You would think that, after ten long and bloody years, there would be little new the Afghan war could offer in terms of brutality. But Tuesday's twin suicide strikes on Shi'a Muslim processions in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, leaving 58 dead and more than a hundred wounded, marks an unprecedented insurgent assault on civilians. Never before in the current war have Afghanistan's Shi'a been deliberately targeted, and rarely has an attack been so completely devoid of a military target.
In the winter of 2009, standing on the mud wall of a border outpost manned by our partnered Afghan Border Police, I was chatting with Commander Aziz, a well-known local police chief commander. Aziz pointed east to the locations of Taliban training camps on a mountain just inside Pakistan, and to their usual infiltration routes around the dusty bordertown of Angor Adda. Suddenly, the high-pitched whoosh of rockets launching screamed across the valley from the direction of Pakistan to our left front towards our main coalition base to our rear. "Incoming!" one of my operators yelled as we dove under the nearest vehicles in a flash. I was only visiting, but they knew that typically the rocket attacks on the coalition base were accompanied by mortar fire on the Afghan border posts. As we dusted ourselves off, and my Air Force combat controller jumped on the radio to call for one of the aircraft continually circling over Afghanistan, I looked off in the distance towards the Pakistani military border post known as Post 41. The white trails of smoke from the rocket launches were coming from the base of the outpost on a small hill several kilometers in the distance. I noticed the launch site for the rockets was within spitting distance of the Pakistani post. The Border Police had established ambushes the night before on several of the typical launch sites, but the Taliban had learned to set up their sites very near Pakistani border positions, as the Afghans wouldn't come near them for fear of being attacked by the Pakistanis.
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After a week of delay, as anger against the United States mounted inside Pakistan over the November 26 attack by U.S. forces that killed two officers and 22 soldiers of the Pakistani army at border posts Volcano and Boulder in Mohmand agency, the President of the United States finally entered the picture directly. He called Pakistan on Sunday to express his sorrow at this incident that is threatening to take the teetering Pakistan-U.S. alliance off the precipice. According to the White House:
Earlier today the President placed a phone call to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to personally express his condolences on the tragic loss of twenty-four Pakistani soldiers this past week along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The President made clear that this regrettable incident was not a deliberate attack on Pakistan and reiterated the United States' strong commitment to a full investigation. The two Presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, which is critical to the security of both nations, and they agreed to stay in close touch.
About time, many would say, that the President got involvedin saving this relationship. The signaling effect of his personal interventionis huge, especially since it follows a "business as usual" approach to the promised investigation up until now. The U.S. Central Command had said it would take three weeks to produce a report on this incendiary incident that has led to the formal closing of the ground line of communication into Afghanistan and theremoval of U.S. personnel from Shamsi air base in Balochistan -- a delay that allowed the wounds to fester inside Pakistan.
But why did President Obama call President Asif Ali Zardari and not Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani? Pakistan has had a parliamentary system of government since April 8, 2010, when President Zardari was reducedto a mere constitutional figurehead. Prime Minister Gilani now heads thegovernment, and indeed has been the point-man in denouncing the United Statesin the days following the Mohmand attack. He should have been the one thatPresident Obama called. By calling President Zardari, President Obama may havebeen led to the source of political power in the Pakistan Peoples Party towhich both Zardari and Gilani belong. A pragmatic move perhaps in light of Zardari's tight hold over the party he took over from his murdered wife BenazirBhutto, but also one that downgrades the prime minister. This call will likely be seen in the eyes of many Pakistanis as a snub of their constitutional system. By this logic, they might ask, would President Obama call President Pratibha Patil or Mrs. Sonia Gandhi in India rather than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?
The United States has been trying to forge a long-term and consistent relationship with Pakistan during the Obama administration. But 2011has been the annus horribilis betweenthese two estranged allies. The Pakistani government has used the recent attackto stoke public anger and garner support for its tough stance against theUnited States, partly to counter the power and prestige of the military in thepublic's eyes. The feedback loop created by government and the army's own toughlanguage against the United States will make it difficult for either to resilefrom its position. The signaling effect of President Obama's call to thePresident of Pakistan and not to the Prime Minister may well magnify thatdivide and be felt in Pakistani politics and on the street, where every nuanceof words coming out of the White House is parsed and debated.
Recall that President Zardari's personal popularity has beensinking, and with it his ability to affect public opinion in Pakistan. The PewGlobal Survey of June 2011 had his popularity at 11 percent. A later GallupPakistan poll of July 2011 had his negative rating 39 percent. Gilani cameout better, with 29 percent negativity rating overall, but also in the red. Inthe same Gallup survey, the Pakistan army got an approval rating of 15 percentin fighting terrorism. But the people of Pakistan also gave it a negativerating of 12 percent in running the country and a 3 percent negative rating inits political activities. Yet the military seems to be calling the shots onforeign policy, especially after its recent losses at the hands of U.S. forces.
If the United States is to mend its relations with Pakistan,it must recognize the need to heed the wishes of the people of Pakistan and toconnect with them more than the political leaders who appear to have lost theconfidence of their citizens. Turning back the clock to the Musharraf regime,when the President of Pakistan was the be-all end-all of decision making, isnot the best move. President Obama can retrieve the situation by acceleratingthe investigation into the November 26 attack and sharing credible evidencewith Pakistan of what happened and why. And, if it turns out that it was amistake on the part of the coalition and U.S. forces that caused the tragedy atVolcano and Boulder, an apology would be in order. Better that than having toput together a new policy for the troubled South Asian region without Pakistan.
Shuja Nawaz isdirector of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC
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A decade after the first international conference on Afghanistan at Bonn, Germany is hosting a follow-up conference on Monday, widely known as Bonn II. The first Bonn Conference prepared a framework for the newly established Afghan administration and picked Hamid Karzai to lead the interim administration. In 2004 and again in 2009, Karzai was elected President of the country.
As always with this war-torn region, there are voices expressing optimism and others expressing pessimism regarding what can be expected of the conference. The recent NATO air strike along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has certainly contributed to the voices of pessimism. Islamabad has declared that it will boycott the conference as a protest to what they're calling the "unprovoked" NATO bombing that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Although there's been no change in that official decision, sources have said that Pakistan's Ambassador in Germany will likely attend.
Pakistan's rigid stance against participating in the Bonn conference conveys a clear, but dangerous message -- that it has no desire to bring stability to Afghanistan.
The conference is expected to focus on three main areas: the transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghan government by 2014, the long-term commitment by the international community to Afghanistan beyond the 2014, and the future political stability of the country.
Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor for Afghanistan was also eager to remind me, "Ten years have passed since the first historic Bonn Conference that helped chart a political road-map for creating the institutions of a permanent democratic government [in Afghanistan]. That central objective of the first Bonn Conference, along with its other major goals, has been achieved. But our collective efforts to secure the future of Afghanistan are still a work in progress."
Haidari then drove his point home. "The main objective of this second Bonn Conference is for the international community and the government of Afghanistan to re-affirm our shared commitment to a solid, long-term partnership beyond 2014. Such partnership must credibly assure the Afghan people that our country will not be abandoned again. Afghanistan's enemies must understand that our nation-partners will continue their solidarity and support with and for the Afghan people, until Afghanistan is no longer vulnerable to security threats from the same state and non-state actors which once undermined international peace and security -- as we experienced in the unchecked events of the 1990s that led to the tragedy of 9/11."
Afghan women's rights activist Najla Ayubi has a decidedly more negative view of what the upcoming conference can accomplish. "It is one of several unproductive, symbolic conferences to be held on Afghanistan. Decisions have already been made. Several international conferences were held in the past ten years, none had tangible and effective outcomes for Afghans -- this one is not an exception. The Afghan people at large are the victim of regional and international politics. The current Afghan government could not effectively use the previous opportunities opened for Afghanistan and will not be able to appropriately use the new opportunity."
She went on to say, "Afghans suffer from unconstitutional acts, systemic corruption, human rights violations, increasing insecurity, poppy boom, extreme poverty, and more." To address these issues, Ayubi suggests, "If the current Afghan administration has any wish to be honest with its people -- which I doubt -- it is time for the Afghan authorities to admit their past mistakes and open the door for a holistic approach to overcome the contemporary challenges facing the country, which include increasing insecurity and systemic corruption."
Like Ayubi, Vahid Mojdeh, political analyst and former member of the Taliban's foreign ministry staff, also voiced pessimism about what the conference can achieve. But Mojdeh is pessimistic for different reasons. He argues that the first Bonn Conference, lacking the presence of the Taliban and not well represented ethnically, triggered the current chaos and insecurity in the country. And he insists that, "the Second Bonn Conference suffers from similar shortcomings." In addition, Pakistan has boycotted the conference, which will potentially prevent the outcomes of the meeting from being implemented.
Asadullah Walwalji, an Afghan writer and analyst told me that the "absence of Pakistan in such a conference means that decisions made there, will not be implemented; i.e. Islamabad will continue to play its destructive and sabotaging role in Afghanistan."
Sayed Zaman Hashemi, an Afghan political
analyst, has a different view about the conference. "I think the first Bonn
Conference was to fight terrorism, establish a democratic system, and rebuild
Afghanistan. Considering the recession and pressure from the public in those
Bonn Conference, indeed, is an exit conference and end point to an active
presence of the West in Afghanistan. The reasons behind such an exit are clear:
systemic corruption within the Afghan administration and the (fact that the)
Afghan government has practically changed democracy to demagogy - both of which
are unacceptable for the West."
Bonn Conference is taking place at a time when the Afghan government is seeking
to sign a binding strategic partnership agreement with the United States, while
to the Afghan government -- the United States insists on signing a
nonbinding declaration. Before signing the strategic agreement, the Afghan
government has set a precondition that U.S. forces stop
carrying out night raids on Afghan homes. The U.S. and NATO have long
considered night raids one of the most effective ways to fight insurgency in
Afghanistan. The Afghan government is also insisting that the U.S. hand over
those prisoners dwelling under the custody of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Some Afghan analysts, however, believe that the Afghan government should be more cautious in this regard. "The Afghan people are in need of cooperation by a superpower like the U.S. The Afghan government should not be so insistent regarding its conditions to the U.S. They both had better come to a mutually acceptable agreement that will potentially benefit both countries." states Ayubi.
Helaluddin Helal, a former Afghanistan Deputy Interior Minister, also believes that the Afghan government should not insist on its position. "At this stage, the Afghan security forces are not acquainted with modern military tools. Considering the effectiveness of night raids and the inabilities of the Afghan security forces, how can the government take a leading role in night raids?" Helal asks, arguing that Afghan troops need more time to be trained in order to lead the assaults. In addition, Helal argues that most Afghan security forces are affiliated with different ethnic allegiances and that in the near term, it will be impossible for them to rise above those allegiances in order to align themselves with the national interest.
Equally important, Helal says, the Afghan security forces are unable to take over responsibility for detainees being held at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan. Two prison breaks in Kandahar, in which hundreds of mostly Taliban prisoners managed to escape, exemplify the incompetence of Afghan forces. Helal predicts that a strategic partnership between the two countries will be signed, but that it will take time.
Considering the acute political, security, and economic situation in Afghanistan and proven incompetence of the Afghan government to use international aid effectively, systematically fight corruption, ensure security, prevent poppy cultivation, provide a better living standard for Afghans, and establish an administration based on the values of good governance, it seems likely that the second Bonn Conference will fail to establish a more durable order. Unless the international community puts increasing pressure on the Afghan government to fight corruption and provide better services for the Afghan people, the insurgents will gain strength, more people will join hands with the Taliban, security will deteriorate, and both the Afghan people and the international community will suffer the consequences.
However, something the conference can accomplish is providing the international community with the opportunity to convey its clear message that Afghanistan will not be abandoned again, and that Pakistan will not be given another chance to set Afghanistan's course, as it did during the Taliban's time in power.
Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.
PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images
On the tenth anniversary of thehistoric Bonn Agreement that laid the foundation for the post- Talibandemocracy in Afghanistan, the Afghan Government and the international communitywill once again gather in the same venue today to assess the achievements andchallenges of a decade-long joint journey and to reiterate theirmutual commitment to working together on the path forward.
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On December 5, an international conference on Afghanistan will open in Bonn, Germany, 10 years after the first Bonn conference set up the political system that would help govern Afghanistan for the next decade. The AfPak Channel asked a group of experts and practitioners what should have been done at Bonn 10 years ago, what might happen at this conference, and what Afghanistan needs in the future.
-- Peter Bergen and Andrew Lebovich
HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images
I arrived in Kabul in October 2002 to research a rumoured expansion in civil-military affairs by international forces. This turned out to be the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) plan, launched at the U.S. embassy the following month. The effects of the successive traumas that Afghans in Kabul had endured, prior to and under the Taliban, were then still visible in peoples' faces and eyes. Later, following my move to Kabul full-time in January 2003 ,international development professionals who had worked in Afghanistan during the Taliban period of power told me that Afghan colleagues looked ten years younger as the strain lifted from their faces. To understand why Afghans hate uncertainty so much, one must remember how often normal life has been swept aside in living Afghan memory and the psychological legacy this disruption has created.
Finally, the "end state" that informed the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)'s planning matrices, which became ever more complex in configurations between 2002 and 2006, is apparently coming to pass as the West races to meet its politically set timetable for withdrawal by the end of 2014. The leading NATO member states believe they have a realistic plan for a "responsible" transition process that, it is becoming increasingly clear, is irreversibly proceeding on its agreed timeline, whatever the actual conditions on the ground. As one U.S. military expert put it at a recent conference on the transition, "whatever it looks like in Paktika or Badghis on 31 December 2014, that's what transition will look like."
The key difference between now and the planning matrices of ISAF's past is that the phased transition process is not dependent on the achievement of even minimal standards for governance and development conditions by the time the transition process takes place. Virtually all the Afghans (from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities) that I interviewed in July 2011 in Kabul were fully aware of the Afghan government's deficits in its institutional capacities to improve governance and deliver services.
In a context in which the overall security situation continues to deteriorate and the sense of crisis is intensifying, both domestically and regionally, the brief transition timeline merely confirms Afghan impressions of an international determination to get out as soon as possible. Nor did my Afghan interviewees express much confidence in NATO's twin-tracked approach for setting the security conditions for the transition: The reduction of the insurgency to proportions that can be managed by the Afghan government after 2014 and the building up of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) that, since 2009, has been the focus of massively resourced U.S.-led efforts to increase its numbers and to develop its fighting capacity. The insurgency, where currently suppressed, can easily be revived. Questions of morale were linked to the absence of effective security sector reform, as well as initiatives that so far have failed to protect the Afghan army and police from factional and ethnic influences and to genuinely disband illegal armed groups. Many Afghans fear that the U.S.-led creation of the Afghan Local Police will ultimately lead to the nationalization of militias that will operate outside the flimsy command and control of the Interior Ministry.
Independent security analysts based in Afghanistan, as well as Afghans, also question the sustainability of security gains enabled by the U.S. military surge. Indeed, many Afghans expressed little confidence in the aftermath of the ‘transfer,' specifically in terms of the Afghan government and its security forces' ability to manage the insurgency, to prevent a widening civil war, and to protect the people. At the same time, Afghans, along with regional leaders, are waiting to see what withdrawal will actually mean in terms of a U.S. military presence in the country after 2014.
The timing of the international conference in Bonn is anything but fortunate, though it could not have been foreseen when it was planned that the global financial crisis would be escalating even further, nor that regional powers' attendance would be questioned or cancelled, as happened with Pakistan following the accidental bombardment recently of Pakistani border posts by NATO forces, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The World Bank has issued bleak warnings in the run up to Bonn of the destabilizing effects that sharp reductions in donor aid and the military-driven economy could produce in Afghanistan. Financial straits in the West and Afghanistan have as a result brought the question of the fiscal sustainability of the ANSF, the forces that will play a pivotal role in the future, sharply into focus.
As Afghanistan is handed back to theAfghans, many are straining to see around the next corner. Whichever way you cut it the radical change of direction that transition represents is a high-risk strategy. It brings great economic and political pressures to bear on the fragile Afghan polity that has developed on the back of the first Bonn Conference in 2001. The strength of the medicine, some fear, may finally kill off the patient: Given the negative trend lines in security and difficulties facing the Afghan economy, it is hard to see how a transition to Afghan ownership can reverse this situation. The intense pressures and side effects of the transition will be felt at all levels of the country. The risk that declining aid flows will affect subnational governance service delivery by adversely affecting the ability of the Afghan government to attract and retain qualified staff is further increased by the intensifying Taliban assassination campaign targeting government officials.
The underlying strategic calculus may be that a collapse of the Afghan government would not necessarily prove catastrophic to the security concerns of the West. The same cannot be said with regard to Pakistan, Afghanistan's most influential neighbor. If the strategic focus of the United States has already moved on, as some believe, conceivably the consequences could lock the West further in to a country and region in a way that ultimately makes departure, from a Western viewpoint, an impossible option to take.
Barbara J. Stapleton was based in Afghanistan 2002-2010, first as a policy and strategy coordinator for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR). From 2006 to 2010 she was deputy and senior political advisor to the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan.
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In response to a NATO airstrike on a Pakistani border outpost last week in which 24 Pakistani soldiers troops were killed, the Pakistani government announced that it would boycott Monday's conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany. This announcement set off a flurry of diplomacy aimed at bringing Pakistan back to the table -- and at the time this article is published, it remains unclear whether Pakistan will change its mind.
Pakistan has a clear interest in demonstrating its powerful role in determining Afghanistan's future and publicly signaling the costs it can exact on the United States if continued unilateral military action -- intentional or otherwise -- continues on its territory. But its decision to disengage from the multilateral effort carries risks for Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and worldwide, beyond the confines of Bonn.
The conference, which aims to bring together more than 100 countries, is being held approximately ten years after the first major post-conflict conference in Bonn in 2002, which laid the groundwork for the current Afghan state. The odds of any breakthrough at the conference, with or without Pakistani participation, were already slim, and its agenda and objectives remain unclear. A series of recent diplomatic and political initiatives at various levels -- inside Afghanistan, in the region, and at the international level, are not as interlinked as they could be to produce tangible results.
Conference planners have hoped to provide a forum for countries to demonstrate their long-term commitment to Afghanistan, to coordinate a regional economic integration plan -- the so-called "New Silk Road strategy" -- and to discuss a political settlement for Afghanistan. Taliban representation at the meeting was vetoed early on by President Karzai, however, and the conference now appears to be largely about countries making statements in support of Afghanistan, but without ponying up concrete pledges.
The absence of Pakistan will further diminish the chance of meaningful outcomes at Bonn. While Pakistan's ability to deliver insurgent groups to a peace process remains untested, it possesses significant spoiler powers both for a political settlement and regional economic integration through its ongoing support for Taliban insurgents and ability to curtail significant trade with Afghanistan. With the exception of Afghanistan itself (whose current political system remains highly centralized and not amenable to reforms that could entice insurgent reconciliation), Pakistan, more than any other country, has an ability to determine whether Afghanistan can experience long-term peace or war.
Pakistan is playing a risky game by sitting out the Bonn talks, however. First, it fuels an increasingly strong impression among leaders in the United States, Afghanistan and other countries that Pakistan is not a constructive player in Afghanistan and that it should be confronted directly rather than accommodated. While the deaths of the soldiers in Mohmand is a tragedy, the deaths of American and Afghan soldiers fighting Pakistan's proxies is no less so, and mistrust of Pakistan is already high in both the U.S. Congress and Afghan public opinion. If Pakistan chooses to remove itself from constructive discussions about how to fashion a political settlement in Afghanistan, it may find those discussions dominated by arguments for a containment and isolation strategy of Pakistan worldwide.
Moreover, the breakdown of Bonn would strengthen the argument for rapid disengagement from the mission in Afghanistan, which is increasingly seen as a futile and expensive endeavor with little hope of progress. Publics around the world, especially in Europe and the United States, are increasingly opposed to pouring more money and lives into an endless quagmire. Because most analysts and policymakers see Pakistan as being essential for long-term peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan's rejection of Bonn makes prospects of failure appear even more likely, and thus the patience for engagement less.
For Pakistanis, a complete breakdown of the Afghan state and all-out civil war may be more dangerous than the status quo; rapid international withdrawal and dramatic funding cuts will increase the risk of both. Afghanistan's instability has long-term security implications for Pakistan, including large refugee flows and growing security vacuums where militant groups can operate. The Pakistanis have already complained that Pakistani insurgent groups are using Afghan territory to increase their attacks on Pakistani soil; this would only increase if chaos were to ensue on Pakistan's border following the international withdrawal.
The Pakistani absence from an international forum also prevents them from presenting a set of demands or engagingin a constructive dialogue on Afghanistan. Pakistan has real concerns about the coordination of military operations in Afghanistan, that military operations are not synched with a diplomatic strategy, that Pashtuns are not sufficiently represented within the current power structure in Afghanistan, and that India is utilizing Afghan territory to advance their strategic interests. But ceding the debate to other actors, most of whom have less at stake in Afghanistan than the Pakistanis, will be to the detriment of Pakistani interests in the region.
It is also not clear that their leverage is advanced by such a maneuver. The Obama administration has already elevated Pakistan's centrality in its strategy toward Afghanistan. It has argued that Pakistan is one of the main players in Afghanistan, reducing its pressure on the Pakistanis to mount direct military operations against insurgents based in the frontier areas while asking for their assistance in bringing them to the negotiating table. It has pushed back against Congressional calls to isolate Pakistan further and made the case for engagement, not isolation. But the administration's strategic patience with Pakistan, already strained by mutual mistrust, is not unlimited.
While the Pakistanis have legitimate concerns about the Mohmand attack, taking the ball and walking off the field does not assist them in advancing their desired future in Afghanistan and the region. Rather than presenting a strategy in opposition to NATO, the United States and the 100 countries that are attending, the Pakistanis would be wise to clarify their demands and outline concrete steps that would assuage their fears and advance their interests. Bonn could have been an opportunity for such a presentation; instead it has been used as another way to obstruct.
Caroline Wadhams and Brian Katulis are Senior Fellows at the Center for American Progress.
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Prolonged conflicts are particularly difficult to resolve, often depending on the opening of a window of opportunity that must be seized before it closes again. Afghanistan has been mired in conflict for the past 32 years, and warring parties, foreign intervention, and imbalances of power among different groups have made finding a negotiated solution to this series of wars difficult to achieve. One opportunity was missed in 1989 when, following the Soviet withdrawal, the United States and Pakistan did not pursue the possibility of reaching a settlement between then-President Najibullah and the anti-Soviet mujahideen. When in early 2000 I was appointed the U.N. Secretary-General's Personal Representative for Afghanistan, the Taliban regime was in control of over 90 percent of the country and, despite their diplomatic isolation, had little incentive to seek a political accommodation with Ahmad Shah Massoud, whose Northern Alliance (NA) was confined to the country's extreme northeast.
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While the upcoming Bonn conference on Afghanistan coincides with the ten-year anniversary of the Bonn Agreement that formally ended the Afghan conflict and formed the basis for a new Afghan government in 2001, its sponsors have spent the past several months stressing that it is neither an assessment of the past ten years, nor a forum for a "Bonn II Agreement" to end the current insurgency. This downplaying of expectations is appropriate, given the recent setbacks to the peace process. But this changed set of goals does not diminish the need for both an honest assessment of how the Bonn Agreement has fared for Afghanistan and a path toward a political settlement that would address its deficiencies.
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On Monday, Germany will play host to the second Bonn international conference, chaired by Afghanistan and attended by more than 100 delegations. The conference's opening comes at a time when, once again, tensions are high between Washington, Islamabad and Kabul over a U.S. airstrike along the Mohmand agency's Salala mountain rangelast Saturday, which claimed the lives of 24 Pakistani soldiers. As a result, Pakistan says it is downgrading its presence at Bonn, opting to send its ambassador in Berlin in place of the Foreign Minister.
The tenth anniversary sequel to the first Bonn conference will attempt to chart a new decade-long (2014-2024) roadmap for engagement between Afghanistan and the world community, as many Afghans are gripped by a sense of uncertainty mixed with frustration, baffled that a decade of staggering investment in their country has yielded such precarious results in areas such as security, political cohesiveness, economic sustainability and neighborly relations.
TheGhost of Bonn
Bonn I has undergone waves of revisionism and debate in the 10 years since it was held, especially among those who claim that it was not inclusive enough, and should have incorporated the then-fleeing Taliban and some of its militant fellow-travelers. But what Bonn I actually lacked -- not unlike the recent Istanbul conference on regional cooperation -- was a binding political accord with an enforcement mechanism that would have put an end to regional proxy interferences in Afghanistan, thus ensuring the shutdown of cross-border sanctuaries once and for all. That was probably easier to attain in 2001, when the Taliban were on the run and regional conditions more conducive to a dismantling of militant support structures.
It is a myth that Bonn I would have been able to cobble together a near-perfect and fair representation of a war-torn society under prevailing conditions on the ground in December 2001. The objective since then has been to create a political tent inclusive enough to accommodate all political forces, including the armed opposition groups. However, the militants have refused thus far to be part of such a structure.
Hence, the focus of any credible political outreach or reconciliation initiative coming out of Bonn II should be on encouraging the armed opposition to join a participatory and pluralistic peace-building structure leading to democratic governance, tightening the parameters for a just settlement that would leave no wiggle room for forces that adhere to violence.
Furthermore, Bonn I's weakest points were less about its benchmarks (the source of much discussion among Afghans over the years) and more about the short delivery timelines of tangible results and reforms prescribed in an environment void of any coherent studies on damage and needs assessment in postwar Afghanistan. This rushed feeling was compounded by a lack of strategic resolve to provide appropriate funding during the first five years of the mission in order to lay the foundational elements to fix a failed state. In a country where agriculture and water form vital arteries of the economy and communal life, it took both Afghan and foreign decision-makers at least six years to realize that those two sectors required priority attention. It took us even longer to consider indigenous energy generation as an essential element of growth. Add to that list weak governance, outdated management practices, burgeoning parallel governance and economic structures, a wasteful contracting regime, a decaying system of patronage and impunity for powerful figures, and the inability to enforce basic laws. These fault lines of the past 10 years should no longer be tolerated by Afghans and those who invest in their future.
The promise of Bonn II
While the Bonn I accords generated a blueprint for a post-Taliban political process, Bonn II, which is not billed as a pledging conference, will represent a moment of political reckoning as the baton passes from transitional work to "transformational responsibilities" in the words of conference organizers. Bonn II aims to restore Afghan sovereignty by 2014, when international forces are scheduled to withdraw. It is also seen as a reality-check moment for all sides concerned, as major donors are expected to commit to continue to stand by Afghans during the upcomingdecade. In other words, to shift the focus from military to civilian work and agree to incur new costs to keep the country's economy and its nascent institutions afloat, especially by providing training and mentoring in securityand governance fields especially, all at a fraction of the colossal expenditures (estimated on the civilian side alone to be more than $50 billion) borne between 2001-2014. The initial yearly financial outlay for the Afghan government beyond 2014 is estimated by Afghan officials to be approximately $8 billion for security and $5 billion for development work. According to a recent World Bank study, unless the international community steps in, aid-reliant Afghanistan will face a yearly budget deficit of $7 billion from 2014 through 2021.
In light of the 2014 drawdown, separate strategic agreements between Afghanistan and members of the international community can also benefit the Bonn process by creating agreements and mechanisms through which Afghanistan will adhere to principles of democratic governance, institution building, and access to economic opportunity, service delivery and resolving outstanding issues on its peripheral flank. It is becoming urgently necessary for Afghans to agree on a legitimate domestic mechanism to discuss the colonial legacy of the Durand Line, and engage Afghanistan's neighbors on key issues,such as the sharing and management of water resources under international law.
Good news, bad news
In my discussions with officials and participants in the new Bonn process, two majorthemes will emerge that Afghans will view favorably:
However, there is also bad news:
Pakistan's boycott of the Bonn conference will not impact the political commitment to help Afghanistan's transformation phase over the next decade. It will, however, be seen as a missed opportunity for Pakistan -- and all concerned parties -- to not be part of important deliberations on issues concerning regional cooperation, terrorism and radicalism, and to explore peace-building opportunities, as well as a chance for Pakistan to show that it wishes to be a productive regional partner, rather than an instigator. Independent views on the subject were best reflected in a sobering editorial published this week in Pakistan's Daily Times that said:
Whilst braving the ‘war on terror' on the domestic front, we [Pakistanis] have been waging a proxy war in Afghanistan for so-called strategic depth. When taking such risks, incidents such as the one on Saturday are likely. Our shock and response at what is essentially the result of our double game is overcooked. It is time we wage this war in a manner that reduces the fatalities on our side and decreases the potential of having our ‘sovereignty' violated, by abandoning the proxy war in Afghanistan.
Bonn I and Bonn II are obviously quite different conferences, convened for different reasons under different circumstances; history will judge both based on the deliberations and outcomes, and the way we think about them will undoubtedly change and shift over time. But what will not change is that fact that they were convened because there was a dire need to jump-start efforts to stabilize Afghanistan at critical times, and in the case of Monday's conference, to absorb the shock of another withdrawal and provide continuity for the vital mission of trying to bring a semblance of order to South Asia's vital crossroads.
Omar Samad is the former Ambassador of Afghanistan to France (2009-2011), Canada (2004-2009) and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). He worked as CNN's onsite commentator during Bonn I.
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Starting Monday, 85 countries and 15 international organizations will gather in Bonn, Germany, to mark the 10th anniversary of the international conference that convened after the overthrow of the Taliban government. This convening provides an important opportunity to remove Afghanistan as a pawn from the region's chess board.
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After spending last month in Afghanistan on my fourth trip this year, the situation can best be described as a glass half full. A multifaceted effort in the south, led by a "surge" of U.S. and Afghan troops, has increased security in the southern Pashtun heartland this year. But a steady drumbeat of high-profile attacks, including a brazen assault on the U.S. embassy and assassinations of key Afghan officials, has had an outsized impact on the population by eroding already weak confidence in the Afghan government and the forces supporting it. As I was ending my trip with a few days in Kabul, an SUV packed with 700 kilos of explosives rammed an armored "Rhino" bus, killing a dozen Americans and inflicting horrific burns on others in a targeted, planned attack reminiscent of the worst days in Baghdad. The U.S. military has adopted the line that these "spectacular attacks" are in fact signs of the Taliban's weakness, and points instead to a notable decline in the number of enemy initiated attacks.
But numbers matter less than perception in these wars -- and shaping perception is precisely how terrorist groups fight and win. The dominant narrative in Afghanistan is: the Americans are leaving, the government is weak, the Taliban is still strong, and Pakistan is the problem. And though the details of the cross-border NATO bombardment Saturday, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, are still murky, it will undoubtedly send U.S.-Pakistan relations into a further downward spiral. Unless the reality underlying these perceptions about the United States in the region are addressed, sustainable momentum on the government side cannot be generated. The U.S. surge may have started to turn around the momentum that is currently favoring the Taliban, but Afghan political and military actions are required to create a perception -- and the reality -- that the Afghan government is capable of surviving and prevailing. Addressing several factors bedeviling the Afghan campaign between now and next summer, when the traditional fighting season resumes and more troops go home, might turn perception and thus momentum in the Afghan government's favor. Six are most critical:
Promptly reaching a strategic partnership agreement in which the United States pledges to continue providing security and economic assistance after 2014 could go a long way toward reducing Afghan fears of abandonment. The U.S. and Afghan governments have been negotiating such an agreement for over a year, and the general idea of a partnership (albeit with a 10-year limit on American forces in Afghanistan after 2014) was approved at President Hamid Karzai's Loya Jirga this week; both sides hope to finalize it before the Bonn summit next month. The sticking points are night raids, which Karzai would like to end, and the transfer of detainees to Afghan control, despite a recent U.N. report cataloguing abusive practices in Afghan intelligence detention centers. The first issue can be postponed or finessed, but the United States is bound by international convention not to turn over detainees if it believes they will be tortured or mistreated. In the run-up to the Bonn Conference, Karzai will hopefully stay focused on the need to reassure Afghans of ongoing U.S. support and assistance as coalition troop levels decline over the coming years.
Forging a common front with his main backer, the United States, would help Karzai repair some of the image of weakness that plagues his government. Veteran U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)'s top commander Gen. John Allen have worked hard to "reset" the relationship with Karzai since they arrived this summer. One of his frequent interlocutors notes that Karzai "is exhausted, and he knows he is irritable and unpredictable." Nader Nadery, a commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, chides Karzai for his "lack of firmness. There is no clarity on where he stands." And, like many Afghans I spoke to, Nadery sees the president's tolerance of corrupt activity as a major weakness. Yet despite these failings, many Afghans I've talked to still see him as currently the only leader who can balance the myriad rivalries and swirling tensions that beset Afghan national politics, in particular the concern that Tajik leaders may be girding for an all-out civil war once the U.S. departs. The assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Tajik head of Karzai's High Peace Council, significantly ratcheted up those concerns.
Afghan security forces need to move demonstrably into the lead. The U.S. plans to push Afghan forces out front in more and more operations, if only to determine just how ready they are to take the lead and where the weak links are. To get them ready, U.S. forces must make partnering with and mentoring their Afghan partners its top priority, which it is not. By the military's own count in the latest DOD report mandated by Congress, 95 Afghan units in critical areas have no coalition partner whatsoever, and many others are only loosely mentored.
Afghans will have to step up if the three stated objectives of the military campaign are to be accomplished -- namely, to secure the south, the populated corridor along Highway One up to Kabul, and key areas of the east, especially the crucial provinces of Paktia, Paktika, and Khost. The south has been greatly stabilized over the past year, but the job is not yet done. I spent ten days in Kandahar province, where the longtime Taliban strongholds of Zhari, Panjwayi and Maiwand are still heavily contested. Returning from Maiwand, which is mostly still Taliban dominated, I passed through the Panjwayi district center, where a car bomb detonated a short while later. We stopped in Kandahar city for dinner -- one of the few times I have been with a U.S. military unit that felt comfortable dining at night in an Afghan city. The company commander ordered roast chickens, pilaf and delicious nan bread for all his men, and we picnicked amid the city's bustling nightlife, surrounded by curious Afghan men and children. Yet that reality coexisted with a frontal assault, hours earlier, on the Kandahar provincial reconstruction team, located just across from the provincial governor's office.
The current priority is to expand the security bubble beyond Kabul to Wardak, Logar and then Ghazni and Zabul provinces, thus securing the country's major highway all the way down to Kandahar. After that, the campaign plans to shift to the east, but it needs to tightly focus on the key population areas. There is a danger of focusing too much on sparsely populated provinces and neglecting the Khost to Gardez corridor, which has a large population and has been both an insurgent stronghold and transit route from the beginning of the war. Attempting to cut every ratline in the country is a sure fire way to fritter away forces. The only way that the campaign objectives can be achieved is if coalition forces focus on the important areas, and if Afghan security forces take more of the lead.
The expanding self-defense initiative may increase security. Security out in the countryside, where the insurgency is based, is starting to get a lift from the year-old Afghan Local Police program, but it is too early to judge the net effect of the program. It now has 8,500 recruits, mostly farmers who have volunteered and been trained to do checkpoint security and patrols in their villages. I've visited a half dozen of the 57 sites, where Special Operations Forces train and mentor the ALP and work with the district police chief, who is the Afghan official charged with their formal command and control, as well as providing them with salaries, trucks, weapons and ammunition. The program, strongly backed by ISAF, is funded and approved to grow to 30,000 in 100 districts, but the painstaking process of gaining community support and ensuring that the government exercises proper oversight means it will be another year or more before the program is fully implemented.
Thus far, RAND quarterly assessments done for the Special Operations Forces command in Afghanistan say that the program is broadly supported by local residents and that security in the sites has improved. The principal concern expressed by the program's critics is that these small groups (limited to 300 per district) will become militias, which historically have been armies of 30,000 or more under the command of a single warlord. The ALP program aims to prevent that by creating a strong link to district and provincial police chiefs from the outset. A recent Human Rights Watch Report catalogued allegations of abuse, disputes and ethnic tensions in some areas, although U.S. officials dispute some of the claims, which are under official investigation.
The ALP program features greater oversight and vetting mechanisms than earlier similar efforts, but continuing vigilance is necessary, as with all security forces. The Special Forces team in Maiwand told me about an ALP member who went AWOL, and along with his brother, started holding up cars for bribes on Highway One, the highway linking Kandahar to Kabul. The Taliban shot him dead. ALP commanders have fired numerous members they feel are not up to snuff. One of the sites, in Baghlan, is a unique case in that the Afghan government asked SOF to form a local police unit out of former insurgents from the small Hezb-e Islami faction; insurgents are not the recruiting base for ALP, unlike the Sons of Iraq program. The tensions in the area are increased by the fact that the area is a pocket of Pashtuns surrounded by a larger Tajik population. The Afghan interior ministry official who has national oversight of the program, Brig. Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzai, told me that he has put the ALP commander, who is under investigation, on notice that he will be arrested "if he does not behave."
Promises to rural Afghans should be moderated but honored. The reality is that the dysfunctional Afghan bureaucracy cannot deliver funds to individual provinces, let alone the district level where 76 percent of the Afghan population ekes out a subsistence living. At present, most district governments are fig leafs for the distribution of international aid projects. I sat in the Khas Kunar district governor's office as he talked to the provincial governor's secretary about getting funds for a backhoe to dig out canals damaged in recent floods. A U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official had suggested he seek to tap the $25,000 "performance based" fund that USAID provides each month to provincial governors. The district governor smiled and nodded as the conversation concluded, then turned to us and said, "It will take a year for the necessary paperwork and to get approval from Kabul." Yet there has been progress - in many areas district governors did not even visit, let alone live in, their districts last year. Many areas have now been pacified sufficiently for them to return. During the week I spent in Maiwand, I saw the governor preside over four meetings, although he still returns to Kandahar city each weekend where his family lives. Prioritizing needs is essential, since USAID funds and staff are slated to decline significantly, and the civilian state-building effort will focus on the provincial level rather than the districts. The district delivery program, for example, will end next year after reaching only 45 of the country's 398 districts. This program, which supports training and salary increases for district officials, is current under way in only 12 districts. A number of civilian officials and nongovernmental organizations believe dispute resolution, primarily through the traditional local mediation practices system, should be the highest priority in conflict-ridden areas where land and other disputes often fuel insurgent violence.
Pakistan is the glaring problem that has dramatically worsened and must be addressed. A senior U.S. official in Kabul declared flatly to me, "We will not succeed unless the Pakistan safe havens are reduced." He does not believe Pakistan will come around, despite countless U.S. pleas for more action. Pakistan balks at getting tough on the Afghan insurgent groups that are the central cards in its hedging strategy -- particularly the deadly Haqqani network, based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal agency. And U.S. officials recognize that an assault into the agency simply is not going to happen.
The United States and Afghanistan will have to neutralize the threat from Waziristan through their own efforts, and indeed these efforts have stepped up dramatically. Operation Knife Edge rounded up many Haqqani operatives last month. A senior Haqqani facilitator, Mali Khan, was nabbed as he crossed the border, and another, Janbaz Zadran, was killed by a suspected CIA drone attack on October 13. During the week I spent in Paktika, U.S. forces dropped 33,000 pounds of bombs on the border to close mountain passes that the insurgents use. A U.S. commander there pointed out a dozen "POOs" or points of origin, of artillery or rockets fired from Pakistan into Afghanistan. They were all within sight of Pakistani Frontier Corps outposts - leaving little doubt about active or passive support for militants among some Pakistani forces. U.S. and Afghan forces are under direct attack from Pakistani territory, and Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti assured me that when they take "effective" fire, U.S. forces shoot back. The dilemma, however, is that Pakistan holds a critical trump card, as it demonstrated this week by its ability to close major commercial crossings in retaliation for Saturday's cross-border strike. When I visited that part of the border area last month, Special Forces soldiers told me that an insurgent camp near the two border posts was a major source of attacks in the region.
If the Afghan and U.S. governments can agree on a common plan, backed by a lower but sustainable level of U.S. troops, they just might start winning the battle of perceptions. Given the insurgents' lack of popularity -- they rely on intimidation -- the Afghan government should be able to prevail in either defeating the insurgency or forcing them into a political accommodation if the United States remains willing to lend a hand. It might take five or ten years. But the alternative is not a pretty one to contemplate: the U.S. departs, Afghanistan crumbles, and the war fought to avenge the 9/11 attacks is perceived to be a failure. As I wrote in my last book on the Iraq war, Americans need to be prepared for wars to last a decade. The Afghan war, which the United States attempted to fight largely through a counterterrorism approach for the first seven years, has only begun in earnest in the last three. There is a third choice between the current large-scale U.S. counterinsurgency campaign and reverting to a counter-terrorism approach, and that is an Afghan-led counterinsurgency effort that that the United States can support in a sustainable way.
Linda Robinson is Adjunct Senior Fellow for U.S. National Security and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is writing a book on the war in Afghanistan.
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Awar of words erupted in Pakistan this week, following reportsthat the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had declared a ceasefire with thePakistani government, as part of allegedly ongoing talks between the two sides.TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan deniedany ceasefire Wednesday, but the prospect of negotiations require that weexamine the TTP's current orientation, and how the group's outlook on its fightagainst Pakistan and the West has changed.
OnNovember 8, a written messagefrom Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP's amir, was released on jihadi Internetforums on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic holiday that ends the annualHajj pilgrimage season. The message was released simultaneously in Urdu,Pashtu, Arabic, and English on Internet forums used by transnational Sunnijihadis and their supporters. It was distributed by the GlobalIslamic Media Front (GIMF), a shadowy network of translators and media operatives whoproduce numerous translations of key jihadi texts, videos, and songs, as wellas original material. Earlier this year new videos and written statements fromthe TTP were being distributed by a branch of the GIMF, Al-Qadisiyyah MediaFoundation, which is devoted to translating jihadi texts, primarily fromArabic, into languages of the Indian Subcontinent including Urdu, Bangla,Pashtu, Hindi, and Persian. The shift to GIMF distribution earlier this year suggeststhat the TTP continues to draw upon the transnational Sunni jihadi rhetoricdeployed by groups like al-Qaeda Central (AQC) and its regional affiliateswhile continuing to maintain a strong focus on waging a domestic insurgency inPakistan. The result is a type of "glocal"militancy that combines both elements of transnational jihadism with the TTP's morecountry- and region-specific goals.
Inhis message, the TTP amir addresses four main groups: the worldwideMuslim community (Ummah), the Pashtuns living in Pakistan's Khyber-Pukhtunkhwaprovince and Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Pakistani peoplegenerally, and the Pakistani military and security agencies. Mehsud alsoreaffirms the TTP's allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar,and delivers an overview of his movement's widespread targeting of Pakistanimilitary, security, and other government agencies as well as targets connectedto the United States. Mehsud further claims that the TTP has regained controlof many Pashtun tribal areas and have launched an "open war" in others,including Dir, Swat, and Buner, after the movement made a "strategic"withdrawal earlier in order to draw the Pakistani state into a costly guerillawar.
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I first met Husain Haqqani in 2007 when I served on the Pakistan Desk at the Department of State. At that time, he was a Boston University professor known for his very public criticism of Pervez Musharraf's government and pointed analysis of the military's role in fomenting Islamic militancy in Pakistan, most notably in his 2005 book "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military." So, when he became Ambassador under the new Asif Ali Zardari-led government in 2008, many in Washington wondered how the newly minted Ambassador Haqqani might reconcile his strong views on Pakistan's military with a U.S.-Pakistan policy so heavily centered on the security establishment. Turns out he never did.
Haqqani resigned on November 22 over his alleged involvement in preparing a secret memo to the United States offering to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership in the aftermath of May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Haqqani continues to deny any involvement in the memo, but his longstanding views on civil-military relations render his participation plausible. The question of responsibility is an important one for the Government of Pakistan and its citizens. Pakistan's democracy is still stifled by its history of military dictatorships, but its active civil society and media continues to push for an explanation, as a legal debate unfolds over whether Haqqani's alleged involvement in dragging the U.S. into Pakistan's internal affairs constitutes treason.
It remains to be seen whether Haqqani will face a legal inquiry. Any elaborate proceedings, however, are not in the interest of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government. President Zardari no doubt faces a risk that with Haqqani's resignation, the political opposition and military may begin to question the possibility of his involvement in "Memogate," as was suggested, then denied,then suggested again by Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman at the center of the scandal. The Supreme Court and the activist-minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry could also take up this issue as part of its agenda against PPP's corruption and bad governance. The government must strike a balance between accommodating public calls for justice and maintaining its strength in the lead up to the March 2012 Senate elections, during which the PPP is expected to win a majority of seats.
The government must also contend with public perceptions, especially among the Western foreign policy community, that the military is so incensed by this incident that it will overthrow the government. In substance, this argument has no legs. At least under Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's leadership, the military continues to avoid overt involvement in civilian affairs, primarily due to Kayani's desire to improve the military's image following the bin Laden raid. However, if Pakistan's civilian leadership continues to disappoint, Kayani will have a harder time convincing the rest of the senior military leadership,which views the civilians as corrupt and inept, to stay out of domestic politics.
But it's not just the military that needs to stay out of politics. The memo shows how much the U.S. government is pulled into domestic affairs in Pakistan, whether it chooses to be or not. The United States smartly stayedout of it this time, with the White House, Department of State, and the embassyin Islamabad issuing statements that the memo issue was an internal matter for Pakistan's democratic institutions to address. The United States should push for more balanced civil-military relations in Pakistan, but it should limit how it exerts its influence to resolve those civil-military conflicts. Doing so under the circumstances of "Memogate" would have only confirmed the views of Haqqani's critics, who identify him as an American stooge, and of his supporters, who credit him with holding together a broken bilateral relationship. Both views exaggerate Haqqani's influence on the United States and Pakistan, which are bound together by forces greater than personalities, namely the ability of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to conduct attacks on the United States from Pakistani territory.
Haqqani's weakness was not that he was too close to theU.S., or underperforming as Ambassador. Rather, it was his inability to convince the military establishment that he represented the entire Pakistani government, and not just the civilian leadership. Do not forget that before "Memogate,"the 2009 scandal over the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid legislation pulled the United States into another domestic conflict that revolved around Haqqani. At the time, the military blamed Haqqani for the legislation's attempts to contain the military's role in civilian affairs. What was intended to be a historic moment in U.S.-Pakistan relations and an effort to focus on the needs of the Pakistani people become mired in a decades old imbalance in civil-military relations.
The job of Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States hasnever been easy. Over the past year, during which time I served as Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council, the United States cooperated with Haqqani on many unexpected developments; the shooting of two Pakistanis by American contractor Raymond Davis, managing the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, the unfortunate death of key interlocutor Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, a tremendous expansion of U.S. counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, as well as attempts to revitalize civilian engagement in the country.
No one can doubt Haqqani's appetite for politics, or his feisty attempts to attack challenges or seize opportunities in his path. I am reminded of a story he told me from his time as a 24-year old Karachi-based journalist for the Far Eastern Economic Review. During his first meeting with General Zia-ul-Haq, Chief Martial Law Administrator and 6th President of Pakistan, Haqqani asked him when he would "step down and implement democracy?" Zia's response was that Pakistan needed democracy but also stability. For someone who started his career in politics in the student wing of the conservative religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, this was no doubt a bold move on Haqqani's part, and propelled him into a career that would analyze the hard realities ofthe Pakistan military's stronghold on civilian politics.
However, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship now faces some of the most challenging policy questions it has faced in decades, related todefining Pakistan's role in an eventual reconciliation process with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the impact of the 2014 international troop drawdown in Afghanistan on Pakistan's national security interests. Because of the high risks these questions pose for both the United States and Pakistan, the next envoy to Washington must be able to speak to the whole gamut of bilateral issues, including Pakistan's security priorities, which will remain front and center to U.S. national security interests in the foreseeable future.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia Analyst at the Eurasia Group and a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
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In his last official event as an ambassador, barely an hour after the un-redacted transcripts of his alleged Blackberry Messenger (BBM) conversations with Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz were released, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani bore a grim expression as authors read out from short stories and poetry at the Pakistan Embassy (in the interest of full disclosure, I frequently cover issues relating to U.S.-Pakistan relations, and have interviewed Ambassador Haqqani a number of times).
Later that evening, he lost his cool with the media after they harassed him for a sound byte on Ijaz's accusations that Haqqani was the "senior diplomat" who led a plan following the death of Osama bin Laden to solicit American assistance to prevent a coup in Pakistan, and to help remove the country's senior military and intelligence personnel, by means of a "backchannel" memo to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. At the time he denied any involvement and said his fate was in President Asif Ali Zardari's hands, a position he maintains.
A day later, he boarded a flight to Islamabad.
This morning, news outlets reported on a meeting taking place at the Prime Minister's House with President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and intelligence head honcho Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha with the ambassador. Not long after the meeting, Haqqani tendered his resignation, which was then accepted by the PM. According to Pakistani news channels, the Prime Minister asked for the Ambassador's resignation. In an official statement, a spokesperson for Gilani said, "As a result of controversy generated by the alleged memo which had been drafted, formulated and further admitted to have been received by Authority in USA, it has become necessary in National interest to formally arrive at the actual and true facts." Further details on what really happened in the meeting weren't available, but for days, many had speculated that this would be the expected outcome.
Several names for replacements for Haqqani have been making the rounds since he offered to resign last week, in light of the "memogate" disclosures. These include current Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi, the current Pakistani representative to the United Nations Hussain Haroon, and former Pakistani Army chief Gen. Jehangir Karamat.
Lodhi, when asked about whether she would want to be ambassador, said at an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) last week that she had picked up the American expression, "three strikes and you're out." Lodhi has twice served as Pakistan's Ambassador to Washington under Benazir Bhutto and General Musharraf's governments respectively.
Bashir, who at 59 years old is due to the reach the age of retirement soon, could be asked to resign from the Foreign Office and become a political appointee to the United States. Bashir's brother is Admiral Noman Bashir, the former Chief of Naval Staff, and he is viewed as being close to the military and establishment. He was also part of the Pakistani delegation that met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York in September.
But beyond the rumours on Ambassador Haqqani's replacement, there are dozens of unanswered questions about "memogate." Who was responsible for the contents of the memo, which did not reflect Haqqani's polished and erudite English prose? (Though by all accounts the alleged BBM transcripts closely resemble Haqqani's style). Why did they decide to use Mansoor Ijaz, who has a history of making extravagant and sometimes false public claims? And lastly -- what motive did all the players have for their roles in this episode?
More importantly though, it is unclear how this affair will impact civilian and military relations within Pakistan. It is no secret that the Pakistani Army was not Haqqani's biggest fan -- and if it turns out they insisted on his resignation, one can expect that they plan to call the shots with Pakistan's next emissary to Washington.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News in Washington DC, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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NationalPublic Radio host Steve Inskeep's newwork is not a comprehensive look at the complex history or troubled presentof my city. It is a roving, at times whimsical narrative telling certain storiesthat follow, intersect or run alongside each other. It winds through selectedplaces, events, and people, revisits some of them, keeps going, and comes backfor more. It is ostensibly pegged to one event, but in reality that event issimply a particularly convenient launching pad for talking about some of the violentconflicts, identity crises, power struggles and practical problems that hold hostagethe people of Karachi, Pakistan's largest and most cosmopolitan city.
Withthis approach, Instant City: Life andDeath in Karachi only honors the nature of this megalopolis.
Partof the problem in writing about Karachi is its enormity. There is its population,of course, on which the host of NPR's MorningEdition has based his title. For him an "instant city" is one that hasgrown significantly faster than the country it belongs to since the end ofWorld War II. Karachi, with its 13 million people -- an estimate for 2010 basedon a census carried out in 1998, and one that is considerably lower than othersas high as 18 million -- is at least 30 times as populated as it was in 1945,two years before the partition of British India brought hundreds of thousandsof Muslims pouring into the city and turned Karachi into an enduring magnet forPakistanis from other parts of the country.
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Last week's Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia was unsurprisingly uneventful. While not a "head of state" summit -- where traditionally big announcements like the decision to allow new members in would be made -- in the lead-up to the meeting there was a flurry of press about a possible enlargement of the group. But aspirant members and current observers India and Pakistan were not made into full members, and Afghanistan was once again not brought any closer into the club. Generally seen by Western observers as a less threatening entity than before, the organization's inability to move forward on expansion highlights its immaturity and should show outsiders the likely limited role that it will be able to play in post-American Afghanistan.
Initially born as a vehicle through which to resolve long-standing border disputes in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "Shanghai Five" as it was known (made up of China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) formally changed its name in 2001 when it opened up to Uzbekistan and turned into the SCO. Over time, it developed into a forum in which regional players could forge closer links on a variety of issues, including economics, development, infrastructure projects and most recently education.
At the core of its identity, however, remained security concerns, focused on countering what the SCO members describe -- in a clear emulation of the Chinese definition of a threat -- as "terrorism, separatism and extremism." Its biannual "Peace Mission" joint counter-terrorism exercises have been the most visible expressions of this focus, offering opportunities for nations to get together and practice operations usually focused on countering an assault by a small force of well-armed terrorists. In January 2004 it established the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and the next year opened its doors to the leaders of India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan, who all attended the annual summit as "observers." Also present was Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the group agreed to establish the SCO-Afghanistan contact group, "with the purpose of elaborating proposals and recommendations on realization of cooperation between the SCO and Afghanistan on issues of mutual interest." However, since then the Contact Group has done very little, and while further countries have joined the constellation of nations interested in becoming involved in the organization (Belarus and Sri Lanka are now "Dialogue Partners" and Turkey has applied to join this club) no further tangible movement has been made.
Yet it seemed as though this might be changing. Earlier this year, the organization celebrated its ten-year anniversary, and at a high-level conference in Shanghai the question of expansion was brought up repeatedly. However, while Russian participants seemed eager for the organization to allow new members in, the Chinese side seemed hesitant, pushing to deepen the organization's economic focus and develop its international profile through official connections with other international bodies before expanding it further. This was reflected in the public discourse ahead of the St. Petersburg Summit where Russian officials backed the Afghan bid for upgrading the nation to "observer" status and openly supported Pakistan's bid for full-membership. Yet nothing happened, and in his official read-out to journalists on his way back from the Summit, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made absolutely no mention of the possibilities of expansion.
This inaction is somewhat perplexing to outside observers. The organization was fundamentally founded to clarify borders so as to counter a transnational terrorist threat that most would agree has had a regional home in Afghanistan, and yet the SCO has done surprisingly little in direct terms to help the nation. Individual members have given support and money, but the organization itself has not. The idea of membership, or at least "observer" status, would theoretically tie Afghanistan more closely to regional players and bolster the current administration in Kabul. Yet by this same token, admitting Afghanistan to the group would mean taking sides in a conflict whose outcome remains uncertain. No one yet quite understands what the American withdrawal in 2014 will actually look like, and SCO members are unsure whether they want to become too entangled in a nation that has already subdued at least one SCO member in the past (Russia). And atop all of this there is the capacity question: the SCO has no standing forces and controls few direct funds. Consequently, as a diplomat at the Secretariat in Beijing put it to me last year, "what would you have us do?"
Other potential members face different problems: unwilling to take sides, the organization would most likely have to open its doors to both India and Pakistan at the same time -- something that would also have the effect of bringing into the organization all the disagreements they share. The question of upgrading Iran is one that has taken something of a back seat of late following President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's failed attempt to be admitted last year. The reason for this blockage seems to be a general desire amongst SCO members to not overtly antagonize the United States. Mongolia would seem to be a relatively natural member, but given the precedent that letting a nation in would set, it continues to be obliged to sit on the sidelines.
And so the question remains: Why, in the run-up to the St. Petersburg Summit, was there such a flurry of interest in possible expansion? One explanation is that Islamabad has for some time been trying to bolster its regional partnerships in an attempt to counter-balance American anger and perceived fickleness. Russia also appears to be behind a lot of talk of expansion. Concerned about the in-roads China is making in its Central Asian periphery, Moscow perhaps hopes that expanding the SCO, something seen as primarily a Chinese vehicle, might stretch it beyond its ability to function. While the SCO may not have done much yet, it has laid the foundations for a more weighty future -- a long-term vision that accords with China's approach to foreign policymaking.
Whatever the case, the end result is that another high-level SCO Summit passed with little tangible forward movement. Seemingly obvious achievements like upgrading Afghanistan or Turkey continue to be avoided, while outside China there is little evidence that the regional powers are willing to invest too much into the SCO. All of which is welcome news to those who worry about the organization becoming a "NATO of the East," but less positive to those who hope it might be willing to take on a greater role in Afghanistan when the United States makes its move in 2014.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation. His writing can be found at http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
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While regionalism in Europe is under stress due to a monetary crisis, South Asian efforts at regional cooperation are gaining some tentative strength. The seventeenth summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), held in Addu Atoll in the Maldives, concluded last Friday with a greater sense of regional purpose and international approval. The United States sent Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, and, for the first time, China sent a team of observers to the event.
SAARC was established as a permanent organization in 1985, with a secretariat hosted in Kathmandu, Nepal created in 1987, in partial competition with other regional blocks such as The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. Its original seven members: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, also agreed to add Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2007. The addition of Afghanistan was particularly significant because SAARC could thereby act as a forum for India and Pakistan to negotiate their strategic influence over Afghanistan's development path. In Pakistan, there has been recurring suspicion about ulterior motives for the high level of development aid that India has given to Afghanistan. This is believed to be a major cause for the Pakistani security establishment's interference in Afghanistan's political trajectory. Allowing for a transparent exchange on regional development investment in Afghanistan could be an effective means of assuaging some of this mistrust. A glimmer of this prospect was realized at last week's meeting, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with both the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers for talks on regional development and security.
The persistent acrimony and nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan has often hampered substantive progress at regional cooperation. Yet SAARC is evolving into a forum that links civil society and governments in the region through common denominators such as education, the environment and human rights. At this year's summit, "People's SAARC," a parallel initiative to the official SAARC, which was established originally in 1996 as a stakeholder feedback mechanism to regional governments, emerged with a clear "memorandum" that made detailed but practical "demands" on the rights of fishermen in regional waters, migratory populations and communities impacted by climatic changes and disasters.
Those who argue about the Afghan war on bumper stickers and in sound bites would do well to pay extended attention to the Asia Foundation's annual survey of Afghan public opinion. The results cut both ways, demonstrating more progress than is admitted by the "Afghanistan is hopeless" crowd, while simultaneously calling into question the more extravagant declarations of those who claim a clear path to success. The survey is one of the most careful periodic studies of Afghan opinion. Conducted annually since 2006, this year's survey interviewed 6348 respondents in all 34 of the country's provinces, with sophisticated oversight and training of the pollsters. No survey can wholly correct for the tendency of some people, especially in countries like Afghanistan where the security situation is tenuous, to give the answers they think an outsider wants. The fact that 95 villages originally chosen (out of 876 villages and urban points originally selected for interviewing with a total of 166 later switched for various reasons) had to be replaced by others because of poor security in sampled areas probably slants the results somewhat more toward positive responses. However, it is fair to note that fewer villages were switched for security reasons in 2011 than in 2010 (95 compared to 138 in 2010). Despite these caveats, though, this survey is brim full of important results.
On the positive side, and at a time when many Americans have an undifferentiated view that everything Afghan is sliding downwards, nearly half the Afghans surveyed believe their country is moving in the right direction, a trend that has held up since 2008. The numbers who are optimistic about the country's economic future has risen since last year's survey. The survey also shows continued high esteem for the Afghan Army, the most highly respected institution in Afghanistan by a sizable margin (though those wanting to replicate the Iraq "awakening" example should note that the least respected institution are local militias). Confidence in local government shows improvement, particularly at provincial and district levels, although in this as in every aspect there are wide ethnic and regional differences that merit close attention.
There is strong support for a negotiated peace, although the regional differences evident in the survey results suggest great concern that a badly designed peace might bring the Taliban back to power. This fear of civil war if the Taliban returns to power is one I heard much about when I visited Afghanistan in March. The survey indicates that such fears are particularly wide spread among ethnic minorities, so the kind of peace we pursue matters, in order to prevent a move toward armed conflict from populations who are most concerned about a Taliban return. Support for the Taliban has declined, and there is clearly an increased revulsion among Afghans against the civilian casualties caused by the insurgents. Afghan respondents also show increasing awareness of improvements in health and education. In short, there is progress. But there is also a great deal about which to be concerned.
Afghan fears about security are growing, and now overshadow complaints about corruption (still a major problem). Afghans in the areas of heavy combat in the southwest, south and east show much lower levels of confidence in security than their counterparts in other parts of the country. Suicide bombers are increasingly rattling the confidence of city dwellers, who have more negative views of security than do villagers. More than half of the respondents say they fear for the safety of themselves and their families, a statistic that would presumably be higher if some of the excluded sample points had been included. More worrisome still, the number of respondents showing such fear has not declined from 2010 to 2011, and in eastern Afghanistan, where the Haqqani Network is predominant, such fear is rising.
There are also growing concerns about freedom of expression in the country -- a concern that reflects somewhat negatively on the Afghan government and warlords, but is specifically linked by many respondents to poor security and fears of the Taliban. The survey lays bare the great deal of doubt that Afghans see about the Taliban being rolled back, even in the areas where direct confrontations with U.S. and international forces have diminished substantially. Concerns about and resentment of the behavior of foreign troops are also a growing problem. There are wide variations on these views even in different districts within provinces, so it is a mistake to say the survey flatly challenges NATO views of success -- but counterinsurgency is as much about psychology as about statistics. These perceptions are a cause for concern that military analysts need to consider.
Ultimately, for all of the negatives in this survey, there are many areas of optimism as well. America has twice ignored Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and after our initial success in 2001. And twice we have paid substantially in blood for our loss of attention. Before we give up and declare everything hopeless, we need to look closely at how much has been achieved in the eyes of Afghans, and what that means in terms of the possibilities that still exist to succeed. But we need to look equally clearly at the negatives, the places where Afghans remain or have grown more skeptical, and think of corrective actions, even as international forces redeploy within Afghanistan and eventually withdraw. In doing so, the Asia Foundation survey is an important document, but only if we are willing to think in terms more complicated than slogans.
Neumann was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan 2005-07 and is the author of The Other War:
winning and losing in Afghanistan. He is
president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, but the views expressed here are his own.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
In less than a month, world leaders will once again convene in Bonn, Germany to lay out a roadmap for Afghanistan's fledgling democracy and its future beyond 2014. Chaired by the Afghan government, "Bonn+10," as it is now known, is expected to include representatives from dozens of countries and international organizations. It aims to devise an effective plan for the ongoing security transition to Afghan control, accelerate the contentious Afghan reconciliation process, and delineate long-term regional and international engagement of Afghanistan beyond 2014.
In anticipation of the meeting, the second phase of shifting security responsibilities to Afghan security forces was decided upon at an international conference in Istanbul on November 2. The Afghan government and twelve regional countries signed the Istanbul Declaration whereby the leaders of those countries, including Pakistan, India, China, Iran, Russia and some Central Asian Republics, expressed their support for Afghanistan and committed to cooperate in the Afghan reconciliation process and combat terrorism and insurgency. However, many Afghans view these developments with skepticism. They worry about the country's uncertain future as the U.S.-led coalition prepares to withdraw some troops and move the remainder into support roles ahead of the 2014 deadline. These fears are even more intense within Afghan civil society, excluded from both the upcoming gathering and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.
Many Afghans believe that another major conference alone will not serve as a panacea, or bring any tangible solutions to their problems, especially when President Hamid Karzai will select most of the participants with only nominal civil society representation, including NGOs and traditional local and tribal leaders. Such concerns were further escalated after Karzai asked to convene a traditional Loya Jirga (grand assembly) that would guarantee the primacy of his inner clique in the gathering, and hence a continuation of the present dysfunctional political system. The five-day Loya Jirga is scheduled to begin in Kabul on November 16, and will bring together around 2,000 influential Afghan political figures, warlords, former anti-Soviet mujahideen and jihadi leaders, local and tribal leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss the upcoming conference and the much-anticipated U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership. These doubts were intensified most recently when the Taliban published a 27-page document it claimed to be the official security plan for the so-called "slave jirga." If the document is proven to be authentic, it would represent a clear blow to the Afghan government, particularly the security apparatus, and would show the Taliban's ability to infiltrate even the most highly secured areas of government. The jirga's promise appeared further threatened when key Afghan opposition figures, including Abdullah Abdullah called it "illegal" and "unconstitutional," and said he will not partake.
Additionally, concerns abound across Afghanistan that President Karzai may abuse his executive powers to alter the Afghan Constitution and remain in office after ending his current term in 2014, despite his recent statements to the contrary. This potential move by Karzai is widely seen and construed, mostly by members of Afghanistan's United National Front, as a safeguard of his power in the case of waning support in his native south or a political gridlock in Kabul.
of violence over the past few months has further magnified some Afghans' doubts
about the U.S. strategy of trying to reconcile with the Taliban. Many Afghans
are concerned that next month's conference may well set in motion ten years or
more of yet another dysfunctional and corrupt governance for Afghanistan and
that planning for the future will be pointless and trivial without security and
stability on the ground. However, others fear that "Bonn+10" will fail to bring
any tangible change to Afghanistan because the focus of the meeting will not be
on reconciling with the Taliban. Many Afghans, as well as
non-Afghans, think it was a mistake to exclude representatives of armed
insurgent groups, including the Taliban, from the last Bonn meeting in 2001,
ignoring even those who reconciled, and that the likely reoccurrence next month
will inexorably mean failure for the conference.
They believe the Taliban's
exclusion from the conference means the meeting will be merely for show
and not for a political settlement. Worse still, the Taliban's exclusion may
well result in their challenging the outcomes of the conference just as they
did after the first Bonn meeting in 2001.
The various Bonn participants have expressed divergent views on the Taliban's presence at the upcoming conference. President Karzai has repeatedly stated that he will not participate in the meeting without the Taliban, and the United States and its NATO allies appear to have left the decision up to the Afghan government. However, the U.S. envoy in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, has categorically stated that there is no chance for the Taliban to participate in the conference. While the Taliban has rejected nearly every attempted negotiation, operating with such lack of coordination, transparency and leadership on an issue of national and international priority sends mixed and confusing messages to the Taliban leadership. This lack of unified voice has further complicated the already fragile peace process.
There are many contradictory views and misconceptions about the reconciliation process, and whether and to what degree to engage the Taliban as the United States assumes a non-combat and/or support role. While Afghanistan's reconciliation and reintegration process, ostensibly led by the High Peace Council, provides an official address for peace talks, it lacks the inclusiveness and national support necessary for successful implementation. The High Peace Council has become a talk show of incompetent representatives picked personally by President Karzai and has been largely unsuccessful in addressing the fears of most Afghans. While the reconciliation process is meant to achieve a timely and constructive peace deal with the Taliban, it also plays a crucial role in the transition process and supports the responsibility of both Afghan security forces and leadership. Afghanistan's current transition process is designed to produce better governance, catalyze economic development, and institutionalize the rule of law ahead of the 2014 U.S. withdrawal deadline. If the reconciliation with the Taliban does not materialize or fails, there will be no successful security transition.
Another impediment and an apparent challenge to the peace talks at Bonn next month is the realignment of anti-Taliban constituencies in the north of Afghanistan. This opposition includes primarily non-Pashtuns - Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras - who all fought against the Taliban under the umbrella of the Northern Alliance in the 1990s. Vigorous critics of both President Karzai and the Taliban, these elements believe they have the most to lose from any negotiated peace deal and strongly oppose any talks with the Taliban. It is widely believed that these groups will put together a unified voice to oppose and challenge the current reconciliation process in next month's conference. This belief was solidified last Friday after the former Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud - a younger brother of the late anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud - announced the formation a new political movement known as Jabha-e Milli-e Afghanistan (the National Front of Afghanistan). The movement that includes several key leaders of different minority groups has already taken a potent stance against the current Afghan government by denouncing and boycotting the upcoming Jirga.
Many Afghans also doubt that the conference can elicit increased or perhaps "sincere" regional support and commitment from neighboring countries. While the 2001 Bonn conference was successful in bringing together a large alliance and laying out a plan and groundwork for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, one of the mistakes it made was ignoring regional countries and not curtailing their interference in Afghanistan. This gave Pakistan (and other external elements) a free hand to continue covertly supporting and providing sanctuary to subversive groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, resulting in the killing of many Afghan, American and NATO soldiers. The Bonn conference next month is a good opportunity to garner and ensure such kinds of regional pledges and commitments with sticks and carrots.
In light of the difficulties and looming uncertainties ahead, it is unclear whether another Bonn conference will help Afghanistan positively shape its future. While there is no silver bullet for Afghanistan's ills, next month's meeting will at least provide an opportunity for the United States and NATO to lay out a functional roadmap ahead of and beyond 2014 for a successful political, security and economic transition, good governance, peace and reconciliation, and rule of law. There is also still time to ensure that the conference is truly representative of all Afghans, including different ethnic and social groups, to decide their uncertain future. It is equally important for Bonn+10 to ensure an authentic political will and sincere commitment to peace building in Afghanistan, and for Afghans to constructively engage in nation building process in the years to come.
Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
On the holiest day of the Muslim calendar, Eid al-Adha, a suicide bomber blew himself up among worshippers as they were leaving a mosque in a village in Baghlan province. One commander from the Afghan Local Police was reported killed, along with at least three civilians and four others, with a further eighteen civilians wounded. Although not claimed by the Taliban, the bombing fitted in with their normal pattern of attacks. This would hardly have been breaking news, except that two days previously, the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in his Eid message to the nation, had given the clearest orders yet to Taliban fighters on civilian casualties, telling them to take every step to "protect the lives, wealth and honor of ordinary people." The attack left many people wondering whether Omar's message had been pure propaganda, or evidence of the leadership's limited control over its fighters.
The Baghlan attack was already dubious under the Taliban Code of Conduct, (see the text and an analysis here). Issued in May 2010, it orders Taliban fighters to, "with all their power... be careful with regard to the lives of the common people and their property." Under the fresh orders given in Mullah Omar's Eid message the attack is indefensible. He devotes about a quarter of his message to outlining new orders that are far more comprehensive and detailed than anything issued by the Taliban on civilian casualties to date. Unlike the Code of Conduct, which was aimed at field commanders and distributed in some areas more than others, Omar's Eid message was delivered very publicly -- a fact that may also help put pressure on the Taliban to enforce them.
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On 5 October 2001, the London Evening Standard reported that a veteran commander of the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad was calling for then-U.S. President George W. Bush's imminent bombing campaign of Afghanistan to be delayed. The commander, whose name was Abdul Haq, needed time, he said, to implement his plan for an internal, peaceful toppling of the Taliban.
‘Every time I meet commanders who cross the mountains in darkness to brief me,' he said, ‘they are part of the Taliban forces, but they no longer support them. These men will join us and there are many of them. When the time is right they and others will rise up and this Taliban Government will be swept aside.'
Haq went on to add: "The people are starving, they are already against [the Taliban]."
But his voice, so authoritative when visiting President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to call for more support to the mujahideen during the Soviet war, was barely heard in the aftermath of September 11. The bombing started, and Abdul Haq began his perilous mission. Two weeks later, on 25 October 2001, he was dead.
In November 2001, after his death, Abdul Haq's obituaries were dismissive, even overtly condemning. Not only was the manner of his death questioned, but so too was his life and, implicit to that, his ‘value.' When the New York Times described him demeaningly as "a middle aged man on a mule" or a "privately financed freelancer trying to overthrow the Taliban" the implication was that there should be nothing to regret about his loss. In London, an unattributed piece in Private Eye added snidely, "Like so many erstwhile terrorists, Haq managed to reinvent himself as a ‘moderate' and a ‘peacemaker' -- so successfully that his murderous exploits were entirely omitted from every single obituary."
Other pieces begged to differ and one, written by a cultural anthropologist and former U.S. Diplomat to Afghanistan, had a different take on the story:
To hear them talk in Washington and Islamabad, you'd think there was some doubt. In fact, you'd think his death no great loss. Listen carefully. It's scared talk, the kind of stuff you hear from bureaucrats whose backsides are exposed.
Abdul Haq, they rush to insist, was on a mission of his own. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. Either way, it's shameful to demean him.
There is some doubt about how the man died and where and when. We know he was ‘questioned' and then executed. But was it by hanging with his body then used for swaying small-arms target practice, or was he shot in cold blood in a prison courtyard? It was in eastern Afghanistan -- but Jalalabad or Kabul? It was two weeks ago -- but late Thursday or early Friday? There's some doubt about who sent him and who betrayed him. There could even be confusion about his name were it not so well known:
‘Born Hamayoun Arsala 44 years ago, he became "Abdul Haq" -- Servant of Justice -- in the crucible of our Cold War's most decisive battleground.'
Kabul, January 2004
Towards the end of January 2004, I finally met the Taliban's Deputy Interior Minister, Mullah Khaksar. It was his boss, the Taliban Interior Minister, Mullah Razzaq, who had apparently given the orders for Haq to be killed.
The family told me that Khaksar had visited Haq in Peshawar after September 11 and helped him with his plan to overthrow the Taliban, intending to work with Haq in forming a broad-based government. The plan was for Khaksar to work with Khan Mir, another of Haq's jihadi commanders, in Kabul as Haq went into Afghanistan from the East on his mission. The two would work on turning over several divisions of the Interior Ministry. In the event though, Haq had been killed and captured before the fall of Kabul.
Khaksar had apparently turned himself over to the Karzai government following the routing of the Taliban and was now hiding out in a "safe house." At this stage there was still no Taliban Reconciliation Program.
I hooked up with my interpreter, Hanif and we headed in the direction of Khair Khana on a cold January day, the air thick with a winter freeze. Eventually we arrived at a rundown suburban house, stepped into a concrete hallway and were shown into a curtained room. The Mullah sat there alone. He had a shaggy dark beard, a voluminous dark grey turban and dark, spaniel-shaped eyes. I could see my breath in the cold air and was relieved when a young man arrived to stoke the bukhari stove heater and bring us green tea and nuts.
Khaksar's dark looks were utterly incongruous with his quiet, high-pitched voice and the phone which periodically jingled ‘happy birthday' from inside his salwar kameez. After some explanations of who I was, I asked whether, given the current situation, it might have been better for many members of the Taliban if Haq had not been killed?
Khaksar replied, "At the last days the friends of Abdul Haq in the Interior Ministry practically began a war. We were ready to act" he said, telling me Haq had wanted a broad-based government, like himself. Later, he had stayed at the Arsala house in Peshawar and spoken with Haq's brothers Haji din Mohammad and Haji Qadir. He told me that he had known the regime would collapse two years before it did. I asked why Mullah Razzaq had wanted Haq dead and Khaksar said:
He used his competence as it was an emergency situation. But he also said that, at this time, the Taliban still did not believe they would lose their power. They thought, rather naively, that Afghans would rise up against the foreign invaders in their support. They executed [Haq] as they thought the USA would rescue him and then he'd stand against the Taliban again. But the act [of killing Haq] was against human rights law and [Islamic] law. As he was killed without a fight and without a trial.
As to why the Taliban had killed Haq so fast, he said:
If he was alive and his programme had been a success, then from my point of view he would now be President of Afghanistan...If they had put him in jail the people would have been rising up and pushing for a revolution.
Again, his phone tinkled ‘happy birthday' from somewhere deep within his salwar kameez. Fixing me with his bottomless dark eyes he added, "A lot of people supported his plan, even in Khost, Paktia, Gardez and throughout Afghanistan."
These were the same places one of Haq's British supporters, nobleman and famed Afghan war photographer Sir John Gunston, had mentioned as being the backbone of the Taliban's hold over the south: the places which had fallen due to Haq's commanders and the willingness of the people who were fed up with the regime. Not due to some ‘secret deals' made by MI6 -- as asserted in the British press -- who had been nowhere to be seen when help was needed.
His comments echoed Gunston's assessment of the sad irony that, in Kabul, Abdul Haq had been deemed a threat to the Taliban, yet in Washington and London, those charged with knowing better were just blithely unaware. I asked Khaksar if it was too late to include moderate Taliban in the government. "Yes of course," he snapped. "But if not 100 percent fruitful, it could be 20 percent at least." It was a short interview. He had people to see, but he agreed to meet again the next day to talk more about the circumstances surrounding Haq's death.
Lucy Morgan Edwards is a former Political Advisor to the EU Ambassador in Kabul and author of The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan, from which the above passages are derived.
MICHEL PORRO/AFP/Getty Images
Real enemies will whisper about you. The murmursand hisses to discredit Ali Soufan have echoed through the community of opinionmakers and terrorism experts, and have even reached me. Shortly before Soufan's book, The Black Banners, was published, aproducer from a major media outlet spoke with me. "Was it true that Soufan had been a low-levelFBI employee, who could not speak with authority about the nature of theterrorist threats to the United States because he lacked the necessarysenior-level perspective? Wasn't he exaggerating his knowledge and role? Wasn't he a bit of a self-promoter?" theproducer asked.
I could not help but smile to myself as Ilistened; the same character assassination had happened to me when my own bookon interrogation and the War on Terror came out. I had been kept off a number of programs as aresult. I also knew that Soufan already hadbeen targeted this way several years earlier when his name first became public.I told the producer that Soufan's career and mine had overlapped on manyoccasions, and although we had never to my knowledge met, in many instances Iknew first-hand that Soufan's description of events and policies were accurate.
Soufan was an FBI special agent for eight years, arare native Arabic speaker in a professional FBI culture that was shaped byformer Marines, often Irish Catholic and working class, and which hadtraditionally viewed counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work as secondtier specializations. CIA culture, too, although white collar rather than blue,viewed these specializations as adjuncts to the "real" work of espionage, whichwas to steal secrets and recruit spies from our historic enemies in the SovietUnion, North Korea, or Iran. It wouldprove an ironic twist that the Bush Administration also viewed terroristthreats as small-bore issues. Until 9/11,that is, after which the Bush Administration subjected us all to eight years oflarge-bore, misguided, and muscular obsessions. But, Soufan, the FBI officerswho had worked the first World Trade Center bombing case, and especially hisoriginal mentor, the head of the FBI's New York office, John O'Neill (killed onSeptember 11, 2001, at the base of the World Trade Center towers,) had long understoodthe seriousness of the jihadist threat from the mid-1990s-as had the ClintonAdministration and many in the CIA. Soufan quickly found himself playing a keyrole in the FBI's counterterrorism efforts, and spent a frantic decade tryingto piece together enough information to stop the Muslim terrorists trying tokill us.
TheBlack Banners at first seems to lose the reader inan endless series of incomprehensible names, unrelated dates, places, andcases. But what emerges from Soufan's welter ofdetails and minor episodes is his answer to one of the critical questions abouthow the U.S. should protect itself from terrorism.
Should counterterrorism work be approached as acriminal matter, or as a war which considers terrorists neither enemycombatants nor criminals? The issue, ofcourse, became instantly politicized after 9/11, as the Bush Administrationturned U.S. counterterrorism efforts into the "War on Terror," in so doingjustifying the jettisoning of habeascorpus, the utility of U.S. civilian courts for terrorism cases, and varioushistoric constraints on what American intelligence, military, and lawenforcement officials could do. Soufan's involvement in investigating most ofthe major al-Qaeda attacks and plots that have afflicted us, from the "BlindSheik" of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, to al-Qaeda's attackagainst the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, tothe long struggle to find Osama bin Laden, makes clear that painstakingcriminal and intelligence work-classic FBI investigations, relying on andshaped by the legal requirements of U.S. law-led to the perpetrators in waysthat made prosecution possible and, even more importantly, identified terroristorganizations, individual terrorists, and their plans and intentions.
Even as a sense of reassurance grows with eachharried, scrambling response Soufan and his colleagues make to new threats andincomprehensible bits of information our anger grows, too, as we become awareof a second critical theme of The BlackBanners. Certainly before 9/11, andeven after the reforms of the 9/11 Commission to the intelligence andcounterterrorism communities, the FBI and CIA were afflicted by bureaucraticinfighting, pettiness, and parochialism, while political leaders exploitedterrorist threats to serve political objectives not always related to thethreats themselves. Soufan relates what many in the intelligence communityexperienced: "Prior to the Iraq war,when there was a lot of pressure on the FBI from the White House to produce a"link" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, the 9/11 Team's assessment, againand again, was that there was no link. The White House didn't like that answer, and told the bureau to lookinto it more and ‘come up with one.'" These vices may well have kept us fromstopping the 9/11 attacks and from far more quickly destroying al-Qaeda than wehave.
We share Soufan's repeated frustration with whatthe FBI and CIA called "the Wall." Neither agency shared information fully with the other, out of acombination of bureaucratic rivalry, mutual disdain, and honest belief thatlegal constraints forbid the sharing of information. I lived this self-harmmyself in the years prior to 9/11 with some of Soufan's New York FBIcolleagues, as one of them told me he would not share information I neededbecause I was a CIA officer, and he could not "compromise the source." I evenresponded, "but we are on the same team!" And so, our counterterrorist operation fizzled.
It is important that one bear first-hand witnessto our failings, as Soufan does. We shouldsit on the bathroom floor and cry with him after the 9/11 attacks, inheartbreak and anger, believing that we could have stopped the attacks and hadbeen done in by our own failings. "I threw up....my whole body was shaking....I wasstill trying to process the fact that the information I had requested aboutmajor al-Qaeda operatives, information the CIA had claimed they knew nothingabout, had been in the agency's hands since January 2000..." And what can one feel but the astonishment andcontempt Soufan relates when he was told in June 2001 that the Bushadministration had decided for political reasons to misrepresent the factsabout the Cole investigation, and toclaim the attack had not been the work of al-Qaeda and was, in any event,"stale." "Maybe to them," Soufan writes in understated anger, "but not to us,not to the victims and their families, and certainly not to bin Laden andal-Qaeda." Less than three months later the administration's Cold Warriorswould no longer be able to decide that the president could not "risk[political] capital going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan."
The third theme of The Black Banners is the most disturbing, poignant and effectivesection of the book: Soufan's growingdisgust at how the interrogation methods developed and imposed on theintelligence community by the Bush Administration undermine our principles,break our laws, and do not work-indeed, how they actually hinder ourintelligence work. Soufan and hiscolleagues in the FBI had been successfully interrogating terrorists for yearsbefore the sudden introduction of "enhanced interrogation techniques"-"torture"is the word a layman would use. We seeconvincing, devastating proof in his detailed descriptions of how, in caseafter case (e.g., Jamal Al-Fadl, Abu Jandal, Abu Zubaydah, Khaled bin Rasheedand on and on) he and his colleagues successfully interrogated al-Qaeda membersby "establish[ing] rapport" with them, by talking about religion, or family, bysharing a taste for sweets, or by laughing with them, if necessary, rather thanby intimidating and physically abusing a detainee. He describes his and his colleagues'consternation when confronted with the snake oil salesmen who peddled andimposed "enhanced interrogation techniques"-a pseudo-expert the CIA brought into oversee interrogations, whom Soufan gives the appropriately menacing andfoolish sobriquet "Boris"-who had never conducted an interrogation, knewnothing about terrorism, and who knew nothing about intelligence work. "Why is this necessary" Soufan asked whenfirst confronted with such measures as sensory deprivation, overload, orhumiliation, "given that Abu Zubydah is cooperating?" As "Boris" tinkered with ever-increasinglyharsh, and ever-ineffective, ways to break detainees, Soufan and his colleaguestried to oppose them, but as was the case with everyone involved in theinterrogation program (myself included,) failed. Soufan and the FBI formally ceased anyinvolvement in the case. "I can nolonger remain here. Either I leave orI'll arrest [Boris]." It is tellingthat, to my knowledge, four individuals with first-hand experience ininterrogations during the "War on Terror," have spoken out about enhancedinterrogation methods: two Air Forceofficers (Steve Kleinman and another officer writing under the pseudonymMatthew Alexander), an FBI officer (Soufan), and a CIA officer (myself). All ofus, independently, make the same points: interrogation must be based on rapport; enhanced interrogation methodsare ineffective, counterproductive, immoral, illegal, and unnecessary, and theyhad nothing to do with obtaining much, if any, information not otherwiseobtainable. It is only apologists forthe Bush Administration, or Bush Administration policymakers themselves, whoassert that "enhanced interrogation techniques" are legal, or work. Soufan is devastating about thesemethods: "The person or persons runningthe program were not sane....the interrogation was stepping over the line fromborderline torture. Way over the line.""In FBI headquarters, the situation was clear....What Boris was doing wasun-American and ineffective."
The book on occasion manifests a characteristictypical of many memoirs: if only they had listened to me, well, we would havedone everything right. The damning factsin Soufan's book, though, are powerful. Yes, the FBI and CIA did so much right, but got so much wrong. The Bush Administration was purblind andarrogant, from dismissing terrorism at first, to down-playing the Cole case for political reasons, toinstituting ineffective, and illegal "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Well, I was there, too. Soufan's and my workoverlapped-we served with the same people, in the same places, dealt with thesame "Wall" imposed by the same people in the CIA and the FBI. We worked with remarkable men and women, whogave their souls to stopping the terrorist threats facing the UnitedStates. We reacted precisely the same ways to the same challenges, in almost literallythe same words, to what we experienced about terrorist threats, enhancedinterrogation and bureaucratic infighting. Soufan knows exactly what he is talking about, and does us all a serviceby having set it down in The Black Banner.
Glenn L. Carle is a former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, and spent 23 years in the Clandestine Servicesof the Central Intelligence Agency. He is also the author of TheInterrogator: An Education.
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This is part 3 of a series contributed by WORDE researchers as they traveled to the two main theatres of Pakistan's war against the Taliban - Swat and the tribal belt - to explore how civil society is countering extremism at the grassroots level.
In Charbagh, a quiet town in Pakistan's fabled Swat Valley, storefronts perforated by bullet holes are a haunting reminder of how the Taliban insurgency brought militants dangerously close to Islamabad in 2009. Once romanticized as the Switzerland of South Asia, Swat is now heavily guarded by military check posts.
We attended a jirga, or assembly, in the town of Bahrain in Swat to understand how the Taliban came to power and how the locals challenged their reign of terror. According to village elders, the real problem began about twenty years ago, when Sufi Muhammad, the "godfather" of the Swat Taliban, established the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - The Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws). In 2002 he was arrested for leading 10,000 volunteers from Swat and surrounding districts to fight against coalition forces in Afghanistan, and his organization was officially banned. He was released in 2008, by which time his son-in law Maulana Fazlullah had taken up his cause.
Fazlullah, better known as Mawlana Radio for his broadcasts, targeted the uneducated in remote villages who were unable to distinguish religious conservatism from extremism. He presented himself as a liberator, exploiting age-old tensions between laborers, farmers, and the rich landowning class. Many Swatis readily bought into his narrative, and were made to believe that the United States and Pakistan were orchestrating a conspiracy to destroy Islam. According to locals, women in the area donated massive amounts of gold from their dowries to support Fazlullah's purportedly holy cause.
When the Taliban came to power in 2007 they revealed their true colors, embarking on a systematic, violent campaign to wipe out dissent. We were told the stories of countless moderate religious and political leaders who were targeted for speaking out against the Taliban. Revered Sufi leader Pir Samiullah was killed in the town of Matta along with 63 of his followers. He was hung from a tree for four days. In Kabal, Maulana Hamidullah was murdered during his evening prayers after he openly criticized the Taliban in one of his weekly sermons. Hundreds of schools were destroyed. Community leaders who refused to send their children to fight in the jihad were executed. It soon became evident that the Taliban had little to do with Islam.
To counter the Taliban's violent tactics, community leaders chose peaceful modes of resistance. A major anti-Taliban madrasa in Swat financially supported families of scholars who had been killed, and publically honored their late loved ones as fallen heroes. In Malakand, religious scholars organized a peace jirga and issued a fatwa accusing the Taliban of treachery. In Saidu Sharif, public events were organized in mosques to raise awareness that the Taliban were operating against Islamic law. When the Taliban tried to force the elders of Bahrain to sign a declaration in support of the insurgent group, the elders turned around and challenged the Taliban to a public debate on their beliefs. According to a prominent elder, "There was no doubt we would win the debate, so with the support of the entire town behind us, the Taliban relented and let us return to our mosques in peace."
In tandem with these local efforts, the people of Swat set out to raise awareness of the crisis at a national and global level. Zubair Torwali, a social activist from Bahrain, wrote a seminal article, "From Swat with No Love," revealing the plight of Swat in Pakistan's mainstream media for the first time. Others followed suit, and finally, images of the Taliban flogging a teenage girl sent shockwaves throughout Pakistan.
Torwali and other activists also set up Amankaar Tehrik, or "peace movement," to mobilize political institutions to counter violent extremism. Bushra Gohar, a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, convened jirgas of Swati activists and public intellectuals to bring awareness of the problem to policymakers in Islamabad. Meanwhile, religious figures from the frontier region of Pakistan briefed other anti-Taliban religious leaders from across Pakistan during the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Conference in Lahore. Together they pledged their support for military operations in Swat.
As the Taliban drew closer to Islamabad in 2009, the Pakistani military also waged a campaign to win "hearts and minds" in the region. Omar Tirmizi, a young army captain who lost his leg fighting in Bajaur explained how his unit gave their rations to villagers to gain their trust. The response was positive. That summer, with enough political capital and public awareness, the military successfully waged its offensive against the Taliban. A community activist in Swat explained, "Once the military arrived, we all hoisted white flags on top of our houses to signify our support for the state."
Today, Swat is once again considered safe, and tourists are slowly returning. According to Nasat Iqbal from the government's Social Welfare Organization, women are playing a major role in promoting education and leading rehabilitation projects. In nearby Malakand, the Jamia Subhaniyya Rizvia is building one of the first religious and vocational schools for women in the tribal belt, with accommodations for up to 200 students. There are other signs that people are gradually rebuilding their lives. Vibrant cultural traditions, which had been prohibited by the Taliban's puritanical decrees, are once again being celebrated. A week before we arrived in Swat, Mr. Torwali had co-sponsored the Simam Cultural Festival, attended by thousands.
Swat's success hinged on an integrated approach, which should be replicated at the epicenter of Pakistan's war against extremism, the tribal belt. There as in Swat, civil society actors, including religious and political leaders, elders, and educators, lead daring resistance efforts against all odds. We visited a flagship madrasa within a network of anti-Taliban educational institutions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In the surrounding hills, an infamous Taliban commander is waging one of the bloodiest wars in the region. A local educator explained, "When militants began threatening the schools, hundreds of our teachers publically pledged never to allow extremism to enter our campuses." His students established lashkars (militias) and even set up a radio station to challenge extremist narratives. However, given the increasing threats from militants and waning support from the government, these endeavors were ultimately short-lived.
Parallel efforts are being waged by Shi'a Muslim community leaders in FATA to reinforce mainstream Islamic principles of religious freedom and pluralism. According to Dr. Javed Hussain, a former member of Parliament from Parachinar (just across the border from Tora Bora), thousands of members of minority groups have been persecuted by the Taliban since 9-11. Just this summer, community activists from his region organized a major press conference at the National Press Club to demand greater media coverage of the targeted killings in FATA. "There was a time," a local Shi'a leader explained, "when we used to host musical evenings with our Hindu and Sikh neighbors. In the dead of winter, we even housed Christian families in our homes when they didn't have any heating sources." Today, at great personal risk, he affords safe passage for those fleeing the region. He added, "Every morning I think of my mother and pray that she doesn't have to witness the pain of her son passing away." Despite courageous efforts at the grass-roots level, much more is required to mobilize all of Pakistan behind a full-fledged counterinsurgency operation in the tribal areas.
Without ongoing action to counter radical ideologies and support the efforts of moderates, militants could eventually resurface under a different alias. Let's not forget that the Swat Taliban have already done this twice in the last two decades. As we were leaving Peshawar, a prominent poster on the road read, "Allah is our God and Jihad is our way!" This is a chilling reminder that military offensives have to be followed by a sustained campaign to counter Talibanization at its roots.
Waleed Ziad and Mehreen Farooq are leading a project to analyze the role of Pakistan's civil society in countering extremism for the Washington DC-based World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE).
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Assuming for a moment that many of Afghanistan's security problems originate outside the country's borders, the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan to be held in Istanbul on November 2 could be a unique occasion to address the many obstacles inhibiting a just and durable peace in the country. But the possibility of obtaining any tangible result from Istanbul is more remote than some may expect. Under the veneer of diplomatic nicety and rhetoric lies a set of mini-Great Game maneuvers that will put to the test the current efforts to bring about Afghan reconciliation, transition, sovereignty, and a sustainable paradigm shift in regional relations.
The Turkish initiative, backed by Afghanistan and major Western donors, will bring together a core group of leaders from 14 nations that form the "Heart of Asia" consortium, along with observers from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, Japan and others, to try to improve region-wide security and cooperation prospects through confidence-building measures and economic integration initiatives, such as the "New Silk Road" project.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explained that the United States and others are working in forums such as the Istanbul meeting to help secure commitments from regional countries "to respect Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity and to support Afghan reconciliation." Another aim of the gathering is to smooth the way for December's much larger conference to be held in Bonn, Germany, where decisions will be made for the post-2014 international engagement and long-term Afghan aid strategy.
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fundamentalist and extremist. This is the general impression of Pakistani
society in the world outside Pakistan, though a deeper look would lead the
observer to discover another layer - altogether different than the one visible
from Europe and America. Following the Urdu-language Pakistani media, one is
easily brought to the conclusion that there exists widespread radicalism and
fundamentalism among Pakistanis. The television anchors and their repetition of
‘national interests' aside, the key question is: Is the Pakistani society
really extremist? A cursory look at the events of the past few years can tell
Following the highly-rigged general elections in 2002 in favor of the now defunct religious alliance, Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Pakistan's religious parties looked poised to assert their newfound power in the country. But just six years later, in the February 2008 general election, Pakistanis overwhelmingly supported secular political parties such as the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP), while the religious parties managed to retain only seven seats in the country's National Assembly. The religious parties and their affiliates also failed on several occasions to start a political movement by using issues such as the jailing of Pakistani doctor Aafia Siddiqui, the US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal northwest, the Raymond Davis episode, or the U.S. Special Forces raid in Abbottabad and killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan's security establishment also contributes to the West's fundamentalist and extremist image of Pakistani society. Over the years, the Pakistani state has supported the armies of Kashmir-focused jihadists in order to gain leverage over its more powerful and several-times-larger rival India, as well maintain a Pakistan-friendly government in neighboring Afghanistan. To achieve these goals, the establishment willfully encouraged a number of elements within its own borders, ranging from pro-jihadist religious parties to extremist literature in schools, colleges and universities, in order to generate support for the jihadist cause.
Within Pakistan, the armed forces are often presented as heroes and the true custodians of Pakistan's ideological and geographical frontiers, while the liberal political forces are labeled (albeit with some truth) as vested interests, too corrupt and inefficient to run the country and ensure its defense. Pakistani youth are flooded with hardliner propaganda and find attraction in extremist views because of the stance of the esteemed military, the jihadist literature in classrooms, government-controlled electronic media, and a state policy of encouraging certain jihadist organizations.
This policy approach, although it dates back to the creation of Pakistan,
was institutionalized during the 10 years of military rule under the dictator
General Zia ul-Haq, who championed jihad and the Islamization of society. The majority
of the secular leaders at that time were either won over one way or another, forced to keep
silent, or pushed into exile, thus leaving room for the fundamentalists to come
forward and "purify" the society by holding mass gatherings in cities, speaking
on the official electronic media, becoming involved in educational institutions
and spreading jihadist literature. Zia and his rightist support base thus
maneuvered hard, and the ultimate result was the emergence of a hardliner
approach among the upper layer of the Pakistani society to Muslim causes - be
it Kashmir, Afghanistan,
Kosovo or any other place in the world. The support for extremists and
jihadists did not end with the death of Gen. Zia. Elements in The state security apparatus continued the same
policies, eventually resulting in the emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan
who converted areas of the country into a safe haven for extremists and
jihadists all over the world.
However, this is only one side of the picture. A few thousand miscreants fighting in the tribal areas, or some baton-wielding madressa students marching a street in Punjab, in no way represent the majority of the 180 million-strong Pakistani populace, who disapprove of the Taliban's terrorism and vandalism. Today, the tribal areas are being presented to the world as a tinderbox where everyone is a radical fighter or suicide bomber, only to convince the western world to shower more money on the Pakistani elites in order to avert this purported threat to global peace. In fact, this is a well-orchestrated plan in which the tribal people are the real victims. Victims in the sense that they are presented to the world as the trouble-maker while in fact, they are hostages at the hands of the Pakistani security agencies (and the militant groups), who over the years have supported or ignored the presence of jihadist and terrorist groups on Pakistani soil.
To understand the state's approach to the tribal areas, one must look at a few simple but thought-provoking questions: Why have the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) been discriminated against over the past 60 years? Why are they being run under the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) laws, and why were political parties banned from the area until very recently? How many schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, roads, canals, dams, power projects, and agriculture projects have been launched in FATA over the years? There are many other such unanswered questions, and the motive is clear: Keep FATA residents in the dark and mold their image as and when needed.
all of this, a vast majority of FATA residents are still in favor of education,
development, political reforms and (no doubt) peace. We are hearing more and
more accounts of tribal Pakistanis spending their hard-earned money to send
their sons and daughters to colleges and universities to become doctors,
engineers, teachers and scholars. Would a person sending his son or daughter to
university support the Taliban's jihadist agenda?
Pakistan's cities meanwhile,
despite the fact that the secular political leadership is often rendered
useless by criminal elements and their supporters, the vast majority of people
disapprove of militancy and extremism. The once popular religious political
parties are usually not able to gather more than a few hundred people at
rallies, even for flashpoint issues such as price hikes, power outages, fuel
shortages or foreigners' alleged disrespect of Islam. Anti-Americanism exists
in many countries and Pakistan
is no exception. But being anti-American does not necessarily mean being a
jihadist or a Talib. Protests in the United
States and around the world against the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan
are non-violent examples of this sentiment.
Now is the time for the western world to understand the situation by looking deep into Pakistani society instead of judging things on the basis of protest demonstrations by a few hundred bearded young men, or some gun-wielding men in videos from FATA. The key point to understand is that the real Pakistani society lies under the superficial layer of radicalism being presented as a serious threat to Pakistan and the peace of the world at large.
We need to know that despite security threats, hundreds of thousands of students are attending schools, colleges and universities; new private sector educational institutions are being opened; new think-tanks are being launched; the NGO network is spreading; and music, art and culture are flourishing. These developments are even occurring in areas presented as the most conservative to the outside world. It is high time for the world to look beyond the surface and see the vast majority of Pakistanis, who have been taken hostage by the few armed thugs who are propped up by the state to achieve the foreign policy goals.
Extremism is without a doubt a serious issue confronting the state of Pakistan and the region. But the approach should be to take it head on with the support of the bulk of Pakistanis who disapprove of terrorism and believe in political dialogue as a resolution to issues both inside and outside the country.
Daud Khattak is a journalist currently working for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto-language station Radio Mashaal.
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On October 4, 2011, the day that India and Afghanistan signed an agreement on strategic partnership, I traveled from Kabul to Kandahar, getting what was for me a rare glimpse of the average Afghan's perception of Indian developmental activity in his country. What was striking was the widespread support I saw in the Pashtun heartland for an even greater Indian role in rebuilding the Afghan economy and society. There is demand in Kandahar for India to add to the lone refrigeration facility it built, as Afghan goods are otherwise sold to the Pakistanis, who keep them in their own refrigeration facilities and then sell them back to the Afghans at much higher prices.
In the Arghandab Valley, traditionally known for its pomegranates, locals seek help in establishing storage, processing and transit facilities. The airport manager at the Kandahar International airport, Ahmedullah Faizi, highlighted the need for more cargo flights to export pomegranates and dry fruits. On direct flights from Kandahar to Delhi, there has been a notable increase in the number of visitors to India for health care, tourism and education. Women who had been queuing up with their young children since 5 o'clock in the morning at an Indian medical facility in Kandahar expressed appreciation for India's assistance. In discussions with Shah Wali Karzai, Qayoom Karzai and Mehmood Karzai in Kandaharthe day after the agreement was signed, the Karzai brothers were clear on their desire for India to invest in cement factories, irrigation and power projects, road and canal building, and an increase the number of scholarships for Afghan students to study professional courses like management and public administration in India.
The agreement came on the heels of the killing of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the subsequent suspension of reconciliation talks with the Taliban, leading many to conclude that it was signed in order to isolate Pakistan. What these critics have missed is that the agreement was more than five months in the making, designed to address the long-standing demands of the Afghan people. A series of official visits and private deliberations since January of this year culminated in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement in May of the two countries' plans for a strategic partnership. During an interview in Kabul in the days following the establishment of the pact, former Interior Minister Ali Jalali said he "recognizes the agreement as a document officializing [sic] the close ties that already exist between the two countries." Shah Mahmood Miakhel, former Deputy Minister of Interior, strongly supported the agreement as "useful for reconstruction and stability of Afghanistan to prevent civil war or proxy war."
This development should silence the critics of India's aid-only policy. Some senior Indian officials and former diplomats I have spoken to warned that India could get caught in a "reputation trap," where it is overstretched economically in a country of "negative security interests." The agreement is an affirmation of India's maturing foreign policy in the region. It is also a natural corollary of the constructive role India has played in Afghan development efforts thus far. In the last ten years, India has contributed close to $2 billion in aid, making it Afghanistan's fifth largest bilateral donor, and garnering much appreciation from the local population. The success of development efforts in Afghanistan is clearly a key aspect of achieving stability there. Thus, the Afghan-Indian strategic agreement may be seen as the consolidation of gains made by India's soft power approach, as well as an expansion of India's plans to secure its national security interests. A strong, stable and democratic Afghanistan would reduce the dangers of the return of extremist forces to the seats of power, and the potential spillover of radicalism and violence that would destabilize the entire region.
The agreement is important in that it touches on a wide range of issues that are critical to sustaining progress in Afghanistan. India's decision to expand the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), particularly the Afghan National Police (ANP), is a significant step toward building local capacity for providing security. The trade and economic agreements in the pact are a reiteration of India's commitment to Afghanistan's economic growth, and its role as a "bridge" between South Asia and Central Asia. The emphasis on "regional economic cooperation" in the ASP indicates India's vision of binding the countries in the region through a mutually beneficial cooperative framework. Finally, the agreement's capacity building and educational initiatives are a pledge from India to invest in the future leadership of Afghanistan.
India is indeed looking beyond merely engaging the Karzai government, or indulging one ethnic or political faction. The strategic agreement ensures the continuity of India's initiatives by making them free from the politics, whims and personal fancies of future leaders. Assertions that India's foreign policy does not usually have a long-term vision no longer apply in the case of Afghanistan. An institutional mechanism for continued engagement in Afghanistan in the form of this agreement is bound to cultivate a broad range of stakeholders in that country, preventing a complete reversal later of the gains it makes in the short term.
New Delhi and Kabul have insisted on multiple occasions that they are willing to accommodate Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. President Karzai said after the signing of the agreement that the new partnership with India was not meant as a form of aggression toward Pakistan. One hopes that in spite of the criticisms the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued of the strategic pact, the country will see reason in adopting a mature and rational Afghan policy. As one Afghan political leader in Kandahar said to me, "if Pakistan has to compete with India in gaining good will among the Afghans, it has to be on the plank of reconstruction and development, and not acts of subversion and selective assassinations or providing sanctuaries [to militants]."
No commentary on Indian-Afghan relations would be complete without addressing the most pressing question: Can India sustain or even expand its activities in Afghanistan beyond the NATO withdrawal date in 2014? The strategic agreement has provided a much-needed mechanism for a continued relationship beyond this deadline, without being subjected to the vagaries of future governments in Kabul or New Delhi, or to the prevailing regional security environment. For Afghans it is surely a sign that India is a reliable partner who has stepped in firmly when the West seems to be in a hurry to quit.
Dr. Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She can be reached at email@example.com. The views reflected in the paper are those of the author and not of the Institute.
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Last May I asked Major General Niaz Muhammad Khan Khattak, the Deputy Director of the ISI, Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, about his organization's links with the Haqqani Network. "If you always focus on the mosaic," he said, pointing to the Afghan rug in his sumptuous office, "that's all you'll see." Today it doesn't matter how Washington looks at this mosaic - as transnational terrorism or as Pakistan's anti-India partner in Afghanistan - one thing is certain: elements within the ISI help fighters belonging to the Haqqani Network who kill American soldiers. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is a tinderbox, one spark - U.S. soldiers on Pakistani territory or the Haqqanis killing dozens of American troops - could ignite war.
That spark may be more plausible than we think. Recent détente is encouraging but only a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the ISI to facilitate talks between Washington and reconcilable Haqqanis, and yet warned of "dire consequences" for Islamabad if the Pakistani military did not take action against the Haqqanis who are unwilling to negotiate. The Pakistani response was "yes" to talks, but "no" to military operations. Today, thousands of American troops are in the Haqqani Network's crosshairs in eastern Afghanistan during efforts to root out Haqqani militants, such as Operation Steel Rain in Khowst. Unless Pakistani generals act against the Haqqani Network's sanctuary in North Waziristan, which they have refused to do so far, American casualties will increase. In that case, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress and the White House to act unilaterally, quite possibly by putting boots on the ground.
What will happen if helicopters carrying American Seals are shot down in North Waziristan? How will America respond to a major attack that kills 100 troops in Afghanistan, like the September attack that wounded 77 soldiers in east Kabul? What if the perpetrators escape to Karachi, beyond the range of drones? What if American boots trigger a mutiny in the Pakistani army, leading to civil war? How will Washington secure Pakistani nuclear weapons?
Unfortunately, many of these dangerous scenarios are increasingly likely. A Pakistani official has told me that American-supplied Pakistani F-16 fighters are on high alert against a probable US raid. In March, Pakistani Air Force had orders to shoot down US predator and reaper drones. Last year, Islamabad shut down NATO's largest supply line for days, and three years ago, General Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistani military, ordered fire on a US helicopter carrying U.S. Special Forces that had crossed into North Waziristan. The Pakistani parliament, political parties and the media are supportive of the army's sentiments against the United States, but not against the Haqqanis. Anti-Americanism, always high, has reached unprecedented levels within the military's ranks, especially amongst junior officers. This is because most young officers are unaware of the past deals their generals have made with the Americans, and some may act independently in the name of national pride against an American incursion into Pakistan to target militants.
The United States is failing to change Pakistani public opinion because many Pakistanis are oblivious to American good will, and ambivalent about American aid as well as reconciliation with the insurgents. They hear about aid cuts and Americans talking to the same insurgents Pakistanis are asked to kill. Pakistani generals and politicians support such public confusion and often blame Washington for Pakistan's problems in order to cover up their own incompetence and corruption. More than 10 years and $20 billion worth of military and civilian aid has bought Washington the heads of top al-Qaeda leaders, the elimination of critical safe havens (Swat valley and South Waziristan), but not the Quetta Shura in Balochistan or the Haqqanis in North Waziristan.
At the same time, since 9/11 more than 30,000 Pakistanis have been victims of terrorism, of which 6,000 were soldiers and policemen. The city of Karachi, which contributes half of Pakistan's national income, is home to a brutal ethnic war, and resurgent Balochi militants and Sindhi flood victims are overstretching the military and an incompetent civilian government. Hyperinflation of food and energy prices, water shortages, massive floods, proliferating terrorists groups, and a fast-growing nuclear program are fast making Pakistan a threat to itself and the world.
To make matters worse, the Pakistan-based Haqqanis are killing American soldiers and disrupting the Afghan peace process, with what the United States says is support from the ISI. Clearly, US military aid cuts have done little to alter the ISI's support for the Haqqanis. Instead, General Kayani is rallying troops and political parties against expected U.S. raids into North Waziristan. He is pressing Washington's weakest point: threatening to close crucial supply routes to Afghanistan, without which there would be massive NATO fuel and ammunition shortages. It would take months, and improbable negotiations with the Russians, to get a viable alternative to the "Northern Supply Network."
It is not just a matter of Pakistani will, but also Pakistani capabilities. There is great need for American helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and yes, some American boots on the ground in the form of trainers and advisers. Even if Pakistani generals decide to attack the Haqqanis, they no longer have resources to clear and hold North Waziristan, and contain the blowback that could come in the form of a national suicide bombing wave.
In 2009, suicide attacks increased by 220 percent from the previous year (from ten to 32), targeting major cities: Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. This placed massive strains on poorly equipped national police forces. The same year, riding on an anti-insurgent public opinion wave, Pakistani commandoes, Frontier Scouts and 11th Corps infantry men - many trained and equipped by the United States - broke the insurgents' back in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. Today the Pakistani Army has no public support for a military operation against the Haqqanis. Furthermore, the population's opposition to the Pakistani Taliban - public enemy no. 1 in 2009 - is fading.
That was not always the case. In the summer of 2010, Pakistan's Commanding General for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, told me, "like Swat and South Waziristan [in 2009] with the help of the Pakistani public we will clean out North Waziristan this winter ." However, Pakistani intransigence regarding the Haqqanis, devastating floods, the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore by an American spy made the operation in North Waziristan impossible.
To renew ties we must start by replicating the 2009 conditions. American development dollars, weapons and trainers were flying in and al-Qaeda members were flying out or shot dead. U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, who rightly chides Pakistan today, said referring to the Pakistani surge against Pakistani Taliban that he "couldn't give the Pakistani Army anything but an 'A'." But absent a national narrative against the Haqqanis that unites Pakistanis, carved out of a transparent partnership with the United States, both countries may slip into war. Time is running out.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is the author of Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering & Fomenting Insurgencies. Mullick advised General (r) David H. Petraeus on Pakistan in 2009 and 2010. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program.(www.haidermullick.com)
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This is the second installment in a series contributed by researchers from the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE) as they traveled throughout Pakistan to explore how civil society is countering extremism at the grassroots level.
In a pristine, remote valley in Kashmir, far from the theaters of war, some families are abandoning their religious and cultural traditions in favor of extremist ideologies. The trend began after the 2005 earthquake, when several Islamist organizations - notably Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD) - came to the forefront, providing food, shelter and health supplies to devastated communities. A village elder lamented, "Many of us were impressed by their sophisticated ambulance services, and families willingly joined in their relief efforts." Most of these families had no idea that JuD was in fact a front for the banned militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Pakistanis, particularly in such remote areas, require tools to recognize extremist ideologies and terrorist organizations so that they can create counter-movements within their own communities. We travelled throughout Northern Punjab and the Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to learn how certain grassroots organizations have designed effective awareness campaigns within a religious paradigm that are palatable even to the at-risk population.
We began with the leaders of Pakistan's moderate religious networks. Since 9/11, dozens of religious scholars have issued public statements and fatwas against terrorism. Dr. Raghib Naeemi -- son of Dr. Sarfraz Naeemi who was killed in 2009 after he publically denounced terrorist activities as un-Islamic -- appears regularly on TV to promote peace and social cohesion.
Traditional Muslim networks have organized nation-wide anti-Taliban public rallies from "Save Pakistan" to "Ulema and Mashaikh" conventions, bringing together religious scholars and community leaders. Last November, a "Long March" was organized from Islamabad to Lahore to protest the increasing number of suicide attacks on Pakistan's cultural and spiritual landmarks. Over 20 major shrines across Pakistan were bombed last year alone. One of the core organizers of the Long March explained, "As we proceeded, the participation grew by the thousands, and in every city, we gave speeches and handed out fliers teaching people how to recognize extremism."
Religious leaders have also developed rapid response mechanisms to denounce terrorism following major suicide attacks. Last year when the soup kitchen at the shrine of Lahore's patron saint was bombed, the imam Mufti Mohammad Sialvi invited the media and mobilized leaders from different mosques to condemn terrorism. When we visited the shrine a year later, we found that students groups had maintained the campaign with freshly painted banners.
To form a stronger unified voice against the Taliban, religious scholars have also created a number of new NGOs. In the rural outskirts of Rawalpindi, Pir Mudassir Shah, a dynamic young leader versed in 14 languages, established the think tank Center for Innovative Research, Collaboration and Learning (CIRCLe). Pir Mudassir was a prominent organizer in a 25,000 man National Flag Day march to demonstrate support for the military counterinsurgency operations in the Swat Valley. The march brought together various elements of civil society, from conservative Muslim groups to the Christian Progressive Movement of Pakistan. CIRCLe will soon launch a poster campaign, for which they are seeking international support. One of the posters features a girl crying with a caption: "The Taliban Took my Father."
Schools are another critical channel through which Pakistanis generate awareness. Our journey took us to Bhera, an ancient village known for its classic Mughal mosques, Hindu temples, and carved wooden balconies. Deep in the heart of Punjab, Bhera's Dar ul-Uloom Muhammadia Ghousia is the hub of a network of educational and social welfare institutions providing free education grounded in the Sufi ethos to over 25,000 women and men. Pir Amin al-Hasanat, who leads the school, explained, "We teach all of our students that it is not their duty to fight jihad, but to look after the wellbeing of their community - regardless of one's faith or ethnicity." Just last year, the school and its affiliate philanthropic and social welfare organizations distributed hundreds of hygiene kits, established medical facilities for over 7,000 people and rebuilt homes for flood victims. They targeted remote areas at risk of falling under the influence of radical groups who use relief as a means to win recruits.
We encountered other successful models. The Pak Turk International School system has campuses throughout Pakistan, including volatile regions like Quetta and Peshawar. Their teachers challenge radical narratives by providing students and their families the necessary tools for interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding, which allow them to deconstruct the tribal, cultural, and religious stereotypes that feed militancy. Successful counter radicalization, we were told, is not taught in a specific class or manual but rather by example. In the Pak Turk schools, teachers are available at all times for guidance, and visit students in their homes. Through these civil society efforts, Pakistanis are becoming aware of the dangers of violent extremism. According to recent public opinion polls, a greater number of Pakistanis have a negative view of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban than before. "At first people were hesitant to speak out against the Taliban," explained Pir Mudassir Shah, "but now they are becoming more comfortable challenging extremism because the issue is mainstreamed." Today, while barriers and police checkpoints can be seen lining the streets of Pakistan's capital, and the army mobilizes in the tribal belt, a parallel war is being waged in Pakistan's heartland by local communities.
In one instance in rural Abbottabad, not far from the compound in which slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was living, a group of radical mullahs offered to build a mosque on the condition that the clerics could provide their own teachers. Not long after, families were alarmed to see that their children were being radicalized in classes taught at the new mosque. When parents learned that their children were being taught that "J" stands for "jihad" and "K" for "kalashnikov" the community held the mosque under siege until the mullahs were forced out.
150 miles south, in a village near Bhera, a father learned that his son was being brainwashed by a fundamentalist community member to believe that he would enter paradise if he became a suicide bomber. The father, supported by the Dar ul-Uloom community, rescued the children by publically exposing the radical mullah. He challenged the mullah: "After sending my child to paradise, why don't you send your own son to join him so that mine won't be lonely?"
Even some segments of the population that had been involved in militancy are now condemning extremism. Irfan, a former "toll collector" for a militant outfit along the Pakistan-Afghanistan Durand Line explained, "After the Taliban bombed the shrine of the Rahman Baba, the great Pashtun poet-saint, I realized that militants are destroying our country." Now as a taxi driver, Irfan makes it a point to lambast the Taliban in conversations with all of his passengers.
Waleed Ziad and Mehreen Farooq are leading a project to analyze the role of Pakistan's civil society in countering extremism for the Washington DC-based World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE).
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