The visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Afghanistan in May of this year, and his emphatic statement before the Afghan parliament that he supports a national reconciliation process in the country, mark a qualitative change in the country's policy toward the region. The support from India, one of the key regional players, for a dialogue with the Taliban's leadership is significant and unprecedented, as it accepts the analysis of many specialists that a vital distinction between a section of Taliban and al-Qaeda should be drawn before formulating any policy with respect to that country.
AHMAD MASOOD/AFP/Getty Images
In the last decade, Afghanistan has made some dramatic development achievements. Access to basic health services has rocketed from nine percent to 64 percent. Under the Taliban, only 900,000 boys and almost no girls were enrolled in schools, while today, more than seven million children are enrolled in schools, 35 percent of whom are girls. Afghanistan has averaged 10 percent per year economic growth, is using a single, stable currency, and government revenues have grown to $1.65 billion, with a 400 percent increase in customs revenues since 2006 alone. With GDP per capita doubling since 2002, some five million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. In 2002, Afghan government institutions were barely functional. Most ministries did not have telecommunications, electricity, or even basic office supplies like pens or paper. Today, several ministries, like the Ministry of Public Health, which is led by a female doctor (who would not have been allowed to work, let alone lead, under the Taliban), are heading the development charge. Much of this progress has been possible due to the generous support of American taxpayers.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Since it was first reported last Friday, the news out of South Asia has been dominated by speculation that Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and reportedly al-Qaeda's operational leader in Pakistan, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike. Kashmiri's reported death, still shrouded in mystery, comes on the heels of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's unannounced visit to Islamabad and subsequent meetings with the civilian and military leadership, meetings which reportedly led to the reports about an "imminent" military operation into Pakistan's unruly province of North Waziristan. Yet Kashmiri's death remains, at this point, more rumor than fact, and its timing and context make the news of his demise at best suspicious for any Pakistan observer.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The death of Osama bin Laden on May 2 in Abbottabad, Pakistan is undoubtedly a major setback for al-Qaeda and a significant achievement for the United States and its allies. In recent days, al-Qaeda purportedly has released several statements, including a lengthy two-part video, but its message since bin Laden's killing remains confused. While the first statements released by the group and its affiliates focused on praising bin Laden and vowing new attacks, the most recent video focuses instead on "one-man" terrorist attacks in the West, featuring mostly recycled footage mixed in with some new segments from American Adam Gadahn and Libyan al-Qaeda ideologue Abu Yahya al-Libi.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images
In the aftermath of the U.S. military's killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last month, analysts and presumably Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) are heavily engaged in discussions about possible successors to the Saudi militant as the new public face of the transnational jihadi trend, with sources reporting recently that Egyptian Saif al-Adel had been named the group's "interim" leader. Yet the intense focus on who will be the "new bin Laden" glosses over the important fact that al-Qaeda has over the past several years developed a charismatic and influential cadre of scholar-ideologues who play a major role in legitimating the group's campaign of violence and calling on Muslims to join or support it, a role made more important by the confusion that has resulted in jihadi circles from bin Laden's death.
The American raid last month that killed Osama bin Laden demands a reassessment of American strategic interests in Afghanistan and how we have been pursuing them over the past nine-and-a- half years. The most important aspect of the American relationship with Afghanistan today is the strategic partnership agreement currently under negotiation with Kabul. Despite the fact that this agreement will determine our military and economic assistance for years to come in Afghanistan, it remains out of the public debate. The administration hopes to sign this agreement before U.S. troops begin withdrawing next month, but the urge to sign a deal before then means the United States risks prematurely ceding what bargaining power it has with Kabul without receiving meaningful commitments in return.
U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Joshua Treadwell/ISAF Headquarters via Getty Images
This week Afghan President Hamid Karzai kicked off the Afghan fighting season with strong words, not for the Taliban, but for his international allies. On Tuesday Karzai demanded that international forces halt airstrikes on Afghan homes, or leave. "From this moment, airstrikes on the houses of people are not allowed," Karzai announced at a press conference. Karzai accused international forces of acting like occupiers, rather than allies, and implied that if their demands on civilian casualties were not heeded Afghans would respond with force. "[H]istory is a witness how Afghanistan deals with occupiers," Karzai said.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
For nearly two years, the United States has been trying something completely new in Pakistan. In 2009, with President Obama's backing, Congress passed a bold piece of legislation that committed the United States to support Pakistan's people and its economy, as opposed to focusing almost exclusively on the country's military. The United States would try to help Pakistanis entrench the transition to democracy they won in 2008, and -- for the first time -- it seemed the United States would place an equal emphasis on long-term development and short-term stability in Pakistan.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
Recently, both The Washington Post and the German magazine Der Spiegel have reported on meetings between U.S. officials and representatives of the Taliban that have taken place in Germany to discuss some form of peace negotiations.
Talking to the Taliban makes sense, but there are major impediments standing in the way of a deal.
First, who exactly is there to negotiate with in the Taliban? It's been a decade since their fall from power, and the "moderate" Taliban who wanted to reconcile with the Afghan government have already done so. They are the same group of Taliban who are constantly trotted out in any discussion of a putative Taliban deal: Mullah Zaeef, their former ambassador to Pakistan; Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, their foreign minister; and Abdul Hakim Mujahid, who was the Taliban representative in the United States before 9/11. This group was generally opposed to Osama bin Laden well before he attacked the United States.
Bin Laden told intimates that his biggest enemies in the world were the United States and the Taliban Foreign Ministry, which was trying to put the kibosh on his anti-Western antics in Afghanistan. And today the "moderate" already-reconciled Taliban don't represent the Taliban on the battlefield, because they haven't been part of the movement for the past decade.
Peter Bergen is the director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation and the editor of the AfPak Channel.
PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images
Saif al-Adel, the former Egyptian military officer and onetime leading member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group (EIJ), is widely reported to have been chosen as the temporary head of al-Qaeda, until a new emir is chosen to replace Osama bin Laden, who was killed by a Navy SEAL team in Pakistan on May 2. However, this alleged appointment has not yet been announced officially by al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda Central, which is thought to be based along the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, has made two public announcements since bin Laden's death. The first was the confirmation of bin Laden's death, and the second was the release of an audio recording which bin Laden had made a few days before his death, commenting on the ongoing Arab revolutions. These two releases prove that al-Qaeda was able to continue its media work despite bin Laden's death, and in spite of their likely concern that the Americans may have gained important information from the al-Qaeda leader's compound which could allow them to go after other figures in the group. But the lack of public statement about al-Adel's appointment raises one inescapable question: Why wouldn't al-Qaeda be able to go "official"' with a statement and an audio tape announcing al-Adel's appointment instead of remaining silent about such a crucial decision at such a crucial time.
In the wake of the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a daring raid by U.S. SEALs in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2, the threat from the Taliban in Pakistan has shown no signs of flagging. An increasingly important element of the Taliban's strategy over the last several years has been to exacerbate sectarian rifts across the entire country, which allows the group to expand its reach, increase the pressure on overburdened law enforcement agencies, and undermine the state's legitimacy and authority.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
The past week has witnessed major attacks on key Pakistani military and intelligence facilities by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group that for the past several years has fought an increasingly brutal and brash war in the heart of the Pakistani state. Yet while the attacks, and in particular the lengthy siege of the Mehran naval base in Karachi, have brought condemnation on the military for lax security procedures, few within Pakistan have openly questioned the state's long-running dance with militant groups, many of whom cooperate closely while alternately working with and fighting Pakistan. But a string of events in the past few years have made the question of Pakistani support for - or allowance of - terrorist and militant groups unavoidable.
HASHAM AHMED/AFP/Getty Images
Within hours of the successful May 2 U.S. military operation to kill Osama bin Laden, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - an avowed al-Qaeda ally -- promised revenge. On May 13, close to 100 graduates of the paramilitary Frontier Corps lost their lives to two motor-bike riding suicide bombers in Shabqadar near Peshawar, one of the deadliest attacks on Pakistan's security forces in recent years. Nearly ten days later, some 10 to 12 intruders turned Pakistan Navy's Mehran base in Karachi into a battlefield. The siege ended May 23 after almost 17 hours of hostilities, with at least a dozen casualties to the Navy.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
As the dust settles from the daring U.S. raid on Osama Bin Laden's lair in Abbottabad, a cantonment town just a few hours from Islamabad, serious rifts are obvious between Pakistan and America. Both countries need each other for a host of different reasons, and, at the same time, resent this mutual dependency that has locked both in a deadly embrace.
In the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, U.S. officials and citizenry alike want to abandon Pakistan, and indeed, the bin Laden affair was the most recent in a string of revelations that cast doubt on Pakistan's reliability as a partner in the war on terror. Pakistan's government, armed forces and citizens are no less vexed with the United States after the raid for equally valid reasons. And it is well past time for both Americans and Pakistanis to consider each other's views and come to an accommodation.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
of the Egyptian Saif al-Adel as the "interim" leader of al Qaeda may mark the
opening of a new chapter in al Qaeda's history and the United States' ongoing struggle
against the group. But a closer look at al-Adel's past reveals details about
another problem that plagues us today, the dangerous nexus between al Qaeda and
the Pakistani militancy. It's an intersection that plays out not only in remote
tribal areas in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in the
heart of Pakistan in urban centers such as Karachi, the Manhattan of Pakistan
with Pizza Huts, McDonald's, and a slippery network of back alleys teeming with
militancy and radicalism.
Rather than being a recent development, the close working relationship of these different networks emerged dramatically nine years ago, after the Jan. 23, 2002, kidnapping of Wall Street Journal Islamabad bureau chief Daniel Pearl. In reporting released earlier this year by the Pearl Project, a faculty-student investigative reporting project at Georgetown University that I co-direct, we reported that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, now imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks, was sitting comfortably in Karachi on Pakistan's western coast when he got a call from Saif al-Adel (whose real name is reportedly Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi) that sent him across town to take over the kidnapping of Pearl, setting off a chain of events that would culminate in the latter's execution.
Al-Adel had significant clout at the time not only in al Qaeda, but also in other militant circles. He is said to be between 48 and 51 years old, and by most accounts once served as a Colonel in the Egyptian special forces. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, al-Adel reportedly provided military and intelligence training to al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad members in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan. Pakistani militants trained alongside their former Arab comrades from the anti-Soviet struggle, taking in the same lessons and much of the same ideology. The FBI wants him in connection with the 1998 East Africa U.S. Embassy bombings, and KSM told FBI agents that al-Adel may have dispatched "shoe bomber" Richard Reid to Karachi to meet with KSM to discuss Reid's plan to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet.
Pearl was chasing a story trying to identify Reid's facilitator when he stumbled
across the path of Omar Sheikh, a British-Pakistani militant who had been
arrested in 1994 in New Delhi, India, for kidnapping foreign tourists,
including an American. In 1999, Sheikh was released in exchange for passengers
on a hijacked Indian Airlines plane. He was flown to Kandahar,
according to his interrogation file, none other than Osama bin Laden, who was
living at the time at the Kandahar
airport, threw him and other released Pakistani militant leaders a party for
"iftar," the daily sunset meal when Muslims break their fasts during Ramadan.
Omar Sheikh slipped quietly into Pakistan,
stopping first in Karachi before settling down
in his hometown of Lahore.
In January 2002, the United States was pressing for Sheikh's extradition, but
he was wandering freely in Pakistan, newly-married and the proud father of a
young son, when he learned of Pearl's reporting.
Sheikh laid a trap in Karachi, where he had a trusted network of militant contacts, leading Pearl there on the promise of an interview with a Muslim cleric suspected of being Reid's facilitator. Pearl left my home in Karachi on Jan. 23, 2002, and never returned. Within days, we received a "proof of life" -- ransom photos of Pearl with a gun to his head.
The kidnapping did not, however, start as an al Qaeda operation. While Shaikh had extensive contacts with the al Qaeda leadership, he instead relied on his network, which would eventually include militants affiliated with an alphabet soup of Pakistani militant organizations that have emerged as the Punjabi Taliban: Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Harkat-ul-Islamiya (HUI), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group believed to be responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attack.
KSM told FBI agents that he didn't know who had contacted al-Adel about Pearl, but, according to our investigation, there were only two operational cells in Pakistan that had knowledge of Pearl's location, and they included only Pakistani militants. There were seven non-al Qaeda Pakistan militants in the logistics cell that trapped Pearl. They were led mostly by local "emirs," or leaders, of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Another 10 non-al Qaeda Pakistani militants were in the cell holding Pearl. They were affiliated with Harkat ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Harkat-ul-Islamiya, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, reflecting the fluid nature and overlap of Pakistan's militant groups.
They also often worked with al Qaeda. In a Pakistani police interrogation report, one of the Pakistani militants said that one of his jobs was to help al Qaeda hide in Pakistan. He said he ferried Arab members of al Qaeda from Quetta to Karachi, disguising them as patients in ambulances.
In the summer of 1990 I was a jihadist fighting alongside other Arab mujahideen, or "holy warriors," in Afghanistan against the country's Communist government. In August 1990, we heard that the Saudi government had invited American troops into the kingdom in order to protect it from then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and to drive his forces out of neighboring Kuwait.
The effect on those around me was instant: They were angry and outraged. According to their particular understanding of Islam, anyone who allies with non-Muslims, the kuffar, to fight against Muslims was an apostate; and according to their takfiri rejectionist ideology, the Saudi rulers were quite simply no longer Muslims.
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
The Rack: Ron Moreau, "The Taliban After bin Laden," Newsweek.
By hook or by crook
The Journal reports that Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) is prodding the insurgent Haqqani network into peace talks with the Afghan government, resisting U.S. pressure to go after the group's strongholds in North Waziristan (WSJ). U.S. officials consider the Haqqanis one of Afghanistan's most violent and effective insurgent groups, and the increased efforts to target the Haqqanis, including drone strikes and concern about a cross-border raid, reportedly led worried Haqqani members to vacate their compounds in the North Waziristan capital of Miram Shah in the wake of the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
On September 2, 2010 an airstrike conducted by Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan's Takhar province killed a man named Zabit Amanullah and nine of his companions. NATO forces in Afghanistan believe the raid killed a Taliban deputy governor called Mohammed Amin, but there is ample evidence that all those killed were in fact civilians who were caught in the crossfire of a military intelligence case of mistaken identity.
I began investigating the Takhar air strike as soon as it happened because I knew Zabit Amanullah, who had previously worked with me as a human rights researcher. With the help of another Afghan friend who had acted as Amanullah's security focal point, by the following day, I had discovered the identities of those civilians killed in the attack. It took me six months to find the real Mohammad Amin and work out the relationship between him and Zabit Amanullah. Special Forces helpfully supplied the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which recently released an authoritative investigation into the Takhar airstrike, with the sketchy biographical details they had on Amin. I sought the help of contacts within the Taliban in northern Afghanistan to find the real man who matched their profile.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
At a time when pressure is piling up on the Obama administration to re-examine its relationship with (and aid to) Pakistan, the post-Osama narrative in the popular Pakistani Urdu press reflects some of the far more complex socio-political challenges facing Pakistan, challenges which will impact the country's engagement with the rest of the world. While the commentary and analysis in the English-language media has been quite similar to that of the rest of the world, the reactions and comments in the Urdu press are quite different in tone and content, focusing consistently on the importance of upholding Pakistani pride and sovereignty.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Up in the north of England, a trial is being heard against a group of men allegedly at the core of a cell recruiting and radicalizing individuals to fight in Afghanistan. The group, part of an ongoing trickle of people from the U.K. attracted to fighting in South Asia, is notable because it counts amongst its ranks a white convert, the latest in a long line of such individuals who have been drawn to militancy in South Asia. These reports of white converts in the region are naturally of particular concern to Western security services: their capacity to blend effortlessly back into the West makes them highly attractive weapons for groups seeking to launch terrorist attacks.
Back in mid-2009, an older moderate Muslim convert in London told me that his theory behind converts in terrorist cells was that they played a key role as catalysts. The presence of a convert, usually a zealous individual who had moved from a troubled past as drug addict or petty criminal to Islamist extremist, would reinforce the group's internal dialogue and help push them deeper into their militant ideologies.
Earlier this week, Afghan parliamentarians complained that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is still actively investigating the conduct of last September's parliamentary vote, and ongoing investigations by the Karzai-appointed Special Elections Tribunal threaten to unseat up to 80 of the certified winning parliamentarians, five months into the body's term of office. It is unclear which prliamentarians are being investigated or what they are accused of doing, however, because the tribunal has kept its findings secret. Afghanistan's Free and Fair Election Foundation (FEFA) has further criticized the tribunal for inspecting ballots without observers present and for failing to apply international standards in its work.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images