Partnership is an essential aspect of our counterinsurgency strategy. It is also an indispensible element of the transition of responsibility to Afghans.
- COMISAF Tactical Directive, Revision 3, 7 July 2011
This week, the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan suspended joint operations below the battalion level in response to an increase in "green-on-blue" attacks against international coalition forces by their Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) partners. The decision comes on the heels of the release of a movie that has inflamed the Muslim world, as well as two "insider attacks" last weekend that resulted in the deaths of six coalition members. At face value, the decision is understandable. Yet considering the importance that ISAF has placed on joint operations as the lynchpin of our strategy to withdraw from Afghanistan, one has to ask, "what kind of calculus goes into making this decision? And what impact will this have on our combat operations going forward?"
In terms of the calculus that goes into making such a decision, ISAF leaders had to weigh the safety of coalition troops with a decrease in combat effectiveness. But with 51 coalition deaths at the hands of their ANSF partners (also referred to as "green-on-blue" attacks) this year alone the decision seems prudent.
There is precedence for such action, as military units have been known to conduct "stand downs," -- a pause in training or combat operations -- in order to address a serious issue. In this case, halting joint operations allows ISAF leaders at all levels to evaluate their security posture, establish standard operating procedures to deal with insider attacks, and to imprint a mindset in all service members that "yes, the ANSF are your partners, but be alert and prepared 24/7."
[For the record, the problem of insider attacks is not out of the ordinary nor is it unique to Afghanistan. As a Special Forces instructor, I used to train U.S. Special Forces personnel to work with indigenous forces and to expect that some may turn on them during the course of training or combat. And recently, on a research trip to Somalia, I was almost killed in an insider attack that took the life of the man with whom I was talking.]
A stoppage in joint operations also sends a strong message to our Afghan partners to get their act together and do their part to stop insider attacks. After all, a unit's best defense against an attack is often the information provided to them by those who know it is coming. There is a reasonable expectation by coalition forces that Afghan soldiers and policemen will get wind of an attack prior to its execution -- and that they will take the necessary steps to inform their Coalition partners and/or thwart the attack themselves. So consider this a "stand down" in reverse, in that the coalition is forcing the ANSF to evaluate how they intend to address insider attacks.
More importantly, the decision to stop joint patrols recognizes that the enemy has found a weakness and that we can count on them to exploit it vigorously. If we expect the enemy to encourage more insider attacks and to exploit other instances of Muslim outrage, then we had better prepare for it. And right now, we are not prepared.
That said, keep in mind that a sizeable number of insider attacks are generated not by the Taliban but by disgruntled ANSF who feel that they have been disrespected or dishonored.
In terms of what impact this will have on our combat operations going forward, that obviously depends on whether or not we resume joint operations.
If we get back patrolling with the ANSF, expect two things: that our combat activities will have adjusted to consider insider attacks; and that insider attacks will still continue. Think of it like an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED): initially, we were unprepared to deal with that threat. Then in short order, we dramatically increased our capabilities to detect and defeat the IED. And yet, IEDs still keep coming. As we adapt, so does our enemy. Same situation with insider attacks: the risk is inherent and it will remain.
That said, one can expect ISAF and the ANSF to do a better job vetting ANSF personnel, using "guardian angels" (troops whose duty is to be ever-vigilant for an insider attack, especially during hours of darkness), and increasing security on Forward Operating Bases. Surprisingly, coalition troops may be encouraged to get even closer to their ANSF counterparts in order to increase information gathering opportunities and to decrease the chances of disgruntled soldier attacks.
If we decide not to resume joint operations, then expect a decrease in the effectiveness of combat operations -- at least initially.
Coalition forces conducting unilateral operations will certainly be challenged, as they rely on their ANSF counterparts' language ability and cultural sensitivity to gain access to information, increase situational awareness, and decrease the chance of unproductive interactions with the local populace.
The ANSF will suffer too, as they depend on the coalition for combat power and key enablers such as civil affairs, information operations, quick reaction forces, aviation and fire support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), medical evacuation and logistics.
But at this point let us acknowledge the fact that this is not the coalition's war to win; it is the Afghans'. Translation: combat effectiveness -- as measured by the coalition -- may drop. But the shock of being forced to shoulder the burden of winning this war may encourage the ANSF to start taking full responsibility for this fight. It most certainly will force the ANSF to adopt tactics, techniques and procedures that may be better suited to their organic capabilities - not a bad thing when one considers that the coalition will not always be there with their combat power and enablers.
The bottom line here is that the coalition is leaving, and by ceasing joint operations the ANSF would be forced to deal with that reality sooner rather than later.
To be sure, there are many Afghan Army units that are ready for the challenge. An example: 2/2/205, an Afghan Army battalion in Zabul Province that was as good or better than some of the coalition forces that I observed in my two and a half years in Afghanistan.
At the end of the day, the decision to stop joint patrols seems to be less about telling the ANSF we do not and will never trust them and more about deep-diving solutions to addressing insider attacks.
By increasing security and awareness the coalition can decrease its casualties and increase troops' confidence in going into battle with the ANSF at their side. And that is important, for as a friend in Afghanistan told me, "there is a difference between dying in combat and being murdered by those who are fighting alongside you."
Roger D. Carstens is a former Special Forces officer and a Senior Research Fellow at New America Foundation.
[Below is Part Two of David H. Young's analysis of the summer uprisings in eastern Afghanistan. Read Part One here]
It remains unclear why Afghans appear more resistant to Taliban rule this summer than in the past. Perhaps the Taliban have been making even more burdensome demands than usual, increasingly aware that American and NATO forces are heading for the exits. Or perhaps Afghans are seeing the drawdown as a wake-up call that ensuring their own security is more vital than ever. Both explanations are simplistic, if only because the uprisings taking place across Afghanistan are, like nearly every other phenomenon in the country, occurring in isolation from one another, ever dependent on local actors and factors.
Still, with the Taliban as resilient as ever, it is understandable for American and Afghan officials to capitalize on the uptick in local resistance to Taliban predation. Given that there are certainly not enough resources to support all the uprisings, examining options in Kabul becomes a game of odds determined by how far into the future officials care to look. Where, for example, should they invest their precious resources: in the less capable popular revolt that is organic and loyal to the government, or the proficient uprising that aggressively fights the Taliban, despises the government and is brimming with former Taliban members and others with a history of fighting the government? It all depends on one's perspective.
With most ISAF tours lasting nine months to a year, it's tempting to play the short game and prioritize capability over loyalty, hoping the next brigade commander can control the fallout. Similarly, Afghan security officials, while there for the long term, are also under tremendous pressure to show results or be shown the door. And though it is difficult to discern loyalty and capability when any given uprising has so many moving parts, there are, inevitably, a number of telltale signs.
While most budding revolts beg the government and ISAF for support, many in Ghazni's Andar District, where the most robust rebellion is taking place, claim they do not need help, particularly from the government. Daud Sultanzoi, a former member of parliament from Ghazni told RFE/RL, "Anti-Taliban movements cannot have a sponsor and be identified with this government. As soon as this government touches anything it turns into evil. The government doesn't have the credibility to be the backbone for such uprisings. These uprisings need energy, which has to come from the people." While certainly an insightful observation, to not have to rely on the government for resources is a luxury that actually makes their endeavor more suspicious, not less. More than 250 Ghazni rebels have reportedly engaged the Taliban in 33 firefights since late May, and even if exaggerated, the fact that they have cleared more than 50 villages representing more than 4000 people and held those areas for several months is a testament to their firepower and supplies. Not even wealthy locals in Ghazni can afford to sustain that kind of campaign. Yet their supplies are coming from somewhere.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Asadullah Khalid, currently the Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs, is helping the rebels secure ammunition "independently of the government" because his family is from Ghazni province, though not the rebelling districts. (Khalid fought alongside the Northern Alliance, he has been governor of Ghazni and Kandahar, and President Karzai recently appointed him Chief of NDS. He has also been accused of running drugs and abusing detainees in private Kandahar prisons.) Afghan officials often have a destructive tendency of wearing multiple hats (Khalid is also serving as "Chief of Security for the Southern Zone"), and it is likely that men like Khalid are plugging rebels into their respective procurement networks to facilitate this rebellion without official sanction or government funds. Khalid even brought in allied commanders from other parts of Ghazni to lead the uprising, much to locals' chagrin. Unsurprisingly, then, the revolts have spread southward through Ghazni, closer to Khalid's home district of Nawa more than 100 miles to the south. And this potential hijacking may run deeper still.
An additional likely sponsor (either through or in addition to Khalid) is Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), one of the lesser-known Afghan insurgent groups prevalent in the north and east with a long history of fighting Soviets and other Afghan groups. After many senior figures of HIG broke off to form an influential political party, its militant wing continues using proceeds from an extensive criminal network to attack ISAF and Afghan forces. HIG has been active in Ghazni for decades and regularly engages the Taliban in turf wars. The question, then, is whether this uprising started as an organic rebellion, remains one, or was never one to begin with. Granted, much like in the rest of eastern Afghanistan, if you have stockpiles of weapons and you are fighting the Taliban independent of the government, locals out of old habit will usually assume you are HIG, so reports of the group co-opting the rebellion may be exaggerated. Then again, there is plenty of evidence that HIG is deeply involved in this effort. Clouding matters further is the tendency among ‘rebels', ‘militants' and ‘criminals' to mix roles and networks, almost to the point where many of these gunmen are loyal only to themselves, the next buck and a hint of glory.
Faizanullah Faizan-a former Hezb-e Islami commander, governor of Ghazni, and Andar native-is reportedly raising money and political support for the rebellion on behalf of his party in Kabul, as well as arranging logistics on the ground. He recently acknowledged that the rebellion's fighters come from "all the old groups" but insisted that the effort is "100% civilian." (The fact that Faizan was ambushed and nearly killed by three men (including a Pakistani suicide bomber) for his role in facilitating the uprising illustrates that the Taliban are not willing to concede the territory without a fight.)
Other indicators suggest the rebellion was never organic. The New York Times and Newsweek noted that much of the resistance was the result of a split within the Taliban in Ghazni, when some members turned on their brethren for their particularly brutal tendencies originating in Pakistan. This, too, is quite normal. In any given village cluster, there are local Taliban and foreign Taliban (frequently Pakistanis, or Afghans who have spent much of their lives in northwest Pakistan). The foreigners control the money flow and thus everything else, and they frequently bring a brand of Islam with them that the local Taliban cannot justify within their communities, causing tremendous friction. Yet these are hardly reformed insurgents. Al Jazeera reported that in an attempt to bribe the Taliban into opening the schools in Ghazni, locals offered to fight ISAF forces side-by-side with the insurgents, but the Taliban refused. Nor does such an offer sound like much of a sacrifice or particularly abnormal; the overall Ghazni commander, Lutfullah Kamran, is reported to have told local elders that "he would fight the Americans, but his first priority is securing his people's future." And once those bigger fish are fried?
With the U.S. combat mission ending in 2014 and an unknown number of residual forces remaining afterwards, rural Afghans in the east are hedging their bets by providing ‘passive' support to the Taliban-i.e., failing to report Taliban activities for fear of retaliation. Yet for key members of the Ghazni resistance to be so willing or eager to ‘actively' support the insurgency by attacking U.S. and Afghan forces suggests that this particular rebellion is of an altogether different nature than those sprinkled across the rest of the east. Ironically, then, the rebellions that draw the least attention are frequently the ones worth supporting the most.
ISAF Commander General John Allen recently described a more robust and legitimate government assistance being provided to uprisings in Kamdesh, Nuristan, one of the least accessible places on Earth. The Afghan National Army is "resupplying in Kamdesh using Afghan Army helicopters," he said. "They're getting up there. [The Afghan Army is] doing it. They've inserted commandos up there. They're resupplying local elements up there. They're maintaining the ANP [Afghan National Police] in some key checkpoints and strong points." Unquestionably, this is the proper way of assisting an uprising and a security force under siege, not by giving a Karzai loyalist a wink and a nod to do everything quietly and with zero accountability. Sadly, as I saw with uprisings in Nuristan, the terrain makes sustained governmental support almost impossible, and inevitably the population submits to the Taliban's will until the next time the group goes too far. The formula, however, is sound and has worked in areas with more favorable terrain, such as in neighboring Laghman, where another rebellion is underway. Mysteriously, Laghmani rebels have only received food and a small amount of ammunition from their government.
Regardless, despite a wave of optimism sweeping ISAF, these uprisings do not (nor will they ever) collectively resemble the Anbar Awakening in Iraq; these rebellions are isolated, have always been widespread and are rarely resilient enough to stave off the Taliban for long. In fact, nearly all of these summer revolts will not have staying power, and despite its resources, the revolt in Ghazni may be among them. The resistance is facing violent internal and external threats, leaders of the resistance are being targeted, and at least 8% of their 250 rebels have already been killed. Village clusters along the AfPak border have a history of defending themselves with traditional defense forces like arbakais and lashkars, but their opposition is similarly equipped with a finite number of small arms, not the arsenal that the Taliban brings to bear. With an enemy like the Taliban, rural Afghan communities will rarely be able to defend themselves indefinitely without legitimate, robust, and overt government support. True, areas like eastern Ghazni welcome whichever militant group can keep the peace and permit daily life to continue, but exploitation and widespread abuse is inevitable once the honeymoon ends. Andar also welcomed the Taliban years ago because it brought a reprieve from daily threats and bloodshed. Until it didn't.
The ultimate trajectory of the Ghazni uprising remains unknown, but ISAF and Kabul officials are failing to allocate vital resources through legitimate channels to the less prominent and organic rebellions throughout the east. For better or worse, the Ghazni rebels have what they need for now. Kabul should not leave the others to rot.
David H. Young is a conflict resolution expert based in Washington, DC, and was a civilian advisor to the US Army in eastern Afghanistan. His website is www.justwars.org.
Revolt is a loaded word, conjuring up images of the Free Syrian Army, the Anbar Awakening, and the Libyan civil war. In small pockets across eastern Afghanistan, however, farmers, shopkeepers and others are taking the fight to the Taliban over the group's abusive tendencies. Though entirely isolated from one another, instances of violent resistance to harsh Taliban rules have spiked this past summer-brought on by school closings in Ghazni, music bans in Nuristan, beheadings in Paktia and murders in Laghman, among other causes. While a small number of Afghans admire the Taliban, most who support it do so because they are coerced, or believe that the group is less predatory than the government, though that's hardly an endorsement. So what precisely does it take for Afghans to stand up to the Taliban, and what are their options?
When I served in eastern Afghanistan as a civilian advisor to the U.S. military, I closely monitored the Taliban's relationship with the local population and discerned a number of red lines the Taliban could not cross, depending on the retaliatory options available to their victims. While working closely with a dozen or so of these nascent rebel groups in Laghman and Nuristan Provinces, I noted that the amount of Taliban abuse most Afghans will endure before considering rebellion in one way or another depends on a number of inter-related factors (incidentally, the calculus for whether Afghans will join the Taliban due to government abuse is similar): the severity of the grievance, the locals' ability to retaliate, and the community's resilience to withstand inevitable counter-attacks if they do rise up. More specifically, they ask:
1. Does this abuse or restriction prevent my family from earning a living or even surviving? ‘Prevent' is the key word here. Afghans will walk an extra five miles every day to avoid a Taliban checkpoint on the way to a bazaar, and as long as they are able to get to the bazaar, the obstacle can be classified as a mere nuisance. If, however, the Taliban is restricting movement to such a degree that there is a threat of being shaken down or attacked every time Afghans leave their home, the Taliban is playing with fire.
2. Does it prevent the men in my family from receiving an education? Again, as long as they get the education, even if the Taliban dictates that Islam should be taught in a certain way, such slights are likely to be overlooked in the face of overwhelming force. Tactful members of the Taliban will usually encourage changes in a ‘dangerously westernizing' curriculum through intimidation but stop short of actually closing them by force, given the value Afghans place on education and their willingness to fight for it.
3. Do I have the support I need (fellow fighters, weapons, fortifications) to retaliate? Afghans make decisions collectively, so if the village elders do not support a counter-attack, it will rarely happen. If an individual retaliates without consulting his elders, he risks becoming a social pariah or being thrown to the wolves when the Taliban comes hunting for payback. When the community does approve, it is usually in the form of revenge for a very specific grievance (such as a murder), targeted accordingly and proportionately to convey to the Taliban that the community does not intend to start a war but rather to secure limited retribution and make it known that a line was crossed. For instance, a specific Talib may be singled out and attacked for a crime he committed. Sometimes the Taliban will allow the retaliation to go unanswered and sometimes they won't. If the retaliation simply entails chasing the Taliban out of an area with sticks, the insurgents are likely to let it slide and come back in a few days as though nothing had happened. Yet frequently the leader of an uprising will be beaten or executed if he is viewed as a threat, rather than simply helping his community blow off a little steam.
4. Do I have the support I need to retaliate continuously and maintain a heightened defense posture indefinitely? If the goal is permanent expulsion of the Taliban or if the community knows any retaliation will be met with a harsh response, they must feel confident that their supply of ammunition and fighters runs deep. Men have to quit work or school and devote all their time to defense; all movement and communication becomes riskier and more costly; intelligence networks of spotters and infiltrators have to be established and maintained; and savings are spent in days on matching the Taliban's capabilities, including makeshift bunkers, RPGs, PKM machine guns and even DSHKA heavy machine guns. If the community lacks the resources or connections to live under siege or project power at least a mile in every direction, they will not survive permanent enmity with the Taliban.
Careful not to push the community too far, the Taliban dances a fine line as well. Abuse the population too little and they won't fear you, but abuse them too much and you give them nothing left to lose. Inevitably, the Taliban either misread the population's redlines or arrogantly exceed them, confident that no one would dare challenge their writ no matter how cruel they are. When faced with a possible rebellion, the Taliban will frequently roll back their demands (re-opening schools, for instance) and the population will resume its previous indulgence of modest though frustrating restrictions, such as the requirement to stay at home at night. And the dance continues.
Ultimately, it is not rare for Afghan civilians to fight the Taliban independent of the government; far harder is sustaining the battle beyond the adrenaline rush of the first few days or weeks. Once a community warns or attacks the Taliban, they become perpetual targets in repeated and intense firefights requiring ample ammunition that most civilians lack. Moreover, any area where the Taliban can exert control is remote and by definition difficult for Afghan and NATO forces to reach, so the concept of ‘back-up' becomes laughable to these minutemen. Once locals retaliate or decide to revolt, then, where do they get help?
Extended family and friends are the first people these fighters ask for assistance. Nearly every family in eastern Afghanistan has at least one very old weapon, typically an AK-47 with maybe one magazine of ammunition-enough for a single brief encounter with the Taliban. Families and friends will loan out these weapons and offer their sons (especially if they are unemployed) to help defend rebel homes and safe houses, sure to come under Taliban fire in the coming months. Next, depending on how reliable and trustworthy local law enforcement is, these fighters will ask for ammunition, sand bags and other supplies from the District Chief of Police, who may give a token offering-despite it being illegal to do so-simply out of sympathy and guilt that he and his men lack the resources to help in any meaningful way.
Next they will ask any senior official in the provincial government who will listen, including the Chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Chief of Police, and the Governor himself. They may make progress here if they are well connected, but the best the rebels can hope for is that powerful provincial figures will call in favors to wealthy civilian colleagues who are in a position to offer money and men to their cause. Alternatively, rebels may get referred to Kabul or to the U.S. military, both of which work jointly on the most legitimate form of assistance any anti-Taliban fighters might secure-namely, sponsorship under the Afghan Local Police (ALP) program or some variant.
In 2010, the Afghan Ministry of Interior developed the ALP to train groups of several hundred local men to secure and defend their own communities, frequently in secluded and key locations that restrict Taliban movement (e.g., at valley mouths). They currently number about 16,000 with an additional 14,000 planned before the drawdown of NATO's ISAF combat forces in 2014. In contrast to other Afghan police units deployed to these areas from elsewhere, these men have a greater stake in their community's security and superior knowledge of its people and terrain. The program has been hailed by ISAF as a key ingredient to stabilizing volatile areas where traditional military and police are unable to patrol, while human rights groups have lambasted it as simply the latest installment of predatory government-sponsored militias in Afghanistan.
Regardless, Afghans and particularly members of nascent uprisings are clamoring for ALP sponsorship as the next logical step in permanently expelling the Taliban, insistent the program is the perfect mix of local initiative and distant governmental support. When I met with leaders of these rebel groups, for instance, they would frequently mention ALP before I even learned their full names. Most rebels are banking on support of some kind from their government, but many are surprised and dismayed to learn that Kabul either won't or can't help, despite their shared goal of defeating the Taliban and the government's terrible track record of going it alone.
The ALP waitlist is long and subject to many months of preparation, horse-trading, ethnic rivalries and personality clashes at the provincial and national levels. Because it takes many months to get an ALP unit off the ground (even after it has been approved in Kabul), the U.S. military also relies on a number of ad hoc substitutes or precursors to the ALP, which allows ISAF to fill a security void without as much red tape. As with the ALP, the results of these programs vary considerably, with some securing the population and others exploiting it. In the last year, most U.S. efforts have been shut down by President Karzai, who sees these groups as a threat and competitor to Afghan forces. Regardless, most ‘uprisings' fail to secure any kind of sponsorship, as neither Kabul nor ISAF have the resources or flexibility to offer anything of substance to such a large number of groups in equal need. That Special Operations Command recently suspended all ALP training for a month to better screen for infiltration threats only furthers the backlog, though for an entirely justifiable reason.
Ironically, despite the widespread resentment of the Afghan government, there is no shortage of local minutemen begging for support simply because-for many of them-the government is the only game in town. Yet there are some uprisings that are refusing Kabul's assistance, even when it is forthcoming. At first glance, of course, any group that can fight the Taliban without government support frees up resources for other much-needed efforts, but there is a dreaded word in Afghanistan for civilian groups of fighters with well-stocked armories-militias-and they typically behave like the Taliban with a different name.
This summer's uprising in Ghazni, for instance, has been so overwhelmed by factionalism, co-option and internal conflict that it has become a case study in the perils of encouraging the wrong rebellion.
[Continue reading David H. Young's analysis of the Ghazni uprising here]
David H. Young is a conflict resolution expert based in Washington, DC, and was a civilian advisor to the US Army in eastern Afghanistan. His website is www.justwars.org.
On Sunday, there will be a "splendid ceremony" marking the handover of the United States' Bagram prison. Yet despite the pomp, the handover hides the real story - the Afghans wanted this to mark the end of U.S. detention power in Afghanistan, while the U.S. has other ideas.
Remaking Bagram: The Creation of an Afghan Internment Regime and the Divide over U.S. Detention Power, a new report from the Open Society Foundations, revealed that while Afghan officials say they will have complete control over the Bagram detention facility-also known as the Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP)-by September 9, 2012, the United States is likely to continue to control a portion of the facility. The Afghan government says that no detentions will be carried out by the U.S. military, while the United States maintains that it "still retains the authority to capture and detain."
This partial handover has come at a high cost for Afghanistan: the creation of a new internment regime that will allow the Afghan authorities to detain without trial. A number of Afghan officials have called this new regime unconstitutional and fear it will be subject to abuse.
The creation of an Afghan internment regime appears to have been introduced largely at the behest of the United States, in order to facilitate the handover of U.S. held detainees, and satisfy the U.S. desire for a lasting internment system on the Afghan side into which it could continue to transfer future captures. The system, created last March, closely resembles the U.S. system at Bagram. It was not introduced through legislation or even consultation with Parliament-instead it was created last March through a secret "inter-ministerial agreement" and unpublished presidential decree that are vaguely worded and ripe for abuse.
There is a danger that this will be the real legacy of Bagram--the creation of a flawed system of detention without trial in a country already wracked with decades of internal conflict, impunity, and weak rule of law. The Open Society Foundations learned that U.S.-Afghan disagreements over these issues led to a temporary suspension of detainee transfers from U.S. to Afghan control, which was resolved only days before the handover deadline.
And yet the "handover" ceremony will go on. In fairness, the majority of U.S.-held detainees have been transferred to the Afghan authorities at enormous speed over the past six months, and U.S. officials in Afghanistan are confronted with genuine challenges to transferring detainees responsibly. Handling of detainees by the Afghan government carries the potential for politicization and corruption of detainee releases. The capacity of the current government to process and properly prosecute detainees' cases is weak, and there is risk of detainees suffering torture and abuse, concerns that were compounded by a controversial new appointment to head the intelligence directorate. But differences between the United States and Afghanistan also reflect a central, long-lasting tension between Afghan sovereignty and U.S. strategic interests that has yet to be resolved, and that the March 9 handover merely papered over.
With the ISAF troop drawdown underway, the United States is trying to thread a tough needle: put Afghans in the lead on security, while at the same time continuing U.S. military operations, and protecting U.S. personnel. The role of special operations forces, and the reliance on detention operations like night raids, remain central to U.S. military strategy. Despite Afghan demands for sovereignty over night raids, there has been no sign of a decrease in these detention operations or the number of detainees sent to Bagram. The Open Society Foundations learned that since March, the United States has sent an additional 600 detainees into U.S. detention at Bagram, which President Karzai's National Security Advisor Dr. Rangin Spanta said was "not in accordance with our agreement."
Not only is this at odds with Afghan officials' unqualified insistence on complete control of the DFIP, and an end to U.S. detentions there, but it highlights another, related disagreement: how long the United States can detain an individual before handing over to Afghan authorities. "After the signing of the [Detentions] MoU the time limit to hold detainee is 72 hours and should be respected," Presidential Spokesperson Aimal Faizi told us. National Security Advisor Dr. Spanta reiterated that "There is a big difference in perception between them and us on this issue. ...I have discussed this with Karzai...and there is no tolerance with him on this issue."
Another unresolved issue is that of "third country nationals," or non-Afghan detainees. They remain in U.S. custody at the DFIP, their fate uncertain, and at risk of falling into a legal limbo of indefinite detention. The stalemate on these detainees ensures that the United States will continue to retain at least some portion of the DFIP for the foreseeable future, raising the troubling specter of another Guantanamo in Afghanistan.
Not wanting to rob President Karzai of a key political victory, the Afghan government appears, for now, to be turning a blind eye to these issues, and to the serious rule of law concerns that they raise. However, one of the principal criticisms of Bagram was its lack of legitimacy in the eyes of many Afghans-its secrecy, prolonged detention without trial, lack of access for lawyers and fears of detainee abuse. One has to wonder whether this is precisely what the United States has handed over to Afghanistan.
Agreeing to vaguely worded agreements that permits the U.S. and Afghan governments to interpret their obligations in starkly different ways may serve immediate political interests, but it is no way to build a lasting, legitimate, or lawful framework for detentions and ongoing military operations. Both governments have failed to resolve fundamental differences over the future of U.S. detention power in Afghanistan, and have presented the Afghan and American publics with very different pictures. These tough questions will be answered another day, it seems, as is often the case in Afghanistan.
Chris Rogers is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
On Wednesday August 29, the dismissal of Afghan intelligence chief, Rahmatullah Nabil was officially confirmed. The news, which first began circulating some 48 hours earlier on BBC Persian, was met with shock by many Afghans in the capital city of Kabul.
A majority of the members of the lower house of Afghanistan's parliament were so outraged by the news that they immediately began drafting a demand letter to President Karzai to ask him to clarify the logic behind the dismissal, so widely respected was Nabil's tenure.
Some Members of Parliament (MPs), including the acting speaker of the house Haji Zahir Qadir, a Pashtun strongman from eastern Afghanistan, went further, demanding that Nabil be reinstated as the head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Around the capital, many social media outlets published opinion pieces expressing the widespread fear that Nabil's dismissal would be disastrous for the national security of Afghanistan.
Many Afghans wondered why in a time of growing insecurity, evidenced by the increase in terrorist attacks in and around the capital, the president would deal such a blow to the nation's main defense against the insurgency.
According to Nabil himself, his dismissal was routine. President Karzai, he indicated, wanted to change the NDS head every two years, and because he was aware of this he did not contest the action.
Other high-ranking officials corroborated Nabil's account, although they would not go on the record.
The official account, however, fails to reconcile the fact that Nabil only served some eight months in the position. Also notably absent from the statement about the dismissal was the fact that Nabil's appointment was approved by an overwhelming majority of the lower house: 208 out of a total of 249 votes. It is the apparent inconsistency between the official account and the reality that has perplexed so many Afghans and left them wondering whether there are other unstated reasons that led to Nabil's dismissal.
Nabil's accession to the highest ranks of the Afghan government was not typical to say the least. Unlike most high-ranking officials, he had no family connection to President Karzai. He began his ascent to the top serving as a junior staffer in the Presidential Palace, eventually making his way to the top of the President's Protection Force (PPF), where he served for six years. During that time he remained a virtually unknown figure outside of the innermost presidential circle.
Inside sources say that because of his quiet efficiency in the PPF, Nabil was President Karzai's first choice to replace his predecessor at the NDS, Amrullah Saleh, who had resigned over disagreements with Karzai.
According to those who have worked closely with Nabil, he is widely respected for his frankness and honesty, traits that are not always apparent, as he is reluctant to promote himself and his achievements.
Nabil also refuses to take ethno-centric positions, making him something of a lone ranger in a capital often consumed by tribalism and clannishness. While many Afghans who have watched him closely have taken comfort in his lack of ethnic or sectarian partisanship, his objectivity may have left him vulnerable, without the type of inside supporters on whom he could rely to promote his cause inside the president's inner circles.
Moreover, prior to Nabil's dismissal he had intensified efforts to rout out suspected Pakistani and Iranian spies at the highest levels of the Afghan government, making him a possible target of some of Afghanistan's neighbors and their emissaries inside the country.
Earlier this month some Pakistani senior officials went so far as to accuse the NDS of plotting to attack strategic targets inside Lahore and Islamabad. Although there was no proof offered to support these claims, the Pakistani reaction itself may have been telling. Whatever it was the NDS under Nabil was doing, it was enough to ruffle the feathers of these various Pakistani officials.
Some Afghan analysts believe that it was the pressure that such outside powers were able to exert on the Afghan leadership via their domestic interest groups that led to Nabil's demise.
Other Afghans believe that Nabil's departure is just one of many upsets that are slated to take place. In the past month, rumors of other possible high-ranking changes have surfaced daily on Facebook, Twitter, and in other media. On August 4, for example, president Karzai issued a decree that replaced Nabil by Asadullah Khaled, the current minister of tribal affairs; Interior Minister Bismillah Khan by Mojtaba Patang, deputy minister of Afghan Public Protection Forces will replace; Bismillah Khan is named as the minister of defense; while there are speculations that further changes will occur with the president's chief of staff, Karim Khorram, will replace Fazal Ahmad Manawi, the head of the Afghan Independent Commission (IEC); and Manawi will be made Attorney General.
This long list of changes is seen to be the beginning of a broad transformation of the country's political landscape that will culminate in the presidential elections of 2014. From this perspective, Nabil's dismissal is regarded as part of the president's survivalist overhaul, which some see as his attempt to block what should otherwise be a stable and democratic transfer of power. They see an Afghan president trying to concentrate power in the hands of the Karzai or Popalzai clans, a move similar to what Vladimir Putin did in Russia with Dmitry Medvedev.
In this scenario, there is speculation that President Karzai is looking to Qayom Karzai as his successor, or if he meets with too much opposition, perhaps paving the way for an alternative Popalzai or Kandahari president.
Whether he will be successful in his power grab is another question. Already, the president's aspirations for 2014 are being challenged by many opposition figures, and by his fellow Pashtuns, some of whom have criticized him vociferously. Haji Zahir Qadir and other leading Pashtun figures outside the Kandahar region, for example, are his loudest critics. If these voices gain support, President Karzai's ploys could backfire and move the Pashtun center of power from the south to the east or in between.
As beloved as Nabil may be in many circles, the National Directorate of Security itself still looms as a dark force in the minds of many Afghans. Ten years of democratic rule have not been sufficient to erase the deep memories of what the organization was like during the previous eras of communist, warlord, and Taliban rule.
To change that image, many believe that it is critical that the NDS cleanse its ranks and replace them with younger, more educated Afghans who do not have the same blood on their hands that many of their elders do. These are the types of changes that Nabil was attempting to make in the organization, the types of changes that earned him the respect of so many that yearn for a more modern and progressive Afghanistan, one that protects their rights and provides them opportunities as citizens, regardless of ethnicity, sect, or tribal affiliation.
They point to the hard work he was doing in places like Ghazni to rout out the Taliban and the insurgents who have been wreaking havoc on the general population there. His plan was to motivate Afghans to join the fight against the Taliban and other extremists in the heartland, and outside Afghan borders.
To many Afghans, Nabil's dismissal is more evidence that they are losing the battle for their country, and a painful betrayal by a democratically-elected president who now seems bent on hurting the country if that will allow him and his kind to keep their monopoly on power. It's a sad time for Afghan patriots and a sadder one for Afghanistan as a whole.
Waliullah Rahmani is an expert on international security and terrorism. He is currently running the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
Over the past decade U.S. drone strikes have killed between 1,800 and 3,100 people in Pakistan, along with hundreds more in drone attacks in Yemen and Somalia, as a result of the United States' efforts to combat al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The rise in strikes since the beginning of the Obama administration, and the growing stridency of questions surrounding the legal, moral, and practical efficacy of the program, have led to a lively debate among the commentariat. This debate is indeed important, but it is also crucial to understand how the drone program has affected the jihadis, and how jihadis have deployed the issue of drones in their propaganda. This is a necessary part of gaining a wider understanding of whether the program is a worthwhile endeavor.
Surprisingly, one does not see much discussion of drones by al-Qaeda Central (AQC), or by the Taliban (though it is possible that individuals in these groups are talking more about this in face-to-face encounters than online). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), on the other hand, has exploited the drone issue extensively in the newsletter put out by their front group, Ansar al-Shari'ah (AS). As a result, question of whether drones are drawing more individuals into the arms of AQAP has been raised frequently in the past year.
In the documents collected by Navy SEALs during their raid of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan last May, bin Laden nicknamed Pakistan's tribal areas the "circle of espionage" for the network of spies that helps identify targets and place tracking devices for the strikes. The issue of spies has become so prevalent that Abu Yahya al-Libi wrote a book in 2009 regarding rulings on how they should be treated and prosecuted once captured.
The fear of infiltrators has created an atmosphere of paranoia within the jihadi movement, and has led many of al-Qaeda's operatives in the Pakistani tribal areas to move to more urban areas like Karachi. In one of bin Laden's Abbottabad documents, he advises the "brothers" with "media exposure" to move "away from aircraft photography and bombardment." Bin Laden also suggested that individuals flee to Afghanistan's Kunar province, where he thought they would be safer from the spy networks that have supported the drone campaign.
In the same document that bin Laden suggested his associates move, he also warned that even if one is in a safer place, one should still be cognizant that spies are lurking. The drone danger has also forced the Taliban to think twice about which journalists they meet with. A local Taliban leader remarked to Pakistani journalist Pir Zubair Shah: "You never know who is a reporter and who is a spy." But even if drone strikes provoke a higher level of distrust of outsiders (which itself is a normal characteristic of a terrorist or insurgent group), it does not appear to have hindered the Taliban's ability to project power into Afghanistan over the past few years. Many individuals look to the Taliban's shadow shari'ah courts for solving disputes, and the Taliban has been collecting taxes at the local level.
Frequent drone strikes in northwest Pakistan have also degraded al-Qaeda's ability to train individuals over long periods of time. In the past, AQC could spend a month (if not longer) training an operative in bomb making. In some cases, such training lasts as little as a few days now. Abbreviated training is less effective. Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, received five days of training in the tribal areas with AQC's affiliate the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This lack of training proved decisive when Shahzad's bomb malfunctioned and he was spotted acting suspiciously.
Similarly, AQAP has been forced to change the locations of their training camps. The move to more mountainous areas like Ibb and al-Daleh provinces came about because AQAP was exposed to airstrikes when they had been training in Radaa directorate. Like the Taliban, however, AQAP has still been able to plot large-scale attacks against the West - even if they have failed - as well as occupy towns locally. And although there have yet to be any extensive academic studies on the wider effects of the drones in Yemen, Patrick B. Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi concluded in a working paper that the drones in Pakistan have actually decreased suicide attacks across the country.
Although AQC and the Taliban have been under severe drone pressure for the past several years, they have said little about the strikes in the propaganda they release. When eulogizing Abu al-Layth al-Libi in 2008 after he was killed in a drone attack, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid described the drones as cowardly, since the United States did not confront him on the battlefield, but rather in a manner of "treachery and betrayal." More recently, Ayman al-Zawahiri called in a message directed toward Pakistanis in March for them to rise up against the government and "compel them to stop drone strikes."
Unlike AQC and the Taliban, AQAP has only seen frequent drone attacks for the past year and a half, but AQAP has exploited the issue extensively in their media work. (It should be noted that the United States has also used cruise missiles in attacking AQAP and al-Shabab operatives. There have been claims that what have been reported as Yemeni airstrikes have really been drones, and vice versa). AQAP has been especially active in highlighting the achievements of its counter-spy networks. In February 2012, AQAP sentenced three spies - two Yemenis and a Saudi - to death in a shari'ah court in Ja'ar. They had allegedly been placing tracking devices on cars for drone targeting. One of the individuals was killed in Azzan by way of crucifixion while another was shot at point blank range in Shabwa as a circle of men cheered. The execution was shown in a video as part of AS' "Eyes on the Event" series. This was not only a message to the locals to deter them from becoming spies, but also a way for AQAP to show the United States and Saudi Arabia that they were bringing the war back to them.
In addition to highlighting civilian casualties and showing pictures of dead children, AQAP has used critical analysis of the drone program from individuals in the West to gain sympathy for their plight. In issue nineteen of Ansar al-Shari'ah's newsletter they write an exposé on Obama's "crusade." In it, AS points out the "signature strike" policy, which allows the United States to target individuals based on behavioral patterns without actually identifying the individual: "Hellfire missiles ... troll the skies of Yemen to kill ... in cold blood and without accountability, as usual!" In the past, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen has pointed out that signature strikes pose the danger of targeting and killing individuals that are not members of or associated with AQAP. In issue three of the newsletter, AS also questions the United States' commitment to the rule of law in light of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son Abdul Rahman in a U.S. drone strike "without charging them [Anwar and his son] with a single crime."
Some analysts believe there could be blowback from the drone program from AQAP, which might be encouraged to plan a revenge attack on the United States. AQAP hinted at this in the eulogy for Fahd al-Quso, who was killed in a drone strike in May this year: "war between us is not over and the days are pregnant [and] will give birth to something new."
While the militant response to drone strikes in Yemen remains to be seen, there is scant evidence that drones strikes have been mobilizing AQC to conduct attacks in response. After Faisal Shahzad's Times Square plot failed, he told investigators that one of his primary motivations had been the increased pace of drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal belt. Al-Qaeda leader Ilyas Kashmiri was also reportedly frustrated over the drone strikes in the tribal areas, leading him to plan an attack on the CEO of Lockheed Martin, according to the testimony of prior associate David Headley, a key operative in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But besides Shahzad's failed attack and Kashmiri's aspirational plan drone strikes do not appear to be the primary reason why al-Qaeda, its branches, and its affiliates are plotting attacks against the United States.
During the Obama administration, drone strikes have taken out many top al-Qaeda, AQAP, and Taliban leaders, and killed hundreds of mid-level fighters. The losses have pushed these militant groups to establish counter-spy networks, as well as beef up their operational security. Al-Qaeda Central's ability to operate in Pakistan has been severely degraded. At the same time, the drone campaign does not appear to have had an appreciable impact on AQAP or the Taliban - both still show the ability to plan attacks against the United States (either into Afghanistan for the Taliban or against the American homeland for AQAP) and still have influence in their local areas of operation. Defeating these groups with drones is unlikely, but the strikes have at the very least created a nuisance for the militants, as well as prevented more invasive military action that might have otherwise occurred. There are still lingering questions on whether or not the drones have played a significant role in radicalizing a new generation of fighters, but understanding how the drones are affecting and changing these groups can provide new perspective on a vexing challenge.
Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
Ethan Miller//Getty Images
As Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was declaring the "fight against extremism and terrorism" as his own war at the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Kakul (located less than a mile away from the now demolished bin Laden villa in Abbottabad) on August 13, militants were planning two audacious attacks: One against a key security installation in the country's heartland, and another on innocent civilians in the remote northern areas.
Less than 72 hours after Kayani's address, which many observers termed a landmark speech because of its tone, wording and timing, nine armed men in uniforms belonging to security forces mounted a daring attack on Minhas Airbase Kamra, located less than 70 kilometers west of the country's capital Islamabad, on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road leading to Peshawar.
The second attack, more barbarous in nature, was carried out in the Bubusar area of Mansehra district, located around 100 miles north of Islamabad, where armed men wearing military uniforms forced 20 Shia Muslims off a passenger bus and shot them at point blank range.
Responsibility for both the attacks was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the group considered by the Pakistani government to be the ‘bad Taliban.' Both the attacks were not the first of their kind. The Minhas Airbase in Kamra was the third major attack on a military base since 2009, while the killing of Shias in Mansehra was the third incident of its nature in the past six months.
Over the years, Pakistan's army and intelligence agencies have been under severe criticism over their failure -- and, many believe, their willful negligence -- in dealing with the various Taliban and sectarian groups that continue to keep their bases and training facilities in the tribal areas, and spread their tentacles to cities as far away as Karachi and Lahore.
Better late than never
In this context, General Kayani's statement, given the day before Pakistan's Independence Day, is of utmost importance. The country's most powerful man touched the right chord by warning of a "civil war" and calling the fight against terrorism "our own war."
Aside from falling right before Independence Day, the timing of General Kayani's statement is significant for a number of reasons: Pakistan's ambassador to Washington Sherry Rehman and the country's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar have recently openly stated that the days of strategic depth -- Pakistan's pursuit of its interests in Afghanistan by working to install a Pakistan-friendly government, as well as keeping India away from establishing a foothold in the country -- are over. Pakistan's spymaster Zaheerul Islam also held "productive" talks with his CIA counterpart David Petraeus during his recent visit to Washington. And U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, after months of frustrating efforts to convince Pakistan to take action against the militant groups operating on its soil, expressed some degree of optimism by telling Reuters that Pakistan will be launching an operation against militants in North Waziristan.
Is there room for suspicion?
Judging by its wording and tone, General Kayani's Independence Day statement leaves no room for suspicions about the intention of the Pakistani security establishment with regards to extremism and terrorism. Yet, Sec. Panetta's latest revelation, despite its optimism, leaves some question marks when he states that the main target of the possible operation in North Waziristan will be the Pakistani Taliban rather than the Haqqani network.
The point in question is: has Pakistan really done away with the ‘strategic depth' approach towards Afghanistan? If so, what keeps the country's armed forces from going after individuals such as the Haqqanis, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, (a leader of Taliban fighters in North Waziristan who is believed to have good ties with the Pakistani establishment as well as in close contacts with the Arab fighters), and Maulvi Nazeer (a militant commander based in the Wana area of South Waziristan, Wazir is an anti-U.S. but pro-Pakistan leader, and liked by the Pakistani establishment), instead of chasing the already shattered TTP?
After all, individuals forming the TTP umbrella, such as Hakimullah Mehsud, (leader of the TTP in South Waziristan), Faqir Muhammad, (the Taliban leader in Bajaur tribal agency) Fazlullah (a Taliban leader from Swat who is believed to have escaped into Afghanistan and to be involved in carrying out attacks on Pakistani civilians and security forces from there) and the warlord Mangal Bagh (head of the banned Lashkar-e-Islam) were once overlooked for being the ‘good guys,' but are now turning their guns on innocent civilians as well as the country's strategic installations.
Another duplicity that still provides room for suspicion is the freedom of propaganda and movement allowed to people such as Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. The banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief, who is wanted in India for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and is the subject of a bounty put out by the United States calling for information leading to his arrest, is still leading pro-jihad rallies in major Pakistani cities, including the capital, without being stopped or even warned by the authorities.
This kind of willful negligence with regards to people such as Hafiz Saeed, Gul Bahadar and Maulvi Nazeer, as well as groups like the Haqqani Network, is calling the writ of the state into question for ordinary Pakistanis, who have already lost trust in their political and military leadership for a number of other reasons.
For years, Pakistan has been accused of having a double standard regarding its actions against the militants by its allies and neighbors. This is the first time since Musharraf's era that the world is hearing Pakistan's top cop owning the anti-terror war in the strongest words, which is refreshing.
However, Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis alike want General Kayani to adopt an evenhanded approach towards all militants. People across the country welcomed the army when they ousted the Taliban from Swat in May 2009, and helped return the displaced people to their houses within a few months.
All of this goodwill was washed away when the army went after the TTP in South Waziristan the same year, though. Nothing resulted from that operation, except the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are still living in refugee camps. The people of the Bajaur tribal agency, where the army launched an operation in mid-2008, have yet to return to their houses. Similarly, the people of Bara district in the Khyber tribal agency have been living under a curfew for the past three years, while thousands of former residents are living in refugee camps with no sign of calm returning to their homes. And the militants are still targeting leaders who challenged the Taliban and raised Lashkars (peace committees) in their respective areas.
Those are the factors that shatter the people's trust in the state and its security agencies. To win their support like General Kayani wants to do, the political and military leadership need to conduct meaningful operations against all the militant groups in Pakistan, and block the escape routes of their leaders to prevent the repetition of what happened in the cases of Mullah Fazlullah, Faqir Muhammad, Mangal Bagh and Hakimullah Mehsud, all of whom escaped previous military campaigns. Only then will the public come forward and own the war alongside the Pakistani government and security forces.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist who writes about FATA, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Khattak worked for several Pakistani newspapers in Peshawar and Islamabad as well as for several years in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
Two weeks ago, senior officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan revealed that an Afghan delegation had met secretly with former deputy commander of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has been in jail in Pakistan since he was captured in Karachi in 2010. The goal of the meeting, according to Rangin Dadfar Spanta, President Hamid Karzai's national security advisor, was to "know his view on peace talks," and move toward restarting the stalled reconciliation process.
In his second stint as the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai has dramatically accelerated his efforts towards peace and reconciliation with the Taliban and its spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, once the host of Osama Bin Laden. The establishment of the Afghan Peace High Council in October 2010 was a part of Karzai's major strategy for negotiating with the Taliban and other insurgents.
But the assassination in September 2011 of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president and chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council (APHC), a body responsible for negotiation with the Taliban, signaled the re-assertion of a clear message by the Taliban and their cohorts: They have no inclination to negotiate or reconcile with the Afghan government.
In the months before Rabbani's assassination, the Taliban also claimed responsibility for the killing of several senior political and military figures, including Ahmad Wali Karzai, the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan and the younger brother of President Karzai, Jan Mohammed Khan, a senior advisor and friend of President Karzai, Ghulam Haider Hameedi, the mayor of Kandahar, and Gen. Daud Daud, head of police in northern Afghanistan, and some MP members.
The ongoing attacks on civilians in different parts of the country and the chain of assassinations of senior Afghan officials raise several major questions about the feasibility of negotiation and reconciliation with the Taliban and other insurgents:
Is the Afghan government's offer of peace negotiation from a position of weakness or strength? Do the Taliban and other insurgents have the self-autonomy and willingness to negotiate? Has the government adopted the right approach to negotiate with the insurgents? What is and will be the backlashes of unilateral negotiation offer? Is the composition of the peace council well chosen?
First, to negotiate with the insurgents, whom President Karzai consistently refers to as his "disenchanted brothers," he has set conditions for the Taliban groups to begin peace talks; the terms are to lay down weapons, cut ties with al-Qaeda, and abide the Afghan Constitution, which is not acceptable for the Taliban. These preconditions raise one fundamental question: is it a call for negotiation or surrender? Some Afghan analysts argue that the preconditions set by the Afghan government are unrealistic.
Aziz Ariaey, an Afghan political analyst believes that "In the current armed conflict, the Taliban has the upper hand and President Karzai knows it well," giving the Taliban little incentive to consider peace talks with such conditions.
Ariaey argues that the call for negotiation and the "lack of an inherent strength in the Karzai administration," which exists in large part due to the massive amounts of international aid it receives, has enabled the Taliban to manipulate the situation in their favor.
Some Afghan analysts agree with Ariaey, saying a good example of the Taliban strength is that they are imposing their own preconditions for the negotiations. The Taliban's preconditions include complete withdrawal of the international troops from Afghanistan, the removal of Taliban names from the United Nations' blacklist, and the release of all Taliban prisoners, which - at this stage - is neither acceptable for the Afghan government nor for the international community.
Secondly, the Taliban and other insurgents neither have the autonomy nor the willingness to negotiate with the Afghan government. According to Ahmad Saeedi, a former Afghan diplomat and political analyst, all active insurgent groups in Afghanistan are being trained, equipped and inspired by one single source: ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency. Saeedi points out, "Pakistan, particularly ISI, has invested in the Taliban for many years, aiming to ensure its interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan has entrapped the Taliban and other insurgents and there is no willingness within ISI to leave their multi-year investment in insurgents overnight."
Pakistan is not the only obstacle to negotiations and reconciliation; the composition of the peace council itself poses another problem.
According to Vahid Mojdeh, an Afghan political analyst and a former official of the Foreign Ministry during the Taliban regime, "The Afghan High Peace Council is made of three different groups with different opinions and approaches."
"One of the groups, consisting of former Taliban, pushes for talks with the high-ranking Taliban leadership, insisting that without incorporating the Taliban leadership, a peace deal is impossible. However, the second group, namely Rabbani's team, is pushing for talks with the mid-level Taliban, arguing that this will force the Taliban leadership to begin negotiations. Finally, the third group consists of members of civil society who support the peace process, provided the democratic values achieved in the last ten years are not compromised, a condition which is not welcomed by the Taliban. Given the differences within the members of the High Peace Council, it looks ambitious to expect a relatively successful outcome from the negotiation," Mojdeh argues.
The Afghan High Peace Council is acting as a mediator between the Afghan government and the Taliban. According to Saeedi, "Most key members of the peace council are those who fought against the Taliban for many years. Therefore, before those members act as a mediator, first there is a need for a third party to mediate between the Taliban and those members, who fought against the Taliban for many years."
Members of the peace council are said to have had a series of contacts with mid-level Taliban, a claim frequently rejected by the Taliban. While the government's level of contact with the Taliban remains unclear, what is very clear is the rigid position of the Taliban: they continuously perpetrate suicide attacks and road-side bombings, and have intensified their attacks against high-ranking military and political figures.
Meanwhile, the relationship between the current U.S. administration and the Afghan leadership has been tense from the start and continues to deteriorate. The Obama administration has accused the Afghan government led by President Karzai as unreliable and ineffective." Likewise, the Afghan President publically criticized the United States and the United Nations in 2010 for supposedly tampering with the Afghan elections, accusing them of coming close to being perceived as invaders. He has also persistently demanded that American troops end night raids and drastically reduce civilian casualties.
Some Afghan analysts believe that the Afghan government, for the sake of its political survival, uses negotiation and reconciliation as a tool to get on good terms with the Taliban. The Karzai administration knows that its relation with the West, and in particular with the United States, is deteriorating. And in the long-run, once the U.S. and international troops leave Afghanistan, President Karzai needs the support of the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the southern and eastern parts of the country. But the question is whether such a move is pragmatic? Vahid Mojdeh points out, "In Taliban's views any kind of negotiation with crusaders or their associates is a great sin. If the Taliban feel weak, they hide themselves and if they are strong, they fight-not negotiate. And President Karzai knows it very well."
The current peace process in Afghanistan has greatly increased the Taliban's military manpower, and they are a serious threat to the country's already fragile status. As Aziz Ariaey, pointed out to me, "The unilateral call for negotiation with the Taliban provoked and encouraged hesitant villagers, particularly in the south and southeastern region to join the Taliban because they feel as if the future of the country will be in the hand of the Taliban. So why not join them now?" The Taliban believe that they are in a position of strength and they have caused a major setback to the Afghan government and its international allies, particularly the US."
Ten years after being toppled, there are no apparent changes in the Taliban's attitudes and behavior. They lynch anyone opposing them, decapitate those working with the Afghan government and international organizations, and disfigure women if they do not act according to their wishes. To achieve their goal -- the reestablishment of the Islamic Emirate -- the Taliban continue to kill military forces and civilians alike. The decapitation this week of 17 civilians, including two women, in the southern Taliban stronghold of Helmand is a vivid example of Taliban harsh behavior against civilians. As Ariaey, points out, "They [Taliban] want to achieve their goals by hook or by crook."
President Karzai has been striving to convince those who he refers to as "moderate Taliban" to end the violence, but to a large extent, he has failed. Indeed, those fighting against the government are hard-line and irreconcilable Taliban. Those "moderate Taliban" including Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, former Taliban foreign minister, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, who was Taliban representative in the United States, and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, who were against the al-Qaeda network even before the 9/11 attacks, have already renounced violence.
Given the aggressive behavior of the Taliban and other insurgents, the soft policy of the Afghan government, the continuous support of Pakistan for insurgents, and the withdrawal of international combat troops in 2014, it seems that as with previous efforts, the ongoing endeavors by the Afghan government to negotiate and reconcile with the Taliban are not only a waste of time and resources, but also embolden these insurgents to increase their violent activities.
Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.
AREF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images
A soldier patrols Sub Jail Jutial, where Baba Jan is incarcerated. Photo by author.
Last year, human rights activist Baba Jan Hunzai spoke out as an advocate for the former residents of Hunza Valley, whose homes were swept away by the lake formed after a 2010 land slide blocked the flow of the Hunza River. Named the Attabad Lake, it displaced over 1,000 people who lost their homes, livelihoods and access to the world. When these displacements did not get the government's attention, and Pakistani authorities declined an offer of help from China, the hungry and homeless took to the streets to demand reimbursement.
Eventually, the government compensated the aggrieved families. But 25 of them were reportedly overlooked and denied funds. Baba Jan, who is known in the G-B community for his determination to protect human rights, encouraged the local people to demand action, and was eventually thrown in jail accused of being a "terrorist."
Baba Jan and two other youth activists, Amir Khan (37), and Iftekhar Hussain (34), have been in jail since August 2011. Their arrests a year ago this month were made based on Anti Terrorism Charges brought against them for leading a mass movement across the country against the inaction of the government during the Attabad incident.
During his first private interview -- conducted in the visitors' room in Sub Jail Jutial -- Baba Jan maintained that he committed no crime when he protested against what he sees as the Government's persistent human rights abuses. "It is not ignorance anymore, it is a deliberate violation of the rights of common man. And this cruelty needs to be shattered."
Appearing noticeably malnourished, he limped back and forth in the visitor's room, enumerating the challenges that many in Gilgit have been facing for the two and a half years that have passed since the Attabad incident. The signs of torture still resident on his arms, his shaved skull, and swollen feet compelled me to interrupt him and ask about the details of his multiple jail experiences.
Nervously, he showed some of his scars. Advocate Ehsan Ali, Baba Jan's lawyer, later confirmed details of recurrent torture, including both physical and mental abuse.
"His ear lobes pulled with pliers, his body hanged upside down and beaten with wooden stick and chairs. His shoulder-length hair shaved off. And an abusive language by jailers, who'd say horrible things to mentally torture him" said Ehsan Ali.
Baba Jan said he had never imagined torture would bring him so close to death, so many times, and yet not close enough stifle his voice. He continues to raise his voice against the Government of Pakistan's failure to provide for the victims of the Attabad Lake disaster, as well as other disadvantaged segments of the population. And there have been protests on the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar to ‘Free Baba Jan.' There has even been international support for this 35-year-old senior leader of Pakistan Youth Front G-B, including a petition signed by human rights activists such as Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Sadia Toor and many more.
The text of my conversation with Baba Jan follows:
Kiran Nazish: What had happened the day you were arrested?
Baba Jan Hunzai: When a 22-year-old student, Afzal Baig was killed in front of his father, Mr. Baig [Afzal's father] protested and wailed at his innocent son's killing. The police pierced his body with a dozen bullets and killed him on the spot.
Both father and son were victims of the Attabad Lake disaster, and were peacefully protesting at a demonstration with the other victims of the lake, asking the Government to compensate them.
As we protested at KKH, and had been rallying across the country to raise awareness about the Attabad victims, the police arrested us on strict terrorism charges, including attempt of terrorism. There was a ‘criminal case' registered against me under Anti Terrorism Act (ATA).
And this is how the government treats its citizen. Most prisoners here with me in jail have done no crime except to speak. People don't speak out many times just because of fear. Why shouldn't we stand with the people who have been maltreated, beaten up and killed. This is a massacre.
KN: The police say you have been training prisoners to carry out "terrorist activity"?
BJH: Well all I have been doing is gathering the Sunni and Shia sects in the jail in a single group and making them sit and breathe with each other. I have tried to make them understand each others' problems instead of fighting based on sect. And I am glad that there are great developments in the prison now. They now indulge in long conversations with each other, which was almost an impossible thing to imagine when I had come here exactly one year ago. Some of them also share their meals with each other, which they otherwise thought of as a sin.
The police and the government have long taken advantage of the sensitive Shia-Sunni relationship in Gilgit-Baltistan. Agencies deliberately create fights among the people so that G-B stays as instable as possible.
Now that they see them living in harmony with each other in the jail, it annoys them. Anything that has to do with protest and raising one's voice becomes terrorist activity for the government. They are not ashamed of maltreating citizens in the first place, they even charge them with fake cases of terrorism and then torture them for the crime of speaking, calling them terrorists.
KN: They also say you have created a support system within the jail, which is why the JIT [Joint Investigation Team] had to relocate you several times. How many supporters do you have?
BJH: Well, firstly the JIT "abducted" my fellow inmate Iftikhar Hussain and myself on 20th July for the same reason too. It happened many times. They move us to torture us further, whenever our fellow prisoners start supporting me. Let me assure you, they never had to relocate us because we were creating any nuisance in the prison, but because they couldn't deal with listening to our demands.
It's funny what they say each time they have to pick us up to torture us. It must really frustrate them to have us alive even after so much torture that my fellows in jail have gone through with me. I do have supporters, yes. They support my idea of speaking out against human rights abuse.
Every prisoner supports me.
KN: Have you not been organizing prison rebellions?
BJH: They don't give meals for several days. Most prisoners have their families deliver food to cook, but there are no stoves. After a week of protests by the prisoners, they provided a single stove. Then for two days there was no gas. The prisoners speak out of hunger.
Various prisoners need immediate medical attention. In spite of court orders the administration does not allow them to be treated. Nor do they provide them medicine. One of my friends here is a cancer patient and has a court order for chemotherapy, but he is denied that right too. He is literally on the ground. They don't provide beds to prisoners who are ill, not even to serious patients. Do you think witnessing all this won't outrage fellow prisoners?
KN: Some officials made visits to Gilgit, including the Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Were these visits fruitful?
BJH: The Prime Minister's visit was interesting. It was heavily highlighted in the media and that was the only successful part of the visit; the media coverage that is. There was nothing actionable done by the government. Essentially the visit was futile since there was no public gain out of it.
KN: But didn't he give some significant donations, including the distribution of Benazir Langar (Rashan) [Langar or Rashan are relief goods. The current PPP-led Government has a name for their Rashan, called Benazir Langar, named after the late Benazir Bhutto]?
BJH: During the protests, the Red Cross and Agha Khan Foundation had set up camps and had made provisions for rashans (food and supplies) to help the victims of the Attabad Lake disaster. PM Gilani took those provisions to inaugurate the Benazir Langar, and for the photo-ops. Locals were watching and observing all this, and since protests were going on, the environment allowed them the confidence to retaliate [they felt that the redistribution of rashan was unfair, and that they should be given food and supplies separately from the Government. They "retaliated" by fighting the police with sticks and attacked police vans and other state vehicles.] The protesters included both men and women, who walked down the valley to KKH (Kara Koram Highway). They were eventually beaten up. Since journalists were equally threatened, no media outlets were able to report on this. Benazir Langar was a mere redistribution of rashans.
KN: Has reporting been fair on the series of these incidents [i.e. the Attabad incident, the government's non-response, the torturing of detained protesters in prison] so far?
BJH: That is also very interesting. There has always been lack of coverage about G-B issues, in the mainstream media. We do have a local paper that covers issues according to its own bias. The sectarian divide in G-B controls the way coverage is given to the issues of the common man.
Our own protests were not covered in the mainstream [Pakistani media], and only local and online papers like Paamir Times would give us proper reporting. That really disconnected G-B from the rest of Pakistan.
KN: What do you want the government to do?
BJH: It is very simple. The government should give the people what they deserve. Reimburse the losses they incurred due to the failure of the Government's negligent behavior. Even though some destruction had been predicted and the people were warned months prior to the land slides, the state did not take any precautionary measure.
Shahra-e-Karakoram, the road that conjoins small towns and villages to the main cities has been in-operational. Since all the banks, businesses and hospitals are only in the main cities, local citizens from these towns and villages have to face great difficulty making it through the mountains. Patients who need to get to the hospitals usually don't make it in times of emergency. The government needs to look into this.
KN: What would you do when you get out of jail?
BJH: I will continue to work for the cause of the people. I will make sure their problems are heard by the government and help them stand united against violence and neglect.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist and activist based in Pakistan.
Photo by Kiran Nazish
"If [the] United States claims to be a humanitarian power set out to free the people from tyranny, then why does it refrain [from intervening] in Baluchistan?"
This was a question put forward by a student from Balochistan studying at Quad-e-Azam University, Islamabad, to a senior member of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad whom I had invited to lecture on U.S. foreign policy in my international relations course. The question naturally came as a surprise to the visiting U.S. delegation.
What the student pointed out was the alarming rise of the Quetta Shura, a council of Taliban leaders who took refuge in Quetta, Pakistan after the Taliban regime was toppled over by the United States in 2001, as a major power broker in the area, and the frustration it is causing among the local Balochis who are suffering at the hands of this new class of militancy.
According to the locals, the Quetta Shura has within the span of a decade gotten to the point where it "runs the show." From managing neighborhood security and harassing those who oppose them, to investing in hospitals where militants returning from Afghanistan are treated and in real estate as far as Karachi, the Quetta Shura has not only become the face of insurgency in Afghanistan, but indeed, it has become the face of destabilization in Pakistan.
Several of the locals that I talked to suggested that Quetta Shura is openly collecting funds through its hoax Islamic charity fronts in major cities of Pakistan, and recruiting local Balochis to torch the NATO supply tankers. "They tell us that each truck that we will blow up will get us several ‘hoors' in paradise. We don't get fooled, but many do."
As another local suggested, "[A] few years back, Quetta Shura was passive and was only urging people to wage war against the U.S., but now they are forcing people to wage war, not only on the US, but also on Pakistan."
Daily life has also been severely disturbed, as suggested by a local woman who was frustrated with Quetta Shura's moral policing in their neighborhoods and restrictions upon women to move freely in the city. As a part of its moral policing, militants working for the Quetta Shura have bombed internet cafes, music and CD shops throughout the city. The police force, I have been told, is ill equipped, powerless, and scared to confront the growing power of the militants who possess automatic and sophisticated weapons and have recently targeted and killed the policemen who opposed their power.
While the media in Pakistan remain obsessed with U.S. involvement in the country's affairs, the radicalization and breach of sovereignty by the Quetta Shura is going unnoticed, allowing it to grow exponentially.
The people in Balochistan are frustrated over this foreign intrusion into their territory, as depicted in the question asked by my student. Many Balochis will tell you that radicalization started not because of the drones, but the moment the Taliban began reorganizing as Quetta Shura in parts of Balochistan after being pushed into Pakistan by NATO.
Contrary to the polls that suggest around 75% of Pakistanis are anti-American, Balochistan is an area where, surprisingly, people are relatively less anti-American, severely critical of Taliban, and are looking towards the United States for help. Although no official polls have been conducted in Balochistan due to the lack of access in the area, I conducted an unofficial survey of 1,500 people from Balochistan, of which only 38% had a negative stance towards the United States. This is because people in Balochistan have been suffering for decades under the complex sardari (feudal) - Pakistan Military alliance, and recently under the suffocating presence of the Quetta Shura. Because Balochis are the direct victims of the Quetta Shura's militancy, they have a better understanding of the threat posed by the terrorists, and are more amenable to the U.S. campaign against terrorism, unlike the urban centers of Punjab where the anti-American sentiment runs high for political reasons.
Most of the Balochis with whom I have spoken about the matter expressed their acceptance the United States as a possible third party, which could alter the status quo in their area by not only flushing out the Quetta Shura, but also weakening the control of the Pakistan Army in the province.
While the official stance of the Pakistan Army is to reject any notions that Quetta Shura exists, the research I have conducted suggests quite the contrary. The Army is indeed aware of the presence of the Quetta Shura and the significant role it is playing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the hands of the Pakistan Army are tied because of the large Pashtun population within the Pakistan Army, domestic instability in the province, a lack of means and resources, and particularly by their reluctance to open another war front. Matt Waldman wrote in a 2010 report that the continued presence and growth of the Quetta Shura in Balochistan is a clear sign that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) supports the militant group.
But there is a difference between all out support and an effort to influence militant organizations, something that has been confused in many policy circles in Washington, DC. The Pakistan Army -- or for that matter any military -- does not have the ability to fully control militias. However, in warfare militaries do try to maintain communication channels with these groups in order to influence them through either direct or indirect means. The efforts of the Pakistan Army to influence the groups are at times taken out of context, and amplified in the media as direct sponsoring and support of terrorism - which doesn't quite compute, especially keeping in mind the fact that the Pakistan Army has been the major target of violence by these militant groups.
Rather, in an already troubled province, where the Pakistani Army has been engaged in a war and is not well liked, it is left with little or no resources or morale to wage a full-out war. This is especially true when Pashtuns in the Pakistani Army increasingly defy orders to kill the Pashtuns in the Quetta Shura. A senior army official who requested anonymity stated, "The American policy until 2008 was focused strictly on curtailing al-Qaeda; hence, the Pakistan Army was more relaxed towards massive migration of Afghanis flooding Quetta. It's hard to distinguish between a Taliban fighter and a civilian migrating to save his life. It becomes even harder when civilians carry an arm for protection in Pashtun culture."
The Pakistan Army has, for the past decade, attempted to strike a balance between the domestic repercussions of waging a war on its own people, not losing legitimacy internationally, and keeping the economy afloat.
However, its efforts to maintain balance have been deemed suspicious and labeled "backstabbing" by both the international community and by the Balochis, who are now highly frustrated with the rise of the Quetta Shura in their province, and the incapacity of the Pakistan Army to provide security.
Balochistan's gas and mineral reserves and strategically located Gwadar port are crucial to energy-starved Pakistan, making it an important strategic area for stability to both the Pakistan and the United States. More importantly, the current instability and radicalization fed by the Quetta Shura, and especially the sentiments of the Balochis opposed to this group, provide a unique opportunity for the United States to play a constructive role in the region by cooperating and facilitating the Pakistani government and allowing it - not the Army - to take the lead. The United States could be providing the Pakistani government with the means and resources to secure and develop the area, and eventually free the people from the tyranny of Quetta Shura.
While the Pakistan Army is not well liked in Balochistan due to the number of missing persons whose disappearances are blamed on security forces, the recent court cases against the Army by the Supreme Court, along with the Balochistan Package and other trust-building measures by the Pakistan government, provide a unique opportunity for the government to play a dominant role in Balochistan. The government has a unique opportunity to take charge of making policies towards Balochistan, instead of letting the Pakistan Army call all shots on the province. The move, if played right, will not only bring peace to the turbulent province of Balochistan and raise the status of the U.S. and Pakistan governments among the people, but will also ensure the security of Afghanistan by rooting out the center of Afghan insurgency
Hussain Nadim is a Visiting Scholar with the Asia Program Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
Terrorism watchers are engaged in a heated debate about the strength of al-Qaeda, the central leadership of which is believed to be in Pakistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has claimed that al-Qaeda's "strategic defeat" is within reach, a message that was amplified by prominent analyst Peter Bergen's proclamation that it is time to declare victory over the group.
Though this debate is unlikely to be resolved soon, it suffers from an under-theorized argument. How resilient is a network like al-Qaeda? How much attrition can it endure? Often, claims related to such questions represent assumptions about al-Qaeda's resiliency, but lack an overarching framework. A new monograph by one of the U.S. Army's most innovative thinkers may shed light on this debate. Recently published by the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), Lt. Col. Derek Jones's Understanding the Form, Function, and Logic of Clandestine Insurgent and Terrorist Networks is of relevance far beyond the debate about this one organization, albeit an organization that has dominated the past decade of the U.S.'s national-security priorities. Yet it is also an important read for thinkers who desire a more contextualized assessment of al-Qaeda in 2012. (Full disclosure: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross knows Lt. Col. Derek Jones personally, having first become acquainted with him at a Special Operations Command-hosted conference in the fall of 2009.)
Jones, having observed the rise of "counter-network" military theories, analyzes whether these theories correctly understand the nature of the threat posed by twenty-first century violent non-state actors-and whether counter-network operations have been as effective as many theorists believe. (For one review of counter-network theories, see this article by David Tucker.)
Given the advances in communication technology that were well underway before the 9/11 attacks, it is natural that many counter-network theorists have employed models explicitly rooted in the information age. Many theorists thought of al-Qaeda and other contemporary violent non-state actors as social networks much like those observed on the Internet.
Jones rejects the idea that the information age has caused revolutionary changes to clandestine networks. To be sure, they have evolved: al-Qaeda represents the first violent non-state actor capable of posing a truly global challenge at a strategic level to a superpower nation-state. But he points to a phenomenon that captions the way new technologies can fundamentally change groups like al-Qaeda: as networks employ such technologies more frequently, risks grow "due to the increase in electronic and cyber signatures, which puts those types of communications at risk of detection by governments." Instead, al-Qaeda employed traditional tradecraft to avoid detection: recall that the U.S. tracked down Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound by following a courier. This older tradecraft in turn "slows their rate of communication down, thus denying the information-age theorists the monolithic, information-aged, networked enemy that they have portrayed since 9/11."
If information-age theorists aren't getting it quite right, what kind of network is al-Qaeda? To answer this question, we need to understand the mechanisms by which its own theorists expect to defeat us.
Historically, the overt and visible parts of a guerrilla group are not the most important components. Instead, look to the clandestine underground. It is a well-worn adage that, by slowly eroding the opponent's will, a guerrilla network "wins by not losing."
Of course, this network doesn't require mere survival in order to win, but must also maintain the ability to mount attacks. However, as Lukas Milevski notes in a perceptive essay for the Royal United Services Journal, the network need not win outright through battles: battle avoidance can effectively deprive counterinsurgent forces of the control they desire. Hence the truth behind the observation that the United States won all of the battles in Vietnam but lost the war. If a military power cannot use battle to annihilate an adversary, nor push the cost of war beyond what its irregular adversary can afford, it cannot gain strategic control over an important territory or outcome. But to outlast a superior foe, the irregular enemy must first minimize its vulnerabilities to attrition.
Unfortunately for us, al-Qaeda long ago understood how to lessen its organizational signature.
The Anti-Social Network
Jones argues that al-Qaeda and similar groups are clandestine cellular networks, rather than information-age social networks. They are clandestine in that they are designed to be out of sight; and they are cellular in that they are compartmentalized to minimize damage when enemy neutralizes some portion of the network.
Social networks are open, and expand by multiplying their connections. They use open tools, and have small transaction costs. Occupy Wall Street, for example, used social media extensively to build a network stretching across many cities. While connection is beneficial for an open political movement, it can be fatal to a terrorist group. So a clandestine network functions radically differently from a social network. We use Facebook to make ourselves more connected, but al-Qaeda's network survives by limiting connections and compartmentalizing information.
Compartmentalization takes two forms. First, at a cell level, a minimum of personal information is known about other cell members. Second, there is strategic compartmentalization between different elements within the organization. Counterinsurgents can capture one person in a cell without destroying the cell itself; and in cases where cell members must interact directly, structural compartmentalization attempts to ensure that the cell cannot be exploited to target other cells or leaders.
The U.S. Army's Special Operations Forces doctrine recognizes three components of an insurgency: the auxiliary, the underground, and the guerrillas. The guerrillas are the fighters. The underground is responsible for command and control, logistics, subversion, and intelligence. The auxiliary is "the clandestine support personnel, directed by the underground which provides logistics, operational support, and intelligence collection to both the underground and the guerrillas."
If insurgencies grow to the point that they are "near-peer competitors to the state," they begin to take on characteristics of a conventional force. Secrecy is traded for efficiency, and building networks rather than cells becomes important. But should insurgencies suffer defeat at this stage, their hidden component-the underground-is designed to survive and regenerate the network.
While al-Qaeda aspires to being a near-peer competitor to the nation-state, it has only reached this point in a few theaters where multiple challenges confront the traditional government. In the vast majority of places where the jihadi group has a presence, it operates as a network of compartmentalized cells.
Such networks are largely decentralized at the tactical level, but have more hierarchical control at the strategic level. The core leadership may be an individual, with numerous deputies, or it may be a coordinating committee. But without centralized control, the network cannot effectively develop a strategy for action. The network's leadership can replace members of the tactical cells easily, but it is harder to replace core members. However, a strong network will ensure redundancy in key areas, so that the group remains viable even if its leaders are captured or killed.
Mistaking Appearances for Reality
Jones writes that counterinsurgents routinely mistake the more overt parts of an insurgency-which can be easily replaced-for the clandestine cells that generate them. But some of the seemingly spontaneously generating cells may say less about the supposedly decentralized nature of a network than it does about the clandestine leadership's ability to hold itself out of view and recover from seemingly fatal reverses.
The more contact that cells have with counterinsurgents and counterterrorists, the more adept they are at defeating interrogation procedures, protecting their own information, and feeding false information to their enemies. Survival creates a Darwinian cycle in which the core members of an insurgency can adapt, learn, and advance.
If there is one weakness in Jones's study, it is, as he acknowledges, that it is based largely on Cold War insurgencies and newer insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. From these we can draw inferences about the covert dynamics of al-Qaeda and other Islamist cells outside of war zones-but more study remains to be done.
Overall, though, this is an extremely valuable study. Its most troubling implication is that al-Qaeda may be well positioned to recover from its losses. As Jones argues, the form, function, and logic of this organization are designed to maximize its chances of survival, and thus "the removal of single individuals, regardless of function, is well within the tolerance of this type of organizational structure and thus has little long-term effect." This point is almost certainly overstated as applied to leaders like bin Laden or effective ideologues like Anwar al-Awlaki. Nonetheless, the powerful point remains that the logic of organizations like al-Qaeda is such that their ability to recover from leadership and other losses is maximized.
Is al-Qaeda's network core still intact? Most specialists would answer yes. If they are right, al-Qaeda may be able to opportunistically re-grow new cells when it is safe, or when public opinion is more favorable.
Most crystal balls are disturbingly cloudy, and only time will tell how well Jones's study predicts the course that the admittedly weakened core of al-Qaeda will chart. However, Jones offers a persuasive framework for approaching the issue. He thus raises a significant challenge to those arguing that al-Qaeda has been defeated, and offers great insight to others studying twenty-first century violent non-state actors.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Ph.D. candidate in world politics at the Catholic University of America, and the author of eleven books and monographs, including Bin Laden's Legacy. Adam Elkus is a Ph.D. student at American University in the School of International Service and an editor at the Red Team Journal. He is also an Associate at the Small Wars Journal's El Centro profile, and blogs at Rethinking Security.
The July 31 U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing for ambassadors-designate Richard Olson (for Pakistan) and James Cunningham (for Afghanistan) exemplified the contradictory nature of U.S. relations with Pakistan. The foreign policies of the two countries are at irreconcilable cross purposes, which may converge in time, but not in the foreseeable future.
At the outset of the hearing, John Kerry, the committee's chairman, acknowledged that Pakistanis have suffered greatly in the fight against terror, and also underlined that "Pakistan remains central to what happens in Afghanistan." Ambassador-designate Richard Olson echoed Kerry's remarks, saying, "I don't have to tell you how important Pakistan is to the United States."
Later, Olson responded positively when asked about Pakistan military's doctrine of "strategic depth" (a concept in which Pakistan uses Afghanistan as an instrument of strategic security in ongoing tensions with India by attempting to control Afghanistan as a pawn for its own political purposes).
"My sense is that the Pakistani military and Pakistani government has moved away from [strategic depth]," the ambassador argued, probably drawing cues from Pakistan's gradually expanding dialogue with arch-rival India. Most of the Western skepticism of Pakistan's role in Afghanistan has been embedded in distrust of the so-called doctrine of strategic depth, a dynamic which outside observers have been reluctant to acknowledge is changing for the better.
However, Ambassador Olson also reaffirmed the United States' concern about the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, describing it as "one of the toughest challenges that the U.S. faces." Olson's characterization only reaffirms the long-held view that the Haqqanis must remain a priority of the U.S. security establishment for their part in several deadly suicide bombings in and around Kabul since 2008. The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill requiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report to Congress on whether the Haqqani Network should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, and if not, why.
But according to a recent New York Times report, based on one senior American official's estimate, Haqqani operations account for one-tenth of the attacks on ISAF troops, and perhaps 15 percent of casualties.
The NYT quoted a senior Obama administration official as saying "I am not convinced there is a command-and-control relationship between the ISI and those attacks." Yet the storm gathering around the Haqqani Network, believed to be holed up in North Waziristan as a protective umbrella for al-Qaeda Central, betrays the American security establishment's unease with the group. It also points to a future course of action in which Americans may zero in on the Haqqanis as the single largest source of instability in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the Network is credited with just about ten percent of the total attacks on U.S. and ISAF forces.
And herein lies Pakistan's predicament; its ties with some non-state actors, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, as well as the India-focused Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), undermine its foreign relations.
These groups sit at the heart of Pakistan's rocky relationship with the United States, Afghanistan and India. The former two view the Haqqani Network as the biggest impediment to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The latter considers Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that staged multiple deadly attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, to be an existential threat.
But as far the Pakistani security establishment is concerned, these militant groups have long served as valuable foreign policy instruments. And since Islamabad's Afghanistan policy is not contingent upon America's desired endgame in the war-torn country, declaring a total divorce from these outfits seems improbable under the current circumstances.
This raises the possibility of these groups periodically rocking the Pakistan-U.S. alliance through terror strikes. This begs the question: can the United States -- and India in particular -- decouple their dialogue with Pakistan from terrorist strikes attributed to the Haqqanis or Lashkar-e-Taiba?
Probably not. And this constitutes the basis for the difficulties ahead; unless both Washington and New Delhi can see visible signs of "change of mind" in Islamabad and Rawalpindi (where the military establishment is headquartered), they will keep prompting Pakistan to safeguard their "security interests" by disassociating with the Haqqanis and Lashkar-e-Taiba, ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan in whatever way possible, thereby disallowing the creation of a true U.S.-Pakistan alliance.
That is why former ambassador Husain Haqqani advises both Pakistan and the United States to focus on being friends rather than "allies" because "deviating national [security] interests" run contrary to the basics of an alliance. The focus, he said, should be more on trade, engagement among civil society groups and politicians. In Amb. Haqqani's opinion, creating economic and civil society linkages promises greater security than a security partnership that has consistently been characterized by mutual suspicion and distrust.
Pressures stemming from domestic politics -- the upcoming Presidential election in the United States this November, and the political turmoil in anticipation of a general election in Pakistan later this year -- essentially rule out a quick convergence of two conflicting narratives. A gradual but substantial build-up in mutual trust in the months ahead looks impossible, too; Pakistan is not likely to crack down on the Haqqani Network the way Washington proposes. Nor does Pakistan hold sway over other partners of the Haqqanis, like Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
While foreign expectations that Pakistan might serve as a bridge between this tripodal insurgency and the Kabul regime may not be entirely realistic, it still should not prevent Islamabad from reshaping its national security paradigm in a way so as to earn the trust of the international community. One of the requirements would of course be to alter the nature of its relations with non-state Pakistani and Afghan actors.
Top-most Pakistani civilian and military officials say the change is underway, but it is not, however, going to happen overnight. We must keep our volatile socio-political context in mind, they insist.
History dictates that the United States, while pursuing its long-term geo-political objectives, should openly acknowledge the policy changes in Pakistan, the way ambassador Olson did before the Senate Committee. This will give Islamabad more confidence to continue the policy-fixing -- if not transformation -- path, and thus create space for a more productive engagement.
Officials at Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs insist that this would also mean that unless the United States recognizes the compulsions that geography and the cross-border demography places on Pakistan, and until the country is allowed to fashion relations with countries such as Iran in its own way, the path forward will remain fraught with bickering and disagreements.
Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the forthcoming book Pakistan: Before and After Osama, Roli Books, India.
When Zabiuddin Ansari was handed over to the Indian authorities several weeks ago, it was big news - at least in India - as a result of the information he was expected to provide to the authorities there about the 2008 Mumbai attacks. As previous posts have illustrated, his story also provided valuable insights into the nature of the jihadist threat to India, the state of India-Pakistan relations, and the importance of international counterterrorism cooperation to contain the threats posed by Pakistan-based and supported militants. The most important angle according to some observers, however, was the fact that Ansari was arrested by the Saudi authorities, who subsequently handed him over to India despite Riyadh's historically close alliance with Islamabad. While at first glance this could suggest a wider geopolitical realignment, the reality is more nuanced. Though Pakistan is in no danger of being completely abandoned, its continued tolerance of militant groups makes even its staunchest allies skittish.
Pakistan remains the only nuclear-armed Muslim nation and, crucially, it's a Sunni Muslim nation, which makes it an essential Saudi ally in the event that Shi'a Iran acquires a nuclear capacity. Furthermore, the Saudi royal family has depended directly on the Pakistan Army for protection at times and Pakistani soldiers continue to play an important role in Saudi Arabia. It's very difficult to imagine India supplanting Pakistan in these areas. Saudi engagement with India began as part of a wider endeavor in which it sought to develop new markets for oil, expand economically where possible, and forge stronger political ties in Asia to augment the traditional U.S.-Saudi relationship and balance against Iran. However, it would be naïve to think India is ready to line up in lock-step against Iran any more than Saudi Arabia is prepared to abandon its alliance with Pakistan.
Nevertheless, Riyadh's decision to hand over Ansari despite his possessing a Pakistan passport and over the vociferous objections of the Pakistani authorities is a significant event and indicative of several important trends. First, it marked an important turning point in Saudi-India counterterrorism cooperation that could only have occurred amidst improved bilateral ties between the two countries. Second, it suggests increasing concerns within the Kingdom about Pakistani militants in general and Lashkar-e-Taiba specifically, as well as Pakistan's ability to control them. This is related to a more troubling trend for Pakistan in which its continued support for militant proxies has put strains on relationships with even its closest allies who fear the repercussions for their own internal security.
Playing the Field
In January 2006, Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud visited India as part of a four-country tour that also included a stop in Beijing. This was the first visit to India by a Saudi king since 1955, after which bilateral relations quickly froze as a result of Cold War politics. At the time of the landmark 2006 visit, Saudi Arabia provided only a trickle of oil to India, but soon after became its number one crude oil source. Although oil remains the lifeline of the relationship, the two countries' interests now extend beyond black gold. Trade between them has boomed, as have Indian investments in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1 million Indians work, making them the biggest expatriate community in the Kingdom. There is significant cultural exchange as well owing largely to the fact that India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, many of who are interested in Saudi Arabia as the host of Islam's two holiest sites.
The Delhi Declaration signed during King Saud's visit heralded a "new era in India-Saudi relations" in which both countries would develop a broad strategic vision. As such, it served as a major building block for the relationship, which has since expanded to include notable security-related issues. In 2006 the two leaders initially intended to sign a mutual legal assistance treaty pertaining to criminal matters, which often serves as a precursor to an extradition treaty. Instead, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Combating Crime designed to deal with terrorism and transnational crime. Although it appeared comprehensive on paper and covered a range of issues, perceptual disagreements over the concept of terrorism meant that in reality there would be limited cooperation.
By 2010, when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia, bilateral relations had improved significantly. Prime Minister Singh and King Saud signed the Riyadh Declaration, which set the stage for actual counterterrorism cooperation, as well as signing a separate extradition treaty. Earlier this year the two countries boosted defense ties and further deepened counterterrorism cooperation when Indian Defense Minister AK Antony visited the Kingdom. According to Indian officials, Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism issues has improved significantly in the past six months. By this time, Saudi officials had already had Zabiuddin Ansari in custody for more than half a year.
Ansari traveled to Saudi Arabia on a Pakistani passport in the name of Riyasat Ali to launch a recruitment campaign for future attacks against India. As detailed in the previous post, India-U.S. counterterrorism coordination appears to have enabled Ansari's identification and ultimately led to his arrest by Saudi authorities in May 2011. However, Riyadh was reluctant to hand him over to India for fear of upsetting Pakistan, where officials surely recognized the damage he could cause in the court of public opinion. In the past, any suspected militant traveling on a Pakistani passport would be sent back to Pakistan. In this instance, Pakistani pressure to reclaim custody of Ansari appears to have been intense, but so too was Indian and American pressure to secure his handover.
Riyadh ultimately demanded a DNA profile and other evidence from India to establish Ansari's Indian nationality. New Delhi was able to fulfill these requirements, but Pakistan could not show credible proof that Ansari was one of its own. The ability to make a strong legal case for handing him over and improved bilateral ties between Riyadh and New Delhi were undoubtedly important factors. But baser security concerns likely also were at play.
Running Hot and Cold
Saudi Arabia proved a reluctant contributor to the international effort against al-Qaeda and associated movements after 9/11. This remained the case until the Kingdom suffered directly from al-Qaeda attacks beginning in 2003. However, it remained relatively tolerant of Lashkar-e-Taiba. This owed to Saudi Arabia's relationship with Pakistan, but also resulted from Lashkar's position vis-à-vis the Kingdom.
Some Lashkar leaders have ties to Saudi Arabia dating back several decades, and these men often view Saudi Arabia as the best Islamic state, even if it is not an ideal one. In other words, their attachment to the Kingdom extends beyond its mere utility as a fundraising and support base for militant activity. Similarly, Lashkar leaders' strong commitment to spreading Ahl-e-Hadith (or Salafi) Islam via non-violent activism and their decision to eschew revolutionary terrorism in favor of pan-Islamist jihad makes the group more palatable than al-Qaeda to the Saudi state. Several Lashkar watchers, including this author, have speculated that the group distanced itself from al-Qaeda circa 2003 as a result not only of pressure from Islamabad, but also Riyadh.
Lashkar's relationship with al-Qaeda - the Central organization and its affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula - remains a dynamic one, but interlocutors in Pakistan and the United States have told the author that cooperation between the two has increased of late. Meanwhile, the wider narrative generated by the 2008 Mumbai attacks is that Lashkar is becoming a global threat. Regardless of whether one agrees with this assessment, it would be surprising if American and Indian officials did not make the case that an overly permissive environment could spell trouble for Saudi Arabia, and not too difficult to imagine their counterparts in Riyadh entertaining the notion seriously. Acute concerns about Lashkar exist against the backdrop of Pakistan's unwillingness or inability to reign in the group or others like it as well as growing disquiet over possible jihadist influences on elements within the Pakistan Army.
Putting Ansari in Perspective
Saudi Arabia broke a taboo when it handed over Zabiuddin Ansari and, as should be evident, this has significant implications. Saudi authorities are holding additional Indian militants, and they're willingness to deport these men will be an important means of gauging the constancy of the trends highlighted in this post. However, it must be noted that all of these men are Indian - Riyadh is yet to begin evicting Pakistani operatives, much less arresting and deporting them to India. In short, this hardly spells the end of Lashkar operations in the Kingdom, though as the previous post observed the terrain there has become somewhat less hospitable.
In the zero-sum world of India-Pakistan relations, Ansari's handover was an unquestionable win for New Delhi. In addition to the intelligence gleaned and validation offered regarding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, India also scored a diplomatic victory, albeit with U.S. support. Amidst the focus on signals intercepts and direct action, U.S. diplomatic engagement is often overlooked. In this instance, Indian officials have confirmed it was critical to securing a favorable outcome.
Finally, this event should cause concern in Islamabad and Rawalpindi about the degree to which continued tolerance of groups like Lashkar is creating unease among even its closest allies. China too has evinced concern - rarely and diplomatically, but nevertheless publicly - about the potential for Pakistan-based militants to threaten its own internal security. Saudi Arabia has now gone a significant step further. Neither country is about to abandon Pakistan, but nor is their commitment to Pakistan as absolute as some of its leaders might publicly claim or privately wish to believe.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
The following article was adapted from the author's recently released report, "Breaking the Bonds Between al-Qa'ida and Its Affiliate Organizations."
The death of Osama bin Ladin and the fall of Arab dictators have left al-Qa'ida's leadership in disarray, its narrative confused, and the organization on the defensive. One silver lining for al-Qaida, however, has been its affiliate organizations. In Iraq, the Maghreb, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, al-Qa'ida has used local groups to expand its reach, increase its power, and grow its numbers. This string of mergers is not over. In places as diverse as the Sinai Peninsula and Nigeria, al-Qa'ida-linked organizations are emerging. However, the jihadist world is more fractured than it may appear at first glance. Many Salafi-jihadist groups have not joined with al-Qa'ida, and even if they have, tensions and divisions occur that present the United States and its allies with opportunities for weakening the bond.
The role of affiliates is perhaps the most important uncertainty when assessing whether or not the United States and its allies are "winning" the struggle against al-Qa'ida. If affiliates are really part of the al-Qa'ida core, then the overall movement Zawahiri champions is robust and growing. But if the affiliates are al-Qa'ida in little more than name, then Zawahiri's organization, the core of which has been hit hard in recent years, may be close to defeat.
The Rewards and Risks of Affiliation
Al-Qa'ida has always been both a group with its own agenda and a facilitator of other terrorist groups. This meant that it not only carried out its own attacks, but it also helped other jihadist groups with funding, training, and additional logistical essentials. Toward the end of the 1990s, al-Qa'ida incorporated Egyptian Islamic Jihad into its structure. After September 11, 2001, this process of deepening its relationship with outside groups took off, and today a number of regional groups bear the label "al-Qa'ida" in their name, along with a more local designation. Some of the most prominent affiliates include al-Qa'ida of Iraq (AQI), al-Qa'ida of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qa'ida of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Shebaab in Somalia.
Groups have joined with the core after losing recruits and popular support and otherwise seeing their original goals frustrated. For much of its history, al-Qa'ida was flush with cash, which made it an attractive partner for other terrorist groups. Al-Qa'ida ran training camps, operated safe houses, and otherwise established a large infrastructure in support of terror that offered local groups a safe haven and created personal networks among those who trained and sheltered there. At times, groups sought to replace their more local brand with that of al-Qa'ida, believing the latter is more compelling. Because groups share havens, training facilities, and so on with al-Qa'ida, when these locations are targeted by U.S. or local government forces, the individuals from these join al-Qa'ida in fighting back.
Having a diverse array of affiliates helps al-Qa'ida extend its reach, gain access to hardened fighters, and fulfill its self-image as the leader of the jihadist community. Today, amid the U.S. drone campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the group, the actions of al-Qa'ida's affiliates can serve as proof of the group's continued strength.
Despite the benefits to joining with al-Qa'ida, not all Salafi-jihadist groups choose to affiliate with it, including Egypt's Gamaat al-Islamiyya and Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and fighters in Chechnya, Gaza, and Pakistan, though some individual terrorists from these groups did join up.
Doctrinal disputes divide the jihadist community, and some groups go so far as to declare others to be unbelievers, which has tremendous consequences for how a group chooses its targets, and on a group's popularity. In addition, an ideological divide over issues like targeting civilians has caused a rift among jihadists. Local versus global outlooks have also played a role in keeping some groups from linking up with al-Qa'ida. Even if a group shares al-Qa'ida's goals and ideology, going global brings a host of downsides, particularly the wrath of the United States and other strong powers.
Strains in the Relationship
Different aims and divergent strategies may strain the al-Qa'ida-affiliate relationship. Because al-Qa'ida's affiliates started out with local goals, linking with the al-Qa'ida core and expanding attacks to global targets can make it harder for a group to achieve its original aims. On the flip side, the core's anti-Western brand can become hijacked or contaminated by local struggles. Often, local groups have markedly different convictions from al-Qa'ida, particularly when it comes to nationalism and democracy. Expansion also creates tensions inside and outside the core. As the number of affiliates increases, the overall security of the al-Qa'ida network decreases. In cases where al-Qa'ida sends its own operatives and other non-locals to join an affiliate, these foreign fighters may alienate locals through their personal behavior or attempts to alter local traditions.
These issues, and others, may not only create tension between the core and its affiliates, they may be cause for like-minded groups or prominent jihadists to publicly condemn al-Qa'ida-something that costs al-Qa'ida heavily in terms of prestige, and possibly recruitment.
How to Fight Affiliates Better
Often only a small portion of an affiliate's organization focuses on Western targets and an even smaller portion focuses on operations against Western targets outside the local theater of operations. By lumping an unaffiliated group with al-Qa'ida, the United States can drive it into Zawahiri's arms. It is also important to consider how some Sunni groups like Hamas that act against U.S. interests can still serve to weaken al-Qa'ida.
An information operations campaign can try to widen these gaps within the broader movement, highlighting differences and thus encouraging them. In addition, the foreign nature of al-Qa'ida should be emphasized and local nationalisms used to discredit the jihadis. The United States and its allies should also call attention to al-Qa'ida's unpopular stand against democracy and contrast it with statements by peaceful Salafi leaders, including some former jihadists, in support of elections.
Intelligence services can monitor radicals within diaspora communities and work with law enforcement officials to curtail fundraising for affiliate groups. If the core's money diminishes, the core will be less likely to be able to attract new affiliates to its banner. Moreover, depriving affiliate groups of revenue often leads them to undertake illicit activities to make up the funding shortfall. These actions paint the group as more criminal than heroic.
Washington must also understand how actions its takes in the region may influence the al-Qa'ida-affiliate dynamic. In deciding whether to intervene abroad, for instance, U.S. policymakers should consider, along with other more obvious costs and benefits, how doing so may impact al-Qa'ida affiliation.
Ultimately, there are no simple choices when confronting al-Qa'ida affiliates. On the one hand, ignoring groups until they become affiliates, or ignoring affiliates until they strike at U.S. targets, risks leaving U.S. intelligence and security officials in a defensive and reactive mode and vulnerable to a surprise attack. On the other hand, too aggressive an approach can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, strengthening bonds between al-Qa'ida and other jihadist groups by validating the al-Qa'ida narrative and leading groups to cooperate for self-defense and organizational advancement. So, as with most difficult counterterrorism issues, judgment and prudence are essential
Daniel Byman is a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, and the Research Director at the Saban Center at Brookings.
MOHAMED MOKHTAR/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's Deputy Attorney General Khurshid Khan has made news and not everyone is happy about it.
DAG Khurshid Khan became embroiled in controversy when, deeply shaken by the beheading of a Sikh man by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2010, he decided to seek atonement for the sins of the Taliban by cleaning the shoes of Sikh worshippers outside shrines in India and Pakistan. While Sikh leaders and organizations have praised DAG Khan for his actions, Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association did not take such a kindly view of the situation, and issued DAG Khan a show-cause notice asking him to explain his actions. The Bar Association has argued that DAG Khan's actions "defamed" the country, while DAG Khan insists that his actions were only meant to present his religion and country in a positive light, by showing that the Taliban do not represent the views of the whole country.
This is not the first time that Pakistani officials, worried about the country's image in the world, have taken measures to protect that image. One stark example of this was then-President Pervez Musharraf's treatment of Mukhtar Mai, a woman gang-raped in her village Meerwala and subsequently prevented from leaving the country for fear that she would publicize stories of her rape and damage Pakistan's image abroad. Echoing government claims, some journalists at the time also termed Mai's heart-wrenching accounts of her rape as "propaganda against Pakistan." General Musharraf eventually allowed Mai to travel abroad, but only after intense domestic and international pressure.
While Mukhtar Mai's case is an extreme example of an incredibly misguided attempt to protect Pakistan's image abroad, it aptly illustrates how censuring its citizens may not be Pakistan's best shot at protecting its image. DAG Khurshid Khan's case may raise valid questions about the code of conduct appropriate for government officials, but it remains questionable whether the SCBA is doing the country's image any good by taking action against someone who did, at the end of the day, want to show that Pakistanis stand against terrorism, and empathize with the sufferings of Pakistan's religious minorities. Through his service to the Sikh community, DAG Khan only sought to encourage a form of communication between Pakistan's majority Muslim population and other religious communities, an effort that the Bar Association has attempted to halt.
Most strikingly, such efforts to protect Pakistan's image seem bizarre in light of the glaring fact that much of the negative opinion about Pakistan around the world stems from some very real challenges that Pakistan faces: international and domestic terrorism, corruption, poor governance, and human rights violations. Government officials not only unwittingly reinforced these negative perceptions about Pakistan in both the cases of Mukhtar Mai and of DAG Khan, but also completely failed to acknowledge the larger, more significant reasons for the country's negative perception in the world.
If the first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem, Pakistan has yet to really take that step. Pakistani officials and media frequently blame outside forces for Pakistan's misfortunes. Yet, it is crucial for Pakistan to acknowledge the faults and mistakes that have led it to its current quagmire if it is to improve its image. The slow response of the international community to the 2010 floods in Pakistan, partly attributed to Pakistan's negative image in the world, was a tragic reminder that a country's image matters immensely. Recognizing the importance of the way the world sees a nation, Pakistan spends a $100,000 dollars per month, a total of about $1.2 million dollars a year, on American lobbying firms to help improve its image in the United States. Yet, according to a recent BBC poll, it remains one of the most negatively viewed countries in the world, second only to Iran.
Pakistan's failure to improve its image does not only lie in its inability to accept responsibility for and address its problems. Pakistan has also failed to effectively use channels of communication with the outside world, such as movies, literature, art and music, to show a perspective on Pakistan that more closely reflects the way in which Pakistani citizens experience their country. Experiences of painful uncertainty and horror in the face of terrorism, violence, corruption, and state incompetence comingle with very "normal" day-to-day experiences to form a nuanced image of Pakistan in the minds of its citizens. These complicated experiences can best and most eloquently be portrayed through movies, art, literature and music, providing a window into Pakistan to outsiders who may see the country only through a security lens.
Yet the arts are not the only means through which Pakistan can challenge the narrow, security-focused narrative about the country. Allowing Pakistani citizens the freedom to broadcast their experiences to the world, even negative ones, is important in not only encouraging the process of self-reflection but also in allowing outsiders to understand the range of different life-experiences that shape the human landscape of Pakistan. At the very least, a greater understanding of the region will allow the international community to move past black and white generalizations about the "Pakistan problem" and to appreciate the nuances that underpin issues confronting the region. In the long run, this will translate into a more empathetic view of Pakistan, and might help the country's image in the world.
In fact, Pakistan's neighbor, India, has done an excellent job of exploiting such channels of communication to give the world a glimpse into the various facets of life in India. The Indian film industry produces the largest number of movies in the world, with export revenues increasing drastically over the years. The Economist points out the wide influence of Indian movies which are popular not only in countries like the United States, but also in other parts of the world, such as Japan. Anyone who has seen Bollywood films knows how impressive a job it does of portraying different "Indias" - the romanticized India of dancing and singing locals, but also the more somber and serious India of movies like "Rang de Basanti" that explore India's past. India's effective use of these modes of communication is undoubtedly one of the reasons it has maintained a positive image in the world.
Clearly, there are also other reasons for India's pleasant appearance. India has more going for it than Pakistan does, given that India is the world's largest democracy and a rising economic power. On top of that, India is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with hundreds of different languages spoken across the country. Moreover, unlike Pakistan, India's domestic problems have not also posed a threat to countries around the world. All these factors allow India to maintain a positive image, despite the fact that India also shares many of the problems of other developing countries, such as corruption, poor governance, massive poverty and domestic terrorism in the form of a Naxalite-Maoist insurgency. India not only has achievements, it has also managed to capitalize on these achievements through the use of various modes of communication with the rest of the world.
While a country's real problems and achievements essentially define its image in the world, to some extent, image is also a product of what the world even knows about a country. The censorship of both DAG Khan and Mukhtar Mai, although misguided and counter-productive, illustrates Pakistan's attempts to control what the world knows about it. Instead of censuring DAG Khan, Pakistani officials could have used DAG Khan's case as a way to show their stance against terrorism and their empathy for the sufferings of Pakistan's minorities. There is hardly a Pakistani, however removed from Pakistan's troubled tribal areas, who has not felt the consequences in some shape or form of Pakistan's battle against terrorism, and there are many who have suffered the direct destruction and pain that terrorism has brought on the country. It is this pain and sense of loss that DAG Khan sought to express through his service to a religious community that has also suffered at the hands of terrorism. Pakistani officials should celebrate such actions, and see them as a means through which to open channels of communication with other communities and countries. Ultimately, it is the DAG Khans of Pakistan that will help its image.
Fatima Mustafa is a PhD candidate at Boston University researching issues of state-building in the developing world.
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There is talk of civil war in the mountains of Khost, the fields of the Helmand River Valley, and on the streets of Kabul. With 2014 looming, Afghans, journalists, diplomats, and military officers alike are wondering what the future holds for this troubled country straddling the Hindu Kush.
Will there be civil war or not? In a recent report I co-authored with Scott Bates for the Center for National Policy, we pointed to civil war and the related problem of security force fragmentation as two of the biggest risks Afghanistan faces. Dexter Filkins penned a persuasive essay in the New Yorker full of vivid details about the factional and ethnic rivalries within the Afghan National Army (ANA) and among its glut of militias. One of his interview subjects memorably remarked:
This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government. Mir Alam will take Kunduz. Atta will take Mazar-e-Sharif. Dostum will take Sheberghan. The Karzais will take Kandahar. The Haqqanis will take Paktika. If these things don't happen, you can burn my bones when I die.
Another journalist, Robert Dreyfuss, insists that such dire predictions are foolhardy. Citing Afghanistan's former Ambassador to France and Canada, Omar Samad, he argues that Afghans will look into the abyss, lean back, and compromise.
However, people on both sides of this debate are missing the forest for the trees. This misperception begins with our collective failure to take Afghanistan's history seriously.
We often act and talk as if Afghan history began on 9/11, but our reaction to al Qaeda's attacks was an intervention in a long-standing and still-unresolved civil war.
It began over thirty years ago, when the Khalq faction of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the regime of President Mohammad Daud Khan in 1978 and instituted a series of far-reaching radical reforms that sparked rebellion across the country. Against their better judgment, the Soviets occupied the country in support of their beleaguered communist allies, inflaming conflict, which saw seven main mujahideen parties supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a host of Arab volunteers pitted against the Soviets and the PDPA, who were also divided into two factions.
The mujahideen parties fought each other almost as much as the infidels. The "national" character of these parties was always a screen for a myriad of local conflicts over water, land, tribe, sect, ethnicity, prestige and power.
The Afghan civil war can be divided into different phases. The first was the nascent period of unorganized rebellion that followed the overthrow of Daud Khan. The second phase witnessed the gradual organization of the rebels into the Peshawar Seven and the introduction of Soviet troops. These troops withdrew in 1989 and the mujahideen parties turned on each other along with various quasi-government militias, marking the third phase. The regime of President Najibullah held onto pockets of the country and Kabul. Then the Afghan security forces buckled as Soviet largess vanished into history. Kabul fell in 1992 and the mujahideen continued to fight each other for supremacy, beginning the fourth phase. The Afghans looked into the abyss and jumped straight in.
The fifth phase saw the Taliban - a movement led by mujahideen veterans - storm through the south, take Kabul, and come to a stalemate with the Northern Alliance, a coalition dominated by members of Jamiat-i-Islami. The sixth phase began with Western intervention and the toppling of the Taliban regime in Kabul in response to 9/11. And the current phase has witnessed a return to rebellion, with the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, and Jalaluddin Haqqani's network battling the American-supported regime. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has reprised its role in the Soviet-Afghan War, now sponsoring and directing rebellion against an American-led coalition.
The leaders of the current rebel movements are rooted in the Peshawar Seven. Taliban leader Mullah Omar fought the Soviets in the south as a part of Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami. Gulbuddin, an old rival of Ahmad Shah Massoud, has been causing trouble ever since he took to throwing acid at the faces of unveiled women and brawling with rival student activists at the University of Kabul in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Hizb-i-Islami fought Jamiat-i-Islami and others for control of Kabul in the early 1990s. Haqqani cut his teeth fighting Daud Khan in the 1970s and as a mujahideen commander under Mohammad Yunus Khalis in the 1980s.
And we see the same cast of characters elsewhere. The same mujahideen and government officials who were fighting for God and/or country, selling narcotics, and committing atrocities since the 1970s are some of our closest friends and allies in the war's current phase.
There are differences in scale between these phases in terms of ferocity of combat and destruction, flows of internally displaced persons and refugees, as well as the numbers of casualties. Estimates of casualty and, to a lesser extent, refugee figures in the last thirty years of war vary widely.
In 1978, an estimated 40,000 Afghans were killed, followed by 80,000 in 1979. By 1987, less than a decade after the Soviets entered the conflict directly between 1 and 1.5 million Afghans had been killed in the war. This represents about 9% of the entire Afghan population, which is higher proportionally than the deaths suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II. Losses were more than twice as high among refugees, who were often more vulnerable to attack, disease, infection, and starvation than those who remained in their villages. By the Soviet withdrawal, there were 6.2 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan.
During the 1990s, estimates of civilians killed range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands as the mujahideen fought over territory. Much of Kabul was reduced to rubble as various mujahideen commanders fought from neighborhood to neighborhood.
In 2001, different tallies claim somewhere between several thousand and 20,000 Afghans were killed as a result of the American-led intervention. Casualties dipped between 2002 and 2005. Since 2006, over 12,000 Afghan civilians have been killed due to the war. Most of these have been killed by the insurgency. These figures were increasing over the last few years, but have dropped in 2012. Regardless, they still pale in comparison to the 80s and likely the early and mid-1990s as well. More than 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, but 2.5 million Afghan refugees remain, mostly in neighboring countries.
But war is not only a balance sheet of death and destruction. It is a political activity in which force is assessed to be an appropriate means by which to pursue political interests.
The underlying political disagreements, factional rivalries, toxic personalities, and Pakistani interventions and proxies that have been driving war in Afghanistan remain unresolved. The modern bureaucratic system that Western technocrats have willed into existence has not sufficiently vested Afghans in non-violent politics. Afghanistan is already divided into fiefdoms. An ocean of money and the American-led occupation force are all that holds them all together. Both will soon get much smaller.
So the question of whether or not Afghanistan will devolve into civil war after 2014 is the wrong one. The civil war will, of course, only continue. The question is, what will the next phase look like and how can we shape it for the better?
The greatest risk and most likely outcome is the fragmentation of the Afghan National Security Forces. The biggest danger is posed by the divisions within the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan Local Police (ALP) destabilizing the larger security force institutions. Most of the personnel in both of these forces are deployed in or near their home districts.
And like politics, all civil war is local.
The Nahr-e-Saraj police force in Helmand, for example, is divided between competing narcotics thugs, former Hizb-i-Islami fighters, former communists, and their children all of whom share a history of rivalry, murder, war, and hatred that have barely been contained over the last several years. Different ALP militias in Central Helmand also hail from different factions. Once their special operations mentors withdraw, they may begin to clash with each other, the ANP, and the ANA.
As long as the United States and its allies stay abreast of these factional politics, they can mitigate -- but not avoid -- this fragmentation through proactive in-country diplomacy, firm mentoring, and appropriate mechanisms for the distribution of funding and supplies. ALP militias must be integrated into the Afghan National Police now rather than later. As the ALP force currently stands, it poses an unacceptable risk to the long-term integrity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The trouble is, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not been systemically mapping these factional conflicts down to the local level and incorporating this information into their planning. ISAF, the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, and the US Embassy in Kabul should create a large and mobile cell of officers, diplomats, aid officials, analysts. This cell would be tasked with traveling around Afghanistan and achieving a granular understanding of the local conflicts that are driving the war and threaten to tear the ANSF and the country apart.
What will the next phase of civil war hold? How many will die? Despite the thousands dead over the last decade, the current phase pales in comparison to the 80s and early 90s. Afghans may come to remember the last ten years as the orange slice in the middle of the soccer match. Some in Washington and London have vested hope in negotiations, but there is little evidence for optimism on that front.
Afghanistan is no longer a counterinsurgency problem. Most foreign troops will be heading for the exits over the next two years. Only by taking its politics and history seriously down to the local level will we be able to help ensure sufficient stability as the International Security Assistance Force itself becomes history.
Ryan Evans is a Research Fellow at the Center for National Policy.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday, the New York Times wrote about an unreleased report by the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission mapping human rights abuses from 1978 until 2001. Spanning the two bloody decades in which Afghanistan oscillated from Russian occupation and violent resistance, to all-out civil war in the early 1990s, to oppressive Taliban rule, the report documents tens of thousands of deaths, torture and other extreme abuses, including evidence of 180 mass graves. Although many of these abuses are well known, what has caused the biggest controversy, and the reason the report is still unpublished, the Times reports, is that many of the perpetrators are members of the current government or are local powerbrokers who still hold sway over key regions and provinces in Afghanistan.
Many of these incidents (the Dasht-e-Laili massacre of 2,000 Taliban prisoners; massacres of Hazara populations in Bamiyan during the Taliban era; the 1993 Afshar massacre by mujahedeen leaders) have been documented by other groups, but this report appears is of a different scale and level of detail. It is certainly the most comprehensive reporting on past abuses to date, and with more forensic and investigative resources, likely more rigorous. It also holds the greatest promise for energizing a more balanced and holistic debate about how Afghanistan might address this horrific past. Whereas past transitional justice projects have been criticized for singling out certain warlords or ethnic groups, this mapping illustrates how widespread the violence was. Victims and culprits can be found in every ethnic group, every region, every pocket of Afghan society. This report might be used as a springboard for a national discussion about how to move beyond finger-pointing and allow recognition of past abuses to be a part of more meaningful national reconciliation.
If it ever comes out that is. Previous high-level efforts to get traction on transitional justice issues have been squashed due to political pressure. For example, a 2005 United Nations mapping report that documented past cycles of violence and conflict and tied specific abuses to perpetrators was never released officially (though it has been leaked). Similarly, much controversy has surrounded the release of the AIHRC mapping report. Originally commissioned in 2005, human rights advocates have been preparing for an imminent release for several years but publication has been repeatedly delayed, in part due to technical issues and follow-up research, but also because of political pressure from the Afghan government, the Times reports. Most recently, when the Afghan government learned of the report's imminent release, the lead Commissioner in charge, Nader Nadery, was fired - many believe in order to prevent the report's release.
Nor is the Afghan government the only player to question if the report should be released. A U.S. official quoted in the piece argued the report should not be published, at least until after Afghanistan's 2014 presidential election "There will be a time for it, but I'm not persuaded this is the time. ...It's going to reopen all the old wounds."
This is a refrain that human rights advocates have heard time and again. While there has been much lip-service to supporting transitional justice, it has always been de-prioritized versus other political and security concerns. With a new election cycle, a new stabilization initiative, prospective reconciliation talks, or simply flowering insecurity always on the horizon, there has never been a "right" time for such a discussion. And in the meantime the rancor caused by impunity continues to erode confidence in the Afghan government and the rule of law, and the abuses of past years seem ever more likely to repeat themselves. This was never truer than it is now, as the looming 2014 elections and withdrawal of international combat troops have prompted many of the same perpetrators of past abuses to re-arm in preparation for a potential new era of violence.
Not only would it be important for such a report to come out now, so that there is at least a chance that such concerns will be discussed during this critical transition period, but it would be a serious setback if the report succumbed to political pressure and was not published at all. Already there are troubling signs that the space to publish critical thought in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better over time. In post-2001 Afghanistan, one of the few unequivocal successes has been the growth and freedom of the media. Afghan journalists, researchers and analysts have consistently been at the forefront of a surging new civil society, asking challenging questions and providing one of the few real checks and balances to government actions. Supported by foreign aid donors, and unrestrained by a Karzai administration that for most of the last 10 years has tolerated criticism, Afghans have enjoyed greater freedom of speech and association than anywhere else in the region.
However, there are signs that space is shrinking. Afghan journalists and stringers have been reporting greater harassment - in some cases leading to physical abuse - at a local level. New procedures have also been instituted that limit NGO activities or research organizations. When I was in Afghanistan earlier this month, we had to seek permission from several, overlapping ministries in Kabul to do even the most basic research or events in the provinces. Given this overall climate, the perception that the AIHRC report is hushed up would send a powerful signal to Afghan media and civil society: If a report of this magnitude and importance cannot be published, then what can?
The fact that such a report could even be produced shows how far Afghanistan has come in the last 10 years. Now, the way the report is treated is an important litmus test of how many of those gains will be preserved following transition. Publishing this report would not, of course, resolve all the underlying political issues. And while not a given, the Afghan government may fear it would put many of its key allies and partners at risk of prosecution (although the Amnesty law likely would prevent that) or disqualification from upcoming elections. However, ignoring this issue for so many years has created much larger consequences that might be better addressed in this transition period than left to fester. The Afghan government has a credibility problem both with the Afghan public and with the international community (whom it relies upon for continued aid). Past efforts to ignore these issues has to widespread, popular disillusionment with the Afghan government, undermining efforts on stabilization, rule of law development, and reconciliation. If the Afghan government embraced this report (which it originally commissioned) as an opportunity to begin a national conversation on these issues, it might be a concrete way to show the Afghan population and international donors that it meant all of the commitments about reforming government institutions and protecting rights that it made at events like the recent Tokyo conference. It would show that while there are many challenges on the horizon, Afghanistan's leaders and political system have moved beyond where it was in the 1980s and 1990s. There has never been a more critical time for such a statement.
Erica Gaston is a Senior Program Officer on Rule of Law in Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
It is generally
believed in the West that military action can resolve the terrorism problem in
the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region as well as help efforts to thwart
violent radicalism throughout the region. This idea, while sounding sensible
when peering at Pakistan from the outside, misses an important reality on the
ground: according to a new
report released today by the Asia Society, it is the domestic police force
that can best root out terror networks, find and disable their financial
support, and even manage de-radicalization programs in association with local
When faced with a serious internal security crisis, it is crucial that a state pursue reform that entails capacity building not just in the military and civilian government, but within the law enforcement sector. Pakistan is a case in point. The state is facing a variety of internal security challenges that are severely limiting its citizens' potential as well as creating tension between neighbors and potential allies abroad. Without police and law enforcement reform, stability is likely to continue eluding Pakistan.
Meaningful reform is not going to be an easy endeavor. A high number of terrorist attacks and increasingly troubling crime patterns tell the story of a state under siege. An increase in targeted killings of political and religious leaders, attacks on armed forces and police, kidnapping for ransom by the Taliban, and ‘mob justice' incidents show just how daunting the challenges for the police have become. Pakistan's efforts to combat crime and to counter terrorist activities are being outpaced by the innovation and agility of criminal networks and protean terrorist organizations. Radicalized elements within the political and religious spheres further complicate security challenges.
One might assume that, as a result, the government of Pakistan has prioritized reform of the police and other law enforcement agencies, allocating budgets accordingly. This simply is not the case. A lack of resources, poor training facilities, insufficient and outmoded equipment, entrenched corruption, and political interference mar law enforcement institutions throughout the country. Still, the police force is one of the country's few institutions in which internal reform is actually underway. This struggle merits attention and needs support.
Interestingly, the international support provided to Pakistan for antiterrorism operations in the last decade was largely geared towards the defense sector, and very little of that ever reached police. This created a situation in which military control trumped local knowledge and know-how. . A balanced approach is needed to help Pakistan tackle both internal and external challenges more effectively.
Few know that Pakistan is among the top five police-contributing countries to the United Nations over the last decade, and the professional performance of Pakistani officers in UN peacekeeping operations is rated highly. However, Pakistan has no mechanism in place to utilize the services of these officers in such a way that police institutions in-country might benefit from this experience. Many Pakistani police officers were successful in getting Fulbright scholarships and Hubert Humphrey fellowships in the United States in recent years as well. Thus, there is a lot of untapped potential in the country that can help transform the law enforcement institutions.
This week, Asia Society is releasing a report by an independent commission on police reforms in Pakistan that includes contributions from many seasoned and reputed Pakistani police officers, as well as a few American scholars and experts. The report recommends a host of reform measures, with a few key points being:
1. In the face of increased terrorist attacks specifically targeting Pakistan's police, the force has rendered many sacrifices. Two of Pakistan's best police officers - Safwat Ghayur and Malik Saad - died at the hands of suicide bombers. Stories like these demand proper media attention to help drive reform.
2. Focused and targeted international help can play a significant role in enhancing the capacity of Pakistan's law enforcement structure to fight crime as well as terrorism. Technical assistance, training, and modern equipment top this list. Creation of regional mechanisms for sharing of information about organized crime and terrorist networks can enhance Pakistan's standing in the international arena in turn increasing the prospects of such support.
3. The government of Pakistan must provide police with critical technology such as independent facilities for the interception of terrorists' communications, mobile-tracking systems, and telephone call data analysis. Better coordination between police, intelligence organizations and the private sector can make this possible.
4. Legal reform to provide for an effective witness protection system, changes in anti-terrorism law to broaden its scope and a simpler procedure for admissibility of modern types of evidence (e.g., cell phone call data) will strengthen the broader criminal justice system in the country.
5. An improvement in working conditions and salaries and changes to organizational culture would help to create a force that is respected by the people and thus be more effective in maintaining security and stability. The success of the National Highways and Motorway Police is particularly instructive in this respect.
Evidence suggests that a law enforcement model, which by its very nature is linked to rule of law as well as democracy, offers the best bet to confront the menace of terrorism, transnational crime, as well as insurgencies. Placing a priority on law enforcement reform can help Pakistan in more ways than one.
Hassan Abbas is Senior Advisor at Asia Society and Editor of the report "Stabilizing Pakistan Through Police Reforms" being launched by Asia Society on July 24, 2012. He is also Professor at National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs.
This is the third in a series of four posts examining the lessons and implications drawn from the arrest of Zabiuddin Ansari, who played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The first examined the variegated nature of the jihadist threat confronting India today. The second explored the impact of Ansari's revelations regarding the persistence of that threat as well as his affirmation of Indian allegations regarding the Mumbai attacks on the renewed India-Pakistan engagement.
As previous posts made clear, Zabiuddin Ansari is likely providing Indian authorities with all manner of information, which will be picked over and analyzed during the coming months. One fact is immediately clear, however, and that is the Pakistan security establishment remains unwilling to end its support for non-state proxies. In the absence of a policy that succeeds in convincing, cajoling or compelling Pakistan to change its behavior, it has become essential to devise mechanisms to mitigate the external threats from Pakistan-based and Pakistan-supported militants. Even if Pakistan were to make an unambiguous effort to dismantle the militant infrastructure on its soil, such mechanisms would still be necessary in the near term. While a host of states have pursued unilateral measures, calls for international cooperation to manage these threats have also increased. Ansari's story illustrates the importance of this cooperation as well as its limits.
The U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism is more than a decade old, but counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries really accelerated after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The U.S. government only began paying greater attention to Lashkar and its Indian affiliates in the wake of those attacks, while American forensic assistance to India in building a strong case that they were planned in Pakistan catalyzed a willingness in New Delhi to work more closely with Washington. In addition to infusing the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism with new life, the two countries also launched a Homeland Security Dialogue Ministerial in May 2011. Although ample room still exists for improvement, officials in both countries agree that cooperation has increased during the last few years.
Crucially, in the last several years, the United States, India, and the United Kingdom all took steps to facilitate counterterrorism efforts in Bangladesh. Lashkar has networks throughout South Asia and stretching into East Asia, but Bangladesh has historically been the most important staging ground for attacks against India. The group began building up its networks there in the mid-1990s, and Indian operatives played an important role in this effort from the outset. The growth of the indigenous Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) provided another mechanism for supporting attacks in India, which other Pakistan-based groups (including the original HuJI) could attempt to leverage for this purpose as well. Even more important than its role as a staging point for attacks, Bangladesh became an important place of refuge for Indian operatives as well as a transit point to and from Pakistan for men, material, and money. Ansari was among those who took advantage of its role in this regard, fleeing to Bangladesh in 2006 before ultimately moving on to Pakistan.
Since the mid-1990s, control of the government in Dhaka has alternated between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, with a military caretaker government in place from late 2006 through early 2009. The Awami League historically has been friendlier to India and less tolerant of Islamist-cum-jihadist actors than the BNP, but at different times both parties have been guilty of turning a blind eye to jihadist activities aimed at India.
Bangladeshi authorities began cracking down on domestic jihadists like HuJI-B after 2005 when some of them launched a series of bomb blasts across the country. In 2008, the Awami League won a landslide election in which it campaigned on closer ties with India and a promised crackdown on Islamist militancy. Meanwhile, New Delhi was reaching out to improve relations with Dhaka, while the United States offered valuable military and counterterrorism assistance as part of its push to degrade jihadist networks in South Asia. In 2009-2010, Bangladesh counterterrorism efforts expanded to include foreign elements as well. Indian, Bangladeshi, British, and American interlocutors with whom the author met during a recent visit to Dhaka all stressed that since 2010 Bangladesh has become less hospitable terrain. Officials from India and Bangladesh also agreed that counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries coupled with U.S. assistance contributed to this improvement, a view shared by independent experts.
The Persian Gulf, however, has remained fertile soil in terms of a support base for South Asian militancy. U.S. counterterrorism efforts vis-à-vis the Gulf have focused primarily on terrorist threat financing, which is understandable given that a host of jihadist groups rely heavily on fundraising networks there. What is often overlooked is the role the Gulf can play as a logistical and recruitment hub; for Lashkar, its Indian affiliates, and other Pakistan-based groups interested in launching attacks against India. For these reasons, this author has maintained that in terms of containing and degrading the threat from South Asian militancy, particularly Lashkar and its Indian affiliates, greater focus needs to be given to monitoring and infiltrating Gulf-based networks that could be used to recruit operatives or provide logistical support for terrorist attacks.
Recruitment efforts typically focus on Indian Muslims working in the region as part of a diaspora presence that numbers over 1 million. The presence of a Pakistani diaspora, coupled with the large number of South Asians who travel annually to Saudi Arabia for legitimate religious purposes, enables militants to blend in with the masses and makes the Gulf an opportune place for operatives to meet. Several Pakistan-based militant groups have ties with Saudi Arabia dating back to the 1980s, while the Indian crime boss-cum-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, currently sheltering in Pakistan, has provided access to additional networks in places such as the United Arab Emirates. Finally, Riyadh's close relationship with Islamabad meant that anyone found engaging in militant activities was simply sent back to Pakistan provided he was traveling on a Pakistani passport. That is, until Zabiuddin Ansari's arrest in May 2011.
Ansari's arrest and subsequent deportation is an example of how such cooperation should work and the impact it can have. As typically is the case, the details of precisely how Ansari's presence was detected in Saudi Arabia are somewhat opaque. It appears he used an alias known to Indian intelligence to set up a website to inveigle new recruits, but according to Indian officials with whom the author spoke, it was U.S. intelligence that initially zoomed in on him. If so, this suggests that information sharing between the two countries coupled with U.S. capabilities to monitor Internet traffic led to his identification. It is clear that once Ansari's identity was confirmed, the United States asked Saudi authorities to detain him, and then worked in tandem with their Indian counterparts to ensure he was not returned to Pakistan despite carrying a passport from that country. It was more than a year before Ansari was turned over to the Indian authorities.
Saudi Arabia's willingness to deport Ansari to India came despite significant Pakistani protestations - a decision which will be explored in the final post of this series. Three points are important here. First, to reiterate, Ansari's identification, arrest and subsequent deportation to India were the result of greater international counterterrorism cooperation. Second, Ansari appears to be providing Indian authorities with a trove of intelligence about Lashkar and IM operations in Pakistan, India, and possibly the Gulf, which they have pledged to share with the United States This is likely to enable additional monitoring and infiltration of Lashkar and IM networks as well as assisting ongoing investigations. Third, the fact that the Gulf is no longer a guaranteed safe space for operations could have an impact on how militants conduct activities there.
None of this spells the end of the threat posed by Lashkar, the Indian Mujahideen, or other militants based in Pakistan. Bangladesh is a far less viable logistical hub than in the past, but gains there are reversible without continued vigilance. Further, although Ansari's arrest and deportation is significant, the Gulf has not suddenly become a no-go area. Finally, international cooperation is primarily a means of threat containment and mitigation. It is no substitute for action in Pakistan. Such a policy shift is unlikely in the near term, but in addition to reducing the efficacy of Pakistan-based or supported militants, international cooperation should send a message to Pakistan that it risks inviting further isolation.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
we lose, it's going to be because of the civilians."
This pre-emptive attempt to define the epitaph of the Afghanistan war (made by a U.S. official at NATO) could almost be the one-line summary of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America. The author himself spreads the blame even wider. "Our government was incapable of meeting the challenge. Our generals and diplomats were too ambitious and arrogant. Our uniformed and civilian bureaucracies were rife with internal rivalries... Our development experts were inept. Our leaders were distracted."
Little America is a well-researched, clearly-written exposé of the debates, disputes and political skullduggery between those involved in the Afghanistan "surge" in 2009. I found it easy to read: it mixes together comedy, tragedy, suspense and political analysis.
It is inevitably influenced by the people who talked to the author, who include (to judge from the endnotes) a large number of people in or close to the U.S. military; military perspectives predominate. And the losers in the book are more numerous than the winners.
Loser: Little America. It turns out that this project, intended to revitalize Afghanistan's agriculture in Helmand in the 1950s, essentially failed. The story of its failure -- over-ambitious, overfunded projects unsuited to Afghan realities -- is eerily prescient.
Loser: The Afghan Army, which comes across as badly-led and inept. "It's better for us," an Afghan soldier tells Chandrasekaran, "to let the Americans chase the Taliban."
Loser: The civilian surge. The image of drunken party-goers urinating against the outer wall of the U.S. Embassy's political section is hard to forget. But there is a lot of truth in the broader, more serious point. Security rules stopped civilians from engaging with Afghans, making the civilians' presence in Afghanistan in the first place a very expensive exercise in futility.
Loser: USAID. Chandrasekaran describes its bizarre war against the sensible, if
short-term, idea of combating drugs production by subsidising alternative
crops. "Their thinking is all about free trade," a USAID official is quoted
saying about the agency's management. "But what about the goal of keeping
people from shooting at our troops?"
Loser: The Brits and the Canadians. I thought this was going to happen as soon as I read the sentence "British commanders planned to show the Americans... how the pros executed counterinsurgency". As ever, pride came before a fall. By the end of the book, the British are suffering casualties at a higher proportion than the Americans, and are not too proud to ask the Marines for help. The Canadians, who preferred to run Kandahar with far fewer troops than the British and without Marine help, also come in for criticism. (As Chandrasekaran hints, the underlying problem was the original decision that provinces of Afghanistan should each be farmed out to separate NATO allies. Surely, the reader might think, there could have been a better way for NATO allies to work together than this.)
Loser: The chain of command. A U.S. company commander was transferred to a desk job as a punishment. His crime? Posting up remarks made by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. This was apparently an unwise move in a brigade whose commander disagreed with McChrystal's approach. And that wasn't the only time that McChrystal was thwarted by technically more junior staff. The Marines were largely outside his control, thanks to a deal they had made with the Pentagon prior to their deployment to Afghanistan (they reported to a separate, three-star general at US Central Command). McChrystal, despite nominally being the most senior military officer in Afghanistan, wasn't even able to shut down fast-food restaurants at the Kandahar Airfield, which he felt were distractions in a warzone.
Loser: President Obama, whose decision to surge and withdraw comes across as the worst of all worlds - not giving Afghans any reassurance that the Taliban would not come back in a few years' time, while meantime costing tens of billions of dollars and reducing pressure on the Afghan Army to do its job properly. "To many Afghans...more troops meant more insecurity," Chandrasekaran suggests. The book also makes the case that the President was ill-served by bickering among his senior staff.
Winner: The warlords and their militias - presented by Chandrasekaran as brutal and exploitative, but also as effective fighters against the Taliban. Take Spin Boldak police chief Abdul Razziq's militia: "Unlike Afghan army units, many of which needed to be prodded and led into battle, Razziq's troops charged right in."
Winner: Joe Biden, whose proposal of "counterterrorism-plus" in Afghanistan looks to have been dead on. Raids against Taliban commanders could still have continued without pinning down tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the field day after day.
Turning the pages of this book, I felt that I was reading the obituary of muscular nation-building. Chandrasekaran's conclusion suggests not only that America has failed in Afghanistan, but that it was bound to fail. "It wasn't America's war," he concludes.
the reduction in the Pentagon's budget and a shift to East Asia - where the
United States is less likely to get directly involved in combat -
Afghanistan-style interventions may indeed be things of the past. And it's hard
to feel sorry about it after reading this sentence:
"The United States was spending more each year to keep Marine battalions in Nawa and Garmser than it was providing the entire nation of Egypt in military and development assistance."
Nawa and Garmser: population, 160,000; remote agricultural communities; few from the area have ever travelled outside it. Egypt: population, 85 million; highly urbanised and connected by direct flights to the USA; birthplace of modern Islamic militancy and of the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
We need not stop at Nawa and Garmser. The whole operation in Afghanistan departed far from its original objectives, which were to deal a blow to al-Qaeda and reduce its chances of attacking America again. The United States could surely have dealt al-Qaeda a greater blow with the half a trillion dollars that it has spent in Afghanistan, if it had spent a large part of that money elsewhere (Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Mali...). As this book implies, it would have done a better job in Afghanistan, too, if it had spent less money and been more focused on its original goal.
That is what makes me just a little bit more optimistic about Afghanistan than Chandrasekaran. He is giving the war in Afghanistan a fail grade: it was winnable, he says, but the West lost it -- and maybe was bound to lose it, because we just aren't configured to conduct and win such campaigns.
This may be premature. Public discontent with the war and President Obama's determination to pull back combat troops will likely now force a move to a new kind of U.S. presence in Afghanistan -- one that is small-scale, out of the faces of Afghan civilians, and long-term. It may or may not be enough to save Afghanistan from a renewed plunge into civil war; it will almost certainly set a limit on Taliban ambitions and make them keep their distance from al-Qaeda. It makes a great deal more sense than the Sisyphean labors that the United States has set itself for the last six years or so.
Gerard Russell headed the U.K. Government's
outreach efforts to Muslim audiences worldwide after September 11, 2001. He
subsequently worked as a diplomat in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where
he headed the U.K. Government's political team. He was a Research Fellow at
Harvard 2009-10 and is writing a book on religious minorities in the Middle
East, to be published by Basic Books in 2013/14. He is fluent in Dari and Arabic.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst and the editor of the AfPak Channel, sat down with Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post, to talk about his new book Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. Listen here as they discuss whether the American surge strategy worked, the factors hampering Afghanistan's development, Richard Holbrooke's impact on peace talks with the Taliban, and the state of those talks today.
This video was originally published by the New America Foundation here.
In February 2011, Pakistan and India resumed formal peace talks, which New Delhi had broken off following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Although the peace process has sparked cautious optimism among analysts, all of the core issues between the two countries remain and several new ones may be emerging. Moreover, the wounds of Mumbai have yet to heal fully and can still infect the peace process. This was evident when India took custody of Zabiuddin Ansari, an Indian jihadist who joined Lashkar-e-Taiba and played a pivotal role in those attacks. A previous post employed his story to examine the jihadist threats facing India and the role official Pakistani support is believed to play in them. The aim here is to address the impact, if any, on India-Pakistan relations.
Ansari was arrested by Saudi authorities in May 2011, but handed over to India only days prior to last week's bilateral meeting between the countries' foreign secretaries. Indian officials took pains to make clear that Ansari's capture (specifically) and Pakistan's failure to curb terrorism (in general) would not derail the planned meeting. The two sides did make slow progress on several economic issues and it is arguable that for some time the greatest barriers to action on that front have been internal and bureaucratic rather than geopolitical. This should be cause for cautious optimism. Read another way, however, it is emblematic of the limited expectations for this process, the enormous hurdles to be overcome, the delicate balance each side must strike in terms of how to engage, and the domestic dynamics in each country that further complicate the process.
It's helpful to recall that previous attempts at normalizing relations focused too heavily either on engagements at the bureaucratic level or personal initiatives by political leaders. This current phase has sought to combine both approaches, initially aiming to make parallel progress on economic engagement as well as the more intractable problems of settling Kashmir, demobilizing the Siachen Glacier, or satisfying New Delhi's demands for an end to Pakistani support for anti-India militancy. This approach of de-linking economic engagement from normalization on political and security issues in the short term has merit to the degree that the former can be used to built trust and create space for the peace camps that exist in both countries. But it is not without drawbacks, particularly in terms of the potential for mismatched timing and objectives. To date, the slow progress made has come mainly in the area of economic integration.
The Pakistan Army, which still largely controls foreign policy, remains leery of incremental talks that could enable India, the status quo power in Kashmir, to consolidate an economic relationship without budging on territorial disputes. Moreover, although the government in Pakistan is incredibly enfeebled at the moment, such integration could empower either of the main civilian political parties - the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) - in the event that one of them wins the next election, to wrest at least some power from the military. Nevertheless, given Pakistan's struggling economy, strained relations with the United States and failure of its all-weather ally, China, to ride to the financial rescue, the Army is more prepared than in the past to endorse economic engagement with India.
Yet, various members of the Pakistani security establishment maintain that settling territorial disputes cannot take a backseat to such engagement for too long. Once the United States draws down from Afghanistan, there is likely to be a refocusing within Pakistan's security establishment on its neighbor to the east. In the meantime, and as discussed in the previous post, the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) appear to be attempting to restrain Lashkar-e-Taiba from launching another terrorist spectacular along the lines of Mumbai. However, there is no indication that state support for that group or the indigenous jihadist movement in India has ceased. Lashkar's amir Hafiz Saeed continues to enjoy a public pulpit, from which he has declared the mujahideen will resume a "full-scale armed jihad" in Kashmir once the Afghan war is resolved. And on this most recent visit, Pakistan's foreign secretary made a point of meeting with Kashmiri separatists from the Hurriyat Conference the day prior to engaging with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made no secret of his desire for a breakthrough with Pakistan or his desire to accept an invitation to make an official visit to the land of his birth. But he also has acknowledged that, "a visit to Pakistan that does not bear fruit would be of no use," meaning that an agreement on at least one core issue is perceived as necessary in order to make such a trip viable. Resolving a boundary dispute in Sir Creek, located between Singh in Pakistan and Gujarat in India, is arguably the easiest of the core issues to resolve, and the two sides were scheduled to discuss it in May. Shortly before, Pakistan cancelled the talks with no explanation, though the conventional wisdom was that it sought to force progress on Siachen Glacier first. The two sides are further apart on this issue and there is significant opposition within the Indian military, which holds the high ground, to any compromise on it. So it was no surprise when the talks dealing with Siachen in mid-June came to naught.
In lieu of progress on any territorial issues and without much expectation that the Pakistani security establishment will make a significant attempt to dismantle the militant infrastructure, New Delhi is happy to pursue "progress" on issues such as economic integration. As several Indian officials and diplomats sought to make clear to the author, this is not the same as normalization, which they claim can only occur if Pakistan ends its support for jihadist militants who target India. To that end, while pursuing "progress," India also has sought to exert maximum pressure on Pakistan vis-à-vis terrorism.
This approach demands a delicate balance and it is sometimes difficult to determine the degree to which it is carefully calibrated or the result of differing views within the Indian government. Thus, while the Indian external affairs minister was trying to play down the impact of Pakistani inaction against the Mumbai planners and promising the issue would not hold the dialogue hostage, the home minister was holding a press conference in which he proclaimed Ansari's allegations proved Mumbai could not have happened without state support. A month earlier, the Indian home minister, P Chidambaram, declined a Pakistani request to travel to Islamabad to sign a much-awaited liberalized visa agreement as a way of sending the message that Pakistan needed to take action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks.
Ansari has not provided any major new insights into those attacks, but he nevertheless provides India with additional means to pressure Pakistan because of his intimate involvement in planning Mumbai and presence in the control room during the operation. He has reaffirmed much of what was suspected, including the involvement of the same two officers believed to belong to the ISI that David Headley, who conducted reconnaissance for the attacks, identified in his testimony to Indian investigators.
Despite these revelations, Islamabad still insists New Delhi has not provided usable information. Yet, plausible deniability only works as a policy if the denials are in fact plausible. Pakistan's increasingly are not, and its failure to commit fully to prosecuting all of the alleged perpetrators is becoming another major stumbling block to normalizing relations. A conviction of the seven Lashkar members currently on trial is far from certain, and even were it to occur, India has shown no indication that this alone would be an acceptable outcome. New Delhi has said publicly that Pakistani action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks - especially Hafiz Saeed and the two aforementioned ISI officers - would be the "biggest confidence-building measure of all." Privately, Indian diplomats go further and assert that this has become a de facto litmus test regarding the Pakistani security establishment's willingness to end its support for Lashkar.
New Delhi has already won its case in the court of public opinion. Unlike in the 1990s, when Washington and New Delhi held politically disparate positions regarding Pakistani support for militancy, today they are united both on their acceptance of the problem and their inability to find a solution to it. Ultimately, two things must happen for Pakistan's behavior to change. First, the real costs - direct and indirect - of supporting groups like Lashkar must be understood to outweigh the (mis)perceived utility they provide geopolitically and domestically. Second, those who already recognize this is the case must take control of the country's security policy.
Bilateral progress between India and Pakistan, even short of a normalization of relations, is an essential component in this regard. It has the potential to bring real economic benefits to people on both sides of the border and in doing so to begin reshaping the environment. But it will remain a slow process and one beset by numerous challenges - foreign and domestic, political and bureaucratic. On its own, Ansari's deportation to India prior to the foreign secretaries meeting was a bump in the road, and the information he provided in the days that followed is unlikely to have taken any of the key players on either side by surprise. This in and of itself, however, is a symptom of just how far the two countries have to go and the way in which new issues, like Mumbai, can make overcoming those that are already difficult to surmount all the more difficult. In the meantime, containing the threat from Pakistani militants will require the type of international coordination, described in the next post, that led to Ansari's capture and deportation.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
During the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which Pakistan-based handlers from Lashkar-e-Taiba provided instructions via voice-over-internet protocol communications, Indian intelligence heard an individual speaking with a Mumbai accent directing some of the gunmen on the ground. Last year that same voice was heard again - this time in Saudi Arabia. It belongs to Zabiuddin Ansari (a.k.a. Abu Jundal, a.k.a. Abu Hamza) who Saudi forces arrested in May 2011 and finally turned over to the Indian authorities two weeks ago.
Ansari is proving to be a treasure trove of information regarding past attacks against India, most notably the 10-person assault on Mumbai for which he also helped to prepare the attackers. This understandably has been big news in India, as has Ansari's connections to the Indian Mujahideen network that has claimed a slew of bombings since 2005. However, his story, which began in a small village in Maharashtra's Beed district and reached a crescendo with his arrest by Saudi authorities and subsequent deportation to India, despite significant Pakistani protestations, has wider implications.
To begin with, this development comes amidst a warming in India-Pakistan relations. Early indications suggest that New Delhi will leverage information from Ansari's arrest to pressure Pakistan, albeit with minimal expectations of a positive result. However, the Indian government appears intent that the fallout should not stand in the way of progress on issues such as economic integration, even as territorial disputes and Pakistani support for militancy help keep full normalization out of reach. While it is unclear how long such an approach can last, it is notable that this thaw has been accompanied by intensified counterterrorism cooperation with the United States and various regional actors. Indeed, the most significant aspect of Ansari's arrest and deportation may be that it came at the hands of one of Pakistan's most reliable allies, Saudi Arabia. Such cooperation is intrinsically connected to Pakistan's increasing isolation at a time when India is an emerging global player with growing clout.
Thus, Ansari's arrest provides a prism through which to examine several inter-related issues: the variegated nature of the jihadist threat confronting India today, and the roles that both a small number of Indians and Pakistani state support play in it; how incidents such as this one impact the renewed India-Pakistan engagement; the feasibility of containing Pakistan-based or supported militants via enhanced international counter-terrorism cooperation in the absence of a serious commitment by the Pakistani state to dismantle the jihadist infrastructure on its soil; and Pakistan's increasing international isolation, primarily as a result of growing concerns about its inability or unwillingness to dismantle that infrastructure. This is the first of four articles intended to address these issues and it aims to contextualize the jihadist threat facing India today.
The full story behind Ansari's entrance into militancy is still obscure, but in the words of one Indian journalist, "it is likely that part of the answer lies in the communal violence which formed an organic part of the cultural fabric of his early life." Thus it appears he was part of a small number, in relative and absolute terms, of Indian Muslims motivated to wage jihad against their homeland as a means of exacting revenge for socio-economic deprivation and communal pogroms perpetrated by elements of the Hindu majority.
Some of these would-be Indian militants linked up directly with Pakistani groups like Lashkar, while others began joining India-based cells that simply benefited from Pakistani support. Since 2007, these Indian modules have been known as the Indian Mujahideen, which is best understood as a label for a diffuse and protean network rather than as a proper organization. While one can distinguish between Indians who join Lashkar and those that belong to an IM-branded module, in practice there is significant interplay between the two. Most of the jihadist attacks against India in recent years have been executed either by Indians working directly for Lashkar, those belonging to the IM, or a hybrid of the two. Incidents of expeditionary terrorism, in which Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar deploy Pakistanis to execute terrorist strikes such as the 2008 Mumbai attacks, may be the highest profile threat to India. But these attacks are also the most rare.
There are several reasons for this. First, in some cases Indians may be acting almost entirely on their own, albeit possibly with some form of foreign support, which means they strike when the opportunity presents itself. Second, in those instances when they are working with Pakistan-based actors, Indian operatives are able to move more freely than their Pakistani brethren and so provide greater operational utility. Third, interlocutors in the U.S. and Indian governments believe the ISI is putting pressure on Lashkar to refrain from deploying Pakistani operatives, particularly since the international opprobrium that followed Mumbai. Fourth, according to one Lashkar official interviewed by the author in Pakistan in July 2011, a growing number of Indian Muslims are assuming operational roles in the group, enabling greater collaboration with indigenous actors in India. Hence, it is not surprising that Ansari was arrested in Saudi Arabia, where more than a million members of the Indian diaspora live, while on a mission to recruit more of his countrymen for future attacks.
The domestic grievances motivating would-be Indian militants pose difficult questions for India. However, it is impossible to overlook Pakistan's role in promoting and sustaining these actors. Indian authorities assert that ISI support for Indian militants includes the provision of training, financing, explosives, and logistical support such as false passports like the one Ansari was carrying when arrested. It also entails providing safe haven for Indian operatives, again like Ansari, who fled to Pakistan via Bangladesh in 2006 and allegedly confirmed that others like him are still sheltering in Karachi and continuing to plan terrorist operations.
Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, among others, has admitted the country can no longer point to cross-border modules as the source of all jihadist violence in India, and must acknowledge the role a small number of its own citizens play. Yet India also points to Pakistan's continued support for these actors and assert that its willingness to provide safe haven to some of them enables the ISI to exert direct influence over the Indian Mujahideen. Thus, Chidambaram admitted Ansari was an Indian radicalized in India, but also called on Pakistan to admit he was given safe haven there and played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Notably, Ansari claims his initial task was to provide Hindi lessons to the Mumbai assault team in order to pass off the operation as the work of Indian jihadists.
True or false, this allegation contributes to the belief among many Indian officials and analysts that Lashkar and its ISI patrons are cultivating Indian operatives in part because they provide a greater level of deniability for Pakistan. It also helps to explain why many Indian officials with whom the author spoke during the past several weeks make only a minimal distinction between the IM and Lashkar, viewing both as tools of the Pakistani state. Ansari's revelations regarding the involvement of officers allegedly working with the ISI in the planning and execution of the 2008 Mumbai attacks have reinforced this perception. Yet contrary to the evidence, Pakistani officials insists no state actors - rogue or otherwise - were involved in Mumbai and that such accusations are designed to malign the ISI.
India has stated publicly that Pakistani action against all of the Mumbai perpetrators would be the greatest confidence-building measure, but when the author spoke with high-ranking officials in New Delhi following Ansari's arrest, none expressed any hope that such action would be forthcoming. Such low expectations did not keep the argument over Ansari and the information he has provided from overshadowing other bilateral issues when foreign secretaries from the two countries met several days prior. Still, despite the Ansari issue clouding the talks, the two managed to touch upon additional topics and to pursue limited progress in improving bilateral ties. The next piece in this series will explore this process and the impact events like Ansari's arrest have on it.
Ten years after the first Afghanistan reconstruction conference was held in Tokyo in 2002, Japan will host a second donors' gathering on July 8 to formulate a strategy to ensure the sustainable development of Afghanistan beyond 2014 - the date set for NATO's withdrawal. Tokyo 1 took place at a time of high hope, a clean slate, and enthusiasm for engagement, but almost no assessment of the gargantuan rebuilding task to be undertaken in a country devastated by more than two decades of warfare. There also was no insurgency to worry about. Tokyo 2 is happening at a time of uncertainty and donor fatigue, but at least the stakeholders now have a vast (and expensive) database to work with. However, the most conspicuous feature Afghans and donors will face next week and beyond, is the fragility permeating the Afghan security, political and economic sectors. Furthermore, the Taliban are now viewed as a real threat to stability.
This is not to say that Afghanistan, a country with a strong society and a weak state, is about to collapse or be engulfed in civil war, as some dramatically predict, but it is to highlight the very real concerns that Afghans have about their predicament, knowing that too much money (and generosity) resulted in less than desired outcomes on all three fronts. Not only are there serious lessons, especially in regards to contracting and prioritization, to be learned about the international side of the engagement since 2002, but also about the Afghan absorption, management and accountability sides as well.
Although the Afghan economy's growth rate has hovered around an average of 8% per annum for the past nine years, income per capita has tripled to more than $520, life expectancy and child and maternal deaths have improved considerably, more than 8 million children have access to education, domestic revenue has increased eight-fold since 2002, and the country's telecommunication and energy connections are impressive, there is still angst about an unresponsive government, a donor-led economy, and a nagging insurgency.
The Afghan ministerial delegation, led by then-interim chairman Hamid Karzai, headed to Tokyo 1 with a short wish list to present to a receptive community of donors, but it did not prioritize key sectors like agriculture, power and water, or institution and capacity building. The main focus was on road building. It took nearly five more years to focus on agriculture and power. The emphasis this time around should be on infrastructure, institution and human capital buildup
Initially, the footprint adopted for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan was light and small. With the re-emergence of Taliban militias from their cross-border hideouts by 2005, and a realization that the impoverished nation needed a more robust effort to make up for two generations of destruction and lack of development in all sectors, a heavier footprint and grander financial investment became necessary to make a difference.
As aid and troop inflows reached new heights by 2010-11, economic, political and public opinion expediencies in major donor nations resulted in a strategic about-face to lower expenditures and start the withdrawal process - some would argue prematurely - anchored in hopes that a half-cooked reconciliation process aimed partly at re-integrating the Taliban would be easily reached. In a country where more than 95% of the local economy is dependent on military spending, American development aid alone has been cut nearly in half this year, from $4.1 billion to $2.5 billion.
Today, as donors gather in Tokyo 2 to pledge once again to support the Afghan economy beyond 2014, Afghanistan stands at a precarious crossroads, either leading toward business-as-usual, a path to serious reform and overhaul, or worsening conditions.
There are two critical goals:
1. Avoiding a repeat of the early 1990s collapse of the communist regime, partly as a result of money supplies running dry from Moscow;
2. Avoiding a repeat of the last 1o years in terms of weak strategizing, weak coordination, less-than-adequate prioritization, mismanagement, waste, graft, nepotism, impunity, and fraud. The fact that after all these years, Afghan state institutions are still having major difficulties with the expenditure of their development budget is a sign of structural dissonance, low capacity, and weak middle-to-upper management skills. Unprofessional auditing systems have given rise to political manipulation.
The immediate remedy is not just about channeling a greater percentage of foreign aid through government channels (although that has to be a consideration), it is about competent leadership at the helm of weak institutions who can restructure and assure fiscal discipline by adopting result-oriented strategies.
The trust factor has eroded so deeply between government and the public, and between the donors and Afghan authorities, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to initiate real reforms, fight corruption (starting at higher levels) and adopt better governance practices. The rebound requires a major effort on the part of the Afghan government to implement widespread consultation and participatory decision-making in order to rebuild confidence.
It is expected that discussions at Tokyo 2 will also focus on regional integration and cooperation. While Afghan security challenges are fed by neighborhood players, all efforts should be made to prevent an economic relapse post-2014 and facilitate a democratic and peaceful transfer of power.
As Afghanistan aims to exploit its underground mineral wealth and oil and gas reserves - to a large extent subject to relative peace and stability - and serve as the regional linkage for the "new silk road," it will be incumbent upon the authorities to adopt laws on access to information, and set up credible watchdog functions, and for all sides to follow strict rules pertaining to transparency, accountability, and environmental and cultural sensitivity.
In the Afghan context, reform requires political will, a competent and committed team, as well as a belief in good governance and rule of law, in creating effective partnerships across international, communal and private, public alignments, and in designing smart and sustainable projects that take into consideration the needs and rights of communities, including women, girls, and minorities.
The Afghan government will reportedly make a request for almost $4 billion of annual aid until 2025, and will agree to sign off on a "Mutual Accountability Framework" spelling out obligations on all sides.
Tokyo 2 needs to make use of best practices and agree on what constitutes a priority program. Donors also need to assure sustainability of all projects proposed by the Afghan side as part of the more than 20 programs that will require funding. There will be a requirement to put in place functional follow-up mechanisms and track established benchmarks.
While the international community takes yet another step to affirm its long-term commitment to Afghanistan -- following the Chicago NATO summit in May and the Bonn 2 conference last December -- Afghanistan will need to give assurances that it is adopting a reformist agenda that not only would enable all transitions to succeed but would make Afghanistan more self-sufficient within in a more stable region. Together they need to reduce the risks inherent to fragility.
Omar Samad is Senior Afghanistan Expert at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. Formerly, he served as Afghanistan's Ambassador to France (2009-2011) and Canada (2004-2009). He was spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry between 2001-2004.
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In mid-June, after the fifth drone strike in two weeks, militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan resorted to taking hostages. No Americans being readily available, Bahadur decided that the Western-funded effort to eradicate polio would suffice, declaring a ban on vaccinations until U.S. drone strikes cease. Militant leader Mullah Nazir of South Waziristan soon followed suit, announcing his own ban on June 26th.
From Bahadur's perspective, there is something to the argument that drone strikes do more damage than polio. North Waziristan suffered from only 14 new polio cases last year, even as U.S. drone strikes killed over 250 of its residents, many of them armed militants allied with Bahadur. Of course, that these same militants are in fact largely responsible for both the mayhem and the public health crisis in Waziristan likely doesn't enter into Bahadur's calculations. As it stands, however, the polio vaccination campaign in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) matters more to outsiders than it does to the tribal areas' residents themselves, and as such it provides a tempting target for militant groups desperate for any kind of leverage over the United States.
Bahadur's and Nazir's bans fit into a broader pattern of Pakistani militants using intimidation and violence to halt polio vaccination campaigns in FATA. Militants have long spread rumors that the vaccines are part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize or poison Muslims, leading to high rates of vaccination refusal. Extremist groups have specifically targeted health workers for kidnapping or assassination, killing the head of the polio vaccination campaign in Bajaur in 2007.
The United States stands behind both drone strikes and health programs in FATA, blurring the lines between the two. This has always created tension, as seen in the debate over USAID's on-again/off-again demand that its programs in FATA be overtly branded as "from the American people," even as those carrying out such programs are labeled as spies and targeted by militants. Suspicions of U.S.-funded health programs have been compounded by revelations that CIA informant Dr. Shakil Afridi attempted to collect information on Osama bin Laden's family in Abbottabad under the guise of a vaccination campaign.
Pakistan's remaining polio sanctuaries have become closely linked with anti-Western militancy and pose a growing challenge to the worldwide effort to eradicate polio. Globally, this effort has succeeded in reducing the annual incidence of polio from over 350,000 cases in 1988 to less than 700 in 2011. The eradication campaign has foundered with the increase in militancy in Pakistan, however, as polio cases there have risen each year since 2005. Last year Pakistan was responsible for more cases than any other country, most of which were concentrated in the Pashto-speaking areas along the Afghan border, including Waziristan.
Polio can easily spread from the tribal areas to elsewhere in the country. Labor migration and conflict have resulted in regular movement between Waziristan and Karachi, where polio has repeatedly surfaced. From the sprawling port city's volatile slums the disease can spread onward, back to India, Bangladesh, and other countries which earlier rid themselves - at least temporarily - of polio. This potential danger was underscored in late 2011, when the World Health Organization traced China's first polio outbreak in ten years back to Pakistan.
In addition to Pakistan, polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan and Nigeria. In all three countries it occurs nearly exclusively in Muslim areas home to anti-Western insurgencies. Polio persists here for two reasons: militants deny vaccination teams access to areas under their control and parents refuse to let their children be vaccinated. Both of these can be traced back to fears that vaccination is part of an anti-Muslim plot. These fears, however laughable they may appear to outsiders, need to be taken seriously.
The global campaign must be transformed into a Muslim-led effort if it is to eradicate polio from these remaining sanctuaries. Through no fault of their own, the World Health Organization's director for Global Polio Eradication, Dr. Bruce Aylward, and representative in Pakistan, Dr. Guido Sabatinelli, are no longer the most effective choices for the campaign's visible leadership. Polio has been eradicated in Muslim-majority countries as varied as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Tajikistan, leaving behind a capable cadre of public health officials who could take over such posts.
Western funding and technical support will remain necessary,
but it should be discretely channeled through the World Bank or World Health
Organization. The United States in particular must publicly disassociate itself
from the vaccination effort. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation needs to
help provide funds for polio eradication, securing at least token donations
from all its poorer member states and significant amounts from the wealthier
members. Polio concerns all Muslim-majority countries; if eradication continues
to falter it is only a matter of time before the annual Hajj pilgrimage, attracting
hundreds of thousands of Muslims from across the world, becomes a site of polio
At the national level, Pakistan must continue its efforts to brand polio vaccination as Islamic. Some progress has already been made in securing the support of religious and nationalist leaders such as Imran Khan and Fazlur Rehman. International religious figures popular among FATA Pashtuns, including Dr. Zakir Naik of India and Imam Abdul Rehman al-Sudais of Saudi Arabia should also be encouraged to lend public support to Pakistan's eradication efforts. If jihadist figures such as Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba are willing to pose for photo-ops giving oral vaccination drops to three year olds, that too would be helpful.
For FATA residents to care about polio vaccination, this public relations campaign should be expanded to include health issues with a more immediate and devastating impact. In 2002, the World Health Organization found that tetanus was responsible for over a fifth of all infant mortality in FATA. Taking into account population and birth rate estimates, this suggests a rough figure of at least two thousand infants in FATA dying every year from tetanus alone, which is easily prevented with proper vaccinations for expecting mothers. The same militants who have banned the anti-polio campaign have also kept health workers from saving these and the thousands of other children who die from preventable diseases in FATA. The tribal areas' residents should be enlisted in the effort to pressure militants to cease banning health programs as a weapon in their struggle against the Pakistani Government and the United States. To do this requires speaking to their concerns and assuaging their fears of foreign-funded vaccination campaigns.
Events along the remote Afghanistan-Pakistan border have a global impact for two reasons: terrorism and polio. Despite Bahadur's and Nazir's threats, U.S. drone strikes will continue in Waziristan, and perhaps the tribal areas will eventually fade as a center of anti-Western terrorism. In order for polio eradication to succeed, however, it must be separated from the United States and its drone strikes. It will be much easier to make the polio eradication campaign Islamic than it will be to erase anti-Western sentiment in FATA and other polio-endemic areas. Only by handing over the reins - and the credit - for polio eradication to Muslims, will Waziri, Pakistani, and American children together live in a polio-free world.
Sean Mann is currently in the Masters of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University. He speaks Pashto, and recently spent a year conducting research on the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
Afghanistan since the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001 has been subjected to a plethora of high-profile international meetings, occurring with increasing frequency in recent years. It seems that no other conflict-affected developing country has been as "meeting-ized" as Afghanistan. With the Chicago NATO Summit focused on Afghanistan's security recently held in May, the "Heart of Asia" Ministerial Conference in Kabul in June, the Tokyo conference on development in July, and the possibility of follow-up meetings already being discussed, it might be useful to step back and review this experience as has been done in a recent paper.
The current flurry of meetings is occurring in a context of declining international troops and financial resources for Afghanistan, whereas in earlier years the international engagement was being maintained or increased. But the lessons from the past decade's numerous events remain highly relevant. The meetings have been successful in keeping international attention focused on Afghanistan, eliciting financial support, demonstrating inclusiveness and providing a "seat at the table" for all partners, generating good strategic documents, and providing a forum for the Afghan government. However, there have been many problems:
In the future, the effectiveness of these meetings could be increased by: (1) keeping to realistic expectations about what meetings can accomplish; (2) not expecting meetings to substitute for difficult decisions and hard actions; (3) having substantive meeting agendas, avoiding complete co-optation by diplomatic priorities, and maintaining discipline in shaping the agenda; (4) matching meeting objectives with the main issue(s) the meeting is supposed to address; (5) ensuring quality background work for meetings; (6) focusing on key areas and a few simple, monitorable benchmarks; and (7) keeping the number and frequency of meetings manageable.
Turning to the most recent and upcoming meetings, the Chicago NATO Summit on security during May 20-21 did succeed in coming out with a consensus overall figure for the total cost of the Afghan security sector in future years. However, donor pledges fell short of fully covering the international portion of this amount, with some donors not yet being in a position to make pledges. Moreover, beyond the financial cost a whole range of non-financial issues and problems plague Afghanistan's security sector, which pose big question marks for the success of the security transition in coming years.
The recent "Heart of Asia" meeting in Kabul on June 14 well illustrates the limitations of such meetings. It is one of a long series of meetings on regional issues (some focused on regional economic development and trade, others on political and security relationships, still others on border controls and drugs) which have not accomplished a great deal in substantive terms. This latest meeting, a follow-up to the high-profile Istanbul meeting on regional security last November, did bring together the key regional players plus Afghanistan's more distant partners and related international organizations, but it did not seem to generate much in the way of concrete progress. This is not surprising given the geopolitical fault lines and sharply diverging interests and relationships represented at the meeting-ranging from Iran to Russia, India, China, Pakistan, the USA, and others-which make this one of the most difficult parts of the world for achieving real progress on regional cooperation in political, security, or economic dimensions. These realities belie the optimistic pronouncements on Afghanistan as a "land bridge" in Central Asia or the hopes for a "new Silk Road".
Finally, the upcoming Tokyo meeting is intended to set the longer-term development agenda for Afghanistan, with a 10-year time horizon beyond then-i.e. for the "decade of transformation" following the 2011-2014 transition. While taking a longer-term perspective on Afghanistan is important, this soaring rhetoric may distract from the key question of whether the transition will go well enough-politically, economically, and security-wise-that the country will be in a position to achieve rapid development progress post-2014. In addition, based on the experience with past similar high-profile meetings there are a number of issues, a few of which are outlined below:
William Byrd is a visiting senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace. He participated in and was involved in the preparations for many of the high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan over the past 10-plus years. The views expressed here are his own.
Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA track down the world's most wanted man in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, is undergoing a 33-year jail term on charges of lending financial and physical support to a banned militant outfit in Khyber, one of the seven tribal districts partly overrun by the Taliban and their supporters. Afridi's punishment -- which many see as merely retribution by the Pakistani government (as opposed to a normal court proceeding) for his cooperation with the United States' intelligence community -- came exactly a year after he was subjected to secret Pakistani interrogations and under the legal auspices of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
The colonial-era law has been under serious criticism from civil society representatives in Pakistan and human rights organization both inside the country and abroad because a number of its clauses are in violation of basic human rights. Although the elected Pakistani government has boasted of introducing reforms in the tribal areas and amending the FCR, Afridi's "trial" has exposed the grim reality of a judicial system where an individual can be sentenced while denied the proper recourse to defense. However, the illegitimacy of these charges against Afridi only masks a far more complex state of affairs.
Before being whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agents on May 23, 2011 in the outskirts of the tribal Khyber Agency and his subsequent court appearance a year later, Afridi had already once experienced something similar when he was brought blindfolded to the warlord Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam.
It must have been déjà vu.
In 2008, he was arrested and presented before Mangal Bagh under the shadows of guns and bayonets and was asked to explain why he did not provide medical treatment at the time to Lashkar-e-Islam militants after battle. Afridi was lucky, at least at that time, that one militant testified before Mangal Bagh that the doctor had treated him well when he (the militant) visited the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Dogra after receiving a bullet injury. The statement saved Afridi's life but his family had to procure a payment of two million rupees, roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars (obviously a hefty sum for an average Pakistani family) to win his release.
In 2008, Afridi stood alone before a warlord without any counsel and without any right even to speak in self-defense. The judge, the counsel, and the plaintiff were one person -- Mangal Bagh. Four years later, Afridi found himself faced with a similar situation. This time he was presented before an officer of the Pakistani state. But again he found himself without counsel and without a chance to speak in his own defense. And this was the court of the Assistant Political Agent (APA), who charged him for his "close links with defunct Lashkar-e-Islam and his love for Mangal Bagh."
If it was really a "love", then much better to call it "love under duress", as living and serving in Bara, a town located less than 15 miles from Peshawar and a fiefdom of Mangal Bagh, requires one to have ample courage and strength.
The clear and cruel paradox in Afridi's case is that the state of Pakistan found him guilty of involvement in anti-state activities by "providing medical assistance" to militants of the very group that charged and punished him before for not sufficiently aiding their efforts -- and who subsequently robbed him of his family's wealth. If payment of a ransom to save one's life -- or the lives of his family -- from a group of thugs and its elusive leadership is an anti-state act, then roughly half of the tribal area's population could be charged under the offense and punished along the lines of Afridi.
Furthermore, if we applied the same investigation process used against Afridi to some in the state security agencies then it wouldn't be hard to establish links between certain sitting members of parliament from FATA and militant outfits. It was the Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam that issued a fare list for transporters and a code of conduct for candidates contesting the 2008 general elections from the Khyber Agency. Interestingly, no state security agency, not even the powerful army involved in the tribal areas over the past 10 years, seemed to notice Magal Bagh and his army of volunteers running a parallel state by imposing fines, forcing people to pray five times a day, punishing men for walking bareheaded, kidnapping people for ransom, and carrying out executions.
The more pertinent question one must ask is whether Afridi's "links" with Manal Bagh was the real charge against him? It has been clear from the time of his arrest soon after the May 2 raid in Abbottabad and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the answer is definitively "no". That Afridi, being a citizen of Pakistan and employee of the state, worked for a foreign intelligence agency is in no way an act that could be defended. But for reasons well known, he was not tried under those charges. Rather, he was implicated in a low-hanging fruit charge of a ludicrous association with a group that once abducted and fined him two million rupees -- thus raising more questions about Pakistan's sincerity in fighting militants in the country.
The two verdicts handed down to Afridi -- one by Mangal Bagh in 2008 for not providing medical assistance to his men, and the second by the Pakistani state in 2012 for "providing medical and financial assistance" to militants -- are enough for the international community to understand the dilemma of tribesmen sandwiched between the state security agencies and the militants.
For years, tribesmen have looked to their government and state security agencies for protection against the groups of thugs operating in their areas, and have at times taken up arms to fight. Yet they find scant change in their circumstances. Is it little wonder that they invariably surrender and sometimes even agree to "support" militants, in the way Dr. Afridi did?
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The reported killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi in a U.S. drone strike on the morning of June 4 in the town of Mir Ali, North Waziristan, if confirmed, is a significant loss for Al-Qaeda Central (AQC), and comes at a tumultuous time for the militant organization. U.S. government officials announced a day after the missile strike that Abu Yahya, whose real name is Hasan Muhammad Qa'id, had been killed, though official confirmation has not yet come from AQC itself. Within the organization Abu Yahya served as its chief juridical voice, whose job was to justify, support, and defend its ideological positions. He was also at the forefront of the global jihadi movement as one of the juridical and ideological architects of AQC's positions, particularly vis-à-vis the Pakistani government and military. Abu Yahya's influence extends to AQC's regional affiliates such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al-Shabab in Somalia. The United Nations Security Council noted in September 2011 when it added him to its sanctions list that he was also a key strategist and field commander for AQC in Afghanistan. His loss would be a significant blow to both AQC and the wider transnational jihadi current.
The June 5, 2012 drone strike that killed Abu Yahya al-Libi is a major milestone in America's long-term effort to break the back of al-Qaida's general command. With Abu Yahya al-Libi's death, al-Qaida has lost its last great unifier, a man who possessed the rare talents and credentials to keep an inherently unwieldy global movement on track and in line. Without their ideological enforcer standing guard, the various al-Qaida affiliates and militants will invariably begin to wander off al-Qaida's sanctioned path.
Although depicted by the U.S. government as al-Qaida's "number two," his role as an administrator was hardly what made him so critical to al-Qaida. Abu Yahya al-Libi will be remembered within al-Qaida's circles as one of their staunchest ideological defenders, uncompromising internal whips and charismatic, populist leaders. He epitomized the "mujahid shaykh" archetype, one of only a handful of leaders who al-Qaida's rank-in-file intellectually revered, emotionally loved and religiously emulated.
A revolutionary to his core, the bureaucratic success of the al-Qaida organization was never Abu Yahya's end goal. Al-Qaida was a matter of convenience, a ready-made architecture that he almost begrudgingly joined after escaping from an American military prison in July 2005. As the last group standing, al-Qaida would be Abu Yahya's best chance for advancing his agenda, one that far exceeded the goals of even al-Qaida's top brass. Abu Yahya not only wanted to get the Americans out and tear Arab regimes down, he wanted to remake Islam from the inside. Abu Yahya was an intellectual insurgent of Machiavellian proportions.
For most of his early career, Abu Yahya was of the same mind about al-Qaida as many of his Libyan jihadist compatriots who joined the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Osama bin Laden was a man to be respected from arms-length. His deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, could not be trusted, and should be avoided. Instead, Abu Yahya - whose real name is Hasan Qaid, dedicated the next ten years of his life to gaining the religious knowledge he needed to help support the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's (LIFG) cause to oust Muammar Gaddafi and implement Shariah in Libya.
Under the moniker Younis al-Sahrawi, Abu Yahya did at least two separate stints in Mauritania during the mid-1990s studying under heavyweight hardline Salafi shaykhs. The combination of his natural intellect, easygoing populist appeal, and this formal religious credentialing vaulted him into the LIFG's upper echelon. Returning to Afghanistan in the late-1990s with many of his Libyan jihadist colleagues, Abu Yahya forged close bonds with the Taliban's media and public relations managers, even serving as one of their webmasters in 2000-2001. He would be arrested in his Karachi flat in 2002 by Pakistani security forces, who transferred him to American custody, eventually landing him back in Afghanistan in one of America's most tightly guarded military prisons at Bagram.
After spending three years in American custody, Abu Yahya and three colleagues staged a daring jailbreak from Bagram in July 2005, which would mark the beginning of his meteoric rise to global jihadist stardom. At this time, al-Qaida's brand was getting hammered. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's gratuitous use of violence in Iraq and Jordan had provoked a catastrophic public relations backlash for the organization. Then al-Qaida number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, tried to control the damage through a recalibration of al-Qaida's public messaging and a sternly phrased letter to Zarqawi, but neither was enough. Without a heavy-hitting religious defense, usually provided by a troika of Saudi shaykhs who by then had all been jailed, al-Qaida could not make a meaningful religious defense. They needed an in-house shaykh who had the charisma and media-savvy to push back against external critics and internal miscreants. Enter Abu Yahya al-Libi.
His initial post-escape media appearances on a Taliban-affiliated media outlet, Labaik Media, reflected Abu Yahya's reticence to officially link himself to al-Qaida's organizational apparatus. In December 2005, Abu Yahya penned his own letter to his longstanding personal friend Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That relationship, combined with Abu Yahya's clerical gravitas and a follow-on letter from another respected Libyan, Atiyah abd al-Rahman, helped muzzle Zarqawi in a way that Zawahiri was not able to do alone.
It would not be until 2006 that Abu Yahya decided to appear under the auspices of al-Qaida's official media outlet, As-Sahab. Some of the prodding to play a formal role in al-Qaida likely came from his close friend and confidant, Abu Laith al-Libi, who not long after would announce the formal merger of his offshoot of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group with al-Qaida. By 2006, Abu Yahya was releasing new products at a feverish pace, each one seeming to up the ante in its extremism, absolutism and militancy.
Abu Yahya's decision to shift from his local focus on Libyan Islamist militancy to that of al-Qaida's global jihadist terrorism may have been an outgrowth of his personal need for vengeance against the United States for the treatment he claims that he endured while in captivity, three years of conversations with other detainees about their treatment and experiences with the United States, and a pragmatic realization that al-Qaida was the only game in town with any real chance at mobilizing a global revolution. Whatever the case, it was precisely the kind of intellectual sophistication and scholarly depth for which al-Qaida had been so desperate.
In the short six years that Abu Yahya al-Libi had been affiliated with al-Qaida, he helped resuscitate the senior leadership, which had been operationally defeated and religiously battered. He breathed new life into their ideology and restored their position as the vanguard of al-Qaida's global movement. His importance to al-Qaida cannot be overstated and, therefore, neither can the impact of his death on its future.
A near-term uptick in al-Qaida affiliate attacks on soft targets would not be surprising - neither would increased levels of in-fighting within and across the multiple levels of al-Qaida's global movement. With no one left to check the zealotry of al-Qaida's eager but undisciplined young generation, the future of al-Qaida without Abu Yahya will be more chaotic and interested in using violence for the sake of violence. All the public relations efforts that the senior leadership have made in recent years to spin al-Qaida as a kinder, gentler movement will be squandered, eventually culminating in the dissolution of what limited coherence al-Qaida's global movement has managed to maintain.
Jarret Brachman is a counterterrorism expert currently on faculty at North Dakota State University.
NATO's plan to transition Afghanistan to Afghan security control by the end
of 2014 offers an unexpected but potentially golden opportunity for the United States
and its allies to rectify, or at least improve, their strategy towards Pakistan.
In the midst of major budget cuts and a reorientation of our global footprint
away from Iraq and Afghanistan, Western leaders -- and particularly the U.S.
Congress -- are already tempted to reduce support to a country that can at best be
considered a fair-weather friend. But over the next several years, the
United States and NATO will be offered a chance to help Pakistan establish a
functioning civil society without the complications of a Western-led counterinsurgency
campaign across the border.
One benefit of reducing NATO's military presence in Afghanistan is that it will make it easier for the U.S. and allied governments to support entities in Pakistan in addition to the Government of Pakistan itself, particularly non-governmental organizations. At the same time, it will make accepting that assistance more palatable to Pakistanis, many of whom believe NATO's war has wrought violence and destruction upon their country. While foreign aid is far from guaranteed to achieve its intended results in Pakistan (or anywhere), effective assistance to Pakistan's civil society, in combination with increased access to foreign markets and improvements in security, is the tool most likely to help Pakistanis slow the slide toward failed nuclear statehood. With a fast-growing population of disenfranchised and radicalized youth, that scenario represents a clear threat to Western interests as well as Pakistan itself.
Over the course of a ten-year war in Afghanistan, the United States and allied governments steadily increased assistance to the government of Pakistan, reducing it only after the death of Osama bin Laden and Pakistan's indignant response. From the United States alone, direct overt aid and military reimbursements ballooned from $1.99 billion in 2002 to $4.29 billion in 2010. This number dropped to $2.37 billion in 2011 following a slow deterioration of relations that hit rock-bottom with the bin Laden raid on May 2 and has continued to slip over issues like NATO supply lines and cross-border incidents. The majority of this decrease has been made up of security assistance, and specifically Coalition Support Funds (CSF), which are used to reimburse Pakistan for military operations undertaken in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the United States was explicit in its statements of expectations for Pakistani cooperation, and confidence in Pakistan's support for U.S. efforts ran high through early 2002. By early 2003, however, President Karzai was intimating that Pakistan might be behind some Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan, or at least that Pakistan harbored those who were conducting them. The U.S. press was regularly reporting such accusations - including cryptic quotes from anonymous U.S. officials -- by mid-2004, and in July 2008, U.S. officials were all but confirming that Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was supporting Taliban groups.
Thus, the majority of U.S. assistance was ultimately provided
in spite of what many perceived as a contradiction between what Pakistan said
("we're on your side in Afghanistan; your terrorists are our
terrorists"), and what their actions seemed to convey ("we are
primarily concerned with our terrorists and may go as far as supporting those
who attack your soldiers if it will protect our interests in Kabul").
These misgivings were felt broadly inside the U.S. government, reaching as high
as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen who, after
years of staunch support for Pakistan, famously called the Haqqani Network a "veritable
arm of the ISI." But Pakistan's military cooperation along the border
combined with critical assistance on counterterrorism made providing almost
anything worth the cost, even while many knew the assistance relationship was
This calculus must shift as NATO reduces its footprint in Afghanistan. The United States and NATO will still need the Government of Pakistan's cooperation on certain issues, particularly counterterrorism, but also ensuring supplies reach the Special Operations and intelligence personnel remaining in Afghanistan after the bulk of the forces withdraw. Maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because they are important regional actors and arbiters of access for personnel, official and otherwise. Improving the Pakistan military's ability to control its territory will also remain important as long as insurgent groups - not to mention al-Qaeda - continue to use it as a safe haven. But overall the United States and its allies will need those entities less, making it easier to diversify who receives aid in the country. Certainly it will be a challenge to maintain these relationships while diverting assistance from the military and/or civilian government to other groups within Pakistan. But as long as we are careful to avoid supporting groups that the Government of Pakistan views as active threats (i.e., opposing political parties, Christian groups, or organizations associated with India), there is no reason the United States, its allies, and private aid organizations cannot provide assistance to groups outside the formal government structure and/or military. In fact, this is the United States' foreign assistance model in many other countries around the world.
States and its allies will also have more leeway to negotiate access for
personnel who can oversee implementation and increase transparency. For example, the Government of Pakistan has
been circumspect about allowing U.S.
and other foreign personnel to directly implement assistance programs and
military training, with obvious effects on donors' ability to verify how and
where money is spent. Past efforts to
use assistance as leverage to gain necessary access have been somewhat
successful, but have floundered during periods of escalated tensions. If the United States and NATO are less
dependent on Pakistan to support operations in Afghanistan, and if
Afghanistan-related tensions are even partially diffused, they will be better
positioned to require access and transparency in return for aid.
The future stability of Pakistan is reliant on a viable civilian leadership capable and willing to address the needs of its people. With a population of more than 180 million growing by 50 million over the next 15 years, the political elite's inability to address a chronic lack of education and basic services is setting the conditions for major civil unrest accompanied by sectarian violence and instability. Current efforts to remedy these problems are underfunded and plagued by administrative and logistical problems, making the likelihood of effective progress slim without outside help. And in a country with rampant Islamic extremism and a fast-growing nuclear arsenal, the current trajectory makes Pakistan - already a dangerous place - even more ominous on the world stage.
nations' ability to change Pakistan's
overall course is limited. There is,
however, reason to be hopeful. There
were an estimated 100,000 non-profit
organizations operating in Pakistan as of 2009, a large percentage of which are
locally-funded and could have greater impact with the help of foreign
funding. In a less contentious future
environment, the United States and its allies could provide assistance to some
of these groups, as well as work through international organizations and
encourage foreign investment and private donations. While the U.S. Congress and allied
governments are justified in remembering Pakistan's indiscretions over the
course of the Afghan war, it is the responsibility of those nations' leaders to
win over lawmakers and their constituents on why an unstable Pakistan only
means more turbulence for the region and beyond.
These non-profit organizations and other parts of Pakistani civil society, including its long-stifled but not non-existent private sector, may have a chance of improving conditions in the country, drawing on the support of the moderate majority. Pakistani and international charitable organizations are making a small dent in the massive problem set Pakistani confronts, particularly in the realm of education. But there is one fact that Western policy-makers are going to have to accept: many of these players hold Islamist and anti-Western views. As we learned in Egypt and other Arab Spring nations, we cannot expect entities to represent the people of a Muslim nation and not embody some Islamic values. This fact in itself does not make that group extremist or an enemy of the West.
should apply this new understanding to future engagement with Pakistan, while
remaining aware of both the sensitivities of the Government of Pakistan and
those of the U.S. Congress, who remain the stewards of U.S. tax-payer dollars. If the United States, NATO, and Pakistan can
use the Afghan drawdown to reduce tensions and improve security, if only
marginally, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has the potential to more closely
resemble the peace-time relationships maintained with other nations in South
Asia and elsewhere. This would encompass
a balance of international assistance (both through government structures and
non-profits, keeping in line with host nation priorities), free and balanced
trade relationships, and help in developing a dynamic political and economic
Conveniently, the drawdown in Afghanistan also makes it easier for many Pakistani groups to work with Western groups and governments. Many Pakistanis are quick to blame Pakistan's domestic problems on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's participation in it. Whether or not this is based in reality, those perceptions drive politics within Pakistan. As the United States and NATO reduce their military presence in the region, Pakistani officials will be less able to blame Western actions for their domestic problems. At the same time, the population will increasingly focus on day-to-day survival rather than regional matters, and non-profits will increasingly seek civilian assistance for their country. The West can meet those calls and gain much good will at a reasonable cost.
Based on its own national and strategic interests, Pakistan has been a tentative ally in the Afghan war. But the United States and its allies cannot write off the population of Pakistan for the shortcomings of its political system. In fact, to do so poses much greater long-term risks, the mitigation of which requires a nation moving towards economic viability whose problems are not spilling into the world around it. Failure to maintain international support to Pakistan means discarding a real chance for progress by walking away before the real work has begun.
Whitney Kassel is a former Assistant for Counterterrorism Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC), and now serves as a director at The Arkin Group.
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