Several weeks ago, the United States government placed a $10 million bounty on the head of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed as part of the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program. Saeed is the founder of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up on the bounty with complaints that Pakistan should be doing more to bring Saeed to justice, to which Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani responded on May 13 that available evidence was insufficient to arrest Saeed.
In the aftermath of the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Saeed was detained, and then released uncharged, despite damning information provided to Pakistan by the U.S. and Indian governments firmly linking LeT to the attacks. This lack of action was no surprise to terrorism analysts outside of Pakistan, who strongly believe that LeT has been deliberately fostered as a proxy by the shadowy and largely unaccountable intelligence service in Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or the ISI.
Yet the circumstances of this particular bounty are unique, and that uniqueness may lead to an interesting new example of the so-called "law of unintended consequences." The bounty calls for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Saeed, yet unlike Osama bin Laden or leaders of the Taliban for whom rewards are on offer, Saeed is not in hiding; his whereabouts in Pakistan are generally well-known. However, if a Pakistani citizen were to call the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and say, "Saeed is at an anti-NATO rally in Lahore right now," that person is not going to collect the reward, because the information can't lead to his arrest and prosecution without help from Pakistan, help which is clearly not forthcoming. Given the angry backlash in Pakistan against both the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound last May, and the border shooting incident last November that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead at the hands of NATO forces, it is also unlikely the United States is going to carry out a unilateral operation to grab Saeed.
Practically speaking, Saeed would have to be outside of Pakistan, in a country that would honor the arrest warrants against him, for any person or group who reported Saeed's whereabouts to collect the rich bounty. Knowing this, Saeed isn't too likely to voluntarily depart the one country where he can be sure he won't be arrested. In fact, he requested protection from the Pakistani government shortly after the bounty was announced, indicating that the suspect himself may be concerned about individuals looking to collect the massive reward.
As Pakistan is clearly not going to arrest Saeed, the bounty on his head, and the subsequent complaints by Clinton, could be viewed simply as ongoing protests by the U.S. government about Pakistan's protection of Saeed and formal notice that LeT will be receiving scrutiny levels similar to al-Qaeda. Fine, so far as that goes...but what is to stop a criminal gang, a band of mercenaries, or even a group of patriotic Indians, from kidnapping Saeed, smuggling him out of Pakistan, leaving him tied up in a safe house in, say, Sri Lanka, phoning the U.S. Embassy and demanding the $10 million reward in return for Saeed's location?
Putting a huge bounty on the head of a person who cannot be arrested and prosecuted in his home country, but who also isn't in hiding, is surely a powerful motivation for anyone enticed by the bounty to make sure Saeed is outside Pakistan and wrapped in a tidy package before reporting his whereabouts. And while the current shaky relations with Pakistan make it unlikely that the United States would take unilateral action inside the country, there is nothing to stop anybody else from deciding the offer on Saeed is too tempting to ignore. Lest one consider this an unlikely scenario, look no farther than Colombia, where fat rewards for kidnapping and weak/corrupt law enforcement have turned kidnapping for cash into a cottage industry that had become a major source of income for narco-terrorist group FARC. Crime and corruption are at meteoric levels in Pakistan, and there are plenty of criminal gangs who may consider the U.S. government's offer on Saeed as too tempting to pass up.
Encouraging people to grab Saeed and get him out of Pakistan was almost certainly not the intent of Rewards for Justice offer. But when Pakistan's clear refusal to act against Saeed is considered in tandem with the conditions necessary to claim the money, it is hard to imagine the offered reward, practically speaking, as anything other than an open bounty for the rendition of Saeed outside Pakistan, regardless of whether that is what it was ever intended to be.
Art Keller is a former CIA case officer who served in Pakistan and the author of the new novel about Iran, Hollow Strength.
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This month's NATO summit in Chicago has provided many writers and analysts a moment to debate possible outcomes of the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan. Commentary ranges from David Ignatius "thinking the unthinkable" about the Taliban returning to Kabul, to former First Lady Laura Bush urging the international community to remember the women of Afghanistan. The meeting provides a timely inflection point about the price paid in blood and treasure, and the future return on this costly investment.
Yet there is a glaring gap in this conversation, one that ignores the on-the-ground reality of Afghanistan. It is the role of religion and its influence on the trajectory of the Afghan government. By paying it little or no heed, the United States is omitting a key piece of the complex jigsaw puzzle that is Afghanistan's future.
My meeting with Afghan Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghalib in Kabul drove home the importance of religion and its influence on matters of state. Our conversation in December 2010 quickly turned to the application of Islamic religious law to the affairs of men and women, especially the issue of apostasy, a topic which places core freedoms of religion and conscience at the center of government policy. At the time, a convert to Christianity was being detained, but similar cases had arisen where Muslims were charged with "criminal" activity considered blasphemous. He justified government actions on Islamic law, brushing aside my counterarguments for freedom of religion and belief based on international standards, the Afghan constitution, and even Qur'anic references.
It wasn't surprising that the Minister was unmoved in his view that apostasy and blasphemy were crimes to be punished by the state, as it reflected past Afghan government actions against Muslims and non-Muslims to stifle freedom of thought and restrict expression. However, it underscored the cost of not addressing the role of religious tenets in law and governance.
Afghanistan's legal system is a big part of the problem, despite Article 7 of the Afghan constitution stating that the Afghan government "shall abide by" the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In practice, Afghanistan has established a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law through the vague repugnancy clause in Article 3 that states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Consequently, there are no protections for individuals to dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate the role of religion in law and society, advocate for the human rights of women and religious minorities, or question interpretations of Islamic precepts.
David Ignatius' "unthinkable" thought of a Taliban return to Kabul could happen, but perhaps even faster than he imagines. The Afghan constitution's provisions referencing undefined notions of Islamic law give Taliban sympathizers legal cover to apply their regressive religious interpretations through laws against human rights, religious freedom, and women's rights.
Religion matters in Afghanistan, and promoting religious freedom and tolerance can help achieve human rights and security goals. Repression of religious freedom strengthens the hand of violent religious extremists. As I've written elsewhere, conditions of full religious freedom allows for the peaceful sharing of differing views and interpretations. This openness can displace extremist influences from social and religious networks, thereby limiting their ability to influence populations of concern and turn them towards violence. Recent studies and research are building an empirical case that limitations on religious freedom lead to more, not less, societal instability.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- where I work -- has documented Afghanistan's poor religious freedom record and placed Afghanistan on our Watch List. USCIRF has described the situation as "exceedingly poor for dissenting members of the majority faith and for minority religious communities." Regarding religious minorities, USCIRF reported how "the small and vulnerable Christian community experienced a spike in arrests, with Christians being detained and some jailed (and later released) for the ‘crime' of apostasy." The Hindu and Sikh communities continue to face discrimination and violence, while the small Baha'i community operates basically underground, especially since a 2007 ruling by the General Directorate of Fatwa and Accounts decreed their faith to be a "form of blasphemy." Even the much larger minority Hazara Shi'a community, which has experienced greater freedoms, was targeted by suicide bombers in late 2011.
A string of events in recent months bears further witness to religion's unmistakable role in Afghanistan:
Taliban response to Strategic Partnership Agreement - There were two Taliban responses to this agreement, one violent, but the other focused on religion. The violent response received much greater attention, since this was the attack on Bagram Airbase after President Obama left the country. However, the Taliban also issued a statement in April, immediately after the announcement of a deal, outlining five ways the Karzai government was caving. Four of the five focused on issues relating to Islam - preventing a true Islamic government; bringing in secularism and liberalism; creating an army hostile to Islam; and being a continuous threat to Muslim countries in the region. The Taliban believes this issue to be relevant to the Afghan populace.
Qur'an burnings - The accidental destruction of Qur'ans and other Islamic materials triggered a nationwide backlash, attacks on U.S. and ISAF personnel, and an apology from President Obama. Dozens were killed and scores more wounded. Sensing a public relations bonanza, the Taliban pressed to exploit the situation to their advantage, issuing statements urging violence and offering this as further evidence of America's supposed war against Islam.
Ulema Council statement and Karzai response - The Ulema Council, an influential body of clerics sponsored by the Afghan government, issued a "code of conduct" for women that permits husbands to beat their wives and promotes gender segregation. If that wasn't alarming enough for human rights and women's rights advocates, President Karzai endorsed the statement. He had other options, such as refuting the findings or at least ignoring them, but Karzai felt the need to endorse them, saying they were in line with Islamic principles. Why? Because the role of religion in politics and governance has a great influence in Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, a response is not to be found in the Strategic Partnership or the recent NATO summit declaration. No mention was made of promoting religious freedom and religious tolerance, key elements of any attempt to see human rights and women's rights protected and respected.
While these high-level documents are silent, there is increasing recognition of this challenge in U.S. government policy. The State Department has initiated a program to counter extremist voices, which looks to bring other Islamic perspectives into Afghanistan to help expose Afghanis to the broader Islamic world. After 30 years of civil war and the impact of a narrow Taliban-imposed view, there is little understanding of how their religion can work successfully with democracy and human rights. USAID is also doing interesting work with Afghanistan's informal justice system, introducing human rights into the centuries-old traditional system, and doing so through the lens of Islamic law. However, these efforts, while positive, are not enough to have a lasting impact.
In other words, the current level of programming won't move a needle that is pointing dangerously in the wrong direction.
It's getting late in the game, but it's not too late to move the needle. There is still time for concerted action. The U.S. government can ramp up its efforts to increase public diplomacy relating to religious freedom and religious tolerance, and bring more delegations of Afghan religious and NGO leaders to the United States and take American religious and NGO leaders to Afghanistan. The United States can jump-start training about the balance between religion and state and the compatibility of Islam with human rights and religious freedom. Continuing to press for greater freedoms in public and private is critical, as well as starting new initiatives, such as creating a special working group on religious freedom/tolerance in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues. U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces should be trained to understand international standards when engaging with Afghan religious leaders, local government officials, or Afghan local police forces. U.S. government personnel also need to increase their "religious IQ" on the role of Islam in Afghan society, as well as understand how religious freedom can promote stability and security.
As Afghanistan goes about building institutions as the international community departs, getting the religion question right will be a part of every answer. The Taliban and the Afghan government talk about religion, apply religious law, and use it to their advantage. Considering religion is the lens through which everything passes, significantly increasing engagement on religious freedom and tolerance will advance U.S. human rights and national security interests.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the Commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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It was 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Mossarat Qadeem was sitting on the floor of a house with about a dozen young Pakistani men -- some of whom had nearly become suicide bombers. Qadeem's goal: to undo the destructive brainwashing of the al-Qaeda and Taliban teachers who trained them in extremism, in part by asking the students to narrate their life stories.
"We were handling one of the boys, and he just came, put his head here in my lap, and he started crying and weeping," Qadeem recalls. "I was taken aback. It is very unnatural in my country that a man that tall can just sit at your feet and put his head here. [The other men] were all crying with him, and I was looking at him, and thinking, ‘my God.'"
All in a day's work for Qadeem. She's the national coordinator of Aman-o-Nisa, a coalition of Pakistani women that convened in October 2011 to combat violent extremism in Pakistan at the grassroots level. A delegation of 12 women from Aman-o-Nisa, sponsored in part by the Institute for Inclusive Security, recently traveled to Washington, DC to share their work with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Washington policymakers. The AfPak Channel sat down with three of the women -- Qadeem, the founder of Pakistan's first center for conflict transformation and peacebuilding, Sameena Imtiaz, the founder and executive director of the Peace Education and Development Foundation, and Bushra Hyder, the founder and director of Qadims Lumiere School and College -- while they were in town for a conversation about why so few women work in counterterrorism, and the tactics they use to reverse the violent, extremist mentality.
The interview is condensed and edited below.
Of course, Islamic extremism is a major problem in many other countries besides Pakistan. Why are there so few groups like Aman-o-Nisa, and so few women working to counter extremism?
Bushra Hyder: Most of the women are not even aware that they can play a positive role combating extremism. Secondly, there are security reasons involved. In our part of the country, if a woman goes out and starts getting involved in such activities, she is definitely going to be at risk. Naturally, the males of the household and family would not like their women and females...facing any kind of security threat. That could be the reason, but the fact is the majority of the women are not aware of it.
Sameena Imtiaz: [Women] are also not recognized by men as [people] who could play a very supportive role in combatting extremism in countries such as Pakistan. [In] the security sector in countries like Pakistan, for instance, women are hardly visible. They are not at the dialogue tables, they are not consulted and valued in the policymaking processes that are there.
Mossarat Qadeem: Extremism per se has never been recognized and debated upon in Pakistan as a threat. We feel that there is a foreign hand involved in the incidence of extremism that takes place in Pakistan. And ...we leave it to the government to respond to it. Even the men in the community and society have never thought that they can do something at their level to combat it or to address it. Everyone says it's the responsibility of the government , and they should respond to it because it's a foreign threat - it has nothing to do with Pakistanis, it's not our issue.
Why do Pakistanis see it as a foreign threat? Is it because the extremism in Pakistan isn't homegrown, as it tends to be in Morocco, for example?
MQ: In Pakistan...it's so unobtrusive. It's not obvious that someone is coming and asking the people to become Taliban, to become an extremist, unlike Morocco. That's why this invisible enemy, this invisible hand, is so dangerous, because you don't know who to counter and how to counter.
What are the origins of extremism in Pakistan?
SI: Talibanization and extremism are not new phenomena in Pakistan. We have to go back into the early 80s when many Pakistanis were fighting in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. There was a lot of money that was poured into Pakistan to help these militant groups who are now called Taliban and who have become a monster. They have been thriving on foreign aid.
A lot needs to be done to undo what has been done in the past. But what we are expecting from Pakistan at the moment is there should be a magic wand and all this disappears. It [requires a] change of mindset. You have for decades taught young people that they have to fight this fight in the name of Islam. If you have trained young people to become fighters and warriors, you cannot expect them to become mercenaries of peace immediately. You have to work with them...deradicalize the people who already have this mindset now, and to stop the slide of these young people into extremism. You have to provide them other opportunities, you have to open up avenues for alternative work opportunities for them. What do they do if they don't fight? If they don't become militants? Do they have then food to eat, places to sleep in? You have to look at them as human beings and treat them as human beings.
How do you go about trying to transform the mindsets of radicalized youth?
MQ: We use the Quranic verses -- the true interpretation of the Quran, and of course the teachings of the Holy Sunna. We give examples of the Prophet Muhammad. That's the best way to counter radicalization and extremism in Pakistan, because the [verses] have been misquoted and misinterpreted [by extremist trainers]. We use a lot from the history around the world, giving examples of why peace is important.
What are the subjects - or verses - that you bring up the first time you speak to a radicalized young person?
MQ: Before doing all of this, I conducted research [to find out] what tools have been used to transform these youth. I came across certain verses that were misinterpreted and misused -- particular verses about jihad. And I had to take different sources and different interpretations of various religious scholars and accumulate them. I had to actually work with some of the trainers and scholars [who had radicalized the youth] because I wanted to know, what should be my approach?
How did you get these trainers to talk to you? And what did they tell you?
MQ: Two are transformed now. They told me, these are the verses we have been using, these are the tactics we have been using, this is the picture we used to draw for these students. I did it in a very different way. I used the same tactics, but it was real, it's what the Quran says.
What's an example of a verse that has been misinterpreted?
MQ: There is a particular verse in the Surah Maidah that says ‘go out and fight.' But the fighting in that particular verse was misinterpreted. That verse was used in a particular period of time when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was living in the state of Medina, and the people wanted to kill every Muslim. So they really had enemies to face - [they] were being killed, and [there was the risk that] Islam would [disappear].
Obviously, you all do very risky work. How often do you feel directly threatened?
SI: All the time. We are working in such a sensitive area. The risk is always there. We have so many times received life-threatening messages. There have been attempts on many of us. So yes, that's part of the game.
Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation.
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The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed by President Obama and President Karzai in the dead of night in Kabul on May 2nd, and the recently concluded Chicago Summit, have sent an important message that the international community is not abandoning Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan's stability and security remain a key objective of the United States and its NATO allies. The Chicago summit has ratified crucial details of the security strategy to meet these objectives. But the last decade in Afghanistan has shown that security strategies in the absence of political strategies do not translate into peace and stability. The international community's political strategy has always been muddled or murky at best, or missing altogether. But politics is happening in Afghanistan, providing new opportunities even as international troops withdraw. After Chicago, there is an urgent need to ensure that a strategy for the upcoming political transition in Afghanistan, and in particular the 2014 presidential election, receives similar policy attention as has been devoted to the security transition and the SPA.
We've just returned from a few weeks in Afghanistan, where we perceived both a new and energized spirit of politicking for the 2014 presidential elections, as well as baldly stated fears of a return to civil war. For many we interviewed, the two are inextricably linked - a massively flawed election in 2014, or a failure to hold an election at all, could easily result in a destabilizing situation where there is no legitimate civilian control, and security forces could break down and begin competing for power along ethnic and factional lines. If so, the tens of billions of dollars devoted to building the Afghan security forces, under the assumption that they would come under civilian control, could amount instead to an investment in a more ruthless and costly civil conflict that further destabilizes Afghanistan and its neighbors. Given this huge risk, not only for Afghans but also for core U.S. national security interests in the region, it is imperative to rectify the major imbalance between the time and effort devoted to planning the security transition vs. the political transition - especially given that the fate of both are so deeply intertwined.
In Kabul, the political transition discussions we had often boiled down to one question: what will Karzai do? He has repeatedly stated publicly that he will not be president after 2014. But there are few examples in Afghan history of orderly and peaceful transitions of power, and many Afghans refuse to take President Karzai at his word. If it is true, as Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said, that "information is the currency of democracy", then rumor is the currency of Afghan democracy (some might say, more simply, that currency is the currency of Afghan democracy). Karzai's statements have been dismissed by many Afghans with a raft of conspiracy theories on how he will extend his power. These range from the Constitutional (declaring a state of emergency-though this could only last two months before it would need to be ratified by the parliament), to the coercive (convening a rigged loya jirga to change the constitution), to the too-clever-by-half (resigning with his two vice-presidents before his term is up and running a few months later on the ground that he had not completed two terms).
President Karzai's recent proposal to hold elections in 2013, ostensibly to take advantage of the larger number of international troops, only fueled the suspicions of those who refuse to believe that he will respect the Afghan Constitution. At the same time, many of those we spoke to say that Karzai recognizes that any attempt to subvert the Constitution will lead to demonstrations in Kabul. One political figure said that the regime can only fall as a result of unrest in Kabul, not insurgency in the provinces. The one thing that would bring rioting to Kabul's streets, he argued, would be an attempt to hold onto power unconstitutionally, and that Karzai is aware of this and would not risk it.
If President Karzai does give up power constitutionally, there are several plausible scenarios. The first would be for the political elite, including Karzai and major opposition figures, to settle on a single candidate. An elite consensus along these lines would turn the election into a sort of referendum, and minimize the probability that electoral fraud would be as destabilizing as it was in 2009. The second scenario is that Karzai backs a candidate who many opposition figures find unacceptable, but a broad-based opposition coalition is able to agree on a single rival candidate. In the event of a hotly contested race that this scenario could result in, the quality of the election would play a crucial role in ensuring a legitimate transfer of power. A third scenario would be for Karzai to back a candidate while the opposition is unable to unite. This could allow Karzai to perpetuate his hold on power through the election of a political proxy-many in Kabul called this the "Putin-Medvedev scenario".
What happens next depends as much on the opposition as on President Karzai. At crucial moments, opposition figures have lost their nerve, preferring to be co-opted by the palace rather than face the real risks of confronting the existing power structure. Even now, the opposition is divided between those who claim that Karzai has become so powerful that he-or any candidate he backs-is invincible, and those who claim that he is intrinsically weak but that the international community's deference has made him artificially strong. The opposition appears to be waiting for signals-from Karzai that he will allow a fair election (for example, by setting an election date soon and by ensuring the appointment of independent election commissioners), and from the international community that they will insist on it. The danger of on-going ambiguity about the commitment to support and hold credible elections is that Afghan political figures will not take the required risks to participate constructively in the consensus-building process. It would not be surprising if Karzai tested the nerve of his opposition, in the hopes that it collapses under the test. It has worked in the past.
Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs of political activity aimed at the presidential election. Candidates and parties are organizing, opposition parties are making specific demands for electoral reforms, and a process to reform the election legislation has begun.
The international community, however, has greeted this activity with extreme caution. The common talking point of senior U.S. government officials is that elections in Afghanistan are a sovereign matter. Opposition figures listen to this in dismay, arguing that the sovereignty the internationals are protecting is not Afghanistan's, but Karzai's and the corrupt and predatory political mafias with strong links to the palace. A true respect for Afghan sovereignty, they argue, would require the promotion of a level political playing field. They have a point: it is curious at least that the presence of 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, and the provision of assistance worth about the equivalent of the country's GDP, is somehow not an infringement on sovereignty, while pressure to hold fair elections in accordance with the Afghan Constitution is perceived to be too intrusive and risky. The greater risk is that such misplaced sensitivities that are often interpreted by Afghans as lukewarm international support for democratic elections, and/or undue skepticism that credible elections can be held, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are, however, good reasons for international caution. Government and opposition figures alike noted that the international community's legitimacy on elections was undermined in 2009 by the perception that the late U.S. State Department Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, backed individual candidates against Karzai rather than supporting the process. President Karzai has used this to frighten the international community away from its legitimate concerns about the process, whereas the key lesson from 2009 should be to forcefully support the process but not individual candidates. Furthermore, a fundamental difference between the 2009 and 2014 presidential elections, which should reduce some of the sensitivities regarding international support for the process, is that Karzai has publically stated on numerous occasions that in accordance with the Constitution he will not be contesting the next election.
The U.S. government was particularly cautious about antagonizing Karzai, including by raising election-related issues, during the long and drawn-out process of negotiating the SPA. Many Afghans expressed concern that this caution will continue during the negotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement, which must be completed in the next 12 months, giving Karzai at least another year of tranquility on electoral matters. The U.N., which took positions in both the 2009 and 2010 elections that angered Karzai, is similarly reticent, and in public at least echoes the "sovereign process" talking point.
Given this reticence to date, the widely reported meeting President Obama had with President Karzai on the sidelines of the Chicago Summit, during which issues of electoral reform and planning for the 2014 elections were raised and discussed, are a very encouraging sign that the U.S. will now be prioritizing the political transition and supporting and advocating more publically for credible elections in 2014. While international support for elections must be done sensitively and respectfully, too quiet and soft of an approach would be a big mistake. The majority of Afghans who respect the Constitution and want a democratic future for their country need to be assured that the international community led by the U.S. is committed to doing everything possible to ensure relatively free and fair elections. The stakes of the 2014 election are very high, and the future stability of Afghanistan - ultimately the core strategic interest of the U.S. - is likely to depend on the perception of the election's legitimacy. While the challenges to holding credible elections in 2014 are undoubtedly great, and the risks considerable, the much greater risk is to continue to pay scant attention to the political transition, and to pin hopes on a stable and secure Afghanistan solely on the abilities of the Afghan National Security Forces. One need not look far in the region to see the negative consequences for peace and stability, not to mention democracy, of relatively strong security institutions and very weak civilian institutions.
For better or for worse, the international community has inherited a partial responsibility for ensuring that the next elections play the role of consensus-building and state legitimation that would be the most likely way to save the country from civil war. The international community can fulfill this responsibility by doing the following:
Given the recent history of Afghan elections, it may seem implausible to bet on Afghan democracy as a means of solving Afghanistan's deep-rooted problems, but almost everyone we spoke to were clear that it was the only bet to make. Democratic processes might not succeed, but everything else will surely fail without them.
Scott Smith is the Deputy Director for Afghan Programs, and Andrew Wilder the Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs, at the United States Institute of Peace. The views reflected here are their own.
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President Obama's surprise speech in Kabul on May 1 was a political stunt filled with the kind of mischaracterizations typical of a campaign, but the actual U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that he signed while there was something of greater substance.
Much of the agreement echoed the language and intent of the earlier 2005 Strategic Partnership Agreement. Both agreements sought to reassure the Afghans of the United States' staying power, and articulate broad principles on which the bilateral relationship rests. They are both "executive agreements," which lack the power of formal treaties ratified by the Senate. To that extent, the agreements are like cotton candy: pleasant, fluffy, but easily torn apart. That may explain why the Afghans, having the 2005 agreement in hand, felt the need to pursue further reassurances once Bush left office.
According to some reports, the Afghans were looking for a full-fledged mutual defense treaty. Such a treaty would have obligated the United States to treat an attack on Afghanistan as an attack on itself. If so, the Afghans are surely disappointed, but they were also unrealistic in their hopes. It is difficult to envision Americans accepting a defense treaty obligating American intervention in South Asia in perpetuity when most no longer welcome our actual intervention in Afghanistan to fight a war that two presidents have argued is vital to our national security. The Afghans probably got the strongest expression of support possible in the current U.S. political climate.
The crux of the long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in the new agreement is this: "The Unites States shall designate Afghanistan a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally.'" The Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) designation was created by Congress in 1989 as a way of identifying America's major strategic partners without the burdensome requirements of a formal treaty. It confers a range of benefits, including participation in U.S. Defense Department research and development projects, preferential access to U.S. military surplus supplies, the use of U.S. loans to finance weapons purchases, and expedited applications for space technology exports. More importantly, the designation has a powerful symbolic value: it is a public affirmation of a country's affiliation with the United States, a global badge of American approval. Although the designation does not technically carry a security guarantee or legally obligate the United States to come to the defense of a designee, the label of "ally" implies as much. Only 14 states and Taiwan have been given the MNNA status.
Critics may argue that MNNA status is merely symbolic, but symbols are important. Afghanistan is now in the same category as Japan, Australia, Israel, and Pakistan. And the agreement goes beyond the symbolic, stipulating that the United States will train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces "consistent with NATO standards and [will] promote interoperability with NATO forces." To cement relations between the newly-minted "allies," the Agreement commits the United States to negotiating a Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan over the next year, and the administration is also initiating talks on a Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) and a defense cooperation memorandum of understanding (the timing allows the Obama administration to delay decisions on difficult issues like detentions and night raids until after the election).
Collectively, these provisions communicate a relatively strong U.S. commitment to Afghan security and begin to undo the damage done by the Obama administration's various and shifting deadlines for the Afghan mission. In a best-case scenario, in ten years or so the Afghan Army could become one of the key developing-world partners and force-multipliers for U.S. and Western military forces in contingency and peacekeeping operations. Afghanistan could become the next Bangladesh, providing the manpower for peacekeeping missions that Western nations are willing to fund but not man, in exchange for which the Afghans get valuable operational experience and funding. (The Agreement won't, however, be a help in any future U.S.-Iran war, as it expressly prohibits the U.S. from using Afghan territory to attack another country. The clause, reflecting an understandable concern by the Afghans, may also complicate the U.S.'s ability to attack terrorist targets inside Pakistan).
Of course, these assurances only matter if Kabul defeats the Taliban insurgency, a topic on which the Agreement is oddly silent. The Agreement affirms the joint goal of defeating "al-Qaeda and its affiliates," the closest it comes to referring to the Taliban. There is vague language restating the long-standing reconciliation policy-that unspecified "individuals and entities" must sever ties with al-Qaeda, renounce violence, and accept the constitution-but fails to identify at whom the policy is aimed. The United States just pledged a decade's worth of security cooperation to a country in the middle of a civil war, but managed to avoid talking about the civil war.
The silence is probably calculated to protect the Strategic Partnership in the event the Taliban join the government following a negotiated peace. Kabul and Washington can claim that the Agreement is not aimed at the Taliban, who therefore have nothing to fear from it. In other words, out of fear of what the Taliban might do in a hypothetical future scenario, the Americans and Afghans gave them a seat at the negotiating table in the Strategic Partnership talks, effectively rewarding them for their threat of continued violence. This is a poor negotiating strategy. Instead, the Agreement should have identified the Taliban, committed the parties explicitly to its defeat, and only then reiterated the reconciliation policy.
The Agreement has other weaknesses. For example, it commits Afghanistan to providing the United States with continued access to military facilities through 2014 "and beyond as may be agreed," needlessly requiring Kabul and Washington to re-negotiate access to Afghan facilities again in two years. The 2005 agreement contained no expiration date on American access to Afghan facilities (like Bagram and Kandahar air fields), a much simpler arrangement that still respected Afghan sovereignty under the obvious understanding that the Afghans could ask the United States to leave at any time.
Similarly, the Agreement pledges the United States to "seek funds on a yearly basis" for Afghan assistance, a weak and unenforceable clause. The Agreement failed to commit the United States even to an aspirational target of financial aid to Afghanistan. For example, the United States could have promised to seek at least $2 billion per year for security assistance and $1 billion per year for civilian assistance, which would have afforded a small amount of protection for Afghan aid after 2014, when donor fatigue and Congressional inattention set in.
The most troubling aspect of the agreement, mirroring the overall weakness of the Obama administration's Afghan policy, is the evident imbalance between the military and civilian aspects of U.S. engagement there. For years, the United States has invested massively in building up the Afghan Army and police but comparatively little in building the Afghan government. The result is a strong Afghan Army and a weak Afghan state, a highly unstable and dangerous combination. If the Afghan Army ever successfully defeats the Taliban, it could itself suddenly become the greatest threat to Afghan national security.
The new agreement only perpetuates this unhelpful dynamic. After several pages detailing U.S.-Afghan security cooperation and a decent section on economic assistance, it contains a brief, vague, throw-away section on governance. Afghanistan promises to improve itself, and the United States promises to help, with no details, no promise of new resources, and no promise of training up to international standards. The one or two solid ideas regarding governance in the agreement-that the U.S. will channel more of its aid through the Afghan government, and align its aid to Afghan priorities-may be unachievable precisely because the capacity of Afghan institutions continues to lag and suffer from endemic corruption. Compared to the detailed, specific, and increasingly dense U.S.-Afghan security partnership, the U.S.-Afghan governance partnership is almost non-existent. The United States risks replicating the same error in Afghanistan that characterized U.S. policy towards Pakistan for the last six decades.
Nonetheless, as a whole, the new U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership is a strong signal of enduring American commitment to help one of the world's most failed states, and secure American interests in South Asia. After more than ten years of effort with halting progress and fragile, reversible gains, such commitment is welcome. The partnership is arguably one of Obama's best achievements on Afghan policy (after the 2009 military surge), and showed some political courage considering the increasing unpopularity of the war among the American electorate, especially in his own political base. The very fact that there is a strategic partnership agreement will help to buy time for Obama, or his successor, to improve on its weaknesses in 2014 and beyond. That will go a long way to upholding America's promise to the Afghans.
Dr. Paul D. Miller is an Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at the National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect those of the U.S. government.
Afghan Presidential Palace via Getty Images
May 2012 will stand as a historic time for Afghanistan. Beginning in Kabul on May 1, Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which I had the privilege of attending. It has been followed by a steadily growing wave of additional international support, most recently seen in the signing of a partnership agreement with Germany in Berlin and the imminent signing of a partnership agreement with Australia. The third security transition phase also commenced this past week on May 13, and the month will end with the NATO Summit in Chicago on May 20 and 21. These events illuminate the immense efforts made by the Afghan government and the international community to fulfill their mutual commitments made throughout the Kabul Process that was begun with President Karzai's inauguration in 2009. Each event is an accomplishment on its own, but together they chart a clear course for Afghanistan's future over the "Transformation Decade."
The historic signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States gives both countries an opportunity to solidify our common vision and define our relationship for the years to come. After months of hard negotiations, a commitment has been forged to guide our steps towards a prosperous future built on mutual respect and support between two sovereign nations. The agreement was crafted in the best interests of both countries and to the benefit of regional prosperity and stability. The United States' commitments should serve as a shining example of the opportunities now on the horizon in Afghanistan.
The transition of Afghanistan's security from international coalition forces to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) ranks amongst the most crucial to sustain overall success. Since its start in July 2011, the transition process has seen many successes and is well on its way to being fully completed. Afghanistan's security forces have grown in strength and capacity well ahead of schedule. The ANSF are partnering with international coalition forces on 90 percent of operations and are in the lead 40 percent of the time. These statistics, coupled with the completion of the third security transition phase that put Afghan forces in the security-lead for 75 percent of Afghanistan's population, show just how much progress has been made. While our security forces have proven able to maintain security in areas already transitioned, there are still challenges that require commitments from Afghanistan and the international community throughout the remaining transition period and beyond. Both Afghanistan and its international partners recognize that the success of the transition process and its sustainability is dependent upon continued ANSF capacity improvement and financial support.
For this reason, the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago is crucial to Afghanistan and the effectiveness and sustainability of the ANSF. The NATO Summit will be an opportunity to reaffirm that the close partnership between Afghanistan and the international community will continue beyond 2014 and reflect on the progress made together over the last decade. As agreed upon in Bonn last December, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) nations will announce their support of training, financing and building the capacity of the ANSF after the end of the transition period. It is important to reiterate, though, that the Afghan government is steadfast in our promise to increase our share of financing the ANSF from $500 million in 2015 to total fiscal responsibility after the Transformation Decade.
The commitments to be made in Chicago will have a central role in sustaining the accomplishments of the last ten years. They have already built up additional positive momentum going into the upcoming Kabul Conference focusing on regional cooperation in June and the Tokyo Conference in July where we will outline and agree upon an integrated plan with our international partners to achieve self-sufficiency by developing a sustainable economy by the end of the Transformation Decade.
Ultimately, when it comes to building a stable, self-reliant, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, we are ready and willing to face the challenges ahead.
His Excellency Eklil Hakimi is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
On May 20th, the United States will host a summit of NATO leaders in Chicago. Afghanistan will feature prominently in the summit's agenda. The recently concluded Strategic Partnership between the United States and Afghanistan provides a promising basis to build a partnership based on commitment to securing Afghanistan's democratic transition and the protection and promotion of rights for Afghan citizens. Delivering on its promises will require avoiding short cuts that carry the illusion of peace, and instead building a partnership with the real ally of stability: the majority of Afghan citizens.
There is a danger that the global debate is losing sight of the need to protect Afghan civilians and to consolidate the hard-won gains of the past ten years. The search for a quick deal in some American policy circles neatly coincide with those of Afghanistan's opportunistic and survival-driven political class, and especially elements within the government. This narrow policy consensus runs contrary to what most Afghans want: the preservation of the progress that has been won at great cost to both Afghans and the international community since 2001.
A sense of anxiety about what might happen after 2014 pervades Afghan society, and was caused primarily by the sidelining of human rights as a political commitment by both the Afghan government and its international partners since 2007. While the government has demonstrated increasing hostility to its human rights obligations, its international supporters have voiced only muted criticism, lacking penalties or action of any kind.
Against the wishes of generations of war victims, all civil war era actors have been granted broad immunity. The passage of the Shia Personal Status Law infringes on the legal rights of Shia women. The widely-praised Media Law that would have enshrined greater freedom of expression has been shelved. Known human rights abusers have been appointed to high-ranking positions within the national police force, while the Presidential Palace has lent its approval -- sometimes overt, sometimes tacit -- to a succession of regressive statements by the Ulema Council regarding women's rights. Afghan women, civil society, and human rights defenders are rapidly losing the space to speak out and organize freely, and these groups worry, with good reason, that government may soon try to silence them altogether.
The vision articulated by Afghans and their international partners in the Bonn Conference in 2001 entailed a commitment to building a democratic Afghanistan in which human rights and the rule of law prevailed. This vision was later reaffirmed by more than 500 delegates from across the country at the 2002 Loya Jirga. While neither of these historic agreements were flawless, as a participant in both I was filled with high expectations and energized with optimism for my country's future.
Whatever its weaknesses, the progressive vision for a post-Taliban Afghanistan provided civil society with room to grow. Hundreds of civic groups, including many devoted to women's rights, sprung up across the country. With international support and the enthusiasm of a new generation of Afghans, the independent media blossomed as never before in Afghanistan's history. But these gains have had little time to take root, and they are now at serious risk of being crushed.
This is the reality of Afghanistan in 2012. How did we get here?
First, since the end of the transition period established by the Bonn Agreement (2004), the Afghan political leadership has failed to implement an inclusive vision for Afghanistan's future. Instead, the government has opted for the politics of tactical, backroom deals as a strategy for guaranteeing their political survival. This brand of reactionary policy-making appeals to the most conservative and violent elements in Afghan society for support, and ignores the interests and aspirations of the vast majority. Unwilling to speak out or act upon major human rights issues, Afghanistan's political leaders have prevented Afghans from following the path that they chose and enshrined in their constitution in January 2004.
The international community has accepted these worrying trends, and has refrained from exerting real political pressure on the government to comply with its international obligations and the Afghan Constitution. Afghan human rights advocates have lobbied tirelessly, but their arguments, evidence, and pleas have been largely ignored. As time has passed, human rights have been mentioned less frequently in international discussions on Afghanistan and this is reflected in official documents. In the most recent U.N. Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan, passed on March 22, 2012, human rights were relegated to a sub-item.
Emboldened by recent international permissiveness, Afghan leaders have increasingly viewed justice and human rights as more of a luxury than an indispensable prerequisite for peace. In December 2007, President Karzai publicly announced that he would not challenge human rights violators and would not implement the Peace, Justice and Reconciliation action plan adopted by his own government in 2005. The vetting process for police reform that had managed to exclude at least 14 notorious figures from reappointment as chiefs of police was frozen indefinitely in 2007.
Other difficulties have aggravated the situation. The president's lack of desire for political development through political parties has hindered the establishment of active and effective political movements in the country.
In the absence of robust, democratic political pathways through which the majority could voice their aspirations, the Palace has relied instead on figures and factions who represent a tiny portion of society. While democratic voices have consistently marginalized, those advocating a non-representative form of conservatism, the Ulema Council, and a powerful minority seeking their own political and economic interests, have therefore exerted a disproportionate influence over the direction of national policy.
A second reason for the decline of the human rights and democracy agendas has had to do with the evolution of international strategy and priorities. Early on, at least rhetorically, Afghanistan's international partners (the United States in particular) embraced human rights reforms as a component of the state-building strategy in Afghanistan. Over time, however, the focus shifted to defeating the insurgency, then to counterterrorism, and then to containing the insurgency. With this shift towards military objectives, the human rights agenda suffered. The United States embraced nearly any party that would oppose the Taliban, regardless of their human rights records. Afghan prisoners were abused in American-run prisons. Night raids continued, providing powerful recruiting narratives to the Taliban who, undeterred, killed civilians in ever larger numbers with each passing year. Continued partnership between the international military and malign elements of the past contributed to a gradual but steady move of the Kabul government toward embracing the same abusive figures.
President Obama's review of the Afghanistan strategy, released in March 2009, further limited the objectives for the American engagement in Afghanistan, dropping the idea of supporting democracy and human rights entirely. Elements within the Afghan government took this cue and began to neglect their own commitments. Indeed, a senior aide to President Karzai told me that the Palace has come to believe that human rights and democracy are not priority issues for the United States because they want to achieve reconciliation; therefore, "we will also relax our practice and policy on that front".
The alliances between some of the members of the international community, the Afghan government, and local warlords have implications that stretch well beyond human rights issues. Militarily and economically empowered by these alliances the warlords have been able to block merit-based upward mobility in the public and private sectors. By dominating political decision-making in the government, they have established dominant roles for their old militia structure members, guaranteeing specific interest groups hefty government and international contracts while protecting their unaccounted wealth.
Since the current structures protect the warlords and enable their domination, they correctly view reform efforts aimed at good governance, rule of law and human rights as a threat that could drive them from power. Consequently, they have aggressively undermined all such reform efforts, actively manipulating systems. Through their influence at the Palace, a small group of wartime leaders are utilizing government appointments to expand their own network rather than serve the public interest. There is little risk of exposure or accountability and a high return. Those who are being formally appointed by the President (but actually at the behest of unaccountable and influential patrons) feel less loyalty to their official boss than to those who nominated them. The public understands that public office is being used to dole out favors to the informal leaders. Ultimately, public trust in the government is severely undermined.
In a desperate move to end almost ten years of military engagement, in 2011 the U.S. and Afghan governments set two potentially conflicting goals by opting to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban while simultaneously beginning the transition out of Afghanistan. In a situation where the Afghan government is increasingly weak, more hostile toward its international allies, and less capable of winning public support, Afghans fear that negotiating with insurgents from a weak position will further undermine human rights -- particularly the gains made with respect to women's rights.
Ordinary Afghans understand that a settlement at the expense of human rights and democracy will yield a very short-lived peace. Rather, such so-called "peace" protocols are likely to usher in a renewed, and more vicious, round of civil war. The key to a lasting peace by contrast is found in respect and protection of the rights of Afghans, ensuring good governance, and delivering justice for the wrongdoings of the past.
To address some of these problems, Kabul and Washington should consider a number of steps:
Build on the Strategic Partnership Agreement
The Strategic Partnership Agreement explicitly restates the shared determination of the United States and the Government of Afghanistan to achieving the goal of a stable and independent state of Afghanistan, ‘governed on the basis of Afghanistan's constitution, shared democratic values, including respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all men and women.' By recognizing and emphasizing the importance of the rights, needs and aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and of democratic values, the agreement is a first step towards reassuring Afghans that constitutional rights and freedoms are non-negotiable. The May conference in Chicago presents an opportunity for the international community to reinforce its commitment to rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan.
Peaceful and timely democratic transfer of power through elections
The end of the constitutional term of President Karzai coincides with the scheduled completion of the transition of security responsibility from international forces to Afghans. The Afghan government must ensure that Afghanistan makes a peaceful democratic transition of political power by 2014. Afghanistan's future stability depends as much on the capability of its security forces and their adherence to human rights and rule of law as it does on a peaceful transition of power to a next elected administration. Both should be key priorities.
President Karzai should therefore announce the date for the 2014 presidential elections, support a genuine electoral reform process and facilitate a peaceful democratic transition of power for the first time in the nation's recent history. The United States, NATO countries, and the United Nations should already be seriously focused on how to support Afghanistan's elections and should take care to learn the hard lessons of 2009 as well as from the positive experiences of 2002, 2004 and 2005.
President Karzai should immediately initiate a clear process for holding to account those who are guilty of past crimes, and clarify that any crimes from now on will meet the full accountability of the judicial process. To begin with, he should implement the government's action plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation adopted in 2007.
President Karzai and his government should abandon the politics of the back-room deal and embrace the aspirations of the vast majority for good governance, democracy and human rights. To do so, he must engage the Afghan parliament in the formation of policy, and the international community should provide technical support to parliamentary committees. This support would allow legislators to gain the ability to formulate, present and adopt specific policy options to the government, instead of debating in general terms -- and in a reactionary manner -- executive decisions that have already been made.
President Karzai must provide equal space for pro-democracy and reform voices in policy development and decision-making, and the international community should break its long silence when it comes to bringing onboard pro-reform agendas and voices. To facilitate ownership of national processes, the president should create incentives for political parties to generate alternative policy debates. The political parties and Afghan civil society must engage in a much more aggressive, structured, and realistic advocacy campaign for the implementation of reform agendas, and they should press President Karzai to remove from office those whose acts are undermining his own legacy in human rights and democracy. President Karzai must hold accountable officials who are involved in abusive practices and abandon the practice of simply reshuffling them to other senior positions.
Inclusive Talks with the Insurgents and Clearly Defined Redlines
It is also imperative for the government to show that it has begun -- in practice - to make the protection of human rights and promotion of democratic practices the center of its agenda. The Afghan government must publicly and explicitly assure Afghans that all rights and freedoms enshrined in the Afghanistan Constitution and the gains made in the past decade regarding human rights and democratic development are not negotiable in any talks with the Taliban. The United States must do the same.
Nader Nadery served as Human Rights Commissioner at Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and chairperson of Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) based in Kabul.
On May 14, 2012, Pakistan took a wise step toward transforming the potentially impotent Afghan reconciliation efforts into some that may be relatively productive and viable. As all interlocutors involved have acknowledged, without Pakistan's sincere efforts at reconciliation, only instability in Afghanistan can be guaranteed. The decision-makers in Pakistan are increasingly recognizing that leveraging their ability to create instability in Afghanistan is no longer a desirable policy option. Irrespective of what their fears, temptations and externally-created compulsions are, Pakistan's civilian and military rulers understand that three decades of instability in Afghanistan have generated an acute security crisis at home.
Washington shifts its Afghanistan policy away from a focus on force to a policy
that finally moves towards political reconciliation -- as Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton had recommended in
her February 2011 Asia Society address -- it appears logical for Islamabad to
seek a genuine partnership with Washington and Kabul for peace in Afghanistan.
Accordingly, to revive a partnership with the United States on the Afghan reconciliation process, Islamabad has recognized the importance of sending a positive signal by making tangible moves toward reopening NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan. U.S. and NATO officials had made it quite clear that Pakistan's participation in the imminent summit in Chicago was contingent upon its lifting of the blockade on NATO supplies destined for Afghanistan, a move that could also score points for the ruling party in the next elections.
Pakistani government, with its political opposition vehemently
opposed to the reopening of the routes to NATO, has taken a major
calculated risk in making the announcement. Washington has not yet made a
public apology for the November U.S.-ISAF helicopter strike at Salala, which killed 24 Pakistani
soldiers; the terms for NATO's use of Pakistani supply routes are not yet
finalized; Pakistani officials have not yet negotiated a deal ensuring that
drone attacks are no longer conducted unilaterally by the CIA; and ISAF has
given no concrete guarantee that there will be no repeat of the deadly attacks
on Salala. Drawing on these facts, the opposition accuses the government of
abject weakness, incompetence, selling out, and surrendering to U.S. power. It
is being blamed for its failure to fully leverage control of the supply routes
to Pakistan's advantage, and for making this decision to please Washington.
Indeed, while at least some of these accusations cannot be rejected without careful consideration, the fact remains that governments must take calculated risks, and they must balance the potential costs and benefits of those risks. That is what Pakistan's present government has done. In a less than perfect context, it concluded that the NATO summit is important because it brings Pakistan into the policy-making discussion regarding the future of Afghanistan. Clearly, when Karzai and the United States are having that discussion -- and now also pursuing the dialogue with the Taliban that Pakistan has been advocating -- Pakistan must not abandon the opportunity to be part of the process.
Pakistan's relevance to Afghanistan's peace is arguably greater than that of
other countries, Pakistan cannot "go it alone." Finding a solution to the
conflict in Afghanistan is not a unilateral affair. Peace cannot and has not
come by simply engaging with or trying to control the Taliban. All the parties
involved need to work in partnership, on the best negotiated terms possible.
These realizations within Pakistan augur well for the Afghan reconciliation process, but some domestic truths still need to be acknowledged in Washington. For reasons of pragmatism, self-interest, and in order to maintain a viable partnership with Pakistan, the Obama administration needs to go beyond its present policy of stalling on issues that are of immediate concern to Pakistan. First, Pakistan needs an immediate apology, which the U.S. president himself must issue at his Chicago meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. Second, the United States must draw up measures to ensure Pakistan's prior knowledge of planned drone strikes, as well as its clearance of intended targets, areas of operation, and the number of attacks. Third, both nations need to agree on fair payments for the use of Pakistani ground supply routes to Afghanistan. And fourth, NATO must make comprehensive guarantees that a repeat of Salala never happens.
These steps would create a Pakistan-U.S. partnership that
genuinely promotes their shared objective of regional peace and stability, not
to mention the likelihood that they would make this highly controversial
partnership more palatable to the Pakistani public and political opposition.
Pakistan's government has indeed taken the risky political path to pursue
responsible policy, and so must Washington. President Obama needs to be
the statesman, and leverage his credentials as the one who authorized the
successful raid on Osama bin Laden's compound to invest in a peace partnership
with Pakistan, and not shy off for fear of Republican attacks, even for an
apology for the Salala killings.
Meanwhile, given the political, security and financial realities, Afghanistan's future will realistically be determined by a four-way engagement, involving Afghan political leaders, the Taliban, Pakistan and the United States. It would be both unwise and counter-productive for Pakistan to stay on the margins, particularly now that Pakistani and American interests converge in Afghanistan.
Considering the typical framing of Pakistan's popular- and political-level foreign policy debates, the opening of NATO supply routes and Pakistan's participation in the Chicago summit may in some circles be interpreted as damaging to Pakistan's security interests, undermining national pride, and working against the wishes of the people of Pakistan. However, it is important to be clear where the interest of the people lies within the context of foreign and security policy. It lies in creating security and socio-economic conditions within which governments can fulfill their Constitutional responsibilities towards the people. Hence, the government should make decisions that promote internal security, economic prosperity, social development, and the defense and dignity of the country. This is where the people's relevance is key. The public's sentiments cannot dictate decisions on whether NATO supply routes should be shut or open; governments must decide -- and take responsibility. In Pakistan, like in many other countries, the people's sentiments have often been part of a circular political strategy: institutions opposing civilian policies fed their views to a segment of the public, and were then played back as peoples' sentiments.
But another interesting question within Pakistan's domestic context is, how valid is criticism of the parliamentary process that presented terms for the re-set of Pakistan-U.S. relations? Many argue that policy-making is an executive function, and thus handing this task to the parliament was misguided. On one hand, the parliament's involvement on a key foreign policy issue that has been discussed and debated for three decades was necessary to get a general consensus. On the other hand, the criticism that the issue dragged on for too long is valid. The long drawn-out process triggered the law of diminishing returns to some extent, a fact that Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman continuously raised with the Pakistani government.
Washington was almost in awe of the process, and began
recognizing its own mistakes, including unilateral drone attacks, its hesitation
to re-negotiate the terms of NATO supply routes, and blocking the release of
the Coalition Support Funds (CSF). And when the U.S. was ready to make an
apology, Pakistan suggested it be held back until the parliamentary process
ended. A senior White House official and the Pakistani ambassador jointly
announced an agreement to release the withheld CSF, but the parliamentary
process dragged on, and talks on the NATO supply routes were not resumed.
With the deadlock on the supply routes now broken, Pakistan will take a seat at an important global policy reflection and discussion forum on Afghanistan and the region. And, provided that seat is wisely utilized, Pakistan will have also promoted its own security and economic interests -- just as it is doing in opening up trade and conflict resolution dialogue with India. Fortunately, as PML-N President and leading opposition politician Nawaz Sharif repeatedly says, there is national consensus at least on these landmark policy moves.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
A recent wave of complex attacks in Kabul, Paktia, Logar, and Nangarhar has stirred strategic debate about the future of the war in Afghanistan. But they also pose tactical and operational questions closer to home. Security officials and police throughout the West have long worried about complex attacks like the assault that kicked off the Taliban's latest offensive. The mostly professional response by Afghan security forces and NATO troops demonstrates the limits of complex attacks, but the intelligence failures that allowed them to occur illustrate the general principle that sound tactics are only one part of the greater operational picture.
Since the 2008 Serena Hotel attack, Kabul has been plagued by repeated complex urban assaults. Deadly gun and bomb attacks in Pakistan and India have also become an unfortunate fact of life in the last decade. Counterterrorism planners, however, focus most on the 2008 Mumbai attack. Mumbai has powerfully shaped police and intelligence services' perception of future terrorist threats. In part, police have married specific training to combat complex attacks to existing prevention and response measures for "active shooters" in crowded areas. Police envision Mumbai while in practice trying to stop killers like the Virginia Tech shooter.
There is little novelty to the Mumbai attacks or armed assaults writ large. Terrorists have always sought to effect attention-grabbing assaults in public places. Adam Dolnik's work on modern hostage operations and armed assault marks the sicarii and hashashin sects of antiquity as the earliest terrorists employing assault techniques for strategic purposes. The Cold War saw numerous armed attacks, including deadly attacks by the Japanese Red Army and Palestinian groups throughout the 70s and 80s. The rise of religious terrorists also fueled strikes on targets ranging from Egypt's Luxor resort to the Oasis residential complex in Saudi Arabia. Mumbai is not the only target terrorists have hit in India; the Red Fort and even Parliament has been attacked.
Unlike the Tet Offensive, an abject failure of its own professed strategic ends with a high (unintentional) symbolic power, the explicit goal of the complex attack is televised gore for strategic effect. Attackers-prepared by fanatical beliefs--fight to the death as suicide commandos, although not all necessarily seek death as the terminus of the operation. In turn, the operational design of complex attacks synergizes disparate killing technologies and finds tactical harmony in off-the-shelf command and control systems. Just like military special operations, attackers aim to gain and maintain relative superiority early on. Body counts and media attention are the primary metrics of tactical success, and hostage-taking and barricading elongates the duration of the raid. Complex attacks, however, require a degree of preparation, training, and coordination that cannot simply be downloaded from a jihadist chat room. Logistics, discipline, and operational deception differentiate group threats from individual attackers like the Fort Hood killer.
Mumbai exemplifies these deadly operational trends. The terrorists used cell phones, blackberries, and satellite phones to coordinate their operations in real-time in cooperation with an offsite handler. They continued killing until Indian forces wiped them out to a man, inflicting a toll of 165 dead and 304 wounded. With an open-ended goal of killing and gaining attention, their operations could be tactically fluid. An attacker can change a scenario from an "active shooter" operation that triggers an immediate police response to more drawn out barricaded hostage siege, or detonate explosives to generate more casualties. Both happened during the course of the Mumbai assault. The attackers also effectively disguised their preparations and tactical ingress from Indian intelligence until it was too late.
Complex attacks pose significant difficulties for law enforcement command and control. As John P. Sullivan has observed, police are optimized to respond in a piecemeal manner to calls for service. Police also concentrate in space, whereas distributed attackers like the Mumbai teams concentrate in time over large urban expanses. A distributed assault strains police resources and fragments the response, putting in question the ability of police command and control to keep pace with rapid events.
Since 2008, police and counterterrorism elements have developed new operational methods and intelligence collection methodologies. Mumbai-style attacks targeting Europe have been foiled. In the United States, police in major metropolitan areas are broadly familiar with the complex attack template due to their extensive experience with active shooter response. This training has been mainly tactical, as elite units are unlikely to be the first responders. Regular police must be prepared to deny attackers relative superiority. It remains to be seen, however, whether the command and control problems involved in suppressing an attack that might unfold over a large metropolitan region have been resolved.
The Kabul strikes, despite breathless media coverage, did not constitute a Mumbai or a Tet 2012. The attack, mounted by the Haqqani Network, featured 40 attackers in Kabul and smaller attacks in Paktia, Logar, and Nagarhar. Afghan security forces, with air support, intelligence, and logistics support from NATO, handily suppressed the assault. Though Afghan and NATO tactics during past armed assaults have sometimes been haphazard, the Haqqani Network's operatives did not inflict anything close to the damage the Mumbai attackers wrought nor survive for as significant a duration. Insurgent adaptation is often hailed, the Afghans and NATO have also roughly adapted through years of hard fighting. But a focus on tactical professionalism hides more disturbing operational failures.
First, as Thomas Ruttig noted, the scale and distribution of the attack across multiple provinces with heavy NATO presences is without precedent in the current conflict. The Afghan and NATO failure to observe the sophisticated reconnaissance, planning, and logistics phases of the operation is also a serious intelligence failure. The attackers adapted to sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and NATO tactics, but the Afghan government did nothing to enhance security at the unoccupied buildings Kabul attackers often use as fortified high ground. NATO and the Afghans were still taken by surprise despite having forewarning of a general offensive, and the attack once again demonstrated the ability of a handful of armed men to briefly hold an entire city hostage and dominate the news cycle.
So will we see a complex attack in a major Western city? The jury is still out. There's a world of difference between operating in a South Asian warzone like Afghanistan or a troubled state with a history of terrorism like Pakistan and causing havoc in a Western city. Kenneth Boulding's "loss of strength gradient" applies to non-state actors too, as actors based halfway around the world face substantial challenges in projecting force into heavily fortified and intelligence-protected cities in the Western heartland. Could local networks gain a foothold? Complex attacks depend heavily on training and logistics networks that present plenty of rich intelligence targets, and if "jihobbyists" training in backwoods forests get snapped up by the FBI, the prospects for more serious operations appear dim. The failure to realize Mumbai-style attacks in Europe, an operational environment with greater potential for extremist penetration than the United States, also suggests some cause for skepticism.
However, one lesson from the sophisticated assault on Mumbai is the increasing leveling power of technology in empowering destructive small groups. In London and other cities wracked by political turmoil over continuing economic issues, mostly unarmed rioters augmented with peer-to-peer technologies created urban paralysis. The emerging informatization of public infrastructure in the West paradoxically enhances the vulnerability of Western cities to new forms of disruption. Even if a denuded al-Qaeda and affiliates lack power projection abilities today, it would be unwise to foreclose the possibility of future urban assaults and disruption by it or other potential adversaries.
Debates about the future aside, the cities of South Asia will continue to burn as urban assaults continue unabated. The terrorist attacks in Kabul, Mumbai, and Pakistan constitute gruesome evidence of the important role of sound command and control and intelligence in dealing with the urban adversary's potential for operational disruption in crowded cities.
Adam Elkus is a PhD 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.
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On November 13, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, would be tried in federal court alongside four co-defendants, reversing the 2008 Bush administration decision to try the 9/11 conspirators before a military commissions tribunal. On April 4, 2011, after an avalanche of criticism based on legal and security concerns, Holder sheepishly announced a reversal of policy. The country was now back where it had started: Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) would be tried by military commission at Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps because of the evident unease of the administration's turn about, ostensibly in response to political pressure, the debate over military versus federal tribunals for Guantanamo's High Value Detainees is still very much alive.
Recognizing this, William Shawcross's Justice and the Enemy: Nuremberg, 9/11, and the Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed joins the debate on the side of the military commissions. His somewhat standard reasoning begins with a relatively new, and somewhat flawed premise: that today's military commissions are but the current version of the "remarkable achievement" of the Nuremberg Trials, the international military tribunal which tried twenty-two Nazi defendants accused of war crimes and over which the American Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson presided as chief prosecutor. Shawcross, whose father was the chief British prosecutor at Nuremberg, insists that at Nuremberg, "Justice was done." From the start, Shawcross sets up Jackson as his hero, the unquestionable voice of wisdom, carrying the message from Nuremberg to terrorism.
To justify his reliance on Nuremberg as the determinative precedent, Shawcross asserts a foundational principle - that al-Qaeda is but the most recent example of the evil that evidenced itself in the Nazi atrocities, an evil that "did not die" with the twelve men condemned to death at Nuremburg, an evil that "reinvents itself in every age" and that "struck America on September 11." From this, he extrapolates that, when it comes to al-Qaeda defendants, it is only right to try them by military commissions.
From the trial of Zacarious Moussaoui, who pled guilty in 2005 to charges of conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks, to the reading of Miranda rights, albeit after a delay, to the Christmas Day bomber, Shawcross echoes the oft-repeated opinion that in these cases, "justice was not done." No case, to his mind, has demonstrated this more clearly than the trial in 2010 of Ahmed Ghailani on charges of conspiring in the 1998 Embassy Bombings in East Africa. Taking place twelve years after the crime, during which time Ghailani was tortured at a CIA black site and held at Guantanamo, the Ghailani trial was the Obama administration's attempt to test the federal court system. When the jury found Ghailani not guilty on 284 of 285 charges, Holder's reversal became inevitable. Although Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Shawcross is far from satisfied at what he considers a decision "perilously close to acquitting [Ghailani] altogether." He cringes at the notion that "either the government would have had to let him go," causing "immense strategic consequences," or they would have to "detain him despite the verdict of innocence." Justice Jackson, he tells us, would have agreed that terrorism detainees should not be released. Jackson, he reminds us, had opined that prosecutors "must never put a man on trial unless you are prepared to see him walk free," - a notion that Shawcross finds unthinkable in these cases, ignoring the fact that under Jackson's supervision, three of the Nuremberg defendants, were acquitted, and indeed, did walk free. Here, as elsewhere, Shawcross is shamelessly certain about prophesizing what Jackson would have done, telling us at one point that Jackson would have condoned not just the trial of KSM in a military tribunal but Obama's targeted killings policy as well. He cites Jackson on the matter of executing war criminals, "'If it is considered good policy for the future peace of the world, if it is believed that the example will outweigh the tendency to create....a myth of martyrdom, then let them be executed. But...let the decision to execute them be made as a military or political decision,'" not a judicial one. Shawcross's logic, shaped by its usefulness for his argument, fails to consider that the crimes of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki -- the American and Yemeni citizen who led al-Qaeda's efforts to recruit Americans -- as well as the crimes of Osama bin Laden's were those which both the criminal justice system and Guantanamo had prosecuted, and that bin Laden, indicted in federal court, was already squarely within the trajectory of the criminal justice system.
Ultimately, Shawcross rests his position on the belief that terrorism defendants are categorically different from those accused tried in criminal proceedings. As such, they are undeserving of the precious protections offered by the U.S. Constitution. When it comes to terrorism, he cannot understand applying the age-old dictum, "it is better for ten guilty men to go free than to have one innocent man convicted." Why, he wonders, must "that generous principle" be extended to terrorists, those who would "murder their way to a destruction of the rule of law and its replacement by a sectarian dictatorship?" "The idea that the Nazis should have had the protections afforded to Americans by the United States Constitution never occurred to Justice Jackson or any of the other jurists involved in the tribunal." Showing no allegiance to political correctness, Shawcross goes so far as to ask, "Why is one religion being accorded so much more deference than all the others?" Here, it is not just Shawcross's logic which is faulty but his misunderstanding of the law which posits that guilt and innocence must be tested in a fair, evidence-based trial and that ideological leanings do not alter that access to the system of law.
For the untoward "generosity" on the part of those who defend the use of the federal courts and who seek to defend Guantanamo detainees, Shawcross blames the Left, specifically the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU, both organizations which have been devoted to creating defense strategies for the Guantanamo detainees, largely through habeas petitions or aid to defense counsel at Guantanamo. In Shawcross's words, "Some of the lawyers, at times, seemed more concerned about the alleged injustices done to the detained terrorists than they did to those perpetrated by them." But it is not just the Left that he blames; the criminal justice system itself as well is to be blamed. Failing to distinguish law enforcement in terms of intelligence gathering and preventive police work from criminal prosecutions of terrorists accused of specific plots, Shawcross sees 9/11 as proof for his argument. "The very fact that 9/11 happened at all spelled failure for the law enforcement approach to terrorism." Viewed this way, denial of the right to hold trials in federal court seems almost like just punishment to Shawcross. Quoting Justice Scalia's dissent In the Boumedienne ruling which granted the detainees the right to habeas corpus, Shawcross reasserts his fears of the inadequacies of the legal system: the question of "'how to handle enemy prisoners in this war will ultimately lie with the branch [the judiciary] that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails."
Those who came of age politically during the Vietnam War might find themselves surprised by William Shawcross's ready acceptance of policies that have consistently bypassed the legal system amidst secrecy, fears of exposure for illegal policies, and without regard for either expediency or efficiency. His 1979 book Sideshow provided an unparalleled contemporary critique of the foils of power gone wrong. Confident, immensely detailed, and persuasive, Sideshow was journalism in the service of opposition politics, and as such, became one of the seminal works on the Vietnam War. Now, nearly twenty-five years later, Mr. Shawcross has given us a book which is eons away from the spirit of his earlier work. Instead of a critique of those in power, Justice and the Enemy is a defiant embrace of decision-making that yields to political pressure whatever the stakes. Rather than see this books as a novel argument in defense of military commissions, Shawcross's book is perhaps best viewed as a reminder of the fading spirit of those determined to check the use of power in the name of national security.
Karen Greenberg is director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University's School of Law and author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days.
In March, the United States and Afghanistan announced that the U.S.-run Bagram prison near Kabul will soon be handed over to Afghan control. It was a major diplomatic breakthrough that paved the way for the signing of a Strategic Partnership Agreement by President Obama and President Karzai on May 2. But the agreement to handover Bagram is leading to a dramatic and dangerous expansion of detention power in Afghanistan-and a potentially disastrous legacy for the United States.
As part of the agreement to transfer control of Bagram, the Afghan government is creating the authority to hold individuals without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time on security grounds-a power it has never before said it needed.
While such "administrative detention" regimes are permissible under the laws of war, this new detention power is being established in order to hand over a U.S. detention facility, not because changes in the conflict have convinced Afghan officials that it is necessary. A surge in U.S. detention operations like night raids has driven the prison population to over 3,000 detainees, most of whom the United States lacks evidence against for prosecution under Afghans law. Because the Afghan constitution, like the United States', protects individuals from being detained without charge or trial, the Afghan government needs a new detention law, which is now being modeled on deeply problematic U.S. detention policies and practices.
As a result, Bagram's real legacy may be the establishment of a detention regime that will be ripe for abuse in a country with pervasive corruption and weak rule of law.
Despite potentially far-reaching consequences, the development of this new detention power has been hidden from public view. When I met with leading Afghan lawyers and civil society organizations in Kabul several weeks ago, few knew that the government was proposing to create a new, non-criminal detention regime. Their reaction was disbelief and dismay. None had even seen a copy of the proposed regime, which the Afghan government has not made public and is trying to adopt by presidential fiat.
The Open Society Foundations recently obtained a copy of the proposed detention regime, and after review, we have found what it details deeply troubling. The proposed changes leave open critical questions about the nature and scope of this proposed detention regime, which if left unanswered make it ripe for abuse. Who can be held in administrative detention and for how long? Where will it apply? When will the government cease to have this power? How will the government ensure it will not be abused to imprison the innocent or suppress political opposition?
Most alarming is the failure to address the serious, long-term risks posed by such a regime. From apartheid South Africa to modern day China, administrative detention regimes adopted on security grounds have too often been used as tools of repression. In Egypt, the former government used administrative detention for decades to commit gross human rights violations and suppress political opposition, relying on a state of emergency declared in 1958, and nominally lifted only after last year's revolution.
Across the border in Pakistan, the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations are another stark reminder of the long, dark shadow that such legal regimes can cast. The ongoing imposition of these British, colonial-era laws, which among other things legalize collective punishment and detention without trial, are cited by many as a key driver of the rise of militancy in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
But there is still time for the United States to avoid this legacy in Afghanistan. If the Afghan government cannot be dissuaded from adopting an administrative detention regime, then the United States should urge the Afghan government to include provisions that limit its scope and reduce its vulnerability to abuse.
First, a ‘sunset' provision should be adopted, which would impose a time limit on such powers, or require an act by the Afghan Parliament to extend their duration.
Second, the regime should be limited to individuals currently held by the United States at Bagram prison. There is no clear reason why the handover of Bagram detainees requires the creation of a nation-wide administrative detention regime. More generally, the scope of who can be detained must be clearly defined and limited.
Third, detainees must have right to counsel as well as access to the evidence used against them in order to have a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention-a fundamental right in international law. At present it seems the government will follow the well-documented due process shortfalls of the U.S. model.
The United States and its Afghan partners must be honest about the serious, long-term risks of establishing an administrative detention regime in Afghanistan-particularly one that lacks clear limits and is democratically unaccountable. Protection from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life or liberty is at the constitutional core of the United States, and is essential to lasting stability and security in Afghanistan. Living up to the President's promise of responsibly ending the war in Afghanistan requires defending, not betraying this principle.
Chris Rogers is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Since NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010, debate has raged over the decision to draw-down troops from Afghanistan by 2014. And in less than a month, NATO is to hold its 25th heads of state summit in Chicago on 20th May. Unsurprisingly, among the summit's major themes will be the seemingly intractable Afghan question, controversy over which has continued with increasingly ferocious attacks by militants - the synchronised 18-hour assault on Kabul on April 16 being an outstanding example - along with persistently strained U.S.-Pakistani relations since NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. But rather than endlessly debating troop numbers - whose link to stability is at the least exceedingly unclear - NATO allies would be better off focusing on how to maximise the impact of programs which pave the way for long-term stability by dramatically re-shifting the focus of aid funding from security to development.
The full transition of responsibility for Afghanistan's security from NATO to Afghan forces poses deep questions about the efficacy of international intervention and traditional military approaches. For some critics calling for a faster transition to Afghan control, NATO's presence is the problem. Two years ago, NATO Afghan war veteran Lt. Col. Thomas Brouns warned presciently that "the possibility of strategic defeat looms" as "violent incidents" increase in direct proportion to the troop surge. The war is "a losing battle in winning the hearts and minds of nearly 30 million Afghans."
Others argue that a quick NATO withdrawal could be a grave mistake, precipitating a downwards spiral into endless civil war - a view expounded last year by the German military, the RAF, and a British government review ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron. Even the Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak warned of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of a more abrupt withdrawal - no doubt fearing a Taliban come-back in the wake of the vacuum left behind by NATO's departure.
Amidst all the controversy about NATO in Afghanistan, the curious assumption is that the country's stability is somehow purely correlated with troop numbers, rather than underlying socio-economic conditions and political accountability. Indeed, commentators have overlooked the single component of international intervention which has had resounding success - development aid, through Afghanistan's National Solidarity Programme (NSP). Under the programme, the Afghan government disburses grants to village-level elected organisations, Community Development Councils (CDCs), which in turn identify local priorities and implement small-scale development projects.
The NSP has reached out to 24,000 villages, mobilising nearly 70 percent of rural communities across all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - including enrolling over 100,000 women into new local CDCs. An independent evaluation by academics from Harvard, MIT and the New School found that the NSP had led to "significant improvement in villagers' economic wellbeing" and "their attitudes towards the government" - "reducing the number of people willing to join the insurgents" leading to "an improved security situation in the long run."
Yet the evaluation report also observes that development mitigates militancy only in regions facing "moderate violence" - but not where there are "high levels of initial violence." Here, the impact of the war is palpable - 2011 saw a record number of 3,021 Afghan civilian deaths. And a UN assessment for that year found the average monthly number of "security incidents" - such as gun battles and roadside bombings - was 39 per cent higher than the preceding year.
So if the exit strategy is the right one, it's still not enough. From June 2002 to September 2010, the United States - though the largest NSP donor - has given $528 million to the programme (as well as another $225 million from FY 2010 funds, with Congress appropriating a further $800 million or so). This is a tiny fraction in the total of about $18.8 billion in foreign assistance over the last decade, and much more needs to be done. Over two-thirds of Afghans still live in dire poverty; only 23 per cent have access to safe drinking water; and just 24 percent above the age of 15 can read and write, according to the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Thus, a recent report by the Center for a New American Security urges that the US government "not only continue its [NSP's] funding but should also help expand the program across Afghanistan. Only through steadfast support of the NSP and similarly structured enterprises can hard-won military gains be consolidated into an enduring, Afghan-led peace."
Yet the NSP is a virtual carbon copy of a longstanding development model being implemented just across the border in rural Pakistan, including the Taliban's strongholds in the northwest frontier province: the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN). As Pakistan's largest NGO, the RSPN has run quietly for nearly thirty years, with a staggering success rate - having mobilised over 4 million Pakistani households through local community organisations, provided skills training to nearly 3 million, and reached approximately 30 million people.
The RSPN's model - replicated so successfully in Afghanistan under the NSP - is distinguished by its unique participatory approach, based on partnership with communities. The programme began in the early 1980s through the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), in the Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize nominee Shoaib Sultan Khan, the AKRSP model was replicated by establishing a further ten autonomous Rural Support Programmes (RSP) across three quarters of the country's districts - which together form the umbrella that is the RSPN.
The secret of the RSPN's success is deceptively simple. The poor are mobilised to establish local community organisations where citizens are involved in every aspect of decision-making - designing and selecting projects, managing them, and monitoring expenditures - in projects which have immediate, tangible impact. The programme thus empowers villagers to see themselves as citizens with the skills, tools and acumen to work together in managing disbursement of government funds to lift themselves out of poverty.
In the northwest province of Chitral, for instance, local micro-scale hydro-electricity projects now supply power to over half of the population. Elsewhere, RSPN has empowered locals to establish 1,449 community schools, whose pupils out-perform their peers from government schools, and enrolled 681,000 women in community activism - the largest outreach to poor rural women of any Pakistani organisation. That is why the RSPN's work is so critical to the future of the country - for a strong, representative Pakistani state to emerge, it must be grounded in strong local civil society institutions capable of holding it to account and engaging with it constructively.
But like the NSP, the RSPN receives only a fraction of the overall U.S.-U.K. aid budget to Pakistan. The ongoing debate about troop numbers and drone strikes - while important - has served to distract attention from the critical role of development aid in building resilience to radicalisation. Thus, across the region, the obsession with traditional security solutions has arguably been its own worst enemy. As the countdown to withdrawal continues, the international community must strengthen and expand these proven development models. Otherwise, the quagmire will become an abyss.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD) in London, author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization (2010) among other books, and writer/presenter of the critically-acclaimed documentary film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011). His work on international terrorism has been used by the 9/11 Commission, the Coroner's Inquiry into 7/7, the US Army Air University, and the UK MoD's Joint Services Command & Staff College. He has also advised the British Foreign Office and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and consulted for projects funded by the US State Department, the UK Department for Communities & Local Government.
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This year, the United Kingdom hosts the Olympic Games, and security services are on particularly high alert. Magnifying an already tense environment, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and then al-Qaeda released videos in the past few weeks, threatening the United Kingdom if convicted jihadists serving sentences in the U.K. are not treated better. The TTP threatened, "we will show them how we take revenge for the mistreatment of our brothers." Are these just empty threats, or are they, in fact, causes for genuine concern for British security services?
The first video threat was a speech by Waliur Rehman Mehsud (TTP's deputy leader and a regular spokesman), who told British authorities to take better care of the jihadists that it was holding in prison, specifically highlighting the cases of Roshonara Choudhry, the woman who tried to kill a member of Parliament for his support of the Iraq War after watching Anwar al-Awlaki videos; Dhiren Barot, the Hindu convert who fought alongside Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, wrote about his experiences in a book, and was later arrested as part of a cell plotting unspecified attacks in the U.K.; and Bilal Abdullah, the Iraqi doctor who was jailed for first leaving a set of car bombs in central London in 2007, and then driving a jeep laden with explosive material into Glasgow airport. All three are serving long sentences in the U.K., and Barot and Abdullah have been linked to al-Qaeda Central to al-Qaeda in Iraq respectively.
Two weeks later, al-Qaeda released a statement telling the U.K. not to extradite Abu Qatada, the Jordanian-Palestinian imam who was one of the cornerstones of Londonistan, to Jordan. Though he has not been convicted of any offenses, security services have repeatedly highlighted his menace, and in March 2004 a British high court judge described him as "very heavily involved, indeed at the center in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associate with al Qaeda. He is truly a dangerous individual." He is currently still battling his extradition to Jordan on charges linked to a plot in that country from around the Millennium. In the statement, al-Qaeda demands that the British government send the cleric to one of the Arab Spring nations instead of Jordan. This threat was followed soon afterwards by similar messages from al-Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate (the Islamic State of Iraq), and another by al-Shabaab (the Somali group that recently pledged allegiance to al Qaeda).
Neither of these statements is in fact very new: TTP and Waliur Mehsud have repeatedly threatened the West, and have been linked to terrorist plots in Europe and America. Similarly, in June 2009 al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) demanded the British government release Abu Qatada, and executed captive British citizen Edwin Dyer when British officials refused to comply. Whether al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan are currently holding any British prisoners they can use as leverage this time around is unclear, but given the long-standing connection between jihad in Pakistan and the United Kingdom, British services will be watching these messages closely.
Whilst the British-Pakistani terrorist connection is no longer what it was -- a source of most of Britain's domestic terrorist plots as young British men went to fight in Afghanistan and were re-directed back home to carry out attacks -- it has not completely dissipated. Earlier this year, a group of nine men pled guilty to a plot to plant a bomb in the London Stock Exchange. Four were directly implicated in the bombing plan, while the others were fulfilling a series of subsidiary roles, including developing a training camp in Pakistan that they could turn into a location for British citizens to prepare for jihad. And later this year we will see the trial of a group of Pakistani-Britons arrested in Birmingham last October. The group of seven has allegedly been linked to training in the AfPak region, and were reported to have recorded martyrdom videos. And these allegations are merely the most recent in a long list. British intelligence officers have broken up other cells containing individuals who have gone abroad to seek training, and their early intervention prevented the plots from advancing much beyond this point. And at least four British citizens have fallen foul of drone strikes in Waziristan since October 2010.
But the stream of money and fighters (according to British intelligence, prior to 2002 some 3,000 British citizens had gone to fight) that used to go back and forth has now died down to a trickle. Clearly, some sympathy still exists amongst Britain's South Asian community for what many see as the plight of their brethren at home, but the number of young men willing to go fight alongside militants there has fallen. The intelligence community is unwilling to specify publicly, but told journalist Jason Burke that "never more than a few score in any one year, their number [of young Britons going to fight in South Asia] has now been reduced to a handful." This has likely stunted the capacity of al-Qaeda and its affiliates to launch attacks in the United Kingdom with much ease. This is not to say that the U.K. is not a target - these latest statements are testament to the country's continued presence on group's priority list - but militants are now likely find their plots more difficult to put into action.
What is unclear is whether this difficulty of moving into action is a result of a lack of willingness from recruits or whether it is a lack of capacity from al-Qaeda to be able to manage plots and networks launching strikes abroad. According to a series of documents believed to be from al-Qaeda Central that were obtained by German security forces when they arrested a pair of fighters returning from Waziristan last year, al-Qaeda used to have a capacity to manage large networks of plotters in the United Kingdom using operational managers in Waziristan, who were in close contact with the cells on the ground. This capacity seems to have gone away, with the group taking a far more hands-off approach to managing cells. In neither of the aforementioned British plots (that on the London Stock Exchange and that involving a Birmingham cell) was there, from information currently available, evidence of management by al-Qaeda Central of the plot on the ground. The last major set of plots with a key manager in Waziristan were concocted by a group disrupted in northern England in April 2009 (who were allegedly planning a campaign in northern England), another cell led by Najibullah Zazi stopped in September 2009 in New York (one of whom is currently on trial in New York), and then in July 2010 in Norway (when a group of three was planning an unspecified attack in Oslo using hydrogen peroxide based bombs).
Since then, we have seen an increasingly loose set of individuals dispatched from Waziristan to the West (and in particular the U.K.) to attempt to carry out terrorist attacks. Some sort of network of people going back and forth from the U.K. continues to exist - it was only July last year that British Special Forces in Herat detained a British couple who had snuck into Afghanistan and were allegedly trying to connect with extremists to launch an unspecified attack either in Afghanistan or back in the U.K. The couple, at least one of whom was a British citizen, is currently in Afghanistan in unknown circumstances, having been released by British forces. However, we are no longer seeing the sorts of large-scale plots with connections right to the top that we saw coming along the British-Pakistani pipeline in the early/mid-2000s.
All of this suggests both a lowering in the volume of individuals going back and forth, and a degradation of the capacity of al-Qaeda or others in Afghanistan and Pakistan to effectively manage such individuals and turn them into operational cells. The days of the British-Pakistani connection's role as the primary source of the terrorist threat in the West appear to have passed.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming "We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen" (Hurst/Columbia University Press). His writing can be found at: http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
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The last two years have not been kind to al-Qaeda Central (AQC). U.S. drone strikes over Pakistan's Pashtun tribal regions have decimated its leadership ranks, killing a number of senior operational leaders and ideologues. These killings have eroded the ability of AQC and the transnational Sunni jihadi current to propagate its message. Despite these losses, however, AQC still has a number of charismatic voices that it is able to, and frequently does, deploy. One of these is the group's chief juridical voice, Abu Yahya al-Libi. A second is the Kuwaiti preacher Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, a much lesser-known ideologue who has played an increasingly prominent role in AQC's media productions since his debut in an often comedic "quiet dialogue." This "dialogue" was actually a rhetorical monologue aimed at U.S. president Barack Obama, released by the group's al-Sahab Media Foundation in August 2009.
Since then, al-Husaynan has emerged as both the spiritual guide to AQC's armed cadres in the AfPak region and the group's missionary ambassador tasked with wooing new recruits from abroad. These roles have been emphasized in his repeated appearances in al-Sahab's Diary of a Mujahid video series, which presents a holistic picture of the jihadi-guerilla lifestyle by showing jihadis engaged in military attacks, physical and doctrinal education, and leisure activities such as fishing. The Diary of a Mujahid series highlights the important but often neglected social aspects of "mujahideen" life, through which bonds are created among jihadis, reinforcing the group's ideology and dedication. Al-Husaynan has appeared more frequently in a quasi-military capacity, filmed with firearms delivering lectures and sermons in the field to AQC's frontline troops, emphasizing his role as a "mujahid" or warrior theologian and missionary preacher. The publication of several of his essays and full-length books on weighty theological and juridical topics by the al-Fajr Media Center, the shadowy media network that coordinates the online distribution of all media materials produced by AQC, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), solidified his credentials as a jihadi juridical voice and religious scholar.
Unlike Abu Yahya, al-Husaynan has not attracted a significant amount of attention from scholars and analysts -- with a couple of notable exceptions -- despite being one of the most vocal advocates for the transnational jihadi missionary campaign. While it is true that AQC's operational and media abilities have been significantly hampered by its recent losses, the group retains prominent voices, such as al-Husaynan's, urging Muslims around the world to support its "jihad" against the U.S. and its allies and regional clients in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. These voices should not be ignored by al-Qaeda analysts because they continue to provide a valuable window into the ideological machinations of a certainly weakened, but still living transnational militant movement.
In addition to his personable oratorical style, which runs the gamut between fire-and-brimstone preaching to (more frequently) a conversational tone, al-Husaynan is also able to deploy his credentials as a religious scholar and preacher prior to his joining AQC. The transnational jihadi current suffers from a relatively small number of bona fide religious scholars (‘ulama), and the presence of ideologues such as al-Husaynan enables it to claim much-needed juridical and theological cover for its actions. Specifically, jihadis are able to use voices of "frontline scholars" (‘ulama al-thughur) such as al-Husaynan to counter the criticisms of AQC and its sister groups by other, more mainstream, ‘ulama, such as the Saudi Salafi scholar Salman al-‘Awda.
A former preacher employed by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, al-Husaynan began his formal religious education in 1986 with a number of prominent Saudi Salafi scholars, including the prominent Saudi jihadi-Salafi scholar Suleyman al-‘Ulwan, who has been imprisoned since April 28, 2004, and the mainstream Saudi Salafi jurist Muhammad al-‘Uthaymin, one of the most influential Salafi scholars in modern history. The Kuwaiti ideologue provided a detailed sketch of his educational and biographical background in a lengthy interview with Hittin, an Urdu-language jihadi Internet magazine named after a famous battle in which the medieval Muslim ruler Saladin defeated the army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, which was published in the January issue.
Information posted online by al-Husaynan's supporters sheds additional light on his biographical background. After graduating with a degree in theology from Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, he worked as a prayer leader (imam) and preacher at the mosque of the Sa‘d al-Abdullah Academy for Security Sciences, an institution which is responsible for training Kuwaiti police officers. He later worked at a number of other mosques controlled by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs where has was a popular preacher and a prolific writer of religious pamphlets on issues such as supplicatory prayers (du‘a), the Day of Judgment, and women's issues. Even at this point in his career, al-Husaynan was known for employing humor in his lectures in order to better connect to his audience. The preacher emphasized his use of humor as a means for reaching out to Muslim youth, which he identifies as the primary target of his and other Kuwaiti preachers' missionary work, in his Hittin interview.
By the mid-1990s, he was a vocal advocate for Muslim fighters, or "mujahideen," presumably in places such as Chechnya and Bosnia. At this time in his life, al-Husaynan worked with the Salafi Movement of Kuwait, whose spokesman, Fahid al-Haylam, is quoted by al-Husaynan's supporters as having described him as a "missionary man" who was active in the organization of religious seminars for students at summer camps. Al-Husaynan was eventually removed from his position as an imam and preacher (khatib) at the academy's mosque because of fears that he would influence the cadets politically, and he was moved at a mosque in Bilqis in the Jalib region. In either 2006 or 2007, al-Husaynan left Kuwait to travel to the "battlefields of jihad" in Afghanistan, the land of "glory and pride." The date he gives in his Hittin interview is the Islamic lunar year 1427, which corresponds to the Gregorian years 2006 and the beginning of 2007.
Al-Husaynan's emergence as an AQC ideologue was slow but steady. In November 2009, al-Sahab released a video recording of his sermon for the Eid al-Fitr, the holiday ending the month of Ramadan, in which the preacher's demeanor was no longer as cartoonish as in parts of his August debut. Throughout Ramadan the following year al-Sahab released a series of brief, daily video lectures by al-Husaynan on a variety of issues ranging from proper belief (‘aqida) and theology to ritual practice and the proper behavior of a pious Muslim. Some of the lectures included references to political and ideological topics, such as one on the signs of hypocrisy, which include, according to the preacher, backbiting against the "mujahideen."
In October 2010 al-Husaynan, who is known in jihadi circles by the nom de guerre Abu Zayd al-Kuwaiti, was referenced briefly in the fifth installment of al-Sahab's masterfully produced martyrology video series The Wind of Paradise, which chronicles the life stories of AQC fighters and leaders killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In April 2011 the series of video "propagation lessons" (al-durus al-da‘iyya) that began with the Ramadan 2010 lecture series continued, and a month later al-Husaynan was being referred to by a new title, the "missionary" or "propagating" sheikh (al-sheikh al-da‘iyya), the same title used in AQAP's media to describe the role of the militant American-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
Al-Husaynan has undeniably become one of AQC's most frequently broadcast ideological voices and his importance to the group is likely to only increase with the thinning of the group's ranks of ideologues over the past two years. Despite the fact that al-Sahab has steadily pushed al-Husaynan to the forefront of its media campaign since late 2009, his impact on the broader transnational Sunni jihadi current is unclear. Measuring influence in the jihadi universe is difficult, but one way is to see who is quoted by other jihadi groups in different geographical areas of operation and how often they are quoted. Unlike Abu Yahya, ‘Atiyyatullah al-Libi, Usama bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Husaynan is not yet quoted frequently by jihadi movements such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or even AQIM and AQAP. Cyber artwork produced independently by online jihadis is another indicator and a field of jihadi media that the author has followed closely for several years. Al-Husaynan has only recently appeared in such artwork. While this uncertainty as to al-Husaynan's standing within the broader jihadi current should be considered, his promotion by AQC itself and the increasingly prominent role he has played in the group's recent media productions are compelling reasons to pay attention to his contributions to contemporary jihadi thought and discourse.
Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.
Afghan labourers take part in the construction of a bridge at Barikowt, in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province on April 3, 2009.
‘No matter how high the mountain, there is a road to the top' (Afghan proverb)
In Afghanistan, bridges are important. They link families separated by Afghanistan's often mountainous terrain, enable farmers to bring crops to market, and allow everyone - from traders to teachers - to move about more securely.
Last month, as Afghanistan's newly appointed Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, I handed over more than twenty completed projects - including a 460ft bridge and a university community center - to the people of Kapisa province in northeast Afghanistan. The bridge alone will benefit more than 70,000 people.
What relevance does this have for America, especially given longstanding concerns about the reasons for engaging in Afghanistan, the human and financial costs of doing so, and continuing apprehension about plans for transition, and Afghanistan's future stability and prospects?
Well, despite the regular diet of negative news about Afghanistan as we approach the drawdown of international - primarily American - military forces, I believe significant and sustained developmental progress is being achieved.
You might think, that as a government minister, I would say that. But the evidence is compelling.
My ministry manages five nationwide programs. Last year alone they provided direct technical support and funding to villages and districts in every one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces to help meet community-owned, locally agreed development plans. Rural roads and bridges helped connect two million people; access to clean water and sanitation reached two million more. And we helped almost 60,000 people, a third of them women, launch savings groups that will go on to create small and medium-sized businesses. Our work helps reintegrate former insurgents into communities as productive members of society, supporting stabilization efforts by our civilian and military partners. It is long running and life changing.
The major human development indicators are now moving in the right direction - for example, on the number of children in school, or levels of child and maternal mortality - but after thirty years of conflict Afghanistan has started from very low baselines. There is much more to do.
Afghans are increasingly taking responsibility for security and service provision. Under the third tranche of the Inteqal, or transition process, approximately 75% of the population will have seen security responsibilities pass to Afghan forces. That process is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014 but, as we know, it is not without its risks.
The years from transition to 2025 are already being termed a period of ‘transformation,' in which Afghanistan moves from heavy dependence on international donors to a state better able to pay its own way in the world, and make its own decisions. Support from the United States and the rest of the international community has been essential to fostering economic growth, social development, and stronger governance, enabling the Afghan government to begin providing support to 38,000 communities in over three hundred districts throughout 34 provinces.
Even in insecure areas, we have devised innovative mechanisms to deliver critically needed assistance, because development can and does address the root causes of conflict. Reducing poverty removes local grievances that can lead to tacit support for violence. Investing in education and training helps Afghanistan's young men and women find meaningful jobs. For farmers - and four out of five Afghans have a direct involvement with agriculture - promoting alternative, legal ways of generating income, instead of poppy cultivation, reduces insecurity and corruption.
A number of sectoral initiatives - National Priority Programs - are currently being finalized in partnership with international donors. The Tokyo Conference this July will look at those programs, including how they translate into long-term financial support. Discussions will not be easy: a decade more is needed before Afghanistan's economy can generate a substantial proportion of its own budget needs, and the global economic crisis has changed the donor landscape.
In the run-up to Tokyo, there is much the U.S. can do. I believe the Obama administration and Congress should look at a comprehensive package of support:
Now is not a time to cut and run. We know that post-conflict stabilization and development requires decades to complete, but we are a long way from becoming a ‘failed state.' The real and sustainable progress made so far has been achieved at great human and financial cost: the United States' continued commitment to our long-term development will be vital in bringing about a secure, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.
Wais Ahmad Barmak, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in the Afghan Government, is currently visiting the United States.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
As Sunday's spectacular attack in Kabul showed, the war in Afghanistan may be winding down in Washington, but it is heating up on the ground with spring's arrival.
And in Foggy Bottom and, to a lesser degree, on Capitol Hill, a battle is on for American hearts and minds even as calls for immediate withdrawal grow louder. The objective: to keep Afghan women from falling off the political agenda while Washington and its NATO allies hunt desperately for a diplomatic solution to America's longest-ever war. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches - and women to date still have no formal role - that fight gets more urgent.
"Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all," said Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at a luncheon for the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, an organization started under President George W. Bush to support programs benefiting Afghan women. "We will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women. And we will be working closely with the international community as well, because we all need to be vigilant and disciplined in our support and in our refusal to accept the erosion of women's rights and freedoms."
Former First Lady Laura Bush echoed the Secretary's comments.
"The failure to protect women's rights and to ensure their security could undermine the significant gains Afghan women have achieved," said Mrs. Bush. "No one wants to see Afghanistan's progress reversed or its people returned to the perilous circumstances that marked the Taliban's rule."
Clinton, Bush and their allies face an uphill fight. Today a record-high 69 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. And the recent alleged killing of unarmed Afghan civilians by an American soldier has cemented public desire to call an end to the war that began just after the attacks of September 11.
It wasn't always this way. In 2001, Washington leaders regularly invoked the plight of women, who had just endured years of Taliban rule that barred them from school and work. Afghan women became something of a cause célèbre worldwide, and the return of women to public life was seen as among the most positive byproducts of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Then-First Lady Laura Bush spoke out in support of Afghan women during a weekly presidential radio broadcast in 2001, and made high-profile visits to women's projects while visiting the country.
A decade later, members of Mrs. Bush's team acknowledge the challenge they face convincing the American public that supporting Afghan women on the way out of the country matters.
"It is hard for people to see the endgame and that is what I think contributes to the frustration," says Mrs. Bush's former chief of staff, Anita McBride. "This is not high on the radar screen because it is challenging and the solution seems so far away."
Those working closely with Sec. Clinton acknowledge the battle to keep women front and center is not easy. But they say they see an increased acknowledgment throughout the State Department and in the president's recent executive order on U.N. Resolution 1325 that women matter when it comes to peace.
"While clearly there is a strong, strong desire for the end of this (war), the big concern is the state of the women -- what happens to Afghan women and that they not somehow be forgotten," says Ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. "There is a recognition that for the genuine end of conflict and for the ability to reconcile with whomever it is possible to reconcile with, that the women have to be a part of that."
Those who have spoken out about the need to end the war swiftly say they agree.
"I came away strongly feeling that as we do draw down there that we have to retain a focus on these gains and whatever is necessary diplomatically or through our aid, that we can't neglect women," says Rep. Niki Tsongas of a recent trip to Afghanistan. "You have to publicly continue to raise the issue. That is the very least what we can continue to do, to publicly raise the issue and the importance of just trying to protect and secure those gains."
did just that at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing with Gen. John
"The question is, as we draw down from Afghanistan over the next several years, what can we do to make sure that we don't lose the hard-fought gains for the rights of Afghan women, 50 percent of the population? And what, if any, leverage will we have as we go through this process and after our withdrawal is complete?" she asked.
But is more than rhetorical support from those who support Afghan women's progress even possible?
"It is difficult, because I think that even for those who care very deeply about the status of Afghan women there is a little bit of schizophrenia, because I think some of us recognize that whatever the future is for Afghan women, the kind of military footprint that we have in Afghanistan can't go on another decade," says Rep. Donna Edwards, who co-chairs the Afghan Women's Task Force in Congress. "I believe that it is possible for us to construct a strategy where we make those kinds of civilian investments that will enable investments where it is possible to support women entrepreneurs, to support women in education, to support women as parliamentarians, I think it is possible to do that and I don't think we have too many more options left."
So what do the women at the center of all the discussion think of all the discussion of their future? Most say they simply want to be part of the conversation about their own country, particularly as they work to elbow their way into the discussions in Chicago next month. And they want to know what, exactly, leaders of the international community means when they say to women that "we will not abandon you," as Sec. Clinton has repeatedly.
women are no more the priority for the world, that is true," says Samira Hamidi
of the Afghan Women's Network. "The
international community is in a rush for withdrawal, but at the same time they
keep repeating and pushing the theme that we will remain with you."
Hamidi says women want clarity on what, exactly, those assurances mean. Says Hamidi, "in ten years whatever has happened for women is because of the struggle and participation of women. We are still fighting for our rights, for our inclusion, to be part of decisions and to be decision makers."
What Hamidi and other women leaders say they seek are assurances that any Taliban negotiations will keep in tact the Afghan constitution of the past decade, with its guarantee of equal opportunities, including the right to work and go to school, as well as a set-aside of a quarter of parliamentary seats for women. More than two million Afghan girls are now in school, with thousands in university, and civil society leaders want them to stay there. Women also want to be at the table, not outside the room, in any diplomatic discussions that will decide their country's future shape. That starts with Chicago next month.
Women say they are not asking for favors, but to be part of their own societies. They can speak up for themselves, and they are, but they could use the backing of big-dollar international donors who will be funding their government's security forces for years to come.
"The worrying part for me in 2014 is not that the international community is leaving -- troops are leaving, they have to leave this is a reality. We can't expect them to stay in Afghanistan for years and years, but for me what is important is how powerful our own security forces will be in 2014, how responsive they will be to women's needs. Those are things that the international community can really make their funding conditional on."
Those who support Afghan women say that if the world wants to see any progress achieved in Afghanistan continue, it will support civil society leaders like Hamidi - between now and 2014, and beyond.
"Increasingly, across the board, people get the fact that this is pragmatic, that you can't get from here to there on the items all of us want to see [in Afghanistan] without women," Verveer says. "Is it a guarantee? Well, we can't write the future. None of us knows exactly what is going to happen. We are dealing with a hypothetical and the best we can all do is to make sure that everything is in place as best as it can be as this continues to go forward."
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Since the beginning of 2012, all four provinces in Pakistan have experienced suicide bombings and terrorist related violence, including the most recent attacks in Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar, which killed scores of innocent people. And yet over the past four years, Pakistan's civilian government has failed to develop a counter-extremism strategy that addresses the underlying political, social and economic causes of militancy in the country.
While the parliament and executive bemoan the military's marginalization of civilian institutions in tackling militancy, the fact remains that it is Pakistan's elected officials who have foundered in the development of a civilian strategy that combats militancy. Meanwhile, more than 30,000 Pakistanis have died in terrorism-related violence over the past decade.
In the absence of a national plan of action, the Pakistani military has pursued a strategy focused almost entirely on drone strikes, military operations and illegal detentions, tactics that disregard the rule of law and due process, and are likely to destabilize the country over the long-term.
At a time when the government has failed to deliver, Pakistan's civil society groups have a critical role to play. Over the past few years, civil society actors in Pakistan have demonstrated their powers of persuasion in the face of government inaction-in the cases of the restoration of the chief justice and the annulment of the infamous National Reconciliation Order, to name just a few examples. Effective civil society mobilization can once again pressure the government to counter militancy in the following ways:
1. Forge a political solution to militancy, and ensure transparency
At an All-Parties Conference last September that was also attended by the military leadership, Pakistani lawmakers pushed for negotiations with Pakistani militant groups in the tribal belt, emphasizing the need to ‘give peace a chance'. Six months on, while military operations continue in the tribal belt, it is unclear whether Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's government has developed a coherent negotiating framework within which it can engage with its myriad militant groups.
Pakistan's civilian leadership must now take the lead in defining a negotiating strategy with the Taliban. Getting the military leadership on board will be crucial, though, as previous peace processes have been marred by a lack of coordination. In 2008, the newly elected provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) initiated dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban. However, these talks lacked the support of the military and federal government. Soon after the ANP-led government signed a peace agreement with the Tehreek-e Taliban's Swat chapter in 2008 (not to be confused with the 2009 peace deal), the military began a bombing campaign against the TTP in the tribal belt, and in the process jeopardized the ANP-brokered deal. The lack of a unified front weakened the government's position.
It is also extremely important to establish civil society-based monitoring and verification committees that can ensure insurgent groups' compliance with the peace agreements reached. Previously, the post-negotiation phases have lacked transparency, and independent groups have not had the access needed to determine which side is responsible for violating the provisions of the peace agreement. Civil society groups should demand more transparency in this regard.
2. Implement an anti-terror legislative regime
Pakistan's civil society groups must pressure the government to address gaps in the criminal justice infrastructure that allow militant groups to operate with impunity, as well as to implement legislation against terrorism that already exists.
In 1997, in response to the rising tide of sectarian violence in the country, Nawaz Sharif's government enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which created special anti-terrorism courts and expanded punishments associated with terrorism. However, gaps remain, and according to a recent report commissioned by the Punjab government, approximately 75% of the people accused of terrorism in the Punjab province over the last two decades were acquitted due to a lack of evidence against them.
In 2010, the Interior Ministry introduced further amendments to the ATA designed to make it easier for suspected terrorists to be prosecuted. While the parliamentary committee has deliberated on the anti-terror amendment tabled before it, it has yet to make recommendations on this critical issue.
Even when Pakistani administrations put in the effort to create anti-terror legislative regimes, they have faltered with respect to their implementation due to political considerations. Both civilian and military governments (PPP, PML-N as well as Musharraf's regime) have courted violent sectarian outfits for electoral support and votes, and have therefore failed to apprehend their leaders.
3. Address socio-economic imbalances
While most militant organizations have overt political or religious agendas, there are underlying socio-economic factors that are also at play. For instance, in districts of southern Punjab, the land-owning gentry have historically been mostly Shiite, who over generations have converted their economic influence into political clout. Consequently, the founders of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba (militant anti-Shiite organizations) were Sunni (Deobandi) men from impoverished backgrounds who won great popular support among their communities by challenging the Shiite feudal landlords in the area on both economic and ideological grounds. In addition, the apparent complicity of the land-owning elite with the corrupt and inept local judicial and administrative systems pushed the local population toward individuals who challenge the system.
The deeply entrenched feudal system must be challenged to reduce the social inequities found in these areas. While over Pakistan's 64 year history, many land redistribution bills have been introduced in parliament, those most comprehensive in scope have failed to pass, not least due to the fact that many in parliament have large landholdings and stymie such efforts. In addition, it is likely that the military, which forms part of the ‘landed elite' in Pakistan, would also resist the implementation of such measures. It therefore falls to civil society to mobilize and push for land redistribution, which could prove to be helpful in mitigating some of the socio-economic causes of sectarian militancy in Pakistan.
For far too long Pakistan's civilian leadership has blamed its failure to manage militancy issues on the military establishment's preponderance in political and security affairs of the country. This should no longer be acceptable to the Pakistani population. Pakistan's vibrant civil society and diaspora have an important role to play in holding the government accountable for its lack of a viable anti-militancy strategy ahead of elections next year. Nothing else is likely to motivate the country's elected officials to fulfill their responsibility of protecting the people of Pakistan.
Mehlaqa Samdani is a peacebuilding associate at the Karuna Peacebuilding Center in Amherst. She is currently working on a civil society-based strategy to combat violent sectarianism in Pakistan and blogs at ‘Politics and Peacebuilding in Pakistan'.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
As calls for an international intervention in conflict-wracked Syria begin to echo in Washington, it is critical that policy-makers remember the lessons learned in Afghanistan. One recent editorial on the crisis highlighted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of a United Nations Security Council brokered peace plan to buy extra time to crush his opponents, the Free Syrian Army. The plan, pulled together by international envoy Kofi Annan, called for Syria to withdraw troops, tanks and heavy weapons from major urban areas where fighting has claimed over 1000 civilian lives in the last week. Assad's predictable outmaneuvering of the U.N. drew this response from the Editors:
"The inescapable reality is that Mr. Assad will go on killing unless and until he is faced with a more formidable military opposition. That is why the shortest way to the end of the Syrian crisis is the one Mr. Obama is resisting: military support for the opposition and, if necessary, intervention by NATO."
I think that they are right. But having participated in an intervention or two in my day, here are a few thoughts to consider before we jump in:
Go in light.
There will be calls for a large-scale, multinational intervention. But consider Afghanistan 2001, where 300 U.S. Special Forces and 110 CIA officers - supported by precision air strikes - partnered with the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban in a matter of weeks.
Or Libya 2011; Operation Odyssey Dawn (U.S. operation) and Operation Unified Protector (NATO) used air strikes and Tomahawk missiles to cover ground assaults by forces opposed to Qaddafi's military. Duration: months.
The takeaway: a small investment of ground, intelligence, communications and air support can help produce an insurgent victory in a reasonable amount of time. Special Forces, for example - Arabic-speaking, experts in small unit tactics and calling in precision air support - can act as force multipliers by organizing, training, equipping and supporting the Free Syrian Army to conduct guerilla warfare, subversion, sabotage and intelligence activities.
Equally important: the fewer American and coalition partners on the ground the better, as it gives the Free Syrian Army and political leaders-in-waiting more legitimacy. After all, this is their war to win.
Go in smart.
Following a Free Syrian Army victory, we can expect some kind of insurgency. Fomented by former al-Assad regime members with external support, this insurgency will include former Syrian military members, elites who have lost position, true believers, and citizens taking advantage of the chaos to address local grievances.
As the Syrian Army's fortunes decline, caches of weapons and ammunition will be squirreled away for future use.
That said, there are 100 things that can be done right now to tamp down those things that will foster a post-conflict insurgency. And when it starts, there are 100 things that we need to do to put that insurgency to rest.
Go in cheap.
The U.S. is broke. In the coming year, the Pentagon, the Department of State and USAID will all suffer huge budget cuts. And after burning through immense amounts of cash in Iraq and Afghanistan, politicians and citizens alike are going to want this one done on the cheap.
And do not expect our allies to pick up our financial slack. NATO members are recovering from operations in Afghanistan and a rough economic ride thanks to the Euro crisis.
And that's okay - because going in with wads of money for stabilization, reconstruction and development can distort national and local economies and contribute to corruption. It is better to have fewer resources, and work to get government and community contributions for proposed projects. Sometimes less can be more.
Go in with humility.
If the Free Syrian Army pulls off a victory, they will have earned the respect of the world for winning their freedom from a ruthless dictator.
Let's be conscious of shackling and binding the new government with all sorts of Western cultural requirements.
In Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia intervening and international organizations have, at times, forcefully pushed Western ideas, notions and agendas before newly formed governments. Note that what is important to us will probably be important to them too - but maybe not this year, or the next. So think about what is immediately possible, and lay down the groundwork for that which is not.
Go in - but be prepared to walk out
Do not want it more than they want it. Never become so invested in another country's success that you cannot walk away.
If for some horrible reason the post conflict government participates in Human Rights violations, engages in corruption at levels that could lead to state capture, behaves in other ways that are irresponsible or reprehensible, and refuses to work with donor and supporting nations willing to assist them in recovery, then be prepared to walk away.
What is unacceptable in this day an age is to find your nation or international organization so leveraged by a new government that they can behave poorly and get away with it - because they know that you cannot leave; and that you will refuse to fail.
We do not want to find ourselves supporting a government that is as bad as the one that we helped remove.
Lastly, never take the first step until you know that last.
Do not commit to intervene until an agreement is reached with the Syrian opposition that outlines how the conflict ends and how the peace is to be secured.
Perhaps an important starting point to the conversation: "what do you/we want Syria to look like in 20 years?" The answer to that question tells you how to construct your post-conflict situation - and that in turn tells you how to fight your war.
Discuss things like:
- dismissing the Syrian military wholesale or deciding to work with it;
- choosing to form either a strong central government (that may lack capacity) or a federalized state;
- the process for creating a new constitution: timeline, participation, and content;
Essentially, what we want to avoid is rushing to bad decisions that will hamstring efforts to bring Syria back as a full participant in the world community.
Intervention seems to be a possibility. We have a lot of experience and talent in this arena - let's put it to good use.
Roger D. Carstens is a Senior Research Fellow at New America Foundation. A former Army Special Forces officer, he is currently in Somalia conducting research for a book that he is writing on counterinsurgency.
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
In 2014, Afghanistan is scheduled to hold its third presidential election since 2004, just 18 months after the next U.S. presidential inauguration, and at the height of the withdrawal of the international military presence. Then, just a year later, they are supposed to hold a legislative election in 2015. There is little prospect that either election will be adequately funded or competently administered. But even if, by some miracle, they come off without a hitch, they will only serve to entrench the corrupt, over-centralized administration in Kabul, and do little to improve governance in the localities. Holding elections in Afghanistan in the midst of its long-running political crisis is a lose-lose situation.
The United States and United Nations should work with the Afghans instead to push for a grand political bargain that could actually make a difference in the counterinsurgency against the Taliban: a new Loya Jirga to amend the constitution, devolve power, adjust the electoral calendar, change the voting system, and invite the Taliban to form a political party. Neither Kabul nor the international community stands to gain from holding another round of elections, but a new political bargain can break the paralysis in Kabul and break the logjam in talks with the Taliban.
I. Devolve Power
Afghanistan's slow-burning political crisis began in 2003, when a Loya Jirga convened in Kabul in December to ratify a new constitution. The new document was modeled closely on the 1964 constitution, itself following closely in the footsteps of constitutions in 1923 and the 1890s. That a new democratic constitution was modeled on the older constitutional monarchy is telling: the new system simply replaced the hereditary Afghan monarch with an elected President and retained on paper many of the centralized powers that the Afghan kings had claimed (though not always exercised) since the late 19th Century. The new constitution was unanimously ratified by acclamation in January 2004.
The United States and the U.N. are often blamed for creating or forcing a centralized system onto the Afghans at the Bonn Conference in 2001. The accusation is wrong - the centralized system came from the Afghans themselves, stemming from the century-old practice of Afghan rulers, and readily accepted by the Loya Jirga. But the point remains true that Afghanistan has one of the most highly centralized systems of government in the world. Provincial governments are not independent governments, like U.S. states, but implementing agencies of Kabul. Provincial councils are advisory, not legislative, bodies. Provincial governors and district chiefs are appointed by the president, not elected by the people. Provincial and district police chiefs are also appointed by the president, not by governors. That makes the President personally responsible for hiring and firing every governor and police chief in 34 provinces and nearly 400 districts nation-wide.
The centralization is almost completely unsuitable to Afghanistan's culture, economy, and society. According to Thomas Barfield's magisterial book, Afghanistan: A Political and Cultural History (arguably the most intelligent thing written on Afghanistan in a decade), the Afghan government has always claimed centralized powers, but has been most successful when it exercises those powers sparingly, or in cooperation with local elites like tribal elders and landowners. Efforts to use centralized government to compel social change tended to provoke resistance, as it did under the reign of the modernizing king Amanullah Khan (1919-1929), who was overthrown by a coalition of rural tribes and conservative mullahs; the communizing efforts of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (1978-1989); and the Islamizing efforts to the Taliban (1994-2001), the two most recent of which sparked civil war.
Despite the potential lessons of that history, the ten-year reign of Hamid Karzai looks more like Amanullah in his efforts to centralize power and push social reform, than that of Zahir Shah (1933-73), who took a more relaxed approach to the provinces and whose rule was marked by relative stability. Devolving power, for example by making governors elected and giving them the power of appointments in their province, giving provincial councils legislative power, and enabling provinces to levy their own taxes would bring the formal government into closer alignment with the informal practices that worked in the past.
II. Adjust the electoral calendar
Afghanistan's political dysfunction gained a new complication in 2004 when the nascent Afghan government and the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) first decided to separate presidential and legislative elections. They were supposed to be held simultaneously under the original Bonn Agreement, but the latter were delayed a year because of logistical difficulties. That immediately saddled Afghanistan with the burden of hosting not one, but two expensive national elections every five years. The 2004 election and voter registration drive cost in the neighborhood of $200 million; the decision to separate the elections simply doubled the cost of Afghan democracy and delayed the day Afghanistan could pay for its own government.
The first round of split elections in 2004 and 2005 were relatively successful: Afghans turned out to vote in large numbers and the results were widely accepted. The success masked a deeper problem, however: the elections were not held by the Afghan government. The international community, primarily the United States, paid the entire cost of the elections. And the U.N. administered the elections through the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), a hybrid U.N.-Afghan organization in which the international community could ensure the elections did not fail.
The weaknesses were exposed by the second round of elections in 2009 and 2010, which the U.N. turned over to the Afghan government to administer. The elections were notoriously marred by logistical problems, fraud, and low turnout. Although the Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) took the accusations of fraud seriously, launched a credible investigation, and eventually disqualified over 1 million votes (facts almost always overlooked by critics of the Afghan government) it is nonetheless true that that the elections were a disaster for the legitimacy of the Afghan government and the Karzai administration. The international community's and the Afghan people's disenchantment with Karzai accelerated dramatically after 2009.
III. Change the voting system
Afghanistan's political crisis is not simply a matter of over-centralization, expensive elections, and fraud. It also stems from the absence of the one institution that is essential for the basic functioning of any democracy: political parties. As any political scientist will argue, political parties are essential for aggregating and articulating voters' grievances and demands, translating them into a political agenda, mediating political participation, moderating extremism, and linking citizens to their government. Without political parties, democracy cannot thrive.
Political parties exist in Afghanistan, technically. But they play no role in the political system, thanks to the (frankly) bizarre voting system that President Karzai settled on in the Electoral Law in May 2004. The system, called the single non-transferable vote (SNTV), is used almost nowhere else in the world. Just three other states (Jordan, Indonesia, and Thailand) use versions of it for part or all of their legislative elections. The reason is that it is blatantly undemocratic and hostile to political parties.
In a normal parliamentary system, seats are allocated to parties in proportion to their share of the vote: if a party wins 35 percent of the vote, it is awarded 35 percent of seats. In the SNTV system, by contrast, the individual who wins the most votes in a given constituency is awarded the first seat; the candidate with the second-highest vote tally is awarded the next seat, and so on down the line until all seats are awarded. Regardless of how many votes the candidate wins, he is awarded one seat. In theory, the top candidate could win 90 percent of the vote and win one seat, while the fifth-place candidate might win two percent of the vote, and also win one seat.
The result is obviously undemocratic, but it also results in a highly fractured legislature composed of a few extremely popular, well-known (or feared) candidates with an independent political power base - the first-place finishers in each province - and scores of unknown, often extremist candidates who have no connections or loyalties to established political groupings. Political parties have no entry point into this system, and so play almost no role in Afghan political life. Without parties, there is nothing to structure debate or formulate competing agendas, and the result is a fragmented, disorganized branch. Americans have grown jaded about the U.S. Congress, but it is a well-oiled machine compared to the Afghan legislature.
IV. Invite the Taliban to form a political party
Counterinsurgency is competitive state-building. The counterinsurgent must build a government that is more attractive to the people than what the insurgents offer. Kabul will not win a counterinsurgency against the Taliban with a government that is distant, over-centralized, disconnected from the population, and in which the only opportunities for participation are periodic elections that are too expensive to succeed and marred by fraud.
But most importantly, Kabul will not end the war and stabilize Afghanistan until the insurgents and the constituency they represent believe they have an opportunity to participate in Afghanistan's political life. Afghanistan needs a Taliban political party.
The Taliban were the only faction not represented at the original Bonn Conference. That is their fault: they were still actively fighting a shooting war against the Northern Alliance up until the day after the conference closed, and they almost certainly would not have accepted an invitation to participate if one had been extended. Regardless, the Taliban do have a constituency, and represent a view of Afghan political life that a small minority of Deobandi Pashtuns still find compelling. Their exclusion from Afghan life feeds resentment, and gives the insurgents a potent narrative with which to sell their rebellion. Karzai knows that, which is why he has consistently and aggressively sought to reach out to the Taliban ever since his 2004 inauguration.
The Taliban as a whole are not going to surrender, lay down their arms, and peacefully convert into a political party. The leaders, if no one else, are true believers in their brutal theocratic system, in which elections and compromise have no place. But the average Taliban foot soldier is probably more flexible in his commitments, so long as he believes he is secure and respected. Holding talks with the Taliban and creating a way for them to participate in Afghan political life will not end the insurgency, but it can weaken the movement, sow disarray in their ranks, incentivize defections, and bolster Kabul's legitimacy. Reconciliation with some Taliban could be a potent weapon in the counterinsurgency campaign.
V. Convene a Loya Jirga
Each of these problems - centralization, the disjointed electoral calendar, the wonky voting system and weak political parties, the exclusion of the Taliban - exacerbates the others. The weakness of parties make it hard for an authentic local voice to be heard in Kabul, while the over-centralization gives Kabul little incentive to seek such a voice out. The electoral calendar has driven the cost of elections up, while fraud and corruption is making the international community ever more skeptical about providing the money necessary to keep the democratic charade going. The exclusion of the Taliban fuels the insurgency, but Kabul's incompetence and political paralysis cripple its own counterinsurgency efforts, and weakens the will of its international backers. Under these circumstances, new elections in 2014 and 2015 offer nothing good for Afghanistan or the international community.
Afghanistan has a mechanism for dealing with the "supreme interests of the country": the Loya Jirga. The Loya Jirga, a grand council of elders, is the supreme authority in Afghanistan, higher than any branch of government and the constitution itself. It is perfectly legal and constitutional: Chapter Six of the Afghan Constitution describes the Jirga and its powers. It is also a relatively democratic gathering, consisting of the National Assembly and chairmen of provincial and district councils, almost all of whom are elected (only one-third of the upper house of the Assembly are appointed by the President). The Afghans held an Emergency Loya Jirga in 2002 to ratify the Bonn Agreement, and a Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003-4 to ratify the new constitution. Karzai has called "mini" loya jirgas in the years since to ratify specific decisions or agreements, including the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership in 2005.
Many of the political changes needed would not even require constitutional amendments. Chapter Eight of the Afghan Constitution actually mandates that the government "delegate certain authorities to local administration units for the purpose of expediting and promoting economic, social, and cultural affairs, and increasing the participation of people in the development of the nation." The President's power to appoint governors and police chiefs is nowhere mentioned in the constitution. The voting system was created by statute, not by the Constitution. Changing the Afghan political system to be more decentralized, more democratic, and more responsive to the people could probably be accomplished even without the two-thirds vote of a Jirga required for constitutional amendments.
But the biggest potential benefit of the Jirga would be the inclusion of Taliban representatives. The Jirga could itself be an important medium in the ongoing efforts to hold talks with the insurgency. Kabul would have to be flexible about the Jirga's composition - the Constitution does not exactly have a clause about representatives from an active rebellion sitting in on a Jirga. But there are ways to skirt this, for example by allowing Taliban "observers" to attend without voting rights or, even better, through an understanding that district council representatives from southern provinces would be speaking for the Taliban. Regardless of the modality, the presence of Taliban spokesmen or their proxies would be an important symbolic step in the effort to incorporate willing Taliban into Afghan political life, catalyze talks with the insurgents, prompt defections, split the insurgency, and edge closer to peace.
A Loya Jirga in 2014 would be a more cost-effective use of international money. More elections at this point will accomplish little to stabilize Afghanistan or bolster Kabul's legitimacy. A Jirga, by contrast, has a greater chance of being seen as legitimate and accomplishing something worthwhile. An election will only pick the next person to head the corrupt and incompetent administration in Kabul. A Jirga, by contrast, would be empowered to tackle the full range of problems that plague Afghanistan's political system. Elections, held just as the international military presence is winding down, would be a dangerous nation-wide event for which security would be a major challenge. A Jirga, by contrast, would be a smaller, easier affair to secure.
Of course, a Jirga would be unwieldy and unpredictable. The international community would not be able to control it. Even with the substantial aid international donors continue to give Afghanistan, the international community has much less leverage over the course of events in Afghanistan than it did in 2001-2. But that is probably a good thing. The heavy international hand guiding events in Afghanistan ten years ago was perhaps necessary, but it was also abnormal. A new Jirga, this time under unquestioned Afghan leadership, could be the step needed to restart normal Afghan political life.
Dr. Paul D. Miller is an Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at the National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect those of the U.S. government.
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Talking about talks with the Taliban may still be all the rage in Washington, but in Kabul the silence has been deafening. Ever since Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura said last month that it was suspending its "pointless" dialogue with the United States, the Afghan capital has been bracing for the worst. Spring is traditionally the start of the fighting season in Afghanistan, and confusion around reports last week of a failed suicide attack plot at the Ministry of Defense headquarters have set Kabul on edge. Whatever tune the White House is singing these days, Afghans know talk of war and peace is as cyclical as it is seasonal.
This became all the more clear last week after the European representative for the armed faction of Hizb-e Islami, the group led by former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also called off talks with the U.S. Hizb-e Islami's about-face only a few months after the group sent a delegation to Kabul in December to meet with U.S., NATO, and Afghan officials comes as little surprise to those familiar with Hekmatyar's protean power plays. The one-time warlord from Kunduz has been playing cat and mouse with Washington and Kabul for years. As the International Crisis Group pointed out in a recent report on political settlement in Afghanistan, Hizb-e Islami's proposed 15-point peace plan sounded good on paper when it was first presented last year, but persistent internal rivalries within Hizb-e Islami doomed the scheme from the outset.
Negotiations with insurgent groups stand little chance of success without more vigorous and structured support from the international community. The debacles of the last couple months have amply demonstrated that neither Kabul nor Washington is likely to be in a position in the near term to strike a deal on their own with the Taliban or Hizb-e Islami. With NATO's withdrawal now only about two years away there is a real risk that security will further deteriorate, especially as political competition among Afghan elites becomes more heated -- and possibly more violent -- ahead of the 2014 presidential elections. The United Nations will effectively be tasked with filling the void left by the departing international troops. A lasting peace accord that guarantees that the achievements of the last decade are not reversed will require the U.N. to undertake structured negotiations and to appoint a team of mutually agreeable mediators.
The challenges facing the U.S. and Afghan efforts at peace negotiations were, of course, predictable and possibly even avoidable. But President Hamid Karzai, despite his impassioned calls at the National Consultative Peace Jirga two years ago for "upset brothers" in the insurgency to lay their arms and adhere to the constitution, has adopted a policy of passive-aggressive resistance to calls for reconciliation. If he's not firing angry salvos at Doha or Washington one day, the next he's galloping off to Saudi Arabia like an Afghan Don Quixote in search of a peace neither he nor his government have demonstrated any genuine interest in pursuing. Although the Afghan government has of late shown a little more chutzpah in its foreign policy and domestic dealings, it is doubtful that it would take any action at all if it wasn't under so much pressure from Washington.
The Karzai administration has, meanwhile, cleverly inveigled the international community into funding the $784 million Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), in the hopes of convincing low-level insurgent fighters to lay down their arms. So far, a little more than 3,000 fighters have signed up for the program, which offers insurgents a small stipend for three months, and a chance to get taken off ISAF's capture/kill list. According to ISAF officials, there is also a proposal on the table under the rubric of the program to pay so-called big name commanders $1000 a month to cool their heels.
But, the vast majority of those who've signed on to the program are non-Pashtuns in the north -- hardly a ringing endorsement for the success of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign in the south. Then again, no one should be surprised that APRP hasn't emerged as a panacea. After all, all that has been on offer is a fistful of dollars, a flimsy paper guarantee of security and an invitation to once again live life on the margins, where there is no assurance and little evidence that the Afghan government will protect its citizens.
None of this points to a swift or tidy end to the conflict. The U.S. and NATO are not going to single-handedly extinguish insurgent safe havens in Pakistan, bring peace to the Pashtun belt and clean up corruption in Kabul while playing "Let's Make A Deal" with the Taliban. Traditional powerbrokers associated with the Northern Alliance are poised to make sure that doesn't happen and there is no shortage of potential spoilers among regional actors such as Iran. A deal with the Taliban alone will never be enough to secure the peace in Afghanistan. It will take much more than talks about talks to arrive at a political settlement.
The rhetoric around reconciliation must be backed up by real and sustained action by the international community. The 9/11 attacks had global implications; they were not just a singular event in American history. Negotiations aren't likely to amount to much until the United States gets over its allergy to U.N. intervention in what are perceived to be strictly American affairs. The U.S. will require just as much help from the Security Council in ending its military engagement in Afghanistan in 2014 as it did with starting it in 2001. No matter how badly the U.S. and NATO want out of Afghanistan, a "responsible end" to the war will warrant sustained support from the international community for many years to come.
Candace Rondeaux is based in Kabul and is the senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan.
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Deep in reverence, over 1,800 turban-clad young clerics with flowing beards were packed into every inch of the huge lecture hall at the Darul Uloom Haqqania -- the oldest and largest Islamic seminary in Pakistan. The graduating students were listening raptly, absorbing the final lecture of the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) by the chief cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, in pin-drop silence.
After addressing the assembly of students in Pashtu, Maulana Haq, who also heads a religio-political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-Sami group), met groups of visiting Taliban in private before sitting down to speak with me. Haq's close relationship with the Taliban, and role educating many of its key figures, including the group's leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, has earned him the nickname "Father of the Taliban."
"There's no other way but to have meaningful talks with Taliban," Maulana Haq authoritatively declared when we talked recently at his residence adjacent to the seminary, which boasts over 8,000 regular students. The madrassah is regarded as the most prestigious seminary and center of the Taliban movement. It is located in the town of Akora Khattak, about 60 miles from Islamabad, and its alumni include Mullah Mohammed Omar, insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani (his last name denotes his time spent at the madrassa).
While Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan have repeatedly denied having engaged in talks with the United States or the Pakistani government, Maulana Haq, who freely admits supporting various Taliban groups including the Haqqani Network, emphasized the necessity of holding talks with the insurgents in order to establish regional peace.
Talks are needed now, more than ever, as the jihadist scene along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has moved far beyond the Haqqani Network and the ‘Mujahideen Shura of North Waziristan' -- a conglomerate of al-Qaeda-linked firebrands of various nationalities associated with the Taliban - to become the "North Waziristan Militants Complex".
"If the talks fail," septuagenarian Maulana Haq said, "Then the solution would be jihad -- that would be a public uprising against the Pakistani rulers and America."
During the war in Afghanistan, NATO forces have made several controversial incursions into Pakistani territory near the border with Afghanistan. Maulana Haq, who also heads an organization named ‘The Defense of Pakistan Council' warned, "If America steps into Pakistan, the war would escalate and the U.S. will be trapped in it."
That said, one reason why the United States has avoided placing the entire Haqqani Network on its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is likely because the Haqqanis can still be a viable group to talk about a future broad-based national government in Afghanistan, local analysts believe. American allegations of a relationship between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani state also complicate efforts to designate the group, as such an effort would likely require the United States to also designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism.
A mediator role for the Haqqanis would suit both Pakistan and the United States, as the United States moves towards its planned 2014 departure from Afghanistan. However, what seem to worry the U.S. about this option are the elements that continue to endanger U.S. interests in the region. While U.S. drone strikes attempt to wipe out al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas, American officials feel not enough is being done by the continuing Pakistani Army operation in the same region.
Additionally, engaging the Taliban in dialogue is difficult as there is no one "Taliban" movement, but many, in addition to numerous affiliated militant and criminal networks operating on both sides of the Durand Line. However, this does not mean that it would be easy to deal with the groups separately, or pursue a "divide and conquer" strategy.
"The Taliban can't afford to detach from the Haqqani Network," said Maulana Hamidul Haq, a former legislator and son of Maulana Samiul Haq. "In fact, Taliban leaders consider the Haqqani Network as their patrons," he added, emphasizing that "the Haqqani Network can play an important role in talks with Taliban, as both Haqqani and Taliban are one."
Local analysts believe that the trick is not just to consolidate talks with Taliban hardliners at various levels, but to break the ice with those who might be brought around by Pakistani negotiators -- such as members of the security establishment -- who understand the militants and their movement best.
Certainly, some groups of militants and criminal elements are unlikely to be reconciled through negotiations. However, gaining locals' confidence in North Waziristan and across Pakistan would be the key to strengthening the Pakistani military's hands. It would help alleviate several major headaches, including the band of thugs safely operating their businesses under the Taliban franchise in North Waziristan and elsewhere. The Punjabi Taliban is one such element, and has become not only a painful liability, but also a serious threat to Pakistan's national security.
Secondly, these talks would assist in countering the likely spate of terrorism that would occur after a massive operation against militants is launched in the so-far insurmountable North Waziristan -- no matter who executes it, Pakistan or the United States.
And third, the document endorsed by many Pakistani political and religious leaders during the All Parties Conference (APC) in September further guaranteed the Pakistani public's support for all actions of the military, which has undergone a successful image building exercise at home.
If soaring inflation, fumbled governance, and unbridled terrorism reflects the administrative failure of the elected government at home, it also presents an opportunity for the Pakistani military to step in and find a solution with the Taliban. This would create a win-win situation for both domestic politics and for Pakistan's sinking relationship with the United States.
Maulana Hamid also had a suggestion for the United States. In order to alleviate the complex nature of coordinating talks with an active insurgent group, "Americans should talk to genuine religious leaders and get the governments out from in-between." American officials must ultimately adopt a similar course of action to that proposed here for the Pakistanis, in order to protect its long terms interests in the region, and facilitate an end to a conflict that straddles borders and interweaves two nations' strategic goals.Syed Moazzam Hashmi is an Islamabad-based political and security analyst, a senior journalist, and former Political Affairs Advisor to the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan.
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For years, Pakistani governments and its military have publicly opposed U.S. drone strikes carried out within Pakistani territory. Only last week, Pakistan's Parliament demanded an end to drone strikes that violate Pakistan's "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity" And why should they not be infuriated? By most estimates drone strikes are alleged to have killed at least a few hundred innocent Pakistani civilians, including children as young as eight, and injured over a thousand others.
This begs the question: why, despite all the noise about sovereignty in the eight years since the first drone strike in 2004, have two successive Pakistani governments, military and civilian, failed to hire a single lawyer to challenge drone strikes within the United Nations, a foreign court or even a local Pakistani court? To be sure, the government could argue that it is not completely ineffective against the drone attacks: it did recently close Shamsi air base to protest against the NATO strikes that killed Pakistani soldiers. It could also provide a few superficial defenses to justify inaction: Pakistan is a poor country and therefore cannot afford to engage international lawyers or organizations or that any such action will be futile in the face of U.S. hegemony. However, neither alibi can withstand scrutiny.
Pakistan has routinely employed resources on international legal matters when there is political will to do so. In 1999, Pakistan submitted a dispute to the International Court of Justice against India regarding an airspace incident. In 2009, Pakistan proposed a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council to prevent "defamation of religion" or blasphemy. Last year, Pakistan sought to engage the International Court of Justice in another dispute against India concerning water rights. And Pakistan, over the years, has invested significant resources to highlight the Kashmir problem at the U.N.
In fact, the Pakistani government does not even need to expend much money to raise the issue of drone strikes. A number of Pakistani lawyers are well versed in international law. Lawyers often take up cases pro bono and submit amicus briefs in support of a country's case without charge. In fact, international human rights NGO's working with local Pakistani lawyers; most notably, the British charity Reprieve, has been providing legal representation to civilian victims and commenced litigation against the British Foreign Secretary for assisting drone strikes.
Similarly, the argument that international legal discourse would be futile in constraining use of force by a superpower is equally unpersuasive. Any minimally competent government knows how international law can be utilized to decisively engage in "lawfare", that is to challenge stronger opponents on the basis of legal argument. In fact, the detainee scandal at Abu Ghraib is a perfect example of how law and the media was used by civil libertarians and human rights groups to embarrass an administration that appeared otherwise unconstrained in absolute pursuit of national security. In fact, history is replete with examples of powerful states being persuaded to abandon uses of force even against their unambiguous self-interest. At the turn of the 20th century, "gunboat diplomacy" was frequently used by European powers to compel sovereign debt repayments from Latin American debtor states. However, through the efforts of individuals such as Luis Drago and Elihu Root in the Second Hague Peace Conference, these same powers agreed to discourage force as a means to recover debt payments even though this had hitherto proven itself a convenient mechanism.
Paradoxically, there appears to have been more meaningful discourse and criticism concerning the legality of U.S. drone strikes within American academia and policy circles in days than there has been in almost eight years in Pakistan's corridors of power.
The point here is not that the U.S. would immediately halt drone strikes if the Pakistani government challenged it through international law. It would most likely not. Over time, however, legal action would undoubtedly mobilize debate at the U.N., and most definitely reduce the near unlimited autonomy that the U.S. enjoys at present - targeting decisions may need to be better explained, evidentiary standards may need to be clearly determined, compensation may need to be provided to victims and so on. Such accountability would even provide valuable information to U.S. citizens concerned about the actions of their executive branch when it acts under a cloak of secrecy to target U.S. citizens such as Anwar al-Awlaki.
It is possible that if such discourse were instigated, Pakistan may in due course decide that some drone strikes are beneficial because they do not result in civilian deaths, as the U.S. often claims, and therefore should be permitted. The goal is not to achieve an "either-or" outcome that permits or disallows drone strikes absolutely. Instead, it is to make such uses of force subject to a clearly articulated, transparent, and democratic framework that promotes accountability as to the legal and evidentiary basis on which each strike is carried out, so as to minimize loss to innocent life and property.
However, the utter lack of any Pakistani legal challenge whatsoever ensures that the United States need not worry. Successive U.S. administrations can continue to assert the rather simple Thucydidean justification of using force in another state's territory half-way across the world whenever such a state is "unable or unwilling" to suppress harm to the U.S in self-defense, regardless of the costs this may impose on the targeted state's citizens. And why should it not? Its political responsibility is limited to the national security of its territory, not to Pakistanis and for all intents and purposes, there are grounds to believe that Pakistani leaders have not only consented to, but encouraged such strikes.
As it stands, because these drone strikes kill people in regions that provide no political or economic capital to the Pakistan elite residing in cities, the government can well afford to engage in cheap talk on national sovereignty whilst doing nothing to uphold that sovereignty. Although Imran Khan promises change, for now, the Pakistani government quietly dodges its sovereign responsibility to protect its citizens and territory.
Dawood Ismail Ahmed is a Pakistani lawyer and doctoral candidate in international law at the University of Chicago. He is also a research associate at the Center on Law and Globalization.
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After ten years of war and countless lives lost, the tragic murder of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier has focused renewed attention on the abundant flaws of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Coupled with the recent deadly riots in Afghanistan over the burning of Qurans by U.S. service members -- and the retaliatory killing of U.S. advisors by Afghan forces -- these events place the failure of U.S. strategy in stark relief. The relationship with the Karzai government, America's nominal ally, is frayed and torn. The Taliban, while bloodied, remain resilient and unbroken by the U.S. military surge. Lastly, the American people have made clear they want U.S. troops to come home sooner than the already announced end of combat operations in 2013 and the withdrawal of all foreign troops by 2014.
If ever there was a time to accelerate the process of ending the fighting in Afghanistan and spurring nascent political negotiations it is right now. For this reason, the United States should not wait a year and a half to begin the process of disengagement, but rather take immediate steps to end the war in Afghanistan now.
This would not mean accelerated and precipitous troop withdrawals.
Instead, it means dramatically curtailing offensive military operations against the Taliban including the ever controversial night raids; initiating and negotiating local cease fires with Taliban insurgents; and, more broadly, adopting a defensive posture by identifying key terrain that must be held by the Afghan government and limiting military operations to the defense of such critical areas. This could mean ceding territory to the Taliban, but it wouldn't be the first time the United States has taken such an approach. These steps would be consistent with a responsible strategy for transition, which must be predicated on a realistic assessment of those parts of the country can be kept under Afghan governmental control after the U.S. departs.
It also means completing the transfer of Taliban detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison facility to the custody of Qatari authorities, who are now hosting a Taliban liaison office in Doha. Above all, it means ensuring that the stated policy of pursuing a political settlement with the Taliban finally be integrated with U.S. military policy.
Calibrating the use of force in such a fashion would represent a good faith measure toward building confidence and seeking a political resolution with the Taliban insurgency for ending the war in Afghanistan. Despite the Taliban's recent suspension of talks through its liaison office in Doha, a political settlement remains the only possible path to an orderly U.S. withdrawal, and to stability in Afghanistan. If the United States is not willing to expend political capital to nurture and further the process, the prospect for a negotiated settlement will collapse.
It has been said countless times that NATO cannot kill its way out of the war in Afghanistan. Yet, this is precisely the current U.S. strategy -- and it is one that will likely ramp up with the traditional spring fighting season that begins soon. While the Obama administration has begun exploratory talks with the Taliban, it is the larger military effort that remains the dominant U.S. frame for the conflict.
Yet, the physical fight hardly promises much in the way of sustainable gains, and is arguably nothing more than tactical noise. Ironically, continued kinetic operations in Afghanistan, particularly the targeted killings of mid-level commanders, will undermine the prospects for a political settlement. Mullah Omar still retains considerable moral authority among the disparate groups that comprise the insurgency. But, as recent strains make clear, the longer the fighting goes on, the greater likelihood that the insurgency will become more fragmented and radicalized, and less amenable to heeding the directives of the Taliban's central leadership.
In reality, little of Afghanistan's future will be determined by current U.S. military operations - and they may in fact be counter-productive. So why then should Americans or Afghans continue to die needlessly?
The rationale for a dramatic adjustment in U.S. policy is not simply driven by anti-war fervor, but rather a belief that measures geared toward spurring a political settlement are in the best long-term interests of the Afghan people, regional stability and the United States.
If the last two years have shown us anything it is that the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily at a reasonable cost, especially when the insurgency can consistently regenerate itself and launch attacks from the safety of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.
To be sure, a political process is fraught with risk and is far from assured of success. Still, it is the only viable approach for bringing bloodshed in Afghanistan to an end, and averting a potentially bloody civil war after the lion's share of U.S. troops have returned home.
While there are still some signs of division among the insurgency, there are also multiple indications of interest among senior members of the Taliban to engage in political talks, including Mullah Omar's ‘Eid statement in August 2011 acknowledging contacts with the United States, a series of exploratory talks with the United States and other intermediaries, and the public announcement of the establishment of a liaison office in Qatar for the purpose of negotiations. Indeed, the Taliban leadership has publicly recognized the legitimacy of pursuing their goals via non-military means -- and have made that case to their rank and file. Quite simply, it is no longer credible to argue that there is nothing to talk about with the Taliban or that the U.S. lacks a potential interlocutor among the insurgency.
The question for the United States is not whether the Taliban wants to talk; it's how the U.S. can increase the chances for success.
And it's not as if the Taliban are confused about immediate U.S. intentions. The President has made clear that the US is leaving Afghanistan in 2014 (as stated at the Lisbon Conference), and in recent weeks Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that U.S. combat operations will end by the middle of 2013. Everyone in the region understands that the U.S. presence will significantly decline in the next 18 months. So why delay the inevitable? A break in fighting would allow all sides to more clearly explore the options for peace.
Critics will argue that a respite in the fighting would give the Taliban a clear military advantage, but there is another alternative -- that serious olive branches to the Taliban will force them to clarify their political intentions and will strengthen their ability to bring along the recalcitrant fighters in their ranks.
If the Taliban use a break in combat operations to ramp up their attacks on U.S. and Afghan government targets and/or shun the reconciliation process it will make clear their lack of interest in a political settlement.
This would inform the current discussions regarding a strategic partnership agreement (SPA) between the United States and Afghanistan. While current negotiations between the Karzai government and the United States over a reduced long-term military presence are proceeding slowly -- but with some signs of progress -- these talks would be clarified by a clearer understanding of the Taliban's intentions. The discussions around the SPA would provide the Taliban with a decision point -- if they want to rid their country completely of the "foreign occupier" then they will have to address this issue at the negotiating table, and by countenancing their own concessions. This would include, obviously, a public break with al-Qaeda, and a verifiable pledge that the terrorist organization will never again find shelter in Afghanistan.
If the Taliban view this proposed new U.S. military position as an opportunity to ramp up operations, the Afghan government will be more inclined to ensure that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will endure past 2014, albeit in reduced form. Under this scenario, the current military stalemate will be maintained, and with continued international support from the United States, chances of a Taliban takeover will continue to remain remote. From this standpoint the SPA serves as a hedge and a critical tool of leverage for the United States vis-à-vis the Taliban -- by putting the ball squarely in the insurgents' court.
In the end, the United States has nothing to lose by taking these steps in the pursuit of peace. Tactical gains in the near-term will not be decisive. But taking chances for peace and a long-term political settlement might just stop the war, put the region on the path to stability and above all, end the bloodletting in Afghanistan.
Michael Cohen and Michael Wahid Hanna are fellows at The Century Foundation.
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After a long wait following a request from a joint session of the Pakistani parliament in May 2011, the Pakistani parliamentary committee looking to reset relations with the United States has come out with its recommendations. The Pakistan National Assembly begins debate on this issue today and will likely continue discussions for the next three days. No major surprises in the report's recommendations. In a decision that seems guided by domestic politics, the report and its current "debate" in the parliament will not produce better understanding among the people of Pakistan of what their country's policy is toward the United States or what it should be. Rather, it seems destined for a marginal adjustment of issues that have bedeviled this tenuous "friendship" for years.
Pakistan seeks to stop drone attacks, renegotiate the terms under which the US and coalition troops can be supplied through the currently closed Ground Lines of Communications (GLOC) into Afghanistan and simplify the means of reimbursing Pakistan for deploying its troops in the border region. It also draws red lines regarding boots on the ground in Pakistan (translation: no more Osama Bin Laden-type raids). Underlying all these demands is the desire for mutual respect and understanding, beginning with an apology or a reasonable facsimile thereof from the United States for the attacks on Pakistani border posts. But is there a Plan B? As parliament convenes next week to "debate" this issue, we shall see what Pakistan really wants and what is attainable.
All this comes at a time when the coalition is preparing for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan faces the prospect of an unruly Afghanistan with its negative spillover effects: millions of new refugees if fighting breaks out in Afghanistan, and the scary prospect for Pakistan of reverse sanctuary for Pakistani Taliban and other anti-state actors. The Air Lines of Communication that allowed the coalition to continue to prosecute the war, though at much higher costs, remained open. Not a word on those from Pakistan, or the United States. Codependency seems to be working, to some extent.
The parliamentary review is a good sign of putting a civilian face on decision making in Pakistan, though the script may well have come from the military, as many suspect. But the review is silent on a number of issues. There is no word on why the Pakistani authorities, both civil and military, were mum for nearly a decade on the drone issue; in fact they abetted and encouraged them, according to Wikileaks, among other sources. There is also no word on why the government of President General Pervez Musharraf failed to get written agreement on the understandings reached with the United States after 9/11 and hastily accepted a reimbursement scheme to receive Coalition Support Funds that made the Pakistani military an army for hire, on a marginal cost basis.
The basic assumptions of this "deal" were faulty. They seem to have miscalculated the length of the expected conflict, its effects on the tribesmen of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (resulting from the birth of the Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan), and the real costs of the ensuing fighting for the Pakistani military and civil population. Now, after 36,000 deaths, along with the degradation of infrastructure, arms, equipment, and morale, Pakistan is seeking just recompense. Too little, too late. Even if they get the enhanced prices in the final stages of the Afghan conflict, the amounts will not adequately cover the real costs of the war to Pakistan, estimated at more than $60 billion. Who is going to be held accountable inside Pakistan for these miscalculations?
Pakistan is also missing an opportunity to cancel the CSF, something it should have done years ago, and replace it with a written agreement on U.S. military aid rather than a cash-for-services program that apparently became a bad habit the military leadership could not shed, until the U.S. Congress and Administration made it a weapon to castigate and penalize Pakistan. Pakistan never had the capacity to track and account for the detailed expenditures that the United States needs to justify payments. Why continue down that rocky path?
What if the hard line positions captured by the committee's laundry list of demands fail to get immediate satisfaction? Who then will be responsible for Pakistan's next move? Will it be the civilian government, the military, or parliament, the shield behind which the government seeks to hide most of the time? Pakistan does not seem to have a viable Plan B, unless its recent thaw with India becomes a permanent shift. China is a friend but will not go to the wall in a fight against the United States. Indeed, it has sought to work with the United States in the Middle East and Central Asia. The United States does not have a Plan B either.
Ideally, to keep the relationship going, the U.S. would need to work out some kind of joint approach to drone targets, using the Border Coordination Centers perhaps as a means of insulating targeting decisions from others in the Pakistani chain of command, and thus avoiding the past embarrassment of leaked information to targets. So long as fighting continues in Afghanistan, it is difficult to imagine the United States giving up on drone attacks entirely. Pakistan will want greater controls on ground lines of communication. In addition to seeking additional payments to cover its real costs, it will need to regulate the traffic to avoid jams in its port and at the borders.
In other words, the transactional relationship becomes more tightly regulated. But the U.S. development approach to Pakistan also needs a huge shift, toward longer-term development projects and short-term efforts to win hearts and minds. Borrowing from the British playbook might be a good idea. Finally, and over time, the United States must end its primary focus on the military-to-military relationship, and make it subordinate to the political relationship with the government of Pakistan and a direct relationship with Pakistani civil society. That is what President Barack Obama promised in his December 2009 speech. Now he must deliver.
Don't expect miraculous results from this review or its demands. Election fever is upon us in the United States. President Obama is in a difficult position on whether to accept wholesale the Pakistani demands. Whatever he concedes gives fodder to his opponents on the Hill and on the campaign trail. Inside Pakistan, an election may also be looming. The rising nationalistic forces of anti-Americanism will excoriate any politician who makes deals with the United States. Yet, a conflict between these two difficult allies is not what is needed in the volatile region at this time. It will take cool heads on both sides to emerge with reputations and egos unscathed. It is said that in Washington people eschew a Plan B since it very soon becomes Plan A. The same may be true of Pakistan. But both sides need that Plan B today, or they will risk the turmoil of the counterfactual. Time for a rapid rethink on both sides on how to move forward. Tardiness spells failure.
Shuja Nawaz is Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its army, and the wars within (Oxford 2008/9).
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Michael O'Hanlon and Bruce Riedel insisted in an op-ed last week that the United States must stay in Afghanistan "until the job is done." While they are wise to warn against making rash decisions based on the particularly tragic events of the last few weeks, they never convincingly explain when the job should end and how we can expect to accomplish it in the next few years if we - to borrow a phrase from the last war - stay the course. The mission and objectives O'Hanlon and Riedel envision are of the never-ending variety: creating a viable, stable nation where none has previously existed. They also ignore their former, wiser caution on the future of the war.
At a July 2010 debate in New York, hosted by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), O'Hanlon collegially squared off against Ambassador Peter Galbraith on whether or not the war in Afghanistan could be won. I was just three months away from deploying to Helmand Province as a civilian member of a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team. I was rooting for O'Hanlon. I wanted this leading defense intellectual to justify the commitments and risks I would be embarking upon.
Ambassador Galbraith, with a sour taste in his mouth from his own experiences with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, insisted the war was doomed because our Afghan partners in the Karzai regime are hopelessly corrupt, inept, and illegitimate in the eyes of the Afghan population. O'Hanlon insisted that the new "counterinsurgency strategy" could work.
O'Hanlon described himself as seeing Afghanistan as a glass that is "55-60% full" and expressed optimism grounded in caution and caveats. He noted that in a year's time, if insufficient progress has been made, he might be arguing on the same side as Ambassador Galbraith. Noting President Obama's July 2011 deadline to major force commitments in Afghanistan (which has come and gone), O'Hanlon remarked, "I agree that if the strategy is not showing certain signs of hopefulness over the next 12 months, then we have to fundamentally re-assess."
Just months before, Riedel commented, "If, by the middle of 2011...we don't see any sign of change, then we've learned something. The patient was dead."
Two years later, reading their article on "finishing the job" in Afghanistan (which recycles the same old arguments) it is clear to me that O'Hanlon has not fulfilled his promise to call for a re-assessment, and Riedel has not been frank about our lack of success. After a nine-month tour with the brave British and Danish troops of Task Force Helmand, I saw little reason for the optimism O'Hanlon and Riedel maintain. Granted, this is only one province, but it has seen our greatest effort and investment, with too little to show for it. As of the beginning of this year, 30,000 troops - one out of every five ISAF military personnel - were in Helmand.
To turn a phrase, we have gotten too much bang (in the explosive sense of the word) for our buck.
This is not to say there has not been positive change. But the changes we have seen are not sufficient and will not meaningfully endure. Even Gen. (retired) David Petraeus is famous for noting that all progress in Afghanistan has been "fragile and reversible." There has been Afghan political institutional growth, but no political progress towards a settlement or stable accommodation. There has been significant Afghan security force development, but units that can plan and operate independently are precious few. Even if current force levels and spending were maintained to 2014, there is little reason to think that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be able to stand on their own. Aside from being plagued by incompetence, illiteracy, and a fatal dependence on our logisticians, planners, and administrators, the ANSF are riddled by internal factions and divisions that threaten to fall apart in the absence of a large presence of foreign troops.
The patient is dead.
As O'Hanlon and Riedel note, the Taliban have been pushed out of many (but not all) key populated areas of the south, but no one I know who has served over there seriously believes that the Afghan government's "hold" on these areas can endure absent another decade of high ISAF force levels and unacceptable costs in blood and treasure. By presenting a few selective statistics and re-framing a couple more that do not fit the narrative, they present a misleading picture of what "progress" in Afghanistan has meant. Indeed, other analysts of the conflict, such as Anthony Cordesman, have long presented a more complete and consequently negative picture of the campaign based on the same set of statistics. However, their biggest analytical sin is continuing to view counterinsurgency operations as discrete from larger policy and strategic concerns. When one widens the aperture, it becomes evident that the campaign in Afghanistan is not in step with American interests in the region. Operational success has not led to strategic gain.
What is the supreme purpose of this war? How can we create a viable nation-state in Afghanistan? Why should we bother? O'Hanlon and Riedel do not answer these questions. Indeed, Riedel's support for an expanded counterinsurgency campaign was always premised on weak suppositions. He based his recommendation for a "surge" in part on his concern that the Pakistani Army would strike a deal with al-Qaeda that would put Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the hands of terrorists. Riedel insisted that the war was winnable simply because the Taliban are mostly Pashtuns and Pashtuns are not a majority in Afghanistan (although, they are a plurality). This statement, repeated at a number of different venues, betrays confusion about Afghanistan's ethnic history (Afghanistan has almost never had a non-Pashtun ruler) and how insurgency can work as a method to impose the will of a driven minority on a passive and cowed majority.
Our only strategic interest in Afghanistan is ensuring transnational terrorists cannot establish a haven from which they can launch attacks. Through aerial drones and special operations forces, the United States has become adept at keeping al-Qaeda on the run. Al-Qaeda is not a sufficient reason to build a thus-far fictive Afghan state with a thus-far aspirational monopoly on violence in its own territory.
As Riedel has argued before, Afghanistan cannot be de-linked from regional issues: namely Pakistan. But we also cannot afford to have a military campaign de-linked from our national interests. Our campaign in Afghanistan has not had a stabilizing effect in Afghanistan or the region. To argue that "more of the same" - at predictable cost to life and limb - will somehow lead to stability is an exercise in amnesia.
Despite the analytical shortcomings of their article, Riedel and O'Hanlon identify the correct end-state in Afghanistan: a residual force of 10-15,000 US troops to serve in training, mentoring, air support, special operations, and logistic capacities. Why not get there sooner?
Ryan Evans is a Research Fellow at the Center for National Policy.
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Afghan history shows that peace is only as wholesome as the interest of the peacemakers involved. In 1988, then-president Mohammad Najibullah tried to present the Geneva Accords -- which were supposed to bring peace after the Soviet war -- as a symbol of national unity, and his administration as a nationalist movement. Instead, the mujahideen were excluded from the peace process, and several government officials, including one of Najibullah's top generals, Abdul Rashid Dostum, were on the verge of switching allegiances. The president's efforts fell short because they were not inclusive, and because Najibullah underestimated the threat posed by elements within his own government. The Accords eventually dissolved into the blur of civil war.
These same mistakes were repeated by the mujahideen when they took power in 1992. Families around the country celebrated when Najibullah's regime fell in 1992, and Sibghatullah Mojaddedi was selected to be the first president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. (My father went so far as to name his new-born grandson after the new president). It was deemed a mujahideen victory, and those associated with Najibullah's regime were at the very least excluded from the new government. Many were forced to flee for their lives.
Unfortunately, the newly achieved peace -- won by force and dealt exclusively amongst the mujahideen victors-- didn't last very long. A civil war soon broke out amongst the same mujahideen factions whose collective victory we had been celebrating.
The exclusiveness of both of these failed peace efforts presents lessons for the peace process today. While they are a central element, talks with the Afghan Taliban are only the tip of the iceberg in a comprehensive, meaningful peace for Afghanistan. There are other groups, equally as essential to a holistic Afghan peace, that must also be included. An Afghan-led approach to the peace process that pragmatically acknowledges the realities of the political scene in Afghanistan and engages all groups with equal scrutiny must be pursued with one common denominator shared by all: Afghanistan's national interest.
Over ten years of foreign intervention, war and power struggle, and with Karzai's final term coming to an end in 2014, each stakeholder in Afghan peace has their own political goals and interests that he believes are worth fighting for. The United States will want to leave with dignity, Karzai will seek to assert Afghan sovereignty and establish his legacy, the Taliban will want to capitalize politically on their gains on the battlefield, and opposition groups will grapple to retain their power as political space is made for the Quetta Shura. But ideologies and political interests aside, realities must be central to this process to avoid past mistakes that resulted in civil war.
For one, despite their controversial policies, the Afghan Taliban is a political group and military force to be reckoned with. Scores of foreign forces have failed to contend militarily with the Taliban to their desired extent for the past decade. In retrospect, the willingness (and now almost eagerness) shown by the U.S. and NATO to reach a political settlement with the Taliban takes us full circle to where we were over 10 years ago -- the U.S., with the assistance of Northern Alliance militias armed with U.S.-supplied weapons and cash, pushed the Taliban from power in Kabul. The Taliban were not reconciled at that crucial point, or allowed any political space, and their ability to revive themselves as a substantial military threat was underestimated.
Now, they have in a sense gained the upper hand in the battlefield, maintaining a stalemate with the Afghan National Army and foreign forces. With the establishment of a shadow government across much of Afghanistan, and plans to open a diplomatic office in Qatar, the reality now is that the Taliban are an Afghan political group. They are bringing that upper hand to the negotiation table. This could not be exhibited better than by their announcement Thursday to suspend the peace talks with the U.S., which shows their ability to take advantage of opportunities to assert their control of the situation.
Secondly, the Taliban are not the only group that needs to be reconciled. The peace process must bring in the Taliban on equal terms, while also leveraging the potentially violent reactions of groups who staunchly oppose any reconciliation with the Taliban. These opposition groups make up mainly ethnic minority groups headed by former Northern Alliance commanders whose militias fought against the Taliban and each other during the civil war. They were heavily supported financially and militarily by the United States in 2001 to oust the Taliban, and today, some fill ministerial and other government positions, arguably bestowed by Karzai as a means of subjugation. Others are regional strongmen with de facto rule in their respective areas.
These are some of the same figureheads who nurtured the civil war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and achieving some level of power is still in each group's agenda. These groups comprise a viable threat as they are well-armed, financially sound, and many hold positions of power -- positions they will fight to retain as hostility rises at the talk of Taliban negotiations. The former head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, Amrullah Saleh, now represents the recently formed United Front in its campaign against the Karzai government and Taliban reconciliation. He was recently quoted in an interview saying, "Fighting is not a very sophisticated path. It's easy. And (so is) recruiting people to fight in this country where unemployment is more than 50 percent. To believe that only one group can fight is naïveté."
These opposition movement leaders have made brazen moves in a bid to gain support in the build-up to talks with the Taliban. Most notably,in January, 2012, they met with four members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Germany in a meeting not condoned by the U.S. State Department, to discuss a controversial agenda that included discussion about how to decentralize power and consolidate the opposition's regional power, a move that would potentially divide the country into north and south. The meeting was condemned by the Afghan government as an unconstitutional move against Afghan national unity, and was an embarrassment for the United States.
Efforts should be made and sustained to reach out not just to the Taliban, but to all groups that have a stake in Afghanistan's political future, hostile or otherwise, on the same level. This includes non-Taliban insurgent groups such as the Haqqani Network and Hizbi-Islami Gulbuddin. An Afghan-led process is the best route to peace in Afghanistan. Though compromised in his ability to lead the peace process due to the U.S. negotiation efforts in Qatar and the denial of the Afghan government by the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai must strive to be diplomatic and inclusive in consistent efforts to initiate a sincere peace process. His sporadic attitude toward talking to the Taliban -- ranging from support to hesitation - is indicative of his attempts to control the peace process in order to reassert his legacy and sovereignty. Consistency in his efforts to unite all groups and foster an Afghan-led process should be his focus.
However, Karzai's ability to make headway is restricted -- first of all, the U.S. may trump his efforts; and secondly, the Taliban and other opposition groups may refuse his invitations to talk in order to make a political statement showing their rejection of the Afghan government. These factors make it difficult for the peace process to be effectively led by the Afghan government. Karzai should reach out to each group equally, initiating and maintaining unconditional dialogues. Peace is built on a foundation of trust.
In order to include all groups on an equal level and provide a platform for the voices of ordinary Afghan citizens-who are undoubtedly the biggest proponents of peace -- a traditional Loya Jirga could be organized and held by a neutral entity, or a coalition, at a neutral location. The agenda would be pre-set and focused around specific objectives geared toward peace. The organizers and location would need to be neutral to reduce the risk that it would be boycotted by the very groups it would seek to bring in. A national, sincere discussion through traditional Afghan dialogue that places all groups on a level playing field is the country's closest chance to achieve peace. This would be the beginning to a process cleansed of the divisive nature of political manoeuvrings.
If abused by opportunists with divisive political ambitions and interest, the fragile peace process in Afghanistan will result in nothing more than another hollow attempt that precedes yet another civil war - a fear that haunts Afghans. Realities must be accepted by all groups in order to make political space for one another, groups who would otherwise start fighting, or keep fighting, if they are denied. It would be an unfortunate repeat of history if the results of this peace deal do not bring celebrations to every Afghan household, regardless of their background.
Hamdullah Mohib served as a senior aide to Dr. Ashraf Ghani during the 2009 Afghan presidential elections, and is now studying for his PhD at Brunel University.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
2011 was a catastrophic year for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Starting with CIA contractor Raymond Davis's arrest for shooting two Pakistanis dead in January, going on through the raid on Abbottabad in early May that killed Osama bin Laden, and culminating in the NATO forces lethal attack on a Pakistani border post in November 2011, a series of shocks shook this important partnership to its core. Both countries expect their future relationship to be more modest, but neither has defined this concept. As they grapple with this change, U.S. policymakers need to recognize that Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is the big issue, and to develop building blocks for a post-2014 relationship that meets the needs of both countries.
A recent visit to Pakistan provided a sobering view of where the United States now stands. Hostility toward the U.S. government among politicians, elites and the general public are a familiar problem, but two other aspects of today's problem are worth underlining. First, within the government, the biggest problem is with the Pakistan army, traditionally the privileged party when ties with Washington are robust. The army is now going out of its way to showcase an angry response to these humiliating events. The Pakistan government's continuing refusal of visas for many U.S. official visitors, including military officers working on military procurement or aid projects is happening at the army's request (notable exceptions are visitors dealing with F-16 supply or maintenance). Almost all the senior military officers who would normally have attended ceremonial events like the U.S. July 4th reception stayed away in 2011 - clearly on instructions.
Echoes of this resentment can be found on the U.S. side as well. Pakistanis are often quite unaware of the deep anger in the United States over Osama bin Laden's long sojourn in Pakistan. Pakistanis have complained for decades about being taken for granted by the United States; that complaint is now coming from some of the Americans closest to the relationship. Pakistanis wonder why the United States is starting to build a towering and expensive new embassy complex in Islamabad. Americans are now privately asking the same question, and noting that the major defense office in the embassy has shrunk to a third of its former size since the visa freeze.
Against this background, everyone we spoke to in Pakistan believes the broad strategic bond both countries have talked of for the past decade is dead. Few, however, have given much thought to the ingredients of downsized ties. Some, such as Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, reject U.S. economic aid. Others see aid - civilian and in some cases military - as a key element in the future, just as it has been in the past.
The most frequently mentioned theme in our discussions of the likely new look was the need for agreement on the end game in Afghanistan. This end game will indeed drive U.S.-Pakistan relations in the short run, but the United States is likely to achieve little beyond resumption of logistical support.
The hope of a common strategy in Afghanistan is completely unrealistic. The two countries' goals diverge in ways that are too important to sweep under the rug; indeed, that is a major reason why a big strategic partnership is now out of reach. In principle, both want a stable, governable Afghanistan with no continuing ties to al-Qaeda. For Pakistan, however, this remains a secondary priority. The key objective is freezing out Indian influence in Kabul. Pakistanis do not believe President Karzai will be disposed to protect their interests - or strong enough to do so even if he wishes to.
Strategic disagreement also impedes a common U.S.-Pakistan front on negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistanis view U.S.-Taliban discussions with skepticism and cynicism, both feelings now heightened by the fallout from the Koran-burning disaster in Afghanistan and, more recently, the shooting spree of an American soldier near Kandahar. The United States wants Pakistan's cooperation in talking to the Taliban; Pakistan wants to sit in the driver's seat. Even if the talks continue after their current interruption, Pakistan will focus chiefly on maximizing its own influence in Kabul, even if that means a dominant role for Taliban elements that have been at war with the United States. In short, seeking a common strategy for the Afghan end game is likely to leave the United States feeling bruised and Pakistan unsatisfied.
The Pakistani parliament is poised to take up the terms of reference for U.S.-Pakistan relations some time after March 19. The army and the government have apparently agreed to reopen ground transport links to NATO forces in Afghanistan, subject to a higher price tag related more specifically to the amount of transshipment. This would be an important contribution to a modus vivendi on Afghanistan, though it would not prevent the governments from working at cross-purposes on Afghanistan's fundamental political problems. But the rest of the parliamentary package could add new roadblocks, especially if it includes a demand to end drone attacks. The involvement of parliament in this decision is a welcome step toward shared responsibility between civilians and the military, but comes at the price of adding an unpredictable element to decision-making in Pakistan.
This is not a good starting point for a post-2014 relationship that fosters internal stability in Pakistan and healthier regional and international relationships. And yet stability and regional peace are the most important legacy the United States hopes to secure as it winds down its involvement in Afghanistan. To do this, the U.S. needs to cultivate some other building blocks for a more normal but constructive U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
The first is a lower-key diplomatic style. For over half a century, every period of strong U.S.-Pakistan partnership has relied on lofty but ambiguous promises to create the impression of a strategic bond. The U.S. and Pakistan now need less soaring rhetoric and more understanding of their mutual expectations. Where expectations are unrealistic, they need to be pared down through serious consultations. This kind of exercise has often been castigated as a "transactional relationship." Perhaps - but that is not an insult: it is a way to avoid the "jilted lover" syndrome that has afflicted both Islamabad and Washington through over-promising and under-delivering.
This more candid and realistic diplomatic style also includes greater U.S. willingness to listen to Pakistan's articulation of its own needs, and vice versa. The United States needs to be willing to say no when Pakistan's requests are really beyond reach - and to accept no for an answer, even if Pakistan rejects U.S. assistance that Americans think would help it. Above all, hard as it may be, the United States should get out of the business of pleading and finger-wagging. Our system makes it hard to stop issuing report cards - some (like the human rights report) are legally required, others are an inevitable result of Congressional testimony and other demands - but the U.S. should minimize this.
Moving beyond style, the United States should start now to build up three tools. The first is a smaller but better targeted economic aid program. Present aid levels are more than the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations can sustain, and the U.S. administration will have its work cut out preserving even a much smaller program once U.S. forces have left Afghanistan. But both the United States and Pakistan can benefit from concentrating on activities that support the parts of the Pakistan economy that are modernizing.
The U.S. and Pakistan should work out the details in candid consultations. Our suggestions start with infrastructure: irrigation and power generation facilities. This can be done with Pakistanis in the driver's seat, and with due attention to the political dimension of these projects. Such projects have a visibility that U.S. aid programs have all too often lacked. A second suggestion is, for want of a better term, business development: helping Pakistan build up the human capacity and institutions to support a larger and more vibrant small and medium business sector. We believe these would be welcomed in Pakistan despite the rejectionist posture one hears today.
The next tool is building up real business ties between the United States and Pakistan. This should not be in the form of a gift from the U.S. government: businesses make their own investment decisions. Before they invest in Pakistan, they will require a safer environment and above all the example of Pakistani businesses putting their own money into new plants and other facilities in Pakistan. But the U.S. government can lend important support once tentative efforts start. Examples include insurance programs like those of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and pre-investment studies like those funded by the Trade and Development Agency (TDA). The biggest contribution would be extending preferential access to Pakistani textiles - a big stretch in today's environment but something that could be pursued if current tempers quiet down.
The third tool is more political: quiet U.S. support for more stabilizing regional relationships. Discreet encouragement for what India and Pakistan are doing on their own, including the trade opening initiative they are starting to implement, is part of this. But equally important is encouraging a broader set of regional ties. Afghan trade to and through Pakistan; energy linkages, including those involving India and countries in the Gulf; and even allowing the much discussed gas pipeline from Iran to sink or swim on its own commercial merits would all contribute to embedding Pakistan in a set of regional relationships that create greater peace and stability over time.
None of these regional efforts ought to be advertised as a U.S. initiative. It's not about us, it's about creating the infrastructure for a more peaceful and prosperous South Asian region. And none of these proposals will make longstanding U.S.-Pakistan problems vanish by magic. The reason for quietly supporting regional linkages, reinventing a better focused aid program and enhancing commercial ties, is that durable peace in the volatile region from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean is at the heart of U.S. strategic interests. A dysfunctional Pakistan on terrible terms with its neighbors makes this impossible. Even in our eagerness to write the script for the end of our Afghan engagement, regional peace is an edifice worth building.
Teresita Schaffer is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Howard Schaffer teaches at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Both are retired U.S. ambassadors with long experience in South Asia. They are co-directors of http://southasiahand.com.
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March 12 was my last day in Helmand, concluding in a joint transfer ceremony with Maj. Gen. John Toolan of the U.S. Marines to our successors. It's a good moment to take stock of progress.
Helmand Province has been transformed in the past two years, building on foundations lain in the preceding years by ISAF and Afghan forces. Threats still persist - as the tragic deaths last week of six British soldiers showed. But the situation is very different from 2010. When I visited Marjah for the first time that July we were not able to leave the military base because of high levels of insecurity. That summer and autumn Royal Marines, U.S. Marines, and Afghan troops took heavy casualties in Sangin. Almost all of northern Helmand was accessible only by air. Even in central Helmand large parts of Nad-Ali were under insurgent control.
A year on, Nad-Ali was a 20-minute drive from Lashkar Gah. In December, Governor Gulab Mangal took Afghan parliamentarians to Marjah to meet local officials in a café where my successor and I had lunch the month before. In January, Governor Mangal was the first governor in 30 years to drive from the northern District of Kajaki down to Lashkar Gah in the centre, approximately a 130 kilometre drive. Last month 3,100 Sangin elders registered for its first local election. Seven districts now draw funds from Afghan systems under the District Delivery Program.
Life for ordinary people is changing for the better. Today 120,000 children go to school - a quarter of them girls - a 50% rise from late-2010. In the last two years 744 kilometres of roads were built, 45 major canal assets were repaired, and the number of justice officials doubled. Currently, 49 health centres are open, up from 27 in 2009. Since July 2011, 3,500 students completed vocational training in Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, with over 70% of those finding new jobs. By November, 20,000 will have graduated from 15 training centres across Helmand, including five centres for women.
This remarkable progress has come through the efforts of an exceptional team of Afghan and international partners, led for four years by Governor Mangal. His firm leadership and the service and sacrifice of Afghan and international security forces have been the foundation for improved security, new freedom of movement and a better life for the people of Helmand.
The Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) typifies the combined team. A U.K.-led, multi-national, civil-military body, it includes over 200 British, U.S., Danish, Estonian and Afghan staff: diplomats, military officers, civil police, engineers, lawyers and experts in agriculture, infrastructure, governance and other fields. It is a mark of progress in Helmand that the PRT is now drawing down as we hand over to Afghan leadership. But its work is not yet finished. Few now dispute Helmand's progress. One example is in education, from 2010 to date, there has been a 26% increase in number of schools open and a 49% and 58% rise in male and female students respectively.
The task ahead is to ensure it is sustained to 2014 and beyond - when international assistance will continue, but in different forms from today - as our own numbers reduce. Considering the progress made since 2010, this is a realistic goal.
Plenty of challenges remain - and won't end by 2014. More work is needed to develop the Afghan Army and Police. Key PRT priorities are to strengthen the systems of governance, in particular links to Kabul, investment in economic infrastructure - roads, canals, power - and facilitating private sector growth for jobs and prosperity. It's a demanding agenda but a good roadmap for the future, with foundations that have become progressively stronger since 2010.
Michael O'Neill is the outgoing U.K. Senior Representative, Southern Afghanistan.
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As the U.S. begins to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Russia and China have both declared a desire to increase their military presence throughout Central and South Asia. This new regional alignment, however, should not be viewed as a threat to U.S. strategic national interests but seen rather as concurrent with strategic and regional interests of the United States: regional peace, stability and the prevention of future terrorist safe havens in ungoverned territories. As China and Russia begin to flex their military muscles, the U.S. military should harness their expanded regional influence to promote proactively a new period of responsible multilateral support for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This past December it became clearer that Russia had begun to re-assert its regional presence when the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) granted Russia the veto power over any member state's future decision to host a foreign military. CSTO members, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have become increasingly valuable U.S. partners in the Northern Distribution Network after Pakistan shut down U.S. military supply routes running from the south into Afghanistan when NATO troops killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November in the border area of Salala. Though it appears the route may soon open again, the United States must still adopt a new strategy that works more closely with Russia and the CSTO to maintain the Northern Distribution Network long into the future, which currently accounts for about 60 percent of all cargo transiting Central Asia en route to Afghanistan.
Certainly, the U.S. risks being unable to control many aspects of the Northern Distribution Network as it withdraws from the region, and this may in turn adversely affect Afghanistan's future success. However, if the United States remains concerned about leaving the region to a historically obdurate regional rival like Russia, it should also bear in mind that Russia has a vital strategic interest in the future stability of the region. Russia has approximately 15 million Muslims living within its borders, with an estimated 2 million Muslims in Moscow. Russia is fearful of what occurs on its periphery and wants to minimize the spread of Muslim extremism that may originate from an unstable Afghanistan or Pakistan. In addition, Russia does not want regional instability that threatens its oil and gas investments. In particular, Russia wants to ensure that it continues to influence the planning and implementation of the potentially lucrative natural gas pipeline that may one day traverse Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
In a recent meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed Russia's commitment to preserving peace and stability throughout the AfPak region, and rejected the use of violence by al-Qaeda and its affiliates that aim to undermine the current Afghan government. Furthermore, he pledged to bolster bilateral ties and work cooperatively with Pakistan to achieve stability in Afghanistan. A newly-elected President Vladimir Putin also recently wrote in a campaign brief that "Russia will help Afghanistan develop its economy and strengthen its military to fight terrorism and drug production." It is not lost on the U.S. government that Russia is proposing to succeed where the U.S. has struggled. However, if Russia does succeed in helping establish a secure Afghanistan and Pakistan that can prevent the spread of bases for terrorism then it is a victory for everyone.
Aside from Pakistan, and in line with promoting security throughout the region, Russia announced recently that it will provide $16 million to Kyrgyzstan to assist with border security in the south. Russia also agreed recently to pay $15 million in back rent for its four military facilities across the country, including an air base, a torpedo test center on Lake Issyk-Kul, and a communications center in the south. Further, Russia signed a security pact with Tajikistan last fall to extend its basing lease for 49 years, in addition to a bilateral agreement that will enable Russia to become more integrated into Tajikistan's border security forces that oversee an 830-mile border with Afghanistan. Providing similar types of U.S. aid and security support will also help ensure that the valuable Northern Distribution Network remains open and secure for supply lines into Afghanistan. If the northern trade routes are shut down it would adversely affect aid arriving to Afghanistan and therefore jeopardize the stability of Afghanistan and the region. It would also be in opposition to Russia's regional interests.
Rather than citing these examples in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as a demonstration of how the U.S. will soon lose out in the region to a resurgent Russia, policymakers can view them as an indication of how Russian interests align with the U.S. to help maintain regional security. More importantly, if Russia wants to take a more active future role in Central Asia, the U.S. should address this shift and work directly with Russia and other CSTO members to ensure that the Northern Distribution Network remains operational in the distant future.
Certainly, the U.S. should not be naïve to think that Russia will not at times oppose U.S. regional interests and that there will not be significant areas of conflict. In 2009, Russia tried to convince then President of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev to terminate the U.S. contract for its base in Manas. In this case, the U.S. fended off the threat of expulsion successfully through promises of increased U.S. military and economic aid. Continuing to maintain significant amounts of aid to the Central Asia Republics will therefore provide additional incentives to ensure the U.S. is less vulnerable to Russian whims, while at the same time remaining present and active for the benefit of regional security and the maintenance of the Northern Distribution Network.
Another powerful regional player, China, also has a vested interest in the stability of the AfPak region, and has already begun to play a more active security role. It was reported this past January, for example, that China intends to establish one or more bases in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Subsequently, at the end of February, Beijing played host to the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral dialogue to discuss regional cooperation and stability.
Due to China's shared borders and vibrant trade with both Afghanistan and Pakistan -- not to mention China's estimated 8 million Turkic-speaking Muslim Uyghurs living in western Xinjiang Province -- it has a direct interest in ensuring that both Afghanistan and Pakistan remain stable long into the future. Bilateral trade between China and Pakistan, for example, increased 28 percent in the past year to approximately $8.7 billion. China also signed an oil agreement with Afghanistan in December that could be worth $7 billion over the next two decades. Additionally, China is concerned about the rise of its Uyghur separatist movement that maintains safe havens in both countries, in addition to the spread of radical Islam. The United States should push China to become more actively engaged in Pakistan's security affairs as China has a direct interest in moderating radicalism in Pakistan and keeping it stable.
Indicative of Pakistan's strategic value to China, since 2002 China has financed the construction and development of Pakistan's Gwadar deep water port project. China has contributed more than $1.6 billion toward the port's development as a major shipping and soon-to-be naval hub, which is located just 250 miles from the opening of the Persian Gulf. A Pakistan Supreme Court decision in 2011 enabled China to take full control of Gwadar from a Singapore management company further establishing China's firm position in the Pakistani port city.
The creation of a new Chinese military network in Pakistan between Gwadar and the FATA would enable China to oversee the transit and protection of Chinese goods and investments that travel from both the coast and interior through the Karakorum corridor to China's Xinjiang Province. China already has an estimated 4,000 troops in Gilgit Baltistan, part of the larger and disputed Kashmir, and just recently it was reported after a January 2012 trip by Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani to China that Pakistan is considering leasing Gilgit Baltistan to China for the next 50 years. Such a move would indeed escalate tensions with India to the south, but from a Pakistani perspective, China would be positioned better than it already is to assist with any future Pakistani national security concerns. And from a Chinese perspective, it would improve their ability to monitor any illicit Uyghur activities aimed at inciting further rebellion in western China.
With interest comes responsibility, and in the wake of the recent reports predicting the establishment of a more robust Chinese military network across Pakistan, it is time that China begins to supplement its increased involvement in Pakistan by helping to maintain peace and stability throughout the entire AfPak region. Certainly after fighting two long wars, the United States can no longer be the sole world power responsible for the region, and both China and Russia have been U.S. security free-riders for too long. They have benefited financially while NATO continues to lose soldiers and accrue a massive war debt. After 11 years of war, it is time the United States work more proactively with Russia, China, Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics to create solutions for the future stability and collective security of the region. Indeed, we may not have a choice, and the United States should embrace the transformation of a new era in Eurasia's heartland.
Dr. Geoffrey F. Gresh is Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. The views expressed here are strictly his own.
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The Afghan government was "too busy" for International Women's Day on March 8, so it postponed official acknowledgement until the 11th. It was not a great moment to celebrate, anyway. A week earlier a council of religious scholars -- the Ulema Council -- published guidance that declared "men are fundamental and women are secondary." It called for women to travel with mahrams (male escorts), and to avoid mixing with men in offices, markets and educational facilities. The statement also said that beating a woman is only permissible with a "Shariah-compliant reason."
The Council's edicts have no legal standing, and were not unprecedented from this conservative body. What was more troubling was that the Office of the President published the statement, and President Hamid Karzai appeared to endorse it, by telling reporters that it was "in accordance with a Sharia view of our country, which all Muslims and Afghans are committed to." With women activists already anxious about the potential impact of deals with the Taliban, Karzai's words served as a sobering reminder of his poor track record on women's rights.
Concerns about the impact of a deal with the Taliban on women's rights are often dismissed with assertions that Taliban views on women are not so different from many in the government. This statement by the Ulema Council supports that viewpoint, and you'd certainly find a few former warlords nodding in agreement with it in the Cabinet and parliament.
But the conservatives in government have, for the most part, grudgingly accepted the presence of women in political life. The current environment may be hostile to women, but activists have been able to negotiate significant victories. Last year, when conservatives in government tried to take over women's shelters, women activists fought back and won. In 2010 parliamentarians and activists successfully stymied some egregious articles in a bill to regulate family law for Shia Muslims. The year before that they succeeded in pushing through a law on violence against women which made the crime of rape explicit for the first time. Progress may be slow, but it is steady, and often heroic.
Some who speak regularly to Talibs say they have become more progressive when it comes to things like women's access to education. One source admits, though, that many Talibs would still oppose the presence of women in the workplace and in politics.
Taliban hostility to women's presence in public life often came up in work I carried out in 2010, interviewing women living in de facto Taliban controlled areas, and gathering "night letters" - threat letters delivered under cover of darkness. Fatima K., (a pseudonym), lives in a southern province, where she received this letter from the Taliban in February 2010:
"We Taliban warn you to stop working otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working."
Fatima K. left her job. Others choose to ignore the threats. When Hossai, a 22- year-old Afghan aid worker in the southern city of Kandahar, received threatening phone calls from a man who said he was with the Taliban, she didn't believe it. The man had told her to stop working with foreigners. But Hossai didn't want to give up a good job with an American development company, Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI). Within weeks Hossai was dead. On April 13, 2010, a gunman lay in wait for her when she left the office. She was shot multiple times and died the next day.
Days after Hossai's killing, another young woman working in Kandahar, Nadia N. (a pseudonym), received a letter signed by the Taliban, which threatened her with death:
"We would warn you today on behalf of the Servants of Islam to stop working with infidels. We always know when you are working. If you continue, you will be considered an enemy of Islam and will be killed. In the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list, your name and other women's names are also our list."
These letters are reminders that it may not be right to treat the Taliban as just another set of conservatives. Their views on women may overlap with a significant segment of opinion in Afghanistan, but the Taliban are also a force which has become used to imposing their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam with violence and fear.
To express concern about the possible impact of deals with the Taliban sometimes opens you up to glib accusations that you are ‘pro-war' or ‘anti-peace.' In fact, there is no contradiction in wanting to see an end to the devastating loss of life in the conflict, welcoming a search for a political solution, while simultaneously expressing concerns about potential pitfalls and costs.
Sadly, there are many reasons to be wary at present. The Afghan government seems to lack the credibility or vision to forge a just and inclusive peace deal. And as the president's response to the Ulema Council statement illustrated, he seems unlikely to take a stand against religious conservatives in defense of women's rights. Meanwhile, it is far from clear that the Taliban have the will or the ability to forge a lasting deal, or that they would be prepared to meet the government's precondition of recognizing a (man-made) constitution with all that it enshrines, including women's equality, democracy and freedom of expression.
After the Ulema Council published their statement, I spoke with several women's rights activists in Kabul. They were dismayed, but immediately turned to strategizing about the most pragmatic means of responding. Afghanistan now has a generation of women activists who have earned a quiet confidence born of successive achievements. But if a deal with the Taliban is to avoid dramatically shrinking their space, it will require leadership from a president with the courage to recognize them as his equals.
Rachel Reid is Senior Policy Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Open Society Foundations. More of the "night letters" referred to here are also featured in an essay by Reid in a book published this week: "The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women's Rights" (Seven Stories Press).
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