Maintaining a large military presence in Afghanistan is not in the strategic interests of either the U.S. or the Afghan government. It does not help the United States accomplish its long-term goal of countering terrorism from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, nor its short-term goal of helping Afghanistan achieve stability and self-reliance in fighting insurgency. It is also economically unsustainable. However, retaining a smaller, lighter, residual presence in Afghanistan is critical to U.S. strategy and vital to core U.S. interests.
Additionally, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan must be based on a vision that goes out decades: Considering only short-term goals amounts to strategic myopia, unworthy of the sacrifices made by almost 2,200 U.S. service members in Afghanistan alone.
A Case for Lighter, Smarter, Long-term Residual Presence
With Osama Bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda's capabilities diminished in the Af-Pak region, the immediate threat of attacks on the U.S. from the region has greatly diminished. But the ingredients that could help Al Qaeda regenerate in the next decade remain, and thus the mission endures.
In fact, the "surge" of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009 had little to do with bin Laden; rather, it was an attempt to rescue the failing mission of stabilizing Afghanistan. Bin Laden was hunted and killed not by the surge, but by a small, specialized group, the likes of which I argue should remain in Afghanistan to monitor and guard against the long-term threat of terrorist cells.
More importantly, a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy must include the training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to counter domestic threats. But this will take significantly longer than estimates suggest. As such, the U.S. must alter its stated strategy in Afghanistan to consider the training and equipping of the ANSF a key element of its plan to counter threats, and support Afghanistan in its domestic fight against terrorists that, left unchecked, could re-emerge. The numbers of trainers must be kept low and should not be outsourced to contractors. Currently, the only elements specifically designed to counter insurgencies are the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). Considering the nuanced task, the training force should be predominantly SOF.
With nearly 2,200 troops dead, thousands more wounded, and half a trillion dollars spent in America's longest war, merely staying the course in Afghanistan is no longer possible. In fact, with no sound opposition to President Obama's plan of swift withdrawal, the U.S. has decided to accelerate the transition from combat to training mission and, arguably less advertised, concentrate forces in a few heavily fortified locations such as Bagram Air Base.
Eleven one-year strategies in Afghanistan have brought us to a point where people consider "strategic retreat" the best of the worst options available. In pursuing this plan, however, the United States and its strategic partners in the Afghan Government risk a return to a time where fractured Afghan groups battled for supremacy, and an apathetic and financially exhausted U.S. didn't want to spend any more blood or treasure. History has shown that this "strategic retreat," fails to consider the greater geo-strategic importance of maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan
Without a firm presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. will have no bases in South-Central Asia. The only other alternative is Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, whose lease is going to expire in 2014, and Kyrgyz President Almaz Atambayev has made it clear that his government will not extend the agreement any further. From a regional perspective alone, the U.S. must maintain a residual footprint in Afghanistan as a mechanism of influencing Central and South Asia. Stability in the AfPak region is critical in monitoring and combating a reemergence of al-Qaeda.
Ultimately, for the Obama Administration to achieve its objective of maintaining pressure on al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, and supporting Afghanistan as a strategic partner - it must consider a nuanced strategy when looking at the composition of the U.S. residual presence. After 2014, Obama should employ a specialized force with a light footprint, but a big contribution. I recommend the following elements be in the mix:
1. A counter-terrorism task force to focus on the remnants of al-Qaeda and any insurgent groups that pose a threat to U.S. assets and interests. The specialized CT elements need to be able to engage targets throughout the country, so this will have to include both primary bases, and lily pads to extend their reach. These elements should train and utilize their Afghan counterparts as much as possible; ultimately, the Afghan counter-terrorism elements themselves should take over.
2. A robust counter-insurgency training force comprised of both ground and air special operations forces that will focus on the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in specialized COIN training - similar to that in Colombia. This extends to the mentoring of the Afghan Air Force, civil affairs, etc.
3. The only "conventional force" presence should be in the protection of U.S./Coalition bases. These bases should have maximum flexibility by maintaining minimal infrastructure in only 4 locations (Bagram in the East, Mazar-e-Sharif in the North, Herat in the West, and Bastion in the South). Additionally, a limited aviation training presence should be kept in the main training base for the Afghan Air Force, Shindand Airfield. The U.S. will probably maintain Bagram and Kabul, whereas Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, and Bastion should be supported by NATO partners.
4. In Kabul, all that should remain are the headquarters at ISAF - with some of its coalition partners' participation - a limited contingent on the military side of the Kabul airfield, and a NATO Training Mission Afghanistan command.
5. SOF should abandon the "Afghan Local Police" (ALP) in most areas and focus more on the development of the ANSF. A few years ago, with over 100,000 U.S. personnel in country, SOF could afford to focus on the ALP concept. Now, with only a few thousand U.S. service members in-country, the emphasis must be on the uniformed security services.
In terms of numbers, the right mix is about 4,000 SOF and SOF enablers, and 4-5,000 conventional forces and headquarters support. While the 9,000 U.S. personnel seems to be the "just enough" figure for an enduring presence, it seems the President may now be set on a lower figure due to financial constraints.
Setting a Long-Term U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan
The United States non-military strategic course in Central and South Asia needs to start in 2015, not end in 2014. The U.S. needs to consider its 2025 strategic vision, and make smaller contributions to the region but with bigger payoffs.
For example, the U.S. should work with other key allies to coordinate on increasing trade and creating more jobs in a region that is currently plagued with high rates of unemployment and poverty. Coordinating with Pakistan and investment giants such as the United Arab Emirates to secure funding for a road or railroad from Helmand to the port of Gwadar, or with Qatar to invest in Afghanistan's and Pakistan's natural resources can create thousands of jobs and boost economies. This is not something that is purely altruistic; such activities can greatly benefit U.S. interests. Furthermore, a strategic "pivot to Asia" can only be accomplished if there is stability in Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is critical to trade corridors from oil-gas rich Central Asia states (including Afghanistan) to the end users of South and East Asia. In effect, Afghanistan's geo-strategic importance goes far beyond trans-national terrorism threats.
Over the past 11 years, the international community has committed billions of dollars in an effort to stabilize and reconstruct a country ravaged by three decades of war. The U.S. alone has spent over $600 billion in the longest war in its history, with over $20 billion in governance and development funds. And yet, Afghanistan is still not economically self-sustainable. Perhaps that is not so shocking, though. President Obama himself made it clear (as early as May 2012) that, "Our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars and many more American lives."
Another way of looking at this, however, is the way most American veterans of the conflict view their sacrifices: as a strategic investment. They might argue that the dollars spent and the lives lost deserve a much more impressive outcome than simply a strategic retreat with Afghanistan in dire straits.
For their part, few Afghans welcome the U.S. withdrawal. While important to equip and strengthen the Afghan security forces, Presidents Karzai and Obama did not address crafting a long-term strategy that looks towards a stable Afghanistan in 2030, rather than a short-term "stable enough to transition security" by 2014.
Presidents Karzai and Obama - two leaders unable to seek reelection and concerned about their legacy - may still be able to give the people of Afghanistan a gift that can help stabilize Afghanistan. President Karzai has a unique opportunity to leverage his last year in government to broker a deal that can offer real hope of change and progress. On the American side, the U.S. and other donors should minimize "hand out" aid and focus on investments in Afghanistan. Donor programs don't create revenue, but rather act as symptomatic relief. Public funds, partnered with private firms, can help develop a self-sustaining Afghan economy. For the past three decades, the United States has appeared to prefer short-term strategies. They did not recognize the long-term consequences of inattention following the Soviet withdrawal. They seemed satisfied with the near term and non-committal cruise missile-targeting of Osama Bin Laden after a series of terrorist attacks in the late 1990s.
President Obama's inaugural speech last month made it clear that the "decade of war" has come to a close. By 2014, the U.S. should conclude this chapter by leaving behind a small training force, a robust counter-terrorism force, and an economic support model that is viable in the long-term. Significant intellectual and limited monetary capital must go toward achieving sustainable Afghan economic growth in the mid-to-long-term. Rather than how much is spent in Afghanistan, donors - and in particular, the U.S. as the largest - need to start paying attention more to effectiveness of what is spent.
Ultimately, the most important date on our 2014 calendar should be the April Afghan Presidential election rather than the December withdrawal deadline. If the election is not credible or moderately successful in maintaining the trust of key stakeholders in the democratic progress, the numbers of U.S. troops remaining will not make much difference in the post-election environment. The Afghan people and the international community will be watching closely to ensure that the election is an example of the democratic progress that 13 years of Coalition presence made possible. The troop levels, important as they may be, are only secondary to the success of the political process.
Gianni Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
Pakistan's war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the northwest is taking a tremendous toll on the local population. The military's killing of civilians, collective punishment of locals, and continued detention of thousands has produced an unprecedented level of animosity toward the federal government and security forces.
Last month, minority Hazaras in the restive southwestern city of Quetta used a new tactic to draw attention to the systematic killing of their community members by Sunni extremists. They took the latest victims' bodies to the center of the city and staged a sit-in, refusing to bury the bodies until the military took over security in the city.
The tactic inspired locals in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATA) to stage a similar protest in Peshawar, refusing to bury 18 of their dead until the Pakistani government looked into the latest killings by security forces. Locals say Pakistani security forces killed the civilians during a house to house search on the night of January 15th in Bara, a district in the Khyber Agency of FATA, just south of Peshawar. Thousands of local tribesmen held a jirga, and decided to take the bodies to Peshawar, where they sat in front of the state government building. When a member of the national parliament showed up to talk, the protesters attacked him, forcing him to flee. The tribesmen wanted the military to admit they killed civilians, compensate families of the dead, and pull out of their areas.
The military agreed to investigate the killings and compensate the families. But if the tribesmen wanted the military to leave the region, they would be collectively held responsible for any problems involving militants in the future.
Two days after the Bara killings, Pakistani helicopter gunships struck homes near Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan, killing five civilians, including two women and two children. According to locals, the Pakistani military carried out the attack in response to an IED that destroyed a tank and killed two soldiers in Miran Shah. North Waziristan's major tribes held a jirga and decided to observe a complete three day strike, demanding reparations and an end to civilian killings, and threatening to march on Islamabad.
Safdar Dawar, a journalist from North Waziristan and head of the Tribal Union of Journalists, says the killings of civilians in Bara and Mir Ali are not unprecedented, but the widespread, well-organized response of the tribesmen has surprised many.
While the Hazara protest in Quetta drew massive media attention and the eventual ear of the national government, the hundreds of tribesman who protested in Peshawar were dispersed with batons and tear gas, the bodies of their family members forcibly buried by security forces. The heavy-handed approach quickly drew condemnation from opposition political parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League (N), who have maintained for years that the war against militants in FATA has killed too many civilians and should be abandoned. Pakhtuns living across the country have held rallies of their own in cities like Lahore and Karachi decrying the ongoing military offensives in the Pakhtun-dominated tribal areas of Pakistan's northwest.
Nearly 700 people have been killed in Khyber Agency in 2012, making it the most violent agency in FATA. (North Waziristan saw about 346 people killed in the same period, mostly from drones). It has the bad luck of being a strategically important area, sitting next to Peshawar and hosting an important supply route for Afghanistan.
Like Khyber, many parts of FATA have seen multiple military operations since 2002, when soldiers were first deployed to the region to support NATO activities across the border. Since then, the Pakistani military has played a cat and mouse game with militants that has had a serious impact on locals. The military often employs artillery, jets, and helicopters that pound suspected militants, but as the example of Mir Ali shows, they occasionally end up killing civilians too. Millions of people have been forced to settle in other parts of the country, leaving many towns empty. After carrying out its operations, the military usually announces it is safe for locals to return to their homes, but the conflict continues.
In FATA, there is little legal recourse for civilians on the receiving end of the Pakistani military operations. Instead of being treated as individuals, residents can legally be held accountable for the actions of others belonging to their tribe, a policy that dates back to British colonial times. In 2011, the federal government announced a package that restricted collective punishment to males aged 16-65, and allowed for a military and civilian oversight board to review complaints of abuse, but human rights groups like Amnesty International say these measures have yet to be enacted, and would still allow the military to have the final say. Under pressure to effectively combat militancy in the region, other legislation has given the military sweeping powers to detain individuals indefinitely.
South Waziristan was once the primary base for militant groups in Pakistan. After several military operations, the area is one of the quietest. But as an Amnesty International report form 2010 explains, the peace came at a heavy price. While launching operations to retake the area from Taliban-aligned Mehsud tribesmen in 2009, the Pakistani government issued a blanket order to arrest any Mehsud and confiscate their property. As hundreds of thousands tried to flee towns that were being shelled by the military, witnesses recount how Mehsud refugees were turned around at military checkpoints. According to a government report, in a single month the military destroyed more than four thousand homes belonging to Mehsud tribesmen in South Waziristan.
Tribes that support the federal government have not fared much better.
Two years ago, the government recruited 250 local tribesmen to help fight Taliban militants in a village adjacent to Peshawar, but only gave them 87 rifles. So in late December, 2012, when hundreds of Taliban from a neighboring district carried out a sophisticated attack on checkpoints in the area, the local recruits were easily defeated. Two recruits were killed and twenty two taken hostage. The military issued an ultimatum to the local Taliban militants: turn over the kidnapped men or we will punish the entire village. Tribal elders said the situation was out of their hands, and a few days later twenty one bodies turned up. The village was embargoed and a curfew was imposed that lasted weeks. The military carried out several raids, destroying homes and detaining scores of men. A month later, the government finally admitted they had not adequately equipped locals to defend themselves against the Taliban, and offered financial compensation to the victims' families.
Dawar, the journalist from North Waziristan, offers a whole list of ways the war has made life unbearable in FATA. He says that residents of Bara have lived under a general curfew for three years. A similar curfew has been imposed on Mehsuds in South Waziristan. And in North Waziristan, there has been a long-running curfew every Saturday and Sunday. Amnesty International has documented how curfews are often imposed in areas where there are ongoing military operations, making it difficult for civilians to leave the area.
Perhaps the most egregious abuses in FATA involve extra-judicial detentions, torture, and the killing of suspected militants by security forces. "As the state's practices have moved away from large-scale military operations to sporadic clashes with armed groups over the last three years," a December 2012 report from Amnesty International explains, "the authorities' attention has shifted to search operations resulting in thousands of arrests and detentions."
It is difficult to even get a good estimate for the number of detainees in FATA. Detainees are shuffled from one security agency to another, and many seem to be held in unofficial prisons - hotels and other civilian buildings seized by security forces. In June 2012, the Peshawar High Court ordered the release of 1,035 detainees. According to the 2012 Amnesty report, the government has provided the names of about 1,000 people it is keeping in detention. But 2,000 cases of missing persons are still pending in the Peshawar High Court, brought by people suspecting their relatives are in government custody. The Amnesty report details many cases where families only learned the fate of their missing relatives once they had been released, sometimes after being severely tortured or even killed by interrogators.
"The tribal areas have lost their leadership," Dawar explains. Under the laws governing FATA, tribes appoint representatives called maliks to talk to the federal government. "Thousands of maliks have been killed or forced to leave since 2001 in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Bajaur, all over," Dawar says. The federal government only extended voting rights to FATA in 1997, and just last year it allowed political parties to operate in the region. Major political parties like the Pakistan People's Party and the Awami National Party routinely see their representatives in FATA killed. But without a constitutional amendment, future members of parliament will continue to be powerless. Article 247 of the Pakistani constitution puts FATA entirely under the power of the President, saying "No act of Parliament shall apply to any federally administered tribal area or to any part thereof, unless the President so directs."
The Pakistani military continues to be the most trusted power in the region, ahead of the Pakistani government, the Taliban, or the United States. But Dawar says tribal leaders are asking the military to leave their areas, and let them deal with the militants themselves. When it comes to the Pakistani military, Dawar explains, "in many tribal areas, they have lost their confidence in it, and are now trying to regain it."
Tribesmen have often banded together to expel al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or other extremist groups from their land. But they have also consistently claimed that the source of their current problems lies in Afghanistan and the U.S. invasion of 2001.
"If you are asking about Americans," Dawar says, "100% [of the people] here are hating Americans. They are thinking that this whole drama is from the side of America, because they came to Afghanistan. That is why they are demanding America leave Afghanistan."
"The elders and the people recall the situation before 2001, [when] they had their own culture, unity, lashkars [militias], and peace committees," he explains, which they know were more effective than any tools from "these stakeholders in the Great Game."
Umar Farooq is an independent journalist based in the United States. He is on twitter: @UmarFarooq_.
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
A growing confidence in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) capabilities appears to be an important factor in planning for a smaller U.S. residual force as Washington charts its post-2014 security mission. But despite ANSF's extraordinary growth rate, its abilities are increasingly limited largely because it was raised with low recruitment criteria and cannot function without continued international support. Although the Afghan army and police have slowly improved their skills in combat, their capacity and reach is still inadequate. In the past couple of years, the readiness and efficiency of the ANSF had been further undermined by a rising number of casualties, higher attrition and desertion rates, Taliban infiltration, and a growing distrust from their international partners over insider attacks.
However, among the promising elements of the ANSF are the Afghan Special Operation Forces or Afghan SOF. These are the elite Afghan commandos who are advised by U.S. Special Forces teams and are more carefully vetted than other members of the Afghan security forces. Members of Afghan SOF are picked from select units within the Afghan army and the police. After an initial three-month training in reconnaissance and other skills-including advanced rifle marksmanship, mortars and convoy operations, intelligence gathering, combat communications and medical skills-Afghan SOF then embed with U.S. forces for a six-month on-the-job training deployment before stepping out on their own. These elite fighting forces are widely commended by U.S. commanders for their competence in leading independent operations and specialized missions, including their roles in replacing U.S. forces in conducting night raids that have long triggered popular anger and strained U.S.-Afghan relations. Casualties in Afghan SOF units are minimal, and they have only experienced one "insider attack," which further adds to their credibility.
However, a number of important challenges will hamper the ability and success of these nascent forces after 2014.
Prominent among them is the size of the contingent. While the ANSF overall strength presently boasts at 350,000 troops, the number of Afghan SOF is at a trifling 12,000 personnel, which has increasingly limited their reach across the country. In order to expand their grasp, the Pentagon should boost the size of Afghan commandos by at least another 15 to 20 thousand soldiers.
Raising and sustaining elite forces is unquestionably more costly than the conventional forces. However, the Pentagon must weigh the cost of sufficient defense against the cost and implications of having resource-strapped Afghan SOF units confined to their bases with a lighter U.S. military footprint on the ground. With so much at stake, U.S. commanders must recognize the value of such a force in Afghanistan - a war that has so far cost U.S. taxpayers over half a trillion dollars. And while the upkeep of each American soldier in Afghanistan alone reportedly costs the Pentagon one million dollars a year - an estimated $66 billion for the current force level-maintaining an efficient, well-trained, and somewhat high-tech Afghan security force is a low-priced insurance policy.
Additionally, the Afghan Defense Ministry is already making long-term changes to structuring its security force to ensure it is affordable. By 2017, the ANSF force level is scheduled to shrink from 350,000 troops to roughly 240,000, a nearly 30 percent reduction in personnel. Higher pay will boost retention rates for the reduced force, which may mitigate the current problems with high attrition and desertion rates within the Army, and could mean fewer soldiers to replace. In this case, the downsized conventional force should be reorganized and modernized. And the ongoing reduction of international forces in Afghanistan must come with a renewed commitment from NATO to shouldering some of the cost of boosting the size of Afghan SOF.
Given the United States' own budgetary and fiscal problems, the optics of any added financial commitment to expanding the Afghan commandos units will understandably be unappealing to Washington. However, the Obama administration's affinity for America's own Special Forces should inform the White House's understanding that it will be these burgeoning Afghan Special Forces that will not only fend Afghanistan after 2014 but also deter the many existential security challenges that may threaten U.S. national security.
Another important challenge that hinders the ability of the Afghan SOF to function effectively is the lack of enablers-air and fire support, aerial surveillance, intelligence, medevac, and other resources-that U.S. troops currently provide. Regardless of how well the Afghan Special Forces are trained, they simply cannot stay operational in combat without these important enablers. Fortunately, the Pentagon is reportedly exploring plans to train and equip the ANSF with vehicles, attack helicopters, a handful of cargo planes, unarmed tactical drones, and other necessary equipment. These capabilities will only augment the crucial role Afghan SOF units play in preserving Afghan stability, without which they will be confined mostly to their bases, ceding the countryside to insurgent elements, including the Taliban.
As the ANSF take on the operational lead in nearly ninety percent of Afghanistan and the international forces assume their number one goal to "to train, assist and advise Afghan forces" by this spring, achieving the goal of ultimately having Afghan forces lead security nationwide at the end of 2014 will depend largely on their combat skills and readiness. The ANSF readiness this year will also depend on whether they continue to benefit from U.S. air support and other enablers. The Afghan SOF program is a bright spot and a critical element in the Afghan security forces, but their reach is limited given their small number and the lack of enablers, equipment and trainers. Responsibly preparing to deter many of the threats Afghanistan will face after 2014 requires more Afghan Special Forces. However, if the United States' post-2014 mission in Afghanistan is narrowly focused on counterterrorism operations, any continuing training of Afghan forces will be severely undermined, and that will have drastic implications for the larger Afghan transition.
Javid Ahmad, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views reflected here are his own.
"A decade of war is now ending," the president announced in his inaugural address Monday, even as soldiers continue to prepare for nine-month deployments to destinations including Uruzgan and Kandahar.
The White House has long talked in the abstract about bringing a ‘responsible' end to the war President Obama once called the fight ‘we have to win.' What has been less clear is what the U.S. government has in mind regarding the very critical details concerning its commitment to Afghanistan post-2014. Among the central questions: how many U.S. troops will remain on in Afghanistan, and what size Afghan force will the U.S. push for and fund?
"I can't, sitting here, tell you whether I believe that this administration is actually committed to trying to make the Afghan Army as good as it can be in the next two years or whether we're simply trying to look for a decent interval while we dump that," former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann recently said at the Brookings Institution.
"The fact is we have a policy. What we are not clear about is whether we're serious about that policy and what the policy requires," Neumann said. "We need a discussion that is more articulated about missions, both military missions and others, and one can take different positions on whether you should advise in the field or not, or whether you're going to provide air support and some other key things, at least for a limited period while the Afghans finish development of those."
The American people, for their part, seem to have amnesia when it comes to recent conflicts. Iraq is a faint though bloody memory, and only for a fighting sliver of our country is Afghanistan a war that is still being fought.
Even as the battle in Afghanistan begins its slow wind down, America and its leaders still struggle to engage with it in a serious way.
That is why it is not terribly surprising to see Zero Dark Thirty disturb so many. It was not a glorification of torture, or a justification of its horrors and the consequences of it. Instead the film offered a well-lit snapshot of a fight and a war that few in this country have acknowledged more than momentarily, let alone debated. The film reminds viewers of battles most have not wanted to see or speak of beyond perfunctory praise for America's troops fighting and dying in places their countrymen will never know.
When war does not intrude on Americans' daily life, even in news headlines, it is easy to understand why colliding with the brutality of its reality is shocking. America has forcefully avoided engaging with a war fought by less than one percent of its population, and its leaders have shrunk at explaining either the stakes or the mission at hand in Afghanistan. The closest that many have come to reading about the Afghanistan war of late is probably coverage of the scandal surrounding former Gen. David Petraeus' resignation.
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington earlier this month comes another step on the path to closing out this war with which Americans long ago grew tired. Multiple U.S. troop deployments, deadly ‘green on blue' attacks on American soldiers, and Afghan government corruption account for much of the exhaustion. But a lack of leadership from Washington is also worth noting.
In his book tour interviews former Gen. Stanley McChrystal nearly pleaded with the American public to care about its longest-ever war. He also argued that not all is lost.
"I believe Afghanistan can be stable," McChrystal said on CBS. "I think they must take responsibility for their security, the vast lion's share, but I think the strategic partnership that President Obama offered to President Karzai is critical. Not just physically. It's not how many troops and how much money, it's the idea in the minds of Afghans that they have a reliable partner."
And as former Sen. Chuck Hagel seeks to become Defense Secretary Hagel the details and durability of that partnership is on the minds of others who have served in Afghanistan on the diplomatic side.
"We have the structures in place, both bilaterally, through our strategic partnership agreement that carries on to 2024, and internationally, through the Chicago agreements to fund Afghan security forces into the out years, as well as the Tokyo ministerial from July that pledged the international community to something like $16 billion in economic support on terms of conditionality, again over the next three to four years. So the architecture is there," said former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker last month. "What is critical is American will -- because again, let me tell you something learned through hard experience: If we don't lead, others are going to wander away too, and those pledges will vanish like smoke. Absolutely guarantee it."
Crocker argued for an American wallet that remains open to support Afghan forces and a fledgling civil society.
"We will wind up paying about $2.5 billion a year to support -- as our share of support for Afghan security forces totaling 230,000. That sounds like a lot of money until you consider that we're paying about $110 billion a year now. So this is pretty cheap insurance," Crocker said. "And I have argued and will argue, that support for Afghan women, for civil society, for social and economic development is also pretty cheap insurance to prevent a spirit of hopelessness from taking hold among the general population that makes it easy for the Taliban."
Unfortunately, a spirit of hopelessness already has taken hold among the American public.
Whether the country's leaders decide to challenge that despair and dig into the details of and the rationale behind America's involvement in Afghanistan after next year remains an unanswered question. But the past few years leave little reason to think that Washington will soon open up and start talking about the war and its goals. And an exhausted American public is unlikely to push them to do so.
For America the war may be over, but men and women in uniform continue to fight it.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images
Close observers of Afghanistan are not likely to be surprised by recent allegations contained in a United Nations report that the Afghan National Security Directorate, the CIA's leading counterterrorism partner in South Asia, used whips and electric shocks to squeeze confessions out of suspected insurgent detainees. There are many ways to describe the directorate, or NDS as it is locally known, but a model of modern intelligence gathering and investigative efficiency is not one of them.
The report, which was quietly published on the website of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on Sunday, details a grim pattern of abuse and mistreatment in NDS prisons, and has put yet another dent in NDS's reputation at a time when the Afghan intelligence agency has never been more vulnerable. A key partner in the ongoing U.S. quest to contain transnational terrorism in South and Central Asia, NDS seems to have fallen on very hard times of late. Yet, few in Washington appear ready to confront the implications of NDS's downward spiral, a trend that seems to be accelerating as NATO marches toward the exit.
Last week, in an unprecedented show of force at least half a dozen Taliban fighters charged the gates of NDS headquarters in central Kabul, set off a suicide truck bomb and nearly blasted their way straight into the central nervous system of the Afghan intelligence agency. Some 32 civilians and security personnel were injured, and at least one NDS officer was killed on the spot. The attack might have been a little less demoralizing, however, had it not been for another purported Taliban assault in Kabul only a month earlier on an alleged NDS safe house in central Kabul that severely wounded the agency's well-known chief, Asadullah Khalid.
Both incidents beg a couple of questions that US, NATO and Afghan officials must all be asking themselves these days. First, just how safe is an Afghan intelligence agency safe house if a suicide bomber can gain entry and blow up the director of said intelligence agency? And, what do the latest assaults mean for NATO's transition out of the country? Like many things in Afghanistan, the answer is both simple and complex.
In the "simple" column: Asadullah Khalid, the newly ordained head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, probably has about as many enemies-personal and political-as he does friends. The December 6 attack on Khalid was the fifth in as many years. A two-time governor who served in the volatile and politically pivotal provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni, Khalid is a high roller with deep ties to mujahideen elites. His close associates run the gamut from hardcore Islamist conservative Afghan elites such as Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a cagey Pashtun commander who trained 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the late and legendary glad-handing southern brother of President Hamid Karzai.
Originally from Ghazni, a part of Afghanistan whose political, ethnic and religious paroxysms most closely parallel that of Florida, Khalid has counted coup in innumerable Afghan skirmishes spanning from the late 1980's to the present. Before President Karzai appointed him governor of Ghazni in 2002, Khalid served as head of NDS's provincial affairs department, and, several of his colleagues aver, was a first runner up to replace NDS's first director, Engineer Arif Sarwary when Sarwary stepped down in 2004. Instead, however, Karzai's inner circle eventually decided in 2005 that Khalid would be a better fit as governor of the president's home province, Kandahar.
It was in Kandahar that Khalid burnished a reputation for applying tough tactics to insurgent detainees after Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin alleged in testimony before the Canadian parliament in November 2009 that Khalid "personally tortured people" in a "dungeon" beneath his residence. Khalid has repeatedly denied the Canadian claims.
An ethnic Pashtun who also briefly served as minister of borders and tribal affairs before his appointment to NDS, Khalid has rejected similar allegations lodged in the British high court late last year. Khalid's denials aside, the most recent UN report on NDS torture practices would certainly seem to bear out a persistent pattern in the Afghan presidential palace of ignoring the obvious when it is convenient to do so.
In the "complex" column, a combination of hubris, insouciance, and vanity peculiar to many of Kabul's leading powerbrokers seems to have left Khalid especially vulnerable to violent fissures that are slowly rendering the once relatively effective Afghan intelligence agency ineffective and deeply compromised. Shortly before the bombing, Khalid coupled his denials of involvement in torture with equally vehement and venomous anti-Taliban rhetoric. During his testimony before Afghanistan's lower house of parliament before his appointment was confirmed in September, he alternately promised to exterminate Taliban outliers who refuse to accept Karzai's reconciliation terms and to support cross border operations into Pakistan in response to cross border shelling by the Pakistani army along the country's eastern border.
Khalid at one point purportedly took control of the CIA-backed Kandahar Strike Force, an aggressive local militia that was accused in 2010 by Afghan officials of assassinating the southern province's local police chief. Not long after his adventures in Kandahar, Khalid got involved in backing a controversial anti-Taliban uprising in Ghazni by provincial locals. Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people in a tough neighborhood where the biggest house on the block is owned by the Pakistani military, a key supporter of the Afghan Taliban.
All of the above without doubt made the NDS chief especially susceptible. But there are two other critical factors that also played important roles in the attack on Khalid and the one-two-punch assault on NDS headquarters a month later. The first factor is factionalism. Factionalism within the official state Afghan security services has been a fact of life since they were created, but the phenomenon has worsened considerably since the onset of NATO's transition out of the country, and it has not left Afghanistan's chief intelligence agency untouched. Karzai has hired and fired a total of four NDS chiefs since 2002, including two within the last two years -- Khalid and Karzai's former personal security chief Rahmatullah Nabil. Each changing of the guard has been followed by purge and counter-purge of various networks affiliated with the new chiefs, leaving deep wells of mistrust, particularly between the largely non-Pashtun retinue of NDS officers allied with the Northern Alliance and Pashtuns affiliated either with Sayyaf, warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or others of a more Islamist bent.
Meanwhile, growing concerns among NDS leaders about increased infiltration of insurgents and Iranian and Pakistani double agents within their ranks has resulted in the reported arrests of a little more than a dozen NDS officials in the last year. These problems have been known for sometime but only really started turning heads at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when in April 2012 the NDS failed to accurately analyze scads of tips about an impending attack on Kabul that was billed as one of the largest in the entire war. Conflicts between Pashtuns and the primarily Panjshiri Tajik dominated officer corps of the NDS have been cited as among the main reasons that information about that attack did not reach the right people at the right time in Kabul.
The second factor is Khalid's personal blind spot. At 43, Khalid cuts quite the dashing figure, and a one-time colleague of Khalid told me recently that he is known amongst his peers as having a predilection for a bit of flash and panache. Indeed, the guesthouse where the suicide bomber struck is situated in one of the tonier areas of the capital, and for several months before the incident in question and well before Khalid's appointment to NDS it was thought to be his personal playhouse. Neighbors recall hearing raucous music blaring out of the so-called NDS safe house Khalid had occupied and some distinctly recall the party until dawn atmosphere that the property frequently appeared to witness on Thursday nights. It is unclear whether the NDS chief was mixing business with pleasure at the house, but it is undeniable that his address, his presence and his seeming love of loud music was well known to most in the neighborhood well before the bombing.
Some of Khalid's associates also apparently knew in advance that the intelligence chief had been expecting a very special visitor the day of the bombing at the house. As one longtime friend of Khalid's explained -- and several media outlets have reported -- the suicide bomber was a former Taliban prisoner who was allegedly acting as a messenger for Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura.
Like his one time colleague and elder statesman, former president and High Peace Council chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani, it seems Khalid could not resist the temptation to amplify his political profile as leading dealmaker cum peace negotiator. So when the freed Taliban prisoner arrived at Khalid's guest house cum safe house in the Taimani neighborhood of Kabul Khalid hardly expected the young man to come bearing a bomb in his underpants. But, much like Rabbani's assassination in October 2011, it was that close "personal touch," that dealt the big blow.
All this will, of course, require a lot of chewing over in the coming weeks and months ahead as NATO continues its accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. As for Khalid, he'll have plenty of time to think it through while he convalesces at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. And, at least he won't be lonely while he's meditating on his future and the prospects for NDS; Khalid has already received visits from President Obama, Leon Panetta, and, naturally his old friend Hamid Karzai in recent weeks.
And, perhaps while Khalid gets some rest and everyone's giving the latest turn of evens with NDS good long think, NATO and U.S. officials will finally sit down to hash out what to do next with America's top partner in the fight against terrorism in South and Central Asia. The White House in particular, might want to consider whether it can continue to tie America's fortunes to intelligence outfits like NDS without first figuring out how (and whether it's possible) to help governments like Karzai's to clean these agencies up. The Obama administration might also want to calculate the overall impact of its continued uncritical support for regimes that employ torture to ensure state security and how that might in the long-term hinder its efforts to unring the bell rung by a panicked Bush administration the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. If anything the most recent series of attacks in Kabul should have demonstrated to Washington, it is time for a serious rollback and reset where NDS is concerned.
Candace Rondeaux lived and worked in Afghanistan for nearly five-years, first as the Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau chief for The Washington Post and more recently as senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. She is a research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School in New York, and she is currently writing a political history of the Afghan security forces from 2001 to 2014.
Just after Christmas, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) offered a peace deal of sorts to the Pakistani government. In exchange for a cessation of TTP violence, they demanded Pakistan's constitution be brought into conformity with their version of Islamic law and the government break ties with the United States. In response, a senior Pakistani government official reportedly called the offer "preposterous."
Yet it may not be, especially regarding the implementation of religious law. Similar demands were met in 2009 after the TTP took the Swat valley, with the Pakistani government giving away these very rights. The local government led by the Awami National party agreed to establish sharia law in Swat and the broader Malakand Division, which was approved by the national parliament and signed by President Zardari. It was only when the Pakistani Taliban pushed for more territorial gains that the government responded with force of arms. If past is prologue, the government may bend to get a deal now.
However, the status quo arguably meets TTP demands regarding religious law, as much of what they seek already exists - Islamic law plays a major role in governance, and militants are free to violently force their religious interpretations on the population.
This slide towards religious governance goes back to the country's founding. From the outset, the Objectives Resolution of 1949, which preceded the first of several constitutions, tilted Pakistan towards an Islamic state where citizens and their rights were defined by religion. This occurred despite Jinnah's famous speech two years earlier to the Constituent Assembly, in which he said, "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State." The Objectives Resolution went in a different direction, and while it recognized the presence of religious minorities, it only promised "adequate provision" of basic rights, while defining the entire state in Islamic terms. Constitutions that followed built off and expanded this foundation.
The biggest leaps came from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's secular Prime Minister from 1973-1977, and General Zia ul Haq's reign from 1978-1988. Under Bhutto, the Ahmadis were effectively outlawed through constitutional changes that created a definition of a Muslim that excluded Ahmadis. The constitution was also amended to establish the Council of Islamic Ideology to advise on whether proposed laws are compatible with Islam. Not considered particularly devout, he took these and other steps to shore-up his flagging political fortunes, currying the support of religious leaders.
Zia went even further, setting into place much of what the TTP wants today, changing both statutory law and constitutional provisions. He amended the blasphemy law, a colonial era holdover, and increased the penalty to include death, but without requiring the provision of evidence. This alone has had far-reaching effects. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) where I work knows of at least 17 people on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy and 20 others serving life sentences. Many more are in jail awaiting trial or appeal. The surprising outcome of the Rimsha Masih case is an exception to the sad norm.
In addition, Zia altered the penal code to criminalize the basic acts of the Ahmadi faith. He amended the constitution to create the Federal Shariat Court to review legislation that may conflict with sharia law, creating an unclear legal structure that appears to run parallel to or oversee the secular system. In addition, Zia Islamicized the education system, the banking system, and the penal system through the Hudood ordinances.
And today, for what the law does not forbid (which is much), militants have free reign to impose their religious views at the point of a gun.
This was shockingly evident last week, with the January 10 attack that killed 81 Shi'a Muslims in twin bombings in a Shiite area of Quetta. The attack was tragically predictable, as the targeting of Shia Muslims steadily increased throughout 2012, with rights groups estimating (before this attack) more than 400 murdered. The TTP, and fellow travelers like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, regularly claim responsibility. Human rights organizations continue to criticize government inaction, but the body count keeps rising.
Another case in point is the TTP murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister of Minority Affairs and the only Christian in Zardari's cabinet. Working bravely against the blasphemy law, the TTP answered Shahbaz's efforts in 2010 by assassinating him steps from his mother's Islamabad home in broad daylight. The TTP were so brazen as to leave fliers at the scene claiming responsibility, but no one has been held accountable and the investigation fizzled.
Ahmadis continue to suffer discrimination, abuse, and violence. 80 Ahmadis were killed in May 2010 when two of their mosques were attacked by the TTP. Violence continues today throughout the country - in July of this year the president of a local Ahmadi community outside Karachi was murdered and in December over 100 Ahmadi graves desecrated in Lahore. Hindus too are among the victims of Pakistan's climate of intolerance. The forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls has increased in Sindh Province, and in 2012 upwards of 250 Pakistani Hindus from Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces have migrated to India to avoid increasing violence. Christians remember the violence of Gojra in 2009, where an entire village was burned to the ground and no one held to account, and last year the National Commission for Justice and Peace found nine places of worship were damaged, destroyed or vandalized, including 5 churches and 3 Hindu temples.
Clearly, the Pakistani Taliban's demand for enforcement of their version of Islamic law is not far from reality. In the current environment, Pakistani law is used to enforce religious views, and militants act with impunity against those they consider un-Islamic. Both the majority Muslim population and minority religious communities are at risk. Pakistan's active civil society must continually retreat and retrench to protect the small openings for peaceful debate and human rights work. Consequently, the very fabric of Pakistan is being torn, and if this "preposterous" ask is implemented, it could unravel more.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
Denying al Qaeda's re-emergence in Afghanistan requires ensuring that Afghanistan can be sufficiently stable and capable of defending itself, as President Barack Obama explained during the surge announcement at West Point on Dec. 1, 2009. Al Qaeda is not present in large numbers (perhaps less than 1,000) in Afghanistan now, but Secretary Leon Panetta stated in November 2012 that "intelligence continues to indicate that they are looking for some kind of capability to be able to go into Afghanistan as well." The U.S. and NATO cannot allow war weariness and economic conditions to obscure the realities and requirements they face. The recently announced accelerated shift to a "support role" in Afghanistan could become a guise to withdraw if "support" means just a few thousand counterterrorism forces and trainers.
In the eyes of many officials, a sound counterterrorism strategy rests on the assumption that the U.S. and NATO can kill their way toward a better future, against the Taliban and the Haqqanis or against al Qaeda and its affiliates. A decade of war proves the falsehood of this assumption. Experts outside the military are better qualified to determine how best to assist Afghanistan in the areas of governance, economic development, and reconciliation, and how best to move forward in Pakistan. But my experience in accelerating the growth of the Iraqi security forces -- in size, capacity, and confidence -- during the Iraqi "surge" of 2007 to 2008 qualifies me to speak about what is necessary to help the Afghan army succeed in taking lead responsibility.
The Afghans and NATO began a program of accelerated Afghan National Army (ANA) growth in 2009, recognizing that sufficient capacity is still years away. The ANA's combat power is only partially developed. The tip of the ANA's spear, its fighting units, is more developed than its shaft, its enabler capacity. Its human intelligence ability can sense near-term threats, but its capacity to detect and anticipate threats is low. On the ground, it can maneuver well, but the ANA lacks the air and ground mobility to shift forces around the country in order to mass against the enemy. Lack of mobility and its still-developing staff capacity reduce the ANA's ability to apply timely and coordinated force. The ANA can place accurate enough direct fire against the enemy once engaged but has only limited land-based indirect fire ability. Nor does it have adequate air-delivered fires, important in the mountains and remote areas of Afghanistan. Pending medical, supply, maintenance, and transport capacity means that the ANA has limited ability to maintain momentum against the enemy once engaged. Leadership quality varies. All these shortcomings affect the ANA's confidence and combat power; none will be complete by the end of this year or next.
None of this should be a surprise. In 2009, the Afghans and NATO wisely placed primary emphasis on accelerating fighting units, with secondary emphasis on enabler capacity. While their own systems were being developed and fielded, ANA fighting units could receive the support they needed from their NATO partners. As Afghan systems emerged, NATO support could be "thinned out" and ultimately cut altogether. To do otherwise would have been to grow the ANA at the pace of its slowest element, an approach that did not match the Afghan "surge" strategy adopted in 2009. In an underdeveloped country that has suffered from over 30 years of war and has very low literacy rates, growing enabler systems -- supply, medical, transport, analytic, staff, communications, air- and land-based indirect support -- takes longer. For this reason, the ANA will need some U.S. and NATO enabler support beyond 2014.
So how should the U.S. and NATO assist the ANA in taking lead security responsibility? First, leave a combat brigade, at least through 2014, to partner with Afghan forces in the east -- a strategically important area where heavy fighting against the Haqqanis will continue. Second, in the south and southwest, embed assistance teams with every ANA battalion and higher to provide access to NATO enabling support, solidify gains already made, and deny the Taliban's return to their historical stronghold. Third, in the west and north, embed assistance teams with ANA brigades and higher -- again to provide access to NATO enabling support and solidify gains already made. Fourth, provide development teams for the ANA's major commands (recruiting, logistics, medical, areas support, and detention), the ANA's general headquarters, and the Ministry of Defense -- to continue development of the ANA's "shaft." Finally, the U.S. and NATO should leave behind "dual-purposed" enabler forces -- intelligence, airlift and medical evacuation, air and ground indirect fires, supply, maintenance, ground transport, and logistics. These forces would support both the residual NATO training teams and provide the ANA support it does not have, until its systems reach sufficient capacity. Combined, these actions will improve both ANA combat power and confidence, increasing the probability that it will be successful in assuming lead security responsibility.
The exact size of this assistance and support effort can only be determined by a proper civil-military dialogue among the NATO nations and the Afghans. But, if the United States and NATO want to increase the probability that the ANA will be successful, the number will be around 30,000 troops, and this number will be required at least for the rest of this year and next. The size and cost of this force will diminish over time and will be significantly less than then near $10 billion per month the war cost at its height. U.S. and NATO strategic objectives are not yet accomplished in Afghanistan and cannot be "outsourced" to the Afghans. Pushing the Taliban out of the south is not permanent. The counteroffensive in the east is incomplete. The Taliban and the Haqqanis have not been defeated, and al Qaeda intends to return to Afghanistan.
Killing Osama bin Laden was a hugely important success, but it was only a disruption. Al Qaeda is not "dismantled or defeated," and it remains dedicated to bleed America and the West, to depose governments it claims are apostate, to eliminate the state of Israel, and to gain control of Central Asia, North Africa, and the Greater Middle East. Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. They control an area about the size of Texas in North Africa that includes parts of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, and Chad. Despite ample sanctuary elsewhere, they want to return to Afghanistan -- for historical and symbolic reasons in addition to the complexity of the terrain, which is a nightmare for counterterrorism forces. They still recruit within the U.S. and Europe and have not given up on attacking both directly. They have not waivered with respect to their strategic objectives; neither should the U.S. or NATO.
If the United States and NATO don't finish the job now, they will leave it to another generation. Many of those fighting in Afghanistan now were 5 and 6 years old at the start of the war; we do not want the same future for the current generation of 5- and 6-year-olds. Leaving an adequate assistance and support force in Afghanistan through 2013 and beyond is in the U.S. and NATO's security interest. Certainly, the U.S. and NATO cannot afford to conduct operations as they have for the past decade. But equally certain, the U.S. and NATO cannot allow war weariness and economic conditions to obscure the realities and requirements they face. If the U.S. and NATO provide less-than-adequate support to the ANA this year and beyond, they should at least not fool themselves of the likely waste and result.
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (retired) is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, where Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst and team lead.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
While Washington phases out its combat mission and withdraws troops from Afghanistan this year, the Taliban continues to increase its use of violence and refuses to negotiate with the Afghan government towards a political settlement. With no military victory over the Taliban in sight, the White House needs to make peace talks with the Taliban a centerpiece of its exit strategy in order to ensure that Afghanistan will not lapse back into civil war after most of the U.S. troops leave by 2014.
Currently, about 66,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, but the number is expected to be cut drastically this spring and into 2014 when the U.S. combat role ends and Afghanistan takes full responsibility for its security. Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Washington this week and one of the key items on the agenda was for the two governments to discuss the various options for and potential effects of a residual U.S. military presence beyond 2014 that would train and equip the Afghan security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Numerous discussions and scenario planning occurred this week in regards to the drawdown of security forces and its implications on potential peace talks. Sending ripple effects across the policy making community, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said on Tuesday that President Obama is not ruling out the possibility of withdrawing all U.S. troops by the end of next year. While many in the policy community deem this as a negotiation tactic by the Obama administration, a complete troop withdrawal would undoubtedly have lasting implications for potential peace talks with the Taliban. The scenario of zero U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan would create an opportunity for the hardline elements of the Taliban to wait out the American withdrawal and subsequently emerge as an inhibiting force for peace which has no interest in a negotiated political settlement.
On Friday, escalating concerns by both the Afghan- and American policy communities were realized when in a joint statement President Obama and President Karzai agreed to speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces. The potentially bleak realities resulting from a hastened U.S. troop withdrawal are an increasingly likely end. The move also highlights the Obama administration's growing posture to end a nuanced and unfavorable war.
Despite the recent developments, it remains a critical security imperative for Washington that Afghanistan does not once again revert into a safe haven for terrorist activities, anarchy and civil war. A resilient Taliban insurgency, widespread corruption within the Afghan government, and the inability of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to protect the Afghan nation on its own after foreign troops leave require Washington to reevaluate its strategy vis-à-vis peace talks with the Taliban. For the talks to succeed and a durable peace process to emerge, Afghans must lead the talks with the Taliban in an inclusive and transparent manner, with full support from their regional neighbors and Washington. Above all, the White House and Kabul must be on the same page and adopt a unified policy towards reconciliation. Moreover, Washington must provide strategic economic and political support for the Afghan government to lead the process and must adopt a firm stance toward Pakistan through constructive diplomacy.
Following the assassination of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, Head of the High Peace Council, in September 2011, the reconciliation process became dormant. The talks gained a renewed momentum after the French think tank, Foundation for Strategic Research, organized a meeting between representatives of the Taliban, Afghan political parties and civil society groups last December. Senior members of the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami, the High Peace Council, political opposition groups, civil society and the Afghan parliament attended the two-day talks, marking the significance and increased inclusiveness of the reconciliation process. Numerous Afghan and international policy analysts believe that the seniority of the Taliban representatives attending the Paris Talks indicates they are serious about the possibility of a negotiated political settlement.
While some Afghans and foreign observers consider the Paris Talks as a positive catalyst for the overall peace process, others remain skeptical that the talks will result in a durable and inclusive peace agreement. The Taliban continue to reiterate that they would not talk with the Afghan government. Recently, the Taliban envoys at the Paris Talks restated their position that neither the Afghan constitution nor the Kabul government were legitimate and they had no plans to negotiate with the latter now or in the future. However, Taliban representatives cooperated in talks with the opposition leaders in Paris representing the Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek ethnic groups, indicating a greater potential for movement towards increased factionalism and bringing the legitimacy and cohesiveness of the central government and the gains made during the past 11 years into jeopardy.
In May 2012, Washington and Kabul signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement in which the U.S. designated Afghanistan as a "Major Non-NATO Ally" and committed to protecting and remaining engaged into 2024 in an advisory capacity. Yet, certain regional actors still maintain the belief that the U.S. will once again abandon Afghanistan and therefore continue to support the Taliban and other extremist militant groups as a proxy to exert influence over Afghanistan's future. This scenario would not only have security implications throughout the region, but would also affect wider, global security. It would allow al-Qaeda and its affiliates to reestablish themselves in parts of Afghanistan, where they could plot against America and its allies.
The Peace Process Roadmap recently issued by the High Peace Council proposes a negotiated political settlement by 2015 with the Taliban and other insurgent groups including Hizb-e-Islami. However the roadmap fails to address key issues such as the disarmament of these groups. If there is a power-sharing deal within the government that includes the Taliban and other armed extremist groups without a provision for the disarmament of these groups and their acceptance of the legitimacy of the government, the outcome of the reconciliation could pave the way for a divided Afghanistan with a weak central government, and would compromise the gains of the past 11 years. Additionally, such a politically negotiated settlement would face considerable backlash from political opposition groups, as well as civil society.
After three decades of war, Afghans are weary of war and desire peace. However, peace must not come at the cost of human rights and democracy. In the absence of a democratic government, Afghanistan could become a hotbed for terrorism once again. Washington invested heavily in Afghanistan over the past 11 years in order to combat extremism, and the U.S. government should have a vested interest in deterring the emergence of terrorism hotbeds and ensuring a stable Afghanistan beyond 2014. A peaceful, democratic Afghanistan where human rights are protected should be a security imperative for Washington, necessitating that it put its full support behind an inclusive, transparent peace process led by Afghans and promoted by regional actors. Furthermore, any peace talks with the Taliban must not come at the cost of compromising human rights and setting back the hard won gains of the past 11 years, making it ever more an imperative that the U.S. closely reevaluate its troop withdrawal strategy.
While it remains unclear how a politically negotiated settlement will play out in the coming years and who the key stakeholders will be, it is clear that the Taliban does not wish to talk with the current Afghan government, leaving Washington to think outside the box and tap into other credible stakeholders in Afghanistan that could help lead the process. Afghan civil society leaders represent various ethnic and interest groups including religious minorities, women and youth and could be key players and stakeholders in the peace process. National consensus at all levels is critical to whatever peace process emerges in Afghanistan. Bringing in a neutral third party to broker a peace negotiation is not a bad idea, but the devil is in the details of who could serve as a neutral third party with the ever-growing list of stakeholders and spoilers to peace in Afghanistan. Without a unified reconciliation policy between Kabul and the White House and regional countries' sincere cooperation, achieving an acceptable peace agreement before the 2014 elections and troop drawdown would prove considerably more challenging and endanger the progress the country has made over the past decade. The new window of opportunity rests in the recent endorsement in the joint statement issued by President Obama and President Karzai of the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar in hopes of bringing insurgents to inter-Afghan talks.
Hamid Arsalan, a founding member of Afghan
Analytica, is a Program Officer for the
Middle East and North Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Hodei Sultan, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Officer for the Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The views reflected here are solely those of the authors.
A version of this piece was originally published here.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (Little Brown and Company, New York 2012), 673pp. $29.99.
On October 3, 2009, an assembled impromptu force of hundreds of Afghans overran a deeply vulnerable U.S. outpost, killing eight American soldiers. In retracing this tragic battle and the events that led to it, Jake Tapper has written perhaps the best book set in Afghanistan to date.
This deeply researched book covers the four successive cavalry squadrons -- reconnaissance units of about 300 soldiers, mostly men -- who serve in what will become known as Combat Outpost (or COP) Keating. Albeit written without ever visiting the small outpost of the title, Tapper traces its three-year (plus) history from its establishment in the summer of 2006 through the major attack on the base in October 2009. The COP would be destroyed by American airpower just days later, denying its use to local Afghans. Tapper's narrative arc clearly lays out the human drama, which, in full disclosure, involves friends and acquaintances of mine from my previous military service. I know these men well enough to know that Tapper has accurately captured them.
At one level, this book is simply a piece of tightly crafted narrative non-fiction. Divided into three sections, with a very helpful list of the shifting cast of characters, Tapper chronicles life in this desolate piece of remote, and majestically beautiful, Eastern Afghanistan. The work depicts the all-too-human struggles encountered, from the physical challenges of the soldiers on the ground, to those more strategic and moral with which the more senior officers wrestle.
While Tapper clearly admires his subjects, this book is no whitewash. With the possible exception of then-Lieutenant Andrew Bunderman who finds himself unexpectedly in command during the attack, there are no unambiguous heroes. But Bunderman is a rare under-developed character. Elsewhere, compromised situations force compromised decisions, from the seniors leaders to the privates on the ground. Perhaps because Tapper never embedded with these units, instead reconstructing events post hoc, he maintains an admirable detachment, highlighting flaws even in those men he most clearly admires. This narrative alone is more than worth the price of admission.
Tapper is equally effective at capturing the Army's socio-economic breadth and depth, adding nuance and texture to the oft-depicted cliché of a divide between officers and grunts. Upper middle class officers such as Michael Howard, Chris Kolenda and Brad Brown, who despite having command responsibility for Keating (and numerous other bases), did not live there or share its hardships, come to life in the narrative. So do Keating's more humble denizens, such as both the newly married, recently orphaned Ryan Fritsche, who dies on a hillside near the outpost under the tenure of the second occupying squadron, and the Army mechanic and de facto bigamist Vernon Martin, who perishes in the final battle some years later.
However, the book works most powerfully as a metaphor for the entire Afghanistan project. In the cycle of four units relieving each other over the course of three years, the mood comes full circle. The first squadron shows great enthusiasm, ignoring the clear tactical vulnerability of an outpost in a valley in order to be near to the Afghan villagers. Three years later, this inherent vulnerability and ineffectiveness can no longer be ignored, but the last unit cannot marshal the resources necessary to close the base before it is over-run. While the commanders of the last unit will shoulder much of the official blame, it is not clear that they could have done any more than the final commanders of a similarly indefensible valley fortress, at Dien Bien Phu-the infamously mis-sited French base in Vietnam, whose similar, if larger scale, vulnerability put an end to the French campaign in IndoChina. Tapper's prologue deals with the incredulous analyst who details the laundry list of reasons why Keating should not be positioned where it was-base of a peak, rivers on two sides, no good road, far away even by helicopter. While the analyst does not use the words "rice bowl" as Viet Mihn General Giap famously did the soon-to-be-surrendered Dien Bien Phu, the sentiment is clearly the same.
In these four units we see the complete cycle that characterizes most encounters with Afghanistan-naïve idealism, then modest success, then decline, then concern....and finally disaster. Perversely, it is the modest successes that encourage continued investment in the campaign. Afghanistan seems to have become a "baited ambush" at all levels of war, with just enough enticement to keep investing. The limited tactical successes of Chris Kolenda (the second squadron commander) give the illusion of military and political progress, though they quickly fade. And at the grand strategic level, the 2009 elections that return President Karzai to power are lauded despite being widely considered fraudulent-because they are. But at both levels, being able to "check the box" on an accomplishment seems to justify more effort. The ability to convince one's self that things are improving, or at least that improvement is "just around the corner," has been instrumental to this decade-long debacle.
The irony, of course, is that the Army, like most American institutions, uses a short-term rewards system. Therefore, the officers (and their civilian advisors) who conceptualized the fatally placed base continue to progress through the ranks, based on their glowing "report cards" for establishing COP Keating. Meanwhile, the commanders who were flabbergasted and scandalized by the placement of the inherited outpost are forever tainted by it being destroyed under their watch.
Tapper has done a two-fold service with this book. First, he lays out a highly engaging narrative that fully engages the reader across three years in one desolate corner of Afghanistan-albeit via the American viewpoint. But more importantly, he provides a window into the false hopes and visions that enabled this failed experiment, an attempt to create government in spaces that had actively avoided such. Tapper shows-without telling-that the United States had, and has, no national interest remaining in Afghanistan, other than eliminating Al Qaeda safe havens. The U.S. presence in general was misguided and the "outposting" push into the remote valleys of Nuristan and Kunar particularly inane. Tapper's characters show the price that was paid-in blood, in careers, in broken relationships, in damaged psyches, not to mention in money.
Tapper's book is not anti-war by any means. But it is anti-stupid war. And he clearly shows that, while there was a clear justification for the overthrow of the Taliban regime, by the time of the events he narrates, this was a war of choice.
A bad choice.
Douglas A. Ollivant, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a retired Army officer. He spent 12 months in 2010-2011 as the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commander, Regional Command East, Afghanistan. He is on Twitter at @DouglasOllivant.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Early last month, while the United States was in its own pre-election haze, Americans giddily re-tweeting whatever incremental shift Nate Silver's model had just spat out, CNN personalities with their Magic Wall, nightly groping at some Ohio precinct, over in Kabul, Karzai was making his move. With the West's gaze averted, he quietly set in motion his plan to control Afghanistan's next election.
Through the ministry of justice, Karzai pushed a draft amendment to the country's election law that would add sweeping new restrictions to candidate eligibility for the Afghan presidency. The law now sits in Parliament awaiting debate, but if it passes, it would disqualify anyone who has a disability -- physical or psychological, anyone who can't speak and write in both Dari and Pashtu, anyone who doesn't have ten years of work experience in the administration, anyone who doesn't have a university degree, anyone who can't pay one million Afs (the equivalent of $20,000), and anyone who can't come up with 100,000 signatures cumulatively from at least twenty different provinces.
A contrast, to be sure, with the comparatively modest 35 years of age and a citizen required of U.S. presidential candidates. But is it a necessary one? After all, superficially the law would seem to weed out warlords, as well as especially ethnocentric candidates, for whom the inability to speak one of the languages that half the country speaks may indicate undue animus towards them, and for whom signatures from twenty provinces would seem to demand at least some appeal beyond just an ethnic powerbase which, in the fractious ethnic politics of the country, could be enough to propel a candidate into a run off election. Besides,
"Afghanistan is very unsettled," as Ambassador Ronald Neumann, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, told me. "It is not clear whether a brokered election coming out of agreement among power brokers would be more or less destabilizing than a contentious fight among multiple candidates with highly partisan ethnic or tribal political bases."
And perhaps that's what's going on here; perhaps Karzai knows better than anyone how to promote a peaceful transition, and, in furtherance of that goal, what kind of people should be disqualified.
Or perhaps he knows exactly which people he wants to disqualify. The timing, after all, is curious. Eighteen months before an election is awfully late to introduce laws that restrict who can stand for them. And when you look at the names that began to circulate in the rumors about the upcoming elections, an explanation emerges: he had to wait that long because he had to see who might run before designing laws to disqualify them.
Haneef Atmar, the highly regarded bureaucrat who served ably in three different ministries, lost a leg while fighting in Jalalabad in ‘88. The disability provision would disqualify him-and many others, given that Afghanistan has the world's second highest proportion of disabled people (behind only Cambodia) and has its most heavily mined capitol city. Yunos Quanooni, who came in second behind Karzai in the 2004 elections, and is a former Minister and speaker of the parliament, was disabled by a car bomb in 1993. Also disqualified. Zalmay Khalizad, an American of Afghan extraction who has served as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and to the UN (and therefore whose candidacy would require an awkward -- though not unprecedented -- citizenship change) has no lack of expertise in government, but does not have the requisite ten years in Afghanistan's. And the list goes on. Is Karzai's law tailor-made to disqualify specific challengers?
That is, of course, is the most conspiratorial analysis. It's famously difficult to decipher Karzai's political calculus, but if he is trying to assure maximal control over his successor, how better than to cast doubt over who will be eligible to run? That would be vintage Karzai. In earlier cycles, it was the date of the election he delayed announcing and then moved up, which kneecapped opponents who hadn't been able to plan for the elections without knowing when they would be, and now only had two months to campaign. Indeed, today, potential candidates, and those who might support them, are sitting on their hands. No one wants to cast his or her lot without knowing who will actually be eligible. Every day the qualifications for office requirements to run are unknown, candidates without Karzai's blessing see their chances fade. There will simply not be enough time for an alternative to make himself (or, more improbably, herself) known to the Afghan electorate before the election.
Though Karzai's intentions are not apparent, the practical effects the law would have are clear. The "ten years in government administration" probably won't include Taliban or pre-Taliban government experience, which means what the law is really saying is that candidates must have been in government between 2001 and 2014-all the years Karzai was in charge. In practice, the clause is a lazy euphemism for "must have worked for Karzai."
Or, take the university degree requirement. At first blush, an apparent assurance that the president will not hail from the country's deep stable of power-hungry warlords. And yet in practice, it would be better at eliminating regular Afghans from the field than especially violent ones. A college education was a luxury unavailable to most who remained in the country during the thirty years of on again, off again war, so the requirement would reduce the field of homegrown candidates in favor of émigrés to Western countries who returned after the worst of the fighting-a species Afghans have historically had a hard time trusting. Nor would the degree requirement even be all that effective at preventing warlords from running, since they could sue for exception given their military rank, or their knowledge of Sharia, as many have before in order to qualify for ministerial posts or Parliamentary seats. Some actually have essentially honorary university degrees, granted by Iran or Pakistan as part of the patronage relationships those countries have with their clients in Afghanistan.
Then there is the filing fee. The average income in Afghanistan is about $1,000 a year; the filing fee is twenty times that. It would virtually guarantee that all the candidates either be from the country's small financial urban elite, or have external backing. Or, have Karzai's. By way of comparison, there is no filing fee for an American presidential candidate, and other developing or post-conflict countries that do have filing fees have very small ones, designed to insure some accountability from those who run for office-not eliminate everyone who isn't already wealthy.
And every single one of these stipulations, by the way, militates against the participation of women, because they all depend on access. Work experience, financial resources, education level, and even the mobility required to get signatures in twenty-five different provinces for the requisite 100,000 signatures, raise a bar still difficult for women in Afghanistan to clear.
So how should the international community respond? Does it matter whether these are the cynical machinations of a despot desperate to hold on to as much power as possible after he leaves office? To install a seat warmer loyal to him for five years so that he can run again in 2019 (though constitution sets a limit of two consecutive terms, it does not mention a limit on non-consecutive terms)? Or are these the considered steps of a leader who knows better than anyone how to prevent the kind of violence possible when a presidential election comes along to inflame ethnic tensions, at exactly the same time the troops that might quell them are pulling out?
Certainly, the law is anathema to real representative democracy, and potentially, to the legitimacy of a post-Karzai president who will already, regardless of who he is and to which ethnic group he belongs, have a severe mandate problem in large parts of the country.
Fortunately, the law is still pending. At weakening the field, though, its effect is not contingent on its ratification, since no one can start a campaigning in earnest without knowing whether they'll be able to run. Meanwhile, the United States has begun negations with the Karzai government about the terms of the U.S. military withdrawal, with particular tension over immunity for the U.S. troops that remain. We need to think seriously, though, about what it is those troops that stay behind will be protecting. And how do we balance the tension between one man's idea of how to maintain stability, and a people's right-a right which comprised part of the justification for this nation sacrificing no shortage of blood and treasure-to choose their leader, from a field of candidates unfiltered by one man notorious for cronyism?
Jeffrey E Stern--www.JeffreyEstern.com--is a writer and development worker whose reporting from Afghanistan, Kashmir, and elsewhere has appeared in Esquire, Time, newsweek.com/The Daily Beast, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's new engagement in efforts to find a peaceful end to the conflict in Afghanistan has been received with optimism in the West. In just the past month, members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council visited Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani officials, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Kabul to sign an agreement on border security, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool visited Islamabad for talks, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khan met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brussels to discuss their cooperation on counterterrorism in the region.
However, a deeper look at Pakistan's recent behavior reveals that these events may represent more of a change of tactics than a change of mind. Admittedly, the ethnic divisions, widespread corruption, and weak central government that plague Afghanistan also have Pakistan worried about a failing government in its backyard. It is possible that a focus strategic depth really has been overpowered by this looming threat. But it is more likely that the government of Pakistan still clings to the long-held strategic depth objectives, while choosing now to take a more indirect approach to reaching it.
With the 2014 withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan looming, Pakistani officials now say they just want to be recognized and given a seat at the negotiation table with the Taliban and other Afghan factions.
But at the same time, of course, Pakistan also still wants to minimize India's presence and restrict its increasing influence in Afghanistan in the future. Since the 1960s, when the doctrine of "strategic depth" was first developed, Pakistan -- both right and wrongly -- has been obsessed with addressing its paranoia of Indian-Afghan encirclement. The Pakistani government now seems to be downplaying the security-centric goal of strategic depth, though this should not be taken to mean that Pakistan has abandoned this ultimate aim.
"The post-withdrawal Afghanistan should not be an enemy, if it is not going to be a friend," says a diplomatic source referring to the strategic depth doctrine of Pakistan's security establishment.
There are reasons behind this apparent change in tactics. Pakistani policy makers have now come to believe, with a heavy heart, that a Taliban-led regime like the one before 2001 in Afghanistan is an unrealistic dream.
Persistent U.S. drone strikes, with or without the consent of the Pakistani government, have forced Pakistan to come to terms with the reality that modern technology has now replaced the conventional means of hot pursuit, and it is far easier for the United States or other powers to target their enemies without sending ground troops.
And, the United States has adopted silence over the sticky issue of asking Pakistan to conduct military operations against the dreaded Haqqanis in North Waziristan, while the hardliners in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Pakistan have gone into hibernation and adopted silence over drone attacks.
To give credence to the impression of shedding the strategic depth policy, Pakistan recently freed several Taliban prisoners, while another batch, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has reportedly established contacts with the Afghan government, may also be freed shortly if the United States agrees.
Now, the Pakistani side seems to be confronted with two key questions regarding stability in Afghanistan after 2014, and the future of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Although Pakistan has been persuaded through the ‘carrot and stick' approach not to be a spoiler if it is not going to buttress the peace process, policy makers in Islamabad are weighing their options in a divided Afghanistan, not geographically but on ethnic and factional basis.
In the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Pakistan sees a Taliban-controlled south, Haqqanis leading in the south-east, and the rest of Afghanistan under the non-Pashtuns -- led by ethnic Tajiks. In this scenario, Pakistan will get a secured border even though the government in Kabul remains hostile (in other words pro-India).
In this way, Pakistan will not only ensure its influence in the strategically important southeastern part of Afghanistan, but could also push the TTP and other Pakistan-based militant groups, including the Kashmir-focused jihadis, into the Haqqani- and Taliban- controlled parts of Afghanistan.
Before 2001, the Kashmir-focused jihadi groups had established bases and training camps in the areas that Pakistan expects to come under the influence of Haqqanis in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Those regions could house sleeper cells of Kashmiri fighters, whom Pakistan could later use as a balancing factor in case of Indian support for Baloch independence-seekers.
The Afghan Taliban spokesman, however, in a December 18, 2012 interview with the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said they would never accept a divided Afghanistan. Quoting the Taliban spokesman Zabeehullah Mujahid, AIP said "we will not allow anyone to implement methods of disintegration in Afghanistan." The spokesman added that their ‘jihad' was meant for full control of the country rather than struggling for a particular part or chunk of land.
Informed sources told this writer that during recent negotiations, both the U.S. and Afghan sides assured their Pakistani counterparts that due consideration would be given to their concerns about the future Afghan government and the Indian role.
"Now Pakistan's response is wait and see. The Pakistani side has placed some concerns and conditions on the table and watching what is being picked and what is left by the Americans and the Afghan side," said a parliamentarian involved with a few round of meetings.
"The recent Taliban release was Pakistan's goodwill gesture. The next step will be taken when the Pakistani side sees some ‘positive' development," added the lawmaker. A number of observers in Islamabad are of the view that the release of Mullah Baradar is that ‘next step,' which will be taken after the desired ‘progress'.
The other important decision for Pakistan is the role it will play with regard to the TTP and other militant groups after 2014. On December 4, 2012, a senior provincial official told the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa cabinet that "we should not expect an end to the ongoing Taliban attacks in Pakistan with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan." The provincial government has limited options: it can either accept the Taliban by holding talks with them and attempting to bring them into mainstream politics with a give-and-take approach, or it can try to root them out with the use of force.
However, the thinking in Islamabad is somewhat optimistic. It is believed that the Haqqanis will return to areas under their influence in eastern Afghanistan like Khost, Paktia and Paktika, while their local allies and the pro-Pakistan militants led by Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar will either merge in the tribal society or join their brothers in arms across the border.
And as and when needed, they could be used by Pakistan to browbeat the Indians and the government in Kabul, or keep the Pashtun nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in check. In the past few years, the nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have frequently been the target of Taliban attacks.
As for the TTP, it is believed that the group will lose its moral ground for fighting against the Pakistani government and security forces once international forces leave Afghanistan. The number of their sympathizers will drop which will affect their recruitment, training and missions. The rest will be done through decapitation of the leading figures to shatter its organizational structure.
However, this is the most simplistic view of the TTP, which has humbled the Pakistani security establishment by launching daring attacks in high security zones all over the country with the help of its al-Qaeda, IMU and sectarian allies. Besides, the mishandling of the word Jihad, either knowingly or unknowingly on the part of the country's security establishment, has created a Taliban mindset in the new generation who could be easily provoked in the name of religion - thanks to the weakening economy, poor governance and justice system, rampant corruption and non-availability of social services.
Unfortunately, neither the democratically elected government, nor the powerful military establishment has so far hinted at any strategy for de-radicalization. Instead, policy makers, as usual, are obsessed with their external relations and reputations. With no rational approach on how to deal with the post-withdrawal militancy scenario, the scourge of radicalism and terrorism will continue to haunt both Afghanistan and Pakistan even if we assume for a while a successful withdrawal and peaceful handover of authority in Afghanistan.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan has accepted an Afghan "roadmap" for peace, according to news reports this week. If true, this would be quite a breakthrough given the setbacks of the last year, such as the suspension of talks by the Taliban in March, cross-border shelling into eastern Afghanistan, and recent allegations that Pakistan was involved in an assassination attempt on the Afghan intelligence chief last week. Ending a conflict that has claimed so many thousands of Afghan lives is desperately needed, and signs of a shift in Pakistan's attitude to talks could be a positive step towards that. However, a recently leaked copy of the Afghan High Peace Council's "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015,"[posted here], which has not yet been made public, lays out a trajectory that does little to assuage fears that a deal with the Taliban could erode women's rights and human rights in general.
The roadmap contains five steps. The first includes an end to cross-border shelling, the transfer by Pakistan of Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan or a third country, and pressure on the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Phase Two (slated for the first half of 2013) includes safe passage for Taliban negotiators to unspecified countries, contact with Taliban negotiators, agreement on the terms of a peace process, and further delisting of Taliban by the United States and the United Nations.
Phase three, in the second half of 2013, envisages a ceasefire. Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for renouncing violence. The plan proposes that the Taliban could transform into a political movement, and prepare to contest elections (presumably including the Presidential elections in 2014). While the emergence of a political party from the Taliban is conceivable, and desirable, the hope that this could be achieved next year seems remote. There are clearly reformers within the Taliban, but many who have engaged in preliminary negotiation efforts have been killed by hardliners or imprisoned by Pakistan, while Afghan negotiators have been assassinated. Consequently the breadth of commitment to politics and peace within the Taliban movement remains uncertain.
Step three also contains the most frank description I've seen so far about non-elected appointments of Taliban as an incentive to reconciling. This will likely include critical governorships, potentially legitimating some of the shadow provincial governments of the Taliban. Appointments remain one of the primary means of patronage in Afghanistan, so it's hard to imagine jobs not being a part of a peace deal, however unpalatable it may seem to those bearing the brunt of the ongoing Taliban violence against civilians. But the roadmap contains no red lines here, such as the exclusion from government jobs of commanders suspected of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses. There's a pragmatic argument for this -a peace process is more likely to last if it can defuse the enmity created by atrocities committed by both the Taliban and the government. Unfortunately, whenever I raise the basic human rights principle of "no peace without justice," I usually get a withering dismissal from Afghan and international officials. This year, though, the principle seemed oddly vindicated when the Taliban cited the corruption of the Afghan government as a reason for not negotiating with them.
When consulted, a majority of Afghans tend to support calls for justice and accountability. But it's not until step four of the roadmap, when the real deal-making has already been done, that the Afghan government plans to "mobilize" support from its citizens. There is much more that the government could do now to reassure its citizens -particularly women -that their protection is the primary goal of any peace agreement.
The roadmap, though, doesn't even mention women until the final paragraph, when a government pledge to uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom is repeated. Given President Hamid Karzai's proclivity for casting off women's rights when there's a political incentive, this isn't enough, and certainly doesn't measure up to the Tokyo declaration of July 2012, which has far stronger promises to respect rights. But the Tokyo declaration was signed when 16 billion donor dollars were on the table, so the roadmap may be the more accurate indicator of the government's commitment to women.
Those foreign dollars can still be made to count. In steps four and five, the roadmap talks of international support in implementing the peace process. It would be better if it allowed for international monitoring of the peace process and its implementation, with a place for women at the negotiating table. Only if women are there to argue for their own protections can this not result in a significant setback. It is areas where the Taliban are active, and where the roadmap might formalize their power, that women in public life are most at risk. One woman I met recently, whom I'll call "Shamsia,"was from a conflict ridden area of southeastern Afghanistan. Before we'd finished our introductions, Shamsia launched into her worst fears about the 2014 transition: "Everyone is afraid. Everyone talks about it, particularly women who are working. After 2014, when the Taliban come back, they will kill those who are working with the government." Earlier this week the head of the women's affairs department in Laghman province, Najia Sediqi, was killed by gunmen, five months after her predecessor was assassinated by the Taliban.
Persuading the Taliban to embrace politics over violence, and equality over segregation will take more than prisoner release and government jobs. It will take leadership, and probably many more years than the current roadmap envisages. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been the clearest international voice supporting women's rights in the peace process, but will soon step down. A female activist recently described her as the "conscience of the world" on this issue. When the U.S. Senate holds confirmation hearings for her successor, they can help ensure that the next secretary will also act as a strong "conscience" for the peace process. The international community should also make sure that the roadmap doesn't abandon justice. If peace rewards all Taliban commanders, no matter how terrible their crimes, and doesn't make room for women in the process, this roadmap could be a dead-end for human rights.
Rachel Reid is the Senior Policy Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Open Society Foundations.
With all combat troops scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the negotiations taking place in Kabul on the presence and role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond that point must include a plan for a Contingency Force as part of the troop drawdown. And the United States should take the lead in establishing this Contingency Force, either under the flag of NATO, or as a new coalition concerned with security and stability in Afghanistan in coming years.
The only alternative under discussion within the Obama administration at the moment is the possibility that some Special Forces stay behind in Afghanistan to work in an advisory or training capacity. Similarly, any U.S. residual force that will stay behind following negotiations will likely have a limited role, with additional U.S. military used primarily as force protection: protecting U.S. and international trainers instead of directly assisting ANSF if needed. The residual force options that are currently being discussed are mainly related to support for training efforts and counter-terrorism operations against transnational terrorist groups. This would not be considered a Contingency Force.
In fact, a counter-terrorism residual force, consisting of Special Forces and other troops, can be much smaller if a proper Contingency Force is in place for Afghanistan. Establishing this contingency capacity means the counter-terrorism officers would not have to deal with the emergency situations described in this article.
A too rapid drawdown?
One might argue that the current NATO troop drawdown calendar (2011-2014) was based more on domestic political agendas than on-the-ground security. The result has been an extremely tight and relatively inflexible transition calendar, which leaves few options to respond to potentially changing security dynamics or attacks by the various ‘Taliban' insurgent groups.
Domestic political pressure for a rapid drawdown inside the United States, other NATO countries, and Afghanistan has been reinforced by four key factors. In the U.S. and NATO countries there are calls for ‘an end to the war and return of the troops,' combined with a repositioning toward concerns in the Middle East (particularly Iran and Syria, but also Yemen). Simultaneously, officials in the United States and other NATO countries have become increasingly disillusioned with the Karzai government, and concerned about the deeply troubling ‘insider attacks' on NATO troops.
These political dynamics have created real pressures for a fast-paced troop withdrawal - confirmed by the U.S. Senate recently voting in favour of an accelerated withdrawal - and a neglect of a larger consideration of the security risks related to the upcoming fighting seasons.
The deliberations that existed around contingency planning during the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq are almost completely missing in the case of Afghanistan - and those that do surface are mainly related to safeguarding security during the upcoming presidential elections in 2014 or counter-terrorism in the region. This ignores both the possible threats of the 2013 fighting season, or other security issues that might arise in the years following.
Why do we need a Contingency Force?
Firstly, a Contingency Force would provide an additional guarantee for the safety of foreign interests, infrastructure and staff, such as the diplomats at consulates and embassies, should these come under attack. The recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the coordinated attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September 2011 and the Indian Embassy bombings in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 are sufficient cases in point.
Secondly, the Contingency Force would offer a safety valve while Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) grow in numbers, strength and confidence in an environment that will remain uncertain and unstable for the foreseeable future.
Will ANSF be able and willing to respond to serious insurgent attacks before and after the transition end date of 2014? Despite progress in some areas, particularly in terms of handing over responsibilities to ANSF as planned, there is a risk that increased insurgent activity in the south or elsewhere in Afghanistan could lead to unmanageable situations.
The actual strengths and weaknesses of ANSF are not the essential point. What should be the focus is proper planning to respond to the possibility that ANSF could be confronted by a manner or level of insurgent attack in the South that means they cannot hold the country together. Since the build up of ANSF is such a key element of the transition plan (and exit-strategy) ‘narrative,' we see a dynamic that any public discussion of possible future failure of ANSF, and planning for that contingency, is considered ‘off-message.' This could ultimately lead to a failure of the entire transition project.
The actual current strengths and weaknesses of the insurgency are also not particularly relevant to the calculations that a Contingency Force is needed. Contingency planning does not depend on a complex debate on the current strength of the Taliban and ANSF; one need only acknowledge a possibility that the Taliban could produce a new security dynamic, which we argue would most likely be focused in southern Afghanistan.
Possible scenarios of concern could include, for example, blockading the Kandahar-Kabul road or the road between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, a move into the suburbs of Kandahar City, taking over Lashkar Gah and blocking the bridges over the Helmand River, or gaining control of the Spin Boldak border crossing.
For an example of a new dynamic in the insurgency, look to the complex attack on Camp Bastion in September 2012 that resulted in the destruction of six AV-8B Harriers, the death of two United States Marine Corps service staff and the wounding nine others. This single assault - using 15 insurgents, explosions to enter the base, dividing attackers in three different waves, and making use of U.S. army uniforms - resulted in a four and a half hour fire fight, and caused damages of up to $200-240 million.
Clearly this type of complex, coordinated attack was not anticipated by U.S./NATO-ISAF forces at Bastion, and it illustrates unmistakably that the evolution of the insurgency must be considered in proper planning for future security threats. The more recent coordinated attack with explosives laden vehicles on Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad in December 2012 confirms that the Bastion attack is not an incident.
Geo-political consequences of losing the south
Any serious defeat of ANSF forces or a considerable loss of terrain to the insurgency - before or following the 2014 transition - would not only be a symbolic triumph for the Taliban, it could also completely reconfigure the power structure in Afghanistan and the region.
The geo-political consequences of ‘losing the south' or a similar such scenario would be significant, not the least of which would be the destabilising effect on the wider region, particularly Pakistan, where it could provide a boost for the insurgency.
Drawdown Contingency Plan: Size, location, mandate
It is important to note that having a Contingency Force on standby is not the same as continuing an international military operation in Afghanistan. It would provide Western political leaders with options if a security crisis breaks out in the country.
Size: Given the current levels of ANSF and the continuation of ANP and ANA training and capacity building efforts after 2014, a standby Contingency Force of around 5,000 foreign troops would be sufficient. The Contingency Force would be a standard brigade-size combat team of around 3,500-4,000 soldiers, plus mobility (transport helicopters, but also some attack helicopters) and other support capabilities (intelligence, logistics, medical teams, etc.).
The Contingency Force of 5,000 should be on standby from January 2013 onwards. Given the short time frame before the next fighting season, this means the Contingency Force should initially be included in the calculations of the NATO troop drawdown. Until General John Allen has officially presented his recommendations to the White House, it is not clear how many U.S. forces will be withdrawn in coming months. But at the start of 2013, the United States could start contingency planning by delaying the troop withdrawal of around 2,000 forces until the end of the fighting season of 2013 to complement the transitioning NATO-ISAF forces. These troops would not continue fighting but would convert to contingency troops. Thus, they would still be withdrawn from combat, but would move to a different base to prepare for emergency support operations.
During the six months following the 2013 fighting season, the United States could increase its share of contingency forces to 3,000, and request that its NATO and non-NATO allies contribute a total of 2,000 forces to that group before the end of 2013. This would ensure a total Contingency Force of 5,000 under the flag of NATO before the start of the 2014 fighting season.
The graph below illustrates this scenario, which is of course only one of the many possible outcomes, included here to start a constructive discussion on a contingency system.
* The average numbers of insurgency attacks are based on statistics from previous years (NATO, ISAF Violence Trends Presentation, 30 September 2011).
When deliberating strategic options for a Contingency Force, synergies should be explored - whether in terms of providing a model or in more direct ways - with the NATO Response Force (NRF), a joint force of around 13,000 troops, preparing and training together for about a year, at the disposal of the Atlantic Alliance and with the existing EU Battlegroup (EUBG) structure which has at least 1,500 European troops on standby at any time, currently headquartered in Germany.
The allocation of the 2,000 non-U.S. troops could also be based on a rotating roster, where countries commit a small number of standby forces for a specific period, for example six months to a year (similar to the NATO Response Force which recently extended rotation periods from six to twelve months, and the EU Battlegroup system that rotates every six months). After such a period, other countries will take their place, sharing the burden and making sure a nation's contingency troops are only committed in small numbers and for a limited amount of time.
Location: The foreign Contingency Force could be stationed in or close to Afghanistan. For the latter option, contingency troops stationed in, for example, one of the Central Asian Republics, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait or the UAE, could be logistically more challenging but politically easier to ‘sell' than troops stationed in Afghanistan. Another option is to choose several locations, increasing flexibility and linking the Contingency Force to Afghanistan's main geographical areas and the ANSF units operating in these areas.
Mandate: The Contingency Force would safeguard the results of past and present efforts to ensure stability and security in Afghanistan, while guaranteeing the security transition process can be completed in a sustainable and responsible way. The Contingency Force would, in essence, have the same mandate as NATO-ISAF - particularly its current ANSF support role - but it would be subject to a very specific, predefined set of conditions with regards to when and how it could be deployed. The Rules of Engagement need to be specified as soon as possible in full coordination with the Afghan government.
The Contingency Force should remain operational in Afghanistan until at least 2024, in line with the ten-year timetable envisaged during the Chicago Summit in May 2012, unless of course the security situation changes drastically. The mere existence of the Contingency Force would boost the confidence of the ANSF.
Conclusion: the Contingency Planning window is open
The moment to act is now. With the U.S. presidential elections out of the way and only two more years in the tight calendar of the security transition process a Contingency Force should be established as part of the remaining terms of withdrawal. An operational reserve Contingency Force would provide options to western political leaders when faced with a crisis situation in Afghanistan. It also represents a politically viable compromise between the two extremes currently being talked about in Washington: leaving just a few thousand troops in Afghanistan after 2014, or leaving as many as 30,000 troops.
The fewer foreign troops there are in Afghanistan, the greater the need for proper contingency planning, especially given the essentially uncertain nature of the situation before and after transition. Security transition planning should be based on a solid assessment of possible future scenarios of instability and insecurity, rather than on political hopes or aspirations for what the future will hold.
Norine MacDonald QC is the President and Founder of the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). Jorrit Kamminga is Director of Research at ICOS and Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael.
Watching your mentor fall from grace is never easy. This month many have questioned and saluted David H. Petraeus, who resigned from his post as director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair. Critics chide his judgment, and friends remind us of his brilliance and victories in Iraq. Most acknowledge his indelible mark on how America must fight wars amongst the peoples: creating local partners through peaceful interaction, rather than enemies through the sole use of lethal force. But Petraeus left another mark on a war to prevent future 9/11s, by fighting without troops but with trainers, spies and drones in Pakistan.
The war in Iraq was self-inflicted, the war in Afghanistan was necessary, but the war in Pakistan always carried the nightmare scenario: religious fanatics capturing nuclear weapons and setting them off in American cities. As the commander of U.S. Central Command and then as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Petraeus pushed the Pakistani military to go after the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network, enticing them with weapons and trainers, and reprimanding with unilateral action. Despite Pakistani military's duplicity - interdicting some insurgents while continuing to harbor the virulent Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis -with a mix of diplomatic and military acumen Petraeus was able to help stabilize a nuclear-armed country that seemed bent on imploding in the spring of 2009.
The question then was not how Pakistan can help us in Afghanistan, but how can nuclear-armed Pakistan stop self-destructing?
It was during that period that I met Petraeus, and after he read my Foreign Affairs article on ways to stem the tide of instability in Pakistan, he asked me to advise him. That year was the most difficult time in U.S.-Pakistan relations since 9/11. The Pakistani Taliban had routed the Pakistani military out of one third of the country. Taliban flags flew high in the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan's northeast, and the Swat valley, just sixty miles from the country's capital, was stained with the blood of many women and children. A year prior, India and Pakistan had come close to nuclear war after the Pakistani intelligence-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorized Mumbai, and Osama bin Laden was still on the run.
Yet there was a glimmer of hope. Since 2007, U.S. Special Forces trainers and weapons had slowly improved Pakistan's Special Services Group, Frontier Corps and 11th Corps troops. They began fighting harder and gaining public support against the Pakistani Taliban's nationwide suicide bombing campaign.
In late 2008, Operation Lionheart in the Bajaur tribal agency was led by junior officers that pushed their general to experiment with Petraeus' counterinsurgency principles: clear, hold and build. For years, clearing was easy for Pakistani troops, while holding was ignored and building was nonexistent. In 2009, they began to hold after clearing. Petraeus and former Admiral Mike Mullen - then Joint Chiefs of Staff - encouraged this slow improvement as the Pakistani troops pushed the insurgents out of the Swat Valley and South Waziristan by the winter of 2009. Not only did this stem the tide of suicide attacks, but also temporarily decreased cross- border attacks into Afghanistan. Pakistan did not self-implode in 2009.
During these years I frequently visited South Asia exploring questions about transnational insurgencies, India-Pakistan rivalry, and Afghanistan's future. I briefed Petraeus after every trip and authored a report and several memos for him. He was always encouraging, endorsing contrarian thinking, debating history and never judging my analysis on the basis of my age or religion.
Like many generals and diplomats, Petraeus understood the delicate dance of getting things done in Pakistan: feed the military beast but protect the nascent democracy. But he went one step further: he understood the negotiations culture and the contradiction between what Pakistani military and civilian leaders were willing to promise publicly and deliver privately. When I argued for the creation of institutional mechanisms to exchange lessons learned, he agreed but correctly pointed to challenges: the radioactive nature of American military instructors in Pakistan, and depleting patience of U.S. legislators with Pakistan's reluctance to target the Haqqani Network and Taliban leaders in exile.
When Pakistanis showed progress, Petraeus was willing to acknowledge their contributions. After the success in Swat and South Waziristan he cheered General Ashfaq Kayani, highlighting the sacrifices of the Pakistani military in his congressional testimonies, and he chided him in private when Kayani equivocated on expanding operations against the Haqqanis.
Petraeus understood the importance of personal relationships and changing the insurgents' master narrative: Pakistani soldiers were America's mercenaries. When the Indus River swelled up in July 2010, causing the worst floods in Pakistan's history, and leaving 20 million homeless and one-fifth of the country under water, Petraeus immediately sent help. Scores of U.S. troops and helicopters rescued thousands of Pakistanis and provided food and medicine.
But the U.S.-Pakistan goodwill didn't stick after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May 2011, and Pakistan closed NATO's supply lines for seven months after a NATO airstrike killed 24 of its soldiers, prompting the White House and Congress to cut aid.
Still, Petraeus showed guarded optimism about Pakistan as he made his transition to the CIA. He had helped stopPakistan from becoming a failed states, but he couldn't change its policy of fomenting insurgency in Afghanistan. In my book that's pretty darn good.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is a Provost Fellow at Tufts University, and the author of "Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering and Fomenting Insurgencies." (www.haidermullick.com @haidermullick)
Anyone seeking to understand Afghanistan in general, the flaws in the United States' effort there, or life on the ground as a political advisor in the midst of a counterinsurgency, should read The Valley's Edge by Daniel Green.
The book is a detailed, first-hand account of how a team of U.S. soldiers and civilians, focused on improving governance and development, operated in the midst of a worsening insurgency in one of the most remote provinces in Afghanistan. In the popular media and in academic articles, those who have followed the war over the past decade have been inundated with terms such as "Jirga," free and fair elections, pervasive corruption, and the nature of the Taliban insurgency. The Valley's Edge gives life to these expressions as the reader experiences through Green a meeting with disgruntled elders, seating a provincial council for the first time, a patrol to inspect development projects, the deaths of friends, and the inside stories behind how local government officials actually conducted their corrupt activities.
I first met Dan Green during his second tour as a State Department political advisor to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Uruzgan Province, one of the world's most remote locales, while serving there as a Special Forces officer in 2006. My distinct memory after sitting down with Green for the first time was that he was the first person that I had come across who seriously dedicated himself to understanding the complicated tribal and interpersonal political dynamics at play in every corner of Afghanistan. His work made me realize how superficial our knowledge of Afghan society and the insurgency was at the time (and still is to a large degree), and how those dynamics were critical to understanding popular support for the insurgency. In 2005 and 2006 the U.S. and coalition effort was taking a very black and white approach to the growing insurgency - those in government positions were good and deserved our support, while those labeled as "Taliban" were targeted.
Green's efforts, as described in The Valley's Edge, helped me realize how much we had to learn and how long it was going to take. As shown in the book, after sustained efforts to engage a cross section of Afghan leaders, it took Green the better part of a year to even begin understanding the complex and decades-old rivalries, feuds, and competing tribal groups that were interwoven into the fabric of a fledgling government, an under-resourced coalition effort, and a resurgent Taliban.
The Uruzgan described in The Valleys Edge is a microcosm of issues that have plagued the war effort in the past decade. For example, Green highlights the dichotomy that exists between maintaining security and improving governance. Security in Afghanistan was often established and sometimes brutally maintained by warlords cum government officials. In the case of Uruzgan, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, Governor Jan Mohammed Khan, ruthlessly repressed the Taliban's attempts to reassert their influence in the province. However, his efforts were often at the expense of his tribal rivals, from whom he would withhold government positions and development aide. Green slowly peels back the onion on Jan Mohammed's network of supporters and rivals, and describes how the disaffected tribes viewed the United States as complicit in the repression because we often took the default position of supporting the "legitimate Afghan government".
Green aptly describes how Jan Mohammed's removal as governor ushered in a more democratic and legitimate official, but, in turn, also created a vacuum of significant tribal support for the government. This vacuum opened the door to the resurgence of the Taliban backed by the tribes that were forcefully repressed during Jan Mohammed's rule. The result was a significant spike in violence by the summer of 2006 that lessoned the ability of the PRT and NGOs to conduct development programs. Thus, though governance improved in Uruzgan, the removal of the province's most powerful strongman and his allies, coupled with the transition from the U.S. to the Dutch military in 2006 was a recipe for disaster.
Throughout The Valley's Edge, the reader is able to witness the evolution in the Taliban's tactics, from an uncoordinated and sporadic hit-and-run campaign to classic insurgent techniques of intimidating and assassinating government supporters. Green describes how by his second tour in 2006, the first suicide bomber, car bombs and a huge increase in IEDs were taking a toll on the populace, the efforts of the PRT, and him personally.
The reader also experiences the inadequacies of NATO. Green gets a firsthand look at the Dutch replacement of the U.S. presence in Uruzgan, and again it proves to be a microcosm of the broader flaws associated with NATO taking the lead for security in Afghanistan. He aptly describes how the Dutch found themselves dealing with a very hostile insurgency by the time they took charge of the province in the fall of 2006, which was far removed from the peacekeeping-like effort the Dutch government had signed up for in 2004-2005. In hindsight, this proved true of the entire NATO effort, as evidenced by the myriad of national caveats imposed on the various NATO forces by their governments intended to limit their exposure to the insurgency. The caveats imposed various limitations on what each nations' forces could and could not do, such as engaging in offensive operations or imposing geographical limitations on where units could patrol. Ironically these caveats over time prevented NATO from dealing with many of the sources of instability driving the insurgency, and severely hampered the flexibility of the NATO-ISAF commander. Green describes first-hand what he noticed during his third tour in Afghanistan as a military officer: the lack of will and capability in our NATO allies to prosecute a fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign. Voicing frustration, he also describes the lack of planning behind, and relative ineffectiveness of, the U.S. civilian surge in the fall of 2009.
The strength of The Valley's Edge is that it gives the reader perspective on the war's progression over time, while remaining focused on one geographical location. Green's multiple tours span six years and allow the reader to experience the digression in security, the transition to NATO, and our evolution in dealing with the Afghans. The Valley's Edge is certainly a recommended read, and one that historians will reference generations from now as they recount the history of the war in Afghanistan.
Michael Waltz is a Senior National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation and a former advisor on South Asia to Vice President Cheney.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
An October report by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic claims to have found significant flaws in media reports regarding casualties caused by U.S. drone operations in Pakistan. Three organizations, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation, maintain databases that collect information on the casualties for each strike and their research is regularly cited in congressional reports and news articles. While the Columbia report laments that these estimates can only "substitute for hard facts and information that ought to be provided by the U.S. government," it proceeds to weigh in on the casualty debate. After a strike by strike comparison of the three databases' 2011 data, Columbia concludes that two of these organizations "significantly undercount the number of civilians killed by drone strikes," while singling out the Bureau as the most accurate and reliable source of information on drone casualties.
The Columbia study is quick to critique the drone data compiled by the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal, yet it devotes negligible attention to potential shortcomings in the Bureau's reporting. The study repeatedly applauds the Bureau's investigative practices, analysis criteria and the breadth of its sources. It offers the most guarded criticism, writing only, "we do not agree with the Bureau's analysis of media sources in all cases." Upon reading Columbia's "Counting Drone Strike Deaths," one is led to conclude that the Bureau's casualty estimates are both methodologically rigorous and empirically sound.
And yet, a careful reading of the separate 65 page dataset, which details the findings of Columbia's exhaustive comparison, reveals numerous instances in which the Columbia researchers reject the Bureau's interpretation of the evidence or dispute the credibility of their sources, criticisms that receive no mention in their widely circulated report.
Columbia only analyzed reports for 2011, but had they continued on with their research, they would have found that these problems pervade the Bureau's reporting on strikes from 2004 through 2012.
Based on this tenuous evidence the Bureau has claimed 45-240 civilian casualties. Taken together, this methodologically flawed reporting accounts for over 25 percent of the 474-884 civilian casualties the Bureau claims died between 2004 and 2012. While it is highly probable that some of these deaths may in fact have been civilians, in the face of so much ambiguity, it would be more prudent to label the deceased as unidentified or unknown. This would provide a more accurate representation of the evidence, and acknowledge that despite the best attempts to gather information, there is still much uncertainty about the outcome of individual strikes and the overall effect of the U.S. drone program.
The trends highlighted above point to three broader methodological flaws in the Bureau's analysis that Columbia researchers fail to highlight. The first is a problem of evidence. The Columbia report suggests that the widest range of sources will provide the most credible evidence, and based on the fact that the Bureau cites the largest body of sources and has the highest casualty figures, its numbers are the most reliable. Beyond the fact that the Bureau is a notable outlier as compared to the other two datasets produced by New America Foundation and The Long War Journal, it is a mistake to privilege quantity of evidence over quality. Pakistan Body Count, South Asia Terrorism Portal and the Long War Journal are secondary sources that rely on reporting from other media outlets and should not count as corroborating sources, yet the Bureau does so. Antiwar.com, sify.com, Prison Planet and the World Socialist Web Site are simply not credible news outlets, yet these are some of the sources that the Bureau is praised for citing.
The second problem is the absence of transparency in investigations of drone strikes carried out by the Bureau's own researchers. The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 13 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 56-64 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties. The strike on January 6, 2010 includes a typical description: "According to the Bureau's researchers five rescuers died, named as Khalid, Matiullah, Kashif, Zaman and Waqar, all belonging to the Utmanzai Wazir tribe." However there is no indication of whom these researchers are or the standards they apply to their reporting.
The same criticisms that the Columbia report levies at unnamed Pakistani government officials discussing drone strikes on the condition of anonymity, could just as easily be aimed at the Bureau's own reporting:
We do not know who the unnamed Pakistani officials are, although observers believe they are Pakistani army officials. What definition these officials use to categorize a person as a militant or civilian is unknown. Nor do we know how the Pakistani Army confirms such deaths or the quality of information it is able to rely on given the limited accessibility of some of the tribal regions to even the Army.
The Bureau's researchers might well be the sort of local journalists or "stringers" the Columbia report is quick to term unreliable. Nor does the Bureau make mention of whom their sources are, when or where they were interviewed, or what was said. If the Bureau wants its findings to be taken seriously by other researchers, then it should provide independent reports of its investigations rather than cursory references in the midst of its dataset.
The third problem is one of interpretation. The Bureau consistently counts references to "local" deaths as civilian casualties, but as the Columbia dataset notes, these descriptors are not synonymous. The media reports are riddled with references to "local militants" and "tribal militants." It stands to reason that a significant number of the militants operating in the tribal regions of Pakistan would live in the area, and thus the mere fact that the deceased are reported as local is not sufficient to establish that they are civilians. And yet, the Bureau consistently claims just that. Even worse, it frequently labels the fatalities as civilians when the media accounts refer to them in neutral terms such as "people" or admits that their identity is unclear.
Furthermore, the Bureau's written methodology provides limited insight into how it makes these interpretations. The methodology makes no mention of how the Bureau treats reports of "local" deaths. Nor does it explain how it deals with conflicting reports. The methodology says that when reports differ it provides a range of total casualties, but it does not explain how the Bureau determines who to count as a civilian. It goes on to state that "where media sources refer only to ‘people' killed... we indicate that civilian casualties may be possible." One would assume they indicate this by way of an asterisk or note, but it would seem that in most instances it reports a range of civilian casualties with a low end of zero and a high end of the total killed. This denotes the uncertainty but potentially inflates the high end of the range of civilian deaths. Moreover, it signals a clear preference for counting unidentified casualties as civilians.
Admittedly, this somewhat esoteric discussion about the veracity of the Bureau's claims versus those of other databases, or the appropriate methodology for counting casualties, risks losing sight of the broader picture. These are not merely numbers; these are people. And no matter which database you reference, civilians are being killed by the hundreds. While this consideration should be paramount, an assessment of the drone program should also take into account those factors that are less quantifiable: the elevated rates of PTSD in areas where drones operate, the dangerous example being set for other states, most notably China and Russia, and the increase in anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan that risks endangering the lives of American citizens.
But as the Columbia study points out, numbers matter. Numbers drive our public discourse. Numbers are how politicians measure outcomes. Numbers are how we make sense of our world. And numbers are vulnerable to manipulation, a distortion that is equally dangerous whether it involves government officials lowballing civilian casualty reports or independent researchers potentially inflating them.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
Correction: This post initially stated incorrectly that "The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 15 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 65-73 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties." The correct numbers are 13 strikes and 56-64 reported civilian casualties.
Over 1,300 years after the brutal killing of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein in what is now Karbala, Iraq, Shi'a Muslims still mourn their loss. One group of Muslims at the time wanted the Islamic Caliphate to be handed down along hereditary lines, while another group wanted the Muslim community to elect a leader. This difference in political beliefs led a split between the groups into Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, who also now differ in their religious practices as well as their historical beliefs. Today, Shi'as come under fire all over the world, particularly during the month of Muharram, during which they mourn Hussein's death with an inconsolable grief that many hardline Sunnis deem blasphemous.
In an attempt to prevent attacks on the one-fifth of Pakistan that is Shi'a on the tenth of Muharram, when their mourning processions fill the streets, Pakistani authorities banned motorcycles -- which are often rigged with explosive devices -- in the most volatile areas, closed thoroughfares near Shi'a mosques, and blocked cell phone signals in fifty cities.
Despite the fact that the country's president and much of its military top brass are Shi'a, attacks on Pakistan's Shi'a Muslims by militant extremists have steadily increased over the past few years, as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to operate largely unfettered. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 902 people were killed in sectarian violence between 2009-2011, and 425 have lost their lives in attacks motivated by religious intolerance in 2012. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 320 of those killed so far this year were targeted because they were Shi'a.
But no one speaks of this all-too-frequently renewed cause for grief at a communal mourning session for Shi'a women in a quite corner of Islamabad. A group of about thirty weep over the loss of Hassan, Hussein, and their relatives as one woman recounts the massacre at Karbala from her pulpit -- a solitary chair in the center of a living room emptied of furniture.
"May you have no other grief than the loss of Hussein," she proclaims to the sea of whimpering women draped in black, causing only louder wails. "May your families' young not suffer as Hussein's family suffered."
Shi'a families across Pakistan are grieving the losses of young sons and daughters just as Hussein's family did so many hundreds of years ago.
But such individual tragedies don't merit the sort of grief Fizza Ali, 21, feels over the Karbala massacre. "In Muharram, we don't ever mourn for personal reasons, because if our families or our brothers are getting killed, it's all beside the point," she says. "The sadness over the loss of the Prophet's relatives is more for us. It means a lot. It means more."
After pounding her chest and chanting along with the other women in black, Ali, a software engineering student says, "Even if we feel like we're going to be attacked, we don't fear it, Shi'as don't fear it at all, because we cannot get stopped [sic] just by attacks even if our lives are in danger."
Ali says that Islamabad is relatively safer than other areas of Pakistan, but that Shi'as have also continued to visit sacred sites in more volatile areas, such as the Southwestern city of Quetta.
"They're being killed almost daily," Nasrullah Barech of the Center for Peace and Development in Quetta says when asked whether Shi'as there feel afraid to practice their faith.
"Before, the attacks were only in Muharram, or only at sacred Shi'a sites. Now, the killings have become routine across the city."
Barech's organization runs interfaith dialogues to build community connections between Sunnis and Shi'as. He admits that there is a history of fraught relations between the two sects, but says the attacks have taken on new force in recent years.
"It's hard to tell who is behind all of the attacks now. It's not one sect killing another any longer," Barech says. "There are so many different militant groups that claim this bombing or that, and the police are unable to stop them."
Last Monday in Quetta, three Shi'as of the minority Hazara ethnicity were shot dead in targeted killings, and two more were killed days later when a vegetable shop was shot up by unidentified gunmen on a passing motorcycle.
In Islamabad's "twin city," Rawalpindi, a bomb blast targeting a Shi'a religious procession killed 23 and left 62 injured on Wednesday night, while an explosion outside of a Shi'a mosque in Karachi claimed the lives of two people.
This weekend, two separate bombs went off in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan during Shi'a processions in honor of the Ashura holiday. A total of 13 people were killed and dozens more injured in these attacks, which were later claimed by the Taliban.
Raza Rumi is the director of the Jinnah Institute, a policy think tank that keeps tally of extremist violence in Pakistan. He says the attacks against the Shi'a community are alarming not only because of their sharp escalation, but because of the impunity with which they're carried out.
"Usually no people are arrested and no justice is carried out," Rumi says.
He cites Pakistan's decision to make a "permanent ally" of Saudi Arabia as a factor in the country's growing intolerance, owing to the oil-rich nation's strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam and denouncement of the Shi'a clergy based primarily in Iran. The other issue, he says, is Pakistan's civil-military establishment, which patronized anti-Shi'a groups to combat the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"The problem is that for 30 years it has allowed these militant groups to gain strength, to deepen their roots in society, to raise funds, to get direct funds from the Middle East, that now it's no longer a simple issue of controlling them. Even if the state of Pakistan wants to control them, it's a five- or 10-year long battle."
He points to a number of legal and political reforms that might ease tensions, including stricter monitoring of the mosques and religious seminaries that foster extremism.
Many blame a corrupt and inefficient police force, in addition to a failing criminal justice system for the inability of the state to curb sectarian violence. The Pakistani Supreme Court's decision to release of the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group for a lack of evidence is seen as case in point. LeJ leader Malik Ishaq was thought to be involved in the murders of dozens of Shi'as, but witnesses in the cases against him were continually killed or disappeared. Since his release in the summer of 2011, Ishaq has gone on to incite further attacks on the Shi'a community.
Still, Rumi maintains hope for an end to the brutality against religious minorities in the country. "We have become a bit cynical in Pakistan because of these daily doses of bad news," he says. Looking at his hands as if to read out the fate of the nation, he borrows a line from many men who couldn't help but maintain hope for a better future, "But we shall overcome."
Beenish Ahmed is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group based in Pakistan's tribal agencies, has suffered a series of major battlefield setbacks over the past year. But despite the loss of several senior leaders and a key media operative since 2011, the group remains one of the most militarily capable and media savvy militant outfits operating in the region. It maintains working relationships with a number of other Sunni militant groups active in the region including al-Qaeda Central, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and the Afghan Taliban. The IMU has particularly close ties to the TTP, with whom it has launched joint military operations against Pakistani military targets inside Pakistan, as well ISAF and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan. In April, an estimated 150 IMU and TTP fighters launched a successful attack on Bannu Prison in northwestern Pakistan, freeing nearly 400 prisoners, including Adnan Rashid, who was convicted in 2008 of involvement in an assassination plot against then-Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. Rashid was subsequently featured in videos released by the IMU and TTP.
Tahir Yuldashev, the group's co-founder, took over as the IMU's leader in 2001 following the killing of fellow co-founder Jama Namangani during their retreat from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to South Waziristan. Yuldashev used his charisma as a preacher to rebuild the IMU's cadre of fighters, which had been hit heavily in fighting with the Northern Alliance and U.S. military forces in the autumn of 2001. Under his leadership the IMU turned its attention toward targeting the Pakistani and Afghan governments, as well as U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The group also continued to issue statements about events in Central Asia such as brutal attacks on Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan by gangs of Kyrgyz youth in 2010.
Yuldashev forged close relations with Baitullah Mehsud, the founder of the TTP, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, who took over the position of the TTP's amir in 2009 after his predecessor was killed in a U.S. drone strike. Yuldashev also oversaw the expansion of the IMU's membership base from Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz to multiple other nationalities and ethnicities, including Uyghurs, Turkmen, Turks, Afghans, Pashtun and non-Pashtun Pakistanis, Arabs, Chinese, Chechens, Germans, Norwegians, and Russians. A number of the IMU's senior leaders and ideologues have been non-Uzbeks, including its former Kyrgyz military commander, Abbas Mansur, and its Pakistani guiding religious authority (mufti), Abu Zarr Azzam. A number of the IMU's senior media operatives in its Jundullah (God's Soldiers) Studio, including the German brothers Yassin and Mounir Chouka, are also non-Uzbeks.
Wounded in an August 2009 U.S. drone missile strike, Yuldashev later died of his wounds. His death was formally announced by the IMU in August 2010 when it released a eulogy video for him, Banner of Jihad. In the video, Yuldashev's successor, Abu Usman Adil, was named. Adil maintained the IMU's close relations with the TTP, meeting with senior TTP leaders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, and local Pashtun tribal supporters, such as tribal chief Noor al-Islam, on numerous occasions. Hakimullah and other TTP leaders and members are featured frequently in IMU videos including the 3-part series Glad Tidings from Pakistan. Qari Hussein Mehsud, the TTP's feared ideological trainer of "martyrdom seekers" (fida‘iyin), was first shown in extensive video footage in the second installment of this series. In early August, an IMU statement reported that Adil was killed in a U.S. drone strike. He was succeeded by Usman Ghazi, another senior IMU leader.
The IMU's talented military commander, Abbas Mansur, was killed last year alongside Abdul Aziz Ukasha, a key IMU media operative and insurgent "journalist," in a U.S. drone strike. Their killings were announced in a December 2011 statement from the group along with the deaths of 85 other IMU fighters that year. And during 2010, the IMU reported that 52 of its members were killed. High battlefield losses have taken a toll on the IMU's membership, which is believed to have once numbered several thousand. Some estimates put the group's remaining fighting force at only a few hundred.
Mansur, who joined Namangani to fight in Tajikistan's civil war in the 1990s when he was either 16 or 19 years old (IMU sources have given both ages), rose through the IMU's ranks to become its chief military commander, a position to which he was appointed by Yuldashev shortly before the latter was mortally wounded. Mansur exhibited great courage on the battlefield and was chosen to undergo special training for bodyguards, eventually becoming a bodyguard to Namangani in Afghanistan. After Namangani was killed, Mansur became a bodyguard and then a close aid to Yuldashev. Known for his battlefield prowess, Mansur participated in hundreds of military operations according to IMU media, in which he was frequently shown leading military operations against Pakistani army and Frontier Corps bases and convoys.
Ukasha, a young Uzbek from Tashkent, was a member of the IMU for six years and fought in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was an active member of Jundullah Studio and hosted and narrated the video series What's Happening in the Tribal Areas, which is currently in its tenth installment. In the series, he took viewers around Pakistan's tribal regions, from the gun markets of Pashtun towns to the inside of teaching circles by Yuldashev and the ‘Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr "jihad school" for the children of IMU members. In addition, Ukasha also worked as a video editor. He was replaced by another young IMU media operative, Isamudeen, who eulogized both Mansur and Ukasha in the ninth installment of What's Happening in the Tribal Areas and said that he was tasked with continuing the series and the media role of Ukasha by Adil.
The IMU has been survived its many losses in part through the charisma of its chief juridical voice, Abu Zarr Azzam, a Pakistani of Burmese descent who is also known as Abu Zarr al-Burmi (the Burmese) and Abu Zarr al-Pakistani. Claiming to be a former teacher at Jami‘at Faruqiya, an Islamic university in Karachi, where he taught the TTP's Qari Hussein, Abu Zarr has been featured frequently in IMU video and audio productions. Close to both the IMU and TTP leaderships, Abu Zarr speaks fluent Urdu, Arabic, Burmese, Pashto, and Uzbek. He has stated that the goal of the IMU and other "mujahideen" in the region is to eventually retake all of the region's lands that were previously ruled by Muslims, which are currently the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bhutan in a military expedition called "Ghazwat-ul-Hind," roughly translating to the "military expedition of the Indian subcontinent." Abu Zarr has also declared the Pakistani government and members of the military and police who attack the "mujahideen" in the service of the U.S. to be apostates who may be killed.
Despite suffering significant battlefield losses in its leadership, media department, and rank-and-file fighting force, the IMU has proven itself resilient. It continues to work alongside other regional militant movements, particularly the TTP, which has allowed it to continue to project significant military force in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It continues to also be actively engaged in targeting the Pakistani military with the TTP. Jundullah Studio consistently produces high-quality videos that play an integral role in the IMU's multi-layered media operations, which also include the publication of audio and written statements, and newsletters in Uzbek, Russian, Persian, Arabic, German, Burmese, Urdu, and Pashto. With an eye on ensuring its survival beyond the current generation of members, the group has also invested significant time and material resources in raising the next generation of IMU fighters, particularly the children of current members, who are taught military tactics, how to use firearms and other weaponry, and to value self-sacrifice and martyrdom. In spite of its losses, the IMU remains active both inside Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal agencies.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, contemporary jihadi movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual cultures. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
When the United Nations declared November 10 "Malala Day," people across the globe, from Hong Kong to Islamabad, took to the streets in an outpouring of support for Malala Yousufzai, calling for reforms in access to education for girls in Pakistan. Many political parties in Pakistan took to politicking in commemorating the day, sponsoring vigils and demonstrations. But one party had already taken a commanding lead in grand public affirmations of support for Malala last month.
On Sunday, October 14, nearly a month before "Malala Day" over 20,000 people flooded the streets of Karachi in support of the young activist, who had survived a murder attempt by the Taliban just a few days earlier. A sea of photos of Malala fluttered amongst the throng of fervent supporters, united in their seething frustration with the Taliban's violent agenda and the state's status quo. The demonstration, the largest for Malala in Pakistan to date, was also dotted with images of Altaf Hussain, Chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the powerful political party responsible for organizing the rally. Hussain, who pulls the MQM's strings from London where he is in self-imposed exile, addressed the rally by telephone, urging the people to stand up against the Taliban for their attack against "the daughter of our nation."
The MQM's timing was impeccable. The party channeled the public's outrage over Malala's shooting into a massive demonstration garnering worldwide media attention. The rally served as a catalyst for the MQM to wedge itself back into the political limelight, where opposition frontrunner Imran Khan had been comfortably residing for nearly a year. Khan, who heads the political party Pakistan Tehrik E-Insaaf (PTI), has emerged as a dynamic force in Pakistan's fractious politics, embodying hope and change for those in Pakistan who are concerned about the upsurge in violence, corruption, and poverty under Pakistan's current administration.
The MQM's successful and opportunistic rally overshadowed Khan's wave of rallies against the U.S. drone campaign, in which he has led thousands of his supporters and some U.S. anti-war activists in marches through the treacherous tribal regions in the north. While Khan's growing popularity and reformist reputation have drawn thousands in colossal rallies, his response to the Malala crisis fell tragically short. Khan has condemned the violence against Malala while avoiding hardline rhetoric against the Taliban, instead maintaining his position against military operations and U.S. drone strikes in the tribal regions and favoring a political solution to extremism.
Of Pakistan's prominent political parties, the MQM has taken the boldest and most precarious stance against the Taliban, fostering goodwill for the party across the nation. "MQM is trying to convey that it's a political party which is relatively liberal and progressive, unlike some of the criticism of the party as authoritarian, fascist and mafia style," said Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at Forman Christian College in Lahore, and a former Columbia University Professor. "This provided MQM with an opportunity to put forth an effort to dispel that kind of view against them if there was one."
The MQM's strategic positioning has effectively moved the political party to center stage just months before Pakistan's national elections. The party's role in Pakistani politics has always been complex, however, and its sudden resurgence as Malala's story unfolds suggests motives other than championing education rights for women.
The MQM has an uncanny knack for mobilizing residents of Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, where it enjoys an unparalleled stronghold in local government. A year ago MQM orchestrated an enormous rally in support of sitting President Asif Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), after he was publicly disparaged by members of another party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). The demonstration was rumored to have been the prize in a tradeoff arranged by the MQM and Zardari's administration. In exchange for the public endorsement, the government allegedly promised leniency in the trials of four MQM members accused of heinous crimes and the relaxing of police operations in the MQM's hub of Karachi for three days.
MQM's capacity to galvanize Karachi's citizens for a PPP public image makeover validated the party as a power player in Pakistan's politics. Yet the MQM and PPP have not always been allies, and the MQM's past involvement in political violence makes it a curious new proponent for human rights. In May 2007, a political clash between the PPP and then-President Pervez Musharraf resulted in deadly riots and violence that consumed the city, leaving at least 39 dead. At the time MQM aligned itself with Musharraf, and a Wikileaks cable later revealed that MQM may have had a hand in instigating the riots. Later that year, the murder of an MQM provincial lawmaker set off a series of revenge attacks in Karachi, where gangs torched vehicles and buildings and engaged in gunfire that killed at least 45 people. While the unrest might be attributed to ethnic and political tensions that pre-existed in the city, MQM militants were accused of fueling the explosion of violence.
Perhaps the most contentious and bloody incident in Pakistan's recent history was the raid on Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007. The Pakistani military stormed a mosque they suspected of radicalism, using brute force and killing over 100 people and injuring close to 300, many of them women and children. The MQM backed Musharraf's bloody siege of the mosque and still defends the military action at Lal Masjid as questions regarding civilian deaths have recently resurfaced.
In 2010, assassinations of MQM party leaders bred more violence in the streets of Karachi. The riots stemmed from friction between the PPP and MQM, whose organized and armed paramilitary runs the city. Later the same year, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan criticized the MQM for calling for martial law and for urging "patriotic army generals" to act out against politicians. The party's consistent policy of strong-arming radical groups and the Taliban by military force is undoubtedly a motivating factor in its aggressive positions in the wake of Malala's attack.
In subsequent meetings with army commanders following the October 14th rally, MQM leaders have continued to insist on military action against the Taliban. And MQM leader Hussain issued an order that government collect information on religious leaders and institutions to be monitored by the government, a belligerent declaration that could curb religious freedom and widen the rift between religious factions and leading political groups. As Malala struggles through recovery in London, the MQM have employed their brawn, influence and resources to once again sow the seeds of divisiveness in the country. Today, in Pakistan's volatile socio-political climate, the MQM's political ploy could have a role in further aggravating ethnic tension or triggering political violence.
Some accuse the PPP and MQM of using the attack on Malala to try to portray a military operation in northern Pakistan as a strategy that serves the country's own interests, instead of one that fulfills requests by the United States for cooperation in the region. Whatever the incentive, the MQM's deft response to Malala's tragedy could in fact steer Pakistan in the direction of another war in Waziristan. And with increased military presence in the region, the Zardari administration could be opening an even wider door to U.S. intervention in northern Pakistan.
So, while most Pakistanis are staunchly opposed to the U.S. drone campaign, the unnerving reality is that launching a military campaign in Pakistan's tribal area could mean deeper U.S. entanglement, an escalation of violence against civilians, and catastrophic consequences for the already volatile region. The prospect of a bleak and turbulent future has now settled in the land where Malala so diligently planted seeds of progress and peace.
Uzma Kolsy is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She is the former Managing Editor of InFocus News, the largest newspaper in California serving the Muslim American community. Her pieces have appeared in Salon, The Nation, The American Prospect and Raw Story.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Driving north from Mazar-i-Sharif, in Northern Afghanistan, to the Uzbek border last week was a revelation. I first lived in Mazar in 1993, while I worked for the International Organization for Migration assisting Afghan refugees returning to northern and central Afghanistan. Back then, the roadway was decrepit and insecure, and travelers feared to veer from the roadbed due to landmines. Recently, as USAID's senior-most representative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I met with key leaders and observing the impact of USAID projects. This corridor of infrastructure and commerce, includes not only a new road, but a railroad line (Afghanistan's first!) and new electricity transmission lines that supply cheap, reliable power to much of the north and Kabul. A new customs facility at the border is also generating greater trade - and collecting more revenue for the Afghan government.
There is a virtuous cycle of security, commerce, investment, confidence and good governance building in the north that shows what a successful Afghanistan can look like. This virtuous cycle is essential to stability post-2014, and must be reinforced and replicated. Here is some of what we saw.
First stop: the Hairatan Customs Depot. Trucks and trains from Uzbekistan first arrive in Afghanistan at the Hairatan Customs Depot, where shippers enter their data online, and government officials review their shipments and forms, determine the value of the goods and the tax rate, and begin tracking shipments to ensure they arrive safely at their destinations. With the help of USAID's technical experts, customs officials have streamlined the process from 26 to 16 steps, cutting processing time by 40% and removing opportunities for corruption. These steps alone are estimated to have increased revenues over $7.5 million in the last year.
An increasing portion of shipments coming across the border move to the next stop -- the Naibabad Railroad Depot - via Afghanistan's first railroad. Here, shipments from Central Asia and Russia - wood, flour, steel, and cooking oil - are loaded onto trucks headed for markets and consumers in Mazar and Kabul. On average, Afghan customs officials collect $1,000 per shipment for every shipment worth $15,000 - resources that are making the Afghan government more self-sustaining.
Down the road, at the Gorimar Industrial Park, we went to a soy processing plant and an oxygen tank production facility. With support from USAID and USDA, Afghans are processing soy beans into soy flour and edible oil and using the by-product for high-protein animal feed. We watched some of this feed being loaded for export to Uzbekistan. Next door, oxygen tanks - once only imported from neighboring countries - are now produced locally and sold to hospitals in Mazar for 40 percent of the cost just a few months ago. The oxygen factory is an Afghan private investment.
Finally, our last stop of the day - the Balkh Diary Plant, is a cooperative owned and self-sustaining business located in the center of Mazar that produces milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. USAID has been working to increase the milk yield with local dairy producers - mostly women with 1-2 animals. These efforts have been so successful, increasing milk yields five-fold, that they now have excess milk to sell to the factory. The plant can produce 8,000 half-liter bags of milk per day, each sold for 15-20 Afghanis, and pays approximately 800 farmers to supply milk to the plant, creating a profitable enterprise that is getting resources directly into the hands of Afghan farmers and milk and export grade yogurt into the hands of Afghan consumers at higher quality and lower price.
Afghans have the capacity, will, and resources to create regional hubs of commerce that will carry the economy, fund their government, employ their youth, positively engage their neighbors, and feed their population. Problems of local governance and corruption are hurdles to this dynamic, but the primary constraint at the moment is insecurity as illustrated by the horrific and senseless bombing that targeted Eid celebrants near Mazar in Faryab province last week. Improving governance and the economic environment are essential to further progress and to attracting the private sector investment critical to sustain this momentum.
Given the inherent challenges of the transition through 2014, getting the Afghan people to see and embrace the demonstrable progress they've made as a society is essential. It is critical to engage the population around the vision of sustaining these investments - and the progress in the north provides an important window into what that looks like.
Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
Will Afghanistan be ready for a 2014 transition? The International Crisis Group's (ICG) October 2012 report on this question drew a significant amount of attention for its warnings about electoral and political strife that could envelop the country following the withdrawal of NATO combat troops (and large amounts of aid) by the end of 2014. Less attention was paid, however, to the ICG's concerns about the state of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF, which consists of the army and police).
The report notes, "[a]s political competition heats up in the approach to the elections, there is a genuine risk that internecine competition between leaders of factions within the ANSF could lead not only to more green-on-blue incidents, but also to an increase in already high attrition rates and, in the worst case, disintegration of command and control soon after U.S. and NATO forces withdraw."
These warnings are even more concerning in light of the fact that the United States is pursing an inordinately military-heavy strategy in developing Afghanistan's security forces. The current strategy focuses on capacity building and neglects the reinforcement of democratic principles that are necessary to ensure Afghanistan's success: accountability, subordination to civilian authority, and respect for human rights, the law of armed conflict (LOAC), Afghan law, and the use of traditional justice. The United States must address these concerns by establishing parallel political and civilian tracks.
The goal of U.S. efforts vis-à-vis ANSF development appears straightforward: the U.S. strives to increase the capability of ANSF to sustain operations that ensure security, safeguard and establish governmental control, and combat terrorism. U.S. forces involved in ANSF development are focused on the skills ANSF need to confront armed opposition groups and crime. This translates into advice on targeting processes, the military decision-making process, law and order procedures, fire and maneuver, small unit tactics, etc. However, it is not apparent that U.S. policy and practice for this effort is taking into account the political, military, and social complexities involved in ANSF development; viewing it through the lens of security sector reform (SSR) helps to clarify this.
Just as is the case for foreign troops in Afghanistan, Afghan security forces can only succeed with the support of the civilian populace. How does U.S. assistance and advising take this need for acceptance into consideration, though? Moreover, how does it take into account the dire need to ensure that citizens can hold ANSF accountable for infractions that jeopardize such acceptance?
These are serious questions concerning U.S. efforts to develop ANSF and establish security. It appears that the United States does not have in place adequate doctrine, policies, or practices to monitor, report, and address ANSF progress with respect to complex matters of SSR and the professionalization of democratically controlled security forces. Such matters include the following:
The current U.S. training strategy for the ANSF risks furthering the conflict in Afghanistan by creating capable security forces that civilian authorities and Afghan citizens ultimately are not able to hold accountable. The absence of accountability and democratic control in cases of U.S.-assisted security forces has led to corruption, sectarian strife, and human rights and LOAC violations, for example, as we have seen already in Afghanistan, as well as in Uzbekistan, El Salvador, Vietnam, Iraq, Nicaragua, and South Sudan.
The United Nations 2011 report on protection of civilians in Afghanistan shows that Afghanistan needs to establish a system that allows for the investigation of ANSF infractions, and establishing one that sets methods to hold agents of abuse accountable is an even more daunting effort. The history of U.S. security assistance demonstrates the importance of monitoring, reporting, and advising on accountability and subordination of the ANSF to civilian authority: if accountability and subordination are insufficient, Afghanistan risks returning to an era of civil war.
The same ramifications confront ‘shadow governments' (i.e. Taliban local governments) that currently exist in Afghanistan when they do not reign in armed opposition groups sufficiently. Popular backlash against Taliban abuses, such as attacks on girls and the extrajudicial killings of mullahs, forces the Taliban to either discipline their fighters or deny responsibility. Just as the inability to control and hold accountable low-level fighters weakens support for the Taliban, the inability to control and hold accountable ANSF will weaken support for the Afghan government. It is essential that U.S. policy recognizes how the lack of transparency, accountability, and democratic control of security forces foments conflict.
The United States, however, cannot ensure Afghanistan will be properly equipped for accountability and control of ANSF if there is not a strong parallel political track between U.S. civilians working on the ANSF development effort and their Afghan counterparts. Things appear not to have changed much from Oxfam America's 2009 report on U.S. security assistance, which pointed out that "[i]n Iraq and Afghanistan, reliance on the U.S. military and private contractors to plan and implement U.S. SSR efforts has strongly reinforced the focus on operational capacity over accountability to civilian authority and respect for human rights." Oxfam correctly highlights in its report that the "[Department of State] should remain the lead agency in SSR, with the Department of Defense (DoD) facilitating the development of professional and accountable armed forces that are under civilian authority."
Advising and assisting ANSF is not just a military endeavor-it involves a great deal of political involvement and oversight. With a policy that utilizes a parallel political track, the U.S. can direct advisory brigades and teams in providing information to appropriate civilian counterparts so that they can address complex political-military issues. The U.S. must establish a strong political component that is led by the U.S. Department of State and dedicated to monitoring, reporting, and advising on the above SSR concerns in Afghanistan.
Another issue that U.S. policy vis-à-vis ANSF development neglects is civil society's involvement in the process. And because the conflict in Afghanistan is driven in part by Afghans' lack of trust in their government, such neglect is egregious. The existing U.S. efforts to encourage confidence in ANSF are superficial, consisting of propaganda campaigns rather than civil activities that would foster organic support for ANSF. Just as there must be democratic structures and processes that allow the Afghan government to control and monitor its security forces, there must be external avenues that allow Afghan citizens to convey concerns that help shape ANSF development and operations. For instance, providing assistance to civil society's involvement in these matters, such as building the ability of media to provide security sector oversight, encourages citizens to dialogue with their government and hold it responsible for its performance through the ballot box.
Educating Afghan media on their role in civil society as a ‘watch dog' for security force infractions is a critical positive step toward countering a myriad of issues-intimidation, government framing of incidents, restriction of information, etc.-that can hinder media oversight. The United States needs to establish a parallel civilian track that looks to secure the involvement of Afghan citizens in oversight of the ANSF through media, advocacy organizations, discussions with civil representatives, and elections. Afghans' use of elections to hold politicians responsible for the performance and control of domestic security forces is a clear demonstration of democratic accountability.
South Sudan-another test region for U.S. security assistance-provides a good example of what happens when security forces use overwhelming force in a nascent democracy, but citizens have no avenue to advocate for reform or hold their government accountable. When the Sudan People's Liberation Army (the SPLA-South Sudan's army) began to forcefully disarm militias in its historically restive Jonglei State-an effort that began in March 2012 and continues to date-the intervention resulted in numerous reported deaths, rapes, and extrajudicial killings, as well as a humanitarian crisis that persists to this day.
The SPLA's efforts in Jonglei State have alienated many from the Government of South Sudan. And while the fallout was predictable, the residents' inability to seek justice and security from the government is a failure for protection of civilians. Furthermore, it foments future conflict in South Sudan. Similar activity in Afghanistan would prove that Kabul and its forces are out of touch, not carrying out the will of the people, and essentially illegitimate.
As the United States looks toward a successful transition in 2014, it must address the above inadequacies if it hopes to provide Afghanistan with a fighting chance.
Ali A. Riazi is an advisor to NGOs and the U.S. government and military, with a focus on civilian protection, security sector reform, humanitarian affairs, and counter-terrorism. He served previously with the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office and the U.S. Marine Corps. He can be found at https://twitter.com/ali_riazi and http://www.abeingforitself.com.
A report released in September by human rights researchers at Stanford Law School and New York University Law School sets out to demonstrate that U.S. drone policies are "damaging and counterproductive."
Media outlets from CNN to BBC hailed the report as new evidence of the U.S. government's false narrative on drones and the New York Times' Scott Shane described the study as "among the most thorough on the subject to date."
While the Stanford-NYU report certainly presents a comprehensive review of existing drone research, its new contributions to the evidentiary record are far more modest than its sweeping conclusions would suggest.
The U.S. government claims that civilian casualties caused by drones are in the "single digits" during Obama's years in office, while the Stanford-NYU report seeks to establish that there is significant evidence that U.S. drone strikes have killed and injured a larger number of civilians. This is a low bar, and would merely necessitate proving that more than 10 civilians have been killed by drones since Obama assumed office, a claim that has been made by all three major databases aggregating information on drone strikes. The Stanford-NYU report goes further, claiming that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed since 2004.
However, this does not represent new evidence. Stanford and NYU researchers made no attempt to offer new statistical analysis on the number of civilian casualties caused by drones. Rather, their report is essentially an extended endorsement of a database compiled by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a small team of journalists based out of City University, London. In doing so, the report rejects the findings of two other widely cited databases, The Long War Journal, which reports 138 civilian deaths and New America Foundation's Year of the Drone, which lists 152-191 civilian deaths and the deaths of 130-268 "unknowns."
If the Stanford-NYU team wants to paint a picture of the U.S. as a human rights abuser, then the Bureau, whose casualty statistics dwarf the more conservative estimates of the other databases, is best suited to that purpose, but that does not make it the most reliable source.
While a comprehensive assessment of the Bureau's data should have been conducted before giving it a resounding endorsement, just a cursory review of its account of 2012's drone strikes reveals problems:
- On May 5, 2012 the Bureau reports that a strike in North Waziristan killed 8-10 people, of whom between zero and ten are listed as civilians. Upon reviewing the accompanying sources one find that early reports said the identity of the dead could not be determined, but subsequent reports from government officials identified them as militants. Of the 15 sources cited by the Bureau, not one states that the victims were civilians.
-On June 2, 2012 the Bureau reports that 2-4 people were killed and between zero and two of them were civilians. These civilian deaths were inferred based on a report that a motorbike was accidentally hit, but the Bureau fails to take note of a later report from The Express Tribune identifying the motorbike victims as suspected militants Khalil Yargul Khail and Rehmanullah Gangi Khail.
-On July 23, 2012 the Bureau references 25 sources for a drone strike, only one of which described the victims as local residents and based on this the Bureau reports that up to 14 civilians were killed.
The Stanford-NYU report critiques the Long War Journal for not making its data available in a verifiable strike-by-strike format, over-relying on U.S. intelligence sources, and identifying all victims as militants unless they are specifically identified as civilians. These are reasonable criticisms, but when the critique turns to New America Foundation research, it becomes logically inconsistent.
While Stanford-NYU researchers admit that all three databases rely on "the same universe of publicly available press reports," they criticize only the New America Foundation for over-relying on the anonymous Pakistani government officials cited in such news reports. The Stanford-NYU report laments that these officials are cited in 88% of articles referenced in New America's 2012 data but fails to consider that these same articles are referenced by the Bureau. Furthermore, the only reason the researchers were able to generate that statistic is because New America compiles a highly transparent summary of media sources relied on for each strike with a list of which sources reported which casualty estimates, something no other database provides.
The Stanford-NYU report goes on to question the "deep reporting" capabilities of New America's sources (The New York Times, Reuters, AP, BBC, etc.) while uncritically accepting the veracity of reports from fringe outlets such as the Kuwait News Agency, the South Asian News Agency, Central Asia Online, and Punjab News, which are sometimes the sole sources for the Bureau's reports of civilian casualties.
This is not to suggest that the Bureau's research is without merit, but it should be noted that it represents an interpretation of the facts with a bias toward reporting civilian casualties. The Bureau's database does not even have a category for reporting militant deaths. It seems counter-intuitive that the organization's researchers can have such absolute faith in their civilian casualty estimates, but not have the confidence to label any of the deceased as militants.
And the Stanford-NYU team was not impartial. By the report's own admission, the research project it undertook in Pakistan to interview family members of drone strike victims was commissioned by Reprieve, a UK based advocacy organization. Reprieve, which filed two lawsuits on behalf of alleged drone victims in May of 2012, arranged, paid for and collaborated on many of the victim interviews conducted by the Stanford-NYU researchers.
No database is perfect, but a strong argument could be made that the New America Foundation's policy of attempting to identify both militants and civilians while maintaining an explicit category for "unknowns" to represent the uncertainty surrounding many of the strikes is a more balanced representation of the facts. After all, if the public is to assess the efficacy of drone strikes then we need to consider the strikes that hit their targets as well as the ones that do not.
Stanford and NYU's analysis of the three drone databases, in some respects, misses the forest for the trees. A comparison of the annual data collected by the Bureau with that compiled by the New America Foundation suggests that while their numbers may differ, their underlying findings are substantially similar. Both the Bureau and New America have observed a general decline in the percentage of civilian fatalities since the high in 2006, with a sharp decrease during the Obama administration. According to the Bureau's data, the proportion of civilians killed in drone strikes fell from 35 percent in 2008 under President Bush to 9 percent thus far in 2012. Similarly, New America reports that the rate of civilian and unknown casualties decreased from 23 percent in 2008 to 2 percent in 2012. This stands to reason when we consider that the Bureau tends to err on the side of assuming that unidentified dead or individuals of disputed identity are civilians, while New America prefers to accommodate ambiguity by listing "unknowns" and only reports a civilian or militant casualty when it is reported by two independent sources.
If one takes the average number of civilian and unknown deaths counted by the New America Foundation from 2004-2012 as a percentage of the total number of people killed in drone strikes, the civilian and unknown deaths represent 15 percent of the total. The Bureau's data suggests that civilian deaths account for 22 percent of the total killed. These numbers are in fact, not so very far apart. And while the Bureau has criticized New America for reporting that in 2012, civilian deaths are approaching zero, the Bureau's own data suggests that the percentage of civilian casualties in 2012 is at nine percent, an all-time low and significantly less than the 23 percent the Bureau reports during Obama's first year in office. This suggests that the choice is not between two very different data sets, but rather two different interpretations of similar evidence. Contrary to the Stanford-NYU report's claims, the New America Foundation is not underreporting civilian casualties; its researchers have simply chosen not to feign certainty in the face of ambiguity.
What They Didn't Say
The Stanford-NYU researchers also fail to incorporate evidence that might temper their claims. Their report makes numerous references to an AP investigative report that interviewed 80 villagers at the sites of the ten deadliest attacks in 2011 and 2012 but neglects its conclusions that "a significant majority of the dead were combatants" and the numbers of casualties gathered by AP investigators "turned out to be very close to those given by Pakistani intelligence on the day of each strike."
Numerous media accounts, including the LA Times, have highlighted that "the [Stanford-NYU] study concludes that only about 2 percent of drone casualties are top militant leaders." The study reached no such conclusion. This claim is based on research conducted by New America and published last month on CNN. While the Stanford-NYU report summarily dismissed New America's militant and civilian casualty estimates, they have been quick to make this statistic a centerpiece of their argument. In doing so, they also take the conclusion out of context, and ignore the possible tactical utility of deliberately targeting low-level militants. Indeed, destroying communication centers, training camps and vehicles undermines the operational effectiveness of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and quotes from operatives of the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network reveal that drones have forced them into a "jungle existence" where they fear for the lives on a daily basis.
A second key contention of the Stanford-NYU report is that drone strikes are "damaging and counterproductive" to U.S. national security. However, it is shortsighted to evaluate U.S. security in isolation from Pakistani domestic order. Terrorist attacks have been a pervasive problem in Pakistan, especially since 2007. While the report references these attacks and the frequent assassinations carried out by Taliban forces, it makes no reference to recent research by an analyst at the RAND Corporation, who identifies a negative correlation between drone strikes and militant violence inside Pakistan, indicating that the rate of violence has gone down as the rate of drone strikes has gone up. Analysis by New America suggests that while only 10 percent of drone strikes target al-Qaeda operatives, approximately 50 percent hit Taliban targets and in 2009, 19 of the first 32 drone strikes targeted the organization of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, and the alleged mastermind of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud was a far greater threat to Pakistani security than that of the United States.
These criticisms are not to suggest that the Stanford-NYU report is without merit. The anecdotal evidence on the adverse mental health impact of drones, the economic hardships created by attacks and the restriction of movement caused by FATA residents' anxiety about potential strikes are all valuable contributions to the public's understanding of drones, as is the report's succinct and cogent summary of some of the key legal issues. Both of these topics merit further research and the teams at Stanford and NYU seem well poised to continue contributing in these areas.
However it would be a mistake to unequivocally accept all of the report's conclusions or its stance on the civilian casualty debate. The U.S. government's claims that civilian casualties from drone strikes during Obama's term in office are in the single digits are manifestly untrue, but there is no need to overstate the rate of civilian deaths to make the point that drones strikes are legally suspect and morally hazardous.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
As the United States' 2014 transition in Afghanistan approaches, American policymakers have underscored that President Hamid Karzai's government must undertake urgently needed institutional reforms. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted after this summer's Tokyo Conference that President Karzai had presented a "clear vision" for these reforms, which "must include fighting corruption, improving governance, strengthening the rule of law." Under the principle of mutual accountability, the United States will continue to support Afghanistan through and beyond transition.
For the U.S. to accurately gauge and support this process, we need an honest, robust grasp of Afghanistan's commitment to governance reform. But instead, since the U.S. surge began in late 2009, a few recurrent anecdotes have disproportionately driven the picture of Afghan governance that we see, thereby enabling the Afghan government's continuing reluctance to reform. A combination of bureaucratic pressures, journalistic factors, and data scarcity has led U.S. public discourse on Afghanistan to over-rely on "ground truthed" subjective narratives and personal testimonials. Proportionate, objective assessments of metrics relevant to governance reform have lost out in the noise.
"Anecdotalization" doesn't yet appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, but if it does, it will likely be because of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. To truly ensure much-needed Afghan government reform, we must finally suppress it.
How have a few recurrent anecdotes come to distort our understanding of Afghanistan's governance reform process?
First, predominant anecdotes have allowed us to mistake localized, distinct successes for replicable progress and reforms. Consider Nawa, which after years as one of Helmand's most dangerous districts demonstrated dramatically improved security and governance during the surge. Facilitated by American military leadership, helicopter-loads of high-ranking government officials, journalists, and think tankers visited the district for a few hours each, and produced personal testimonials like this one in a New York Times op-ed: "Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open...and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor."
The author's bottom line echoed a Marine officer he quoted in his piece: "I hope people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this." In contrast, observers with lengthier stays in Nawa noted its turnaround stemmed from a particular combination of tribal politics, local officials' calculations, and vast American inputs relative to the population-not any systematic action on the part of the Afghan government. Afghanistan comprises roughly 400 districts, but a vastly disproportionate number of eyewitness reports flowed in from Nawa and a handful of other districts like Arghandab and Baraki Barak. Colorful anecdotal successes drowned out more objective, broader assessments of governance reform.
Second, the pervasiveness of certain anecdotes has allowed us to confuse specific Afghan individuals' achievements for broader Afghan progress in institution building. American assistance to local Afghan government typically is focused on few key local officials. Many of these individuals demonstrated great strides or deep potential: behold the numerous accounts of Kandahar City's indefatigable mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi, Helmand's reliable governor Ghulab Mangal, or Marja's promising district "governor in a box" Haji Zahir. Naturally, with transport facilitated by U.S. military leadership, the most impressive local officials were the ones who received frequent visits from high-level officials and influential correspondents, who could report they had seen local governance firsthand, and it was blooming. But judging overall governance progress on the basis of a few individuals is especially deceptive in Afghanistan, where officials are frequently reshuffled by the authorities in Kabul (as with Mangal), prove locally unpopular (Zahir), or are assassinated (Hamidi). Vivid testimonials don't equal a commitment to institutional reform.
Third, from a Kabul-based angle, a few persistent anecdotes have repeatedly allowed us to believe Afghan-led government reform is occurring where little actually is. For years, the international community pressured Kabul to clarify the scattered, confusing local governance picture. In 2010, the government responded with finalizing a 415-page Subnational Governance Policy: internally inconsistent yet enormously redundant, vast in ambit yet not enforceable in specifics. Before it could actually affect governance on the ground, the document needed significant legislative and administrative follow-up- which two and a half years later largely has not happened. But still, Afghan (and some American) officials alike frequently noted that they were pleased to see the policy had been drafted. A colorful testimonial counted as progress.
If this prevalence of anecdotes has allowed the Afghan government to substitute paper outputs for genuine reform, this pattern seems likely to repeat. After the Tokyo Conference described above, where the international community pressured the Karzai administration to launch serious reform and anti-corruption measures, Karzai responded with the lengthy decree: 167 articles along, divided among 33 government entities. As William Byrd and Attaullah Nasib have pointed out, the document lacked prioritization, action items, and benchmarks that can be evaluated. But it achieved its anecdotal point: as the Karzai administration has repeated frequently, it had "launched" a reform package.
How do we suppress the anecdotalization that has colored our understanding of Afghanistan's reform process? First, we must recognize that one cause is our own organizational incentives. In an era of budget constraints, military and civilian organizations in Afghanistan are pressured to demonstrate results quickly-and so they direct the unremitting stream of high-level visitors and influential thinkers to Afghanistan's most impressive cases. As a second explanation, our sound-bite culture places a premium on personal testimonials, and so peppering public communication with colorful narratives rather than tedious data is often viewed as more authentic or engaging. A third explanation lies in our unwitting mirror-imaging of the way the US government operates onto the way we believe the Afghan government does. In Washington, releasing an executive order has real consequences: it automatically triggers follow up and monitoring mechanisms from government agencies, Congress, and the media. Not so in Afghanistan, where glossy documents such as Karzai's presidential decree are often intended more to placate donors than to galvanize actions.
But the biggest reason of all for the rise of anecdotal noise is that alternatives are scarce. Measuring governance and reform-a nebulous, challenging task anywhere-- seems almost impossible in a data-poor, opaque context like Afghanistan. Data-driven evaluations do exist at the classified level, and unclassified information like The Asia Foundation's annual survey, the World Bank's indicators, International Crisis Group reports, and the Defense Department's bi-annual Section 1230 Reports add important insights or overviews. But the conversation about Afghanistan's progress resides heavily in the public domain, where opinion-makers gravitate toward the tactile, colorful personal story.
As U.S. policymakers turn toward 2014, they must suppress these recurrent anecdotes and focus on objectively measuring Afghanistan's governance reform against one central criterion: whether Afghan government institutions are prepared to "hold" the country after the U.S. drawdown. Instead of celebrating the unusual triumphs of districts like Nawa, we must look at indicators for how many provinces will be able to achieve relative success: ministry budget execution and service distribution to the local level. Instead of hoping that all local Afghan officials are as good as "our guy", we can measure whether Karzai's administration has truly made the subnational appointment system more merit based or locally accountable. Rather than check the box of "reform" with the release of a presidential anti-corruption decree, we can focus on the tedious work of prioritizing and following up on those 167 articles.
Shifting the narrative from one where a thousand vivid success stories bloom to one of objective assessment of reform won't be pleasant: it represents a move from the colorful to the colorless. But it is the only way to achieve our minimal objective in Afghanistan: an Afghan government that can endure after we depart.
Frances Z. Brown, at time of writing, was an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Afghanistan Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
Much like the rest of the world, Pakistan initially responded to Malala Yousufzai's shooting by the Taliban on October 9 with widespread uproar and outrage. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, officials and the population displayed a rare show of unity against the Taliban, in stark contrast to the country's response to the assassinations of the Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti by extremists last year. As I wrote in an op-ed for the Express Tribune last week, this reaction against the Taliban in the wake of Malala's shooting offered a glimmer of hope for Pakistan. But what should have been a powerful opportunity for the country to silence its inner demons and focus on development has turned to a dangerous pastime: finding someone else to blame.
The shift in the national conversation began with questions about the extensive media coverage Malala received: "why such focus on just one girl," some said, "what about U.S. drone strikes that kill innocent people." Fingers started being pointed everywhere but inward. Afghanistan was blamed for harboring the Pakistan Taliban after the Pakistani army operation against the militant group in March 2009. Elaborate conspiracy theories were hatched, the most insane of which held the United States responsible for first mentoring Malala and then having her shot narrowly enough to ensure her survival, in order to garner support for a potential Pakistani army offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan.
This is not the first time a productive national conversation in Pakistan has been hijacked by convoluted, paranoid thinking. Why does this happen time and again? Perhaps because looking inward is painful and difficult for Pakistanis. According to the 2012 Pew Global Attitudes survey in Pakistan, a meager 12 percent of respondents are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. Pakistan is in a state of malaise, at war with itself, and in a perilous economic decline, and its view of this shooting and the correct response to it have become blurred. Let's be clear about the facts and what Pakistan needs to do.
First, the war against the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan is Pakistan's own war. The Taliban, and no one else, is responsible for shooting a girl who had the audacity to go to school. Pakistanis must get it straight: this incident has nothing to do with drone strikes. If drone strikes were to stop tomorrow, the Taliban would still exist in Pakistan, and they would still be burning down girls' schools, targeting innocent women and children, brutally silencing anyone who dares to raise her voice. This is not speculation or conjecture: the group wreaked havoc over Swat in 2008 and early 2009, before the current level of drone strikes began.
Second, Pakistan needs to invest in development, and in particular, in education. In fact, the long-term solution to rooting out radicalization and militancy in Pakistan lies in girls' education, precisely the thing which threatens the Taliban. The development dividends of female education are clear: a great deal of empirical evidence from across the world demonstrates that investments in female education give rich benefits in terms of economic, educational, and health advancements for the entire population, not just women. Importantly, my recent research establishes that the education of girls also makes them less supportive of terrorism and militancy. Specifically, I use data from a recent, large-scale public opinion survey in Pakistan to show that while uneducated women exhibit higher support for militant groups relative to uneducated men, educated women show much lower support for militant groups relative to educated men. These are militant groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. No wonder the Taliban are so frightened of girls' schooling.
It is a fact that the Pakistani government has not prioritized the country's development. Last year development spending in Pakistan was a paltry 2.8 percent of GDP. It is then no surprise that education, let alone girls' education, has not been a priority. A new UNESCO report shows that two-thirds of children not attending school in Pakistan are girls, and the poorest girls in Pakistan are twice as likely to be out of school as the poorest girls in India, almost three times as likely as the poorest girls in Nepal and around six times as likely as the poorest girls in Bangladesh. Pakistani women desperately want their daughters to be educated, regardless of whether they are poor or illiterate themselves. I heard this from every woman I interviewed in Punjabi and Sindhi villages for a World Bank study I helped conduct a few years ago. The supply of schools is a problem for girls in Pakistan because the government builds one girls' school for every two boys' schools. Compounding the problem of access to schooling are cultural challenges to girls' mobility, because girls cannot travel alone, especially after they reach puberty.
However, building more schools is by no means the entire answer. For the lucky ones who get to go to school, often the education they receive is poor and their learning is very limited. According to a large survey in Punjab, children at the end of third grade are functionally illiterate and innumerate. They are not able to perform basic mathematical operations, unable to write simple sentences in Urdu, and unable to recognize simple words in English. In addition, it is no secret that Pakistan's national curriculum is biased and does not promote critical thinking. The education system as it currently stands perpetuates the cycle of poverty because the youth in Pakistan do not get the skills they need to get good jobs and lead productive lives.
Instead of getting mired in a murky conversation about the world machinating against Pakistan, it is time for Pakistanis to think about what we need to do to advance its development and to invest in girls' education in particular. The government is blundering in its response to half of its population's most basic and fundamental rights: to education, to speech, to work, to a dignified and purposeful life. This is a time for introspection: it is time for Pakistanis to take a long, hard look inward, and to get to work.
Madiha Afzal, a Pakistani citizen, is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Above, children sift through the debris of a school destroyed by the Swat Taliban in 2009.
All the claims about Pakistan's most successful military offensive against militants in the country came to naught when armed assailants targeted a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Swat on October 9.
Hours later, while the country's political and military leaders were issuing statements of condemnation along with the usual promise of "bringing the culprits to justice," a Taliban spokesman daringly claimed responsibility for the attack, and warned that they would again target Malala Yousafzai if she survives.
As the ‘Swat Diary Girl' -- known for writing articles during the dark days of Taliban rule in Swat in 2008-9 -- slowly recovers at a hospital in Britain, the entire Pakistani nation from Khyber to Karachi is simmering with anger. The most frequently asked question during the public and private discussions, TV talk shows, and newspaper columns is: Are the Taliban staging a comeback in Swat?
Following the ill-planned and haphazard attack on the students and teachers of the Red Mosque in Islamabad ordered by then-President Pervez Musharraf in mid-2007, the Swat-based Mullah Fazlullah, aka FM Mullah, backed his armed Taliban volunteers, unleashed a reign of terror in the serene valley that lasted almost two years. Their rule culminated in April 2009 with the occupation of Mingora, the commercial capital of Swat, and their advance on the neighboring district of Buner.
It was a time when Swat's women were forced to stay inside the four walls of their houses, girls were banned from attending schools, police stations were bombed, music shops were forcefully closed, barbers were forbidden from shaving men's beards, parallel courts were established to solve private disputes, and public executions of policemen, government officials and those disobeying Taliban became the order of the day.
Under immense pressure at home and abroad, and encouraged by the public outcry over the fact that the Swat Taliban were only 70 kilometers from the capital Islamabad, the Pakistani army launched Operation Rah-e-Raast (Right Path) in May 2009. Earlier, the failure of the first and second phases of the military operation Rah-e-Haq (Just Path) in Swat had forced an influential elder and political leader from the area, Afzal Khan Lala, to tell the army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani that the army and Taliban were "two faces of the same coin."
Lala, who survived an attack believed to have been carried out by the Taliban, earned praise for his exceptional courage by staying put while much of the rest of the population (nearly 2.5 million people) left the area for fear of the Taliban and the looming military operation.
The nearly two-month-long Rah-e-Raast operation, closely covered by this writer, successfully ousted the Taliban from Swat and helped return the displaced population to their villages by restoring public order. However, like what happened with other militant and Taliban leaders, including Mangal Bagh in Khyber, Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur, and Hakimullah Mehsud in the Waziristan tribal agencies, the leader of the Swat Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, miraculously survived and escaped the valley.
Within a few months of the military operation, the Taliban attempted to stage a return, targeting and killing a member of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assembly, Shamsher Ali Khan, in a suicide attack outside his house in Swat on December 1, 2009. Since then, any tribal elder, politician, social worker or journalist who dared to criticize the Taliban or pointed out the Army's failure to root out the militants -- or at least block their entry back into Swat -- was kidnapped, beaten, threatened or killed, by either the Taliban or sometimes even the Army.
One such voice was that of Zahid Khan, president of the Swat Hotels Association and one of the leading figures of the Swat Qaumi Jirga, an organization striving for peace and development in the valley. Khan used to criticize the Taliban for their inhumane practices both in public and in private. I still remember my last meeting with him in November 2009 at his home in Swat. During our conversation, Khan showed me an AK-47 assault rifle that was left behind by armed men who ambushed him near his house after he had returned from a meeting with army officials at the Circuit House in Swat.
Khan's family members exchanged fire with the unidentified attackers in the dark of night, and forced them to flee and leave the AK-47 behind. After the restoration of calm (though not peace) to Swat, Khan began to criticize the Pakistani security forces as well as the Taliban, for what he called the army's failure to kill or arrest the Taliban's leadership.
Zahid Khan is now on a hospital bed after receiving severe injuries in an armed attack in August this year. According to police accounts, the unidentified attackers managed to escape. Khan is no longer likely to attend meetings to discuss peace and development in Swat, nor will he be talking to the media.
Two months before the attack on Zahid Khan, armed men gunned down a local leader of the Pakistan Muslim League party in Swat, Muhammad Afzal Khan, spreading fear among Swat's people. While speaking to this writer soon after the attack on Malala Yousafzai, a number of Swat's notable elders and political leaders questioned the role of army troops stationed in the valley, if not to prevent such devastating attacks on civilians.
Just like the outspoken Zahid Khan, Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai were the real voices for peace in Swat; both of them criticized the Taliban for their medieval practices, and the military for not restoring real peace in the valley. Though a shadow Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for attacking Malala, many Swat observers believe that the aim of the shooting was really to silence her father, who is also the spokesman for the Swat Qaumi Jirga.
So what does all this mean for the people of Swat, Pakistan and the wider world, who believed in 2009 that the Taliban, led by Mullah Fazlullah, had been expelled from Swat once and for all? Are the Taliban gradually staging a comeback? "No", said Mukhtar Khan Yousazai, leader of the Swat Qaumi Jirga. But the threat of their return will continue to haunt the people of Swat, who bravely fought back against the ruthless militants by supporting the army in 2009.
To believe that the Taliban cannot regain power in Swat is not without reason. Before the emergence of Mullah Fazlullah, Swat was a modern and well developed district of Pakistan, not because the government of Pakistan carried out exceptional developmental work there, but because it was a tourist destination, and had enjoyed a golden period as the State of Swat until a merger with Pakistan in 1969.
The level of education among Swat's population is higher than several districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Banr Bazaar, the narrow street of two-story houses in Mingora, has been popular for its dancing girls since the period of the princely state. Such was the secular trend among Swatis that one of the rulers of Swat married one of the dancing girls, in an effort to mix the families of musicians and dancing girls into the rest of the population.
Unlike the people of the tribal areas, who are suffering both under the threat of Taliban violence for their non-compliance as well as the fear of arrests and interrogations by the Pakistan army, the people of Swat united more than three years ago to fight back and forced the Pakistani military leadership to carry out a serious operation against the militants. And when the militants were defeated in July 2009, the people rushed back to settle into their villages without giving a second thought to security concerns or the threat of destruction of their houses and businesses in Taliban attacks and army operations.
Further hit and run attacks such as the one carried out on October 9 cannot be ruled out, but a full return or the establishment of a base in any part of the valley by the Taliban seems to be a distant possibility, mainly because the militants have lost support among the population. Their organizational structure has been shattered, their leadership in hiding, and they have been unable to re-establish a single strong base anywhere in Swat.
The questions and concerns of the people of Swat remain, with one question coming above all others: was there any truth to the military's tall claims about the successful military operation? The Swatis also question the role of those hundreds of intelligence operatives and the surveillance devices deployed to spy on local journalists, politicians, notables of the area, and common people.
In addition to the Swatis, other Pakistanis are searching for meaning in the recent back-to-back statements from Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Kayani and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in which they reiterated that the country's security forces are ready "to render any sacrifice" in the fight against extremists.
A similar statement was issued by the Army Chief on Independence Day this year, and the Pakistani nation hoped for a while that their all-powerful military forces now meant business. Nothing came of their promises. But perhaps Malala's cry, which awakened Pakistanis from Khyber to Karachi, will compel the top brass to make a decision. Let's keep our fingers crossed!
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The Taliban's shooting last Tuesday of a 14-year old girl, Malala Yousafzai, a tireless campaigner for girls' access to education, has plunged the entire Pakistani nation into a state of disbelief. Many in Pakistan and around the world have lauded her bravery, and some have questioned whether this incident is going change Pakistan, or is just another example of the ignored militant threat. The assault on Malala raises questions about the safety of female activists all over Pakistan.
In this article, we discuss ten major incidents over the past decade, all involving women, which shook the foundations of Pakistani society and increased public expectations for improved conditions for Pakistani women. These tragedies involve many different forms of violence against women, along with lax official responses that encourage a culture of impunity among the perpetrators of the assaults.
Malala Yousafzai: Taliban gunmen singled out Malala on October 9, 2012 in a school van full of girls returning home for the day. They shot her in the neck and head. She had infuriated the Taliban with her blog posts for the BBC that exposed the insurgent group's ban on girls' education in her native Swat, in the northwest of Pakistan. The Taliban consider girls' education to be un-Islamic and they began to destroy schools as a tactic to stop education for girls. According to TIME Magazine, they destroyed 473 schools between 2007 and 2009. The destruction and closure of local schools compelled Malala to speak up against the Taliban's actions. She met personally with top officials, including senior U.S. diplomats, to request them to help Pakistani girls receive uninterrupted education. The Taliban have vowed to kill Malala if she survives, and she currently remains under treatment in a hospital in England. Malala has emerged as a child hero epitomizing resistance against the Taliban.
Ramsha Masi is a teenaged Pakistani Christian girl, who according to some reports suffers from Down syndrome, and who was detained by authorities in Islamabad on blasphemy charges in August 2012 for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. She could face the death sentence if charges against her are proven. Ramsha's case spotlighted the vulnerability of Pakistan's religious minorities, who can easily be subjugated by Muslim clergymen under the controversial blasphemy law. It turned out that a Muslim cleric had actually planted evidence against the Christian girl but he was eventually granted bail by a court. Ramsha's physical safety still remains a major concern.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a filmmaker, made her country proud in 2012 by becoming the first Pakistani to win an Oscar award. Saving Face, her award-winning movie, however, stunned the world as it courageously exposed the despicable phenomenon of acid attacks on women. The movie instilled courage among the victims of acid assaults and drew international attention toward the unknown ferocious practice employed by abusive husbands, angry fathers, and Taliban militants alike.
Rankil Kumari: The case of this 17-year old Hindu girl has helped to draw public attention to another disquieting practice: Forceful conversion of Hindu girls into Islam, and their subsequent forced marriages with Muslim boys. On February 24, 2012, an influential Muslim politician kidnapped Ms. Kumari from her residence in Sindh province. When the girl resurfaced after a few days, she, apparently concerned about personal safety, said she had ‘willingly' embraced Islam and married a Muslim man. The Hindus, on their part, say young girls from their minority community are wholly unsafe in Pakistan, where each month at least 20 to 25 girls are forcefully converted to Islam and compelled to marry Muslims. According to one estimate, 300 Hindu girls are forcefully converted in Pakistan each year.
Asia Bibi is another Christian woman who became a victim of the blasphemy law. In November 2010, a court in Punjab handed her a death sentence for committing blasphemy against Islam. If the superior courts uphold the judgment, she will become Pakistan's first woman to be killed under the blasphemy law.
Ms. Bibi's case also indicates the improbability of abolishing or reforming the blasphemy laws. For example, Salmaan Taseer, the Punjab governor, was shot dead by his own security guard when he publicly spoke in support of Asia Bibi and proposed a review of the draconian law. His killing was immediately followed by another high-profile murder of the minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. The killings in the wake of Asia Bibi case have nearly silenced the debate over scraping the discriminatory blasphemy law.
Chand Bibi: In April 2009, a YouTube video showed the Taliban publicly flogging a 17-year old girl, Chand Bibi, in Swat Valley. The video shocked the nation by exposing the Taliban's barbaric ‘justice system'. The teenaged girl was flogged on charges of adultery in front of hundreds of people. A spokesman for the Taliban confirmed the incident, depriving the Taliban of public support in the area. Public backlash to the video was so intense that it paved the way for the Pakistani army to carry out an operation against the local Taliban in Swat.
The Baba Kot Girls: In August 2008, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported that five young girls had been shot and buried alive on the instructions of a powerful tribal elder in Baba Kot town of Balochistan province. The girls, whose number is often disputed, were buried alive after they opted to marry for love instead of accepting marriages arranged by their families. When the tragedy was reported in the media, it triggered a massive public outcry. A Pakistani senator, surprisingly, defended the incident in the Senate and justified it as "our tribal custom". The perpetrators of the Baba Kot murders were never punished. Every year, hundreds of girls are killed in the name of honor, mostly by their own male family members.
Benazir Bhutto inspired a full generation of Muslim women in 1988 when, at the age of 35, she became the first Muslim woman to head a government. Ms. Bhutto was twice elected as Pakistan's Prime Minister, and became a symbol of female courage. On December 27, 2007, Bhutto was assassinated after an election rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Many Pakistanis, including Bhutto's opponents, believed their country would never be the same again after her tragic murder. Despite a United Nations investigation, who exactly killed Bhutto remains a mystery, and her murderers remain at large until today.
Dr. Shazia Khalid, 32, is a physician who was raped on January 2, 2005 in the gas-rich town of Sui, allegedly by a Captain in the Pakistani military. While the Pakistani army headed by General Pervez Musharraf endeavored to cover up the case, the incident was eventually made public and triggered cacophonous reactions from the powerful Bugti tribe, considered the captain's action an assault on the local customs.
General Musharraf publicly declared the captain "100 percent innocent" and went on to say, "a lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped." Dr. Khalid's rape triggered the country's worst conflict between the Pakistan army and the Baloch tribesmen, which continues today seven years later. The Pakistani army never put the captain on trial, and faced with death threats, Dr. Khalid had to flee Pakistan to England.
Mukhtaran Mai is Pakistan's most high-profile victim of gang-rape. In June 2002, a tribal council in Punjab Province endorsed her gang rape. She was paraded naked in front of hundreds of people and raped by men belonging to a powerful tribe. Unlike many rape victims in Pakistan and throughout the world, Mai chose to speak up against her rapists and pursue a legal battle. Her courage unsettled Pakistan's military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, so much that he imposed travel restrictions on Mai by putting her name on Pakistan's Exit Control List (ECL) for fear that if she would tell her story abroad and add to the country's negative image in the world. She was also not allowed to meet with her lawyer. Glamour Magazine called Mai "The Bravest Woman in the World" and featured her as the 2005 "Woman of the Year." She has since then become a role model for Pakistani women by setting up her own organization to work for the welfare of rural women.
Malik Siraj Akbar, based in Washington DC, is an exiled Baloch journalist who founded The Baloch Hal, the first online English language newspaper in Balochistan, Pakistan. Formerly, he was a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow at Arizona State University.
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
The biggest debate surrounding the Afghanistan-Pakistan region today concerns the U.S. drone program in Pakistan's tribal regions, which target the militants who terrorize and kill local residents, and who attack American soldiers inside Afghanistan. Ironically, the anti-war group CODEPINK -- members of which visited Pakistan last week to protest drone strikes -- along with much of the American left, the Pakistani establishment, and the Taliban are all on the same side in their opposition to drone strikes. While silent on the many more targeted killings of innocent civilians by Taliban militants in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Pakistani establishment and the American left both loudly criticize U.S. drone strikes, albeit for different reasons.
Pakistani officials cite Pakistan's sovereignty as their main justification for opposing drone strikes. But sovereignty is neither the actual reason for their anger, nor is it a legitimate argument against drone strikes. The actual reason is that the United States blames Pakistan for its failure to clear militants out of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. FATA serves as a base for militants and is therefore the target of drone strikes. In return, Pakistan uses anti-drone campaigns to stir up anti-Americanism through the media and insists on its national sovereignty over FATA.
Pakistan's sovereignty claim itself is completely invalid. Pakistan does not now nor has it ever had a complete sovereign control -- as modern nation-states define the term -- over FATA. In fact, it is precisely Pakistan's lack of sovereign control over FATA that allows the militants, many of whom are not Pakistanis, to operate so openly there and invite drone strikes. And that is the best case scenario for Pakistan; the worst case, many believe, is that Pakistan houses and trains these militants in FATA. Indeed, we just saw a fitting example of Pakistan's lack of sovereignty over FATA last week. An anti-drone march to the FATA area of Waziristan on October 7 led by Pakistan's leading politician, Imran Khan, and accompanied by CODEPINK members, failed to reach Waziristan. The march was halted when the Pakistan security forces could not guarantee the safety of the participants. Moreover, there is at least some evidence that the drone attacks are taking place with Pakistan's consent. If the Pakistani government was seriously against drone strikes, it could take a number of actions against the United States, including blocking the NATO supply route that goes through Pakistan, the way it did in late 2011 when NATO forces mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two military posts near the border with Afghanistan.
For CODEPINK and the American far left, the opposition to drone strikes rests on the idea that drones kill innocent civilians. The recently published "Living Under Drones," a report based on 130 interviews with family members of drone strike victims, studied the negative impact of drone strikes on civilians. But the debate on the drones' effectiveness and its impact on civilians is far from settled. For example, a February 2012 investigation by the Associated Press, which interviewed people inside FATA, reported that civilian casualties from drones are far lower than Pakistan civil society figures, journalists, and party officials assert publicly. Another study, relying on open-source data on reported U.S. drone strikes and terrorist activity in FATA between March 2004 and 2010, also found a negative correlation between drone strikes and militant violence. The strikes have also killed high-level Taliban leaders, like Baddrudin Haqqani and Baitullah Mehsud, and key Al-Qaeda militants, like Abu Kasha Al-Iraqi and Saleh Al-Turki. The New America Foundation estimates that around 84% of the people killed in drone strikes from 2004 to the present were al-Qaeda or Taliban militants. The drone accuracy rose to an amazing 95% in 2010.
It is perhaps for these reasons that polls show that the residents of FATA, who are the target of drones, are less opposed to drones than the rest of Pakistanis who are not the target of drones. FATA residents are eight times more supportive of drones than are the rest of Pakistanis. Moreover, a mere 48% of FATA residents believe that drones kill innocent civilians, compared to 89% of people in the rest of Pakistan. Surveys consistently find that FATA residents fear bomb blasts by Taliban and the Pakistani military more than they do drone strikes. According to the Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP), a Pakistan-based research group, when asked open-ended questions about their greatest fears, very few FATA residents ever mention drones. Even the Peshawar Declaration, a conference organized and attended by leaders of these tribal areas, showed strong support for drone strikes.
That being said, there is little doubt that civilians have died in drone attacks. But that just raises the bigger question: is there a better alternative to drone strikes for counterterrorism in northwest Pakistan? To answer that question, we can look to the Swat Valley, just north of Waziristan, where 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban militants last Tuesday for advocating for girls' education.
Swat, like Waziristan, has been a stronghold of the Taliban. But unlike Waziristan, Swat has not seen any drone strikes. Instead, in Swat, the only available alternative approach was taken. For much of 2007 and 2008, the people of Swat were left at the mercy of the Taliban, who operated with impunity and killed, tortured, wounded, and displaced countless people. Then, after being pressured by the United States, the Pakistani military entered Swat and conducted an operation to root out the Taliban. The military operation resulted in thousands of deaths, many more wounded, and over one million people displaced, with a quarter million refugees crammed into mere 24 camps -- the worst crisis since Rwanda in 1994, according to the United Nations. The operation also resulted in the destruction of hundreds of schools and egregious human rights violations by the Pakistani military - some of which I witnessed personally. By comparison, there are far fewer cases of displacement, civilian deaths, and other destruction in Waziristan where drone strikes are used.
Nevertheless, by yet another comparison of hypocrisy, those who are loudest about casualties from U.S. drone strikes have rarely protested the far higher numbers of civilian casualties as a result of Pakistan Army operations or Taliban violence in the Swat Valley and FATA. Silenced in this double standard are the varying motives of different parties as well as the voice of the Pashtun people in these tribal areas. At least one voice -- that of this native Pashtun -- is speaking out to say that there are serious downsides to these drone strikes, but they may be a necessary evil and the lone option to combat those who are responsible for the severe suffering of our people - like Malala Yousafzai.
Zmarak Yousefzai practices national security litigation in Washington, DC for an international law firm. He was born and raised in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.