While all eyes were glued on Afghan President Hamid Karzai's opening speech at the Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of more than 2,500 Afghan elders who were tasked with advising him on signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, nearly two weeks ago, an unprecedented, amusing, and thought-provoking incident occurred. Almost 40 minutes into Karzai's speech, a female senator, Belqis Roshan, from Farah, a province which lies along the border with Iran, raised a banner covered with anti-BSA slogans that compared the signing of the agreement to committing Watan Feroshi, or treason.
What the senator had not judged was the response she received from other participants. Chants of "Death to slaves of Pakistan" and "Death to slaves of Iran" suddenly filled the hall, prompting even Karzai to laugh, something he has not done publically for years. He finally intervened, urging calm, and called on the jirga participants to not accuse those who opposed the BSA of being spies for neighboring countries.
For wary Afghans, the incident demonstrated the overwhelming support that existed in the jirga for signing the security pact. But it was interesting that any opposition to signing the BSA was viewed as a subversive act by Afghanistan's two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, both of whom disapprove of the agreement.
Additionally, Karzai's cleverly crafted speech reinforced the jirga's preliminary support for signing the BSA. He touched upon Afghanistan's vulnerabilities, stressed the need for ending civilian casualties caused by American forces, and eloquently provided a convincing rationale as to why the deal was important for the future of the country.
After four days of intense deliberations, the assembly not only overwhelmingly endorsed the BSA, but also called on Karzai to sign it before the end of the year. And this support even went beyond endorsement. Some committees also called on the Americans to establish a base in Bamiyan, Afghanistan's central province and home of the ethnic Hazara minority, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, and where Iran is perceived to have influence.
The jirga, which is the ultimate source of national decision-making in Afghanistan, illustrated a distinct paradigm shift as Afghans have never been receptive to the presence of foreign militaries in their country. However, despite this widespread support, Karzai rejected the jirga's recommendations and refused to the sign the BSA unless his newly-raised demands were met, creating an uproar both inside and outside of Afghanistan.
Karzai's new conditions include no U.S. interference in next April's presidential elections, the termination of U.S. military raids on Afghan homes, the release of Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and U.S. help in restarting the stalled peace talks with the Taliban. Coming after the jirga approved the BSA, Karzai's stated demands and delaying tactics have perplexed almost everyone. Some argue he does not want to sign the BSA. Others say he will lose his final leverage if he signs it now. However, many may have missed the nuances behind his bizarre gesture.
Karzai's political posturing is most likely designed for domestic consumption and he actually has no intention of not signing the BSA. After all, if he wasn't planning on signing the document, why was his opening speech to the jirga focused on approving the document? By holding off on signing the agreement, he is generating further domestic support for the pact. In other words, he is effectively building public pressure against himself. Why? Because there is a historical stigma attached to any agreement that includes the establishment of foreign military bases in the country. While Afghans currently support the creation of these bases, with the country's uncertain political future, Karzai is worried about his legacy and he does not want to be seen as the person who facilitated this development if the domestic sentiment changes. By increasing the public pressure, he is creating an environment that would allow him to sign the BSA, while claiming that he had no other choice but to yield to the public demand.
Karzai also intends to send a message to the Taliban and undermine their narrative that he is a puppet of the United States, stripping the group of a propaganda tool it has used to discredit the regime and recruit fighters. In fact, the Taliban sent out a press statement earlier this week that politely praised Karzai for his refusal to sign the agreement.
Despite his statements to the contrary, Karzai knows he cannot hold off the BSA's completion until after the elections because of the extensive and destructive impact that would have on the process. He also understands that postponing the agreement's signing will further uncertainty about the country's future as the BSA is perceived as creating the biggest physical and psychological support for the political and economic stability of Afghanistan. Afghans know that an atmosphere of uncertainty will be detrimental to holding elections that are considered vital to the long-term stability of the country. After all, perception of the election process is as important as the actual practice.
As for the argument that he won't sign the BSA because he will lose his leverage over the Americans, there is no doubt that he will lose his ability to use to the document as a bargaining chip when he signs it. But, as a practiced politician, Karzai will always find other ways and means by which to pressure the United States. Even after signing the agreement, he will remain the most powerful figure in the country until after next April's elections, and will probably remain a dominant political player once he is out of office as well. He has proven to be a shrewd tactician with remarkable courage and a knack for brinksmanship and confusing everyone. But this time, Karzai should understand that he has gone too far, as many Afghans are beginning to question whether he is out for his own interest or the nation's. They have also started to question Karzai's stability in terms of making decisions for the country since they do not understand the underlying objectives behind his bizarre moves.
Yet for all of Karzai's bluster, the United States should know that he will most likely sign the BSA soon, even if his conditions are not met. In the past 12 years, relations between Afghanistan and its Western allies, particularly the United States, have been pushed to the brink of collapse multiple times because of failures to fully understand each other. This lack of understanding has been a primary source of complications and setbacks, so there is dire need for Washington to learn about Kabul's domestic dynamics and Karzai's psyche, and for Kabul to grasp the political realities in Washington. Karzai feels insecure and wary about his own political survival, and the United States expects to be treated as a superpower. Both stances have undermined the countries' pursuit of the main goal, fighting terrorism.
It is important for the United States to realize the significance of Afghan people's support for the BSA. A nation that has long fought against any invading military, regardless of its might, supports, for the first time in its history, the presence of a foreign military on their land. And they proved that they want close ties with the world, without factoring in any ideological or religious ideals.
It should be clear by now that Afghans are the United States' only ally in an unstable region where extremism and anti-U.S. sentiment is consistently promoted by violent extremist groups and, more importantly, governments themselves. Acknowledging that the United States' investment in the country has won over the Afghan people, it is critical that it continues to support Afghanistan's political development and the strengthening of its security forces, who have now taken over the battle against extremism. Sustained engagement with Afghanistan would enable the country to become an anti-terrorism sanctuary in the region.
Najib Sharifi is a member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness, a Kabul-based think tank.
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How do you solve a problem like Hamid Karzai? According to his former counterpart at ISAF command, Gen. John Allen, and other pundits, the answer is simple: Ignore him. After all, Allen and others have reasoned, there is no need for the United States to add injury to Karzai's insults by playing into the drama surrounding his refusal to sign a security agreement that would keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan through 2024. While this might be good advice for dealing with an unruly guest at the dinner table, it is probably not the best counsel when making a multi-billion dollar deal with an inveterate gambler-cum-head-of-state with a proven penchant for betting the farm on a pair of deuces.
Many things can and will be said about Afghanistan's president when he finally steps down. Some will say he was crazy, like a fox. Others will say he was a vainglorious old man obsessed with his legacy. Few will extol his poker playing skills. What is important to understand is that after 12 years as head of state, the last thing Karzai wants is to be viewed as a washed-out-has-been with no cards left to play. Only time will tell, however, whether he has aptly chosen the right moment to leverage the deal over a continued U.S.-NATO presence to his own personal benefit. To judge whether matching Karzai's brinksmanship with more brinksmanship is the right course of action, the White House would do well to evaluate the spread, assess who is bluffing whom, and decide whether the stakes are worthwhile.
The release of key Taliban members from the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay tops the list of call options Karzai has placed on the table. Control of senior Taliban prisoners has been at the center of Karzai's negotiating strategy for years. The only problem is that he hasn't been able to reap many benefits from this approach since Congress and the Pentagon have shown reluctance to play along. Last week, however, on the very same day that Karzai announced he was digging in his heals on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and upping the ante, the Senate, in a little noted move, opted to loosen the stringent rules governing the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to detention facilities in either their home or third-party countries. The move may face tough resistance in the Republican-held House of Representatives, but, as demonstrated by the recent visit of the Department of Defense's special envoy, Paul Lewis, to the island prison, there can be no mistake that a thawing is underway.
Karzai may be right to add these important signals in his "plus" column, but there is no assurance that his timely pronouncements on Guantanamo and chest beating over the U.S. security deal will win him much. Along with the prisoner release demand, Karzai has also pressed for the United States to get serious about restarting negotiations with the Taliban. This presumably means making sure that the Taliban understand that doing business in Kabul and Kandahar will mean doing business with the Karzai clan. The trouble is that the Karzai clan will not likely count for much if it can't deliver the elections to its chosen successor.
Indeed, the Afghan president's greatest fear must be that the clock is running out on his ability to impact the endgame. So he has fallen back on the tried and true approach of injecting uncertainty into the mix, which we've all seen play out in Afghanistan before.
In 2009, we saw 1.2 million fraudulent votes discarded in the presidential and provincial council elections. In 2010, 1.3 million votes were thrown out due to fraud in parliamentary elections; results were disputed for nearly a year before both chambers were finally seated in 2011. In both instances, uncertainty about the timing of the elections exacerbated structural flaws in the political system that remain unresolved. Not surprisingly, Karzai has apparently pressed the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission to postpone the April 2014 polls, a move that would force the White House to rethink its plan to leave 8,000 to 12,000 coalition forces in place as part of an advisory mission.
Karzai knows this well, of course, and so do those in his inner circle who are hoping to benefit from promoting a course of mercurial high-risk gambling. Key among the advocates of this strategy is, reportedly, Abdul Karim Khurram, Karzai's chief of staff and a stalwart member of the conservative wing of the Hezb-i Islami party. Khurram, a confederate of Hezb-i Islami warlord extraordinaire and former Afghan prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has earned a reputation for being bloody-minded when it comes to dealings with Americans.
But it is not entirely clear that this time around his interest aligns with Karzai's. Where Karzai is looking to insulate himself from the inevitable blowback that will occur once his principal backers in Washington reduce their investment in the Karzai brand come 2014, those allied with hardcore conservatives like Hekmatyar are looking to blow the whole game up. Amid all the drama this week over the BSA, Hekmatyar went so far as to write a letter to Karzai, threatening to rescind the informal ceasefires that have been in place for the last year or so if Karzai signs the deal. Hekmatyar knows as well as any other of the irreconcilables, like Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, that a sustained U.S. presence in Afghanistan means there is no coming home for them anytime soon. From where Karzai is sitting, these facts considerably increase his bargaining power with Hezb-i Islami and the Taliban.
So is there any "getting to yes" with Karzai on signing the security deal? Probably, but it's not certain that "yes" will mean much. History suggests that the deal the Obama administration cuts with Karzai today may not necessarily hold with his succesors tomorrow. Under the current political dispensation, it is unlikely that the Afghan government will be both willing and able to deliver any time soon on a strategy that calls for the country's beleaguered security forces to secure its borders and contain the insurgency. Although the Afghan National Security Forces have shown marked improvement, they have sustained heavy casualties in the face of the continued resurgence of the Taliban. They also have been heavily impacted by a spike in political factionalism within the upper echelons of the security sector.
Proposals to extend the U.S. military presence beyond 2014 additionally present a troublesome paradox: as long as U.S. forces remain, so too must the parallel legal infrastructure that has grown up around aggressive U.S. counterterrorism operations that have become anathema to many Afghans. The lack of trust between U.S. and Afghan partners over civilian casualties and night raids does not improve prospects much. The continued threat of insider attacks will also place an undue burden on U.S. military leaders to maintain unrealistic force protection measures regardless of whether Western force levels are at 10,000 or 1,000 after 2014. The latter point is all the more salient given Pakistan's apparent unwillingness to abandon its support for the Afghan insurgency. Any expectations that U.S. strategy in the region will profit greatly from a further investment of military assistance should be lowered accordingly.
Washington's post-2014 options are deeply constrained by these rather bitter facts, but it doesn't mean that the "zero option" is the only option. An investment in Afghanistan's stability needs to be an investment in the Afghan people, first and foremost. This means focusing hard on supporting a fair election process, ensuring that the economy remains stable, that rule of law and education programming continues to receive international support, and that women's rights and better health care remain high on the international aid agenda. Washington also needs to focus more on arriving at a political settlement that will hold. Boots on the ground, even in limited numbers, may be an important part of that signaling strategy in the short-term. But if the fraught political gamesmanship that has marked Karzai's tenure isn't brought under control within the next few months, it will be hard to ignore the unruly guest at the dinner table for much longer. The White House should send a strong signal to that it is still serious about a strategy that envisions an Afghanistan that can eventually stand on its own. A post-2014 U.S. strategy that maintains the status quo of insecurity and instability is hardly worth betting 10,000 American lives on and risks seeing the country held hostage to the caprices of ambivalent Afghan leaders for yet another decade.
If the short-term goal is to keep some troops in theater, then the long-term goal must be to leverage continued American assistance to influence the course of a negotiated political settlement that engages both armed and unarmed factions in the Afghan opposition, and to resolve longstanding frictions with Pakistan over military incursions and trade disputes across the Durand line, the disputed border between the two countries. This may mean that Washington and the rest of the international community will have to get creative in seeking solutions to current and future impasses over a continued Western presence in Afghanistan. Throwing money and military resources willy-nilly at the problem of widespread political disenfranchisement in Afghanistan will not bring greater security to the country or its region.
Instead of simply ignoring Karzai, there are a few ways that Washington can signal its seriousness about a responsible drawdown in Afghanistan. The first would be to publicly back the appointment of a U.N. special envoy and negotiating team to facilitate a regional settlement. A second way would be for the United States to engage regional powers, like China, India, Iran, Russia, and Central Asian states, on the possibility of encouraging Pakistan and Afghanistan to agree to refer the bloody, costly, and divisive dispute over the Durand line to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The sooner Washington and its international partners acknowledge the longstanding hostilities between the two countries as the center of gravity in a conflict, the better. Shifting the focus from boots on the ground to building momentum for a negotiated settlement may also mean taking more practical steps to resolve the status of high-level detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in the near term, as Karzai has repeatedly suggested. All of these recommendations may seem distasteful to a war-weary White House fed up with Karzai's antics. But the sooner the Obama administration acknowledges that the conflict in Afghanistan is desperately in need of a negotiated end, the less need there will be to bet billions on propping up compulsive gamblers in Kabul.
Candace Rondeaux is a non-resident research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School. She lived in Kabul from 2008 to 2013, working first as the South Asia bureau chief for the Washington Post, and most recently as the senior analyst in Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group. She is writing a political history of the Afghan security forces and is currently undertaking a mid-career masters at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
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Like many other regular readers of Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel, I was surprised by the announcement that it is to be rebranded as the South Asia Channel. But while my friend Ziad Haider received a quantum of solace from ‘AfPak' losing its conceptual toehold in Washington, I had instinctive misgivings about the adoption of ‘South Asia.' What exactly does that phrase connote today? Is the term in any way useful? Or is it so poorly defined -- culturally, politically, geographically, and bureaucratically -- as to make it problematic in its own way? In fact, beyond one rather ineffectual international organization and a handful of sporting events, does ‘South Asia' even exist?
South Asia -- as any sort of single entity -- was not really worthy of Washington's attention until the 1990s. India and Pakistan did feature in American strategic calculations beginning with their independence in 1947, but usually in the context of U.S. policy toward China or the Soviet Union, which often determined American responses to the region's political developments. All of that changed when India, and then Pakistan, conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The handful of South Asianists from academia and the diplomatic world -- and there weren't many Americans who could lay claim to that label -- were suddenly in high demand by the U.S. government and think tanks to address a narrow set of American priorities: nuclear proliferation, India-Pakistan tensions, and the Kashmir dispute.
The region assumed further importance with the 1999 Kargil War, by which time India and Pakistan were effectively "hyphenated," treated as inextricably intertwined and perennially in competition with one another. As a result, other countries in the region -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc. -- were often ignored; issues related to national economies and domestic political dynamics remained poorly understood; and the broader regional strategic context -- such as the role of China -- was often overlooked.
An important shift began with the 9/11 attacks, which was around the same time that Washington belatedly recognized the prospect of India's economic and political emergence on a wider Asian canvas. India, largely on the strength of its burgeoning economy, began to be incorporated into the institutional and commercial structures of East Asia, such as the ASEAN-led regional groupings, and a new term eventually began to make the rounds in strategic circles: the Indo-Pacific. But while India is now considered an unequivocal part of ‘Asia,' the other states traditionally constituting South Asia are not necessarily granted that same privilege. Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, are often seen as part of the Greater Middle East, a somewhat arbitrary shorthand, it would appear, for the Muslim world west of India.
Which brings us back to what precisely defines South Asia. Is it geography? The Indian Plate excludes all of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan, and includes the Irrawaddy basin. Religion? Not when India and Nepal are majority Hindu, Sri Lanka and Bhutan majority Buddhist, and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives majority Muslim. The legacy of British colonial influence? Maybe, but where then does that leave Myanmar? Ethnicity and language are similarly limiting. Pakistani and north Indian languages are more akin to Persian than to the Dravidian tongues of southern India, while it would be a stretch to draw ethnic links between the Manipuri, Baloch, and Sinhalese peoples. How about the footprint of Brahmanic culture and Sanskrit? That, as historians have noted, would mean encompassing much of Central and Southeast Asia.
It should be no surprise that conceptual confusion manifests itself in U.S. bureaucratic structures. The U.S. State Department has a South and Central Asia bureau. The armed forces, however, deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of U.S. Central Command, with India and the rest of the region falling to U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. Meanwhile, the Office of the Secretary of Defense groups Afghanistan and Pakistan in with Central Asia and considers India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka under the rubric of South and Southeast Asia.
While a confusing construct, the term ‘South Asia' persevered in America's strategic consciousness, despite the inevitable dehyphenation of India and Pakistan. Among non-specialists in the counterinsurgency era, it was often used as a casual and more politically-correct synonym for AfPak, marginalizing not just India, but also Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, all important countries in their own rights. I recall reviewing the syllabus of a graduate studies course on South Asia at a major American university two years ago, and you could have been forgiven for thinking that the India-Pakistan border constituted South Asia's eastern frontier.
A real concern is that a conceptual resurgence of ‘South Asia' -- especially as an outgrowth of ‘AfPak' -- could be accompanied by the conscious or subconscious rehyphenation of India and Pakistan, and the prolonged side-lining of other states in the region. As the anonymous genius behind the Twitter handle @majorlyp has caustically written:
Indians are Indians and Pakistanis when caught in tight situations (like in Airports) are Indians too. In other circumstances they are South Asians. Being "South Asian" offers many advantages. Such as an overwhelming numerical advantage.
Example: When faced with the question "Is radicalization a problem"? South Asians can reply with a straight face "Only 170 million, or less than 10% of the South Asians are radicalized". Which sounds entirely reasonable.
The author writes in somewhat cruel jest, of course, but like the best parody, there is more than a grain of uncomfortable truth in what he says. Will U.S. discourse related to South Asia come to be dominated by the problems of terrorism, Islamist extremism, nuclear proliferation, and anti-Americanism at the expense of the incredible opportunities and challenges associated with dynamic economic growth, raucous democracy, immense social and cultural diversity, and broad support for a U.S.-led international system? Let's hope not.
Dhruva Jaishankar is a transatlantic fellow with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @d_jaishankar.
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As I scrolled through my Inbox earlier this week for my daily news clippings from this blog, something seemed amiss. Instead of "AfPak Channel," the header read "South Asia Channel." An error I presumed. Scrolling down further, however, I realized the error was mine: "Next Monday, November 25, the AfPak Channel will be relaunched as the South Asia Channel" with the addition of "key stories and insights from India."
The notification got me thinking about the twists and turns in Washington's conception of South Asia over the past decade. Somewhere along the way "AfPak" had appeared. Due to the distortions it produced, the phrase has for some time now been winding its way into retirement. The 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan will give it the final push. AfPak will no doubt have plenty of company with "hearts and minds" and countless other pithy friends in Washington's little known Archives for Foreign Affairs Shorthands of Fleeting Value. Can't say I'll miss it.
I came to Washington ten years ago to work as an analyst in the Henry L. Stimson Center's South Asia program. Having grown up in Pakistan, I had actually never uttered the phrase "South Asia." The region to me was a simple, if tormented, duality: Pakistan and India. I discovered that in Washington, South Asia meant the same two players, and the issues boiled down to Kashmir, militancy, military, and nuclear issues. Afghanistan was relegated to its own war-torn limbo.
At the time, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were talking about peace between the two countries. Both have since fallen silent, with the former facing treason charges; between India's upcoming elections and Pakistan's unending turmoil, peace commands little attention in Delhi and Islamabad today. The United States was two years into the war in Afghanistan, yet the lens on South Asia was varied. Afghanistan was a policy imperative, but so was managing the Indo-Pak rivalry and the risk of nuclear escalation.
Those working on South Asia in Washington seemed to fall into two camps. The South Asia wallahs had spent decades working in and on the region, often with formal academic training. The Cold Warriors sought to apply lessons from a superpower rivalry to a relatively nascent nuclear dynamic on the subcontinent. They reflected the fluidity of functional analysts within the strategic community -- crossing boundaries while the regionalists remained in their lanes.
Soon enough, a new crop of functional analysts crossed over. They anchored their world views on a different issue: counterterrorism. Thereafter came "AfPak." The phrase traces back to the first year of the Obama administration and the tenure of the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Richard Holbrooke. A region that was once viewed as India-Pakistan, with Afghanistan on the margins, gave way to India on one hand and Afghanistan-Pakistan on the other.
With the change, India got its wish to be "de-hyphenated" from Pakistan. The Bush administration keenly helped facilitate this shift via a civil nuclear deal, in light of India's perceived strategic import in Asia. Meanwhile, AfPak eventually flipped to "PakAf" given deepening concerns about the various militant groups that were "veritable" arms of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the safety of its nuclear arsenal.
To be sure, AfPak helped focus attention on the war in Afghanistan after a misguided invasion in Iraq. It framed the theatre and the operational challenge posed by "safe havens" in Pakistan. Though Holbrooke espoused a wider view within its confines on forging a broader partnership with Pakistan that extended beyond kinetic issues, the diplomatic piece was and remains fluid, messy, and hard. As the war wore on, patience and imagination dried up. AfPak became shorthand for CT (counterterrorism) -- far too constricted a prism for the colors and complexities of the region.
The Obama administration eventually recognized the limits of the AfPak moniker itself; Islamabad made sure of it. Like Delhi, it had its own gripes about being lumped with its neighbor. Little wonder then that regional integration in South Asia is among the lowest in the world. Yet even as the phrase largely vanished from official public statements, it continued to periodically surface and, importantly, cast a shadow in Washington -- until now.
As the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan winds down by the end of 2014, AfPak is undergoing its own retrograde. The office that embodies the term, SRAP, will need to assess not whether but how and when to reintegrate within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
Think tanks in Washington are also rebooting their South Asia programs. Some are doing so in the pre-AfPak mold, others with variation. The Brookings Institution, for example, now has a stand-alone India program, focusing on politics and economics, as much as foreign policy -- kaleidoscope eyes on a potential Asian power. Along with and related to the shifting geopolitical winds are the interests of funders who share Washington's AfPak fatigue. Their weariness, however, cannot match that in the region whose "troubles" (to borrow from Northern Ireland) are likely to rage on.
Newer shorthands such as the "rebalance" or "pivot" to Asia have also provided a new prism with which to look on South Asia. A fresh crop of scholarship has arisen on how South Asia relates to the Asia-Pacific region, from the "Indo-Pacific" concept to Pakistan's role in the rebalance -- welcome efforts to think beyond traditional silos in an interconnected Asia.
The periodic reimagination of South Asia in Washington is as inevitable as it is easy to miss. We are in such a transition right now. So come next Monday, when the "South Asia Channel" pops up my Inbox, I will be fumbling a bit to figure out how all the pieces fit. So might you.
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. The views expressed are his own.
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On November 13, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual Afghanistan Opium Survey, which found that opium cultivation reached record levels in 2013, despite a decade of attempted counter-narcotics activities by U.S. and NATO forces. It also comes just a few weeks after NATO announced it will scale down its post-2014 troop commitments to Afghanistan.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan will conclude at the end of 2014, marking the end of the largest, most expensive, and most politically contentious mission in the alliance's history. The announcement reflects NATO members' eagerness to put the Afghan saga behind them, leaving only a small vanguard of trainers and advisers in place to oversee the transition. Yet Afghanistan's rampant drug trade, now at an all-time high, threatens to upend NATO's decade of fragile progress and mixed successes.
For over a decade, U.S. and NATO policymakers have struggled with the inconvenient truth that the insurgency in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the opium poppy trade. Opium poppy plants are hardy and durable, require little water, fetch a high market price once processed into heroin, and store without rotting, making them an ideal crop for Afghanistan's inchoate economy and arid mountain climate.
When U.S.-led ISAF forces initially entered Afghanistan in October 2001, they ignored the opium poppy fields, convinced that destroying a primary income source for many Afghans wouldn't earn them any local support. ISAF forces also elicited support from local Afghan warlords to combat insurgent groups with hundreds of millions of dollars. This flooded the Afghan money market, rapidly devaluing the already weak Afghan currency and prompting Afghans to put their money into the only safe and profitable investment in the Afghan economy: opium poppy farming. By 2003, when NATO assumed control of ISAF, Afghanistan's estimated opium income was $4.8 billion, compared with $2.8 billion in foreign aid.
Many U.S. policymakers eventually acknowledged the severity of the burgeoning drug trade problem in Afghanistan, but the diagnosis proved easier than treatment. Indiscriminate eradication, ISAF's next attempted strategy, failed miserably as it significantly undermined the coalition's popularity with Afghans who had no means of income outside opium poppy farming. Moreover, NATO forces could only eradicate the opium poppy fields in areas they controlled. By 2008, 98% of the poppy plants were cultivated in insurgent-controlled areas, and total poppy cultivation in Afghanistan grew to the point where the drug trade's potential export value constituted nearly 25% of the country's GDP.
One of the few positive outcomes from this failed policy was a slight improvement in NATO-Russia relations, as illustrated by the NATO-Russia Council's small Counter Narcotics Training Program (which today remains one of NATO's only formal initiatives tasked with addressing Afghanistan's drug trade). However, while this program represents a modest success story in the otherwise anemic NATO-Russia relationship, it is anchored in Russia's stubborn support for full-scale eradication policies, which stems from the widespread use of Afghan opiates and heroin in Russia.
The Obama administration took stock of these failures and transitioned to a strategy of selectively eradicating poppy farms that were linked to the Taliban, while simultaneously implementing "alternative livelihood efforts" for Afghan farmers. Yet poppies remain the most profitable crop available; farmers can earn up to $203 per kilogram of harvested opium, compared with $1.25 for a kilogram of harvested rice. Additionally, many Afghans doubt whether the alternative crop subsidies that currently counterbalance these price discrepancies will outlast ISAF's 2014 mission mandate.
While the selective eradication concept was promising, NATO provided no framework for its members to coordinate targeted eradication policies across their respective sectors of command. This led to a phenomenon known as "the balloon effect" -- if NATO forces effectively countered opium poppy production in one region, production would simply increase in another region.
All the while, drug money became a vital source of funding for the insurgents. By 2013, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that Afghan insurgent groups earned over $200 million annually from the drug trade. In the words of former ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus: "drug money has been the oxygen in the air that allows these groups to operate."
The unchecked drug trade dovetails Afghanistan's notorious and ossified corruption problems, which pose as large of a threat to Afghanistan's stability as the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made dramatic, but ultimately disingenuous, public promises to tackle corruption. In practice, he has perpetuated corruption and the drug problem through his internal political entanglements, affiliations, and dependencies. For example, Karzai's current anti-corruption czar, Izzatullah Wasifi, was once arrested for attempting to sell $2 million worth of heroin in Las Vegas (an act that Karzai waved off as a "youthful indiscretion"). Karzai vehemently counterattacks allegations of corruption, arguing that the bigger problem in Afghanistan is the corruption in ISAF contracts with private security firms. As this blame game continues, it risks undermining already feeble public confidence in Afghanistan's fledgling democratic institutions and poisoning the roots of Afghanistan's future.
Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for NATO to fully confront Afghanistan's opium poppy trade will likely close with its 2014 drawdown, especially now that NATO's post-2014 commitment represents only a modicum of its initial plans. However, NATO can still take a few relatively low-cost steps to at least curb Afghanistan's drug trade in the short-term, as it lacks the resources for a long-term effort.
The perennial first step is admitting the problem. NATO leaders have quietly acknowledged the dangerous drug trafficking problem Afghanistan faces without offering any real solutions, lest the alliance be labeled as the party in charge of ‘fixing' the drug problem while lacking the means and will to do so. However, after 2014, Afghanistan will take responsibility for its own security. When that happens, NATO will be on the sidelines, with more political breathing room to raise awareness for and offer suggestions to the Afghan government on the opium poppy trade.
Second, NATO can increase its financial and political investments in the Counter Narcotics Training Program, which has potential, but only if the alliance can convince Russia of the pitfalls of indiscriminate eradication. Counter-narcotics units are most effective when they are stringently vetted and highly trained with expert support. Afghanistan cannot produce such units without NATO funding and support.
Third, NATO can provide helicopters to support Afghanistan's counter-narcotics efforts, as they are the only viable way for counter-narcotics units to swiftly respond to and interdict drug traffickers in a mountainous country devoid of transportation infrastructure. As the U.S. Senate Drug Caucus concluded, "there is no end game capability in Afghanistan without the appropriate number of helicopters." As a corollary to interdiction efforts, NATO should leverage its integrated command structures, intelligence sharing capabilities, and well-established intelligence infrastructure in Afghanistan to support these counter-narcotics activities.
Finally, NATO needs to conduct an honest assessment of how the opium poppy trade impacted its own counterinsurgency. A NATO Counter-Narcotics Center of Excellence, a member-initiated and independent in-house think tank, offers one mechanism to provide the post-mortem on ISAF's failed drug policies and serve as NATO's institutional memory for its Afghan mission. As European Union forefather Jean Monet famously said, "the lessons of history are doomed to be forgotten unless they are embedded in institutions."
Though NATO members are reluctant to commit to costly long-term missions in the foreseeable future, the alliance has agreed to provide a residual force of trainers and advisers to the country under the auspices of Operation Resolute Support. Yet many of the threats that NATO's stability and reconstruction initiatives aimed to eliminate still persist. And for better or worse, NATO's reputation as a viable international security alliance is inextricably linked to Afghanistan. If NATO is ever pulled into another major operation, the world will look to Afghanistan as the benchmark for its successes and shortfalls.
NATO's announcement that it is scaling back its already sparse commitments to Afghanistan after 2014 does not augur well for efforts to curb the country's prevalent drug trade and record-high opium cultivation levels. Afghanistan's fate hangs in the balance, and the opium poppy plant may prove heavy enough to tip the scale against the full weight of NATO and a nascent Afghan democracy.
Robbie Gramer staffs the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. He can be reached via email at rgramer@AtlanticCouncil.org.
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Dan Markey, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Since President Obama took office in 2009, there have been several books published highlighting the deception, failures, and flaws of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Most of these books, such as Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, and David Sanger's Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power offer insider accounts of the U.S. and Pakistani political dynamics that made it so, with a particular focus on U.S. counterterrorism policies and the war in Afghanistan.
All of these texts open a window into Washington's thinking, infighting, and attempts to fix what has become America's most tortured relationship. Nasr talks about Pakistan's "frenemy" status with the United States and whether it is in the U.S. interest "to stress the friend part or the enemy part." Sanger elaborates on Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who as Chief of Army Staff "understood the American paranoia about a Pakistani meltdown, and he took advantage of it." Mazzetti gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the CIA's war in places like Pakistan was conceived as "a surgery without complications," but became a "way of the knife" that "created enemies just as it has obliterated them," fomenting "resentment among former allies and at times contribut[ing] to instability even as it has attempted to bring order to chaos."
While American policymaking in Pakistan remains haunted by the demons of the September 11th attacks, even older demons linger on the Pakistani side, among them the memory of U.S. sanctions, American pressure on its nuclear weapons program, and the CIA's reliance on Pakistan's covert support during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. During a 1995 Senate hearing, then-Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel described the discontent of the Pakistanis, explaining that: "the key impact of sanctions relief is not military or financial. The effect would be primarily in the political realm, creating a sense of faith restored and an unfairness rectified with a country and people who have been loyal friends of the United States over the decades."
Dan Markey's new book, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, heeds Raphel's comments and attempts to answer the perennial questions of the relationship: why do they hate us? How did it get so bad? What are America's options for future relations with Pakistan? Markey roots his analysis in French existentialism, of all things. In French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, "three sinners, all dead to the word" are subject to "eternal torment by each other," each both capable of and vulnerable to the punishment doled out by the others. Building on this idea, No Exit from Pakistan argues that while "Pakistan's leaders tend to be tough negotiators with high thresholds for pain, Washington can cut new deals and level credible threats to achieve U.S. goals. This is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit."
Markey spends a good portion of the book summarizing themes, issues, and events since 1947 that explain this mutual vulnerability and mutual gain between the United States and Pakistan. And he covers the full gamut: Cold War cooperation, sanctions, anti-Americanism, energy, trade, infrastructure development, India, China, the Musharraf years, demographics, youth culture, Afghanistan, the Osama bin Laden Raid, the list goes on.
As an introductory primer for understanding what ails the relationship, this approach is constructive, especially in understanding the U.S.-Pakistan dynamics since 9/11. Markey also writes with a directness and honesty that should be appreciated in the context of one of Washington's most sensitive relationships. He accuses the Pakistanis of being addicted to U.S. assistance dollars, while claiming "Washington's top policymakers felt a personal animus towards Pakistan."
Markey also rightly focuses on new political trends and ideas in Pakistani popular culture that have been largely ignored in other accounts of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as well as in the course of much of the policymaking in both countries. For example, when discussing Pakistani notions of abandonment and national honor, Markey highlights the nationalist anti-American sentiment that grew from nuclear sanctions both among the government and the Pakistani public. As a sign of progress, he notes the success of Pakistani pop band Beygairat Brigade, who released a video on YouTube in 2011 "with thinly veiled references to a wide cast of Pakistani xenophobes, religious extremists, and conspiracy theorists" with lyrics that "lampoon many of the notions associated with defending Pakistan's national pride."
Herein lies the strength of Markey's analysis - his acknowledgment of the grassroots efforts currently afoot that are trying to transform Pakistani politics. He identifies four complex and often contradictory identities of Pakistan: "the elite-dominated basket case," the "garrison state," a "terrorist incubator," and a "youthful idealist, teeming with energy and reform-minded ambition." Without this information, the casual observer of Pakistani politics can easily conclude that the government and its people are merely confused, duplicitous, careless - or all three.
It is hard to argue with the claim that knowing Pakistan is critical to understanding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. But what of the Pakistanis - do they not need to understand why the United States behaves the way it does? Markey's approach puts the entire onus on the Americans to understand how complex Pakistan can be.
While he does outline a comprehensive set of options for managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship - ranging from looking beyond Afghanistan, waiting until after 2014, "defensive isolation" which involves ending formal cooperation, to comprehensive cooperation - he fails to suggest which specific path the countries should take, or even how the United States and Pakistan might prioritize the management or mitigation of threats over time. Markey simply recommends that the solution for this troubled relationship is nothing other than "patient, sustained effort, not by way of quick fixes or neglect" and that "managing or mitigating threats over time is a more realistic expectation." But is he speaking for the United States, Pakistan, or both? It is not clear.
No Exit from Pakistan is more useful as a relationship management strategy than a policy prescription. But the United States and Pakistan seem to have already entered the realm of relationship management over disengagement. This proved true after a NATO cross-border strike in November 2011 at the Salala border post, where over 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. Pakistan closed NATO routes for nearly seven months and the United States delayed coalition support funds payments. The two countries eventually resumed dialogue after the brief period of disengagement with the tacit acknowledgement that they had gone too far, especially so close to the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Ultimately, No Exit from Pakistan introduces some uncomfortable questions about ownership and blame in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. On the one hand, Markey blames the basket case quality of Pakistan on the country's political elites, who "sent their children to private boarding schools while millions of other children never learned to read. Too many sipped cool cucumber soup even as their countrymen struggled to find safe drinking water." But on the other hand, he recognizes that the $1.5 billion-per-year U.S. assistance pledge, known as "Kerry-Lugar-Berman," "was not grounded in an assessment of specific Pakistani development needs or America's ability to meet them."
This is perhaps the true perennial question Markey has set out to answer - who is responsible for Pakistan's problems? He would agree that the United States and Pakistan share in the blame. The decades-long focus of the bilateral relationship on security assistance, militancy, covert activity, and proxy wars has left much unattended by way of development, economics, and stability. Likewise, in Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven pushes for the recognition that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan "has been responsible for increasing Islamist insurgency and terrorism since 2001." In Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes, it becomes acutely apparent whom and what is to blame. The book is a fictional account of the events leading up to the deaths of Pakistani military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq and American Ambassador Arnie Raphel in a C-130 plane crash in 1989. As they walk to the plane to enjoy a case of Pakistani mangoes, Zia says to Raphel: "Now we must put our heads together and suck national security."
The controversial writer Salman Rushdie tackled the same question from another angle in his 1983 work of fiction, Shame, which focuses on internal politics in Pakistan and relations between the East and West. Rushdie writes:
Wherever I turn, there is something of which to be ashamed. But shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture...you can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more. And everyone is civilized.
Rushdie's final reminder is simply: "Shame, dear reader, is not the exclusive property of the East."
While the anguish of Sartre's No Exit resonates strongly with the current psychology of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Rushdie's commentary on shame is a much stronger parallel. It too recognizes that both countries pursue their own interests even as they inflict harm upon themselves and each other. But it focuses on a much more embarrassing aspect of the mutual vulnerability: the fact that the harm, which has become so prevalent, is unacknowledged. Yet both move forward together because, as Markey says, "this is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit," even though there is much to be ashamed about.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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Matt Zeller, Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan (Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, 2012).
Ben Anderson, No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan (Oxford: One World Publications, 2011).
Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
As the U.S. military reels from budgetary battles and withdraws from Afghanistan, commentators offer post-mortem after post-mortem on counter-insurgency (COIN) - an ambitious operational concept-cum-strategy hoisted on its own petard in Afghanistan. These sundry writers - including military officers, scholars, bloggers, and talking heads - have collectively sought, in the words of one blogger "to fire a few shotgun rounds into the recently buried corpse of population-centric counterinsurgency to prevent it from rising again." The specter of the Vietnam Syndrome has become flesh once more, and now the U.S. military plans, or attempts to plan, what form it will take in the decades to come. That is what the COIN debate has always been about - not Iraq or Afghanistan, but the future of the U.S. military.
It is likely that the outcome of this struggle will have a far greater impact on the United States and the world than America's strategic defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, not only is it unfortunate that these debates are not more rooted in the theatres in which these conflicts have taken place, it is very typically American. Contravening Clausewitz, the COIN debate proceeds as if war can be divorced from policy and politics; as if the organization, training, and equipping of the U.S. armed forces can take place apart from the aims to which and the places where these forces will be applied.
It is in this context that the books reviewed here all have considerable value, showcasing different perspectives of the Afghan campaign during its most crucial and resource-intensive years: the experience of an American soldier, a brave journalist covering the war for years, and a political officer coming to know his district and its history with an uncommon intimacy.
Matt Zeller's Watches Without Time provides a moving portrait of the war in Ghazni province through the author's eyes as a young lieutenant struggling to make sense of the war around him. The book is a collection of letters, reflections, and diary entries on everything from combat to working with the Afghan National Security Forces to the journey home. If anyone is wondering what it is like to go to war, read this book. It is packed with drama, excitement, fear, humor, and heartbreak. More importantly, it contains incisive observations about Afghan society from a young man trying to understand the war around him. His brief anecdotes and explanations of political corruption and the performance of the Afghan National Police are worth the price alone.
Of the many journalists who have covered the war in Afghanistan, Ben Anderson is one of the most impressive. His book, No Worse Enemy, which informed his excellent 2013 documentary with Vice, "This Is What Winning Looks Like," spans 2007 to 2011 and covers his time with the British Army and the U.S. Marine Corps as they struggle to pacify Afghanistan's deadliest province, Helmand. As a military outsider, Anderson struggles to make sense of the British and American militaries as much as he tries to understand the war in Afghanistan, thus making No Worse Enemy an interesting companion read to Zeller's insider account. Anderson is at his strongest when his narrative illustrates the complexity of telling friend from foe and right from wrong in a country where such distinctions are hopelessly blurred. He concludes that, if he were Afghan, he "certainly wouldn't be picking sides." He continues:
If someone built me a school or repaired my mosque, I would undoubtedly smile, shake their hand, maybe even make them a cup of tea or pose for a photograph. But this would be simple pragmatism. It would not mean I offered them my loyalty, much less that I had rejected the Taliban. The nature and detail of this pragmatism is entirely lost on idealistic foreign commanders.
This critique cuts to the heart of the series of assumptions that are often grouped under the misnomer of "counterinsurgency theory." If one cannot truly "clear" an area of the insurgency because the difference between a guerrilla and a disgruntled farmer is far from obvious, and one cannot effectively "hold" an area because the Afghan police are abusive and ineffective and Western forces rotate every six months (as in the case of the British and the U.S. Marines), or "build" in a "held" area because the government is alternatively venal, corrupt, and disinterested, what can Western counter-insurgents really accomplish in Afghanistan that will endure? Through their engaging portraits of the campaign in the south, Anderson and Zeller confront these contradictions head on.
But one cannot truly understand the war unless one understands Afghan history, especially on a very local level. Carter Malkasian, also in Helmand, clearly mastered these details. While all three books are excellent, War Comes to Garmser stands above the rest. The term "instant classic" long ago achieved cliché-status by being applied to middling works - much like the word "brilliant" has lost its luster by being applied to average people - but War Comes to Garmser truly became a classic as soon as it was put on store shelves. It will be one of a small number of books on Afghanistan to be published in the last 12 years that will be read for decades to come, and demands to be consulted if the United States ever again dispatches its forces to a faraway land to embroil itself in an internal war.
Malkasian's book, a history of Garmser through the prism of conflict, begins centuries ago. As someone who has also worked at the local level in Helmand, I can assure you it is no exaggeration to say that you must go this far back in order to truly understand the dynamics of the current conflict. He narrates the tribal and factional dynamics as they developed over the decades, alternately forged and fragmented through war, until his own more recent labors as a State Department political advisor working with the U.S. Marines. Malkasian - who is currently advising Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the Commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force - is something of a folk hero among Afghan hands. He learned Pashto, achieved an unmatched understanding of his district, admirably violated State Department security strictures in order to go where he needed to go and speak with whom he needed to speak.
Gen. Larry Nicholson - who knew Malkasian from his time commanding the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Task Force Leatherneck, in Helmand - memorably said:"We need a Carter Malkasian in every district of Afghanistan." But to say that is to draw the wrong lesson from both his book and the conflict. While it is true that we cannot understand (and therefore cannot be effective) without understanding what I call "micro-conflicts" - the localized, enduring conflicts and rivalries driving politics within the Afghan government and the larger insurgency - and that Malkasian understood them as deeply as any outsider could, this level of understanding alone could not illuminate the nature of the Afghan campaign.
This campaign, as Anderson vividly depicts, rests its "success" on empowering a government and security forces that behave monstrously and feed the problems they are funded to defeat. Which brings me back to my main argument: when a military campaign is so disconnected from politics that it cannot succeed without exacerbating the true political problem - in this case the Afghan government - it matters not how many Carter Malkasians we have or how "good" our military becomes at counterinsurgency.
Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for National Interest in Washington, DC. He is the editor-in-chief of the web magazine War on the Rocks. In 2010-2011, he worked as a social scientist on a human terrain team in central Helmand province. You can follow him on Twitter @EvansRyan202.
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Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first official visit to the United States since being elected by a strong majority to serve his third term in office. The word from the White House is that the bilateral relationship is back on track, and the Prime Minister's public address supports that conclusion. While Sharif continued to condemn U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions -- remarks that may have prompted the leak to the Washington Post of documents implicating at least some Pakistan government officials in secretly endorsing the program -- he also expressed a desire for cooperation on critical issues such as increased trade and foreign investment in Pakistan, cooperation with India, and a willingness to pursue difficult reforms outlined in the recent loan package from the International Monetary Fund. In exchange for the Prime Minister's willingness to play nice, the United States government released $1.6 billion in military assistance to Pakistan that had been held up since 2011.
A renewal of military aid will, for the time being, shore up the relations between Washington and Islamabad. But military aid will not help Pakistan deal with the daunting development challenges it faces: the loss of its territorial integrity to the Taliban and other groups; the rise of sectarian conflict; high youth unemployment; ongoing power blackouts; underfunded health and schooling services; potentially catastrophic water problems and agricultural losses to soil salinization; and a hopelessly low level of tax revenue for the state to address these challenges.
So what about economic development aid, which continued to flow over the last two years as envisioned in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill)? Washington reported real progress in the aid program toward achieving important medium term goals, but U.S. economic aid, even at 10 times the current levels, cannot serve as a substitute for the decisions and political will the civilian government of Pakistan needs to provide -- whether increasing energy tariffs to attract desperately needed investment in the power sector, or raising and collecting taxes on the country's small but powerful elite.
One point of economic aid is to enable the United States to work alongside Pakistan's civilian government in tackling its considerable challenges, working as a partner and building the sense of shared understanding and trust that can spill over into cooperation on more sensitive security and anti-terrorism issues. That is the vision Richard Holbrooke, the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had, and we believe it is a vision that can still animate the U.S. approach.
Though the current aid program is handicapped by U.S. government mandates to track money instead of results, red tape, security constraints on U.S. staff working in Pakistan, and the difficulty of shifting management of programs from U.S. contractors to local Pakistani institutions, it can be fixed. At least equally, if not more, important, the United States has other tools in its development toolbox beyond traditional aid. These include mechanisms that facilitate trade, such as providing duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, and unleashing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to encourage private investment in the country's small and medium-sized enterprise sector and its beleaguered energy sector.
U.S. officials are already deploying some of these tools, but to ensure they constitute a coherent development program rather than a haphazard set of projects, we recommend that the State Department and the government of Pakistan establish a formalized Development Dialogue. This should be a discrete component of the Strategic Dialogue Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to host by March 2014. Discussions could focus on ways to forge a long-term partnership between Pakistan's civilian government and the U.S. government, including but going well beyond traditional aid.
To use the marriage metaphor often invoked to describe the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a Development Dialogue could help build the resilience that any healthy marriage needs to withstand life's trials and tribulations. It could bolster the countries' vows to work together in good times and in bad by insulating the development agenda from often competing security and diplomatic objectives. And if successful, it could lead to more times of health and fewer times of sickness -- both for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the people of Pakistan.
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. From 1993 to 1998, she was executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank and previously served 14 years in research, policy, and management positions, including director of the Policy Research Department, at the World Bank.
Alexis Sowa is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development focused on the organization's ongoing work on Pakistan and contributing to the Oil-to-Cash initiative. She has worked as a governance advisor in Liberia with the Africa Governance Initiative and as a program and policy manager at Malaria No More UK where she identified, developed, and managed investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
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The assassination of Amanullah Aman, the Chief Election Officer of Afghanistan's Kunduz province, in September should be taken seriously, as it could mark the beginning of a devastating terror campaign targeting election workers that could potentially paralyze next April's presidential elections. One day after the incident, the Taliban kidnapped two low-level election workers in the other northern province of Faryab. Combined, these events sent a chilling message to election workers across the country and raised alarms about the changing tactics of insurgents for derailing the elections.
An inclusive and transparent election, which is key to creating legitimate results, plays a vital role for the future of Afghanistan. A legitimate election will not only guarantee the first peaceful political transition from one elected leader to another in Afghanistan's history, it will also harden the entrenchment of the roots of Afghanistan's young democracy and political order. More importantly it will increase existential threats against the violent militants and thus will increase hopes for future peace talks with the Taliban. Conversely, any failure to hold proper elections will pose serious challenges to Afghanistan's stability, and will boost the position and rhetoric of the Taliban and other extremist groups who have been relentlessly sabotaging democratic processes.
The Taliban and their benefactors understand the critical nature of the elections and in all probability will spare no acts and means of subversion to sabotage the process. The assassination of Aman, for which the Taliban took responsibility, most likely demonstrates a new tactic of the militants, which is targeting election workers. To make this message clear, the Taliban boasted about the incident onTwitter and declared to the media that they will kill anyone involved in the elections.
In previous elections, Taliban focused on intimidating the public to prevent them from voting. But their disruptive tactics failed to produce the desired outcome. People voted, in spite of the threats that even included chopping off voters' fingers. This failed strategy, combined with the fact that the significant reduction of international troops will add to the security challenges than in the 2009 presidential elections, may have led the Taliban to change their tactic, switching their focus from the public to the election officials.
Noor Ahmad Noor, one of the spokespersons for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), told the media that during the previous elections, the Taliban did not explicitly threaten election workers and that IEC officials were not singled out. He added that prior to the Aman incident, there had been no attacks on commission staff for the past two years.
According to Farid Afghanzai, another senior IEC official, Aman spent the last 10 years of his life organizing elections in the country's north, and he managed four elections in the area: three in Kunduz province and one in Badakhshan province. He added that Aman was respected by all ethnic groups in the provinces and it will be almost impossible to find another person as professional, capable, and widely respected as he was.
Afghan election officials have long been complaining about the lack of adequate security for their staff and the public at the voting sites. Just one day before Aman's assassination, Mohammad Yosuf Nooristani, chairman of the IEC, told reporters that the security of his colleagues was his biggest worry. He also said that 259 of the nearly 7,000 polling centers were currently beyond the government's control.
This is a serious challenge for the elections. The primary concern is that Afghan security forces, considering the nature of the attacks of the insurgents and the tough geography of Afghanistan, will find it difficult to secure all electoral sites and electoral workers, particularly the mobile teams operating in remote areas. Furthermore, the planned reduction of NATO troops in the run-up to the elections will inadvertently increase the security challenge and make it more difficult to create a safe voting environment.
Inadequate security for election officials should be considered a serious threat to the political transition by both the Afghan government and Afghanistan's international partners, especially in light of the recent targeting of electoral workers. To combat this threat, the Afghan government needs to use all of its resources to secure the election process, and the United States should tailor its troop reduction strategy based on the security need on the ground. The United States should also support the Afghan security forces by placing limited troop reinforcements along Afghanistan's borders around election time to prevent the heavy infiltration of terrorists. Furthermore, the US and its allies should put pressure on the Pakistani fouj (Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment) to check Taliban infiltrations into Afghanistan around polling day just as it did in response to similar pressure from the Bush administration in the 2004 presidential elections. After all, successful elections will play a definitive role in shaping the results of 12 years of U.S and coalition partners' sacrifice and investment in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, both the Afghan government and its international supporters need to consistently communicate their adamant support for holding elections no matter what security threats exist. This will help boost the morale of Afghan voters and will weaken the psychological effect of the fear campaign of the Taliban.
"We don't have any other choice but to have elections" is the most common sentiment voiced by Afghans of all walks of life. Next year's elections in particular need to be considered a sacred mission in Afghanistan, as they are not only necessary for strengthening democracy, but also a major step in marginalizing violent extremists. Current President Hamid Karzai, who recently said that "holding successful elections will help foil the plot of Afghanistan's enemies" - a term often used when referring to the Taliban and their foreign backers - realizes the importance of the situation. However, the upcoming elections pose the biggest imperative to president Karzai to demonstrate decent statesmanship and would enable him to preside over a historic transfer of power. Taking the threat to election officers seriously is a crucial step in guaranteeing a secure and legitimate election.
Najib Sharifi is a founding member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness (A3), a Kabul-based think tank.
Dear Mr. President:
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting with you on Wednesday with high expectations. He is a pragmatic business-oriented politician with a powerful electoral base who has shown magnanimity and deftness in allowing opposition parties to form governments in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, and he backed the election of a nationalist Baloch as the chief minister in Baluchistan. While this could be seen as a policy of sharing the misery of trying to govern an ungovernable Pakistan, it could also be an attempt to work within a fractured political system. Regardless, he represents a chance to provide continuity for civilian governance in Pakistan and to build a relationship that goes beyond our immediate need to exit Afghanistan gracefully.
On Afghanistan, his advisors, both civil and military, will have told him that we need them badly; Pakistan tends to overestimate its leverage on such security issues. You will have likely been told by many yourself that we can get the Pakistanis to yield, if only we tighten the screws on them -- militarily via our aid program and the use of drone strikes, and economically via threats to withhold assistance directly or from international financial institutions.
We already have some credit on the latter. Pakistan has a new loan package with the International Monetary Fund, that we supported, though it remains to be seen if they will be able to deliver on the tough policy shifts they have to make to sustain the loan. This type of international financial support is an easier way for us to help or squeeze Pakistan without bringing Congress into the game.
As for the game itself, we can play the short game, focusing primarily on Afghanistan. In that case, making smoother payments from the Coalition Support Fund, and replacing Pakistan's heavily-used military materiel will help. Closer collaboration in helping them target their local Taliban fighters would also win points and cooperation.
Or, we could go for the long game and broaden our influence beyond the central government to the business community and the people of Pakistan. Large numbers of Pakistanis hate the United States because they have seen us support unpopular leaders, both civil and military, in the past. Sharif, a popular and business-oriented leader, appears to have the right instincts on a number of issues. He favors trade over aid, and he favors open borders with his neighbors. We could directly assist him by lowering the tariff rates on Pakistani imports, especially those on textiles -- at least to the level of European countries which have already given Pakistan that concession. Call it a level-playing field. At worst, you will lose South Carolina. But we will bring the emerging and powerful Pakistani business community to our side. In turn, it will help Sharif make the case domestically for open trade with India. You could also use quiet diplomacy with India to help it work things out with Pakistan on trade and border issues while waiting for the next Indian elections in spring 2014.
We also have a substantial proportion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds that have not yet been disbursed and though that aid program ends next year, you could extend it for another two years without seeking additional monies and thus use the full $7.5 billion that has been allocated. Though this is not a huge amount when compared with Pakistan's needs, the symbolic value would be substantial.
Currently, Sharif is personally running the foreign, commerce, and defense ministries -- a tall order for any prime minister. But it allows us to deal with him on a wide range of issues at the highest level. His energy ministers are already working with our key officials and even intelligence collaboration exists, regardless of the underlying mistrust. If we can avoid looking for an obvious quid pro quo in the short run, we may be able to help the Pakistanis also play the long game.
In short, we may be able to do business with Sharif. Recall that he did help President George H. W. Bush with Somalia in the early 1990s.
You will have only a short time with him on Wednesday. Instead of having him recite his grievances, it might be better to have him define a path for the future that helps both countries, and offer to help strengthen his position at home as a result. He will get that. You do not get to be prime minister of Pakistan for a record third time without such smarts. Trust him. But tell him you will verify his moves once he gets home.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
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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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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's memories of Washington cannot be pretty. He was last in town in July 1999, when he met then-President Bill Clinton to discuss the escalation of tensions amongst India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir, an area long disputed between the two neighbors. Four months later, Sharif was out of a job.
Sharif's own Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, initiated the coup that led to his ouster after Sharif pulled troops out of Kargil -- at Clinton's urging -- to avoid any further escalation. His entrée into the "military's space" by initiating these troop withdrawals ultimately led to his downfall.
This time around, Sharif is in a much stronger position politically. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, dominates the National Assembly as a result of its landslide victory in the May elections earlier this year. The military, a perpetual thorn in the side of the civilian government, is showing no visible signs of getting in Sharif's way for the time being. The government is about to receive a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to breathe life back into the country's economy. Sharif's economic team seems to be making all the right noises on other aspects of economic reform, mainly in the privatization of state-owned steel mills and railways, as well as improvements in the energy sector.
This week, Sharif is in Washington, where he will meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday for an official visit at the White House. Meeting with Obama is typically a sign of strength for foreign leaders back home, but in Pakistan, the American president is so unpopular that Sharif wins no domestic brownie points for the meeting. In fact, it could hurt Sharif or be used against him. When he returns to Pakistan, any dramatic moves on security issues could be construed as a response to American pressure, real or not.
Furthermore, the strengths of Sharif's government are irrelevant under the current circumstances, especially on the issues the United States cares about the most. While his engagements with the American business and development communities will be more positive, Sharif will face "hard messages" from Obama and other American officials that won't be as easily answered. Among many issues, high on the White House's agenda will be the drawdown in Afghanistan, the lingering al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan, the recent uptick in tensions with India, and everlasting concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. High on Pakistan's agenda will be pushing for an end to CIA drone strikes, asking for continued assistance in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and seeking more information on NATO's plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
If it sounds like nothing's changed, that's because it hasn't. A combination of patronage, pressure, and mixed messages has always defined U.S.-Pakistan relations. In December 1998, when Sharif traveled to Washington at Clinton's invitation, security concerns at the time centered on India and nonproliferation. When President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington in January 2011 for the memorial service of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard C. Holbrooke, he was lucky Obama even met with him. Some American policy advisors at the time seriously questioned Pakistan's willingness to disrupt the Taliban, viewing the country's "double game" with the militants as reason enough to deny Zardari an audience with Obama.
While military ruler-turned-president Pervez Musharraf received a much warmer reception in Washington during his 2006 trip, he too faced the music when dealing with American officials on Pakistan's relations with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and its nuclear weapons program. Another military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, probably enjoyed the highest level of American patronage in the history of Pakistani leaders -- the result of his covert cooperation with the United States in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. But during his 1980 visit to Washington, even Zia faced pressure from the Carter administration to give up Islamabad's secretly expanding nuclear program.
Given the trends, it is apparent that Sharif will have the same kind of trip every other Pakistani leader to the United States has had: beset with unrealistic expectations in Washington and Islamabad; a scramble for "deliverables" identifying progress in the relationship; disappointment that the White House did not grant the Pakistanis the coveted "state visit;" mixed messages on both sides about how "hard" and "soft" the talking points were; and an underlying cynicism questioning the existence of the "unholy alliance" between the two countries. In all fairness, the same circumstances apply when American officials travel to Pakistan.
It is easy to get excited at the prospect of high-level engagements; such visits offer a potential pivot moment for bilateral relationships going through difficult times. We all know how badly the United States and Pakistan need a pivot, but the two countries may have already moved beyond that point. The visit occurs at a time when the countries have initiated a period of more subdued, private, and pragmatic engagement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Pakistan in August was an initial attempt to "open a new chapter" in the relationship. The recent release of $1.6 billion in military and economic aid was possible because "ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again." And while the recent decreased frequency of drone strikes does not appear to be coordinated, it probably doesn't hurt.
This new tone and approach can be helped along by strong diplomatic ties at the highest levels of government -- a condition that has been lacking in both U.S. and Pakistani policymaking circles for several years. Sharif's visit to Washington this week gives both him and Obama an opportunity to formally begin a professional relationship that could do just that.
But as in all things U.S. and Pakistan, a heavy dose of reality is recommended. The two countries face many potential pitfalls as they look towards 2014 when NATO departs Afghanistan, and high-level diplomacy alone cannot ensure that Pakistan and the United States successfully avoid them. Coordination between American and Pakistani militaries, intelligence services, diplomats, and development specialists will also be in demand; engagement on many of these fronts is still recovering from the conflicts of the past two years, whether it be the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis incident, or the cross-border incident at Salala. At the least, the Sharif-Obama discussion will offer a taste of what challenges lay ahead and one way to engage on them.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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In an historic moment this weekend, Pakistan's two-term army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani announced that he would retire at the end of November after six years at the helm. An official later stated that Kayani would not seek any other job after retirement, putting an end to speculation in Pakistan that Kayani may stay on in another perhaps more powerful role. This marks a necessary transition in the slow return to the supremacy of the elected civilian government over the military that has dominated decision making in Pakistan for the past 13 plus years, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's first government was overthrown by a coup on behalf of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. But the road ahead for Pakistan's political evolution remains difficult, as stunted civilian institutions struggle to assert themselves in the face not only of lingering military power, but also a massive internal militancy and potentially hot borders on both Pakistan's East (with India) and West (with Afghanistan). While this is a start, a number of other transitions are needed for Pakistan to regain its stability. Kayani may be gone, but military influence in the country remains powerful. His successor as army chief would do well to keep it on a downward trajectory.
Kayani, a graduate of the command and staff college at Fort Leavenworth, was the first head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate to become army chief. He is also the last army chief to have fought in a full-fledged war, with perennial rival India in 1971. His U.S. training often led U.S. leaders to mistakenly assume that he was "pro-American," most notably former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who made 26 visits to Pakistan to with meet Kayani during his tenure as chairman. Mullen also penned an over-the-top paen to Kayani for TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People" issue in 2009, calling Kayani "a man with a plan." However, Mullen ended that relationship in 2011 on Capitol Hill with a scathing attack that described the anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban Haqqani Network as a "veritable arm of the ISI." Mullen, like others, had made the mistake of assuming that Kayani would bury his strong nationalism in favor of meeting U.S. goals in the region, even after Kayani had made it clear that he did not think the United States had a clearly defined strategy for Afghanistan or the region and hedged his bets accordingly.
At home, Kayani tried to act as a political umpire between often-warring political parties, resisting the temptation to intercede or take over when they got into seemingly intractable feuds. In 2009, for instance, he prevented a major crisis during the Pakistan Peoples Party government of then-President Asif Ali Zardari when then-opposition leader Sharif led a "long march" into Islamabad to restore the ousted chief justice, admitting to a visitor: "I could have taken over then but did not." Kayani stayed his hand for six years, but some powerful negatives have also marked his two-term stint.
Within the army itself, Kayani fostered unhappiness, especially among the younger officers, when he accepted a second three-year term from Zardari in 2010. The gap between him and his senior officers also widened. His newestcorps commanders are some 17 courses junior to him at the Pakistan Military Academy, a veritable lifetime in military circles. And the disastrous 2011 killing of two Pakistani civilians by Raymond Davis in Lahore, followed by the U.S. raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, the attack on the Pakistani border post at Salala, and the subsequent closing of the ground line of communications for the coalition in Afghanistan tarnished Kayani's tenure. He had to face angry young officers at the National Defence University after the Abbottabad raid, and some senior officers were critical of his management style, saying that he reflected a paradoxical desire to be close but to retain a cool aloofness. As a result, Kayani kept his cards very close to his chest and relied on a handful of key colleagues to keep him informed of developments inside the army.
During this time, the ISI also came under severe criticism with accusations that it had overstepped legal boundaries in its pursuit of critics, including journalist Saleem Shahzad who was killed after publishing critical articles of the military's dealings with militants. Separately, Kayani announced an inquiry, but did not share the results of the investigation, into the videotaped killings of unarmed, bound, and blindfolded captives during the counter militancy campaign in Swat.
But for all of the criticism, the ISI appeared to gain greater strength during Kayani's term as army chief. Instead of becoming a policy-neutral intelligence agency, it came to be more of a policymaking body. If the post-Kayani transition is to take hold, the role of the ISI will need to be re-examined and reduced, and its relationship as a multi-service institution (rather than as a fief of the army alone) should be reshaped with civilian authorities. Sharif must take the lead in selecting the head of the ISI and also demand regular intelligence briefings, while resisting the urge to ask for policy advice or implementation. He must also regain control of a Defence Ministry that is heavily dominated by retired military officers. The challenge for Sharif will be to find capable civilians, starting with a full-time Defence Minister, who can make defense-related decisions, rather than trying to manage the ministry himself.
Kayani made history by averting a coup and supporting the return of civilian rule. Sharif could make history by regaining control of the country's polity. He must begin by exercising his constitutional prerogative to select the next Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff and the head of Pakistan's army. He has a choice among capable three-stars, one of whom will have to provide strong and inspiring leadership for an army that has suffered the ravages of continuous insurgency and militancy for over a decade.Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within
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It is past time to shed the illusion that talks with the Afghan Taliban can result in a grand bargain that somehow resolves the Afghan conflict. The belief that there is, after all, nothing to lose in trying to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table is misguided. Three years of continuing American attempts to get talks going have had consequences that are anything but benign. These efforts have diverted attention from needed domestic reforms; undermined confidence in the critical economic, political, and security transitions underway with the departure of U.S. and other NATO forces; and harmed prospects for a viable Afghan state after 2014.
The damage accruing from mostly wishful thinking about reaching a comprehensive settlement with the insurgents is widely evident. It has planted doubts about American intentions and further strained Washington's testy relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai and his close advisors have interpreted American diplomatic initiatives as deliberately sidelining the Kabul government's participation in negotiations. Fears that the United States and Pakistan are working in tandem to strike a deal with the Taliban that would divide up Afghanistan have also worsened Kabul's already acrimonious relations with Islamabad. The Karzai government's own peace initiatives have also intensified differences with Pakistan, which is accused of blocking Taliban participation in talks. Karzai's recent visit with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while cordial, is unlikely to end those suspicions.
But the most destructive fallout from the ill-founded prospect of a negotiated peace with the insurgency has been its effect on the Afghan people, only a minor fraction of who support the Taliban's return. The possibility that the Taliban might once again wield power has exacerbated ethnic tensions within Afghanistan. In particular, the country's northerners detect what they believe to be a Pakistani solution that cedes the south and east to the Taliban, who are then thought certain to make a bid for power over the entire country.
Overall, the possibility of a Taliban return to power has spread confusion among Afghans and intensified hedging strategies beyond those already occasioned by the withdrawal of foreign forces. Local and foreign economic investment has dried up, and the flight of human and physical capital has accelerated. Afghans in the provinces and districts, many ambivalent in their loyalties, have greater reason to distance themselves from Kabul. While Afghan leaders keep pursuing a political outcome, the country's security forces are being asked to take greater risks against the insurgency.
The allure of a political settlement in Afghanistan for the United States and others is, perhaps, understandable. With an outright military victory against the Taliban unlikely in the foreseeable future and an insurgency that faces great difficulty in overrunning the country, it is tempting to conclude that both sides are ready for a negotiated peace. A power-sharing agreement would presumably avoid further conflict and the high probability of a protracted civil war. Talks hold out the promise that with the Taliban and its allies joining a political process, a stable, inclusive Afghan government could emerge. Necessary compromises might shift the country in a more conservative religious direction, but an agreement, it would be hoped, could preserve the core of the Afghan constitution and protect the social and economic gains of the last 12 years. Certainly the Afghan people are anxious to see an end to 35 years of almost continuous warfare.
For departing coalition forces, a political solution would avoid testing the ability of the Afghan security forces to fend off the insurgency. By fostering an agreement, the United States and its allies could be absolved of the criticism that they will desert the Afghan people. Despite all they have failed to accomplish, these countries could say that the years of military involvement were justified by having laid the groundwork for a durable peace.
Afghanistan's neighbors also see the attractions of a political outcome as they all fear the uncertainties of a civil war that might follow the withdrawal of foreign troops. None would welcome an outright Taliban military victory that might spill extremist ideas and militants across their borders. Even Pakistan recognizes the possible gains from a political accord, albeit one that promotes its interests. Although it firmly backed Taliban efforts to wrest full power in Afghanistan until 2001, that was before Pakistan had to contend with a radical Islamic insurgency of its own.
Yet all of the various back channels employed by the United States to get the Taliban to start negotiating have only revealed that they have no strong incentive to stop fighting. The more tireless the U.S. efforts to get a peace process going, the seemingly more convinced the insurgents are of American desperation, and the more they believe their current strategies are working. While those in the West may doubt that there is a military solution, the insurgents apparently still believe in one.
Supposedly among an increasingly divided Taliban leadership there are those who favor holding peace talks, but even these alleged pragmatists offer little hope for serious negotiations. Privately they have made it clear that their side will not agree to a ceasefire and disarming, or accede to many of the basic principles of the constitution. The Taliban have shown no interest in negotiating directly with the Karzai government, and it is doubtful that they would accept the presence of any foreign military personnel in the country post 2014. The Taliban representatives who opened a political office in Doha proved to be mainly interested in winning the release of the group's prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in gaining legitimacy for the insurgency.
It is high time that the United States and its partners stop believing that there exists a shortcut to ending the Afghan conflict and a clear path for a graceful exit. The United States should instead concentrate its remaining resources and influence in the country on working with the Afghan government to improve its governance, development, and security forces. There may indeed be a political outcome in Afghanistan, but only when elements of the insurgency, seeing that the state is here to stay, conclude that time is not on their side and their grievances are best addressed within the system. Such a peace is likely to be realized through the gradual reintegration of insurgents in hundreds of small agreements across the country, not around a negotiating table in Doha or anywhere else.
Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. He served as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003.
Assertions and opinions in this editorial are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.
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When I catch myself wondering about Pakistan's future, I am reminded of an old man I saw standing on the side of Mall Road in Lahore one hot summer evening last year. He stood there all by himself in the sweltering heat, dressed in a suit, holding up a sign that read: "We want Jinnah's Pakistan back." Watching him stand there, I found myself swept away in a moment of deep sadness - his message resonated with my own yearning for a better Pakistan, my own deep-seated desire to believe that Jinnah's dream of a prosperous Pakistan meant something. I later found out that the man had been involved in Pakistan's struggle for independence. He had fought for Pakistan in 1947 and he was clinging to the belief that his struggle had not been for nothing, that Jinnah's dream was still worth fighting for.
Today is August 14, the same day when 66 years ago Pakistan gained its independence and came into existence with the passionate words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who promised a new beginning:
"If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make."
Jinnah's promise of a Pakistan where caste, color, and creed did not divide people resonated after the bloodbath that had followed the subcontinent's partition. The horrific stories that accompanied the birth of the new state have been well-documented: trains full of bloodied corpses pulling up to stations, women in some villages begging to be killed to avoid being raped by rioters, neighbors slaughtering each other, and widespread rape and killing in what seemed like frenzied madness. In all, half a million people died and 10 million were displaced, a tragedy of momentous proportions that India and Pakistan struggled to deal with.
Sadat Hassan Manto beautifully captures the sense of deep angst, confusion and dislocation that partition created in his famous story Toba Tek Singh. Old identities were thrown into question and new ones were created as people found themselves separated from their lands, their homes, and their families with siblings on different sides of the same border. To some Pakistanis, Jinnah's words offered hope and solace in the aftermath of what became one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.
Yet the birth of the new state of Pakistan was not greeted with joy by many who found themselves, almost overnight, citizens of that state. The movement behind the formation of Pakistan was largely led by Muslims from the Muslim-minority regions of India, such as the United Provinces. This Muslim elite did not represent the views of the Muslim majority provinces that later became a part of Pakistan; in fact, the Muslim League had a very limited grass-roots presence in India's Muslim-majority provinces. Moreover, ethnic and religious tensions emerged quickly after partition. Baloch nationlists, for example, trace some of their grievances back to these early years, arguing that Jinnah had promised autonomy to the Khan of Kalat, ruler of the princely state of Kalat, now Balochistan, but had later forced the Khan to later accede unconditionally to Pakistan. Kashmir became an issue of lasting contention between India and Pakistan, which remains unresolved to this day. Both countries also faced the formidable task of resettling the millions of migrants who had crossed the border at partition.
While Pakistan faced considerable challenges from the very beginning, especially in terms of creating a sense of nationhood out of its diverse regions, there was enough hope surrounding the new state that Jinnah could speak of looking forward to "Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world." The real tragedy of Pakistan is that a mere 66 years later, it is now labeled the "most dangerous nation" in the world rather than one of the greatest nations. But how could things have gone so very wrong in less than seven decades?
This is a question that most Pakistanis have to grapple with today. It hangs heavy in the air during the horrifying aftermath of suicide blasts, sectarian violence, confrontations between the Pakistani military and militants, and separatist violence in Baluchistan. It is a question that plagues the growing population of Pakistanis who cannot get adequate security, clean drinking water, electricity, access to education, proper health care, and affordable food.
And yet this question resists any straightforward answers, with Pakistan's problems often blamed on a wide variety of things, including its problematic relationship with its Islamic identity, the history of military rule, incompetent leadership and bad decisions, President Zia-ul Haq's Islamization reforms, the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan's geo-political insecurities (especially involving India), and the U.S.-led "War on Terror," among others. Pakistanis cannot agree on a way forward and in the absence of that, there seems to be no end to the country's downward slide.
"We are in the midst of unparalleled difficulties and untold sufferings", Jinnah said in the aftermath of partition, "we have been through dark days of apprehension and anguish; but I can say with confidence that with courage and self-reliance and by the Grace of God we shall emerge triumphant." These words, spoken 66 years ago, speak just as easily to the situation that Pakistan finds itself in today. Yet, will courage, self-reliance and the Grace of God help Pakistan out of its current quandary? Pakistanis like myself often find themselves wondering - will things ever get better? Is Jinnah's dream of a utopian Pakistan just a distant relic of the country's past, no longer relevant or meaningful in the light of harsh realities?
Maybe now, more than ever, the struggle of the ordinary Pakistani is to believe that another world is possible, even in the face of harsh realities that suggest otherwise, even when the odds are stacked against it. After all, when Pakistanis stop believing that a better future is possible, that is when they have truly given up on their country. Maybe when that old man stood on the road with his banner demanding Jinnah's Pakistan, that's what he was doing - holding onto a dream when the world around him seemed to turn upside down.
Fatima Mustafa is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation and a PhD candidate at Boston University's Political Science department, writing her dissertation on the failures of state-building in Pakistan.
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A recent meeting of 200 Afghan tribal elders that I attended in Kabul illustrates why the 2014 presidential election will be pivotal to recapturing the Afghan people's trust in their government and establishing the kind of stability they -- and the international community -- crave.
The association of elders, known as maliks, was holding its annual meeting in April, gathering representatives from all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and most of its districts, and inviting government officials and civil society leaders to discuss the critical issues facing their country at the local level. These maliks are key links between the people and the government in Afghanistan -- serving in semi-official roles for resolving disputes, delivering a measure of justice, and providing basic services when possible.
In my meeting with the group, I tried to understand why neither they nor the Afghan security forces, which most often outnumber the Taliban, can resist the militants, even when the elders say the presence of insurgents wreaks havoc on the local population. The maliks reported that they might have no more than 50 Taliban in their area, but as many as 300 to 500 government police officers or army soldiers on the ground. Helmand province alone has 12,000 police officers, according to one provincial official. I also asked the maliks how many people lived in their districts and the answers ranged from 50,000 to 200,000.
These ratios seem stacked in the government's favor. So why couldn't 300 to 500 Afghan security forces successfully take on 50 Taliban fighters, especially when thousands of people would benefit from such efforts?
The 200 elders made the answer clear: it's not about the size of the security forces or the quality of their equipment. It's about whether the Afghan people believe that the government and, by extension, the armed forces represent their interests and will defend their concerns. The public's trust has been eroded by widespread official corruption and efforts by the elite, and even the security forces, to enrich themselves as a hedge against the worst-case scenarios of a dramatic drop in international assistance or a collapse of the government.
From the perspective of these elders, it's as though two groups that don't represent them are fighting each other - one being the government and the other, the Taliban, fighting that government. The majority of ordinary Afghans are indifferent to both. Supporting either side makes no sense, according to the elders, when neither can be trusted to deliver on promises of security, justice, and services.
Before the 2010 U.S.-Afghan military offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province's town of Marja, then-General Stanley McChrystal famously commented that the international troops were prepared, once they vanquished the enemy, to install a "government in a box." The idea was to support a group of Afghan administrators and a provincial governor to immediately provide the services the people needed, along with the security that the troops were to deliver.
But you don't know what's in that box. How many pieces are there? Are they rotten? Building up the Afghan police and army has to be paired with credible governance.
The presidential elections scheduled for April next year provide another chance at that goal. With that date approaching and most international forces due to depart Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the comments of the elders should be a warning bell, not only for the contenders hoping to succeed President Hamid Karzai, but also for the international community and the United States, which has invested so heavily in Afghanistan's future.
International assistance for continuing to strengthen and modernize Afghanistan's security forces is important, of course. But without the trust of the Afghan people, the government that comes to power after the election will stand little chance of faring better than Karzai's regime. The successor also will have little chance of defeating the Taliban, or at least solidifying a strong negotiating position.
When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1992, they left behind the communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah, who was arguably in a much stronger position than Karzai today. Najibullah had hundreds of planes, thousands of tanks, heavy artillery, and a million-man military force. Yet, none of these could save the regime because people didn't have confidence that the security forces could successfully challenge the formidable, U.S.-backed mujahideen forces. The final blow came when the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it the financing that Najibullah had counted on.
In other words, if we want to save Afghanistan from collapse and another civil war that might lead to the re-establishment of safe havens for terrorist groups, it is imperative that the international community, especially the United States, supports a credible and inclusive electoral process that will be acceptable to the majority of Afghans and win continued international support. Without a government that represents the interests and values of the people, no amount of money and military force will be able to fill the legitimacy vacuum.Shahmahmood Miakhel is the Afghanistan Country Director at the United States Institute of Peace and served as Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of the Interior from 2003 to 2005. The views expressed here are his own.
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When Afghan President Hamid Karzai ratified the country's new Election Law on July 20, he removed the last obstacle for presidential hopefuls wanting to go public and embark on a full-fledged election campaign. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding this presidential election didn't end with Karzai's signing of the law. While candidates are now allowed to openly run for next year's presidential election, additional measures must taken to ensure the security and inclusivity of the votes, and the legitimacy of the results.
According to Qayom Karzai, the president's brother and a potential presidential candidate, "Security and inclusiveness of the election are the two most significant determining factors for the legitimacy of the upcoming presidential elections. No eligible Afghan should be excluded from the elections, and no part of the country should be abandoned for security or any other reason." He added that, "to prevent election fraud, alternatives elections mechanism should be developed to ensure fairness and transparency in the process and nation-wide acceptance of the presidential election outcome." But providing security for roughly 17,000 polling centers is an enormous task.
With 34,000 U.S. troops scheduled to go home just before the 2014 presidential election, it will be difficult for the Afghan security forces to spread out across the country and secure the polling centers. On top of that, the Taliban have stepped up their terror campaign in remote areas and are inflicting heavy casualties on these forces and civilians. According to Seddiq Seddiqi, the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, "Casualties in the country's national police have increased by 22 percent for the same period from last year (2012). Around 300 Afghan National Police officers were killed alone in June of this year." These numbers, unfortunately, will only increase as the election date approaches.
Next year's presidential election is unique and historic, and yet extremely politicized. Preparing for it has exposed ethnic rifts, which are actually being promoted by some Afghan politicians. The inclusivity of the election - giving Afghans residing in any corner of the country an equal opportunity to vote - is what will define its legitimacy. Excluding any constituency could invalidate the results and delegitimize the future government, provide the grounds for a potential civil war, or increase support for Taliban insurgents and their radical ideology.
One of the ways to ensure this inclusivity would be to hold a legal "phased election" in areas where the security challenges are high. Article 65, Clause 1 of the previous election law states that, "If a security situation or unpredicted events and conditions make the holding of elections impossible, or undermines the legitimacy of the elections, the [Independent Election] Commission may suspend the elections from the specified date until the removal of the peril or improvement of the conditions." Article 65, Clause 2 adds that, "If the conditions referred to in clause (1) of this Article are confined to one or several constituencies, the Commission may suspend the elections in those constituencies until the removal and improvement of the conditions."
To give the government flexibility in these situations, the new Election Law is ambiguous about what emergency and unpredictable conditions could mandate a phased election, ultimately leaving the decision to the commission. Article 56, Clause 5 says that, "In case of riots, violence, storm, flood or any other unexpected event in polling stations and centers that make the process of voting impossible or difficult, the chairperson of the polling center shall stop voting and shall immediately ask for the instructions of the Commission."
Given that language, the following two scenarios for a phased election fall within the available legal framework:
The first option is feasible only if a very small number of the 17,000 polling stations cannot be secured on election day, while the second option could pre-empt and prevent widespread election fraud and insurgent activities, including the three impediments that almost invalidated the 2009 presidential election:
Regardless of what the election commission decides - single-day voting or a phased election -it is crucial for both Afghans and international observers to realize that some level of irregularity and fraud is inevitable. After all, this will only be Afghanistan's third election since the fall of the Taliban. But taking appropriate and timely measures that ensure the security and inclusivity of the election will restore the Afghans' faith in the election process and encourage them to responsibly decide their future.
Hamid M. Saboory is a political analyst and a former employee of the Afghan National Security Council. He is also a founding member of the Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness (A3) think tank.
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For the last few days, Pakistan's capital has been on high alert due to the threat of a possible terrorist attack. Police and military vehicles have paraded around the city, commandos and snipers have been posted on Islamabad's picturesque Margalla Hills, and Pakistan's Navy has been deployed to protect a city that is 915 miles away from the sea. But the mobilization is being portrayed by the country's media as more of an inconvenience than a necessity.
Almost 12 years after it joined the rest of the world in fighting terrorism, Pakistan still remains uncomfortable with the idea of confronting the terrorists. Pakistani politicians, clerics, and journalists see terrorism only as a consequence of their country's alliance with the West, not as Pakistan's problem to handle.
The high alert in Islamabad follows the recent jailbreak in the country's northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan. On July 29, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an al-Qaeda ally, freed 253 prisoners, including 45 top terrorists, after storming a high-security prison. Besides five of the attackers, 24 people were killed, including 12 policemen, 4 prisoners, and 3 civilians.
But the brazen attack remained the top story in the country's media for barely a few hours. Squabbling among Pakistan's politicians over electing a figurehead president garnered greater attention. Soon after, the antics of Pakistan's Supreme Court, which accused populist cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan of contempt of court, became the focus of the nation's media attention. Interestingly, Khan's political party rules the Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province where the jailbreak took place.
After 9/11, Pakistan joined the ranks of nations united to fight the war against terror. But 12 years later, many Pakistanis remain unconvinced that terrorism must be fought as the greatest threat facing them. It's odd that this confusion about national priorities persists as at least 5,152 Pakistani civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and its associated groups since 2008, while the total number of Pakistanis killed by terrorism and the military's effort to fight it since 2001 stands at 49,000.
The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak could have been averted if lessons had been learnt from an earlier attack almost a year ago on the Bannu Central jail in southern Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province. Around 400 prisoners were freed by over 200 heavily armed Taliban fighters during that assault. In Bannu, the Taliban attacked with 150 suicide bombers and took over the area for more than two hours. Their goal was to set some of their imprisoned comrades free.
The Bannu Central jail was located on the outskirts of the city whereas the Dera Ismail Khan jail was centrally located in the heart of the city. The police headquarters, military cantonment, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps command center were not far from the prison's location. The Taliban passed several checkpoints, roadblocks, and security personnel in the course of their offensive. Both on their way to the prison and on the way back, the Taliban's massive convoy managed to go through without any resistance.
Unluckily for the Shi'a prisoners in the jail, there was to be no release to freedom. Instead they were brutally murdered before the Taliban and the prisoners they freed drove off. The attack lasted six hours, reflecting the slow response of the authorities. No one scrambled fighter jets or sent up helicopters once the attack on the prison was known. The Taliban knew what they were doing and were prepared. The officials, on the other hand, were not.
The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak was one in a series of attacks on prisons, which Interpol suspects involve al-Qaeda. But so far, no Pakistani official has been held accountable for the incident and there has been no public discussion of the inside help the Taliban might have received. Among those freed from both the Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan prisons were several former military and law enforcement personnel who had sided with the Taliban or al-Qaeda in the past, but there seems to be little effort to figure out the extent of the terrorist groups' penetration of Pakistan's security services.
Over the last year, several U.S. government officials and counterterrorism experts declared that al-Qaeda had been greatly weakened and was no longer a major threat to the United States and its allies; however, recent intelligence about a major threat from the group has revived concern about its rejuvenation. The U.S. reaction to this threat was the immediate temporary closure of dozens of its diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa. In Pakistan, the government's response has been restricted to the show of force in Islamabad.
The claims of victory against al-Qaeda were premature, and the U.S. embassy closures may be the starting point of re-thinking the group's capacity for carrying out attacks. But in Pakistan's case, there is still no willingness to recognize that fighting terrorism must be the country's number one priority. Directly after the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak and the Islamabad high alert, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left the country for Saudi Arabia for a non-obligatory religious pilgrimage.
Seeing the government, and even the public, paying attention to everything but the terrorist threat, al-Qaeda and the TTP have stepped up their propaganda efforts alongside their attacks. Just this week, for example, the TTP publicly announced that it was holding hostage the kidnapped son of former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, partly as a warning to his successor about the terrorist group's reach. Instead of being motivated to mobilize public support for a coherent strategy, most Pakistani leaders are content to ignore the Jihadi menace.
Once the current alert recedes, Pakistanis will most likely return to their television sets to watch game shows in which children are given away as prizes. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, however, will be quietly planning their next big attacks.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former parliamentarian for the Pakistan Peoples Party.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Militancy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus is undergoing a demographic renaissance and nowhere is this clearer than in the public space occupied by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Since 2011, the insurgency's operational sphere and target selection has witnessed a meteoric expansion from the unregulated Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - from where it first emerged in 2007 - to the heart of Pakistan's teeming metropolises.
A recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies on the geographic distribution of nationwide attacks revealed that between January and May of this year, only 12 out of a total 148 attacks took place in the FATA; 50 occurred in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 49 in Balochistan, 30 in Sindh, and 7 in Punjab. As for Pakistan's cities, Karachi alone has experienced 25 separate terrorist attacks this year that have claimed 60 lives while injuring 291 others. In early July, the contagion spread to Lahore and the densely populated Anarkali bazaar. Notably, the target of the Anarkali explosion was not one of the many upscale eateries that cater to Lahore's elite, but a nondescript middle-class restaurant popular with lower-income families.
In 2010, American political scientist Robert Pape linked the causality of suicide terrorism to foreign military occupations, arguing that ideological grievances were secondary drivers of terrorist violence. However, the true toll of unplanned military operations in the 21st century is best measured in the aftershocks, not the epicenter. A growing strategic dissonance between the eastward spread of terrorism in Pakistan and the prevailing insurgency against U.S. policy is an expression of this truism.
The geographic delocalization of Pakistan's militant threat from the hinterlands of Wana and Miramshah - traditional nerve centers for transnational militants - suggests an evolution of both tactic and strategy in the TTP's war against the Pakistani state and foreign policy. As the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan approaches, it is becoming clearer that the TTP's socio-historical anchoring in the borderlands has been broken. This is partly due to a virulent counterinsurgency campaign that includes targeted aerial hits, such as the drone strike that killed TTP second-in-command Wali-ur-Rehman in May, as well as increased migratory flows of workers from the countryside into towns and cities. This latter process has been embraced by the TTP, inducing a covert but steady trickling of militants from the FATA to the six Frontier Regions of Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat, Lakki Marwat, Peshawar, and Tank - gateways to urban Pakistan.
In the case of violent non-state actors, such migratory patterns have allowed for greater access to social networks, recruits, cash flows, technological innovations, weapons markets, and sensitive high-value targets. In February 2011, Anatol Lieven wrote: "If Pakistan is to be broken as a state, it will be on the streets of Lahore and other great Punjabi cities, not in the Pushtun mountains." The Anarkali attack is symptomatic of the militancy's move from Peshawar to Quetta and Karachi, and now to the gated citadels of Lahore.
But Lahore itself is no stranger to terror, having experienced first-hand the attack on the touring Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, the abduction of Shahbaz Taseer (son of slain Punjab governor Shahbaz Taseer) in 2011, and the assault on police cadets just last year. The discernible difference now is that the targets of the TTP's guerrilla war are civilian, rather than governmental, in nature. Minutes away from the Wagah border crossing, TTP activity in Lahore threatens to spill over into India. In January, five months before he was killed, Rehman even made a rare video appearance calling for jihad in the Kashmir valley, as well as the spreading of sharia law to the Indian subcontinent - reinforcing the point that the TTP's scope is no longer transfixed to battles in the Af-Pak theater.
The urbanization of militant factions remains, however, path-dependent on the structural design of individual non-state actors. The TTP, for instance, retains three enduring features that make its move successful: its undisputed opposition to the Pakistani state, its decentralized operational command, and its ability to congregate in a number of different environments. These last two features are mutually reinforcing, and allow the TTP to exploit its geographic diffusion. Beyond the central core of the TTP, individual commanders are empowered enough to operate independent of diktats issued by Hakimullah Mehsud, the group's central commander.
At the same time, economists agree that the TTP's external environment is on the cusp of an urbanizing boom. Karachi's current population easily outstrips that of New York City, and it is expected to overtake Shanghai as the world's most populated megalopolis by 2025. With one of the highest rates of national urbanization in South Asia, the proportion of Pakistanis living in cities is also expected to increase to 50 percent. When coupled with militancy, these demographic shifts heighten the ability of violent non-state actors to project their power, and raises both their own technical capacity and their comparative advantage relative to that of the state, given their ability to hold entire cities, and fragile economies, hostage with the threat of collateral damage.
In the north, this eastward displacement has also brought the TTP into closer contact with Punjab-based militant groups. While contact between the TTP and sectarian outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) pre-dates the TTP's own inception, the sectarian strain in the TTP's operations has been relatively circumscribed thus far. However, the group's infiltration of the provinces threatens to reinforce existing sectarian motivations and create alliances of convenience with the dreaded LeJ. Such partnerships are likely to become a permanent fixture of the group's operational psyche.
Similarly, the TTP's inroads into Karachi, a city mired in syndicated terror networks, suggest bloodier days are ahead. Against the backdrop of the port city's neon lights, a dangerous marrying of TTP ideology, extortion, and venture capitalism has proved to be lucrative for the organization's inner-city militants, helping fund costly operations elsewhere in the country. With rising unemployment, the economic alternative presented to young, out-of-work men pushes them towards the TTP. As auxiliary fighters from universities, not madrassahs, flock to join the rebel movement, the group's diversification threatens to transform the TTP from a tribal phenomenon to one that transcends provincial demarcations while still adhering to staunch religious moorings.
The metropolitan face of Pakistani militancy carries staggering pitfalls for security and threat perceptions, with the TTP and its affiliates having masterfully created niche habitats within pre-existing pockets of urban discontent. What began as inter-tribal warfare between the Wazirs and Mehsuds of South Waziristan has morphed into a much more complex and intricate network of associations and allegiances that span the length and breadth of the Indus Basin and deserts south of Balochistan. Within the rank and file of the TTP, tribal identities are now being superseded by ideological motivations that unite as much as they divide.
Through a range of incremental processes, the TTP's urbanized sub-factions are now more fluid, versatile, tech-savvy, and resistant to traditional modes of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. As the sovereignty of the government declines in the battle for Pakistan, and the TTP continues to infringe upon the state's monopoly of violence, it is clear that the insurgency is moving from a localized threat to a national one. The consolidation of the insurgency's urban footing also means that civilian casualties, and attacks such as the one in Anarkali, are likely to become the new normal; at least until Islamabad's own counterinsurgency models start exhibiting greater flexibility and creativity in their larger attempt to save the country's megacities from falling.
Fahd Humayun is a graduate of the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics, and researches conflict and post-conflict security in Islamabad. He tweets at @fahdhumayun.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Name: Yunus Bakshi
Province: Shamali Plains, Kabul
Yunus Bakshi, the founder of Afghanistan's first astronomy association, is a small, soft-spoken but energetic man, who moves between a conservative family and liberal-minded friends. Having studied in Russia, he has friends who sided with the Russians, friends who spied for them, and also, friends who fought against them. We meet in a small office he keeps ostensibly for his astronomy club, but which at any given time also serves as a base camp for one or two drifters, friends of his in some state of transit. Recently returned emigres, or those about to depart; people generally inclined towards the life of the mind but without work; writers, filmmakers, and poets. Here, in a dark office with a few bare fluorescent bulbs hanging from the ceiling, over small sour cherries and cigarettes, he begins...
The following are the words of Yunus Bakshi, as told to Jeffrey E. Stern.
I grew up in a religious family. Muslims, like Christians, they believe that the world was created by God and everything that we see is perfect, and nothing is change-able -- this kind of idea. And in Islam it is stricter because you don't have the right to ask the cause of the creation of the universe. But when I read my first articles about the universe, it started some kind of mixture inside of my mind. I discovered that what the religions were saying is completely wrong.
And I feel that this kind of question could exist in the mind of every young Afghan. But on the other hand I discovered that if you learn more about the universe -- if you know that besides the earth there are many planets, hundreds billions of the stars -- then you as a human, as a Hazara, or Pashtoon, you're not even a tiny grain on the vast shore of the universe. And this has a very good application: to accept the differences in the world, accept the other peoples, accept the different ideas, different colors, religions, everything. And that to my mind was a very good means to change the people's minds, to teach Afghans that we should live in coexistence with the other people in the world.
We are not the only or the best nation, or the best people, in the world. We are the same as Americans, or Russians, or any other people. And the people who were introduced to astronomy, their mind definitely changed completely about this. For example, most Muslims think that, ‘it's ok if we don't have financial ability, or if we're poor, because we will have a good life in the afterlife in the heavens.' But when you read astronomy you begin to understand that everything that happens in this world is a result of our actions. God has no interference in our future or in our actions. The only one responsible is you. And that forces you to make changes for yourself. That helps you to manage your life in a better way. I think, to my mind, this is the best benefit from astronomy.
Since the announcement of this withdrawal date, my perception about the whole situation beyond 2014 several times has already changed. It shows that we are not sure, in Afghanistan, what will happen.
Even not considering the security situation, we have concerns. For example, unemployment. Because as international organizations leave this country it automatically creates more unemployment, many people will be sacked from these organizations and will be looking for jobs. Some of them are used to working in organizations with a good salary.
As for myself, I am more concerned about my future and my future employment than I am about the withdrawal of the international forces. And this points to a very serious concern, if you have this huge army of unemployed young people, that in itself creates chaos in Afghanistan. Many people are ready to do anything just to feed their family. Just to keep their life as it is.
And many people have weapons. I don't want to say exactly what they would do, but indirectly I want to say that some of them may even go to create some kind of gang, and this is just one of the problems.
My main concern is my family: my children, my wife, my mother. I'm looking for a safe haven somewhere, even outside of Afghanistan, if it is possible. Because I'm sure even if we have secure and stable government in Afghanistan, at the same time, unemployment, lack of any services, they all can create a very, very difficult situation for us.
I'm dying to give a good -- even if it's expensive -- a good education to my children. Because year by year searching for a good profession will become very difficult. I want to say that the main concern of every Afghan like me is employment, and to earn money to keep your family and a safe future. And day-by-day it gets harder. Because day-by-day I witness my friends who before had jobs are now unemployed. Because many organizations, they've already closed. Many NGOs already left the country.
Now I worry, if I flee the country, what would happen to my telescopes? To whom should I give them?
Edited by Jeffrey E. Stern.
Jeffrey E. Stern -- www.JeffreyEstern.com -- is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has been published by The Atlantic, The New Republic, Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jeffrey E Stern/Author Photo
Recent massive jailbreaks in Libya, Iraq, and Pakistan, all occurring within days of one another, beg the question: what constitutes a coincidence in foreign affairs? Are these attacks happy coincidences for the newly freed criminals, or a connected series of events? And, with al-Qaeda affiliates already claiming responsibility for two of these assaults, should the United States consider the possibility that al-Qaeda leaders directed these jailbreaks or that the affiliates coordinated with each other? A closer look at the details reveals a common theme.
To begin, the tactics were similar. Suicide bombers and armed militants blasted through prison walls, wielding guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled or hand grenades. The militants used the element of surprise to overwhelm the prison staffs, or in the case of Abu Ghraib, the guards actually facilitated the attack. Some attackers were disguised in prison guard uniforms, some held megaphones and called out the names of prisoners, and some simply gunned down any prison official in sight.
And the numbers are astonishing. On Saturday, July 27, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped from the al-Kweifiya prison in Libya after gunmen fired shots into the air and prisoners started fires within the facility. In northwest Pakistan two days later, armed militants blew up the gates of a prison in Dera Ismail Khan, and around 250 inmates broke free, including 25 "dangerous terrorists." And on Sunday and Monday, two Iraqi prisons were attacked by suicide bombers in cars loaded with explosives - Abu Ghraib, located west of Baghdad, and al-Taji, located to the north - freeing over 500 inmates, including several senior members of al-Qaeda.
Though some of the details are still unclear, it's indisputable that these attacks were well-executed. There was some level of coordination between the attackers and the inmates to create diversions, recruit inside help, and use local events to their advantage - for example, in Libya, protests against the assassination of a Muslim Brotherhood cleric diverted security forces. It is also clear that these attacks took months of planning.
With such synchronization and sophistication, it is difficult to believe the militant groups planned these attacks in isolation. So is there a possibility that the planners received guidance from the "severely degraded" al-Qaeda central? Al-Qaeda affiliates Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) recently claimed responsibility for the prison breaks in their respective countries. While there is still a question over who exactly is to blame for the nearly 1,000 escaped inmates in Libya, many are convinced that the attack was an effort planned with al-Qaeda assistance.
With this much crossover, could these jailbreaks be a part of al-Qaeda's new strategy to destabilize state-run institutions while simultaneously freeing members and allies? Last summer, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of AQI, publicly warned of a new priority to free Muslim prisoners with an initiative called "Breaking the Walls," and several escapees from each of the three prisons have significant ties to militant groups and al-Qaeda. Perhaps this strategy even originates from the TTP's successful 2012 attack on the Bannu Central Jail in Pakistan that freed almost 400 prisoners. Bannu is in the same province as Dera Ismail Khan; you can't argue with success.
If the prison breaks are in fact related, they indicate a still very active al-Qaeda core. Rather than a diminished entity, it appears the organization is evolving and developing new tactics that have spread to its conglomerates in the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, al-Qaeda recently arbitrated a power dispute between AQI and the al-Nusra Front in Syria, suggesting a leadership group that is still very much engaged with its affiliates.
Al-Qaeda's ever-evolving strategies and methods warrant continued U.S. vigilance and pressure. Perhaps al-Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan is not as far back "on their heels" as the Obama administration would like us to believe.
Michael Waltz and Mary Beth Long are Co-Founders and Principals in Askari Associates, a strategy and policy firm serving clients in the Middle East and North Africa.
The game of "Chicken" typically involves two drivers, with cars on a converging course, daring one another to either swerve out of the way or risk a head-on collision. Ideally, one driver swerves and the other wins. The danger, of course, is that both drivers will believe that the other will swerve first and they will end up colliding. In this worst-case scenario, the size of the vehicle and its capacity to absorb the impact are key.
In an Afghan context, the U.S. and Afghan governments are on a collision course in a number of areas and unless cooler heads can prevail, the eventual crash will be devastating, yet totally uneven. For the United States, its international credibility will be undoubtedly damaged; but for the Afghan government, the fallout will be disastrous, and signal the beginning of the end for this period of relative progress and prosperity. Two prime examples of the stakes are the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which will determine the size and shape of the U.S. mission post 2014, and the tussle over taxing U.S. government contractors supporting military operations in Afghanistan.
Following the ill-choreographed opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar, Afghan President Hamid Karzai put the BSA on pause. Even though U.S. officials were quick to admit that the Doha event was embarrassing and not what they had intended, they also made it clear that they had acted with Karzai's blessing. That really should have been the end of it and the negotiations should have resumed.
Karzai's decision to halt the BSA talks was yet another attempt to challenge the United States when Afghan sovereignty was on the line. But with the negotiations still stalled, his move may prove to be a pyrrhic victory. One of the unintended consequences of his decision is that a "zero option" (keeping no U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014), which had little support in Washington and in NATO-member capitals, is now being considered in earnest.
As far as the U.S. government is concerned, the BSA is the sine qua non for a continued U.S. military presence past 2014. In fact, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently set an October 2013 deadline for completing the BSA in an effort to force the issue with an Afghan government that is struggling to define its own vision of a post-2014 security environment.
Without the BSA, however, even those who warn against the "zero option" have been adamant that total withdrawal is not only likely, but also inevitable. In other words, unless the BSA is finalized quickly, the idea of leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 will continue to gain momentum, and what started out as a dangerous possibility may become the most likely course of action.
Another ‘collision course' issue is the taxation of contractors supporting U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Admittedly, the U.S. government is partially responsible for this mess. The tax exemption rules for companies supporting U.S. government contracts, for example, were established through an exchange of diplomatic notes, leaving room for interpretation. Up to now, the U.S. and Afghan governments have not made the necessary amendments to limit ambiguity in contentious sections of the tax code. And now the Afghan government has implemented policies that the U.S. government considers unnecessary and undeserved predatory behavior.
In May 2013, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) presented an audit report to Congress that identified "nearly $1 billion in business taxes and penalties imposed by the Afghan government on contractors supporting U.S. operations." According to the report, the additional fees and penalties imposed on contractors will not only adversely effect military operations, but will cost the U.S. government hundreds of additional millions of dollars.
To complicate matters further, around the same time, the Afghan government stopped NATO convoys from crossing out of the country for about a week. According to a Washington Post report about the issue, "Afghan officials said they took the drastic measure to compel the United States to pay fines for failing to present properly processed customs forms for the thousands of containers that are exiting the country, mostly through the Pakistani border."
The idea of a seemingly petty customs fight forcing the U.S. military to ship more supplies by air, an expensive alternative, does not sit well with Congressional leaders who are already pushing for massive cuts in defense spending. Influential senators are starting to signal their displeasure and warn of potential consequences if the Afghan government remains unyielding in its position.
In particular, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), co-chairmen of the subcommittee that oversees foreign aid programs, and Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) sponsored an amendment to the annual budget bill for the State Department that withholds "five dollars of U.S. aid to the Afghan Government for every one dollar in fees imposed on the United States for bringing equipment and supplies back home." With the total amount of customs fee standing at $70 million, if passed, this amendment would have a huge impact on Afghanistan's development.
In discussing the amendment, Leahy said the fees are a "blatant extortion, it's the last straw...After all we have sacrificed in lives, in the wounds of our soldiers, and in the huge investments we have made to help that country, this is an insult." Graham responded similarly saying of the Afghan policy: "It's ridiculous, offensive, and will not stand." For his part, Coats stated: "We must not allow the Afghan government to exploit the United States further as we begin our anticipated draw down."
Karzai and those in his government certainly have the right to exercise their sovereignty and, perhaps, have some valid concerns regarding the BSA and reasons for the additional taxation/customs fees. But a failure to agree on the security arrangements post-2014 risks a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces; a draw-down that will strike physical and psychological blows to the Afghan National Security Forces who still need U.S. and coalition support and training assistance. It would also deny the United States a vital basing infrastructure that was built at significant cost and remains of great importance to both Afghan and U.S. national interests.
For Karzai, however, underestimating the Congressional commitment to holding the Afghan government accountable on the taxes and custom fees is perhaps the only thing more dangerous. Congress has the "power of the purse" and the ability to cut funding to U.S. activities in Afghanistan all together, something its members already threatened to do. One should also not forget that it was Congress that passed the Case-Church Amendment in 1973, cutting funding for and, effectively ending the war in Vietnam.
Furthermore, if the United States chooses to cut donor funds dramatically over perceived predatory behavior, other international donors will likely follow suit. Afghanistan is a country almost exclusively reliant on donor funds for its economic viability, and such action would put the Afghan government in a position from which it would struggle to recover.
Because of this, there is a sense that Karzai's team will consider the consequences of these "head-on collisions" and reengage its U.S. counterparts to resolve these challenges soon. Indeed, it appears that the Afghan government has already backed away from its demands for tariffs and custom fees; though undoubtedly the proof will be in the implementation of this concession.
But, the United States should also continue to compromise, particularly on issues related to Afghan fears over U.S. abandonment and a lack of enduring support. Unfortunately, the current political environment in Washington suggests that unless the Afghan government steers clear of collision courses at this critical juncture, Congress will simply pull the plug on the Afghan enterprise, making the Leahy-Graham-Coats amendment the opening salvo of a full U.S. withdrawal and the beginning of the end of U.S. financial support for Afghanistan.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
U.S.-Afghan relations, rarely tranquil, are close to a crisis point. President Hamid Karzai, furious over how the opening of an Afghan Taliban office in Doha was handled, is refusing to resume dialogue with the United States about a bilateral security agreement until the Taliban meet with his officials. His calculation is that the United States needs him more than he needs the United States.
President Obama is calling his bluff and floating the idea of a ‘zero-option', a full withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014. The drawdown of foreign troops is already a growing source of anxiety for Afghans, who fear international abandonment, and adds to a sense of unpredictability for the country's neighbors.
Unblocking the U.S.-Afghan impasse would reduce this uncertainty, and enable Afghanistan and its partners to focus on the key elements of its political transition: credible elections and national reconciliation.
The security and logistical challenges of holding elections in Afghanistan are huge. The recent passage of key election laws is welcome, but has not dispelled concerns that Karzai will seek to either delay or manipulate the elections to allow himself or his family to remain in power beyond April 2014, when his constitutional mandate expires.
The elections will undoubtedly be flawed, but they can still deliver results that are accepted as legitimate, if the government acts decisively to establish an effective, independent electoral system in line with the Afghan Constitution. The democratic transfer of power could be a legacy for Karzai.
But elections deliberately subverted could trigger unrest and undermine reconciliation, as well as alienate international donors and jeopardize continued western aid, which underpins the Afghan government, its security forces, and the gains made since 2001 in development and human rights.
Crucially, a new president with popular legitimacy, supported by the international community, could give momentum to the faltering peace process.
For years, the United States rejected talks with the Taliban in the belief that it could defeat them. Unable to outfight or outlast the insurgents, it now favors a political solution. The problem with that, however, is that at this stage of the conflict, enmity and mistrust between the parties is engrained, U.S. influence is diminishing, and the Taliban are gaining ground.
But the insurgents do have reasons to talk. Taliban leaders are fatigued from years of fighting, they fear a worsening conflict, and they are looking for international credibility. The withdrawal of Western forces removes their most powerful recruiting tool and an important source of unity. When the mujahedeen forced Soviet troops out of Afghanistan in 1989, the rebels fractured and fought amongst themselves.
Even so, hard-line elements of the insurgency fiercely oppose compromise; groups within the Afghan government, or central and northern political factions, fear losing power; and other groups fear losing rents from the lucrative war economy. Each of these groups may try to disrupt or derail any reconciliation efforts. The Taliban's struggle for perceived legitimacy will also hamper the process: the movement's office in Doha is reportedly closed.
The United States alone cannot overcome these challenges; they require international action. But what can the international community do to give political transition in Afghanistan the best chance of success?
First, it can build on the recent passage of the electoral laws to press for credible elections, with independent and empowered oversight institutions. It can support civic education initiatives and efforts to maximize safe participation in the polls.
Second, it can appoint a mediator for Afghan reconciliation. A conflict as complex, multi-layered, and deep-rooted as the one in Afghanistan cannot be resolved by the parties themselves. It requires a mediator that is trusted by the parties, up to the task, and preferably, backed by the United Nations. Most importantly, this mediator would help the parties establish what is so evidently missing: a structure for the talks. In other words, an agenda, principles, and a framework. The mediator would also work to reduce the mistrust that exists through confidential talks, involve regional states -- especially Pakistan -- and avoid Doha-style imbroglios.
Third, it should recognize that the priority is to enable Afghans to reconcile their differences peacefully -- an objective which should inform regional engagement, too. The international community should not be center stage during this process, but it can help by supporting an inclusive national dialogue among Afghans about their aspirations for the future. Initiatives of this kind -- including one supported by the U.N. in 2011 -- should be strengthened and expanded. To be sustainable, any negotiated peace must reflect the will of the Afghan people.
The prospects for peace in Afghanistan are in the balance. What is required above all is a coherent approach to the 2014 political transition. The West must use its leverage to assert the primacy of politics over violence, which will require credible elections and a structured peace process. Each would reinforce the other and each would be a step towards peace. There is no time to lose.
Michael Keating is a Senior Consulting Fellow at Chatham House and a former deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan.
Matt Waldman is an
Associate Fellow at Chatham House and a Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy
School of Government.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The success of Pakistan's democratic elections in May and the outcome of the recent protests in Egypt point to a shift in both countries' military participation in politics - while they will support or depose governments, they no longer seem interested in ruling the countries themselves.
Part of this seems to be self-preservation on the part of the military; if it does not rule the country, it will not get blamed if and when conditions on the ground don't improve. Both Pakistan and Egypt have severely damaged economies that will likely require several minor miracles to solve. Pakistan is facing domestic insurgencies and ongoing sectarian violence, while Egypt faces the continuing problem of violence against the Coptic minority. If the military stays in the background, it does not have to find solutions to these problems or countless others.
In Pakistan, the lack of military intervention in politics is partially due to its pre-occupation with fighting insurgencies and terrorism within its own borders, and to the security and economic failures of the last military dictator, Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan's military is still recovering from the poor governance of a military dictator, making it more cautious regarding its political involvement. However, the seeming end of overt military interference in Pakistan does not mean that the military will subordinate itself to the will of the people. It remains a powerful interest group that wields enormous power over security policy in Pakistan, including control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted over two years ago, and Mohamed Morsi was president for barely one. The military also ruled for about a year but Morsi, the democratically-elected leader, bore the brunt of the anger and frustration of the Egyptian people over the lack of improvements.
It remains difficult to determine the current political position of the Egyptian military. On the one hand, it just enacted a coup, which has resulted in dozens of deaths and calls for resistance by the Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the most organized Egyptian political party. On the other, like so many militaries around the world, it gets to claim it "saved" democracy from a corrupt politician, and its actions have support from a majority of the protesters.
That said, the Egyptian military has removed itself from obvious political power this time around. It has already appointed the chief justice, Adly Mansour, as the interim president until new elections are held. And new elections will be held, although there is always a question of how free and fair they will be.
Economically, it is impossible to know precisely how much control the Pakistani and Egyptian militaries have, but that both have enormous wealth and influence in their respective economies is certain. Beyond their domestic financial empires, both are the recipients of significant American aid and have been for decades. By staying in the shadows, both militaries can expand their economic power without exposing themselves unduly to corruption charges.
This is not to suggest, however, that either country will soon develop a military subservient to the political government. The Pakistani and Egyptian militaries have amassed too much power, physically, politically, and economically, to divest themselves of any of it for the sake of a shaky democracy. But they will continue to develop independent of their respective political governments, overtly involving themselves in political affairs rarely, but always wielding substantial influence.
For both the Pakistani and the Egyptian militaries, the best scenario is not to rule their respective countries. It is to have a ruler that will leave them alone to do whatever they deem necessary to protect the people, the state, and their own interests. Ruling involves numerous constraints, in particular a politicized populace that is demanding a better future. The people in both countries demand a high level of responsiveness from their governments, as the Arab Spring in Egypt and the strong turnout and civil involvement in Pakistan's elections have shown. But staying in the background, with minimal oversight and none of the visible responsibility, is the ideal situation for the militaries.
Unfortunately, this position will severely damage the futures of both countries. By divorcing themselves from the overt political process, these militaries also avoid all political oversight of their actions. Defense, security, and the tools of war will not be under the direct purview of the government or elected officials, ultimately preventing the development of true democracy in both countries. Furthermore, the militaries' economic influence makes it extremely difficult to reform either country's economic system. As powerful economic institutions, both militaries must be included in any economic reforms. Without greater visibility, the militaries can avoid such reforms and thereby damage the overall economic health of both Egypt and Pakistan.
Should Pakistan's and Egypt's militaries be able to sustain, even expand, their power while maintaining an appearance of democracy, they might become increasingly attractive models for other countries, leading to more bifurcated systems of government with ever-decreasing scrutiny of the military. Turkey, for example, which also has a long history of military interventions in the political process, could follow this particular path. If popular dissent against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an continues, there is a possibility the Turkish military will step in. If it does, it may also claim to be saving Turkey from one man's creeping authoritarianism, and allow new elections to take place while maintaining its power.
The overt military support for democracy and the unwillingness to rule in Egypt and Pakistan are not signs that democracy will triumph. Instead, they are indicative of a much more insidious political arrangement where the military steps away from electoral politics, but retains its economic, political, and physical power. Thus rather than becoming less powerful, the military only becomes less accountable and less visible, making domestic reforms even less likely to succeed.
Kathryn Alexeeff has a masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and currently works at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. All views expressed here are her own.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Good intentions and clear political willingness to commit significant resources has meant that, waste and inefficiencies aside, the U.S. has been able to muster military and financial support for the war in Afghanistan from nearly 50 nations. Recently, however, Afghan and Coalition allies, along with other influential regional power brokers such as India, are starting to publicly question U.S. policy in Afghanistan, particularly the decision to engage with and support the Taliban in opening a political office in Qatar.
For reasons discussed below, the dialogue between the Taliban and the U.S. should continue, quietly and with limited objectives. But public, ill-choreographed, overly ambitious, and unrealistic attempts at reconciliation will continue to make the Doha peace process a dangerous and distracting sideshow that will hurt rather than support U.S. foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan.
For some time, the U.S. has been coordinating with other stakeholders to jump start reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Less than a month ago, that effort culminated in a rather embarrassing press conference for the opening -- according to the Taliban banner in the background -- of the political office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Afghan officials and many other governments, including the U.S., reacted harshly to what appeared to have been a serious miscalculation of the Taliban's intentions.
To be fair, Secretary of State John Kerry quickly admitted that "the United States is very realistic about the difficulties in Afghanistan," and acknowledged that a final settlement "may be long in coming," emphasizing that if the new Taliban office in Qatar proved unproductive, he would push for its closure. Similarly, the new Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador James Dobbins, reiterated support for the Afghan-led reconciliation, admitting that the Taliban's consequential press conference "may have been a combination of misunderstanding and a desire for a certain propaganda victory, which I think turned out to be - from their standpoint - disappointing." Placing such emphasis on reconciliation in the first place, however, was neither appropriate nor useful in achieving U.S. national objectives in Afghanistan and the region.
In fact, the disastrous grand opening of the Taliban office represents the first time that the U.S. has yielded political initiative to the Taliban - even if fleetingly. Or as the Brookings Institution's Bruce Riedel puts it, "instead of being treated as insurgents or terrorists, the Taliban got the symbols of statehood."
Furthermore, it has brought the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) negotiations to a halt. No matter how well intentioned the U.S. administration was in its avid support of Afghan-led reconciliation efforts, its attempt to take such an active role in the process has backfired. Many worry, however that President Karzai's emotional overreaction to the Taliban office will damage U.S.-Afghan relations even more than the U.S. attempts to restart the talks. This is particularly concerning given the July 9 report that President Obama is keeping the "zero option" -- removing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 -- on the table.
Beyond the immediate negative impact, however, hurrying reconciliation or looking for quick fixes also increases the risk of potentially calamitous outcomes. For example, continuing to support public engagement with the Taliban - who are in full ‘summer offensive' swing - while there is no national consensus for reconciliation, may lead to a spiral of violence and a fragmentation of the Afghan polity along ethnic, anti-Taliban, and fundamentalist lines. From there, it is not too far-fetched to imagine a return of al-Qai'da to an ungoverned and insecure environment.
Equally dangerous, in the near term, is that the uncertainty is also encouraging former mujahedeen commanders to consider rearming fighters to guard against their sense of abandonment by the U.S. These warlords, some of whom are still in the Afghan government, find it incredibly difficult to understand how the Americans, having sacrificed so much fighting the Taliban, are now bringing the insurgent group in from the cold.
Also of concern is that many Afghans believe that the so-called Taliban representatives in Doha owe their allegiance and loyalty more to Pakistan than the senior Afghan Taliban leadership; thus, arguably, giving no guarantee that negotiations in Doha will have any positive impact in Afghanistan at all in terms of reduced violence. Expectations in Kabul are that even if negotiations in Doha are wildly successful, rank and file Taliban in the field will not adhere to deals made there. Furthermore, no matter how much some have tried to convince the Western audience that digging ditches on a development project for $15 a day will convert the "$10 a day Taliban" to the side of the Afghan government, the fighters are not just in it for the money.
Furthermore, at least for now, the Taliban and the Afghan government are either incapable or unwilling to conduct substantive peace negotiations in Doha or anywhere else. The Taliban do not recognize the Karzai government as legitimate, and the Afghan government, for its part, is in no position to offer a "deal" to the Taliban that is going to be supported by the majority of the opposition groups and, more importantly, the majority of the Afghan people. As such, the U.S. should stop wasting effort and political capital on starting a process that is going nowhere for now, and should focus talks on limited and manageable objectives such as the near-term issue of prisoner exchanges and the mid-term objective of severing Pashtun tribal support to al-Qai'da and affiliated militants along the Af-Pak border. Reconciliation prospects are, at best, a long-term process that the U.S. can support, but cannot lead. It should not, particularly in its nascent stages, be taking center stage over other much more significant and meaningful issues.
This well-intentioned but ill-conceived meddling in Afghan reconciliation efforts has created a perhaps unfair -- but dangerously persistent -- perception that there is a convergence of interest between the U.S. and the Taliban, and a divergence of strategy between the U.S. and its allies. Although the Obama administration is trying to quickly correct this misperception, the damage is done. As the U.S. contemplates its next move, it needs to not only reconsider its position on Afghan reconciliation but also its relationship with the Afghan government - the other half of the reconciliation efforts.
In order to affect a real, sustainable, and positive outcome in Afghanistan, the U.S. is better off focusing less on reconciliation and, instead, reassessing and reaffirming its relationship with the Afghan government. Reaching a conclusion in the negotiations over the BSA and declaring the size of the residual presence in Afghanistan post-2014 are two important issues the U.S. could start with.
While achieving a peace deal in Afghanistan in time for the coalition withdrawal at the end of 2014 would be ideal, it is also highly unlikely. Instead of making attempts to entice both the Taliban and the Afghan government to substantive but rushed peace negotiations, the U.S. must refocus on providing solid, albeit conditional, aid and support to the Afghan government in return for progress, as outlined in numerous international community conferences. Rather than focusing on what has turned out to be a reconciliation sideshow in Doha, the U.S. should focus its considerable resources on improving Afghan governance and strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces.
Holding the Afghan government accountable for the poor governance and corruption that undermine economic progress and deny future opportunities to Afghans struggling to find jobs in a business environment plagued by bribery, uncertainty, and predatory behavior are much more important to peace in Afghanistan than reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. Coupling these challenges with the rampant narcotics production problem, the flight of many Afghan diplomats and other government officials out of the country, and lost opportunities such as the failure to capitalize on vast economic opportunities in the mining sector, makes open negotiations with the Taliban in Doha a sideshow, not the real challenge for Afghanistan's future.
But, like it or not, the Taliban now have a political office in Doha. The international community's demand on the Taliban political office should be simple: ultimate reconciliation will be an issue decided by Afghans, but as long as the Taliban attempt, via violent means, to forge an Afghanistan similar to that which existed pre-9/11, the world will not accept them as a legitimate entity. The U.S. and its allies - including Afghanistan - should insist that with such legitimate public representation comes responsibility in full view of the international community.
Throughout history, even the most polarized enemies sought open channels of communications. No one should consider dialogue between foes a bad thing; the key lies in identifying common ground in order to minimize violence and active fighting. If the most charged discussions remain private, and public declarations are carefully choreographed, the chance of embarrassment is minimized. Afghans should always be the lead in discussions with the Taliban office in Doha, but without pressure from Western partners expecting miracles; at least not until after next year's Afghan presidential elections.
It will probably take a very long time to see an eventual positive outcome in Central Asia, or to dissect the failures responsible for not getting there. However, efforts in Afghanistan don't have to end in disaster. For things to improve, American foreign policy must find a way to remain well-intentioned but also imaginative, with strategic and inspirational vision, worthy of what most around the world consider the most powerful nation on earth.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
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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In a wide-ranging counterterrorism speech in May, President Barack Obama indicated that he would be scaling back the war that the United States has engaged in since 9/11. And he said the targeted killing program that has become a major component of this war is aimed at "al Qaeda and its associated forces," and "specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America," using a legal standard put forth in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force to justify the strikes.
The President also alluded to the idea that drone strikes in Pakistan can target groups helping the insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that until the 2014 U.S. withdrawal, he would continue to target "forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces." But under Obama, the drone program has expanded to target a far greater range of militant groups than his May 23rd speech would indicate.
An exhaustive review of public data by this author shows that more than two-thirds of the strikes in Pakistan targeted groups whose principal aim was not to kill Americans in the homeland. And many of the strikes did not even target groups involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan. These findings confirm previous conclusions based on public data on the strikes.
President Obama has authorized six times as many drone strikes as President Bush, but killed half as many Al-Qaeda members. Many of the strikes have hit the foot-soldiers of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, while others have targeted groups on behalf of the Pakistani government. On May 29, the 369th American drone strike in Pakistan killed Wali-ur-Rehman, the second-in-command of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Until the United States began targeting the TTP on behalf of Pakistan in 2008, it arguably posed no threat to the American homeland, and the group was only a minor component of the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Even the idea that the drone strikes in Pakistan have reduced the threat to Americans in Afghanistan or the homeland is increasingly in jeopardy.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the drone strikes have killed up to 3,540 people in Pakistan since 2004, including at least 411 people described in news reports as "civilians."
The National Counter-terrorism Center lists hundreds of individuals thought to be senior terrorists, but only 11 of the thousands of militants thought to be killed in drone strikes appear on it.
Based on news reports, statements from the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and lists compiled by experts at the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal, 97 "high value targets" have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, less than 4 percent of the deaths in the entire program. Just 90 separate strikes appear to have been intended for these high value targets. And only 52 of the targets were members of al-Qaeda, the principal organization the United States is claiming to target.
It is, of course, possible that the CIA is aware of other senior militants. One strategy for finding these lesser-known terrorists is to assume that important names should show up in news reports.
This author's analysis of thousands of news articles on drone strikes in Pakistan turned up more than five hundred named dead. After removing women, children, and those clearly described as civilians, 247 names are left, presumably the "senior" terrorists the Obama administration claims to be targeting.
Twenty seven of these militants were falsely reported killed on multiple occasions, illustrating the difficulty of targeted killing, even with a weapon as sophisticated as a drone.
These names come from 171 strikes, about 46 percent of the total, meaning that in most drone strikes in Pakistan, there are no publicly named militants killed.
Some Pakistani journalists and analysts say militant groups conceal who is killed in strikes, removing their dead from attack sites before journalists or civilians arrive, in an effort to mask losses of senior leaders.
Others think the CIA is deliberately targeting unidentified low-ranking militants, a practice made possible through the "signature strikes" that became standard policy in Pakistan soon after President Obama first took office. These are strikes carried out solely on the basis of suspicious behavior, without knowledge of an individual target's identity.
This author's analysis of open source data supports the latter explanation.
The data shows that after Obama took office, the percentage of mid and senior-level militants being killed plummeted, and new groups began to be targeted. During the Bush administration, 54 named militants were killed in 29 drone strikes, while under President Obama, 190 were killed in 125 strikes.
When someone was killed by a drone strike under President Bush, they were nearly twice as likely to be a high value target than under President Obama. And under President Bush, 88 percent of the high value targets were from Al-Qaeda, but that proportion is only 47 percent under President Obama.
The drop in the number of named militants, and the broadening of targets beyond Al-Qaeda, provides further evidence for reports that signature strikes account for most attacks under President Obama.
Not only has the Obama administration lowered the bar of seniority when it selects targets, it has also expanded its program to include groups that were focused primarily on attacking the Pakistani government. And when it goes after these groups, it seems to allow a far broader definition of proportionality than usual.
Earlier this year, the New York Times' Mark Mazzetti reported that the Pakistani government agreed to allow the CIA to begin a targeted killing program in specific areas of Pakistan's tribal regions in 2004, if the U.S. would first kill militant leader Nek Muhammad, who had been leading an insurgency against the government in South Waziristan. Pervez Musharraf then publicly admitted in an interview with CNN that he had made such an agreement when he was President. In the first review of internal American documents on the targeted killing program, McClatchy's Jonathan Landay confirmed the CIA had been working closely with Pakistani intelligence through at least June 2010.
It is clear that at certain points in the last four years, the United States went to bat for Pakistan, targeting groups that posed no threat to Americans at the time. In doing so, it used disproportional force on a number of occasions, and plots against the United States over the past few years indicate that this may have inspired a new generation of global terrorists.
There are many militant outfits operating in Waziristan, which has seen almost all the drone strikes in Pakistan.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a federation of dozens of militant groups, was formed in 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike two years later. Created primarily in response to a June 2007 Pakistani military operation in Islamabad that killed hundreds of religious students from the Federally Administrered Tribal Areas (FATA), the TTP has carried out a series of indiscriminate, brutal attacks throughout Pakistan, killing thousands of civilians. After the TTP first became the target of drone strikes in 2008, it turned its attention to the West, trying to stage an attack in Barcelona, Spain and another in New York City.
Meanwhile, the Haqqani network and militants loyal to commanders Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazir, support the Taliban insurgencies in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has not taken much action against these groups, reportedly because they do not pose a threat to the Pakistani state.
A comprehensive analysis of 222 well-documented drone strikes by this author shows about 26 percent hit members of Al-Qaeda, 22 percent hit members of the TTP, and 39 percent hit the three groups focused on supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan. The rest could not be reliably linked to any single group.
Standards of proportionality seemed to fall by the wayside when the CIA targeted TTP members.
"We identified a consistent pattern where the CIA deliberately targeted rescuers," says Chris Woods, from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tries to document civilian deaths in the drone strikes. Between May 2009 and June 2011, at least a dozen strikes targeted rescuers responding to other drone strikes, killing up to 95 civilians. The CIA also targeted at least two massive funerals. After killing a mid-level TTP militant in June 2009, the CIA struck his funeral, which drew up to 5,000 people, killing 83, including 45 civilians. They missed their target, Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP's leader. It took 18 strikes, killing up to 295 people, including 72 civilians, to find and kill Baitullah Mehsud.
"Clearly there was a rule change, a change in the permissive environment in that period that allowed for this to happen," says Woods.
The TTP first began to threaten attacks against the United States in 2009, citing drones as its motivation.
In December 2009, a CIA double agent killed seven U.S. intelligence officers and contractors in a suicide bombing at Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, where CIA targeters were tasked with providing information for drone strikes. In April 2010, a series of drone strikes targeted Baitullah Mehsud's successor, killing up to 101, including 9 civilians. The next month, Faisal Shahzad, who reportedly received bomb-making training from the TPP, tried to detonate a car-bomb in Times Square. Shahzad and the double agent each appear in separate videos released after the attacks. Seated next to Baitullah Mehsud's successor, they explain they want to avenge American drone strikes.
Curtailing the ability of militant groups in the FATA to stage attacks against Americans - in the homeland or in Afghanistan - has been the main selling point of the targeted killing program. But highly-motivated groups like Al-Qaeda and the TTP have found ways to adapt to the drone strikes, and the insurgency in Afghanistan is stronger than ever.
In 2010, despite a troop surge and record drone strikes in Pakistan, the insurgency in Afghanistan strengthened. Every year since has been deadlier than the last. More coalition soldiers were killed in 2010 than in any previous year. For civilians, 2011 was the deadliest year of the war, with 3,021 deaths in more insurgent attacks than ever before.
While there is evidence that Osama bin Laden was concerned about the impact of drone strikes, and Taliban fighters have changed their behavior in response to the danger posed by the targeted killing program, the militant groups' ability to plan and attempt attacks overseas from the FATA has not been diminished. Since 2004, at least 14 of 32 serious terrorist plots against the West were tied to the FATA. Crucially, most of the people involved in trying to carry out these attacks were residents of the very countries where the attacks were to take place.
Earlier this year, the former head of forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, likened the use of drones by new presidents to a novice golfer who hits a good drive with one club, then insists on always using the same club. Targeted killings, he said, are a "covert fix for a complex problem." He joins a growing list of retired generals and CIA directors who are doubtful about the efficacy of drones.
Umar Farooq is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Atlantic. He tweets @UmarFarooq_
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Though direct talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States appear to be back on track after some protocol issues with the Taliban's Doha office were resolved, questions remain over President Hamid Karzai's continuing commitment to the dialogue process. Just one day after the Taliban inaugurated its office in Qatar, Karzai pulled the Afghan government out of the presumed peace talks, furious over the way the office was opened. On the surface, it was the display of the Taliban flag and the plaque reading "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that angered the Afghan government. However, as U.S. and Qatari officials scrambled to diffuse the crisis, it became clear that the Afghan government's rancor at the Taliban press conference went beyond those issues; but why?
It is no secret that Karzai remains opposed to direct talks between the Taliban and the United States. Eighteen months ago, when a Taliban representative appeared in Doha to start direct negotiations with the U.S., initially Karzai opposed the move vehemently, recalled his ambassador from Qatar and rejected any talks which did not include the High Peace Council (HPC), Afghanistan's government-constituted negotiating body. The Afghan government also insisted that the talks be held inside Afghanistan, or alternatively, Saudi Arabia.
Since the first attempt at direct U.S.-Taliban talks was aborted in March 2012, there has been intense international diplomatic engagement with Karzai and his inner circle over this issue. Diplomats from Germany, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom and Pakistan -- the most critical regional actor -- have tried to mitigate the Afghan government's objections and put forward proposals that incorporated Afghan demands that the peace process be ‘Afghan led.'
When Hina Rabbani Khar, a former Pakistani foreign minister, repeated ad nauseam that Pakistan supported an intra-Afghan dialogue, she was voicing the view favored by Kabul and communicated to Pakistan through various official and unofficial channels. And it made sense. War cannot be ended by just the two main fighting parties, in this case, the Taliban and the United States. There has to be a broader process of political settlement between a number of Afghan factions, including the Taliban, who have been fighting each other for decades. While some of these factions are represented within Karzai's inner circle and the HPC, several of them are part of the opposition and have no trust in the council.
According to Pakistani diplomats, Karzai had pledged to kick-start an internal Afghan process that would develop consensus on the peace talks and bring all of the powerful factions not currently part of the government or the HPC on board. This internal consultation was a necessary first step towards building a national consensus and producing a credible roadmap for talks with the Taliban. However to date, no such process is visible, and there is a shared view emerging in both U.S. and Pakistani policy circles that Karzai would like to see the dialogue process postponed until after the Afghan presidential elections in April 2014. At this point, even limited talks with the Taliban will have to address political structures in post-2014 Afghanistan. While Karzai and his inner circle would likely aim to keep the status quo, both his political opponents and the Taliban could use the peace talks to push for an entirely new set-up.
Karzai is also unhappy with the role Pakistan has played in coaxing the Taliban back to the negotiating table, and in convincing the U.S. that approaching 2014 deadlines demand a resolute move forward on reconciliation. In Pakistan's view, the time has come for the Obama administration to set a firm policy direction, which will in turn help convince a number of fence-sitters within Afghanistan and around the region that the U.S. is serious about exploring political channels to end the war.
Nobody expects quick progress with regard to the talks, but with tentative confidence building measures such as prisoner exchanges, the United States and the Taliban can set the stage for a comprehensive peace process amongst the Afghans themselves. There is also a growing constituency within Afghanistan that supports a political resolution to the conflict. If the Karzai government persists in standing against the tide, his inner circle and presidential nominee will likely be marginalized in the next election. As far as the joint U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement is concerned, it is an issue that can be resolved after the new president is sworn in. The U.S. must not allow itself to be blackmailed over the issue by an outgoing president with a narrow support base.
The next few days and weeks will likely show how far Karzai is willing to go in his opposition to direct U.S.-Taliban talks. Most of the Afghan government's concerns regarding protocol irregularities have been addressed. The Taliban have been persuaded to remove the flag and the objectionable plaque. Both Karzai and Obama have indicated that the Doha talks will now go on, and will not be derailed in the face of recent Taliban attacks. Obama admitted in his comments last Thursday that he had anticipated difficulties during the reconciliation process, but difficulties related to Karzai's own narrow political calibrations must not distract U.S. policymakers from the course that leads towards peace.
Simbal Khan (Ph.D.) is a Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a Senior Research Fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.
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June 18, 2013, marked a day of starkly contradictory events in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai and visiting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the fifth and last tranche of the security transition, with NATO forces handing over the complete ownership and leadership of all military operations across Afghanistan to their Afghan counterparts. Ordinary Afghans welcomed this development as a major step forward in their quest to consolidate Afghanistan's democratic gains.
On the same day, it was also expected that an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-executed peace initiative would be launched with the opening of a temporary venue in Doha, Qatar, facilitating the start of peace talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and Taliban representatives. It took the Afghan government almost two years to reach this critical point and to form a national consensus on the principles that would govern the peace process. Many consultations were also held with regional and international stakeholders, including the United States and Pakistan, which as two members of the "Core Group" agreed on the governing principles, clearly articulated in the Peace Process Roadmap to 2015.
The "Core Group" members agreed that in order for the peace process to succeed with sustainable outcomes, the Taliban must accept the Afghan Constitution and respect the democratic gains of the Afghan people, including the Constitutionally-protected rights of women. They must also cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, while verifiably renouncing violence. And it has been emphasized time and again that any external interference intended to influence the peace talks would jeopardize and stall the process.
However, as Afghanistan's leading strategic partner, the United States provided the Afghan government with specific guarantees against any possible violation of the above basic principles. The name of the venue in Doha was agreed to be the "Political Bureau of the Afghan Taliban," nothing more than a political address to be later relocated inside Afghanistan. But much to the dismay of the Afghan people and government, as they were still cheering the last phase of the security transition, Al Jazeera enthusiastically began broadcasting an elaborate inaugural ceremony for the "Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in Doha as its top news story.
Qatar's Deputy Foreign Minister, Ali bin Fahad Al-Hajri, and Taliban representatives unveiled the plaque that bore that name -- under which the Taliban had committed unspeakable atrocities against the Afghan people, systematically destroying their cultural heritage and economically isolating their country from the rest of the world. And a white flag -- under which the Taliban and al-Qaeda had masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 American citizens -- was hoisted on a tall pole outside the venue in an area of Doha that houses most diplomatic missions.
Symbolically speaking, the premeditated event that unfolded before the eyes of the international community betrayed not only the ongoing sacrifices of the Afghan people, but also those of their regional and international allies and friends for the institutionalization of peace and democracy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people were shocked by, and continue to express their outrage against, the way the event was organized and took place. To Afghans and most of their key allies, it seemed as if the forces of terrorism were being rewarded at the expense of the democratic gains made in Afghanistan, a remote possibility that no one could have logically predicted would happen.
But it unashamedly did, inviting a strong international reaction in support of Afghanistan's peace conditions. The people and government of Afghanistan are particularly thankful to India and Russia for their immediate, principled reactions against the blatant violation of their peace conditions. The government of India has rightly cautioned against creating "equivalence between an internationally recognized government of Afghanistan and insurgent groups," which would legitimize insurgent groups or "convey the impression of two competing state authorities for Afghanistan." Similar statements of support from Canada, China, Iran, Germany, Italy, and others have called on the Taliban to accept the Afghan Constitution, cut ties with terrorist networks, and cease violence against civilians, all while cautioning against any imposed measures on the Afghan-led peace process.
In Afghanistan, the unexpected Doha events have unprecedentedly unified the Afghan people in support of their elected government's efforts to reject any peace deal that infringes on their sovereignty and the democratic achievements of the past 12 years. The Afghan people have not been losing their children day after day, year after year, just to return to the same foreign-installed "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that violated the very basic human rights of Afghan women, and that harbored al-Qaeda, which first terrorized the Afghan people and then masterminded the tragedy of 9/11.
Afghans remain disappointedly astounded at the way radicalism has been allowed to triumph over their new democracy. But they hold the moral high ground, and are firmly determined to consolidate the strategic gains of the past decade against the terrorism that continues to find a home and institutional support in Pakistan. Now is the time for the international community to recommit to standing by the Afghan people and helping them realize their democratic aspirations for an Afghanistan free from the dark forces of extremism and terrorism.
Afghans deserve moral and material support and respect for their decade-long sacrifices to institutionalize peace and democracy in their country. Failure to deliver on these basic expectations would surely take Afghanistan back to the 1990s, a scenario few want to repeat. The only way forward is to help sustainable peace take root in Afghanistan, and to protect it from any previously tried and failed shortcuts that cost both democracy and liberty.
Shaida M. Abdali is Afghanistan's ambassador to India, and formerly served as his country's deputy national security adviser.
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After months of international diplomatic efforts, the Afghan Taliban opened a political office in Doha, Qatar to begin peace talks and end the Afghan war. While the trilateral negotiations between the Taliban, Afghanistan, and the United States have not yet started, they have already hit several important snags.
In an apparent show of muscle, and its continued defiance of recognizing President Hamid Karzai's government, the Taliban opened the new office waving their own white flag and with signs displaying the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" -- the moniker used when they ruled the country in the 1990s. Displeased with the portrayal, Karzai announced that his government no longer plans to send envoys from the Afghan High Peace Council to partake in talks in Doha, but remains willing to pursue the negotiations inside Afghanistan. While the signs were taken down, Karzai felt his government had been sidelined in the process that led to the office opening, and suspended bilateral negotiations on a long-stalled U.S.-Afghan security deal that will govern the American military presence in Afghanistan after 2014.
But despite their willingness to come to the negotiating table, the Afghan Taliban has not yet accepted or respected any of Washington's and Kabul's primary conditions -- namely to renounce violence and recognize the Afghan Constitution. In fact, just one day after the office's opening, the Taliban continued their daily violence and claimed responsibility for an attack that killed four American troops. The Taliban's intransigence to enter serious talks shows the measure of their strength, and is a sharp reminder that the Taliban's insurgency remains potent, insincere in its dealings, closed to the terms of negotiations, and ultimately, unwilling to reconcile.
The Taliban's approach to circumvent the Afghan government and negotiate directly with the United States also indicates that Karzai's government -- despite being lauded as the main driving force behind the process -- remains the weakest player in the peace talks. Perhaps, the only players who truly benefit from the new office are the Taliban themselves. It appears that their ultimate goal is to follow in the footsteps of Hezbollah -- the Islamist insurgent and political group in Lebanon -- evolving into and essentially operating under a similar militant and political framework in Afghanistan.
Given the current operating environment and conditions, the Afghan Taliban and their affiliated factions appear to benefit from the new political office in at least three important ways.
First, the new office helps the Taliban play to the cameras and spread its propaganda through international outlets. It also gains international recognition and legitimacy in a bid for acceptance as a political force in Afghanistan. Putting up their own signs and flag imply that the Taliban's leadership could use the new office as a base for their shadow government, something that only confirms the worst fears of the Afghan people. If the Taliban pursues their political ambitions under the Afghan constitutional framework, and through an inclusive election process, Afghans could probably live with it. However, if the Taliban were brought in through some sort of a power-sharing settlement without elections, and perhaps under an amended Afghan constitution, that compromises decade-long important gains, it could prove unacceptable to many Afghans.
Second, with easy access to its traditional and historical allies and financiers in the Arab region, the new office enables the Taliban to raise funds and public sympathy for its seditious agenda in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban is already blunt and effective in sending strategic messages that support its military operations in Afghanistan, and it is seizing the Doha process in its favor. These efforts will only escalate, and will receive much more attention once the Taliban establish direct access to important international state and non-state entities, such as the U.N. and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Third, using the new office as a hub, the Taliban will continue to push for concessions from Washington and Kabul, particularly in releasing its prisoners from detention facilities at Bagram Airfield and Guantanamo Bay, and the lifting of travel bans on senior Taliban leadership. The Taliban is also likely to make more ambitious demands in other areas, including changing the Afghan Constitution in a way that increases its influence in the country's affairs. Washington and Kabul might even make some of these concessions in return for unbinding promises the Taliban will later break.
Regardless, the lack of incentives for the Taliban to sincerely negotiate signifies bigger challenges for the effectiveness of the peace talks. Additionally, the success of the talks is further clouded by Karzai's regular anti-Western outbursts, as well as his hasty decisions and obstinacy in reaching the long-awaited Bilateral Security Agreement that Afghanistan desperately needs. With international forces leaving the country next year, the Afghan government needs a security deal with Washington, largely for its own survival. Though Afghan security forces are now fully in-charge of operations nationwide, they are still mired in big problems -- including a growing number of casualties, higher desertion and attrition rates -- and remain cripplingly reliant on international air, logistic, and financial support, things the security deal can ensure.
Every insurgency and conflict ultimately ends with some sort of an agreement and settlement; indeed, the Afghan war will someday end as well. While the resumption of peace talks is a good sign, given the conditions and negotiating terms, the opening of the Taliban's political office in Doha appears to benefit them the most, not the United States and not the Afghan government. Although these incipient talks will take a long time to materialize, Karzai must realize that the continued existence of his government and the feasibility of its nascent security forces hinges primarily on reaching a timely bilateral security deal with Washington, something which should not be disrupted by the Taliban's signs and flag-hoisting ceremony.
Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views reflected here are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadjavid.
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