When Amb. James Dobbins arrives at the ground-floor offices of the State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan he will find a depleted staff, a moribund peace process and a mandate riddled with colossal diplomatic challenges. Secretary of State John Kerry called today's state of affairs a "pivotal moment" for the two nations. But it is also a critical moment for U.S. involvement in ending the conflict President Barack Obama once called the war "that we have to win" and now wants only to "responsibly" wind down.
Dobbins is a veteran of uphill assignments. He oversaw the return of the American flag over a newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2001. In addition to Afghanistan, he has served in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia. Not exactly a list of luxe diplomatic posts.
As Dobbins prepares to assume his post on 23rd St, a series of open questions await his attention. Three of the biggest are below.
1) Troops: Just how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014? That question remains unanswered as the United States continues to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan on the shape of the U.S. military presence post-2014. Gen. James Mattis, who most recently served as the commander of U.S. Central Command, is on the record pushing for more than 13,000 troops. Most numbers out of the Pentagon and the White House come in at less than that. The State Department's Robert Blake noted recently that "we are still in the process of thinking through what our final military presence will be in Afghanistan after the end of the transition at the end of 2014." Exactly when that will be and what shape it will take remains to be seen.
Also an open question: how many Afghan troops will be needed? And how many will be funded? Those two numbers may well end up being different. And the latter should be known sooner rather than later.
2) Peace process: Right now there is not one of substance to speak of. What shape might one take? The window for action is rapidly closing as frustration between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains very much alive, with Afghanistan arguing that Pakistan looks favorably on Afghan instability. Will Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to agree on conditions for talks? And what role will the Americans take? Sec. Kerry met last month in Belgium with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and vowed to "under-promise but deliver" as the sides "continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track." What, if anything, the dialed-down dialog yields will be watched carefully as nearly all sides agree that a diplomatic solution - one in which human rights are not made the price of peace - is the lone shot at a lasting and durable peace.
3) Transition: whither and at what pace will security, political and economic transitions continue? So far, the economic transition has been bolstered by GDP numbers that have been better than expected. As the World Bank noted, "rapid economic growth" has been accompanied by "relatively low inflation." But the government is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign coffers for its funding -- civilian aid alone is "estimated at more than US$6 billion a year, or nearly 40 percent of GDP" - and as those dollars dry up, the questions of stability and security arise immediately. A recent IMF report mentioned by the New York Times notes that tax evasion, corruption and declining growth all mean that the government will find it tough to pay even half of its bills this year. Stories of graft and CIA-filled slush funds do not lead to greater confidence in the Afghan government from either the American public paying for it or the Afghan people who will pay the price of chaos and a political power vacuum.
These are only the most pressing of a rash of questions sure to occupy Amb. Dobbins on Day One. Fortunately for both Sec. Kerry and Amb. Dobbins, the SRAP position does not require Senate confirmation, so they can get down to work quickly - as they must. The U.S. is speeding toward the end of the NATO combat mission, and both diplomats will soon be hard-pressed to find answers.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
Just over a decade ago, in January 2002, the world came together in Tokyo in the wake of the fall of the Taliban regime to pledge our common support for political, economic and social transition in Afghanistan.
We were well aware of the long-term nature of the commitment we were making, in
line with the ancient Afghan proverb, "One flower will not make a
As key world leaders convene this weekend in Tokyo to reaffirm this commitment and keep faith with the Afghan people in advance of the draw-down of international combat forces, it is important to also reflect on the significant achievements made in Afghanistan over the past decade, especially for women and girls.
Afghan women today live an average of 15 years longer than they did a decade ago, thanks to dramatically increased access to health care, increased midwife assisted births, a tripling of gross domestic product per capita, and a large decline in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
Educational opportunities for women and girls have expanded dramatically: nearly 40 percent of students enrolled in schools are girls and 120,000 female students have graduated from secondary schools in the last five years alone.
About 40,000 young women are enrolled in public and private universities, with more enrolling each year.
Some observers are concerned that these achievements, will unravel with the
departure of international combat forces and that these gains could be
reversed. But, the Afghan people - with our support - are not prepared to
sacrifice the gains they have made, particularly by Afghan women, as they
understand that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people
That is why our agencies - U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department - will continue working with our Afghan and international partners to support opportunities that enable Afghan women and girls to fight for gender equality and implement laws protecting their human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in Kabul in early May provides a long-term framework for relations between the United States and Afghanistan after the drawdown of U.S. forces and highlights the mutual commitments of both nations to the protection of women's rights and the advancement of the essential role of Afghan women in society in order to live up to their full God-given potential economically, socially, and politically.
There's a long path ahead for Afghanistan.
But part of the way ahead is simple and clear - tapping Afghan women's full potential is essential to achieving peace, stability and economic growth in Afghanistan.
And so one notable difference between the two Tokyo conferences is the enhanced participation of women this time around.
Women will be in Tokyo in full force: indeed, the past 10 years, women have raised expectations for their inclusion even as they have shown that women in Afghanistan are a powerful force of stability, brokers for peace, and a vital component of economic opportunities.
Civil society groups attending Tokyo are calling for equal participation in the Afghan and international delegation; the adoption of "gender-impact statements" for all reconstruction and development projects; and the allocation of external funding to projects that advance education, health, housing, livelihoods and other opportunities for women and girls.
A strong civil society and full participation of Afghan women at national, local and provincial levels also will give us the best chance for any potential for peace. The role of civil society is particularly constructive in the ability to bring communities together working at the grassroots level. They can help to develop peace rooted at local levels and then most importantly to help keep it.
No, a single flower does not
make a spring, but A combination of a strong civil society working together
with the Afghan government to guarantee women's rights will cement their
crucial role in Afghanistan's future.
With our mutual support and careful nurturing, the advancements of the strong women of Afghanistan over the past decade can blossom into a stable, prosperous and sustainable future for the people of Afghanistan.
So we'll stand by them.
Melanne Verveer is President Obama's Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues and Donald Steinberg serves as deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
As Sunday's spectacular attack in Kabul showed, the war in Afghanistan may be winding down in Washington, but it is heating up on the ground with spring's arrival.
And in Foggy Bottom and, to a lesser degree, on Capitol Hill, a battle is on for American hearts and minds even as calls for immediate withdrawal grow louder. The objective: to keep Afghan women from falling off the political agenda while Washington and its NATO allies hunt desperately for a diplomatic solution to America's longest-ever war. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches - and women to date still have no formal role - that fight gets more urgent.
"Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all," said Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at a luncheon for the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, an organization started under President George W. Bush to support programs benefiting Afghan women. "We will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women. And we will be working closely with the international community as well, because we all need to be vigilant and disciplined in our support and in our refusal to accept the erosion of women's rights and freedoms."
Former First Lady Laura Bush echoed the Secretary's comments.
"The failure to protect women's rights and to ensure their security could undermine the significant gains Afghan women have achieved," said Mrs. Bush. "No one wants to see Afghanistan's progress reversed or its people returned to the perilous circumstances that marked the Taliban's rule."
Clinton, Bush and their allies face an uphill fight. Today a record-high 69 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. And the recent alleged killing of unarmed Afghan civilians by an American soldier has cemented public desire to call an end to the war that began just after the attacks of September 11.
It wasn't always this way. In 2001, Washington leaders regularly invoked the plight of women, who had just endured years of Taliban rule that barred them from school and work. Afghan women became something of a cause célèbre worldwide, and the return of women to public life was seen as among the most positive byproducts of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Then-First Lady Laura Bush spoke out in support of Afghan women during a weekly presidential radio broadcast in 2001, and made high-profile visits to women's projects while visiting the country.
A decade later, members of Mrs. Bush's team acknowledge the challenge they face convincing the American public that supporting Afghan women on the way out of the country matters.
"It is hard for people to see the endgame and that is what I think contributes to the frustration," says Mrs. Bush's former chief of staff, Anita McBride. "This is not high on the radar screen because it is challenging and the solution seems so far away."
Those working closely with Sec. Clinton acknowledge the battle to keep women front and center is not easy. But they say they see an increased acknowledgment throughout the State Department and in the president's recent executive order on U.N. Resolution 1325 that women matter when it comes to peace.
"While clearly there is a strong, strong desire for the end of this (war), the big concern is the state of the women -- what happens to Afghan women and that they not somehow be forgotten," says Ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. "There is a recognition that for the genuine end of conflict and for the ability to reconcile with whomever it is possible to reconcile with, that the women have to be a part of that."
Those who have spoken out about the need to end the war swiftly say they agree.
"I came away strongly feeling that as we do draw down there that we have to retain a focus on these gains and whatever is necessary diplomatically or through our aid, that we can't neglect women," says Rep. Niki Tsongas of a recent trip to Afghanistan. "You have to publicly continue to raise the issue. That is the very least what we can continue to do, to publicly raise the issue and the importance of just trying to protect and secure those gains."
did just that at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing with Gen. John
"The question is, as we draw down from Afghanistan over the next several years, what can we do to make sure that we don't lose the hard-fought gains for the rights of Afghan women, 50 percent of the population? And what, if any, leverage will we have as we go through this process and after our withdrawal is complete?" she asked.
But is more than rhetorical support from those who support Afghan women's progress even possible?
"It is difficult, because I think that even for those who care very deeply about the status of Afghan women there is a little bit of schizophrenia, because I think some of us recognize that whatever the future is for Afghan women, the kind of military footprint that we have in Afghanistan can't go on another decade," says Rep. Donna Edwards, who co-chairs the Afghan Women's Task Force in Congress. "I believe that it is possible for us to construct a strategy where we make those kinds of civilian investments that will enable investments where it is possible to support women entrepreneurs, to support women in education, to support women as parliamentarians, I think it is possible to do that and I don't think we have too many more options left."
So what do the women at the center of all the discussion think of all the discussion of their future? Most say they simply want to be part of the conversation about their own country, particularly as they work to elbow their way into the discussions in Chicago next month. And they want to know what, exactly, leaders of the international community means when they say to women that "we will not abandon you," as Sec. Clinton has repeatedly.
women are no more the priority for the world, that is true," says Samira Hamidi
of the Afghan Women's Network. "The
international community is in a rush for withdrawal, but at the same time they
keep repeating and pushing the theme that we will remain with you."
Hamidi says women want clarity on what, exactly, those assurances mean. Says Hamidi, "in ten years whatever has happened for women is because of the struggle and participation of women. We are still fighting for our rights, for our inclusion, to be part of decisions and to be decision makers."
What Hamidi and other women leaders say they seek are assurances that any Taliban negotiations will keep in tact the Afghan constitution of the past decade, with its guarantee of equal opportunities, including the right to work and go to school, as well as a set-aside of a quarter of parliamentary seats for women. More than two million Afghan girls are now in school, with thousands in university, and civil society leaders want them to stay there. Women also want to be at the table, not outside the room, in any diplomatic discussions that will decide their country's future shape. That starts with Chicago next month.
Women say they are not asking for favors, but to be part of their own societies. They can speak up for themselves, and they are, but they could use the backing of big-dollar international donors who will be funding their government's security forces for years to come.
"The worrying part for me in 2014 is not that the international community is leaving -- troops are leaving, they have to leave this is a reality. We can't expect them to stay in Afghanistan for years and years, but for me what is important is how powerful our own security forces will be in 2014, how responsive they will be to women's needs. Those are things that the international community can really make their funding conditional on."
Those who support Afghan women say that if the world wants to see any progress achieved in Afghanistan continue, it will support civil society leaders like Hamidi - between now and 2014, and beyond.
"Increasingly, across the board, people get the fact that this is pragmatic, that you can't get from here to there on the items all of us want to see [in Afghanistan] without women," Verveer says. "Is it a guarantee? Well, we can't write the future. None of us knows exactly what is going to happen. We are dealing with a hypothetical and the best we can all do is to make sure that everything is in place as best as it can be as this continues to go forward."
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
I first met Husain Haqqani in 2007 when I served on the Pakistan Desk at the Department of State. At that time, he was a Boston University professor known for his very public criticism of Pervez Musharraf's government and pointed analysis of the military's role in fomenting Islamic militancy in Pakistan, most notably in his 2005 book "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military." So, when he became Ambassador under the new Asif Ali Zardari-led government in 2008, many in Washington wondered how the newly minted Ambassador Haqqani might reconcile his strong views on Pakistan's military with a U.S.-Pakistan policy so heavily centered on the security establishment. Turns out he never did.
Haqqani resigned on November 22 over his alleged involvement in preparing a secret memo to the United States offering to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership in the aftermath of May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Haqqani continues to deny any involvement in the memo, but his longstanding views on civil-military relations render his participation plausible. The question of responsibility is an important one for the Government of Pakistan and its citizens. Pakistan's democracy is still stifled by its history of military dictatorships, but its active civil society and media continues to push for an explanation, as a legal debate unfolds over whether Haqqani's alleged involvement in dragging the U.S. into Pakistan's internal affairs constitutes treason.
It remains to be seen whether Haqqani will face a legal inquiry. Any elaborate proceedings, however, are not in the interest of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government. President Zardari no doubt faces a risk that with Haqqani's resignation, the political opposition and military may begin to question the possibility of his involvement in "Memogate," as was suggested, then denied,then suggested again by Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman at the center of the scandal. The Supreme Court and the activist-minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry could also take up this issue as part of its agenda against PPP's corruption and bad governance. The government must strike a balance between accommodating public calls for justice and maintaining its strength in the lead up to the March 2012 Senate elections, during which the PPP is expected to win a majority of seats.
The government must also contend with public perceptions, especially among the Western foreign policy community, that the military is so incensed by this incident that it will overthrow the government. In substance, this argument has no legs. At least under Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's leadership, the military continues to avoid overt involvement in civilian affairs, primarily due to Kayani's desire to improve the military's image following the bin Laden raid. However, if Pakistan's civilian leadership continues to disappoint, Kayani will have a harder time convincing the rest of the senior military leadership,which views the civilians as corrupt and inept, to stay out of domestic politics.
But it's not just the military that needs to stay out of politics. The memo shows how much the U.S. government is pulled into domestic affairs in Pakistan, whether it chooses to be or not. The United States smartly stayedout of it this time, with the White House, Department of State, and the embassyin Islamabad issuing statements that the memo issue was an internal matter for Pakistan's democratic institutions to address. The United States should push for more balanced civil-military relations in Pakistan, but it should limit how it exerts its influence to resolve those civil-military conflicts. Doing so under the circumstances of "Memogate" would have only confirmed the views of Haqqani's critics, who identify him as an American stooge, and of his supporters, who credit him with holding together a broken bilateral relationship. Both views exaggerate Haqqani's influence on the United States and Pakistan, which are bound together by forces greater than personalities, namely the ability of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to conduct attacks on the United States from Pakistani territory.
Haqqani's weakness was not that he was too close to theU.S., or underperforming as Ambassador. Rather, it was his inability to convince the military establishment that he represented the entire Pakistani government, and not just the civilian leadership. Do not forget that before "Memogate,"the 2009 scandal over the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid legislation pulled the United States into another domestic conflict that revolved around Haqqani. At the time, the military blamed Haqqani for the legislation's attempts to contain the military's role in civilian affairs. What was intended to be a historic moment in U.S.-Pakistan relations and an effort to focus on the needs of the Pakistani people become mired in a decades old imbalance in civil-military relations.
The job of Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States hasnever been easy. Over the past year, during which time I served as Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council, the United States cooperated with Haqqani on many unexpected developments; the shooting of two Pakistanis by American contractor Raymond Davis, managing the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, the unfortunate death of key interlocutor Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, a tremendous expansion of U.S. counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, as well as attempts to revitalize civilian engagement in the country.
No one can doubt Haqqani's appetite for politics, or his feisty attempts to attack challenges or seize opportunities in his path. I am reminded of a story he told me from his time as a 24-year old Karachi-based journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review. During his first meeting with General Zia-ul-Haq, Chief Martial Law Administrator and 6th President of Pakistan, Haqqani asked him when he would "step down and implement democracy?" Zia's response was that Pakistan needed democracy but also stability. For someone who started his career in politics in the student wing of the conservative religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, this was no doubt a bold move on Haqqani's part, and propelled him into a career that would analyze the hard realities ofthe Pakistan military's stronghold on civilian politics.
However, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship now faces some of the most challenging policy questions it has faced in decades, related todefining Pakistan's role in an eventual reconciliation process with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the impact of the 2014 international troop drawdown in Afghanistan on Pakistan's national security interests. Because of the high risks these questions pose for both the United States and Pakistan, the next envoy to Washington must be able to speak to the whole gamut of bilateral issues, including Pakistan's security priorities, which will remain front and center to U.S. national security interests in the foreseeable future.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia Analyst at the Eurasia Group and a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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In his last official event as an ambassador, barely an hour after the un-redacted transcripts of his alleged Blackberry Messenger (BBM) conversations with Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz were released, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani bore a grim expression as authors read out from short stories and poetry at the Pakistan Embassy (in the interest of full disclosure, I frequently cover issues relating to U.S.-Pakistan relations, and have interviewed Ambassador Haqqani a number of times).
Later that evening, he lost his cool with the media after they harassed him for a sound byte on Ijaz's accusations that Haqqani was the "senior diplomat" who led a plan following the death of Osama bin Laden to solicit American assistance to prevent a coup in Pakistan, and to help remove the country's senior military and intelligence personnel, by means of a "backchannel" memo to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. At the time he denied any involvement and said his fate was in President Asif Ali Zardari's hands, a position he maintains.
A day later, he boarded a flight to Islamabad.
This morning, news outlets reported on a meeting taking place at the Prime Minister's House with President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and intelligence head honcho Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha with the ambassador. Not long after the meeting, Haqqani tendered his resignation, which was then accepted by the PM. According to Pakistani news channels, the Prime Minister asked for the Ambassador's resignation. In an official statement, a spokesperson for Gilani said, "As a result of controversy generated by the alleged memo which had been drafted, formulated and further admitted to have been received by Authority in USA, it has become necessary in National interest to formally arrive at the actual and true facts." Further details on what really happened in the meeting weren't available, but for days, many had speculated that this would be the expected outcome.
Several names for replacements for Haqqani have been making the rounds since he offered to resign last week, in light of the "memogate" disclosures. These include current Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi, the current Pakistani representative to the United Nations Hussain Haroon, and former Pakistani Army chief Gen. Jehangir Karamat.
Lodhi, when asked about whether she would want to be ambassador, said at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) last week that she had picked up the American expression, "three strikes and you're out." Lodhi has twice served as Pakistan's Ambassador to Washington under Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf's governments respectively.
Bashir, who at 59 years old is due to the reach the age of retirement soon, could be asked to resign from the Foreign Office and become a political appointee to the United States. Bashir's brother is Admiral Noman Bashir, the former Chief of Naval Staff, and he is viewed as being close to the military and establishment. He was also part of the Pakistani delegation that met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York in September.
But beyond the rumours on Ambassador Haqqani's replacement, there are dozens of unanswered questions about "memogate." Who was responsible for the contents of the memo, which did not reflect Haqqani's polished and erudite English prose? (Though by all accounts the alleged BBM transcripts closely resemble Haqqani's style). Why did they decide to use Mansoor Ijaz, who has a history of making extravagant and sometimes false public claims? And lastly -- what motive did all the players have for their roles in this episode?
More importantly though, it is unclear how this affair will impact civilian and military relations within Pakistan. It is no secret that the Pakistani Army was not Haqqani's biggest fan -- and if it turns out they insisted on his resignation, one can expect that they plan to call the shots with Pakistan's next emissary to Washington.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News in Washington DC, and can be reached at email@example.com
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ISLAMABAD -- After a team of helicopter-borne U.S. Navy Seals stormed a compound in the densely populated Bilal Town neighborhood in the Pakistan Army town of Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden was dead. Pakistan was notified after the operation. The U.S. Congress and citizens alike are dumbfounded that America's archenemy was hiding in the plain sight of the Pakistan military and intelligence rather than in the mountainous frontier of the tribal areas. Former President George W. Bush famously declared that the United States would smoke him out of his cave.
However, Abbottabad is far from a cave. The small city is about a three hour drive from Islamabad, reached through roads that trace the modest altitude climb. The town is a hilly and verdant spot where many Pakistanis retreat for the summer when the plains are scorching. It's near some of the famous hiking spots such as Natiagali. Abbottabad is covered in most guidebooks for Pakistan, including Lonely Planet. Most notably, the hill-town is also home to Pakistan's Military Academy and indeed, Bin Laden's massive, albeit non-luxurious, lair was a mere kilometer from this prestigious institution and the security that accompanied it.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Tune in today: an on-the-record, all-day conference at the New America Foundation on the state of al-Qaeda and its affiliates ten years after September 11, 2001 (NAF).
Change at the top
The Associated Press reported this morning that as part of a reshuffling of President Obama's Afghanistan war team, current CIA chief Leon Panetta will be named secretary of defense to replace outgoing secretary Robert Gates, while current International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) head Gen. David Petraeus will replace Panetta at the CIA (AP). Yesterday the AP reported that that the Obama administration is likely to nominate veteran diplomat Ryan C. Crocker to be the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, replacing current ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who is expected to depart in the next few months (AP, NYT, Reuters, Post). The move would bring Crocker back to South Asia, where he was ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 until 2007 and opened the post-Taliban U.S. embassy in Kabul. Gates said yesterday that no decision has been made about the number of U.S. troops to begin withdrawing in July (Reuters).
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Last November, I provided testimony for the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, which along with that of many others helped inform a report the committee issued on March 2, giving its view on policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. It concluded that, "the US should not delay its significant involvement in talks with the Taliban leadership." This report comes at a time when the newspapers are featuring more success stories in Afghanistan than they have for many years. ISAF generals claim with conviction that intensive operations in the country's troubled Kandahar and Helmand provinces have dealt a serious blow to the Taliban. So the American reader might be wondering: why is the British Parliament proposing talks with the Taliban?
ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images
One of the first cables released by the website WikiLeaks was a May, 2009 cable regarding the delay of removing High Enriched Uranium (HEU) by the U.S. from Pakistan's Atomic Research Reactor-1 (PARR) near Islamabad. In 2007, the Pakistani government agreed to allow the U.S. to ship the unknown quantity of HEU back to the U.S. However, in 2009 when U.S. technical experts arrived to discuss the fuel transfer, the Pakistani government balked for fear of local media backlash of the U.S. "stealing" Pakistani fuel. The event provided one more example of the poor relationship between the two countries and the U.S. not respecting Pakistani national concerns.
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For Pakistanis, the latest talks between the United States and Pakistani officials in Washington, D.C. are just a repeat of what they've seen played out on their television screens so many times before. Even with the addition of the new chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, to the delegation, a wide-ranging agenda, and renewed commitment to partnership from both sides, most Pakistanis do not see a change in the status quo.
After it was announced that the United States would provide aid for power plants in Pakistan, a right-wing colleague of mine remarked: "Why don't we just hand over our country to [the United States] now." On local television stations analysts have been speculating that Kayani's inclusion is a sign that the military and the government are putting up a united front is hard for most Pakistanis to believe, as is the impression Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are working hard to promote -- that U.S.-Pakistan relations are taking a turn for the better.
Perhaps to give the impression that they are a key player in the region, Pakistan has gone along with a long list of U.S. demands, from acquiescing to the Coalition Support Funds to paying for the support for thermal power plants on the list. Ayaz Amir, a member of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the second largest party in the parliament, told me over the phone "I think we've set our expectations too high and our wish list is a bit too wishy-washy. We should've focused on one or two specific areas. Instead we've gone in with unrealistic expectations. These talks are no different from previous phases in our history, so we should not be carried away with this."
Cyril Almeida, a columnist at the daily newspaper Dawn, said during a phone interview, that during these talks we will likely see Pakistan making a push for what's already on the table -- for example support for the war against militancy, aid, infrastructure development, etc. "There's nothing new that you would expect either to announce, or nothing new that either side will learn about the other side. However, it is important whenever they meet, but at the same time, I don't see it as being a deal changer."
After 9 years of being ruled by a military ruler, the former president, General Pervez Musharraf, one saw Gen. Kayani, taking a backseat. But thanks to the ruling party the Pakistan People's Party mishandling of the reinstatement of deposed judges, one has seen the COAS nudge and push the government into handling domestic issues with more tact. According to Almeida, "From the Pakistani perspective, what is more important is that General Kayani is now increasingly comfortable with a high profile public role in Pakistan's foreign policy. From giving briefings to the media, chairing a meeting with the country's foreign secretaries and being seated in meetings with the Prime Minister, he is becoming uncomfortably comfortable in his newfound role as the "go to person" on Pakistan's foreign policy."
At the end of the day, even if the United States promises the moon (which it won't), and even if the Pakistani government comes back empty handed, or laden with promises, the situation in Pakistan will remain the same. Even with a lull in recent terror attacks, Pakistanis are braced every single day for the worst to happen. The current electricity shortfall in the country is now at 5,000 megawatts, meaning electricity cuts off from anywhere between 4 - 12 hours a day. Prime Minister Gilani is promising the world to Pakistanis at the moment, saying the delegation will discuss everything from power plants to Afia Siddiqui's case. The media wing of Pakistan's army -- the Inter Services Public Relations -- sends daily dispatches reporting such events as: "X number of militants was killed in army operations in the tribal areas," in an attempt to show that all is well in the country.
While this dialogue between the U.S. administration and the Pakistani government will surely continue, one wonders if all that is promised will be delivered. And with Pakistan's current government's record being so dismal on everything from implementing constitutional reforms to infrastructure development, it is highly likely that the Pakistan-U.S. talks will remain just that: talk.
Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Pakistan.
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An airstrike in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, yesterday is estimated to have killed as many as 27 civilians. The news of this airstrike has yet again stoked questions of whether a counterinsurgency strategy can be effectively carried out in Afghanistan, and if not, what the overall prospects of success in Afghanistan really are. Reducing airstrikes is key: these are the most visible and publicly inflammatory tactics that international forces use. But airstrikes, or the conduct of the coalition forces operating in Marjah, are only part of the picture; other practices that are equally important in terms of rebuilding Afghan trust and moving toward stability in Afghanistan have been routinely ignored and not seriously addressed.
The most serious outstanding example of this is the continued reliance on night raids, which my organization, the Open Society Institute, explores in a recently released report. Night raids are when military forces, usually a mixed group of internationals and Afghans, force entry into an Afghan home in the middle of the night, search the premises and usually detain one or more men of the family. Reports of abuse -- punching, slapping, or other mistreatment -- during these raids are frequent. According to the UN, at least 98 civilians were killed in these incidents in 2009.
Though night raids do not result in as many deaths as airstrikes, they can be as lethal to public opinion, if not more so. In terms of creating enemies, it's hard to do worse than breaking into someone's house at night, taking actions that are viewed as violating the women of the household, and hauling family members to unknown detention sites for weeks to months.
I was recently speaking to a group of Afghan National Army commanders who had just been trained in new counterinsurgency strategy about the importance of protecting and respecting civilians. He told me I should save my lessons for international forces. "Just last week they raided my house and three members of my family were taken away," he shouted, obviously enraged. "If they continue like this, soon I will become an insurgent rather than a counterinsurgent!"
Our research showed that even if the number of airstrikes decreases, night raids perpetuate Afghan impressions that international forces are abusive outsiders who wantonly or purposefully kill Afghans with no accountability to the law. These practices contradict international forces' public promises of population protection, and make it harder for international forces to speak credibly when incidents like the airstrike in Uruzgan do happen.
No one questions that it is necessary to detain and question suspects who might be aiding and abetting the ongoing insurgency. But the broader strategic goals of supporting the rule of law and regaining Afghan trust are seriously undermined when the default procedure for doing so is to break into homes at night with guns, dogs, and back-up, and absolutely no mechanism for monitoring or follow-up of reported abuse. For several years there have been serious concerns about the conduct of pro-government forces, particularly of U.S. Special Forces, intelligence personnel, and local militias, involved in these raids. Yet even high level officials have found it virtually impossible to identify those involved in a raid to hold them accountable.
There is reportedly a new directive on night raids, though still classified, which addresses some of these concerns. This is an important step, but the fact that this new directive has remained classified suggests that international forces have still not gotten the message that the lack of accountability over these practices is a large part of what is so unacceptable.
Though the continued pressure on airstrikes and on the overall conduct of operations like those in Marjah and in Uruzgan is important, it should not come at the cost of ignoring other practices that equally influence the effectiveness of the overall strategy in Afghanistan. In part II of this blog, I'll go into greater depth on what we found were the serious concerns and fixes for night raids.
Erica Gaston is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Institute, specializing in civilian casualty issues. She is based in Kabul.
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
By Ahsan Butt
If you've watched The Sopranos, then you've had the experience of being
bemused at the insanity that was the relationship between Christopher
and Adriana (culminating in one of the most memorable hits in the
entire series, when Silvio shot Adriana in a forest after Christopher ratted her out for talking to the FBI).
Well, Pakistan and the U.S. make those two look like Abelard and Heloise. Consider the following facts:
1. Aid from the U.S., and other financial institutions such as the IMF at the behest of the U.S., have helped keep Pakistan's economy afloat at a time of great peril. To that end, the U.S. is promising seven and a half billion more dollars, and yet the reaction to that promised aid -- wrapped up in a maelstrom of nationalistic, ill-founded and uninformed outrage -- would suggest that the U.S. is stealing that amount of money from Pakistan's coffers, or worse.
2. Pakistan has paid enormous costs, both in treasure as well as in blood, in taking on militant outfits on its soil. And yet the near-constant refrain of "do more" from the U.S. continues unabated. Most recently, the visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she disbelieved that the government was doing all it could to eradicate the presence of al-Qaeda from Pakistani soil. "Al Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002. I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to." Such statements, especially two days after one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in Pakistan's history, smack of insensitivity from someone who is supposed to be the highest diplomat of her country.
3. On the one issue where both governments seem to agree -- that of drone attacks -- the Pakistani populace is angry, both at the civilian toll exacted in the attacks as well as the the perceived incursions on Pakistan's sovereignty the attacks represent. Depending on which poll you trust, between 75 and 90 percent of Pakistanis oppose the use of drones in the tribal areas. This anger was manifested in townhall-style meetings Secretary Clinton held with Pakistani students and professionals on her visit. The strange thing about this anger is that the Pakistani government has, in effect, signed off on the use of drones, and so the logical place for the populace to direct their ire is toward the leaders they democratically elected, not the foreign country those democratically elected leaders have found an agreement with. But that is clearly not the case.
I don't have any broad policy-specific recommendations here. I just wanted to highlight what I consider to be an extremely strange state of affairs. With the abnormally high levels of distrust present in this relationship, it has to be the most bizarre alliance I have ever come across in international politics. Secretary Clinton's visit has brought this vision into sharp focus; it is unclear, from this vantage point, what exactly the three-day tour accomplished, or was meant to accomplish.
It also begs a broader strategic question: if the U.S. and Pakistan cannot cooperate or see eye-to-eye when their security interests overlap for the most part (the dismantling of militant networks on Pakistani soil), when huge amounts of aid are transferred, when diplomats from both countries try to sweet-talk the other to considerable lengths (for every Holbrooke or Clinton reference to seekh kababs, there is a Husain Haqqani or Shah Mahmood Qureshi reference to a "long-term partnership"), is there any hope for this relationship?
Don't shake your head; it was a rhetorical question.
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