On the intersection of Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed Road and Club Road -- one of the busiest traffic lights in Karachi housing two high-end five-star hotels and the head office of the biggest English newspaper in the country -- I often ran into a beggar woman who almost no one looked directly in the eyes.
My mother without looking straight at her disintegrated acid-burnt face would nod her head and recite "Astaghfirullah," Arabic for "I ask Allah forgiveness," roll down the window and place whatever change she could find in her purse on the woman's palm. Our driver, Rustam, a 20-something from Swat, would nod his head for an entirely different reason. "They bring this upon themselves for money, madam. I assure you she makes more than you do at your newspaper," he would say without a hint of empathy. But even he flinched while catching a glimpse of her deformed face.
Throwing acid on women's faces is a form of terrorism that has, with time, become accepted as part of the background noise in Pakistan -- already ranked as the third-most dangerous country for women in the world due to a barrage of threats ranging from rape and violence to dismal healthcare and honor-killings. In Pakistan, the majority of acid-attack victims are women, perpetrated against by male counterparts including husbands, fathers, sons and other male relatives for reasons as trivial as domestic disagreements to more complicated issues such as bringing "dishonor" upon the family.
Though no concrete numbers or statistics exist, independent women's rights and welfare organizations in the country have estimated that over 200 Pakistani women fall prey to acid-attacks every year because hydrochloric and sulfuric acid is widely and easily available and is very cheap. However, organizations that have used a more active method of data collection have yielded much higher rates. The Islamabad-based Progressive Women's Association has documented over 8000 deliberate acid-attacks on women just in and around the Pakistani capital of Islamabad over the past decade. Even though these attacks left their helpless female victims mutilated and scarred for life in a matter of seconds, only two per cent of the cases were successfully prosecuted in a court of law.
This not only highlights that this atrocious act of terrorism is at an all-time high in Pakistan but also how the misogyny that creates the climate for such acts can and does bleed over into the country's judicial system, which continues to fail to provide justice for the victims of acid-crimes, as the reported assailants are usually let go with minimal punishment.
But there's hope, hopefully. Pakistani Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, internationally acclaimed for her 2009 film Pakistan: Children of the Taliban and the 2007 Channel 4 series Afghanistan Unveiled, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy just brought home her -- and Pakistan's -- first Academy Award. Her documentary short-film Saving Face revolves around the stories of two women - both acid-attack survivors making arduous attempts to bring their attackers to justice with the help of the groundbreaking charitable work of London-based, Pakistani-born plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad. Through the course of the short-film, Dr. Jawad strives to help these women put their horrific pasts behind them and move on with the rest of their lives.
Going on to make Oscar history by becoming the first Pakistani to win the coveted award, Chinoy and co-director Daniel Junge's Saving Face saved the day for Pakistanis both at home and abroad. The country's prime minister has announced the highest civilian award for the filmmaker for helping Pakistan make headlines for the right reasons, for a change, and for serving as a catalyst for social progress through her work.
But amidst the fanfare, one cannot help but think how unfortunate it is that it took such a shameful subject to bring Pakistan its first Oscar, and whether this historical win and the resulting global limelight on the subject of acid-throwing in Pakistan will help bring this heinous act to an end. One cannot be certain but one can hope, for that is something this international acclaim brings for acid-victims in Pakistan fighting injustice for very many decades.
Encouragingly, efforts to fortify women's rights in Pakistan have been afoot even prior to this award. A few months back, the parliament of Pakistan adopted harsher penalties for perpetrators involved in acid crimes as the Senate passed the historical Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill along with the long-awaited Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill. Both bills were introduced and carried through by female members of the National Assembly of Pakistan, which itself is quite a mean feat for the women of Pakistan.
The acid control bill sentences perpetrators of the crime a minimum of 14 years to a lifetime of imprisonment and levies fines of up to Rs 1 million [~$11,000]. The bill also enlists major steps to control the import, production, transportation, hoarding, sale and use of acid to prevent misuse and promises acid-victims legal security.
Post-win, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her team are using their website to formally launch a movement to raise awareness about acid attacks to further strengthen this newly developed legislation against acid-crimes. Posting on their website, co-director Junge says the film must be "more than an expose of horrendous crimes, it must be a recipe for addressing the problem and a hope for the future."
Saving Face is set to air on American television in the first week of March, while Chinoy and Junge also plan to screen it in Pakistan, after figuring out "the best possible way to show the film while ensuring that the women in the film are safe," said Chinoy talking to a Pakistani newspaper.
The fight to eliminate acid-crime in Pakistan has only just begun. But with the Pakistani Senate passing two crucial bills before stepping into the new year and the recent Oscar win through Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's Saving Face, there is tremendous hope for the women of Pakistan and the country itself. By showing that there is a Pakistan with great potential, different from how it is generally perceived, through a short documentary, Chinoy has pulled this nation out of a blackhole of dejection -- even if for just this little while.
Rabail Baig is a Pakistani journalist based in Boston.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Last weekend, the Associated Press released a study of ten drone strikes in Pakistan in the last 18 months. This is the most ambitious journalistic investigation of drones so far, which also does what the Obama administration has so far failed to do: to meaningfully investigate claims of civilian casualties and publicly evaluate why those killed were targeted.
The study found that at least 138 militants were killed, while the remaining 56 were civilians and tribal police. It is difficult to extrapolate much from ten cases. But if the same pattern held true for other strikes, the civilian casualty rate would be far less than is commonly asserted in Pakistani public discourse -- but also far higher than the Obama Administration has suggested previously. Senior counterterrorism official John Brennan has in the past suggested the civilian casualty rate was zero, whereas President Obama has described it as "few." In contrast, Pakistani public discourse often suggests that most casualties of drone strikes are civilians. The AP article quotes prominent Pakistani public figure Imran Khan on drones: "Those who lie to the nation after every drone attack and say terrorists were killed should be ashamed."
The coverage of the AP study so far (and even the headline of the story itself) has largely focused on the discrepancy between the AP's finding that mostly militants were killed in the drone strikes it examined, and the common assertion in Pakistani media and politics that drones are primarily killing innocent civilians. Inflated civilian casualty claims due to drones are certainly a problem in Pakistan. They not only distort public discourse and policy-making, but they also inhibit sound analysis of what is causing civilian casualties, and possible steps to prevent and mitigate civilian harm in the future. However, reading the AP reporting as only exposing the hot air behind bogus civilian casualty claims misses the real contribution this study makes to the overall debate about drones.
The AP study is novel because it is based on something more substantial than the whispers of anonymous officials in the halls of Islamabad and Washington. AP took the time (and risk) to actually speak to those who knew the individuals killed, who saw the strike take place, and in some cases buried family members.
What's more, contrary to those who suggest that any ground reports will be hopelessly compromised by propaganda and anti-American bias, what the villagers interviewed told the AP smacks of truthfulness. If the local villagers were motivated to lie to inflate civilian casualties -- as one of the anonymously cited intelligence officials in the AP story seems to suggest -- they certainly gave AP the wrong impression. According to the 80 villagers AP interviewed, militants were the only victims in six of the ten strikes examined.
And while the AP found that militants were killed more frequently than civilians, it did find civilian casualties in a number of strikes. This begs the question: if the AP is doing assessments like this, why isn't the U.S. government? To the best of our knowledge, U.S. review of drone strikes consists of video footage before, during, and after the incident. For example, following one strike in which AP found that three women and two children were killed, the anonymous intelligence officials' rebuttal was that women and children had not been observed prior to the strike. Certainly no public investigations of drone strike cases -- of the type that typically follow allegations of civilian casualties by the U.S. military in Afghanistan -- have been forthcoming.
This is problematic because, while video surveillance can be an aide to investigation, it often presents an incomplete picture. Even with the best intelligence in the world, the conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan is murky, as are the activities and affiliation of individuals operating within it. Across the border in Afghanistan, where troops have years of experience with the terrain and the communities, and greater field intelligence and access, mistakes are regularly made. The Administration's claims that such mistakes are almost impossible to avoid, or its attempts to dismiss claims to the contrary as propaganda alone, willfully disregards all the military has learned in its past ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In addition, video surveillance is often not enough to determine who is a civilian or who is a combatant under international law. Under international law, members of an armed group that is party to the conflict, or civilians who directly participate in hostilities can be directly targeted. While there are ongoing international legal debates about what constitutes "direct participation," the provision of food, shelter or medical care to one of the parties to a conflict, or mere association with one warring party does not constitute participation.
In Afghanistan, our organization, Open Society Afghanistan, has had more access to investigate such cases, and found that civilians have sometimes been killed or detained because their proximity to insurgent groups led to a sort of "guilt by association." Studies like the AP report raise concerns that the United States may be applying the same broad standards for direct participation in Pakistan. In one strike documented by the AP, 38 civilians and tribal police were reportedly killed at a public jirga -- a level of civilian harm that U.S. intelligence officials disputed on the grounds that "the group targeted was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to al-Qaida," according to the article. The AP analysis of the incident based on villagers' accounts found that some militants were present but that the majority was comprised of civilians, tribal elders, and tribal police -- many of whom may well have been armed given the cultural context and insecurity in Waziristan.
The lack of transparency in the Obama's Administrations' drone policy have made it impossible to know how the U.S. government chooses its targets in any given incident, and thus difficult to get any real traction on important questions of civilian harm. The Obama Administration's response to such concerns has ranged from outright denial to mere assertions that its strikes comply with international law (for example, in speeches by Legal Advisor Harold Koh and counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan). In a recent chat forum, President Obama dismissed the potential civilian harm from drones, as "not huge" concerns and assured those on the chat room that the U.S. use of drones was "judicious" and not "willy-nilly." Such remarks were the most candid, but also disturbingly casual in addressing these critical concerns.
The AP's findings starkly illustrate where the Obama Administration is falling short on public accountability for civilian casualties. At the same time, reaction to the AP report demonstrates how the debate over the percentage of civilian casualties can distract attention from equally critical issues, specifically the complete lack of transparency and how the U.S. distinguishes between militants and civilians. The Administration's closeted response to serious public concerns about its drone program does not befit its stated democratic values. Given the prominence of drones to U.S. national security policy, and the demonstrated consequences of these strikes, we need to move beyond the "willy-nilly" standard of killing.
Erica Gaston is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in civilian casualty issues. Chris Rogers is also a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Just over a year ago a group of twelve men were arrested as part of a long-term investigation led by British intelligence agency MI5 into a network of cells of British Muslims suspected of plotting acts of terrorism. Last week, just as the jury trial was about to get underway, the nine defendants eventually charged in the case chose to plead guilty in the hope of getting reduced sentences. Codenamed Operation Guava and featuring British radical groups, the Internet, Inspire magazine, training camps in Pakistan, prison radicalization and a mysterious character known as "the Bengali," this case brings together a number of different strands in British jihadist terrorism.
The accused plotters were rounded up in four different locations: Birmingham, Cardiff, East London and Stoke-on-Trent, though charges against the Birmingham group were dropped. Four of the men have now admitted to planning on leaving a bomb inside the restroom of the London Stock Exchange (LSE), while the other five pled guilty to various charges of terrorist fundraising, attending terrorist attack planning meetings, or possessing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) Inspire magazine. In summing up, the prosecutor highlighted that the group had not actually planned to kill anyone; "their intention was to cause terror and economic harm and disruption." However, "their chosen method meant there was a risk people would be maimed or killed."
The various cells of the plot met independently in their various locations before connecting nationally through radical networks, Dawah (proselytization) stalls run by extremist groups in cities like Cardiff and webforums like PalTalk. They had all met together in person just a couple of times. The prosecution characterized Mohammed Chowdhury of London as the "ring leader" of the network, though it seems to have been less structured than that. The Stoke group in particular developed plans on its own to carry out a bombing campaign in Stoke, and were eager to recruit more members and train in Kashmir. Stories in the media indicated that members of the Cardiff and Stoke groups had been seen at meetings and protests organized by successor groups of al Muhajiroun (the infamous group established in the late 1990s by a cleric now-banned from Britain, Omar Bakri Mohammed). And a picture has emerged of central plotter Mohammed Chowdury holding an Islam4UK placard at one of the organization's events (Islam4UK was a name adopted by al Muhajiroun after a former appellation was added to the list of proscribed terror groups by British authorities). While the role of al Muhajiroun -- or whatever the name of the successor group may be; at other times they have used the names Saved Sect, al Ghurabaa, Muslims Against Crusades, and the one in vogue currently, Ummah United -- as a radicalizer in networks that have produced terrorists has somewhat receded from that of its heyday, this plot showed the potential risks that still linger from the network.
Neighbors of the men detained in Cardiff reported that some members of the group had apparently served time in prison, where it seemed they had picked up radical ideas. A longstanding concern of Western authorities, the potential for prison radicalization had already reared its head this year in the U.K. when it was revealed last month that a British man who had been converted while serving in Feltham Young Offenders Institution was a key figure in an alleged terrorist plot that was disrupted in December in Mombasa, Kenya. He was not the first terrorist to have done time in Feltham; both ‘shoe bomber' Richard Reid and leader of the July 21, 2005 follow-up attempt to attack London's underground system, Muktar Said Ibrahim, passed through their gates.
But the element that has caught the most media attention is the group's use of AQAP's English-language jihadi manual Inspire. The group had downloaded copies of the magazine and were apparently following its advice in trying to plan a terrorist plot. They discussed the idea of copying the parcel bombs sent by the group in October 2010 and using the Royal Mail or DHL to send bombs within the United Kingdom. Where they were planning on sending them was hinted at in a list they had compiled of the addresses of London Mayor Boris Johnson and at least two prominent British rabbis. Members of the group were also trailed as they reconnoitered a number of locations in London, including the London Stock Exchange, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, Houses of Parliament, Blackfriars Bridge and the Church of Scientology. The Stoke group discussed leaving bombs in local pubs and clubs. They seemed to have taken Anwar al-Awlaki's injunctions (of which they had collected substantial amounts) to heart, and were eager to strike in the West at any targets that they could find.
But the group also appears to have maintained some connections with more classic aspects of the British jihadi story, and sought to train abroad in Kashmir. Initially, they claimed that their meetings were to find ways of raising money for Kashmir. Indeed, the Stoke group (predominantly made up of Pakistani-Britons, unlike the London and Cardiff groups, which were made up of Bangladeshi-Britons) had decided to travel abroad to obtain training and had already funded the construction of a madrassa in Kashmir that they spoke of using as a training camp for British radicals. Furthermore, they made connections to a mysterious figure named in court only as "the Bengali," after which they had moved forward with putting their ideas into practice, scoping out targets and trying out making bombs.This plot is not the only one currently making its way through British courts. Late last year, police in Birmingham arrested a group they claimed had discussed suicide bombs and had allegedly made connections with groups in Pakistan. Operation Guava's significance lies in the fact that it brings together a number of different strands in current counter-terrorism concerns in the UK, creating a complex hybrid plot that seems to have been hatched and conceived entirely at home. A textbook example of Leaderless Jihad.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), and his writing can be found: http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
In his last official event as an ambassador, barely an hour after the un-redacted transcripts of his alleged Blackberry Messenger (BBM) conversations with Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz were released, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani bore a grim expression as authors read out from short stories and poetry at the Pakistan Embassy (in the interest of full disclosure, I frequently cover issues relating to U.S.-Pakistan relations, and have interviewed Ambassador Haqqani a number of times).
Later that evening, he lost his cool with the media after they harassed him for a sound byte on Ijaz's accusations that Haqqani was the "senior diplomat" who led a plan following the death of Osama bin Laden to solicit American assistance to prevent a coup in Pakistan, and to help remove the country's senior military and intelligence personnel, by means of a "backchannel" memo to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. At the time he denied any involvement and said his fate was in President Asif Ali Zardari's hands, a position he maintains.
A day later, he boarded a flight to Islamabad.
This morning, news outlets reported on a meeting taking place at the Prime Minister's House with President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and intelligence head honcho Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha with the ambassador. Not long after the meeting, Haqqani tendered his resignation, which was then accepted by the PM. According to Pakistani news channels, the Prime Minister asked for the Ambassador's resignation. In an official statement, a spokesperson for Gilani said, "As a result of controversy generated by the alleged memo which had been drafted, formulated and further admitted to have been received by Authority in USA, it has become necessary in National interest to formally arrive at the actual and true facts." Further details on what really happened in the meeting weren't available, but for days, many had speculated that this would be the expected outcome.
Several names for replacements for Haqqani have been making the rounds since he offered to resign last week, in light of the "memogate" disclosures. These include current Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi, the current Pakistani representative to the United Nations Hussain Haroon, and former Pakistani Army chief Gen. Jehangir Karamat.
Lodhi, when asked about whether she would want to be ambassador, said at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) last week that she had picked up the American expression, "three strikes and you're out." Lodhi has twice served as Pakistan's Ambassador to Washington under Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf's governments respectively.
Bashir, who at 59 years old is due to the reach the age of retirement soon, could be asked to resign from the Foreign Office and become a political appointee to the United States. Bashir's brother is Admiral Noman Bashir, the former Chief of Naval Staff, and he is viewed as being close to the military and establishment. He was also part of the Pakistani delegation that met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York in September.
But beyond the rumours on Ambassador Haqqani's replacement, there are dozens of unanswered questions about "memogate." Who was responsible for the contents of the memo, which did not reflect Haqqani's polished and erudite English prose? (Though by all accounts the alleged BBM transcripts closely resemble Haqqani's style). Why did they decide to use Mansoor Ijaz, who has a history of making extravagant and sometimes false public claims? And lastly -- what motive did all the players have for their roles in this episode?
More importantly though, it is unclear how this affair will impact civilian and military relations within Pakistan. It is no secret that the Pakistani Army was not Haqqani's biggest fan -- and if it turns out they insisted on his resignation, one can expect that they plan to call the shots with Pakistan's next emissary to Washington.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News in Washington DC, and can be reached at email@example.com
FAROOQ NAEEM/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.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
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
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.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
The brutal, execution-style attack on Shi'a Muslims in the Mastung area of Baluchistan this week was, at once, debilitating, shocking, and instructive.
It was debilitating because it reminded observers and Pakistanis alike that the threat of indiscriminate violence Pakistanis face as a result of domestic militant groups shows no signs of abating.
It was shocking because even by the standards of Pakistani society, where violence is accepted with nonchalance -- or "resilience," depending on your point of view -- the attack represented a new low, mainly because of the method of the killings. As multiple reports have indicated, the militants stopped a bus en route to Iran, forced the pilgrims off, lined them by the side of the road, and shot them. As Dawn noted in its editorial on the killings, the attack showed a "descent into new depths of savagery."
Finally, it was instructive because it shed light on the precise nature of the militant threat the Pakistani state and society face, and the long-term struggle ahead to adequately address the threat.
Since Pakistan's alliance with the United States after 9/11 -- I use the term "alliance" loosely here -- Pakistanis have borne extremely high levels of violence; some 35,000 civilians, police and military officials have perished in the last seven years. Within the country, this has led to a sharp debate about the origins of the violence, and the advisability of the partnership with America.
The dominant narrative within Pakistan is that this war is not "our war"; that Pakistani leaders, both military and civilian, have allied with the United States out of a combination of greed and pusillanimity; that the militant violence directed at the Pakistani state and society would not have occurred had Pakistan not signed on to do America's bidding in its war; and that the solution to the terrorist threat lies in the U.S. exiting the region.
The proposition that the death toll from terrorism would be lower had Pakistan not gotten involved in the U.S. war in Afghanistan is likely accurate. But to take that to mean that Pakistan would have been a peaceful society without U.S. intervention in the region is a step too far.
The gruesome events on Tuesday demonstrate this truth, because groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for the attack, existed well before 9/11 and will exist well after the U.S. draws down in Afghanistan. Indeed, rather than being strictly being an anti-American group, LeJ's raison d'être is primarily sectarian -- they are an offshoot of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, itself an anti-Shi'a terrorist group. The notion that groups such as LeJ did not threaten Pakistanis until the military and civilian leadership allied with the United States rests on a very narrow understanding of "Pakistani." Shi'a still count as Pakistani, despite the efforts of groups such as SSP and LeJ.
For more than fifteen years, LeJ has carried out attacks against Pakistani religious minorities. In April 2010, the group was responsible for a bombing in Quetta - in a hospital, no less - which killed 11 people. That same month, two LeJ female suicide bombers blew themselves up at a relief camp for internal refugees who were waiting to get registered and receive food, reportedly because Shi'a were receiving food aid. In September 2010, the group was responsible for a suicide bomb and grenade attack in Lahore, targeting a Shi'a procession that killed more than 40 people. This year alone, LeJ has been behind at least four different attacks on Hazara Shi'a in Baluchistan, resulting in dozens of casualties. And this is just a sample of the group's activities in recent times.
LeJ is an extremely daring and dangerous organization. In the late 1990s, then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered a crackdown on it, a move that invited assassination attempts against him. In Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, Owen Bennett-Jones reports a remarkable incident of the group's reach:
The police were told that anyone who managed to arrest or kill Riaz Basra [then head of LeJ] would be given a 5 million-rupee award.
Despite this, the security forces proved incapable of controlling the militants' activities. Riaz Basra showed his contempt for the police's capabilities when he turned up at one of Nawaz Sharif's political surgeries [meetings with party supporters]. Having slipped in with the petitioners who wanted to see the prime minister, Basra positioned himself directly behind Nawaz Sharif and got one of his accomplices to take a picture. Three days later staff at the prime minister's house received a print of the photograph. The faces of Sharif and Basra, within a few feet of each other, had been circled and underneath there was an inscription: ‘It's that easy.'
Those claiming that widespread terrorism in Pakistan is solely a result of U.S. involvement in the region cannot address the existence of groups such as LeJ. Essentially all militant groups operating in Pakistan today, including LeJ, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Muhammad, existed in some form before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. That their activities were less widespread before Pakistan backed the United States is neither here nor there, because their very existence on Pakistani soil should be intolerable to Pakistani citizens and the state.
Unfortunately, the aftermath of the Tuesday attack itself sends a signal of the state's woeful capabilities in tackling groups such as LeJ. The organization's leader, Malik Ishaq, was meekly placed under house arrest for ten days due to "security reasons," and authorities followed the next day by placing his key aide Ghulam Rasool Shah under house arrest as well. Malik Ishaq was released from prison earlier this year, despite having 44 court cases against him (he was acquitted in 34, and granted bail in 10). His release was due to a lack of evidence.
Though outsiders may scoff at a publicly recognizable leader of a terrorist group not having sufficient evidence tying him to murder, it is actually quite understandable for those more aware of ground realities in Pakistan. First, witnesses are scared to death -- literally -- of coming forward and testifying. Second, judges themselves are unsafe, and afraid of handing out guilty verdicts in high-profile terrorism cases. Third, police procedures, investigative techniques and equipment are not advanced enough to tie individuals to specific incidents; even if police forces in an area know exactly who is behind a particular incident, proving it in a court of law is not easy, especially since Pakistan's anti-terrorism laws remain flawed. Fourth, there exists a baseline of sympathy for such organizations and their actions even amongst the "educated" legal community, as the reaction to the Salman Taseer assassination so eloquently showed.
All this is to suggest that, unfortunately, the terrorism problem in Pakistan is not going to disappear as U.S. forces leave Afghanistan. To the contrary, it will take dedicated work and long-term reform in the Pakistani legal system, the courts, and the police to rid the country of this scourge.
Most pertinent of all, the Pakistani military must abandon the analytical distinction between "good" and "bad" militant groups, as well as abandoning the hope that "good" militant groups can fulfill regional strategic objectives, such as bringing India to the negotiating table on Kashmir or attaining "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. If nothing else, the last decade should have put paid to that theory of national interest. Notwithstanding the security establishment's desire to play favorites, the array of militant groups in Pakistan have a lot more that unites them than divides them. Indeed, LeJ -- to take one relevant example -- has deep connections with the Pakistani Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, both of whom have used extraordinary levels of violence against Pakistani targets. The idea that the state can take on one set of elements and leave others untouched is, in the medium- and long-term, completely fanciful.
Ahsan Butt is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Chicago and blogs at Five Rupees.
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An informed source in Kabul revealed to me that an ominously fateful intelligence tip relayed to several top Afghan political figures last week by an official at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) pointed to a radical Taliban faction planning to target a high-ranking member of the former anti-Taliban coalition in the days to come. Some took the warning seriously and ramped up close-protection measures. Others, like former President and head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council Berhanuddin Rabbani, who had rushed back from an overseas visit for the explicit purpose of meeting a supposed Quetta Shura Taliban emissary, either was not briefed on time, took the warning lightly or was been given strong assurances by facilitators that the emissary was the real deal.
On Tuesday, Ustad (professor) Rabbani, as he was called by most Afghans, paid for his trust, oversight, or overconfidence with his life, as the attacker (named in reports as Esmatullah, a supposed Quetta Shura messenger), detonated his booby-trapped turban when Rabbani greeted him inside his home in the heavily-guarded Wazir Akbar Khan district.
Obviously, the Afghan capital is rife with conspiracy theories. What is clear, however, is that this assassination, the latest in a series of high-profile attacks targeting senior government officials and former anti-Soviet mujahedeen leaders, has shaken Kabul's political scene to the core. The trust factor that is so desperately needed in any bid for peace has now been irreparably damaged.
Farouq Wardak, the influential Minister of Education and active member of the HPC, admitted to Afghan media that the latest attack has "muddied the situation, and made it difficult to distinguish friend from enemy," an indication that even ardent supporters of the reconciliation process are having misgivings about its sustainability. However, from its inception, many Afghans have been torn about the viability of the HPC and how much it could accomplish when very little incentive exists for pursuing political talks. And the limited developments that have taken place since gave little indication that the talks have made much progress even before Rabbani's murder.
Afghan pundits making the rounds of the country's television talk shows have repeatedly accused the government of ineptitude and wishful thinking, adding that the reconciliation process is flawed and needs to be reviewed. In addition, public frustration and growing anger with Pakistan's unwillingness to help crack down on militant safe-havens on its territory are clear impediments facing any peace initiative.
The ripple effects of these assassinations are also being felt across the country and beyond, at a time when there is a growing concern about NATO's limited military ability to deal with the killings and its own casualties, the slower-than-expected rate of progress to build up an effective Afghan security apparatus, the Pakistani hedging-game that aims to force self-serving negotiating terms for reconciliation, and the Afghan government's inability to make visible headway with political outreach to the Taliban and other disaffected groups.
Initial reactions by Afghan and Western leaders do not give any indication of an immediate strategic reassessment or tactical adjustment. On Tuesday, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, President Barack Obama assured the Afghan President, "this will not deter us from continuing on the path that we have, and we'll definitely succeed."
Many in Afghanistan agree that almost a year since the launch of the HPC, there is a need for a serious review of the core political strategy that drives the peace effort, before the threats to social and political stability further erode confidence, and hamper the work that is required in the security and governance sectors.
The Taliban, or at least the powerful segments that consider the momentum to be in their favor, seek to derail the reconciliation process, while waging psychological war that aims to further weaken the negotiating position of the Kabul government, and to continue to dent Western public opinion perceptions.
Sandwiched between suspicious Afghan groups that balk at talks with the Taliban, and splinter groups within the Taliban conglomerate that want to sabotage dialogue by any means, the Karzai administration is left with two choices: 1) to continue along the fledgling path of a complex and incoherent reconciliation process that will increasingly require Pakistani assistance and Taliban accommodation, or 2) call for an intra-Afghan re-assessment of the strategy, but this time with the dual aim of bringing clarity to the strategy, and strengthening the Afghan government's negotiating position if and when the two sides reach that stage to discuss contentious issues such as power-sharing, governance, and democratic and gender rights.
A coherent strategy will need simultaneous work on the following policy tracks:
1. To reassess the strategic objectives at home and with key international partners.
2. To build up Afghan domestic support and consensus through political consultation and dialogue with a broad spectrum of Afghan leaders and communities.
3. To revamp existing mechanisms for reintegration and reconciliation
4. To establish a real-time coordination and verification mechanism embedded within the reconciliation framework to prevent incidents such as imposters and suicide bombers from entering into the system.
5. To push for a range of diplomatic, intelligence and concrete efforts to bring more coherence and active cooperation among regional players, especially Pakistan, in the fight against militant hideouts, transit routes, recruiting, financing and training networks.
Such an initiative also offers an opportunity to end the current political stalemate that has crippled the operations of all three branches of government, and has soured relationships among political forces since the contentious presidential elections were held two years ago. This tension has been exacerbated further by last year's controversial parliamentary election, and the series of controversial interferences by non-mandated governmental organisms in the electoral process, such as Afghan President Hamid Karzai's special election tribunal, that followed.
Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the latest brazen assassination, it comes on the heels of a series of blistering attacks since the beginning of the year, believed to be the work of the Haqqani group, a brutal ally of the Taliban based in Pakistani-administered North Waziristan.
The U.S. now says it is ready to take unilateral action against the Haqqanis unless Pakistan moves against them. Furthermore, on Tuesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the Pakistani military intelligence agency (ISI) of using the Haqqani group to wage a "proxy war" in Afghanistan.
With the U.S. showing signs of serious frustration with Pakistani denials and reluctance to take action against lethal groups using cross-border sanctuaries to attack Afghan and NATO troops, it will become increasingly more difficult to make headway with sporadic secret talks that have taken place between U.S. officials and Taliban emissaries.
The assassination of Professor Rabbani, whose controversial appointment as head of the HPC last year came as a surprise due to his past antagonism towards the Taliban, is not only a clear rejection by powerful elements of the peace process, but also an indication that Taliban hardliners may be winning a power struggle within their multi-layered organization.
Even though the so-called "moderate Taliban" now have a window of opportunity to break away before the process collapses altogether, that scenario is less likely to occur now as the pendulum swings in favor of the Taliban's more extreme anti-peace factions. The controversial arrest of the Taliban's number two, Mullah Ghani Baradar, by Pakistani authorities in February 2010, in Karachi, was a clear indication that Afghan elements who are seeking channels of dialogue are dependent on the host-country's whims.
Understanding the uphill challenges that the HPC faced in recent months, Rabbani in recent speeches publicly voiced his displeasure with brutal Taliban tactics. At an Islamic scholars' gathering in Tehran last week, he argued against brutality and the use of suicide attacks.
On Tuesday, the soft-spoken scholar-turned-rebel/politician-turned-peace advocate, became the newest victim of such an attack, dimming further the prospects for a future peace.
Omar Samad is the former ambassador of Afghanistan to France (2009-2011) and Canada (2004-2009) and spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004).
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Twenty-six Shi'a Muslim pilgrims,en route to Iran, died at the hands of the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ) in Baluchistan's Mastung area Tuesday evening. According to news reports and eyewitness accounts, attackers armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers stopped the busand forced passengers to get off. While women and children were reportedlyspared, they witnessed the execution. A car arriving to rescue the pilgrims was also fired on, and three people died in the second attack.
According to the bus driver "The attackers askedpassengers to step out of the bus and shot them after identifying them as Shi'as"
The attack was not an isolatedincident, but was instead part of a systematic campaign of violence in theprovince directed towards the Shi'a. In July, 18 people werekilled within 16 hours in Quetta in targeted attacks by the LeJ, including sevenpilgrims waiting for transportation to Iran. On the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday, a suicide bomber reportedly intended to attack the congregation of 25,000 people prayingat a mosque in the Shi'a-populated area of Marriabad in Quetta. Hisexplosives-laden car still killed 12 Shi'aand injured 32.
The campaign of anti-Shi'a violence has largely been directed towards the predominantly Shi'a Hazaracommunity in Baluchistan. According to a recent report in Newsline, "at least 347 Hazaras have been killed in [targeted] killings andsuicide and other attacks since 1999. Of the 328 Hazaras killed up untilDecember 31 last year, as many as 105 had been killed in 2010 alone."And government inaction is only helping the problem spread. According toAmnesty International, "Successive [Pakistani] governments have failed toaddress the increasingly explicit threats faced by Shi'a Muslims from groupslike Lashkar-e Jhangvi, operating openly in the Punjab and Karachi andapparently striking their victims at will in Balochistan and other parts of thecountry.
The LeJ, the militant wing of the virulentlyanti-Shi'a Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), has claimed responsibility forseveral of the attacks, and has vowed to kill more Shi'a. The Deobandi group'sstronghold is in southern Punjab, and since its inception in 1985, it has spread its campaign of anti-Shi'a incitement and violencethroughout Pakistan.
The group is officially banned inPakistan, but the ban has been far from effective. The state supported thecreation of the SSP, as General Zia-ul-Haq's regime propped up Deobandi movements to counter its perceived rival Iran.
Zia's death in 1988 did not endstate patronage of such groups. Hundreds of Shi'a have been killed since then,and the state continues to support groups such as the LeJ, and has called onits leaders for assistance in times of crisis. For instance, LeJ leader MalikIshaq was reportedly flown out of jail by the Pakistan Army to talk to the militants that had stormed the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009. Ishaq wasreleased this year after serving 14 years in jail. He was accused of killing 70 people and faced charges in 44 cases.
It was revealed after his releasethat his family was given a stipend by the Punjab government while he was in jail, and that he had been provided with police guards -- while the witnesses who testified against him lived in fear of possible repercussions. Ishaq's freedom -- after being acquitted in 34 cases and being bailedout on 10 -- was met with a display of adoration by his supporters, whoshowered rose petals on him.
Since then, he has embarkedon a public speaking tour, addressing crowds in Sindhand Punjab. His message has been consistent: he believes he was on the rightpath, and vows to work to further the SSP's mission. And despite knowing thatthe intelligence services and government are keeping an eye on him, the crowdsstill show up to hear Ishaq speak, helping validate the belief held by Ishaqand his followers that the SSP's mission is right.
In a letter to The Friday Times journal, the Pakistan Ulema Council has urged "different segments of societyto stop making assumptions about Ishaq's release and help him become a usefulcitizen" while heralding his services to the army in the 2009 headquarterssiege. But for anyone who has seen Ishaq's speeches, readily available onseveral social media platforms, it is hard to not foresee a bloody future aheadfor the Shi'a community in Pakistan. The speeches conclude with the crowdschanting anti-Shi'a slogans, while in Balochistan, a bloodied communitycontinues to mourn its dead.
Saba Imtiaz works as acorrespondent for The Express Tribune newspaper and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Because of a suicide attacker with a bomb in his turban, Afghanistan's dim prospects for peace just got dimmer. The assassination of strongman and key historical and present Afghan political figure Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the commission meant to negotiate with the Taliban, the High Peace Council (HPC), signals the massive challenges ahead in efforts to end the war.
For many in the Afghan government, Rabbani's appointment to head the HPC was seen as a way to involve the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and in particular, Rabbani's Jamiat-e-Islami party, in the peace process. Jamiat, which has long been hostile to the Taliban, is an important force in northern Afghanistan, particularly among ethnic Tajiks. But many in the Taliban and in Pakistan met the appointment with derision. As the country's president in the mid-nineties, Rabbani presided over a brutal civil war that killed thousands and helped spawn the rise of the Taliban movement. In the late 90s, Jamiat was one of the Taliban's main foes in the latter's drive to conquer the north. Pakistan, meanwhile, has always viewed the India- and Iran-friendly Rabbani with hostility.
Rabbani, who likely saw the peace process as a way to re-inject himself into the national political scene, initially took to his duties with alacrity. But it was unclear whether he was pursuing a sort of managed surrender (reintegration) or genuine negotiations. In any event, the lack of progress, hostility from the Taliban side and a spate of assassinations appeared to have turned him against a peace deal. He recently told the Afghan newspaper Hasht-e-Sob that the Taliban are a "catastrophe-creating movement" bent on the destruction of the country. "The Taliban's acts have defamed religious scholars and this movement calling itself Taliban creates disaster," he said. "They recruit soldiers among the youth and claim that they are from madrassas."
In a stark message on the anniversary of the death of Afghan national hero and slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, he declared that:
The people are justifying the war they have waged and say that they are fighting the war because of the presence of the foreigners. This is not the case actually. This war was going on prior to the presence of the foreigners here and will continue after the foreigners go from here.
The remarks echo a deep resistance to a peace deal from erstwhile Northern Alliance elements, ranging from former National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief Amrullah Saleh to the powerful governor of Balkh province, Ustad Atta, who denounced efforts at negotiations on Afghan television yesterday.
From the Taliban and Pakistani side, Rabbani and other Northern Alliance figures appear to be seen as impediments to a deal. "These people don't represent Afghanistan," a Taliban official in Quetta told me earlier this summer. "We can't ever have peace with them around." In fact, the spate of assassinations in northern Afghanistan in recent months-Kunduz governor Muhammad Omar, Kunduz Police Chief Abdul Rahman Sayedkheli, head of police for Northern Afghanistan Daoud Daoud, and others-could be seen as the steady elimination of elements standing in the way of a deal favorable to the Taliban.
But it could all backfire. Remaining Northern Alliance figures will likely close ranks and conclude that any sort of rapprochement with the Taliban is impossible. Some, like strongman Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, have reportedly looked to cultivate ties with India as a counterweight to what they see as an assassination drive spurred by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Ex-Alliance commanders, aided by U.S. programs to create local militias, will likely accelerate their drive to rearm, possibly setting the stage for a future civil war.
For now, the immense divides that plague Afghanistan will be on full display. Among some communities, Rabbani will be hailed as a hero, a wizened Islamic scholar and hero of the war against the Russians. In others, he will be remembered for scores of human rights abuses and widespread devastation during the last civil war. Either way, a peace deal in Afghanistan remains as unlikely as ever.
Anand Gopal is an independent journalist covering Afghanistan and the Middle East, and the author of the New America Foundation paper "The Battle for Afghanistan: Militancy and Conflict in Kandahar."Follow him on twitter @anand_gopal_
ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images
On a day of suicide attacks in Quetta and bomb threats againstPakistani airliners, Ali Akbar Salehi's September 7 arrival in Islamabad attracted predictably little media attention in Pakistan.
For Pakistan's government, however, his visit was freighted with importance. Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, was in town for a meeting of thePakistan-Iran Joint Economic Commission (JEC). The two-day talks produced agreements on technical, financial, and media cooperation, with additional steps taken to strengthen cooperation on energy, money laundering, and trade.
This economic summit came on the heels of intensive efforts by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to reach out to Tehran. He visited Iran in late June for a two-day conference on terrorism, and then returned just a few weeks later. Both times, he was received by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And on both occasions, the rhetoric flowed freely. At the first meeting, Zardari praised Iran as "an important friend and player in the region," noting that bilateral ties "are rooted in historical, cultural, and religious bonds." During the second visit, Khamenei lauded Pakistan for being "a great nation with [a] long and deep background of struggle."
Shortly after the JEC meeting, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani traveled to Tehran. Talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad culminated in outcomes both symbolic (designating Multan and Rashtas sister cities) and substantive (pledging to boost bilateral trade from $1.2to $10 billion -- which would approach the $15 billion trade volume Pakistan seeks with China). On September 12, Gilani declared that his and Zardari's successive visits to Iran underscore the "highest importance"Islamabad places on relations with Tehran.
At first glance, Pakistan's courtship of Iran is puzzling. The two nations have rarely seen eye to eye in Afghanistan; Tehran has sided with the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban elements of the population (particularly Shia Hazaras), while Islamabad was once one of the fewnations to accord the Taliban full diplomatic recognition. Iran has also enjoyed a legacy of strong relations with India. Baluchistan province in Pakistan has long served as a sanctuary for Jundullah, an Iranian Baluch militant organization that Washington designates as a terrorist group and regularly attacks Iran's government and military. Perhaps most importantly, Shia Iran is regional rivals with Sunni Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan's most crucial allies.
However, the strategic sands in South Asia have begun to shift, creating new opportunities for Pakistan and Iran. The latter's view of the Afghan Taliban has softened, with some observers arguing that Tehran now perceives it less as a virulent Wahhabi Sunni threat, and more as a welcome anti-imperialist group that shares Iran's strong desire to expunge America's military footprint in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, India's relations with Iran have taken a tumble. Several times in recent years, India has backed American positions on U.N. Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency votes on Iran's nuclear program and human rights violations. Additionally, tighter international sanctions against Tehran have undercut India-Iran energy relations, a pillar of the bilateral relationship. India used to pay Tehran for crude imports through an opaque "clearing house" system, yet last December the sanctions prompted India to renounce this method and to request a more transparent arrangement. Tehran refused, and in July briefly suspended crude supplies to New Delhi. India immediately turned to Riyadh, concluding a deal this past summer that provided Indians with 3 million barrels of Saudi crude in August -- and sparked talk of a potential "strategic energy partnership" that could yield a 30-year oil supply contract.
Against this backdrop, Islamabad's diplomatic forays into Tehran can be seen as both politically and strategically driven. On the one hand, at a time of strained relations with Washington, Pakistan's government undoubtedly relishes the opportunity to thumb its nose at America by embracing what the latter regards as a pariah state. Pakistan may also wish to capitalize on Iran's pro-Pakistan gestures over the last year. These include the withering criticism Khamenei has directed at India's policies in Jammu and Kashmir, and the flood relief aid furnished byIran since last summer (Iran recently vowed to provide support to internally displaced persons (IDPs) until they are "completely rehabilitated").
Strategically speaking, deeper ties with Iran can enhance electricity-starved Pakistan's energy security. Islamabad is well aware that construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline has not begun, and has underscored its desire to expedite the construction of a pipeline with Iran -- which could be operational by 2015. The project is slated to provide 750 million cubic feet of natural gas toPakistan daily, and its power generation capacity is expected to approach 5,000 megawatts -- roughly equivalent to Pakistan's energy shortfall.
Furthermore, Pakistan badly needs allies in its efforts to forge a regional stability arrangement amenable to Pakistani interests, and it sees Iran as a key collaborator in formulating a political solution to the Afghanistan imbroglio.
It would be a mistake, however, to read these developments as the portent of a new strategic partnership. Pakistan's vital relationship with Saudi Arabia--undergirded by five decades of intelligence-sharing, military cooperation, and deep mutual trust -- precludes any such possibility. So does the House of Saud's largesse. According to the Center for Global Development, Riyadh's average annual grant assistance to Pakistan between 2004 and 2009 totaled nearly $140 million -- more than any other country aside from the United States. And the U.N. reported last November that the Saudis had provided $100 million in aid to deal withlast year's crippling floods -- again, more than any nation save America at the time.
The Pakistan-Saudi partnership has stayed strong even amid the geopolitically volatile Arab Spring. Recall how Pakistani organizations likely tied to the state dispatched security forces to Bahrain to help the Saudi-allied Sunni regime suppress anti-government protestors -- members of the country's Shia majority whose demonstrations have drawn strong support from Tehran. According to Al JazeeraEnglish, "at least 2500" former Pakistani servicemen deployed to Manama this spring, enlarging Bahrain's riot police and national guard by about 50 percent.Pakistan's decision reportedly prompted an infuriated Tehran to summon a high-level Iran-based Pakistani diplomat for an explanation.
Predictably, Zardari boarded a plane to Saudi Arabia soon after his return from Iran in July. His visit was billed as an effort to reduce tensions between Tehran and Riyadh, though it was likely also meant to assuage Riyadh's concerns about Pakistan's Iranian embrace. And if there was any lingering doubt about Pakistan's determination to smooth ruffled Saudi feathers, Gilani followed up with his own trip -- with the explicit objective of getting ties back on track. Predictably, he emerged from his meetings gushing rhetoric about the renewal of the partnership. Then, late last month, Riyadh committed 10 billion rupees (justover $114 million) to help repatriate IDPs in Pakistan's tribal areas, a gesture that Pakistani media identified as another sign of a revitalized relationship. And just a few days later, Riyadh officially endorsed the Taliban reconciliation process that Islamabad fervently supports. Tehran has not followed suit.
Tellingly, while Islamabad has soothed Riyadh,it has acted cautiously toward Tehran in recent days -- in deference to Saudi Arabia, but perhaps also to America. At the JEC meeting, Pakistan, "fearing the consequences" of international sanctions, demurred when Iran offered to help construct the Pakistan portion of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline. And Pakistani media reports now speculate that Washington may succeed in persuading Pakistan to abandon the pipeline altogether.
Foreign Minister Salehi and his delegation may have arrived in Pakistan last week laden with gifts and offerings, with Gilani impressively calling on Tehran barely 72 hours later. Yet at the end of the day, the Iranians will continue to play second fiddle to Saudi Arabia in Pakistan's strategic calculus.
MichaelKugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Centerfor Scholars. email@example.com
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
The successful conviction in Manchester, Northern England,of Munir Farooqi, Matthew Newton and Israr Malik, highlighted once again (as ifmore proof was needed) the existence of the dark connection between Britainand the war in Afghanistan. A former Taliban fighter who had returned toManchester after being picked up on the battlefield not long after the U.S.invasion by Northern Alliance forces, Farooqi ran a recruitment network inNorthern England that fed an unknown number of fighters to the fight alongsidethe Taliban in Afghanistan. What was most striking about the case, however, wasthe way it exposed the method by which recruitment cells operate in the UnitedKingdom, following a model that is likely emulated elsewhere in the west.
MunirFarooqi first came to the United Kingdom when he was about five years old.Born in Pakistan, he is part of the community of migrants from Pakistan whocame to the West during the first large-scale migrations in the 1960s fromtheir homes in South Asia. Brought up largely in the United Kingdom, he speakswith a pronounced regional British accent and is married with three children. Astrong part of him, however, remained attached to his community in South Asia,and following the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 heimmediately headed back to join the Taliban. His experience on the battlefieldwas short lived, and by November he had been captured as part of a NorthernAlliance operation in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Held in one ofGeneral Rashid Dostum's prisons, he was fortunate enough to be moved to aPakistani jail, from where his British wife was able to come and fetch him fora fee in May 2002.
Once back in Britain he maintained his passion for the causein Afghanistan, and travelled back and forth to Pakistan. In 2003, borderagents stopped him as he returned from Pakistan and searching his luggage foundpicturesof him posing alongside armed men in the Swat Valley. Using such images andhis own personal experience as a former Taliban fighter with injuries to showfor it, Farooqi was able to conjure up the joy of jihad to disenfranchisedyoung men he would encounter amongst Manchester's Muslim community. Ashe put it when asked by an undercover officer whether he would want tofight again, "you know when you've tasted the honey....then you only wantmore...until Allah takes you from this earth."
He used two bases of operations to draw young men to hiscause. In public, he ran dawah(propagation) stalls in Manchester and nearby Longsight city centers. Herehe would welcome individuals in and try to share with them information on hisview of the world -- and it was at both of these that on separate occasions inNovember 2008 and January 2009 two undercover officers (who were unaware ofeach other) approached the stalls to make contact with the group. ApproachingFarooqi at the Longsight location, undercover officer "Ray" made contact onNovember 26, 2008. Over the space of the next couple of months, "Ray" convertedto Islam, and then on January 4, 2009, undercover officer "Simon" also madecontact with the cell approaching a stall being run in central Manchester byFarooqi and co-defendent MatthewNetwon, a convert who came across Farooqi in 2008 soon after he became aMuslim. Claiming to be a recovering alcoholic seeking meaning, "Simon" alsoconverted to Islam with the group, and slowly gained their confidence.
In bringing the men gradually into his web, Farooqi wouldtake them to his home from where he ran a massive operation churning outradical videos and books -- he was caught with some 50,000 items of literatureand 5,000 DVDs. Here he would weave them tales about jihad, drawing on his ownexperiences to gradually persuade them of the glory of fighting in Afghanistan.A charismatic figure, he was able to quickly persuade individuals to come tohis views, as characterized by Newton, who was rapidly drawn to Farooqi's wayof thinking after the two met. Newton, like Farooqi, was convicted of of "preparingterror acts, soliciting to murder and disseminating terrorist literature"and was sentenced to six years in jail.
Having drawn people in, Farooqi ensured that they stayedwithin his orbit, telling them which mosques to go to and following up withthem when they got into trouble. When another co-defendant, Israr Malik, wasincarcerated on unrelated charges, Farooqi made a point of visiting him in jailwhere he passed him radical material to share amongst fellow prisoners. A lost soulwho had become involved in criminal activity after breaking up with his girlfriend,Malik was drawn to one of Farooqi's stalls in 2008, only to become another inthe production line of radicals he was helping develop, with the intention ofpersuading them to go and fight in Afghanistan. He was also incarcerated fortwo counts of soliciting murder and preparing for acts of terrorism.
This model of recruitment was one that has been seen beforein the United Kingdom: Mohammed Hamid, the self-proclaimed "Osama bin London"who helped take over hook-handed radical imam Abu Hamza's mosque after he wasincarcerated, used to run dawah stalls in London, where he would make contactwith dispossessed young men and, eventually, another undercover officer. Areformed drug addict himself, Hamid ran discussion groups out of his home, hadbeen to Pakistani training camps, and offered connections for aspiring fighterswho wanted to go abroad. Most prominently, Hamid ran training camps in theU.K.'s Lake District that a number of the July 21, 2005 attempted bombersattended. He is currently finishing up a sentence in prison alongside a networkof young men he recruited, including some who were attempting to go to Somaliato fight and others who did in fact go.
It remains unclear exactly how many people Farooqi was ableto persuade to go and fight in Afghanistan. Oneestimate published in the local press said some 20 people had been sentover, A figure that seems quite low for an operation that could have been goingon for as long as eight years. However, this small number likely reflects thereality of how large the actual number of British citizens being persuaded togo and fight really is. As author and journalist JasonBurke put it recently, quoting British intelligence officials, "the yearsfrom 2004 to 2007 saw the highpoint of the flow of volunteers from the UK to[Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA]. Never more than afew score in any one year, their number has now been reduced to a handful." Butgiven recent stories of Britishmartyrs being praised in jihadi videos, former British prisoners turning up assuicide bombers in Kabul, and a small number of former Taliban fighterscontinuing to live in the United Kingdom, it seems likely that this trickle maycontinue for some time.Raffaello Pantucci is an associate fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) andthe author of the forthcoming WeLove Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen.
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
There is no better way to understand Pakistan's connection to the war in Afghanistan than to travel to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and stand on a spot along the 1,600-mile border, which cuts through the heart of the region's Pashtun tribal belt. Because it isn't a border at all. Pakistan may have gained independence from India in 1947, but in the FATA, being Pashtun took precedence over citizenship. The FATA is often referred to as Pakistan's Wild West, since, despite its name, most control is in the hands of tribal elders, not the federal government. The female literacy rate is about three percent. The fiercely conservative tribesmen live by a strict code of honor -- Pashtunwali -- that above all else dictates that guests must be provided with warm hospitality and protection. That, combined with the fact that the FATA was the jihadi epicentre in the 1980s, made it the perfect place for the Taliban and al-Qaeda to find refuge.
But getting to the border in 2006 was going to require some serious help. This meant tagging along with experienced journalists, or enlisting the aid of the army. In the end, photographer Pete Power and I were fortunate enough to get both.
"You're in luck!" army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told me as we sat in his office in Islamabad. The military was organizing a junket to a remote outpost in Kundi Gar, on the Afghan border, which would give us an excellent view from ten thousand feet-even if it was a view controlled entirely by the Pakistani army. It was going to be hard, Maj. Gen. Sultan said, shaking his head, but he would do his best to secure us a spot. We drank more tea and talked of Canada.
Days later, we were in the company of a handful of journalists, including the BBC's Barbara Plett and the Guardian's Declan Walsh, one of the most respected foreign reporters in the region. Declan had the unassuming and easy-going nature of a foreign correspondent who had talked his way out of more than one precarious situation. Only when he darted around Islamabad in his battleship grey Volkswagen bug he had named Betsy, driving like a true Pakistani, did you see his aggressive side.
With brief stops at staging areas, ostensibly to have a tea-but in fact, we later learned, to repair our helicopter-we eventually arrived at a desolate Shawal Valley post that consisted of little more than well-worn goat paths and stone compounds that looked like they were constructed in the days of Ghengis Khan. The military outnumbered the journalists about five to one.
Maj. Gen. Sultan, an officious and compact officer who had been educated in the United States and had served as the public face of Pakistan's army since 2003, strode up the hill toward the base while some of the cameramen wheezed under the weight of their equipment at such an altitude. "You're the first women up here," he said, delighted. In our honor, an English sign that read "Ladies Urinal" had been erected with an arrow that pointed to a hilltop khaki tent. I went inside, to be polite and show that I appreciated the effort, but changed my mind as I was about to drop my pants over the dugout hole and a fierce wind shook the tent. I feared that I would not be remembered as one of the first women to visit the base, but rather the Canadian reporter who mooned the troops.
The purpose of the trip was clear. The army wanted us to visit the tranquil base and report that its troops had the region under control. "This border is sealed," army Brigadier Imtiaz Wyne pronounced dramatically at a makeshift podium erected for the occasion. As if on cue, thunder began to rumble and the sky turned an angry shade of grey. "We stop any movement across the border from rear to front or front to rear," Wyne continued over the noise, adding that since operations were launched in the area, 325 "miscreants" had been killed, while the army had lost 56 of their own troops.
The visit was cut short as the angry weather rolled in. Although our group had arrived in two khaki Mi-171 helicopters, we all crammed into one for the quick descent. We rocked horribly as the helicopter struggled with the weight, slowly rising like an obese man attempting to stand after sitting cross-legged on the floor for too long. Looking out the windows we could see that the troops below were running, fast. It took a few minutes to realize that they clearly thought we were going to crash, and as we clipped a tree before clearing the ridge, Pete and I thought we would too.
In Rawalpindi at the end of the day, we drank more tea and Major General Sultan presented each of us with a small plastic trophy bearing the words "Gold Army Division." Although this type of formality may have been common in Pakistan, it still felt strange to have soldiers clapping for us, especially since I knew our stories would be unlike the glowing tales of military dominance that some of the local press would write.
The problem was that it was almost impossible to verify the army's claims that they had the upper hand in the area. Foreign journalists were forbidden from going alone, and many local journalists had been killed when they tried. We had been unable to talk to area residents during our escorted visit. We would find out later that in nearby Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, a convoy of paratroopers had been ambushed by Taliban-linked fighters on the outskirts of the city just after we left.
There were other telling and ominous signs. A few months earlier, another attack in Miranshah had shown just how brutal the frontier had become and how ineffective the army had been in protecting its residents. A local gangster named Hakeem Khan had ruthlessly ruled the region for months, but had made a fatal mistake when he killed four members of the local Taliban who refused to pay his required "tax." Vengeance was swift. Truckloads of black-turbaned Talibs arrived and not only was Khan beheaded for the murders, so were his relatives. Their bodies were hung in the centre of town and their houses were burned to the ground. A twenty-eight-minute video recording of the executions spread quickly throughout Pakistan, and a few days after our visit to Waziristan I watched the film at Declan's house. Men shouted, "Long live the Taliban of Waziristan," as the corpses were dragged behind a truck. Hundreds looked on with a mix of disgust and bemusement. The video ended with the words: "This is not drama. This is reality." The reality was that the Taliban was now firmly entrenched in the region.
Despite their claims otherwise, the Pakistani army was breathing its last gasps during our visit. A few months later, in September, the army pulled out of the area after a negotiated settlement with tribal elders known as the "North Waziristan Accord." The agreement amounted to a ceasefire, on the theory that if the army withdrew, the locals would have no trouble cracking down on foreign militants. Without having to worry about attacks from the Pakistani army-which was ill equipped to fight in the region and all too often killed civilians in the crossfire-the old order could resume and fight cross-border Taliban traffic. President Musharraf celebrated the deal during a trip to Washington, even though within Pakistan the Waziristan Accord was widely regarded as an admission of defeat. After a White House meeting President Bush told reporters: "When the president looks me in the eye and says, the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, and that there won't be a Taliban and won't be al-Qaeda, I believe him."
Gaining a foothold in the FATA region was critical and the Waziristan Accord would ultimately fail. Soon, that wouldn't be the only region of Pakistan in peril.
Michelle Shephard is the national security correspondent for the Toronto Star and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone," from which this piece is excerpted.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Less than a month after the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, in a quest to find Osama bin Laden and punish the Taliban for harboring him.
At the time, women's progress was touted as both a reason for and a powerful and positive product of the U.S. invasion. But while Washington showered attention on the plight of Afghan women going into the war, officials have gone largely silent on the fate of Afghan women as they look to its exit.
In November 2001, First Lady Laura Bush took to the airwaves on behalf of her husband -- marking the first time a president's wife has delivered the entire President's weekly radio address on her own -- to highlight the plight of Afghan women and girls.
"The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women," Mrs. Bush said.
"Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists...In Afghanistan we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us."
She concluded, "Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment. Yet the terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped." The State Department issued an accompanying report on the Taliban's "War Against Women," which stated that "restricting women's access to work is an attack on women today."
A month later, the President himself signed the "Afghan Women and Children Relief Act" and pledged that "America and our allies will do our part in the rebuilding Afghanistan. We learned our lessons from the past. We will not leave until the mission is complete."
In signing the bill, which funded health and education programs for Afghan women and children, the President told reporters that, "a central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women, and not only the women of Afghanistan. The terrorists who helped rule Afghanistan are found in dozens of countries around the world, and that is the reason this great nation with our friends and allies will not rest until we bring them all to justice."
President Bush even brought the first Afghan Minister of Women's Affairs, Sima Samar, to his first post-9/11 State of the Union.
"The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school," Bush said. "Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan's new government."
Later in his speech, the President said that "We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and religious tolerance."
And the Bush Administration was hardly alone in embracing the cause of Afghanistan's women in the context of America's fight for justice. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton also shined her powerful spotlight on the women whose lives changed with the American invasion.
"Thanks to the courage and bravery of America's military and our allies, hope is being restored to many women and families in much of Afghanistan," Clinton wrote in TIME Magazine.
And then she went further. "There is an immoral link between the way women were treated by the oppressive Taliban in Afghanistan and the hateful actions of the al-Qaeda terrorists," Clinton said. "The mistreatment of women in Afghanistan was like an early warning signal of the kind of terrorism that culminated in the attacks of September 11. Similarly, the proper treatment of women in post-Taliban Afghanistan can be a harbinger of a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic future for that war-torn nation."
Noted Clinton, "We, as liberators, have an interest in what follows the Taliban in Afghanistan. We cannot simply drop our bombs and depart with our best wishes, lest we find ourselves returning some years down the road to root out another terrorist regime."
Now, a decade later, talk of bringing terrorists to justice has given way to talk of Taliban reconciliation. No one sees another answer when it comes to ending America's longest-ever war. And, simultaneously and not surprisingly, nearly all talk of women has faded from hearing.
President Barack Obama offered no mention of women in his 2009 West Point speech on the war in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, in a telling quote to journalist Rajiv Chandrasekran, a senior administration official said, "Gender issues are going to have to take a back seat to other priorities...There's no way we can be successful if we maintain every special interest and pet project. All those pet rocks in our rucksack were taking us down."
Privately, State Department officials I speak with say they are doing what they can, but acknowledge that Secretary Clinton's fight to keep women in the conversation about what comes next in Afghanistan is a lonely one. The upcoming 2012 presidential race looms large for Obama's policy and political staff. And with Clinton already promising to leave her post at the end of next year, Afghan women are losing their largest advocate within the Obama administration.
Today the question which looms large is, will women's rights be negotiated away in the quest to reach a graceful exit - or, in fact, any kind of exit, in Afghanistan? And if successful negotiations with the Taliban are a desirable inevitability for the United States, what are the lines (if any) that the U.S. must not cross if America is to keep Clinton's pledge to Afghan women that they will not be abandoned once more?
Women received much attention going into the war in Afghanistan. A new generation seized the opportunities created by the international community's presence to serve as midwives, teachers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, governors, army officers and civil society leaders. Today they fear a return to a time in which the world sat by while their government stripped them of their rights to work, to be educated, and to leave their homes unaccompanied.
The international community now seems to see Afghan women as unfortunate collateral damage along the path to peace, not valuable contributors who make stability possible. Meanwhile, women are fighting for a voice in the upcoming Bonn conference and a say in their future, including on the team negotiating with the Taliban for the country's future. Women I talk to say they try not to be despondent, but it is not easy to be hopeful given the facts on the ground and the talk of the future.
"Only Afghans can determine the future government of their country," the State Department said in its 2001 Taliban report. "And Afghan women should have the right to choose their role in that future."
Those words remain true today.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
In a lengthy message on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday released last week under Mullah Mohammad Omar's name, the fugitive Taliban leader used a mix of "jihad-light" bravado and toned-down political rhetoric to express his group's position on key issues, as part of a push to influence public opinion that has garnered a variety of reactions from different Western and South Asian quarters.
Yet despite the hype among AfPak watchers, the message is more a reflection of an emerging dual-track strategy that promotes Omar as a credible interlocutor while masking his flaws, and is directly tied to the NATO decision to end its military engagement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Last Friday agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jubair Ahmad, a 24 year-old Pakistani immigrant living in Woodbridge, Virginia. He has been charged with "providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT]," specifically producing and uploading a propaganda video to YouTube, allegedly at the direction of Talha Saeed, son of the group's founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. According to an affidavit, Ahmed received "religious training" from LeT as a teenager, and later attended its "basic training camp" while living in Pakistan, before entering the U.S. in 2007 with other members of his family. The religious training to which the affidavit refers is likely the Daura-e-Suffa, a three-week program focused on teaching the principles of LeT's interpretation of Ahl-e-Hadith Islam, converting those from other sects to this school of thought. Its basic or general training also lasts three weeks, and is known as the Daura-a-Amma. This latter program involves additional indoctrination, physical training and minimal instruction in the use of light weapons.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
The world shook when Osama bin Laden was killed, but it has taken less notice of reports that a CIA drone in Pakistan reportedly killed Atiyah abd al-Rahman al-Libi, now ubiquitously referred to as "al-Qaeda's number two." And while there is no doubt that bin Laden's death was the more significant blow politically, Atiyah's death may have a larger impact on how the al-Qaeda network functions.
Since 2001, al-Qaeda has evolved from being structured hierarchically -- with bin Laden at the top -- into a network with bin Laden as one branch of the overall organization. Bin Laden's continued authority was a function of his reputation within the network and, critically, his ability to communicate effectively. That ability to communicate is where Atiyah came in: if bin Laden was the most politically important branch of the al-Qaeda network, Atiyah was the node that connected his branch to the others. That also meant coordinating between al-Qaeda's central leadership and potential al-Qaeda operators, such as Bryant Neal Vinas, in Europe and the United States.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
month's violence in China's
Xinjiang province, perpetrated by minority Muslim Uighurs against Han Chinese
settlers -- blamed by local officials on Pakistan -- trained militants -- some analysts have claimed that Sino-Pak
relations are under serious strain. But such assessments prove to be
presumptuous when China's
challenges in Xinjiang and its relations with Pakistan relations are more
First, experts on Xinjiang doubt that Pakistan-trained militants are responsible for the violence in the first place. Most likely, the statements by Chinese officials in Xinjiang are attempts to avoid discussion of the domestic causes of Uighur militancy, including religious and ethnic discrimination and a systematic campaign to dilute the native Uighur presence through a deluge of Han Chinese.
Jason Lee-Pool/Getty Images
When I was in Kabul in June, I found the various embassies and military installations about as easy to get into as a nuclear bunker. And I would guess that government probably seems that impenetrable, too, to the outsider -- protected by secrecy and omerta that is as strong as any concrete blast wall.
Cables From Kabul, the recently-released book from Sherard Cowper-Coles, is the equivalent of a guided tour around the inner workings of the international community in Afghanistan. It is a warts-and-all tour, with institutional failings laid bare. It is written by a man who knows those institutions well, having been British Ambassador to Kabul 2007-2009, and then the British equivalent to deceased U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke (to whom the book is dedicated) between 2009 and 2010. The book has caused controversy in Britain -- and also been greatly praised -- for its pessimism about the war in Afghanistan, its trenchant attacks on Britain's military leadership, and its unprecedented frankness about the inner workings of diplomacy. Although it will be of less interest to the American reader, it is rare to hear any senior figure with such experience of Afghanistan speak out so candidly, and at the end he addresses himself to specifically American questions.
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Were Shakespeare alive, he would find ample material for a high tragedy among the players in veteran intelligence correspondent Joby Warrick's new book, The Triple Agent. All the ingredients are there, including betrayal, shame, heroism, and more than one person with a recklessly determined hubris worthy of King Lear himself. Yet as those who have operated in the world of human intelligence will viscerally feel, this is not cathartic fiction, but a factual account of a modern day human intelligence operation gone terribly wrong, involving real men and women, with all the failings thereof. The Triple Agent provides a riveting look at the disastrous attempt by the CIA and their partners in the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID) to maneuver the Jordanian doctor-cum-cyber-jihadist, Humam al-Balawi, into penetrating the leadership of al-Qaeda.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
On Tuesday, Hina Rabbani Khar became the first woman and the youngest parliamentarian ever in Pakistan's history to hold the post of Foreign Minister.
Does this mean that we start cheering? No.
Women like Hina Rabbani Khar may be educated, hardworking parliamentarians, but their elevation to their jobs has been through their political influence, rather than their skills or political knowledge. Khar, for instance, is a talented restaurant owner (anyone who has eaten at the Polo Lounge in Lahore can testify to that), and reportedly a skilled mountain climber, but she has never publicly campaigned to win an election. Her election as member of the National Assembly has been on the basis of her last name and her feudal lineage -- as part of the Khar family, her father is a politician, her uncle was Punjab's Chief Minister in the 1970s -- as opposed to her popularity amongst the masses, or her achievements as a restaurant owner, or as deputy finance minister in the Musharraf regime. As part of the political elite, Khar's elevation to Foreign Minister has very little to do with women's rights, and more perhaps, to do with the lack of candidates that the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) could call on to be the next Foreign Minister, five months after sacking Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Secondly, it is widely accepted that the civilian government controls very little of foreign policy, and has ceded most of their control over it to the men in Rawalpindi. From relations with India to the United States, it is believed that the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters (GHQ) that is calling the shots. Khar, in her position, will most likely be an administrator, and not a visionary.
Third -- women MPs being elevated to positions of power has rarely translated into real action and change for the women of Pakistan.
In 1988, Benazir Bhutto became the first woman and the youngest parliamentarian to hold the post of Prime Minister. During her two stints in office, the PPP-led government was unable to change the Hudood Ordinance, a draconian law from the time of dictator Zia ul-Haq that deprived rape victims of their rights. Indeed, the government contained coalition partnersthat included religious parties violently opposed to any changes in the Ordinance.
This is not to knock the women MPs that are serving in both the National and Provincial Assemblies. Following a change in the number of reserved seats for women in parliament by the Musharraf regime, now nearly 22 percent of parliamentarians are women. Repeatedly, women parliamentarians such as Sherry Rehman and Farahnaz Ispahani from the PPP have pushed for laws against the sexual harassment of women and the persecution of minorities. The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) Tehmina Daultana took the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha to task when he was testifying in the National Assembly about the presence of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
In the provincial assemblies, parliamentarians like Sassi Palijo (also from a political family) have won on general seats as opposed to seats reserved solely for women in the province of Sindh, and have publicly campaigned for votes. The PPP's Firdous Ashiq Awan has been elected on a general seat in Punjab, and is currently serving as Information Minister. She may have resigned now, but the PML-Q parliamentarian Marvi Memon cemented her reputation by being more than her father's daughter, by working simultaneously on a number of political issues and raising awareness for a number of causes -- from flood victims to rights of workers. The fact that they have managed to do so much in the light of obvious slights and terrible insults, such as when former president Pervez Musharraf intimated that women used rape claims for money or to obtain visas, is heartening. Let us also not forget that some of the most opposition they face is from within their own parties -- male chauvinists who'd prefer to see women behind closed doors, who would block legislation in parliament rather than allow women their rights, or would announce women being buried alive as part of their "tradition."
Despite this, Khar's election is not the time to wave the banner for a moderate Pakistan, or for the PPP to boast about its liberal credentials. When Khar gets elected on a general seat on her own merit, is allowed to publicly campaign without threats to her life, and is given a ministerial portfolio on merit, you can hand me a banner. Until then, let us reserve the optimism for another day.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News in Washington DC, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
The last two days have been murderous for the French contingent in Afghanistan; four paratroopers were killed in a suicide attack in the Surobi district, while a Special Forces soldier was killed during operations in the Alasay Valley, in the province of Kapisa.
The timing of these incidents was hardly accidental: The goal was to strike France and its army during the commemoration of the national and military holiday that is the "14 Juillet" known as Bastille Day in the Anglophone world. But these deaths also illustrate the growing engagement of French units in Afghanistan in more intense kinetic operations. The reconquest of Kapisa, a particularly sensitive region situated on a strategic axis and marked by 30 years of war, has been a particularly costly and difficult task, one that has required French forces to put into practice their tactical knowledge and understanding of "contre-insurrection" or what Americans call COIN.
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United States-Pakistan relations have been in free fall since the successful raid by Special Operations Forces on May 2nd killed Osama bin Laden and several others in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Now an investigation by the Guardian has revealed details of an intelligence operation in the months prior to the raid that attempted to use a fake vaccination campaign to confirm the terrorist leader's whereabouts. The operation, which reportedly failed, attempted to use the pretext of a free Hepatitis-B vaccination to collect DNA on those living inside Bin Laden's suspected compound, hoping to match it with the DNA of his relatives. However, while few details about the operation are known, one thing is certain: its existence will cause serious damage to legitimate domestic and international health campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Immunization programs in Pakistan already have a hard time convincing many to get vaccinated. In 2007, a polio-vaccination campaign in northern Pakistan failed to immunize 160,000 children, due to rumors that the vaccine was an American attempt to sterilize children. The rumors were at least partially spread by local clerics, who claimed that the polio-immunization drive was "a conspiracy of the Jews and Christians to stunt the population growth of Muslims." Some vaccination teams were even beaten after locals heard the rumors. In another case, a Pakistani doctor was killed in 2007 after working to fight anti-vaccine propaganda in Bajaur agency. And the risk to health workers has increased drastically in recent years. According to the Aid Worker Security Database, which tracks attacks against national and international humanitarians, only two aid workers working in Pakistan reported being the victim of attacks in 2004, while by 2010 that number had risen to 28. Furthermore, the Red Cross claimed this month to have observed a spike in attacks against humanitarians, fueled in part by anger over the Abbottabad raid. Simply put, it has never been more dangerous to be a health worker in Pakistan.
Similar distrust towards health workers exists in Afghanistan. Taliban fighters have always had an uneasy relationship with vaccination teams and aid workers, suspecting they are government or Western spies. In 2007, Taliban fighters kidnapped one vaccination worker in Uruzgan province during a polio-vaccination campaign. They beat him and only released him after he promised to stop vaccinating children. It is not just vaccination efforts that are harmed by the rumors: less than a year ago a group of international and Afghan aid workers were hiking back from a three-week medical mission in the Hindu Kush mountains when they were captured and executed by gunmen. A Taliban spokesman took credit for the attack, claiming that the aid workers were spies.
Insecurity has a serious negative effect on health care in rural communities. The greater the personal risks, the greater the appeal for both national and international health workers to stay within the safety of major cities, venturing out only in large convoys. This so-called "bunkerization" diminishes the ability of health campaigns to target rural communities -- often those most in need of primary health care. The best way to overcome bunkerization is through building relationships with communities and local elites, allowing for the free movement of health workers in a region -- exactly the kind of thing undermined by the CIA's apparent operation.
Given the precarious relationship between health workers, militants, and civilians in many areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the existence of a fake vaccination program ran by the CIA is likely all the evidence many need to accuse all vaccinators and health workers of spying. The end result will be fewer families willing to have their children vaccinated, and more attacks on health workers providing any manner of medical care to communities. Some people will no doubt say that the operation was a reasonable and necessary attempt to confirm bin Laden's location, and that nobody was directly put at risk as a result. Tell that to the next vaccination team in Abbottabad.
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A trusted family associate shot Ahmed Wali Karzai, Afghan president Hamid Karzai's half-brother, multiple times this morning in one of Wali's five Kandahar mansions. While the Taliban have claimed responsibility for his death, there's no reason -- yet -- to think Sardar Mohammed, who was quickly gunned down by Wali Karzai's bodyguards, had any connection to the insurgency.
Pakistan's 2011 census kicked off in April, but less than three months later, it is embroiled in controversy. Several members of the Sindh Census Monitoring Committee have rejected as "seriously flawed" the recently completed household count. They allege that census workers, directed by an unspecified "ethnic group," have counted Karachi's "inns, washrooms, and even electric poles" as households in an effort to dilute the city's native "Sindhi" presence.
These Census Monitoring Committee members are not the only Pakistani politicians to be concerned about the census. Pakistan is experiencing rapid urbanization; while a third of the country's people have long been rurally based, at least 50 percent of the population is expected to live in cities by the 2020s. Pakistan's political leadership draws much of its power from rural landholdings, power that could be greatly reduced if a census confirms this migration toward cities.
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At least 90 people have been killed and scores wounded in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, over the last four days. The wave of violence was set in motion when a Pashtun-nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) activist was attacked on Tuesday, an act that led to another ten murders as gun battles broke out in the Orangi Town neighborhood, which has borne the brunt of the violence. Orangi Town is a lower income neighborhood located on the outskirts of the city. The grip on power in Orangi has become tenuous for the ethnic Muhajir Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Karachi's largest and most powerful political party, as Pashtun migrants have started to settle in the area, bolstering the ANP's potential for power.
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In January of this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai yielded to domestic and international pressure and endorsed the seating of the new Afghan parliament against the recommendation of a Special Court he created to evaluate election fraud claims. Few would have predicted then that six months later Karzai's Court would bring the country to the brink of complete political collapse.
Afghanistan's 2010 parliamentary elections were yet another reminder of the extraordinary difficulty of administering elections in the midst of a wide scale counter-insurgency effort. Like the 2009 presidential elections, the September 2010 Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament, elections, were marred by widespread fraud, with more than a million votes ultimately invalidated. Despite the pervasiveness of fraud, the process did offer some hope for the nascent democracy. Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) showed strong signs that despite enormous external pressure, it could exercise the necessary independence and impartiality that observers felt was lacking in 2009.
The results of the election were not favorable to Karzai, who fought throughout the process for ways to advantage his political allies. In the pre-election period this included unsuccessfully advocating, against the recommendation of the IEC, for the opening of 87 additional polling stations in some of the country's most insecure districts. After election day, President Karzai expressed his dissatisfaction with the results from Ghazni province, where Hazara candidates swept the seats despite the presence of a Pashtun majority. The Special Court would become President Karzai's favorite instrument to remind the new members of parliament that it was he who truly controlled their political fate.
Last year, after Afghanistan's Electoral Complains Commission (ECC) referred hundreds of cases to the attorney general (AG) to review whether candidates had committed criminal offenses, the AG decided to submit 232 candidates to Afghanistan's Supreme Court for adjudication, despite no provision in the electoral law authorizing it to do so. In the weeks that followed, it became clear that the AG was not guided by a legal framework but motivated by a preferred political outcome. Indeed, the AG's office was outspoken in voicing its desire that the results of the elections should be invalidated entirely.
On the 21st of December, the Supreme Court took the next step by recommending that President Karzai establish a Special Court to further investigate and adjudicate the claims of disaffected, defeated candidates. On the 26th of December, President Karzai approved the creation of a Special Court through presidential decree and named Sadiqullah Haqiq, head of the Kabul Court of Appeals, to lead the court. According to the president and the Supreme Court, the Special Court would begin investigating results, and would have the authority to make changes to the results of the September elections.
Shortly after the creation of the court both the IEC and ECC disavowed the court and reaffirmed their position that the authority to administer elections and announce results was the sole duty of the IEC and adjudication of complaints was that of the ECC. The international community publicly supported the independence of the country's legitimate electoral institutions and called on all actors to respect their decisions.
Often, it is ambiguity in the Afghan legal framework that causes such political impasses. In this instance, however, the law is clear. The constitution, through Article 156, establishes the IEC as the sole authority for the administration of elections and grants it exclusive authority for the announcement and certification of election results. Neither the constitution nor the electoral law sanctions the creation of a special court to review election results. Nor does either document grant the Supreme Court or Attorney General the authority to engage in electoral affairs.
The idea for the creation of the court likely did not originate with the Supreme Court, but directly from within the president's office; rather, during Democracy International's observation of the process, many well-connected Afghans reported to us that the idea came from two of President Karzai's own legal advisors, who were seeking out ways to alter the results of the September elections that had strengthened opposition to Karzai in the parliament.
After months of the Special Court reportedly conducting re-counts and investigations throughout the provinces, it finally announced a ruling on June 22 in which it declared that 62 sitting members of the parliament should be replaced. The decision launched the country into a political crisis and elicited an immediate reaction from parliament, which voted for the removal of the attorney general and six members of the Supreme Court. The crisis reached new proportions last Wednesday, when the parliament began debating the impeachment of the president, who has reportedly proposed his own list of 17 candidates to the IEC who should be immediately certified as winners. The instability has, according to Afghan news sources, motivated members of parliament to begin carrying firearms into sessions of parliament, and has resulted in physical altercations between MPs.
The authority to arbitrate constitutionality lies with Afghanistan's Independent Commission for the Oversight of the Constitution. In this instance, however, the commission has only contributed to the confusion. In January, the commission reportedly met with a group of MPs and expressed its opinion that the establishment of the Special Court was illegal. This was reported widely at the time in Afghan newspapers. Just last week, in an apparent about face, the constitutional commission issued a decision stating that the IEC should cooperate with any bodies investigating election issues. To complicate matters further, a member of the constitutional commission appeared on TOLO television (the nation's most popular political news outlet) the next day and declared the Special Court illegal and explained that the decision of the commission had been misunderstood.
The implications of the Special Court's ruling are serious, and the willingness of the president to embrace its legitimacy threatens to undermine more than just the parliament. If the court's decision is ultimately respected and the makeup of the parliament is altered, the legitimacy and credibility of the IEC and future Afghan elections will forever be tainted. Candidates and their supporters are unlikely to respect the authority of an election commission whose decisions they know can be trumped by ad-hoc courts. In addition, if the Special Court brings criminal charges against sitting parliamentarians, it will also undermine the authority of Afghanistan's legitimate judicial bodies. At a time when a country struggling to establish robust democratic institutions needs support from its executive, that executive seems all too willing to endorse the defanging of those institutions.
The political implications are even more serious. If Karzai's Court is successful at shaking up the composition of the lower house, the effects could be felt far beyond the body's votes on the president's initiatives. The president would then likely have a parliament more amenable to his call for a Loya Jirga, a powerful traditional body that has the authority to amend the constitution. The current parliament has called the president's plans for a Loya Jirga unconstitutional, on the basis that chairpersons of district councils, who are constitutionally mandated delegates to a Loya Jirga, have not yet been elected. Not only would President Karzai likely have the support in the lower house to move forward with his plans, he would also have 62 more votes in favor of whatever agenda he decides to pursue within the jirga, including a possible constitutional amendment to allow him to seek a third term.
With no clear ending in sight, the president, by supporting the actions of a Special Court with no legal authority, has brought the country to the brink of political collapse. What happens next is anyone's guess. The IEC has so far shown resolve against Karzai and has reportedly presented him a plan to solve the impasse. While details of the plan have yet to be released, there are rumors circulating that it would require President Karzai to declare the Special Court illegal and to honor the independence of the IEC and the credibility of its decisions. In return, the IEC would agree to review some previous decisions of the ECC, which it believes is allowed under Article 65 of Afghanistan's Electoral Law.
If the president disagrees with the IEC's plan, he could always attempt to replace the leadership of the IEC, which is within his constitutional rights, and thus pave the way for the implementation of the Special Court's decision. This would not, however, prevent the likely violent backlash from the 62 parliamentarians the Special Court is threatening to remove. Perhaps a more likely outcome is for the AG to circumvent the IEC altogether and begin implementing the Court's decisions himself, as he has promised recently to do. This would likely entail arrests of sitting MPs and would undoubtedly lead to political chaos and possibly violence.
The crisis created by Karzai's Court underscores the necessity for a genuine Afghan led dialogue on democratic reform. Options must be explored to strengthen the independence and resilience of Afghanistan's democratic institutions. To achieve any level of democratic sustainability, Afghan politicians must operate on a stronger democratic foundation, one developed with the support of civil society and the very institutions President Karzai is attempting to delegitimize (the IEC, the ECC, and the lower house of parliament). If the international community and the Government of Afghanistan do not begin to take democratic reform seriously, a strong democratic Afghanistan will become even more of a fantasy than it is now.
Jed Ober is Director of Programs at Democracy International. Throughout 2010, he served as Democracy International's Chief of Staff in Kabul where he oversaw the largest international election observation mission to Afghanistan's 2010 parliamentary elections. Democracy International's final observation report can be downloaded at www.democracyinternational.com.
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A year has passed since the Taliban issued the latest version of their Code of Conduct, or Layha. The Code regulates how Taliban fighters should wage war and how they should deal with each other, with the enemy, and with the rest of the population. The Layha is a rule book for the Taliban, but it is also an aspirational document, projecting an image of an Islamic and rule-bound jihad and a quasi-state.
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The independent Pakistani commission tasked with investigating the killing and presence of Osama bin Laden in the country met for the first time Tuesday, and ordered the government not to repatriate the former al-Qaeda leader's three widows and six children (WSJ, BBC, Dawn, ET, AFP, AP, Reuters). The family are currently in the custody of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Rob Crilly reports that the ISI is demanding the CIA sign a contract promising not to engage in unilateral raids inside Pakistan against al-Qaeda (Tel).
A suspected U.S. drone strike
Tuesday in the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali "completely destroyed"
a purported militant guesthouse, killing at least four alleged fighters
(BBC, AFP, AFP/ET, Reuters, CNN).
Reuters reports that according to U.S. officials, CIA personnel are
still present at the the Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan, which could be
used to launch surveillance drones even if the Pakistani government
demands a stop to armed drones attacks from the base (Reuters).
And at least 24 people have been killed in targeted attacks in the last
24 hours in Karachi, as the BBC reports that 1,100 people have been
killed in political violence in the city since the start of 2011 (BBC, AFP, Dawn, ET, Dawn, DT, Dawn, Dawn).
Pakistan's army is slowly moving through Kurram agency, as its offensive in the restive tribal area, begun on Sunday, has displaced a reported 28,000 people (AFP, ET, Dawn). Over 100 militants attacked a village in Upper Dir after crossing the border with Afghanistan, clashing with local fighters and killing at least one person (Dawn, ET, AP, The News). Reuters reports that the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Pakistan has increased dramatically, with much of the explosive power coming from the readily available fertilizer ammonium nitrate (Reuters). And the Tribune profiles the Khyber agency town of Bara, a "ghost town" since 2009 operations to clear it of fighters from Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-e-Islam group (ET).
Four stories close out the news today: Canada's government on Tuesday formally designated the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) a terrorist organization (AFP). TIME's Omar Warraich details the risks posed to journalists who cover Pakistan's security forces (TIME). The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Tuesday observed a "black day" to mark the 1977 overthrow of the country's civilian government by Gen. Zia ul-Haq (DT, ET). And the Post reports on challenges to increasing exports of Pakistani mangoes to the United States, an important goal of American civilian assistance to the country (Post).
A fight broke out in Afghanistan's parliament Tuesday as a majority of the body for the first time debated impeaching Afghan president Hamid Karzai over the legality of Karzai's appointment of a special tribunal to decide election complaints (NYT). Two weeks ago the court disqualified 62 members of parliament elected last year, sparking what could become a constitutional crisis in the country. Pajhwok reports that since the tribunal ruling, some parliamentarians have been carrying guns during sessions (Pajhwok).
Another fight broke out yesterday as two female parliamentarians came to blows during a discussion of rocket attacks from Pakistan (CNN). Karzai said Tuesday that he would not fire on Pakistan in response to the rocket and mortar attacks, despite protests as well as requests from military officers (Reuters, DT, AFP).
The Guardian first reported Tuesday that a March 25 airstrike conducted by a British Reaper drone killed four civilians riding in vehicles with an alleged insurgent commander (Guardian, AJE, Tel, AFP). The British drone program's pilots are based at Creech air force base in Nevada, where pilots remain stationed for three years at a time (Guardian). And British prime minister David Cameron said in a news conference with Karzai Tuesday that the Taliban could join a "political process" in Afghanistan, provided they lay down their arms (Reuters, Guardian, Tel, DT). Cameron, set to announce today a "modest" withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan, also expressed condolences for a British soldier found dead under still-mysterious circumstances Monday (Tel, AFP, Guardian).
Canadian forces Tuesday turned responsibility for their last district in Afghanistan's south over to U.S. forces, bringing their combat mission in Afghanistan to a close (CNN, BBC, Tel, Globe and Mail). President Barack Obama met Tuesday with his new Afghanistan team, including top U.S. and NATO commander in the country Lt. Gen. John Allen and newly-appointed ambassador to Kabul Ryan C. Crocker (Pajhwok). And finally, a cargo plane operated by an Azerbaijani company and carrying supplies for the U.S. military has crashed outside of Kabul, potentially killing up to nine employees (AP, AFP).
The government in the Pakistani province of Sindh has banned "pillion-riding," in Karachi, referring to riding in the seat behind the driver of a motorcycle or similar vehicle (Dawn). However, according to Dawn, the ban does not apply to, "women, children below the age of 12 years, senior citizens, disabled persons, journalists, personnel of law enforcement agencies in uniform and employees of essential services."
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