Afghanistan has come a long way since the United States and its allies arrived in the country 12 years ago. Daunting challenges remain, but it is a far cry from the failed state and terrorist hideout it was in 2001. Doom-and-gloom press prognostications of an inevitable post-2014 return to Taliban tyranny do not reflect the realities on the ground. The fact is that Afghanistan has a solid chance of becoming significantly more stable, productive, and self-sustaining. This outcome, however, depends upon the will of the United States, its partners, and the leaders Afghans choose in next April's presidential elections.
As political leaders in Washington wrestle with budget issues in the coming months, they should resist the temptation to slash funding for Afghanistan. Outbursts from an outgoing President Hamid Karzai should not obscure larger U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region. Abandoning Afghanistan now would squander the significant investments and sacrifices the United States and its partners have made there, including the sacrifices still borne by many U.S. service members and their families. The scale of the investments needed over the next few years pale in comparison with the magnitude of the earlier ones, which have enabled the Afghan government and its police and military forces to degrade the Taliban-led insurgency and build the country's institutions and economy.
Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That's why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative - the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
Underlying our confidence is an appreciation of how much Afghanistan has changed for the better. Living standards have improved dramatically across most of the country. Significant advances have taken place in agriculture and healthcare. An unprecedented 8.2 million children and young people, four million of them young women and girls, are now in school in Afghanistan, and 180,000 of them are in university classes. Women in Afghanistan, who suffered unspeakable oppression under the Taliban, have become an increasingly significant voice in Afghan society, calling for minority rights, criticizing corruption, and demanding the rule of law. Fresh, young leaders with passion, commitment, resilience, and incredible talent are already emerging. These twenty- and thirty-somethings are serving in the private sector, non-governmental organizations, government, academia, and many other professions. Though they are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and often refugees who grew up abroad, they see themselves first and foremost as Afghans. The recent victories of the Afghan soccer and cricket teams, which were celebrated across all ethnic lines and throughout the country, highlighted this new reality.
The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan's central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country's more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops.
Why surrender this success in the area of security -- the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?
The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country's future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections -- undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs -- that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country's voters. It can become a country where the political rights of women are fully respected. It can undertake an inclusive peace process that addresses the root causes of conflict. And it can continue to develop its economy, trade, and regional ties.
True, these would be immense achievements for any poor, remote, war-torn country, but this vision is not beyond the reach of Afghanistan, with modest international support. Given all that we have achieved together and all that we have sacrificed together, it would be worse than foolhardy to short change this future now. It would be tragic.
Michèle Flournoy, a former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, co-chairs the Center for a New American Security's board of directors; she is also a signatory to the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
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As the United States draws down in Afghanistan, seeks to rebalance towards Asia, and remains enmeshed in the Middle East, deliberations continue in Washington on a post-2014 Pakistan policy. But such discussions tend to view Pakistan through a South and Central Asian lens, from the Indo-Pak nuclear dynamic grounded in Kashmir (once again heating up) to the more nebulous New Silk Road initiative. Few analysts are creatively assessing how Pakistan might fit into the U.S.'s rebalance to Asia given the key role of its neighbors, India and China, and the potentially stabilizing effect of including Pakistan in a wider Asian economic web. Such an analysis partly turns on a question that has drawn scant attention: exactly how does Islamabad view the rebalance?
Last month, I spoke on the evolution and elements of the rebalance policy during President Obama's first term at the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, a leading think tank in Islamabad. My remarks coincided with the leak of the Abbottabad Commission report, a Pakistani inquiry into U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011. Encouraging the audience of former senior diplomats, army officers, academics, and journalists to think beyond the terrorism-related concerns of the day, I inquired about how Pakistan perceives the U.S. rebalance to Asia and, irrespective of the U.S. posture, how does it intend to plug into the economic dynamism of the Asia-Pacific for its own benefit? Five views emerged that reflect the strain on Pakistan, and its relations with the United States, as it seeks to transcend its troubles and assess its position in the wider region.
First, to some, the rebalance is "old wine in a new bottle." The United States has always been engaged in Asia with its military bases both far and wide, so the talk of rebalancing is mere rhetoric. Moreover, Washington is incapable of acting strategically, as shown by its misguided forays into Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, the latter of which has had dire consequences for Pakistan.
Second, others claim that the rebalance is "pro-India" and "anti-China." As the Obama administration calls India a "key partner" in the rebalance, Pakistan continues to hear from its "all-weather friend" China that the policy is containment, plain and simple. Pakistan wants no part of a policy that bolsters its enemy and hems in its friend.
Third, attendants argued that the rebalance is irrelevant. Pakistan's priority must instead be to get its economic house in order and to overcome its "global pariah" status. To the extent it can lift its gaze beyond its borders, it has enough to contend with India and Afghanistan.
Fourth, further responses suggested that Pakistan's own efforts to look east through its "Vision East Asia" policy have been less successful than hoped. Attempts to enhance engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for example, have faltered; ASEAN continues to deny Pakistan full dialogue partner status. The reasons potentially range from a desire to ensure ASEAN's coherence to uncertainty about Pakistan's contribution to concerns about an unwanted import: militancy. China thus remains Pakistan's only viable avenue into the broader Asia-Pacific region. The same week I was in Islamabad, Pakistan's prime minister was in Beijing pitching a China-Pak economic corridor that would funnel in greater trade and investment.
Fifth, participants believed that Pakistan has little room to maneuver. The United States and China are great powers, while Pakistan is a small global player. It does not have the ability to act strategically in an analogous manner and meaningfully project itself into the Asia-Pacific region. Instead it is at the mercy of a new great game.
Given Pakistan's geography, travails, and anti-American sentiment, confusion and suspicion about the U.S. rebalance is understandable, just as the dearth of thought on how to tap Asia-Pacific's prosperity or apply relevant lessons is striking. Skepticism in Islamabad overlaps with that in Washington, where patience mutually runs thin given a fractious counter-terrorism partnership. Moreover, Pakistan is seen as a conceptual misfit in a policy anchored in the Asia-Pacific.
Yet the rebalance may be a more elastic concept and extend beyond the Asia-Pacific. In his remarks on "The United States and the Asia-Pacific" last month, Vice President Joe Biden underscored Latin America's role in the rebalance saying: "Our goal is to help tie Asia-Pacific nations together from India to the Americas." Meanwhile, others have argued that the rebalance should extend westward, beyond India, to include South Asia and the Middle East in an effort to match growing Chinese influence there.
Given this potential fluidity, the Obama administration should reassess how Pakistan relates to the rebalance as it searches for a coherent and constructive relationship post-2014. There may not be a fit but nonetheless, gauging and engaging Islamabad is a good place to start.
Ziad Haider is the director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Asia_Hand.
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Much has happened in Afghanistan since 2001, and there is heightened uncertainty about the country's political future with the security handover being completed, conflict with the Taliban continuing - despite attempts to begin a reconciliation dialogue in Qatar, the withdrawal of international troops proceeding, and the 2014 presidential election approaching. While the situation on the ground is quite different from when the Bonn Agreement was signed nearly a dozen years ago, the Bonn experience can, to some extent, inform current thinking about Afghanistan's upcoming political transition.
The 2001 Bonn Agreement involved an agreed transfer of power from one nominal head of state, Burhanuddin Rabbani, to another, Hamid Karzai, after the fall of the Taliban regime, and occurred without substantial violent conflict both during the negotiations and over the three-year period covered by the Bonn process. This is exceptional given that leadership changes in Afghanistan during the past century have occurred through assassinations, coups, forced exiles, and, between 1978 and 2001, devastating wars and civil conflict. Since a peaceful transfer of power is also a primary objective of the current political transition, it is worth reviewing several key components of the Bonn experience:
Some possible elements of continuity with the current political transition are evident. Many current Afghan political actors were part of or affected by the Bonn process; fragmented, personalized, factional politics remain extremely important; organized political parties (especially nationally-oriented ones) remain weak; there is no obvious candidate for head of state (for the first time in an Afghan presidential election, no incumbent will be on the ballot); and a number of actors - including some members of the "loyal opposition" to the Karzai government - desire to come to a consensus or at least agree on broad parameters in advance of the election. However, the differences are more striking.
First, all aspects of the Bonn Agreement were finalized when it was signed at the meeting, including the choice of interim head of state. A national presidential election is a fundamentally different process.
Second, negotiations at Bonn were kept on-track (and basically not allowed to fail) by heavy international pressure to conclude an agreement quickly and, during the following three years, to ensure timely implementation of the Bonn roadmap. Although the 2014 presidential election provides an ultimate deadline for any pre-election negotiations, their success is by no means assured.
Third, in 2001, the Afghan government had been devastated by two decades of protracted conflict and did not have any impact on Bonn. Now the government has built up considerable capacity and power, which can be deployed to influence the current political transition.
Fourth, in late 2001, the international community's engagement in Afghanistan had just started and was growing, whereas next year's presidential election will occur alongside the international military disengagement from Afghanistan and declining international financial support.
Fifth, the Taliban - widely regarded as defeated and irrelevant during the Bonn negotiations - are currently seen as an important force in the country, and are being actively courted by the international community in parallel reconciliation efforts, which may distract attention from the political transition; moreover, the Taliban clearly have the capability to be a disruptive force in the upcoming elections.
Based on these major differences as well as elements of continuity, here are some questions to consider as the political transition moves forward:
Thinking about these questions probably tells us more about the mindsets of some actors from the time of Bonn who remain significant political players today than about how the 2014 political transition might actually proceed. While some may be enamored with behind-the-scenes negotiations, allocating ministerial and other top positions in advance, and perhaps even hoping for an outside entity to serve as "broker," key factors that made the Bonn process viable and sustained it for three years are no longer present. Whatever may be decided in advance, things could go off-track before, during, or after the 2014 presidential election. Moreover, any agreements reached among various political actors and groupings (sometimes termed a "national agenda") would not necessarily have the internationally-backed force and staying power of the Bonn Agreement. Thus, while there may be similarities to certain features of Bonn, a Bonn-like scenario seems unlikely for the current political transition. Nevertheless, the Bonn experience provides an illuminating counterpoint to weave around and inform thinking about 2014.
William Byrd is an Afghanistan senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.
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The Afghan political system is broken, just as the country finds itself juggling multiple political and security challenges. Among the most pressing is ensuring the transition of power from President Hamid Karzai to a capable successor by 2014. Getting this right will go a long way toward salvaging U.S.-led efforts over the past decade. Unfortunately, with Kabul torn apart by infighting and factionalism, the prospects of succeeding are bleak.
The 2014 election has started to engender a new view of politics in Afghanistan under an incredibly curious public, the skeleton of democratic rule, and a vibrant, if not particularly well-trained media. Karzai has repeatedly stated that he will not seek another term in office and that he is looking to find a successor to stand for elections in two years' time - one that would be acceptable to the Afghan people and tough with allies. Many names have been floated as possible candidates, ranging from Karzai's own brother to some of his close aides and confidantes. While questions remain about what Karzai will actually do, it is clear that a failure to hold free and fair elections could easily contribute to further unrest across the country. If President Karzai handpicks a successor, it will most likely compromise the legitimacy of that succession. A disputed leadership could lead to Afghanistan's security forces splintering along ethnic lines, a situation that other regional actors might exploit for their own interests.
This dismal scenario is avoidable. But it would require Afghan leaders - irrespective of their political and ethnic affiliation - including President Karzai, to put aside their perceived differences, compromise, and settle on two or three vetted candidates acceptable to all sides ahead of the election. As it is said, "politics makes strange bedfellows," so the incentive for Afghan leaders to come together and compromise, however perverse it may appear, should be quite clear: If doing it for the "good of the country" is not enough of an incentive, then not doing it directly puts at risk the power, money, and personal security these players have not deserved but largely enjoyed over the years. Over the long-term, Afghanistan needs issues-based political parties with viable candidates, but this goal would be impossible to pull off before the next elections. A compromise on a shortlist of presidential nominees would mark a real turning point that could also reduce the prospect of electoral fraud. However, the level of uncertainty that presently dominate opinions of Kabul's politically influential proves that taking the necessary risks required for vetting and uniting over a handful of candidates very unlikely. The feasibility of this prospect is contingent as much upon the loyal opposition - including members of the erstwhile Northern Alliance - as upon Karzai himself.
In the absence of alternative mechanisms, one way of commanding greater political legitimacy would be the convening of a Loya Jirga. The Jirga - an old social institution representative of all Afghans often convened to resolve disputes or reach consensus on major events - could serve as a mechanism to vet and approve presidential nominees and also establish the ground rules for reconciliation with the Taliban. The delegates to the Jirga must be chosen through district-level elections - similar to the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) that ratified the new Afghan Constitution in 2003 - and must include members of Afghanistan's both lower and upper houses. President Karzai was an unknown figure until the Loya Jirga settled on him as an interim leader in 2002. The unanimous support Karzai received from the Jirga for finalizing the recently signed U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement is equally noteworthy.
The United States and its European partners have also earned a responsibility to ensure that the 2014 elections are credible and legitimate. However, the election clause embedded in the U.S.-Afghan strategic pact and reiterated in the recent Tokyo conference Declaration now directly impedes "interference" - by foreign governments in Afghan elections - specifically foreign embassies supporting one political candidate or party over another. One way to respect the agreement and still ensure free and fair elections would be to employ a robust independent international election monitoring and observers' mission under the United Nation's auspices and direct supervision. This will not only avoid violating the agreement but will also dismiss concerns of the United States' so-called "kingmaker" or "Big Brother" role controlling internal matters in Afghanistan.
The lack of issues-based parties and candidates in Afghanistan, as noted above, is a major deterrent to the country's long-term political development. At present, while Afghanistan's electoral system clearly mandates voting for independent candidates and not political parties, there are still over 90 registered parties in the country. Nearly all of the parties carry a history of factional splits, ethnic politics and oft-changing alliances. Factions that do form alliances are often in search of a military advantage and not a "soft" political consensus. Most of the parties are small, lack sufficient resources and funding, and often pursue and promote factional and ethnic politics. Most importantly, the bulk of the parties in Afghanistan lack a systematic political role, a clear national vision and mandate, and thus most are largely useless. Those candidates who do win seats in Afghan Parliament and the Provincial Councils are, for the most part, people with strong support from the grassroots, not political parties.
Nevertheless, political parties have shown progress in recent years. Many parties are fielding candidates and many candidates are now showing their affiliation to political parties. The United States and the European allies must capitalize on this opportunity by making them credible political players. This can be done, among other things, by building their capacities through election training and education, providing them with necessary resources and skill sets: effective leadership, campaigning and fundraising skills through foreign exposures, study-tours and visits. Most importantly, the international community should educate them to work together by building healthy coalitions with an inclusive political dialogue and a pan-Afghan vision. Doing so will lay the foundation for Afghanistan's long-term political development. In turn, the Afghan government must stipulate strict guidelines and set parameters for party registration to curtail the current unhealthy growth of parties.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to Afghan leaders and those politically engaged and influential taking responsibility for their own destiny. The support pledged by a number of foreign countries post-2014 will unquestionably help, but even that would require Afghanistan to have a viable and functioning government. While graft in Afghan bureaucracy has largely undermined the government's legitimacy and its relations with international donors, and does need to be tackled, finding a short-term and realistic political consensus is more pressing and must be prioritized. The country's current trajectory, however, provides little encouragement. A failure to compromise could easily plunge the country into a brutal chaos in a frenzy to mark personal territories reminiscent of the 1990s where the very unhealthy interests of these conflicting parties will be directly challenged. Before it is too late, Afghan elites must realize that it is time to come together and act.
Javid Ahmad is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. The views expressed here are his own.
In mid-June, after the fifth drone strike in two weeks, militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan resorted to taking hostages. No Americans being readily available, Bahadur decided that the Western-funded effort to eradicate polio would suffice, declaring a ban on vaccinations until U.S. drone strikes cease. Militant leader Mullah Nazir of South Waziristan soon followed suit, announcing his own ban on June 26th.
From Bahadur's perspective, there is something to the argument that drone strikes do more damage than polio. North Waziristan suffered from only 14 new polio cases last year, even as U.S. drone strikes killed over 250 of its residents, many of them armed militants allied with Bahadur. Of course, that these same militants are in fact largely responsible for both the mayhem and the public health crisis in Waziristan likely doesn't enter into Bahadur's calculations. As it stands, however, the polio vaccination campaign in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) matters more to outsiders than it does to the tribal areas' residents themselves, and as such it provides a tempting target for militant groups desperate for any kind of leverage over the United States.
Bahadur's and Nazir's bans fit into a broader pattern of Pakistani militants using intimidation and violence to halt polio vaccination campaigns in FATA. Militants have long spread rumors that the vaccines are part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize or poison Muslims, leading to high rates of vaccination refusal. Extremist groups have specifically targeted health workers for kidnapping or assassination, killing the head of the polio vaccination campaign in Bajaur in 2007.
The United States stands behind both drone strikes and health programs in FATA, blurring the lines between the two. This has always created tension, as seen in the debate over USAID's on-again/off-again demand that its programs in FATA be overtly branded as "from the American people," even as those carrying out such programs are labeled as spies and targeted by militants. Suspicions of U.S.-funded health programs have been compounded by revelations that CIA informant Dr. Shakil Afridi attempted to collect information on Osama bin Laden's family in Abbottabad under the guise of a vaccination campaign.
Pakistan's remaining polio sanctuaries have become closely linked with anti-Western militancy and pose a growing challenge to the worldwide effort to eradicate polio. Globally, this effort has succeeded in reducing the annual incidence of polio from over 350,000 cases in 1988 to less than 700 in 2011. The eradication campaign has foundered with the increase in militancy in Pakistan, however, as polio cases there have risen each year since 2005. Last year Pakistan was responsible for more cases than any other country, most of which were concentrated in the Pashto-speaking areas along the Afghan border, including Waziristan.
Polio can easily spread from the tribal areas to elsewhere in the country. Labor migration and conflict have resulted in regular movement between Waziristan and Karachi, where polio has repeatedly surfaced. From the sprawling port city's volatile slums the disease can spread onward, back to India, Bangladesh, and other countries which earlier rid themselves - at least temporarily - of polio. This potential danger was underscored in late 2011, when the World Health Organization traced China's first polio outbreak in ten years back to Pakistan.
In addition to Pakistan, polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan and Nigeria. In all three countries it occurs nearly exclusively in Muslim areas home to anti-Western insurgencies. Polio persists here for two reasons: militants deny vaccination teams access to areas under their control and parents refuse to let their children be vaccinated. Both of these can be traced back to fears that vaccination is part of an anti-Muslim plot. These fears, however laughable they may appear to outsiders, need to be taken seriously.
The global campaign must be transformed into a Muslim-led effort if it is to eradicate polio from these remaining sanctuaries. Through no fault of their own, the World Health Organization's director for Global Polio Eradication, Dr. Bruce Aylward, and representative in Pakistan, Dr. Guido Sabatinelli, are no longer the most effective choices for the campaign's visible leadership. Polio has been eradicated in Muslim-majority countries as varied as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Tajikistan, leaving behind a capable cadre of public health officials who could take over such posts.
Western funding and technical support will remain necessary,
but it should be discretely channeled through the World Bank or World Health
Organization. The United States in particular must publicly disassociate itself
from the vaccination effort. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation needs to
help provide funds for polio eradication, securing at least token donations
from all its poorer member states and significant amounts from the wealthier
members. Polio concerns all Muslim-majority countries; if eradication continues
to falter it is only a matter of time before the annual Hajj pilgrimage, attracting
hundreds of thousands of Muslims from across the world, becomes a site of polio
At the national level, Pakistan must continue its efforts to brand polio vaccination as Islamic. Some progress has already been made in securing the support of religious and nationalist leaders such as Imran Khan and Fazlur Rehman. International religious figures popular among FATA Pashtuns, including Dr. Zakir Naik of India and Imam Abdul Rehman al-Sudais of Saudi Arabia should also be encouraged to lend public support to Pakistan's eradication efforts. If jihadist figures such as Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba are willing to pose for photo-ops giving oral vaccination drops to three year olds, that too would be helpful.
For FATA residents to care about polio vaccination, this public relations campaign should be expanded to include health issues with a more immediate and devastating impact. In 2002, the World Health Organization found that tetanus was responsible for over a fifth of all infant mortality in FATA. Taking into account population and birth rate estimates, this suggests a rough figure of at least two thousand infants in FATA dying every year from tetanus alone, which is easily prevented with proper vaccinations for expecting mothers. The same militants who have banned the anti-polio campaign have also kept health workers from saving these and the thousands of other children who die from preventable diseases in FATA. The tribal areas' residents should be enlisted in the effort to pressure militants to cease banning health programs as a weapon in their struggle against the Pakistani Government and the United States. To do this requires speaking to their concerns and assuaging their fears of foreign-funded vaccination campaigns.
Events along the remote Afghanistan-Pakistan border have a global impact for two reasons: terrorism and polio. Despite Bahadur's and Nazir's threats, U.S. drone strikes will continue in Waziristan, and perhaps the tribal areas will eventually fade as a center of anti-Western terrorism. In order for polio eradication to succeed, however, it must be separated from the United States and its drone strikes. It will be much easier to make the polio eradication campaign Islamic than it will be to erase anti-Western sentiment in FATA and other polio-endemic areas. Only by handing over the reins - and the credit - for polio eradication to Muslims, will Waziri, Pakistani, and American children together live in a polio-free world.
Sean Mann is currently in the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University. He speaks Pashto, and recently spent a year conducting research on the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA track down the world's most wanted man in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, is undergoing a 33-year jail term on charges of lending financial and physical support to a banned militant outfit in Khyber, one of the seven tribal districts partly overrun by the Taliban and their supporters. Afridi's punishment -- which many see as merely retribution by the Pakistani government (as opposed to a normal court proceeding) for his cooperation with the United States' intelligence community -- came exactly a year after he was subjected to secret Pakistani interrogations and under the legal auspices of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
The colonial-era law has been under serious criticism from civil society representatives in Pakistan and human rights organization both inside the country and abroad because a number of its clauses are in violation of basic human rights. Although the elected Pakistani government has boasted of introducing reforms in the tribal areas and amending the FCR, Afridi's "trial" has exposed the grim reality of a judicial system where an individual can be sentenced while denied the proper recourse to defense. However, the illegitimacy of these charges against Afridi only masks a far more complex state of affairs.
Before being whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agents on May 23, 2011 in the outskirts of the tribal Khyber Agency and his subsequent court appearance a year later, Afridi had already once experienced something similar when he was brought blindfolded to the warlord Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam.
It must have been déjà vu.
In 2008, he was arrested and presented before Mangal Bagh under the shadows of guns and bayonets and was asked to explain why he did not provide medical treatment at the time to Lashkar-e-Islam militants after battle. Afridi was lucky, at least at that time, that one militant testified before Mangal Bagh that the doctor had treated him well when he (the militant) visited the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Dogra after receiving a bullet injury. The statement saved Afridi's life but his family had to procure a payment of two million rupees, roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars (obviously a hefty sum for an average Pakistani family) to win his release.
In 2008, Afridi stood alone before a warlord without any counsel and without any right even to speak in self-defense. The judge, the counsel, and the plaintiff were one person -- Mangal Bagh. Four years later, Afridi found himself faced with a similar situation. This time he was presented before an officer of the Pakistani state. But again he found himself without counsel and without a chance to speak in his own defense. And this was the court of the Assistant Political Agent (APA), who charged him for his "close links with defunct Lashkar-e-Islam and his love for Mangal Bagh."
If it was really a "love", then much better to call it "love under duress", as living and serving in Bara, a town located less than 15 miles from Peshawar and a fiefdom of Mangal Bagh, requires one to have ample courage and strength.
The clear and cruel paradox in Afridi's case is that the state of Pakistan found him guilty of involvement in anti-state activities by "providing medical assistance" to militants of the very group that charged and punished him before for not sufficiently aiding their efforts -- and who subsequently robbed him of his family's wealth. If payment of a ransom to save one's life -- or the lives of his family -- from a group of thugs and its elusive leadership is an anti-state act, then roughly half of the tribal area's population could be charged under the offense and punished along the lines of Afridi.
Furthermore, if we applied the same investigation process used against Afridi to some in the state security agencies then it wouldn't be hard to establish links between certain sitting members of parliament from FATA and militant outfits. It was the Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam that issued a fare list for transporters and a code of conduct for candidates contesting the 2008 general elections from the Khyber Agency. Interestingly, no state security agency, not even the powerful army involved in the tribal areas over the past 10 years, seemed to notice Magal Bagh and his army of volunteers running a parallel state by imposing fines, forcing people to pray five times a day, punishing men for walking bareheaded, kidnapping people for ransom, and carrying out executions.
The more pertinent question one must ask is whether Afridi's "links" with Manal Bagh was the real charge against him? It has been clear from the time of his arrest soon after the May 2 raid in Abbottabad and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the answer is definitively "no". That Afridi, being a citizen of Pakistan and employee of the state, worked for a foreign intelligence agency is in no way an act that could be defended. But for reasons well known, he was not tried under those charges. Rather, he was implicated in a low-hanging fruit charge of a ludicrous association with a group that once abducted and fined him two million rupees -- thus raising more questions about Pakistan's sincerity in fighting militants in the country.
The two verdicts handed down to Afridi -- one by Mangal Bagh in 2008 for not providing medical assistance to his men, and the second by the Pakistani state in 2012 for "providing medical and financial assistance" to militants -- are enough for the international community to understand the dilemma of tribesmen sandwiched between the state security agencies and the militants.
For years, tribesmen have looked to their government and state security agencies for protection against the groups of thugs operating in their areas, and have at times taken up arms to fight. Yet they find scant change in their circumstances. Is it little wonder that they invariably surrender and sometimes even agree to "support" militants, in the way Dr. Afridi did?
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Talking about talks with the Taliban may still be all the rage in Washington, but in Kabul the silence has been deafening. Ever since Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura said last month that it was suspending its "pointless" dialogue with the United States, the Afghan capital has been bracing for the worst. Spring is traditionally the start of the fighting season in Afghanistan, and confusion around reports last week of a failed suicide attack plot at the Ministry of Defense headquarters have set Kabul on edge. Whatever tune the White House is singing these days, Afghans know talk of war and peace is as cyclical as it is seasonal.
This became all the more clear last week after the European representative for the armed faction of Hizb-e Islami, the group led by former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also called off talks with the U.S. Hizb-e Islami's about-face only a few months after the group sent a delegation to Kabul in December to meet with U.S., NATO, and Afghan officials comes as little surprise to those familiar with Hekmatyar's protean power plays. The one-time warlord from Kunduz has been playing cat and mouse with Washington and Kabul for years. As the International Crisis Group pointed out in a recent report on political settlement in Afghanistan, Hizb-e Islami's proposed 15-point peace plan sounded good on paper when it was first presented last year, but persistent internal rivalries within Hizb-e Islami doomed the scheme from the outset.
Negotiations with insurgent groups stand little chance of success without more vigorous and structured support from the international community. The debacles of the last couple months have amply demonstrated that neither Kabul nor Washington is likely to be in a position in the near term to strike a deal on their own with the Taliban or Hizb-e Islami. With NATO's withdrawal now only about two years away there is a real risk that security will further deteriorate, especially as political competition among Afghan elites becomes more heated -- and possibly more violent -- ahead of the 2014 presidential elections. The United Nations will effectively be tasked with filling the void left by the departing international troops. A lasting peace accord that guarantees that the achievements of the last decade are not reversed will require the U.N. to undertake structured negotiations and to appoint a team of mutually agreeable mediators.
The challenges facing the U.S. and Afghan efforts at peace negotiations were, of course, predictable and possibly even avoidable. But President Hamid Karzai, despite his impassioned calls at the National Consultative Peace Jirga two years ago for "upset brothers" in the insurgency to lay their arms and adhere to the constitution, has adopted a policy of passive-aggressive resistance to calls for reconciliation. If he's not firing angry salvos at Doha or Washington one day, the next he's galloping off to Saudi Arabia like an Afghan Don Quixote in search of a peace neither he nor his government have demonstrated any genuine interest in pursuing. Although the Afghan government has of late shown a little more chutzpah in its foreign policy and domestic dealings, it is doubtful that it would take any action at all if it wasn't under so much pressure from Washington.
The Karzai administration has, meanwhile, cleverly inveigled the international community into funding the $784 million Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), in the hopes of convincing low-level insurgent fighters to lay down their arms. So far, a little more than 3,000 fighters have signed up for the program, which offers insurgents a small stipend for three months, and a chance to get taken off ISAF's capture/kill list. According to ISAF officials, there is also a proposal on the table under the rubric of the program to pay so-called big name commanders $1000 a month to cool their heels.
But, the vast majority of those who've signed on to the program are non-Pashtuns in the north -- hardly a ringing endorsement for the success of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign in the south. Then again, no one should be surprised that APRP hasn't emerged as a panacea. After all, all that has been on offer is a fistful of dollars, a flimsy paper guarantee of security and an invitation to once again live life on the margins, where there is no assurance and little evidence that the Afghan government will protect its citizens.
None of this points to a swift or tidy end to the conflict. The U.S. and NATO are not going to single-handedly extinguish insurgent safe havens in Pakistan, bring peace to the Pashtun belt and clean up corruption in Kabul while playing "Let's Make A Deal" with the Taliban. Traditional powerbrokers associated with the Northern Alliance are poised to make sure that doesn't happen and there is no shortage of potential spoilers among regional actors such as Iran. A deal with the Taliban alone will never be enough to secure the peace in Afghanistan. It will take much more than talks about talks to arrive at a political settlement.
The rhetoric around reconciliation must be backed up by real and sustained action by the international community. The 9/11 attacks had global implications; they were not just a singular event in American history. Negotiations aren't likely to amount to much until the United States gets over its allergy to U.N. intervention in what are perceived to be strictly American affairs. The U.S. will require just as much help from the Security Council in ending its military engagement in Afghanistan in 2014 as it did with starting it in 2001. No matter how badly the U.S. and NATO want out of Afghanistan, a "responsible end" to the war will warrant sustained support from the international community for many years to come.
Candace Rondeaux is based in Kabul and is the senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan.
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Real enemies will whisper about you. The murmursand hisses to discredit Ali Soufan have echoed through the community of opinionmakers and terrorism experts, and have even reached me. Shortly before Soufan's book, The Black Banners, was published, aproducer from a major media outlet spoke with me. "Was it true that Soufan had been a low-levelFBI employee, who could not speak with authority about the nature of theterrorist threats to the United States because he lacked the necessarysenior-level perspective? Wasn't he exaggerating his knowledge and role? Wasn't he a bit of a self-promoter?" theproducer asked.
I could not help but smile to myself as Ilistened; the same character assassination had happened to me when my own bookon interrogation and the War on Terror came out. I had been kept off a number of programs as aresult. I also knew that Soufan already hadbeen targeted this way several years earlier when his name first became public.I told the producer that Soufan's career and mine had overlapped on manyoccasions, and although we had never to my knowledge met, in many instances Iknew first-hand that Soufan's description of events and policies were accurate.
Soufan was an FBI special agent for eight years, arare native Arabic speaker in a professional FBI culture that was shaped byformer Marines, often Irish Catholic and working class, and which hadtraditionally viewed counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work as secondtier specializations. CIA culture, too, although white collar rather than blue,viewed these specializations as adjuncts to the "real" work of espionage, whichwas to steal secrets and recruit spies from our historic enemies in the SovietUnion, North Korea, or Iran. It wouldprove an ironic twist that the Bush Administration also viewed terroristthreats as small-bore issues. Until 9/11,that is, after which the Bush Administration subjected us all to eight years oflarge-bore, misguided, and muscular obsessions. But, Soufan, the FBI officerswho had worked the first World Trade Center bombing case, and especially hisoriginal mentor, the head of the FBI's New York office, John O'Neill (killed onSeptember 11, 2001, at the base of the World Trade Center towers,) had long understoodthe seriousness of the jihadist threat from the mid-1990s-as had the ClintonAdministration and many in the CIA. Soufan quickly found himself playing a keyrole in the FBI's counterterrorism efforts, and spent a frantic decade tryingto piece together enough information to stop the Muslim terrorists trying tokill us.
TheBlack Banners at first seems to lose the reader inan endless series of incomprehensible names, unrelated dates, places, andcases. But what emerges from Soufan's welter ofdetails and minor episodes is his answer to one of the critical questions abouthow the U.S. should protect itself from terrorism.
Should counterterrorism work be approached as acriminal matter, or as a war which considers terrorists neither enemycombatants nor criminals? The issue, ofcourse, became instantly politicized after 9/11, as the Bush Administrationturned U.S. counterterrorism efforts into the "War on Terror," in so doingjustifying the jettisoning of habeascorpus, the utility of U.S. civilian courts for terrorism cases, and varioushistoric constraints on what American intelligence, military, and lawenforcement officials could do. Soufan's involvement in investigating most ofthe major al-Qaeda attacks and plots that have afflicted us, from the "BlindSheik" of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, to al-Qaeda's attackagainst the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, tothe long struggle to find Osama bin Laden, makes clear that painstakingcriminal and intelligence work-classic FBI investigations, relying on andshaped by the legal requirements of U.S. law-led to the perpetrators in waysthat made prosecution possible and, even more importantly, identified terroristorganizations, individual terrorists, and their plans and intentions.
Even as a sense of reassurance grows with eachharried, scrambling response Soufan and his colleagues make to new threats andincomprehensible bits of information our anger grows, too, as we become awareof a second critical theme of The BlackBanners. Certainly before 9/11, andeven after the reforms of the 9/11 Commission to the intelligence andcounterterrorism communities, the FBI and CIA were afflicted by bureaucraticinfighting, pettiness, and parochialism, while political leaders exploitedterrorist threats to serve political objectives not always related to thethreats themselves. Soufan relates what many in the intelligence communityexperienced: "Prior to the Iraq war,when there was a lot of pressure on the FBI from the White House to produce a"link" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, the 9/11 Team's assessment, againand again, was that there was no link. The White House didn't like that answer, and told the bureau to lookinto it more and ‘come up with one.'" These vices may well have kept us fromstopping the 9/11 attacks and from far more quickly destroying al-Qaeda than wehave.
We share Soufan's repeated frustration with whatthe FBI and CIA called "the Wall." Neither agency shared information fully with the other, out of acombination of bureaucratic rivalry, mutual disdain, and honest belief thatlegal constraints forbid the sharing of information. I lived this self-harmmyself in the years prior to 9/11 with some of Soufan's New York FBIcolleagues, as one of them told me he would not share information I neededbecause I was a CIA officer, and he could not "compromise the source." I evenresponded, "but we are on the same team!" And so, our counterterrorist operation fizzled.
It is important that one bear first-hand witnessto our failings, as Soufan does. We shouldsit on the bathroom floor and cry with him after the 9/11 attacks, inheartbreak and anger, believing that we could have stopped the attacks and hadbeen done in by our own failings. "I threw up....my whole body was shaking....I wasstill trying to process the fact that the information I had requested aboutmajor al-Qaeda operatives, information the CIA had claimed they knew nothingabout, had been in the agency's hands since January 2000..." And what can one feel but the astonishment andcontempt Soufan relates when he was told in June 2001 that the Bushadministration had decided for political reasons to misrepresent the factsabout the Cole investigation, and toclaim the attack had not been the work of al-Qaeda and was, in any event,"stale." "Maybe to them," Soufan writes in understated anger, "but not to us,not to the victims and their families, and certainly not to bin Laden andal-Qaeda." Less than three months later the administration's Cold Warriorswould no longer be able to decide that the president could not "risk[political] capital going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan."
The third theme of The Black Banners is the most disturbing, poignant and effectivesection of the book: Soufan's growingdisgust at how the interrogation methods developed and imposed on theintelligence community by the Bush Administration undermine our principles,break our laws, and do not work-indeed, how they actually hinder ourintelligence work. Soufan and hiscolleagues in the FBI had been successfully interrogating terrorists for yearsbefore the sudden introduction of "enhanced interrogation techniques"-"torture"is the word a layman would use. We seeconvincing, devastating proof in his detailed descriptions of how, in caseafter case (e.g., Jamal Al-Fadl, Abu Jandal, Abu Zubaydah, Khaled bin Rasheedand on and on) he and his colleagues successfully interrogated al-Qaeda membersby "establish[ing] rapport" with them, by talking about religion, or family, bysharing a taste for sweets, or by laughing with them, if necessary, rather thanby intimidating and physically abusing a detainee. He describes his and his colleagues'consternation when confronted with the snake oil salesmen who peddled andimposed "enhanced interrogation techniques"-a pseudo-expert the CIA brought into oversee interrogations, whom Soufan gives the appropriately menacing andfoolish sobriquet "Boris"-who had never conducted an interrogation, knewnothing about terrorism, and who knew nothing about intelligence work. "Why is this necessary" Soufan asked whenfirst confronted with such measures as sensory deprivation, overload, orhumiliation, "given that Abu Zubydah is cooperating?" As "Boris" tinkered with ever-increasinglyharsh, and ever-ineffective, ways to break detainees, Soufan and his colleaguestried to oppose them, but as was the case with everyone involved in theinterrogation program (myself included,) failed. Soufan and the FBI formally ceased anyinvolvement in the case. "I can nolonger remain here. Either I leave orI'll arrest [Boris]." It is tellingthat, to my knowledge, four individuals with first-hand experience ininterrogations during the "War on Terror," have spoken out about enhancedinterrogation methods: two Air Forceofficers (Steve Kleinman and another officer writing under the pseudonymMatthew Alexander), an FBI officer (Soufan), and a CIA officer (myself). All ofus, independently, make the same points: interrogation must be based on rapport; enhanced interrogation methodsare ineffective, counterproductive, immoral, illegal, and unnecessary, and theyhad nothing to do with obtaining much, if any, information not otherwiseobtainable. It is only apologists forthe Bush Administration, or Bush Administration policymakers themselves, whoassert that "enhanced interrogation techniques" are legal, or work. Soufan is devastating about thesemethods: "The person or persons runningthe program were not sane....the interrogation was stepping over the line fromborderline torture. Way over the line.""In FBI headquarters, the situation was clear....What Boris was doing wasun-American and ineffective."
The book on occasion manifests a characteristictypical of many memoirs: if only they had listened to me, well, we would havedone everything right. The damning factsin Soufan's book, though, are powerful. Yes, the FBI and CIA did so much right, but got so much wrong. The Bush Administration was purblind andarrogant, from dismissing terrorism at first, to down-playing the Cole case for political reasons, toinstituting ineffective, and illegal "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Well, I was there, too. Soufan's and my workoverlapped-we served with the same people, in the same places, dealt with thesame "Wall" imposed by the same people in the CIA and the FBI. We worked with remarkable men and women, whogave their souls to stopping the terrorist threats facing the UnitedStates. We reacted precisely the same ways to the same challenges, in almost literallythe same words, to what we experienced about terrorist threats, enhancedinterrogation and bureaucratic infighting. Soufan knows exactly what he is talking about, and does us all a serviceby having set it down in The Black Banner.
Glenn L. Carle is a former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, and spent 23 years in the Clandestine Servicesof the Central Intelligence Agency. He is also the author of TheInterrogator: An Education.
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Last year, Qasim, a construction worker from eastern Afghanistan, was detained in a joint US-Afghan raid on his home in Kabul. He eventually ended up in the hands of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency. For over a week, Qasim was hung by his arms, taken down only to go the bathroom and pray. Several times a night he was beaten with pipes and electrical cables, his head bashed into walls, and threatened with much worse. After a week and a half, he could no longer walk, not even to bring himself to the bathroom. My organization, Open Society Foundations, and its Afghan partners have interviewed many other Afghans who, like Qasim, have suffered acts of torture at the hands of the NDS, ranging from beatings, and burns, to electric shock, and sexual abuse.
In a ground-breaking report released yesterday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the true scope and severity of such abuse is made clear. The UN found evidence of torture and mistreatment in 16 Afghan detention facilities, including electric shocks, hanging detainees from ceilings, beatings, and threat of sexual assault. As a result of the report, the Afghan government dismissed several NDS officials implicated in the report, though it unclear whether there will be any criminal prosecutions. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has temporarily halted the transfer of ISAF detainees to the 16 facilities.
ISAF's halting of transfers to facilities identified in the UN report is an important first step. The Afghan government's initial response was certainly less positive, but will hopefully improve following now that the report has been publicly released. Looking forward, however, there is real concern that the ISAF and Afghan government responses will prove rather superficial, and ultimately fail to fully grapple with the depths of the problem.
One area that the Afghan government and ISAF should prioritize is accountability. Though perhaps politically difficult, accountability for abuses is key, and must be pursued vigorously and publicly. The UN report is an opportunity for the right signals to be sent, both within the Afghan justice system as well as to the Afghan public.
Without sustained efforts on this front, it's likely that even if those Afghan officials who are responsible for abuse are removed, they will only re-emerge elsewhere in the justice system or government. Shuffling the problem around only sows the seeds for future abuse, and reinforces perceptions of impunity that are at the heart of the Afghan government's struggle for legitimacy.
An independent, external body should be empowered to monitor facilities, receive complaints, and investigate allegations of abuse, with findings and remedial actions made public. Full, unfettered access should also be granted to outside monitors, including Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, ICRC, and UNAMA. Those responsible for abuse should not only be removed from their positions, but also subject to criminal prosecution and civil liability.
The international community can play an important role in ensuring those responsible are truly held to account. Governments should not only apply conventional diplomatic pressure, but should think creatively and ambitiously about how to strengthen accountability. Funding, training, as well as military and intelligence relationships with the Afghan government and security forces should all be utilized to ensure those responsible for abuse are held accountable. The US is prohibited by the Leahy Law from supporting foreign security forces which engage in gross violations of human rights.
The pervasive lack of due process also leaves detainees vulnerable to abuse. Detainees and defense lawyers we have interviewed consistently decry Afghan authorities' denial of legal counsel, in addition to preventing family notification or contact. In some cases we documented, defense lawyers have themselves been arrested or harassed simply for contacting their clients. The Afghan Government should implement measures to ensure detainees' access to legal counsel, and adopt strict rules regarding family notification (just as the Afghan government advocates for in ISAF detentions), while international donors should provide funding to Afghan legal aid organizations to represent conflict-related detainees. Ensuring detainees have their most basic due process rights respected while in detention provides an additional, necessary check on Afghan authorities' power and strengthens transparency and accountability.
For their part, international forces must acknowledge that there are no
quick fixes for detainee abuse in Afghanistan. Detainee monitoring, for
example, is too
often posited as the solution to abuse, although it only focuses on
detainees transferred by international forces, not the wider prison population.
While monitoring is a potentially important part of protecting detainee rights,
international forces must be honest about its practical limitations, and
confront the fact that, in the current context, monitoring alone cannot satisfy
their legal obligations to prevent torture.
Indeed, the fact that the UN has documented abuses despite the existence of various ISAF countries' monitoring mechanisms and oversight by organizations like the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) speaks to the insufficiency of such measures. Given the sheer number of facilities and detainees, logistical and security challenges, and detainees' fears of reprisals for disclosing abuse, even the most well-designed monitoring mechanisms may in practice be incapable of ensuring detainees are free from torture.
International forces must also grapple with the problem of torture beyond the narrow issue of transfers, not least because they have been working so closely with the Afghan intelligence authorities, including using intelligence that may very well have been extracted through the use of torture. Appropriate assessment of the risk of torture will also always have to take into account treatment of all detainees at a particular Afghan facility-not just those transferred from international custody. Conceiving of the problem as one of detainee transfer also biases policy solutions towards bureaucratic box checking in order to resume detainee transfers-not actually halting abuse.
To be sure, there are real dilemmas and constraints facing the Afghan government and ISAF. There is a lack of professional capacity at every level of the Afghan justice system, from guards to judges to prosecutors. The sheer number of persons detained in connection with the conflict means the system is under severe strain, burdened further by the military as opposed to law enforcement nature of operations. But the Afghan government and all ISAF nations have strict legal obligations to refrain from and prevent torture, and as the UN report lays bare, they have fallen well short.
The looming troop drawdown and transition only give greater urgency to this issue. With more and more responsibility for security being shifted to Afghans, the strategic risk and political liability posed by abusive detention practices will only grow. Right now the US and other ISAF nations have the most leverage to shape the Afghan justice system and leave behind institutions, laws, and mechanisms that uphold the rule of law and protect Afghans from torture. As the war in Afghanistan marks its tenth anniversary, time is not on the side of either ISAF or the Afghan government. The UN report marks a perhaps singular opportunity to marshal momentum behind detention reforms that will be long-lasting and effective at protecting the most basic of human rights.Chris Rogers is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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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.
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Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part series focusing on aid provision in conflict zones, with tomorrow's edition to focus on Afghanistan.
Although the White House was cautiously optimistic in its recent strategy review on Afghanistan, even for seasoned AfPak watchers, it can be difficult to discern exactly what the U.S. strategy is towards Afghanistan. The sound bite summary "clear, hold, build" may be simplistic, but it still offers a useful starting place to evaluate U.S. and NATO efforts. The "clear" and "hold" represent the straightforward ideas (in theory if not execution) of taking and holding ground, operations with which militaries are well-acquainted. The real issue, and the key to success or failure, is defining what "build" really means, and examining how the United States and NATO are "building" in Afghanistan.
While many factors in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, for that matter) are unique, in a larger sense, the challenges faced there are the same issues, with new faces, that the United States has been long been struggling with in other countries. The U.S. government clearly hopes to "build" the Afghangovernment and military up to the point that it will take the lead in battlingthe Taliban. For decades now, in countries around the world, the tool most frequently called on to "build" countries is aid. Sometimes aid comes in the form of humanitarian, short-term assistance, i.e. emergency food, medicine,water, and shelter, aimed at stabilizing crisis situations. In other cases, aidcomes in the form of "official development assistance" or ODA, most often adirect cash transfer from a donor government or donor institution to a recipient country, usually in the form of grants or low-interest loans, and aimed at promoting long-term growth by developing infrastructure, education,and more. In the case of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), aid to the region hasconsisted of a mixture of both humanitarian and strategic (ODA) aid.
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The White House review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan provides a clear opportunity to identify which elements of the new approach have worked and which are falling short. In October 2010, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) conducted the latest in a series of surveys of Afghan public opinion. Building on two previous research phases in 2010, this assessment involved interviews with 1,000 Afghan men in the most disputed districts of Helmand and Kandahar. The results can be divided into three familiar categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Our field research shows that there is some progress being made in Afghanistan. In June 2010, only 34 percent of interviewees in Helmand's Marjah district thought that NATO forces were winning the war. In October, this figure has risen to 64 percent. In Helmand's Nawa district, only 20 percent of interviewees in June 2010 thought recent military operations in their area had been good for the Afghan people. This figure rose to 51 percent in October 2010. This sharp rise in perceptions of military success in districts which were the focus of the troop surge is encouraging. A poll recently commissioned by The Washington Post, ABC News, BBC, and ARDTV also found positive indications in Helmand with the number of people describing their security as "good" increasing from 14 percent in 2009 to 67 percent, and 2/3 now saying Afghanistan is on the right track.
Additionally, support for women's issues among the men interviewed in the conservative south was surprisingly high. Forty-Five percent of those interviewed support women voting in elections, while 44 percent of respondents in the south think women should have a greater role in government, and 45 percent believe that a greater role for women would improve the chances for peace in Afghanistan.
Despite our many years in Afghanistan, the international community has collectively failed to explain its presence in Afghanistan and what international forces and non-government organizations -- as opposed to the Taliban -- can offer the people of Afghanistan.
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The NATO summit currently underway in Lisbon will set in motion a train of events pinned to a handover of responsibility to Afghan forces and phased withdrawal over the next few years. The mission will be less than a success, but it will be brought to a "successful conclusion" - using the same flat, inglorious euphemism previously used to describe the termination of NATO operations in the Balkans in 2003 and 2004.
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June was the deadliest month for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan since the start of the conflict. As fighting intensifies and as British troops pull out of Sangin, proponents and detractors are still squabbling over the relative success of the counterinsurgency strategy (COIN), spearheaded under the Obama administration, and the GOP is arguing over whether chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele's recent ill-advised comments about the war should be a cause for his resignation.
While domestic discussion over whether various countries should remain in Afghanistan gathers steam, a key metric that should be strongly related to the ‘success' narrative is not getting enough airtime. Much has been made of whether NATO is ‘winning' the war in Afghanistan or what it really means ‘to win' such a war in the first place, but civilian casualties have rarely been discussed in any precise context.
According to a UNAMA survey released in January, 2009 was the deadliest year to date for Afghan civilians and a striking amount were killed by increased Taliban activity. But whether it's the Taliban, suicide attacks, or U.S. forces killing civilians, the pain for the families of those killed is on the rise -- and they may not care who is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. The lack of attention from coalition governments to the details of how many civilians are killed is not encouraging.
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington this week offers Barack Obama's administration an opportunity to address one of the weakest links in its Afghanistan strategy -- the lack of a coherent plan for what the United States and its Afghan and international partners aim to leave behind in Afghanistan.
Nearly nine years into the war, we lack clear answers to two fundamental questions: How does this war end? What is the desired sustainable end state in Afghanistan?
Recent briefings, meetings, and congressional testimony with officials in the Obama administration and visiting Afghan officials have left me not much clearer about the answers to those two questions -- and this week is an excellent opportunity for the Obama administration and visiting Afghan officials to answer these two questions.
During the past month, I asked Obama administration officials and Afghan government representatives direct questions such as the estimated cost to completion for Afghanistan, general estimates on how many Afghan government personnel will be needed to fill the various levels of Afghan institutions to make them viable, and how progress will be measured. Instead of clear answers, I usually heard general restatements of the basic principles of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine: that the United States is trying to build up Afghan governing institutions as part of an overall strategy centered on the notions of "clear, hold, and build" -- clearing areas of insurgents, holding those areas, and building institutions. For the most part, few concrete details have been offered -- like a religious creed, COIN mantras were repeated, but vague answers to the crucial implementation questions on institution-building remain the norm, which is a dangerous proposition.
After spending a historic amount of money in Afghanistan, the United States is still in search of a sustainable governance strategy that will leave behind something of consequence in Afghanistan. On the reconstruction front alone, the United States has appropriated more than $50 billion, and the Obama administration has requested an additional $20 billion. With these new requests, the United States will have spent in Afghanistan more than double what it spent in postwar Germany from 1946 to 1952 and more than four times what was spent in Japan (inflation adjusted), according to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service. Despite all this money, it seems that in many parts of Afghanistan, the United States is starting from scratch and the gap between what is said is being done on institution-building and what is actually being done is significant.
Case in point -- take the infamous "government in a box" idea put forth by Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the recent operation in Marjah. McChrystal said that a central part of the operation was to bring in a local Afghan administration aimed at getting services working and delivering aid. But as many observers and journalists noted, when that government in a box was opened, there wasn't much inside. In advance of Kandahar operations this spring, U.S. military officials have emphasized the centrality of promoting good governance. In putting so much emphasis on governance in their strategic communications, the United States risks remaking the same mistake it made in advance of last year's flawed presidential election -- overpromising on something that may be difficult to deliver. As I argued in this piece last year, the Obama administration made a mistake in saying in advance that the presidential election were the most important event of the year in Afghanistan and then issuing an early judgment on the election that was too rosy.
I highlight all of this as a strong supporter of the need to integrate diplomacy, development assistance, and good governance in places like Afghanistan. I've co-authored numerous reports and articles that helped form the basis of the "smart power" approach the Obama administration is trying to use in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan -- reports like "Integrated Power" and my 2008 book with Nancy Soderberg, The Prosperity Agenda. The Obama administration is doing a much better job wrestling with these questions than George W. Bush's administration, which neglected Afghanistan and Pakistan for years. What troubles me is the lack of clarity about the implementation plan for getting the job done in Afghanistan -- if we don't know precisely want we want to achieve, then we risk open-ended involvement.
What to do about this? First, we need an honest accounting of the capacity challenges among our Afghan partners. In recent congressional testimony, including last week's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Marjah, administration officials have highlighted the lack of capacity among Afghan partners as a serious challenge. What the overall action plan for addressing these enormous capacity challenges is remains unclear. But getting specific answers to questions like how many Afghan civilian government positions need to be filled at the various levels of government and what does the overall potential pool of talent looks like would be a start.
Secondly, we need to have greater candor about just how constrained and limited U.S. civilian agencies are and more honesty on how long it might take them to deliver on institution-building in Afghanistan. Decades of underinvestment in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development means that Obama administration officials are fighting an uphill battle to get the right talent in place to help implement the complicated task of Afghan institutional development.
Finally, the Obama administration should work with the Afghan government and its partners in the international community to present a more sustainable plan for Afghanistan in the long term. This year alone, the United States is planning to spend upwards of $100 billion in Afghanistan in operations, almost 10 times the amount of Afghanistan's GDP of $12 billion. These figures do not include what other countries are spending. These large figures raise the question of sustainability and whether what the United States is building with its partners will be able to stand on its own. There isn't enough discussion about how to transition to a self-sustaining funding model -- one that looks at how key revenue-generating industries such as mining, agriculture, and telecommunications can help build the economy and develop a funding mechanism that can sustain the Afghan institutions the international community is working to build today.
These three issues -- the capacity challenges of the United States' Afghan partners, the institutional shortcomings in U.S. civilian agencies, and the long-term sustainability questions linked to Afghanistan -- should be front and center this week. The Afghan government is planning a conference in Kabul in a few months to present specific plans for reconstruction in a follow-up to the January London conference -- but this week's meetings in Washington can help hone those plans.
The United States and Afghanistan have a long list of items to discuss in their meetings here in Washington, but shouldn't forget to address the most fundamental question: How will this war end?
Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
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NATO operations are notorious among the personnel assigned to them for their internal incoherence. Overhanging byzantine structures and layers are the Alliance's organizational hallmarks, compounded by the usual array of local dysfunctions: variable staff language skills, high turnover rates, untrained personnel assigned to jobs they're not qualified to perform, lowest common denominator politics, continually changing political goals, and resources under a perpetual state of review or flux. That's not to suggest that NATO is any different from other, similarly sprawling bureaucratic creatures -- but in a world of guns, bombs, and civilian casualties, those qualities all too frequently channel assumptions about who does what, how, and why -- and how well and how badly they do it.
Military staff who find themselves in the singularly challenging position of having to coordinate multinational personnel and units in field operations will sometimes quietly curse their assignments, longing for the day -- usually only a few months down the road anyway -- when they can return home, to glory in the simplicity and clarity of their respective national systems. Every once in a while, though, they catch a glimpse of sanity and order: a senior staff officer owns an initiative and sees it through to fruition before leaving, or slices through bureaucratic inertia to force change, like top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal has, or manages to achieve consensus on an issue of contention among Allies.
Despite all the cynicism, change, as the old saying goes, also provides the illusion of progress, and nothing spells relief quite like a good old-fashioned shuffling of the decks. Most U.S. forces in Afghanistan, according to statements made earlier this week, are to be formally placed under NATO command. That's about 20,000 troops -- the bulk of Operation Enduring Freedom (a non-NATO mission) minus a unit of prison guards and some Special Forces elements. The move doesn't appear to change much, given that McChrystal already commands both missions. According to spokesman Vice Admiral Greg Smith, "It's just a matter of moving things from one account in the ledger to another."
Smith denied that the move was about imposing tighter controls on Special Forces operations, but the New York Times' Richard A. Oppel and Rod Nordland suggest in their own reporting that that's exactly what this reorganization about. Special Operations forces in Afghanistan have come under increased public scrutiny over allegations that their actions have resulted in unnecessary civilian casualties. McChrystal has already placed a premium on protecting the population and minimizing non-combatant deaths, taking steps -- including curbing the use of airpower in support of combat operations -- to ensure that civilian casualties become a thing of the past. McChrystal, according to sources cited in the NYT report, has agonized over continued civilian deaths, and remains committed to preventing more from happening.
So while the new unified command structure is consistent with McChrystal's prior efforts to bring various capabilities under a centralized command, it also has the knock-on effect of imposing control on elements , like SF and airpower, whose difficult missions sometimes result in mistakes -- thereby generating additional costs to the mission in terms of loss of credibility and local good will. The larger question is whether it will work: restructuring might make for cleaner organizational lines, but will it make for more streamlined and effective communications? One doesn't necessarily equal the other. According to Smith, "We clearly need unity of command so that elements on the battlefield are not working at cross-purposes with each other."
NATO's high command and men on the battlefield breathe completely different air, however, even in the "high-speed, low-drag" universe that McChrystal is seeking to cultivate. NATO is complex, and Afghanistan is immense; disconnects will persist between headquarters and units. More, most of the forces being reassigned to the NATO mission are American. So it's a little unclear whether this is just meant to improve McChrystal's control over forces he already commands, or to streamline administrative and communication channels between the U.S. and everyone else in ISAF. Ideally, both will happen, and all will be well. In theory, NATO and its missions provide "interoperability frameworks," umbrellas of common standards and resources that enable different nations to work together. In practice, though, the mechanisms are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Ultimately, NATO's greatest strength is simply presence -- its ability to endure over the long term -- not the minutiae of individual commanders' decisions or the tactical details of specific operations. A more consolidated mission speaks well to that strength.
Michael A. Innes is a U.K.-based journalist and academic affiliated with the University of Leeds and University College London, as well as Syracuse University. He served as a civilian staff officer with NATO from 2003 to 2009, living and working in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Belgium. He is the editor of the forthcoming book Making Sense of Proxy Wars: States, Surrogates and the Use of Force and editor in chief of Current Intelligence Magazine.
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