discourse within Pakistan. The country is frequently faulted for its head-in-the-sand attitude towards internal security developments, particularly the long-term fallout of cultivating militant groups. But Constable's regular nods to Pakistani opinion-makers show that a spirited, if convoluted debate about Pakistan's future and identity is currently underway in the country.
The most interesting chapter in Playing with Fire documents the slow ‘Talibanization' of Pakistani society. Constable points to the diverse elements that have led many Pakistanis to equate patriotism and religiosity: the content of government-issue textbooks, the successful campaigns of religious political parties, the moralizing rhetoric of student politics, the vitriol of television talk show hosts, and the state's foreign policy. Moreover, she uncovers how Pakistani society has evolved in a matter of years from wearing its religion loosely to developing extremist sympathies. Constable shows how Islam became "hip" among university students who embraced their religious identity as a way to participate in global trends. She also notes that "poor yet pious" Pakistanis use religious fervor as a way to push back against "errant Muslims of a higher class," introducing equality in what is otherwise a highly stratified society.
This nuanced chapter is bolstered by Constable's overview of the origins and ideologies of Pakistan's various militant and sectarian groups. The book also documents major security-related events such as the formation of the anti-state Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the takeover of the Swat Valley in 2009 by TNSM, another extremist organization. With these snapshots of militancy, Playing with Fire becomes a handy user's guide to terrorism and security for those who have not followed regional developments at a granular level.
One argumentative disconnect does however emerge in the book. Constable's chapters on the ‘Talibanization' of society and Pakistan's use of militant groups as ‘strategic assets' emphasize that extremism is a top-down phenomenon in Pakistan, perpetuated as a result of state policies. But in other sections of the book, she suggests that extremist tendencies are organic-the expected fallout of widespread poverty, joblessness, and frustration. For example, Constable quotes the bitter complaint of a young man from Peshawar who graduated from a prestigious engineering school but was unable to find a job. He suggests that the lack of opportunity creates terrorists. Similarly, in a chapter about sectarian tensions and violent discrimination against religious minorities, Constable includes a rant by a butcher who denounces rampant corruption, crime, and poor leadership. The decision to include his viewpoint implies that the failure of state institutions is fostering religious intolerance.
There is an ongoing debate about whether extremism in Pakistan is a product of years of state-sponsored militancy and General Ziaul Haq's Islamization policies in the 1980s, or whether it is a contemporary response to flawed Pakistani and American policies. Given Constable's intimate knowledge of the region, a direct summary of her perceptions on this matter would have given the book even more substance.
Throughout her book, Constable draws out the clashing ideological and political stances of Pakistan's liberals and conservatives. She will be aware then that some liberals may find her book too soft on the Pakistan Army. No doubt, the book maps the fallout of the army's many dalliances with militant groups. But the chapter on the ‘murder of democracy' focuses on corrupt politicians such as President Asif Ali Zardari, dynastic politics, and the inefficient bureaucracy. Meanwhile, Constable's analysis of the Pakistan Army delves into the choices made by military dictators Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf as well as the shenanigans of the intelligence agent Khalid Khawaja. This focus on controversial characters (though compelling to read) makes the army's flaws seem individual rather than institutional. A concise assessment of the impact of military interference in Pakistan's political and economic spheres over the decades would have served the book well.
Ultimately, though, Playing with Fire is an accessible yet comprehensive guide to a country that is constantly evolving and much written about, but little understood by westerners.
Huma Yusuf is a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn Newspaper, and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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It is a month since a man claiming to be a peace envoy from the Taleban leadership council (the Quetta Shura) managed to see and kill the former president of Afghanistan and head of the High Peace Council (HPC), Burhanuddin Rabbani. The killing has had major repercussions, with the most senior Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, directly or indirectly accusing the Quetta Shura and Pakistan of being behind the attack, consequently halting talks with the Taleban and cooling bilateral relations. Yet the Afghan government has not produced any evidence to back up these claims. Indeed, the investigation into Rabbani's murder has resulted in no real clues as to the identity of the plotters, who ordered the killing or how leading members of the High Peace Council, as well as President Karzai, were so easily fooled.
The bare bones of the Rabbani assassination plot have now emerged, following the release by the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), of a tranche of documents and video testimony, including that of two key people who were arrested after the killing: HPC member and former Taleb, Rahmatullah Wahidyar (whom NDS has said is not suspected of being part of the conspiracy), and the go-between, Hamidullah Akhundzada, who introduced the killer to Wahidyar and Rabbani.
The tale began with Wahidyar, who is a former Taleban deputy minister and former minister in Rabbani's mujahedin government from the 1990s, being asked by the HPC leadership to drum up contacts in the Quetta Shura with a view to starting peace talks. He made contact with a man called Abdul Satar, whom Wahidyar described as "a former Taleban official" (no other details provided), who in turn introduced him to a "former Taleban commander" called Hamidullah Akhundzada. Both Abdul Satar and Hamidullah visited Kabul and met Wahidyar, Massum Stanekzai (the Secretary of the HPC) and Rabbani.
According to Wahidyar, over the next four months, Hamidullah actively reported back on the progress he was making in firming up contacts with the Quetta Shura (although Hamidullah himself makes no mention of any such reporting in his testimony). A week before the killing, he telephoned Wahidyar and said the Quetta Shura would be sending an envoy (although probably not himself) to Kabul in order to discuss opening direct talks with the Afghan government. The man who was sent, Esmatullah, came to Kabul with a letter and two audio messages, one for the HPC and one for Rabbani's ears only.
President Karzai was told about the envoy and saw the letter and heard one of the audio messages. The envoy's letter, a copy of which was released to Tolo TV, is weak. Afghans can negotiate peace, it says, but unless the international military fully leaves, the Afghan struggle against colonialism and for independence will continue (this is pretty well what the Taleban say publicly). One of the audio messages has also been released by NDS and is even thinner on substance; it is basically a series of rhetorical questions for the "honoured teacher", Ustad Rabbani, on whether Afghanistan today is better than the Taleban-era.
All sources say it was Karzai who ordered Rabbani back to Kabul (he was in Iran at a conference where, it was reported, an official Taleban delegation was present). Rabbani cut short his trip, returned to Kabul and within a few hours of landing, received Wahidyar, Stanekzai and the ‘envoy', Esmatullah in his home. He blew himself up in the very moment he greeted Rabbani, killing them both.
NDS arrested Wahidyar and Hamidullah and later handed out their videoed statements to journalists, along with the testimony of the manager of the HPC guesthouse where the killer had stayed and one of the audio messages he had brought.
In his confession, Hamidullah gives his name, father's name and tribe (Zadran) and says he is from Kandahar. He looks to be in his 50s. Wahidyar has said that Hamidullah was a "former Taleban commander" and a "resident of Kandahar". NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal has said he appeared to be "an ordinary Taleb, living in Quetta, with no known position during the Emirate and possibly, he is Achikzai." One man who met Hamidullah briefly on one of his earlier visits to Kabul, HPC member and former Taleban ambassador to Islamabad and Saudi Arabia, Habibullah Fowzi, described him as uneducated, not a mullah, and a "former mujahed," rather than an "original Taleb." Fawzi said that, although it is difficult to size a man up in 20 minutes, Hamidullah appeared to be "an ordinary man, not a special man to have for such a mission."
Indeed, in Hamidullah's videoed confession, he comes over as more feckless, than master conspirator. Despite saying he was told about the turban bombing plot in advance, after introducing the killer, Esmatullah, to Wahidyar, he not only accompanied him to Kabul, but also brought his own family along for the trip. Even after seeing news of the assassination on television, he stayed in Kabul. He was clearly not versed in phone security - the NDS arrested him almost immediately after it traced the assassin's final phone calls.
The bottom line of all this is that we are still no nearer to understanding who Hamidullah, the person who established the link to the HPC and Rabbani, ‘is' - his tribe, political background, what he and his family did during the jihad and Emirate, in other words, all the normal questions which everyone always asks in Afghanistan to identify and position an unknown person - and which should have been answered, one would have thought, when the HPC officials first made contact with him.
As to the identity of the killer, Esmatullah, even less is known. He appeared to have been allowed into Rabbani's home, un-vetted, not searched and with no-one even knowing for sure his father's name.
Such appears to have been the very thin thread on which hopes for peace talks with the Taleban were hung. From the evidence released, it remains unfathomable why Wahidyar, Stanekzai, Rabbani and the President himself trusted these men. After the debacle of the shopkeeper impersonating Mullah Mansur (the probable third in command in the Quetta Shura) who managed to get into the Presidential Palace in November 2010 and was given large sums of money, maybe it should not come as a surprise how easily everyone was gulled. However, is difficult to argue with the assessment of the former EU and UN envoy Fransesc Vendrell, that President Karzai set up a way of conducting peace talks which appears to have been inherently problematic and unprofessional, and left the participants vulnerable to trickery and attack.
None of the evidence released so far indicates who ordered the killing and when the Hamidullah-HPC conduit became toxic - was it a plot from the start or, as Hamidullah contends, infiltrated? And if so, by whom?
Nothing, apart from the assumption that the plot appears to have been hatched in Quetta on Pakistani soil, would appear to justify pointing the finger of blame at the Taleban leadership or the ISI - although there is no evidence, either, that they are innocent. However, Karzai's decision to blame Pakistan worked beautifully to dampen anger domestically, calming Rabbani's allies who were against talking to the Taleban in the first place and are ultra-hostile to Pakistan. Possibly Karzai's move also indicates that he himself was never too enamoured of talking to the Taleban either. There has been fall out, however, in the souring of bilateral relations with Pakistan and the shelving of the policy of talking to the Taleban.
The Taleban have hardly made things easier. This assassination was carried out by a man who was, or purported to be, a Taleban envoy. According to the movement's own rules, set out in their code of conduct, suicide bombings must be authorised. Yet spokesmen have neither accepted nor denied responsibility and have, in a gesture of unprecedented evasiveness, largely kept their phones switched off during the last four weeks.
If this assassination was authorised, it would be a clear message that the Taleban leadership does not want a negotiated end to the war. (And in this case, it would not matter whether anyone viewed the HPC or Rabbani as a viable means of negotiation). If it was a rogue operation, then the Taleban has severe command and control problems within its ranks. If it was carried out by a group other than the Taleban, the silence seems only explicable if the Taleban assumed (or knew) it was done with ISI assistance (bearing in mind that the leadership has covered up for the ISI in the past). Whatever the case, the likely aim of killing Rabbani - scuppering the very idea of peace talks - appears to have been very successfully carried out.
Kate Clark is a senior analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
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Pakistan is in the midst of a massive outbreak of dengue fever. With tens of thousands of patients affected, mostly under the age of 15, dengue is arousing much chaos and paranoia. While dengue is fatal in few cases (less than 1%), it results in a severe bleeding disorder in about 20% of cases (due to a dramatic reduction in patients' platelets), and in many cases, symptoms such as fatigue and depression persist long after the acute infection has subsided. Therefore it is a source of severe debilitation and its rapid spread is a source of great public panic. Dengue has spread like wildfire throughout the country, with cases being reported in all four provinces. However, modern means of transportation (cars, trains, airplanes) mean that not only can an infectious disease spread easily within the borders of a given nation-state, pathogens can overcome both geography and nationality with much ease. Consider the H1N1/swine flu pandemic of 2009 which within a matter of three months spread to 214 countries and territories, affecting millions, and causing about 18,036 deaths. The flu pandemic spurred the recognition of the need for cross-border collaboration to curtail the spread of infectious diseases. However, these important lessons have not been recognized by the governments of India and Pakistan, which share a 2,308km long border.
While Pakistan's border with India is certainly not as open as the one it shares with Afghanistan or China, reflected by the transit of polio cases across these two fronts, it is certainly far from airtight. Research into the subtypes of the dengue virus has shown that the strains circulating recently in India and Pakistan are similar, and an epidemic caused by one strain is usually followed by an epidemic with a similar strain across the border. Such a relationship was clearly reported in the temporally linked epidemics of Delhi and Karachi in 2006. Therefore, there is substantial evidence indicating cross-border spread of dengue, and possibly indicating the spread of other infections as well. Modern means of transport, which have far more mileage than the tiny wings of a mosquito, have made it much easer for infections such as dengue to spread from one side of the border to the other. The threat of cross-border HIV infection has also been reported, and is an important one to keep in mind as the painful memory of the Mumbai attacks recedes, thawing diplomatic relations, thus reopening the door for more people-to-people contact. Furthermore, a case of polio was recently detected at the Attari-Wagah border, raising fears of the spread of polio to the Indian side of the border.
In spite of the overwhelming need for collaboration in health and infectious diseases between India and Pakistan, no official channel is in place to conduct such an exchange. Currently, the Attari-Wagah border is used as a quarantine of sorts to vaccinate children crossing the border to prevent the spread of polio infection. During the H1N1/swine flu pandemic, the train that crosses the border - the Samjhauta Express - is frequently fumigated with insecticide. Custody was sought of animals being transported to India such as pigeons, donkeys and dogs for fear of spread of diseases ‘eradicated from India'. While the issue of cross-border infection has been used for rhetorical purposes, no constructive step to overcome this deficit has so far been taken from either side. While Pakistan has sought medication and insecticide from India to combat the dengue epidemic, there is no robust mechanism to ensure that such positive exchanges can occur on a regular basis.
Pakistan and India face similar public health challenges. Both are third world countries faced with similar geography, population demographics, and infectious diseases such as pneumonia, measles, malaria, and tuberculosis, accompanied by widespread malnutrition. Pakistan and India are also two of only four countries in the world where polio remains endemic, though India has made substantial progress in eradicating polio within its borders this year. Importantly, dengue is also a challenge shared by both Pakistan and India, which in itself is reason enough for close cooperation to occur.
Pakistan's healthcare system is decrepit by any standard. Healthcare remains a luxury reserved for those who can afford expensive services provided by largely privatized providers. Furthermore, the formerly federal responsibilities of coordinating healthcare and health-related services have recently been devolved in both India and Pakistan. This devolution poses similar challenges to Pakistan and India, since the lack of internal systematization of health information precludes international collaboration. According to Dr. Sania Nishtar, president of the Pakistani NGO Heartfile and a leading authority on health systems in the developing world, "The inadvertent fragmentation of health information as a result of health devolution in Pakistan is further undermining the country's ability to share information with its neighbors." However, she suggested a way forward to overcome the disintegration of a central health in order to facilitate international collaboration. "Options are available, however, to cast an institutional construct that will enable Pakistan to step up its capacity so that the country is compliant with International Health Regulations, 2005", she added.
The lack of collaboration between Pakistan and India with regard to infectious diseases is only reflective of the thorny history shared by these two countries and the level of prevalent distrust on both sides of the border. The World Health Organization is a large platform with regional organizations that help countries collaborate in their neighborhood. However, in a move representing a snapshot of the bigger picture, Pakistan opted to be a member of the Eastern Mediterranean region as opposed to the more natural South-East Asia region, which is headquartered in New Delhi. This move away from the South-East Asia region was political and was made so that Pakistan does not have to compete with India, which dominates the regional organization. Therefore, composite dialogue carried out bilaterally by Pakistan and India is the only platform for a health partnership to be forged. A fresh start needs to be sought to elevate the relationship from quarantining birds and other animals on the border to sharing research, disease surveillance data, vector control strategies and health communication material with institutional support. However, this can only occur under the umbrella of wide ranging confidence-building measures. Not only will it be extremely difficult to initiate collaboration, but the sustainability of any initiative might be an even greater issue given that it will always remain hostage to politics.
Haider Warraich, MD, is a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. He is a graduate of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, and the author of the novel, Auras of the Jinn.
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Every night throughout Afghanistan, international forces launch kill/capture raids on Afghan homes. Over the past two years, the use of night raids, particularly by U.S. Special Operations Forces, has skyrocketed-increasing at least five-fold since February 2009, indicating an important tactical shift by U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. With the withdrawal of international forces approaching, this shift likely foreshadows the future of military operations in Afghanistan. But these operations continue to be marred by weak accountability and transparency, secrecy in targeting, and substantial popular backlash, which will have significant long-term consequences should the United States and its allies remain so reliant on such raids.
My organization, Open Society Foundations (OSF), in partnership with the Afghan organization The Liaison Office (TLO), recently released a report that examines the impact night raids have had on Afghan civilians. We found that International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reforms, primarily through two tactical directives, have one the one hand resulted in significant improvements in how the raids are planned and executed, resulting in reduced risk of civilian casualties, greater accuracy in selecting targets, reduced property damage, increased use of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and more respectful treatment of women during operations.
But our report also found that despite these reforms, improvements have not won much support from Afghans, because they've been overshadowed by the dramatic surge in the number of night raids and perceptions among many Afghans that abuses go unpunished.
Speaking with victims of night raids, a major complaint continues to be accountability. Despite some improvements, ISAF responsiveness to claims of civilian harm from night raids remains weak. Because the vast majority of raids are carried out by U.S. Special Operations Forces -- the least transparent forces operating in Afghanistan -- it's exceedingly difficult to follow up on specific cases of civilian casualties or wrongful detention. In many cases, a strong presumption on the part of ISAF and U.S. officials that night raids are accurate often means that allegations of civilian casualties and targeting mistakes are simply not trusted. Investigations are infrequent, findings are not typically made public, and compensation for victims is, based on our interviews with officials and Afghan civilians, uncommon.
What may in part explain the dismissal of such allegations of civilian harm in night raids is the definition of who can be targeted in such operations. Our report on night raids documents a substantial "widening of the net," which has resulted in the detention of significant numbers of civilians.
In a single three-month period earlier this year 1,900 individuals were detained, most of whom were eventually released, raising questions about whether they should have been detained in the first place. We also documented a number of large-scale detention or "clearance" operations in which multiple compounds or entire villages were cordoned off, and male civilians indiscriminately rounded up for screening and questioning. In October 2010, for example, U.S. Special Operations Forces raided Otmenzey village in Kunduz and detained 80-100 men and boys overnight in a mosque. According to witnesses, they used masked informants and indicators such as beards to pick out individuals for further questioning at a Special Operations detention facility. All were eventually released. To the Afghans we interviewed, this makes night raids look more like indiscriminate intimidation, not specifically targeted, intelligence-driven actions. While intelligence gathering is critical, using night raids to arrest and interrogate civilians without clear justification often causes unnecessary harm or trauma, provoking backlash and undermining international forces' legitimacy.
Targeting policies and practices have profound implications for civilians in Afghanistan. Throughout the country, militants can exercise significant control over people's lives. Many have little choice but to interact with militants, provide food, water or shelter to insurgents living in or passing through their villages. As one man from Kandahar told us, "Our entire district is controlled by the Taliban. There is no government or Americans here. We have to have contacts with the Taliban...they come to our homes and take lunch and dinner by force." But such incidental and often coerced contact with insurgents does not convert civilians into combatants or justify targeting and detaining them in military operations.
This blending no doubt presents international forces with an immense challenge in distinguishing civilians from fighters; yet this difficulty is precisely why a workable, clear, and legally sound definition of who is targetable in operations like night raids is so necessary. But secrecy continues to shroud how precisely targeting works in night raids -- and how individuals are ultimately singled out for detention or death.
There are also serious legal concerns raised by expanded use of night raids, particularly those that detain individuals for intelligence-gathering purposes. Given that night raids are military operations, not law enforcement actions, under international law such force should generally only be used against combatants-not against civilians who aren't members of the insurgency or directly participating in hostilities. Intelligence value alone is not generally sufficient grounds to detain individuals and certainly not justification for launching military attacks on their homes and endangering their lives. This does not mean that the U.S. military cannot detain people, or question those who may have valuable information. However, where those individuals are not clearly combatants, the kind of force used in military operations and applicable Rules of Engagement (ROE) are inappropriate. Instead, law enforcement-style operations and rules of force should apply.
There is also evidence that insufficient consideration is given to alternatives to night raids, such as conducting raids in daytime hours or simply requesting individuals to voluntarily submit to questioning. With Special Forces and intelligence personnel increasingly in the lead, night raids may be a strongly preferred tactic not because of a lack of feasible alternatives, but because it is what these forces are good at. The availability and particular expertise of Special Forces, as well as their relationship to intelligence officials, biases commanders in favor of this tool-leading to an over-reliance on such raids and underestimation of their true costs.
As targeting and detentions broaden, we also found that many view raids as increasingly indiscriminate, arbitrary, and unjust, contributing to popular backlash that is readily exploited by militant groups. Such blowback, especially as it accrues and is inevitably politicized over time, also imperils the legitimacy and credibility of U.S. and international forces, as well as longer-term peace building efforts. Among political leaders in Afghanistan, this blowback exacts an enormous toll on diplomatic relations, undermining progress on key issues like the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership, which will govern U.S. forces' involvement beyond the 2014 pull-out date.
There is a disturbing parallel between these concerns and those surrounding drone strikes across the border in Pakistan, which have also increased dramatically in recent years. Like night raids, drone strikes are conducted largely in secret by intelligence forces, with little to no accountability and transparency, and making use of an ill-defined, potentially overbroad basis for targeting. Popular and political backlash, most evident in Pakistan, undermine U.S. development efforts and seriously diminish its legitimacy and political capital. As with night raids, recent short-term successes as well as the rapidly developed capacity of the CIA and U.S. military's drone programs may bias decision-makers and lead to systematic underestimation of these kinds of longer-term costs and consequences.
The dramatically expanded use of both night raids and drone strikes foreshadows a troubling, dangerous future for U.S. counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. These tactics bring the conflict directly into the homes of more and more civilians, and as our report on night raids documents, efforts to improve conduct are often overshadowed by the sheer increase in the number of operations as well as continued perceptions of impunity. Despite the fact that violence against civilians is still disproportionately carried out by the Taliban, expanded night raids will almost certainly have an outsized impact on Afghan feelings toward foreign forces. Without stronger accountability, less secrecy, and more creative thinking about how to effectively engage and protect civilians, the long-term impact of such operations will more likely than not undo any short-term tactical gains.
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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Ibn-e-Insha, the 20th century Pakistani poet wrote, "Iss shehar main ji ko lagana kiya?/Weshi ko sakoon se kiya matlab?" ("Why commit yourself to this city?/What interest do tyrants have with peace?") Although I was living in Karachi some 30 years after his burial there, both of these rhetorical questions stayed with me practically every moment of my time spent in the city. Last month I returned from Karachi, where I spent the summer researching the demographics behind the urban violence that has wracked Karachi for years, but picked up again in earnest.
It is only quite recently that Karachi has come under serious discussion at the international level, yet the factors driving violence and killings in the city this year have been present for at least the past 25 years, and their roots go back even further. And still, there has not been any notable progress in creating a lasting response. The police remain weak, the local and national governments still periodically raise the prospect of "bringing in the army," and leaders of political parties sit comfortably while an ever-increasing number of their minions meet brutal ends.
And while there is much that ails Pakistan besides Karachi, what happens in the city is in part a microcosm of what is tormenting the country as a whole: feeble security, over-population, poor public transportation and housing, weak law and order, abuse of public services by the wealthy and powerful, illegal land-grabbing and squatter settlements, pollution so pervasive that it contaminates food and water for all, ethnic divisions, sectarian divisions, meager education; in short, institutional inadequacies on a grand scale.
Yet institutional "failure," is in some ways a hyperbolic assessment. After all, this is also a city that has provided space for the smallest, and largest, businesses to prosper; a city that grants unrivalled port access to everyone from fishermen to NATO ships; a city that is home to prolific writers, poets, humorists, agriculturalists, entrepreneurs, divine restaurants, a growing, yet hugely talented, blogosphere, and a history that witnessed Alexander the Great, Mohammad Bin Qasim (the Umayyad General who set his sights on the revered Silk Road trade route), and Sir Charles Napier (a British General who conquered the province of Sindh) uncontrollably drawn to the City of Lights. And it is in this paradoxical, puzzling, and ambivalent sense that one must strive to understand Karachi, and beyond it Pakistan, or resign oneself to understanding neither.
Despite Pakistan's heterogeneity, one aspect of the country that demonstrates some homogeneity is the universal nature of the "clan-based" system of allegiance that is ingrained in most Pakistanis. This system has been recognized for some time, and was articulated recently, and most clearly, by the scholar Anatol Lieven in his book, Pakistan: A Hard Country. Beyond the traditional clan culture based on local identity that pervades Pakistan's villages and tribes, one can also view the army as a clan, nationalist groups as clans, political parties as clans, sects as clans, among countless others. All promote self-interest and root faith in their clan above other, ostensibly higher, metaphysical pursuits. The vast number of "clans" results in a vast number of different perspectives and perceptions of governance and how the country is -- and should be -- run. There exists no widely accepted social contract, for instance, between the central (or provincial, for that matter) authority and its people. As such, one's allegiance -- political, ethnic, sectarian, socio-economic, linguistic, or other -- will determine one's value system, which will in turn dictate where one sees the greatest problems crippling the country. And it is this variation that makes the response to debilitating political violence that we witness in Karachi difficult to measure. Many agree that it is ruining the political and social fabric of Karachi, and to a large extent, Pakistan, but consensus solutions remain elusive.
Moreover, these conflicts between "clans" take place in an environment where space is increasingly at a premium. The fight for space, a basic human need, in Karachi gives rise to the most vicious kind of violence. Violence is chosen from a set of strategies available to political actors to assert sovereignty when the threat to their survival is strongest. There are many indicators to suggest that space in Karachi can no longer spread out, only up; six-story buildings populate areas reserved for 2-story homes. Earlier this summer such a building collapsed, leading to several deaths. Ultimately, people have no choice but to stay where they are, quite literally, and endure the violence as best as they can.
Other reasons pepper the growing fight for space. During the course of my research, I spoke about the violence in Karachi with a politically active office clerk who has commuted from the Orangi Town slum (one of the largest in South Asia) to the upscale Clifton area for over a decade. His perspective was of interest to me, as he traveled daily from a home situated in one of the bloodiest parts of the city to one of its safer spaces. Having seen his cousin killed before his own eyes, and he himself having recovered from two bullet wounds, why had he not shipped off, and out, of Orangi Town? He told me about his resolve not to leave an area where he had grown up and where his family, friends and local political leaders resided. In turn, he asked: "And anyway, where would I go? This place is exploding at the seams."
Despite such static claims, not all is laborious or obligatory in Karachi. People stay in this burgeoning city because it provides an opportunity to earn incomes unequaled in the rest of Pakistan. The population of the city increased 176 percent between 1941-1951 (due mostly to partition), and then by 217 percent between 1951-1972. Such increases have fueled over-population, but they also demonstrate the opportunity Pakistanis, and others, see in the city. People continue to arrive from around the country to settle in Karachi, a city that boasts the famous saying, "the streets are littered with gold; all you have to do is pick it up." Therefore, a thread begins to emerge here, weaving together tensions over space, clan, and party for reasons historically rooted in economic opportunity. This, of course, lends itself to the idea that solutions to some of the city's problems may lay in expanding industry, and improving urban environments, in other parts of the country. However, it appears that this will only place a plaster, albeit an attractive one, over a hemorrhage.
My interviews with Karachiites also suggest that fewer people are now beginning to migrate for conventional economic opportunity in comparison with past years, as competition for business, jobs, and trade today is immense, and high operating costs have crowded out small businesses. One consequence of this shift has been the expansion of the black market economies, and more illicit activity including bribes, kidnapping, and looting to satiate the economic need that drives thousands of people to arrive in Karachi. As such, as more people arrive in the city and are subsumed by existing political groups as workers or mureeds (followers), the above-mentioned clan structures begin to consolidate, resembling a state within a state. These clans tend to be hyper-politicized, a dynamic that often leads down a dangerous path. Here, violent methods used by politicized factions, including parties themselves, become institutionalized in the absence of a civil society that is in its nascent stages, and where state institutions remain volatile. And there is little evidence to suggest that such methods would dissipate if space in Karachi were to be expanded out (as is mooted in many circles in the city) or if industry were to be built in other parts of the country to create jobs. These ills would migrate wherever clans went.
Indeed, some contend that Karachi's woes continue to arrive from the outside, be it international capital and the process of globalization, or migrants coming in from other parts of the country or region. This, of course, is untrue. Living as part of the elite slice of Karachi's society, many of the city's educated and wealthy inhabitants recall the Karachi of the pre-Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq era, where they would explore their youth in the city's discotheques and clubs, and never have to worry about guns firing at night. Theirs was a Karachi of peace and prosperity. Today as then, they have the luxury of living in plush homes guarded by private security guards and surrounded by amenities that any inhabitant of Georgetown or Kensington would blush to look at. Indeed, theirs is also a clan that does not, and for security concerns cannot, busy itself with what happens in Qasba Colony or Banaras Chowk. A blasé outlook, one might suggest, but one that affords this community the ability to look away, albeit, at times, uncomfortably. Still, in looking away, they help abet the turmoil, as it is from within their clan structures that politicos and politicized industrialists are born who in turn send out men with guns to wreak havoc in the streets and settle political scores.
What options does this leave not for the incoming migrant or elite businessman, but for the average person in Karachi? Why is it that they, who cannot hide behind the umbrella of ideology or wealth, remain resilient? Indeed, it is because of them that Karachi is populated with a silent, but growing middle-class -- an entire generation that has lived with this violence. Their resilience comes from a sense of not knowing anything different. "This will all boil over, the politicians will compromise, and things will return to normal," are things I heard regularly in my time among them in the city. Policymakers in Pakistan talk about "cleanup operations" to rid the city of "miscreants" and gangsters -- but did such operations work the last time they were tried, in the 1990s, when the government made the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and their Muhajir following their target? Or, did it work in the 1980s, when Sohrab Ghot and its surrounding areas were bulldozed to clean up the drug mafias and the largely Pashtun slums? The people of Karachi have been enduring and accepting witnesses to each of these "operations." The short memories of some may help perpetuate the city's problems, but it also affords many others a strange immunity, allowing them to live and work, day-by-day.
Insha continued in the aforementioned poem, "jis jholi main saw chayd hoay, uss jholi ka phaylana kiya?" (Metaphorically translated, "the hands you spread for blessings are so battered: what is the point now in raising them?"). The reality of Karachi remains grounded in the collective will of its inhabitants to persevere through the city's mess, rooted in their countless distinct experiences, aggregating to infuse the city with some semblance of order. Their immunity, though, also breeds resignation to any meaningful change. Though one cannot term it disinterest, a certain sense of despondency pervades the city. Most people living in Karachi want an end to the violence; history and context compel them to believe it won't end. And who can blame them? They are ruled by tyrants who have no interest in peace.
Bilal Baloch is a graduate sudent at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where he concentrates on comparative politics and South Asia.
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