While all eyes were glued on Afghan President Hamid Karzai's opening speech at the Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of more than 2,500 Afghan elders who were tasked with advising him on signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, nearly two weeks ago, an unprecedented, amusing, and thought-provoking incident occurred. Almost 40 minutes into Karzai's speech, a female senator, Belqis Roshan, from Farah, a province which lies along the border with Iran, raised a banner covered with anti-BSA slogans that compared the signing of the agreement to committing Watan Feroshi, or treason.
What the senator had not judged was the response she received from other participants. Chants of "Death to slaves of Pakistan" and "Death to slaves of Iran" suddenly filled the hall, prompting even Karzai to laugh, something he has not done publically for years. He finally intervened, urging calm, and called on the jirga participants to not accuse those who opposed the BSA of being spies for neighboring countries.
For wary Afghans, the incident demonstrated the overwhelming support that existed in the jirga for signing the security pact. But it was interesting that any opposition to signing the BSA was viewed as a subversive act by Afghanistan's two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, both of whom disapprove of the agreement.
Additionally, Karzai's cleverly crafted speech reinforced the jirga's preliminary support for signing the BSA. He touched upon Afghanistan's vulnerabilities, stressed the need for ending civilian casualties caused by American forces, and eloquently provided a convincing rationale as to why the deal was important for the future of the country.
After four days of intense deliberations, the assembly not only overwhelmingly endorsed the BSA, but also called on Karzai to sign it before the end of the year. And this support even went beyond endorsement. Some committees also called on the Americans to establish a base in Bamiyan, Afghanistan's central province and home of the ethnic Hazara minority, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, and where Iran is perceived to have influence.
The jirga, which is the ultimate source of national decision-making in Afghanistan, illustrated a distinct paradigm shift as Afghans have never been receptive to the presence of foreign militaries in their country. However, despite this widespread support, Karzai rejected the jirga's recommendations and refused to the sign the BSA unless his newly-raised demands were met, creating an uproar both inside and outside of Afghanistan.
Karzai's new conditions include no U.S. interference in next April's presidential elections, the termination of U.S. military raids on Afghan homes, the release of Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and U.S. help in restarting the stalled peace talks with the Taliban. Coming after the jirga approved the BSA, Karzai's stated demands and delaying tactics have perplexed almost everyone. Some argue he does not want to sign the BSA. Others say he will lose his final leverage if he signs it now. However, many may have missed the nuances behind his bizarre gesture.
Karzai's political posturing is most likely designed for domestic consumption and he actually has no intention of not signing the BSA. After all, if he wasn't planning on signing the document, why was his opening speech to the jirga focused on approving the document? By holding off on signing the agreement, he is generating further domestic support for the pact. In other words, he is effectively building public pressure against himself. Why? Because there is a historical stigma attached to any agreement that includes the establishment of foreign military bases in the country. While Afghans currently support the creation of these bases, with the country's uncertain political future, Karzai is worried about his legacy and he does not want to be seen as the person who facilitated this development if the domestic sentiment changes. By increasing the public pressure, he is creating an environment that would allow him to sign the BSA, while claiming that he had no other choice but to yield to the public demand.
Karzai also intends to send a message to the Taliban and undermine their narrative that he is a puppet of the United States, stripping the group of a propaganda tool it has used to discredit the regime and recruit fighters. In fact, the Taliban sent out a press statement earlier this week that politely praised Karzai for his refusal to sign the agreement.
Despite his statements to the contrary, Karzai knows he cannot hold off the BSA's completion until after the elections because of the extensive and destructive impact that would have on the process. He also understands that postponing the agreement's signing will further uncertainty about the country's future as the BSA is perceived as creating the biggest physical and psychological support for the political and economic stability of Afghanistan. Afghans know that an atmosphere of uncertainty will be detrimental to holding elections that are considered vital to the long-term stability of the country. After all, perception of the election process is as important as the actual practice.
As for the argument that he won't sign the BSA because he will lose his leverage over the Americans, there is no doubt that he will lose his ability to use to the document as a bargaining chip when he signs it. But, as a practiced politician, Karzai will always find other ways and means by which to pressure the United States. Even after signing the agreement, he will remain the most powerful figure in the country until after next April's elections, and will probably remain a dominant political player once he is out of office as well. He has proven to be a shrewd tactician with remarkable courage and a knack for brinksmanship and confusing everyone. But this time, Karzai should understand that he has gone too far, as many Afghans are beginning to question whether he is out for his own interest or the nation's. They have also started to question Karzai's stability in terms of making decisions for the country since they do not understand the underlying objectives behind his bizarre moves.
Yet for all of Karzai's bluster, the United States should know that he will most likely sign the BSA soon, even if his conditions are not met. In the past 12 years, relations between Afghanistan and its Western allies, particularly the United States, have been pushed to the brink of collapse multiple times because of failures to fully understand each other. This lack of understanding has been a primary source of complications and setbacks, so there is dire need for Washington to learn about Kabul's domestic dynamics and Karzai's psyche, and for Kabul to grasp the political realities in Washington. Karzai feels insecure and wary about his own political survival, and the United States expects to be treated as a superpower. Both stances have undermined the countries' pursuit of the main goal, fighting terrorism.
It is important for the United States to realize the significance of Afghan people's support for the BSA. A nation that has long fought against any invading military, regardless of its might, supports, for the first time in its history, the presence of a foreign military on their land. And they proved that they want close ties with the world, without factoring in any ideological or religious ideals.
It should be clear by now that Afghans are the United States' only ally in an unstable region where extremism and anti-U.S. sentiment is consistently promoted by violent extremist groups and, more importantly, governments themselves. Acknowledging that the United States' investment in the country has won over the Afghan people, it is critical that it continues to support Afghanistan's political development and the strengthening of its security forces, who have now taken over the battle against extremism. Sustained engagement with Afghanistan would enable the country to become an anti-terrorism sanctuary in the region.
Najib Sharifi is a member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness, a Kabul-based think tank.
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How do you solve a problem like Hamid Karzai? According to his former counterpart at ISAF command, Gen. John Allen, and other pundits, the answer is simple: Ignore him. After all, Allen and others have reasoned, there is no need for the United States to add injury to Karzai's insults by playing into the drama surrounding his refusal to sign a security agreement that would keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan through 2024. While this might be good advice for dealing with an unruly guest at the dinner table, it is probably not the best counsel when making a multi-billion dollar deal with an inveterate gambler-cum-head-of-state with a proven penchant for betting the farm on a pair of deuces.
Many things can and will be said about Afghanistan's president when he finally steps down. Some will say he was crazy, like a fox. Others will say he was a vainglorious old man obsessed with his legacy. Few will extol his poker playing skills. What is important to understand is that after 12 years as head of state, the last thing Karzai wants is to be viewed as a washed-out-has-been with no cards left to play. Only time will tell, however, whether he has aptly chosen the right moment to leverage the deal over a continued U.S.-NATO presence to his own personal benefit. To judge whether matching Karzai's brinksmanship with more brinksmanship is the right course of action, the White House would do well to evaluate the spread, assess who is bluffing whom, and decide whether the stakes are worthwhile.
The release of key Taliban members from the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay tops the list of call options Karzai has placed on the table. Control of senior Taliban prisoners has been at the center of Karzai's negotiating strategy for years. The only problem is that he hasn't been able to reap many benefits from this approach since Congress and the Pentagon have shown reluctance to play along. Last week, however, on the very same day that Karzai announced he was digging in his heals on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and upping the ante, the Senate, in a little noted move, opted to loosen the stringent rules governing the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to detention facilities in either their home or third-party countries. The move may face tough resistance in the Republican-held House of Representatives, but, as demonstrated by the recent visit of the Department of Defense's special envoy, Paul Lewis, to the island prison, there can be no mistake that a thawing is underway.
Karzai may be right to add these important signals in his "plus" column, but there is no assurance that his timely pronouncements on Guantanamo and chest beating over the U.S. security deal will win him much. Along with the prisoner release demand, Karzai has also pressed for the United States to get serious about restarting negotiations with the Taliban. This presumably means making sure that the Taliban understand that doing business in Kabul and Kandahar will mean doing business with the Karzai clan. The trouble is that the Karzai clan will not likely count for much if it can't deliver the elections to its chosen successor.
Indeed, the Afghan president's greatest fear must be that the clock is running out on his ability to impact the endgame. So he has fallen back on the tried and true approach of injecting uncertainty into the mix, which we've all seen play out in Afghanistan before.
In 2009, we saw 1.2 million fraudulent votes discarded in the presidential and provincial council elections. In 2010, 1.3 million votes were thrown out due to fraud in parliamentary elections; results were disputed for nearly a year before both chambers were finally seated in 2011. In both instances, uncertainty about the timing of the elections exacerbated structural flaws in the political system that remain unresolved. Not surprisingly, Karzai has apparently pressed the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission to postpone the April 2014 polls, a move that would force the White House to rethink its plan to leave 8,000 to 12,000 coalition forces in place as part of an advisory mission.
Karzai knows this well, of course, and so do those in his inner circle who are hoping to benefit from promoting a course of mercurial high-risk gambling. Key among the advocates of this strategy is, reportedly, Abdul Karim Khurram, Karzai's chief of staff and a stalwart member of the conservative wing of the Hezb-i Islami party. Khurram, a confederate of Hezb-i Islami warlord extraordinaire and former Afghan prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has earned a reputation for being bloody-minded when it comes to dealings with Americans.
But it is not entirely clear that this time around his interest aligns with Karzai's. Where Karzai is looking to insulate himself from the inevitable blowback that will occur once his principal backers in Washington reduce their investment in the Karzai brand come 2014, those allied with hardcore conservatives like Hekmatyar are looking to blow the whole game up. Amid all the drama this week over the BSA, Hekmatyar went so far as to write a letter to Karzai, threatening to rescind the informal ceasefires that have been in place for the last year or so if Karzai signs the deal. Hekmatyar knows as well as any other of the irreconcilables, like Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, that a sustained U.S. presence in Afghanistan means there is no coming home for them anytime soon. From where Karzai is sitting, these facts considerably increase his bargaining power with Hezb-i Islami and the Taliban.
So is there any "getting to yes" with Karzai on signing the security deal? Probably, but it's not certain that "yes" will mean much. History suggests that the deal the Obama administration cuts with Karzai today may not necessarily hold with his succesors tomorrow. Under the current political dispensation, it is unlikely that the Afghan government will be both willing and able to deliver any time soon on a strategy that calls for the country's beleaguered security forces to secure its borders and contain the insurgency. Although the Afghan National Security Forces have shown marked improvement, they have sustained heavy casualties in the face of the continued resurgence of the Taliban. They also have been heavily impacted by a spike in political factionalism within the upper echelons of the security sector.
Proposals to extend the U.S. military presence beyond 2014 additionally present a troublesome paradox: as long as U.S. forces remain, so too must the parallel legal infrastructure that has grown up around aggressive U.S. counterterrorism operations that have become anathema to many Afghans. The lack of trust between U.S. and Afghan partners over civilian casualties and night raids does not improve prospects much. The continued threat of insider attacks will also place an undue burden on U.S. military leaders to maintain unrealistic force protection measures regardless of whether Western force levels are at 10,000 or 1,000 after 2014. The latter point is all the more salient given Pakistan's apparent unwillingness to abandon its support for the Afghan insurgency. Any expectations that U.S. strategy in the region will profit greatly from a further investment of military assistance should be lowered accordingly.
Washington's post-2014 options are deeply constrained by these rather bitter facts, but it doesn't mean that the "zero option" is the only option. An investment in Afghanistan's stability needs to be an investment in the Afghan people, first and foremost. This means focusing hard on supporting a fair election process, ensuring that the economy remains stable, that rule of law and education programming continues to receive international support, and that women's rights and better health care remain high on the international aid agenda. Washington also needs to focus more on arriving at a political settlement that will hold. Boots on the ground, even in limited numbers, may be an important part of that signaling strategy in the short-term. But if the fraught political gamesmanship that has marked Karzai's tenure isn't brought under control within the next few months, it will be hard to ignore the unruly guest at the dinner table for much longer. The White House should send a strong signal to that it is still serious about a strategy that envisions an Afghanistan that can eventually stand on its own. A post-2014 U.S. strategy that maintains the status quo of insecurity and instability is hardly worth betting 10,000 American lives on and risks seeing the country held hostage to the caprices of ambivalent Afghan leaders for yet another decade.
If the short-term goal is to keep some troops in theater, then the long-term goal must be to leverage continued American assistance to influence the course of a negotiated political settlement that engages both armed and unarmed factions in the Afghan opposition, and to resolve longstanding frictions with Pakistan over military incursions and trade disputes across the Durand line, the disputed border between the two countries. This may mean that Washington and the rest of the international community will have to get creative in seeking solutions to current and future impasses over a continued Western presence in Afghanistan. Throwing money and military resources willy-nilly at the problem of widespread political disenfranchisement in Afghanistan will not bring greater security to the country or its region.
Instead of simply ignoring Karzai, there are a few ways that Washington can signal its seriousness about a responsible drawdown in Afghanistan. The first would be to publicly back the appointment of a U.N. special envoy and negotiating team to facilitate a regional settlement. A second way would be for the United States to engage regional powers, like China, India, Iran, Russia, and Central Asian states, on the possibility of encouraging Pakistan and Afghanistan to agree to refer the bloody, costly, and divisive dispute over the Durand line to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The sooner Washington and its international partners acknowledge the longstanding hostilities between the two countries as the center of gravity in a conflict, the better. Shifting the focus from boots on the ground to building momentum for a negotiated settlement may also mean taking more practical steps to resolve the status of high-level detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in the near term, as Karzai has repeatedly suggested. All of these recommendations may seem distasteful to a war-weary White House fed up with Karzai's antics. But the sooner the Obama administration acknowledges that the conflict in Afghanistan is desperately in need of a negotiated end, the less need there will be to bet billions on propping up compulsive gamblers in Kabul.
Candace Rondeaux is a non-resident research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School. She lived in Kabul from 2008 to 2013, working first as the South Asia bureau chief for the Washington Post, and most recently as the senior analyst in Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group. She is writing a political history of the Afghan security forces and is currently undertaking a mid-career masters at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
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Like many other regular readers of Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel, I was surprised by the announcement that it is to be rebranded as the South Asia Channel. But while my friend Ziad Haider received a quantum of solace from ‘AfPak' losing its conceptual toehold in Washington, I had instinctive misgivings about the adoption of ‘South Asia.' What exactly does that phrase connote today? Is the term in any way useful? Or is it so poorly defined -- culturally, politically, geographically, and bureaucratically -- as to make it problematic in its own way? In fact, beyond one rather ineffectual international organization and a handful of sporting events, does ‘South Asia' even exist?
South Asia -- as any sort of single entity -- was not really worthy of Washington's attention until the 1990s. India and Pakistan did feature in American strategic calculations beginning with their independence in 1947, but usually in the context of U.S. policy toward China or the Soviet Union, which often determined American responses to the region's political developments. All of that changed when India, and then Pakistan, conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The handful of South Asianists from academia and the diplomatic world -- and there weren't many Americans who could lay claim to that label -- were suddenly in high demand by the U.S. government and think tanks to address a narrow set of American priorities: nuclear proliferation, India-Pakistan tensions, and the Kashmir dispute.
The region assumed further importance with the 1999 Kargil War, by which time India and Pakistan were effectively "hyphenated," treated as inextricably intertwined and perennially in competition with one another. As a result, other countries in the region -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc. -- were often ignored; issues related to national economies and domestic political dynamics remained poorly understood; and the broader regional strategic context -- such as the role of China -- was often overlooked.
An important shift began with the 9/11 attacks, which was around the same time that Washington belatedly recognized the prospect of India's economic and political emergence on a wider Asian canvas. India, largely on the strength of its burgeoning economy, began to be incorporated into the institutional and commercial structures of East Asia, such as the ASEAN-led regional groupings, and a new term eventually began to make the rounds in strategic circles: the Indo-Pacific. But while India is now considered an unequivocal part of ‘Asia,' the other states traditionally constituting South Asia are not necessarily granted that same privilege. Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, are often seen as part of the Greater Middle East, a somewhat arbitrary shorthand, it would appear, for the Muslim world west of India.
Which brings us back to what precisely defines South Asia. Is it geography? The Indian Plate excludes all of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan, and includes the Irrawaddy basin. Religion? Not when India and Nepal are majority Hindu, Sri Lanka and Bhutan majority Buddhist, and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives majority Muslim. The legacy of British colonial influence? Maybe, but where then does that leave Myanmar? Ethnicity and language are similarly limiting. Pakistani and north Indian languages are more akin to Persian than to the Dravidian tongues of southern India, while it would be a stretch to draw ethnic links between the Manipuri, Baloch, and Sinhalese peoples. How about the footprint of Brahmanic culture and Sanskrit? That, as historians have noted, would mean encompassing much of Central and Southeast Asia.
It should be no surprise that conceptual confusion manifests itself in U.S. bureaucratic structures. The U.S. State Department has a South and Central Asia bureau. The armed forces, however, deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of U.S. Central Command, with India and the rest of the region falling to U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. Meanwhile, the Office of the Secretary of Defense groups Afghanistan and Pakistan in with Central Asia and considers India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka under the rubric of South and Southeast Asia.
While a confusing construct, the term ‘South Asia' persevered in America's strategic consciousness, despite the inevitable dehyphenation of India and Pakistan. Among non-specialists in the counterinsurgency era, it was often used as a casual and more politically-correct synonym for AfPak, marginalizing not just India, but also Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, all important countries in their own rights. I recall reviewing the syllabus of a graduate studies course on South Asia at a major American university two years ago, and you could have been forgiven for thinking that the India-Pakistan border constituted South Asia's eastern frontier.
A real concern is that a conceptual resurgence of ‘South Asia' -- especially as an outgrowth of ‘AfPak' -- could be accompanied by the conscious or subconscious rehyphenation of India and Pakistan, and the prolonged side-lining of other states in the region. As the anonymous genius behind the Twitter handle @majorlyp has caustically written:
Indians are Indians and Pakistanis when caught in tight situations (like in Airports) are Indians too. In other circumstances they are South Asians. Being "South Asian" offers many advantages. Such as an overwhelming numerical advantage.
Example: When faced with the question "Is radicalization a problem"? South Asians can reply with a straight face "Only 170 million, or less than 10% of the South Asians are radicalized". Which sounds entirely reasonable.
The author writes in somewhat cruel jest, of course, but like the best parody, there is more than a grain of uncomfortable truth in what he says. Will U.S. discourse related to South Asia come to be dominated by the problems of terrorism, Islamist extremism, nuclear proliferation, and anti-Americanism at the expense of the incredible opportunities and challenges associated with dynamic economic growth, raucous democracy, immense social and cultural diversity, and broad support for a U.S.-led international system? Let's hope not.
Dhruva Jaishankar is a transatlantic fellow with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @d_jaishankar.
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Most of the recent talk on Afghanistan has focused on whether or not Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States by the end of 2013, distracting Afghans and the international community from paying attention to an ultimately more important, but not as sensational, issue -- the 2014 Afghan presidential electoral landscape and process. After weeks of high drama over the BSA, it is time to focus less on the negotiations' rhetoric and more on the real legacy of the nascent Afghan democratic progress.
After all, a "good enough" presidential election outcome in April 2014 will offer a measure of hope and could signal the end of a troubled beginning for the 21st century Afghan state. It could also reenergize commitment from an international community whose interest in Afghanistan is waning. A "bad enough" election result -- a contested or tainted outcome that is not accepted by the Afghan people -- will likely force most remaining coalition partners and Afghan elites with foreign passports to rush for the exits, leaving the Afghans who remain to look for protection along ethnic, tribal, and political interest boundaries. The stakes are high, primarily for the Afghan people, but also for the international community, whose 12-year involvement has not yet yielded a peaceful outcome.
Of the original 27 presidential candidates and their vice presidential running mates who registered their nominations with the country's Independent Election Committee, 11 remain. The list ranges from obscure figures to high-profile former government officials, with principles ranging from strong anti-Taliban sentiment to inclinations towards accommodation. From these presidential hopefuls, only five candidates hold exciting promise.
Abdullah Abdullah remains the leading contender, with respected BBC reporter David Lyon considering him "the man to beat." This former foreign minister and head of the National Coalition of Afghanistan has managed to create an impressive team. His running mates include Hizb-e-Islami icon Mohammad Khan, a Pashtun from the Qarabach district of Ghazni province, as the first vice president, and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, the head of the Hizb-e-Wahdat party, as the second vice president. With additional backing from the Jamiat-e-Islami party, Abdullah unites many northern allies in a strong national movement and his selection of Mohaqiq brings the Hazara minority vote into the mix. He also has the critical support of Mohammad Atta Noor, the powerful governor of Balkh, and, if early indications are accurate, the backing of the current first Vice President Marshal Fahim Qasim, giving Abdullah what Lyon accurately describes as "wide support."
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Zalmai Rasool's team is also impressive. A well-respected moderate with royal ties, he now appears to be one of Karzai's favorites in the election. Rasool is a respected, honest, and humble diplomat who has tried to articulate his vision for Afghanistan in recent interviews, receiving positive feedback from both Afghans and the international community. Rasool has picked his key running mates wisely. His choice for first vice president, Ahmad Zia Massoud -- a former first vice president, the brother of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, and the current leader of the National Front of Afghanistan -- challenges Abdullah's primacy in the north. Former Bamyan governor Habiba Surabi, Rasool's pick for second vice president, is a popular and reasonably successful former governor who can appeal to both Hazaras and women's rights groups.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who also ran in 2009, has put together a much stronger coalition than during his previous bid for the presidency. Ghani, a brilliant, charismatic, and hard-working perfectionist is perceived by many as one of the few Afghan leaders who have laid out a basic framework of how to "fix" Afghanistan. This former finance minister, well-regarded economist, and "transition czar" -- responsible for the shift of security responsibilities from NATO soldiers to the Afghan security forces -- is well known to the international community and is considered by Afghans to be one of their brightest scholars. Interestingly, he has picked Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former jihadi commander with the ceremonial role of Chief of Staff (of the Army) to the Commander in Chief and de-facto leader of the Junbush party, as his first vice president. There are rumors that Karzai orchestrated this arrangement in order to take the Uzbek vote away from Abdullah's team. Whether or not this is true, Dostum is a controversial figure with enormous influence. Although Ghani once condemned him as a "killer," Dostum can deliver the majority Uzbek vote.
For his part, Dostum has apologized for his actions during the Afghan civil war, and he is not the only politician running for office who is facing accusations of serious human rights violations. For his second vice president, Ghani has picked former Minister of Justice Sarwar Danish. A lesser-known and certainly less controversial figure, Danish rounds the ticket off with his Hazara credentials.
Representing the staunchest anti-Taliban movement, Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf is another formidable presidential candidate. Most recently, he became the Afghan Taliban's "public enemy number one" for his open disdain of the group, and for using religion to condemn Taliban suicide bomber tactics. Ahmad Shafi put it best, saying that, "quoting Islamic texts extensively, Sayyaf said he wanted to send a message to the militants that on Judgment Day, they would show up with "flags planted in their buttocks from the back," marking them "unforgivable" in the court of God." For Sayyaf and his running mate, Mohammad Ismail Khan -- the influential "Amir" of western Afghanistan and a legend among jihadi commanders -- reconciliation with the Taliban is not an option. In fact, this is the one team that has remained consistent in its contempt of the Taliban and any accommodations towards them.
According to Sayyaf, Afghans should do their best to "eliminate [the Taliban] from the face of the earth." But his tough talk is not the greatest source of concern for the Taliban leadership. More worrying for them is Sayyaf's use of Islamic text and belief in challenging their religious right to fight against the Afghan government and their foreign allies. In fact, Sayyaf's religious credentials from the prestigious Cairo-based Al-Azhar University make him an authority on religious issues, and thus capable of countering Taliban ideology at its core. But Sayyaf comes with baggage.
Human Rights Watch has extensively documented allegations of war crimes against Sayyaf and his party, Dawat-e-Islami, particularly against Hazara civilians. Also, in the 9/11 Commission Report, Sayyaf was listed as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's "mentor." Completing the Sayyaf-Khan ticket is second vice president candidate Mawlavi Abdul Wahab Irfan, a Junbush-e-Milli Islami senator from Takhar province and a Dostum confidant. Irfan brings with him both a conservative block from the north, as well as a substantial number of Uzbek votes.
The last of the serious contenders is Abdul Qayum Karzai, the current president's older brother. His running mates are former Afghan mines minister Wahidullah Shahrani and former lawmaker Ibrahim Qasemi. Although Qayum Karzai -- a former member of parliament with a horrible attendance record -- has little real experience in government, he is a "Karzai" and should therefore not be underestimated.
Shahrani, an Uzbek, and Qasemi, a Hazara, seem to offer a good ethnic balance to Karzai's strong Pashtun credentials, but this group is unlikely to win much of the popular vote amongst ethnic constituencies. Most of the Uzbek vote should be secured by Dostum, Irfan, and then perhaps Abdullah. The Hazara vote will be split between Mohaqiq, Danish, and Suhrabi. Karzai's team, however, has a lot of money.
There are other groups with strong financial backing, but they are not in the same league as the Karzai team. Between Qayum, Mahmud, and Shah Wali, the Karzai brothers are spending most of their time in Kandahar, where there is a significant financial reserve they can tap into for support. Shahrani also has his own group of financial supporters who will undoubtedly contribute to Qayum Karzai's campaign.
It is still uncertain if President Karzai will back his older brother or pick another candidate in the 2014 race. The president's motives appear to be less about a continuation of the "Karzai dynasty" and more about his own survival and continued influence over his successor. In fact, four of the top five candidates have received significant support from the president. By actively encouraging Rasool, Sayyaf, and Ghani to run and providing tacit support to his brother Qayum, Karzai has split the vote amongst "his favorites" in such a way that he could prevent Abdullah from winning the necessary 51 percent of the vote needed to win in the first round of the election. In a place such as Afghanistan, where conspiracy theories run wild, many think that he orchestrated the candidacies of four of the top five presidential contenders to ensure that, in a runoff election, at least one of the two candidates would owe him some allegiance. Rumor also has it that Karzai plans to rally the candidates who don't make the run-off behind his preferred candidate to ensure his own post-election survival and continued influence over Afghan politics.
The other five presidential candidates who qualified to run for the 2014 election (Gudbudin Hilal, Rahim Wardak, Gul Agha Sherzai, Nader Naeem, Hedayat Amin Arsala, and Daud Sultanzoi) do not, for a variety of reasons, have a chance of getting a significant number of votes. At the same time, they will play critical roles in both the election itself and the government that follows. For example, Sherzai, the powerful tribal leader of the Barakzai tribe from Kandahar, may not have a chance at winning the presidency, but his support of another candidate will carry significant weight amongst Pashtuns in the south. Similarly, endorsement and support from Arsala -- one of the most respected political figures in Afghan politics, with impeccable credentials as a technocrat and as a Pashtun tribal leader -- will go a long way in building confidence and validating a mandate in a leading candidate's camp of supporters.
Although the election campaign season will not officially start until February 2014, the political maneuvering is already in full force, and candidates are laying out their primary campaign plans, along with contingency plans for all sorts of outcomes. These include scenarios in which there is no election and in which the election result is so heavily contested that the Afghan population becomes disenfranchised, disgruntled, and drives the country to the brink of civil war.
While all the candidates are considering the most dangerous scenarios in earnest, the truth is that most Afghans remain cautiously optimistic that this next election will move the country forward. Time will tell which scenario unfolds, but the international community needs to remain vigilant to prevent some of the more perilous scenarios from occurring. Otherwise, the modest -- if not minimal -- gains of the past 12 years will quickly disappear.
With six months to go to, one thing is certain: The road to the April 2014 election will be bumpy. From shifting alliances to politically-motivated assassinations, the run-up to the election will be both bloody and hard to predict. Additionally, one should expect nuanced meddling and bet-hedging from regional powers who want to guarantee their influence, regardless of the election outcome. And Afghan elites who have benefitted significantly from a decade of instability will likely offer their support to candidates in hopes of securing their own prominence once the race is over. These shifting allegiances and manipulations will keep everyone guessing as to who is working with whom, and to what ends.
Finally, the way the U.S. and Afghan governments behave between now and the elections will either put a burden or alleviate pressure on Karzai's successor. As noted earlier, the BSA has been getting too much attention. That said, one cannot ignore the fact that Karzai's behavior during the jirga and his propensity for controversy continue to put unnecessary stress on already strained U.S.-Afghan relations. Perhaps he is deliberately trying to maintain focus on the BSA to keep the United States from meddling in the 2014 elections, as they did, in his mind, in the run up to the 2009 vote.
Regardless of his motives, Karzai's actions this week highlight the fact that no matter who wins Afghanistan's elections, salvaging the deteriorating U.S.-Afghan relations will be the top priority. Faced with "Great Game" politics characterized by external actors meddling in Afghan affairs, a flourishing narco-trade, a fragile economy that is as inefficient as it is corrupt, and a raging insurgency in rural areas, just to name a few challenges, the new Afghan administration cannot afford to alienate those same international actors who must provide the donor funding necessary for Afghanistan's economic survival.
While the international community has signaled that it will not abandon Afghanistan after 2014, Karzai and those hoping to replace him should remember that this support will come with conditions. Years of unaccountable waste and corruption must give way to a true commitment to stability and economic progress in ways that honor the memories of the Afghan and NATO fallen (and their families) who sacrificed their lives to give Afghanistan a second chance. In the end, the April 2014 election offers another fork in the road in Afghanistan's journey as a nation. Depending on the outcome, the newly elected administration will serve either as a source of hope for a better, brighter future or it will flicker out and Afghanistan will descend into the chaos of civil war ...again.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects and innovating solutions to challenging projects in Afghanistan.
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As I scrolled through my Inbox earlier this week for my daily news clippings from this blog, something seemed amiss. Instead of "AfPak Channel," the header read "South Asia Channel." An error I presumed. Scrolling down further, however, I realized the error was mine: "Next Monday, November 25, the AfPak Channel will be relaunched as the South Asia Channel" with the addition of "key stories and insights from India."
The notification got me thinking about the twists and turns in Washington's conception of South Asia over the past decade. Somewhere along the way "AfPak" had appeared. Due to the distortions it produced, the phrase has for some time now been winding its way into retirement. The 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan will give it the final push. AfPak will no doubt have plenty of company with "hearts and minds" and countless other pithy friends in Washington's little known Archives for Foreign Affairs Shorthands of Fleeting Value. Can't say I'll miss it.
I came to Washington ten years ago to work as an analyst in the Henry L. Stimson Center's South Asia program. Having grown up in Pakistan, I had actually never uttered the phrase "South Asia." The region to me was a simple, if tormented, duality: Pakistan and India. I discovered that in Washington, South Asia meant the same two players, and the issues boiled down to Kashmir, militancy, military, and nuclear issues. Afghanistan was relegated to its own war-torn limbo.
At the time, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were talking about peace between the two countries. Both have since fallen silent, with the former facing treason charges; between India's upcoming elections and Pakistan's unending turmoil, peace commands little attention in Delhi and Islamabad today. The United States was two years into the war in Afghanistan, yet the lens on South Asia was varied. Afghanistan was a policy imperative, but so was managing the Indo-Pak rivalry and the risk of nuclear escalation.
Those working on South Asia in Washington seemed to fall into two camps. The South Asia wallahs had spent decades working in and on the region, often with formal academic training. The Cold Warriors sought to apply lessons from a superpower rivalry to a relatively nascent nuclear dynamic on the subcontinent. They reflected the fluidity of functional analysts within the strategic community -- crossing boundaries while the regionalists remained in their lanes.
Soon enough, a new crop of functional analysts crossed over. They anchored their world views on a different issue: counterterrorism. Thereafter came "AfPak." The phrase traces back to the first year of the Obama administration and the tenure of the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Richard Holbrooke. A region that was once viewed as India-Pakistan, with Afghanistan on the margins, gave way to India on one hand and Afghanistan-Pakistan on the other.
With the change, India got its wish to be "de-hyphenated" from Pakistan. The Bush administration keenly helped facilitate this shift via a civil nuclear deal, in light of India's perceived strategic import in Asia. Meanwhile, AfPak eventually flipped to "PakAf" given deepening concerns about the various militant groups that were "veritable" arms of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the safety of its nuclear arsenal.
To be sure, AfPak helped focus attention on the war in Afghanistan after a misguided invasion in Iraq. It framed the theatre and the operational challenge posed by "safe havens" in Pakistan. Though Holbrooke espoused a wider view within its confines on forging a broader partnership with Pakistan that extended beyond kinetic issues, the diplomatic piece was and remains fluid, messy, and hard. As the war wore on, patience and imagination dried up. AfPak became shorthand for CT (counterterrorism) -- far too constricted a prism for the colors and complexities of the region.
The Obama administration eventually recognized the limits of the AfPak moniker itself; Islamabad made sure of it. Like Delhi, it had its own gripes about being lumped with its neighbor. Little wonder then that regional integration in South Asia is among the lowest in the world. Yet even as the phrase largely vanished from official public statements, it continued to periodically surface and, importantly, cast a shadow in Washington -- until now.
As the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan winds down by the end of 2014, AfPak is undergoing its own retrograde. The office that embodies the term, SRAP, will need to assess not whether but how and when to reintegrate within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
Think tanks in Washington are also rebooting their South Asia programs. Some are doing so in the pre-AfPak mold, others with variation. The Brookings Institution, for example, now has a stand-alone India program, focusing on politics and economics, as much as foreign policy -- kaleidoscope eyes on a potential Asian power. Along with and related to the shifting geopolitical winds are the interests of funders who share Washington's AfPak fatigue. Their weariness, however, cannot match that in the region whose "troubles" (to borrow from Northern Ireland) are likely to rage on.
Newer shorthands such as the "rebalance" or "pivot" to Asia have also provided a new prism with which to look on South Asia. A fresh crop of scholarship has arisen on how South Asia relates to the Asia-Pacific region, from the "Indo-Pacific" concept to Pakistan's role in the rebalance -- welcome efforts to think beyond traditional silos in an interconnected Asia.
The periodic reimagination of South Asia in Washington is as inevitable as it is easy to miss. We are in such a transition right now. So come next Monday, when the "South Asia Channel" pops up my Inbox, I will be fumbling a bit to figure out how all the pieces fit. So might you.
Ziad Haider is the Director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter at @Asia_Hand. The views expressed are his own.
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Dan Markey, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Since President Obama took office in 2009, there have been several books published highlighting the deception, failures, and flaws of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Most of these books, such as Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, and David Sanger's Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power offer insider accounts of the U.S. and Pakistani political dynamics that made it so, with a particular focus on U.S. counterterrorism policies and the war in Afghanistan.
All of these texts open a window into Washington's thinking, infighting, and attempts to fix what has become America's most tortured relationship. Nasr talks about Pakistan's "frenemy" status with the United States and whether it is in the U.S. interest "to stress the friend part or the enemy part." Sanger elaborates on Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who as Chief of Army Staff "understood the American paranoia about a Pakistani meltdown, and he took advantage of it." Mazzetti gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the CIA's war in places like Pakistan was conceived as "a surgery without complications," but became a "way of the knife" that "created enemies just as it has obliterated them," fomenting "resentment among former allies and at times contribut[ing] to instability even as it has attempted to bring order to chaos."
While American policymaking in Pakistan remains haunted by the demons of the September 11th attacks, even older demons linger on the Pakistani side, among them the memory of U.S. sanctions, American pressure on its nuclear weapons program, and the CIA's reliance on Pakistan's covert support during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. During a 1995 Senate hearing, then-Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel described the discontent of the Pakistanis, explaining that: "the key impact of sanctions relief is not military or financial. The effect would be primarily in the political realm, creating a sense of faith restored and an unfairness rectified with a country and people who have been loyal friends of the United States over the decades."
Dan Markey's new book, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, heeds Raphel's comments and attempts to answer the perennial questions of the relationship: why do they hate us? How did it get so bad? What are America's options for future relations with Pakistan? Markey roots his analysis in French existentialism, of all things. In French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, "three sinners, all dead to the word" are subject to "eternal torment by each other," each both capable of and vulnerable to the punishment doled out by the others. Building on this idea, No Exit from Pakistan argues that while "Pakistan's leaders tend to be tough negotiators with high thresholds for pain, Washington can cut new deals and level credible threats to achieve U.S. goals. This is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit."
Markey spends a good portion of the book summarizing themes, issues, and events since 1947 that explain this mutual vulnerability and mutual gain between the United States and Pakistan. And he covers the full gamut: Cold War cooperation, sanctions, anti-Americanism, energy, trade, infrastructure development, India, China, the Musharraf years, demographics, youth culture, Afghanistan, the Osama bin Laden Raid, the list goes on.
As an introductory primer for understanding what ails the relationship, this approach is constructive, especially in understanding the U.S.-Pakistan dynamics since 9/11. Markey also writes with a directness and honesty that should be appreciated in the context of one of Washington's most sensitive relationships. He accuses the Pakistanis of being addicted to U.S. assistance dollars, while claiming "Washington's top policymakers felt a personal animus towards Pakistan."
Markey also rightly focuses on new political trends and ideas in Pakistani popular culture that have been largely ignored in other accounts of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as well as in the course of much of the policymaking in both countries. For example, when discussing Pakistani notions of abandonment and national honor, Markey highlights the nationalist anti-American sentiment that grew from nuclear sanctions both among the government and the Pakistani public. As a sign of progress, he notes the success of Pakistani pop band Beygairat Brigade, who released a video on YouTube in 2011 "with thinly veiled references to a wide cast of Pakistani xenophobes, religious extremists, and conspiracy theorists" with lyrics that "lampoon many of the notions associated with defending Pakistan's national pride."
Herein lies the strength of Markey's analysis - his acknowledgment of the grassroots efforts currently afoot that are trying to transform Pakistani politics. He identifies four complex and often contradictory identities of Pakistan: "the elite-dominated basket case," the "garrison state," a "terrorist incubator," and a "youthful idealist, teeming with energy and reform-minded ambition." Without this information, the casual observer of Pakistani politics can easily conclude that the government and its people are merely confused, duplicitous, careless - or all three.
It is hard to argue with the claim that knowing Pakistan is critical to understanding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. But what of the Pakistanis - do they not need to understand why the United States behaves the way it does? Markey's approach puts the entire onus on the Americans to understand how complex Pakistan can be.
While he does outline a comprehensive set of options for managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship - ranging from looking beyond Afghanistan, waiting until after 2014, "defensive isolation" which involves ending formal cooperation, to comprehensive cooperation - he fails to suggest which specific path the countries should take, or even how the United States and Pakistan might prioritize the management or mitigation of threats over time. Markey simply recommends that the solution for this troubled relationship is nothing other than "patient, sustained effort, not by way of quick fixes or neglect" and that "managing or mitigating threats over time is a more realistic expectation." But is he speaking for the United States, Pakistan, or both? It is not clear.
No Exit from Pakistan is more useful as a relationship management strategy than a policy prescription. But the United States and Pakistan seem to have already entered the realm of relationship management over disengagement. This proved true after a NATO cross-border strike in November 2011 at the Salala border post, where over 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. Pakistan closed NATO routes for nearly seven months and the United States delayed coalition support funds payments. The two countries eventually resumed dialogue after the brief period of disengagement with the tacit acknowledgement that they had gone too far, especially so close to the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Ultimately, No Exit from Pakistan introduces some uncomfortable questions about ownership and blame in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. On the one hand, Markey blames the basket case quality of Pakistan on the country's political elites, who "sent their children to private boarding schools while millions of other children never learned to read. Too many sipped cool cucumber soup even as their countrymen struggled to find safe drinking water." But on the other hand, he recognizes that the $1.5 billion-per-year U.S. assistance pledge, known as "Kerry-Lugar-Berman," "was not grounded in an assessment of specific Pakistani development needs or America's ability to meet them."
This is perhaps the true perennial question Markey has set out to answer - who is responsible for Pakistan's problems? He would agree that the United States and Pakistan share in the blame. The decades-long focus of the bilateral relationship on security assistance, militancy, covert activity, and proxy wars has left much unattended by way of development, economics, and stability. Likewise, in Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven pushes for the recognition that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan "has been responsible for increasing Islamist insurgency and terrorism since 2001." In Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes, it becomes acutely apparent whom and what is to blame. The book is a fictional account of the events leading up to the deaths of Pakistani military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq and American Ambassador Arnie Raphel in a C-130 plane crash in 1989. As they walk to the plane to enjoy a case of Pakistani mangoes, Zia says to Raphel: "Now we must put our heads together and suck national security."
The controversial writer Salman Rushdie tackled the same question from another angle in his 1983 work of fiction, Shame, which focuses on internal politics in Pakistan and relations between the East and West. Rushdie writes:
Wherever I turn, there is something of which to be ashamed. But shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture...you can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more. And everyone is civilized.
Rushdie's final reminder is simply: "Shame, dear reader, is not the exclusive property of the East."
While the anguish of Sartre's No Exit resonates strongly with the current psychology of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Rushdie's commentary on shame is a much stronger parallel. It too recognizes that both countries pursue their own interests even as they inflict harm upon themselves and each other. But it focuses on a much more embarrassing aspect of the mutual vulnerability: the fact that the harm, which has become so prevalent, is unacknowledged. Yet both move forward together because, as Markey says, "this is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit," even though there is much to be ashamed about.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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Matt Zeller, Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan (Charlottesville, VA: Just World Books, 2012).
Ben Anderson, No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan (Oxford: One World Publications, 2011).
Carter Malkasian, War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
As the U.S. military reels from budgetary battles and withdraws from Afghanistan, commentators offer post-mortem after post-mortem on counter-insurgency (COIN) - an ambitious operational concept-cum-strategy hoisted on its own petard in Afghanistan. These sundry writers - including military officers, scholars, bloggers, and talking heads - have collectively sought, in the words of one blogger "to fire a few shotgun rounds into the recently buried corpse of population-centric counterinsurgency to prevent it from rising again." The specter of the Vietnam Syndrome has become flesh once more, and now the U.S. military plans, or attempts to plan, what form it will take in the decades to come. That is what the COIN debate has always been about - not Iraq or Afghanistan, but the future of the U.S. military.
It is likely that the outcome of this struggle will have a far greater impact on the United States and the world than America's strategic defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, not only is it unfortunate that these debates are not more rooted in the theatres in which these conflicts have taken place, it is very typically American. Contravening Clausewitz, the COIN debate proceeds as if war can be divorced from policy and politics; as if the organization, training, and equipping of the U.S. armed forces can take place apart from the aims to which and the places where these forces will be applied.
It is in this context that the books reviewed here all have considerable value, showcasing different perspectives of the Afghan campaign during its most crucial and resource-intensive years: the experience of an American soldier, a brave journalist covering the war for years, and a political officer coming to know his district and its history with an uncommon intimacy.
Matt Zeller's Watches Without Time provides a moving portrait of the war in Ghazni province through the author's eyes as a young lieutenant struggling to make sense of the war around him. The book is a collection of letters, reflections, and diary entries on everything from combat to working with the Afghan National Security Forces to the journey home. If anyone is wondering what it is like to go to war, read this book. It is packed with drama, excitement, fear, humor, and heartbreak. More importantly, it contains incisive observations about Afghan society from a young man trying to understand the war around him. His brief anecdotes and explanations of political corruption and the performance of the Afghan National Police are worth the price alone.
Of the many journalists who have covered the war in Afghanistan, Ben Anderson is one of the most impressive. His book, No Worse Enemy, which informed his excellent 2013 documentary with Vice, "This Is What Winning Looks Like," spans 2007 to 2011 and covers his time with the British Army and the U.S. Marine Corps as they struggle to pacify Afghanistan's deadliest province, Helmand. As a military outsider, Anderson struggles to make sense of the British and American militaries as much as he tries to understand the war in Afghanistan, thus making No Worse Enemy an interesting companion read to Zeller's insider account. Anderson is at his strongest when his narrative illustrates the complexity of telling friend from foe and right from wrong in a country where such distinctions are hopelessly blurred. He concludes that, if he were Afghan, he "certainly wouldn't be picking sides." He continues:
If someone built me a school or repaired my mosque, I would undoubtedly smile, shake their hand, maybe even make them a cup of tea or pose for a photograph. But this would be simple pragmatism. It would not mean I offered them my loyalty, much less that I had rejected the Taliban. The nature and detail of this pragmatism is entirely lost on idealistic foreign commanders.
This critique cuts to the heart of the series of assumptions that are often grouped under the misnomer of "counterinsurgency theory." If one cannot truly "clear" an area of the insurgency because the difference between a guerrilla and a disgruntled farmer is far from obvious, and one cannot effectively "hold" an area because the Afghan police are abusive and ineffective and Western forces rotate every six months (as in the case of the British and the U.S. Marines), or "build" in a "held" area because the government is alternatively venal, corrupt, and disinterested, what can Western counter-insurgents really accomplish in Afghanistan that will endure? Through their engaging portraits of the campaign in the south, Anderson and Zeller confront these contradictions head on.
But one cannot truly understand the war unless one understands Afghan history, especially on a very local level. Carter Malkasian, also in Helmand, clearly mastered these details. While all three books are excellent, War Comes to Garmser stands above the rest. The term "instant classic" long ago achieved cliché-status by being applied to middling works - much like the word "brilliant" has lost its luster by being applied to average people - but War Comes to Garmser truly became a classic as soon as it was put on store shelves. It will be one of a small number of books on Afghanistan to be published in the last 12 years that will be read for decades to come, and demands to be consulted if the United States ever again dispatches its forces to a faraway land to embroil itself in an internal war.
Malkasian's book, a history of Garmser through the prism of conflict, begins centuries ago. As someone who has also worked at the local level in Helmand, I can assure you it is no exaggeration to say that you must go this far back in order to truly understand the dynamics of the current conflict. He narrates the tribal and factional dynamics as they developed over the decades, alternately forged and fragmented through war, until his own more recent labors as a State Department political advisor working with the U.S. Marines. Malkasian - who is currently advising Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the Commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force - is something of a folk hero among Afghan hands. He learned Pashto, achieved an unmatched understanding of his district, admirably violated State Department security strictures in order to go where he needed to go and speak with whom he needed to speak.
Gen. Larry Nicholson - who knew Malkasian from his time commanding the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Task Force Leatherneck, in Helmand - memorably said:"We need a Carter Malkasian in every district of Afghanistan." But to say that is to draw the wrong lesson from both his book and the conflict. While it is true that we cannot understand (and therefore cannot be effective) without understanding what I call "micro-conflicts" - the localized, enduring conflicts and rivalries driving politics within the Afghan government and the larger insurgency - and that Malkasian understood them as deeply as any outsider could, this level of understanding alone could not illuminate the nature of the Afghan campaign.
This campaign, as Anderson vividly depicts, rests its "success" on empowering a government and security forces that behave monstrously and feed the problems they are funded to defeat. Which brings me back to my main argument: when a military campaign is so disconnected from politics that it cannot succeed without exacerbating the true political problem - in this case the Afghan government - it matters not how many Carter Malkasians we have or how "good" our military becomes at counterinsurgency.
Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for National Interest in Washington, DC. He is the editor-in-chief of the web magazine War on the Rocks. In 2010-2011, he worked as a social scientist on a human terrain team in central Helmand province. You can follow him on Twitter @EvansRyan202.
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Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first official visit to the United States since being elected by a strong majority to serve his third term in office. The word from the White House is that the bilateral relationship is back on track, and the Prime Minister's public address supports that conclusion. While Sharif continued to condemn U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions -- remarks that may have prompted the leak to the Washington Post of documents implicating at least some Pakistan government officials in secretly endorsing the program -- he also expressed a desire for cooperation on critical issues such as increased trade and foreign investment in Pakistan, cooperation with India, and a willingness to pursue difficult reforms outlined in the recent loan package from the International Monetary Fund. In exchange for the Prime Minister's willingness to play nice, the United States government released $1.6 billion in military assistance to Pakistan that had been held up since 2011.
A renewal of military aid will, for the time being, shore up the relations between Washington and Islamabad. But military aid will not help Pakistan deal with the daunting development challenges it faces: the loss of its territorial integrity to the Taliban and other groups; the rise of sectarian conflict; high youth unemployment; ongoing power blackouts; underfunded health and schooling services; potentially catastrophic water problems and agricultural losses to soil salinization; and a hopelessly low level of tax revenue for the state to address these challenges.
So what about economic development aid, which continued to flow over the last two years as envisioned in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill)? Washington reported real progress in the aid program toward achieving important medium term goals, but U.S. economic aid, even at 10 times the current levels, cannot serve as a substitute for the decisions and political will the civilian government of Pakistan needs to provide -- whether increasing energy tariffs to attract desperately needed investment in the power sector, or raising and collecting taxes on the country's small but powerful elite.
One point of economic aid is to enable the United States to work alongside Pakistan's civilian government in tackling its considerable challenges, working as a partner and building the sense of shared understanding and trust that can spill over into cooperation on more sensitive security and anti-terrorism issues. That is the vision Richard Holbrooke, the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had, and we believe it is a vision that can still animate the U.S. approach.
Though the current aid program is handicapped by U.S. government mandates to track money instead of results, red tape, security constraints on U.S. staff working in Pakistan, and the difficulty of shifting management of programs from U.S. contractors to local Pakistani institutions, it can be fixed. At least equally, if not more, important, the United States has other tools in its development toolbox beyond traditional aid. These include mechanisms that facilitate trade, such as providing duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, and unleashing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to encourage private investment in the country's small and medium-sized enterprise sector and its beleaguered energy sector.
U.S. officials are already deploying some of these tools, but to ensure they constitute a coherent development program rather than a haphazard set of projects, we recommend that the State Department and the government of Pakistan establish a formalized Development Dialogue. This should be a discrete component of the Strategic Dialogue Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to host by March 2014. Discussions could focus on ways to forge a long-term partnership between Pakistan's civilian government and the U.S. government, including but going well beyond traditional aid.
To use the marriage metaphor often invoked to describe the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a Development Dialogue could help build the resilience that any healthy marriage needs to withstand life's trials and tribulations. It could bolster the countries' vows to work together in good times and in bad by insulating the development agenda from often competing security and diplomatic objectives. And if successful, it could lead to more times of health and fewer times of sickness -- both for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the people of Pakistan.
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. From 1993 to 1998, she was executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank and previously served 14 years in research, policy, and management positions, including director of the Policy Research Department, at the World Bank.
Alexis Sowa is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development focused on the organization's ongoing work on Pakistan and contributing to the Oil-to-Cash initiative. She has worked as a governance advisor in Liberia with the Africa Governance Initiative and as a program and policy manager at Malaria No More UK where she identified, developed, and managed investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
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Dear Mr. President:
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting with you on Wednesday with high expectations. He is a pragmatic business-oriented politician with a powerful electoral base who has shown magnanimity and deftness in allowing opposition parties to form governments in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, and he backed the election of a nationalist Baloch as the chief minister in Baluchistan. While this could be seen as a policy of sharing the misery of trying to govern an ungovernable Pakistan, it could also be an attempt to work within a fractured political system. Regardless, he represents a chance to provide continuity for civilian governance in Pakistan and to build a relationship that goes beyond our immediate need to exit Afghanistan gracefully.
On Afghanistan, his advisors, both civil and military, will have told him that we need them badly; Pakistan tends to overestimate its leverage on such security issues. You will have likely been told by many yourself that we can get the Pakistanis to yield, if only we tighten the screws on them -- militarily via our aid program and the use of drone strikes, and economically via threats to withhold assistance directly or from international financial institutions.
We already have some credit on the latter. Pakistan has a new loan package with the International Monetary Fund, that we supported, though it remains to be seen if they will be able to deliver on the tough policy shifts they have to make to sustain the loan. This type of international financial support is an easier way for us to help or squeeze Pakistan without bringing Congress into the game.
As for the game itself, we can play the short game, focusing primarily on Afghanistan. In that case, making smoother payments from the Coalition Support Fund, and replacing Pakistan's heavily-used military materiel will help. Closer collaboration in helping them target their local Taliban fighters would also win points and cooperation.
Or, we could go for the long game and broaden our influence beyond the central government to the business community and the people of Pakistan. Large numbers of Pakistanis hate the United States because they have seen us support unpopular leaders, both civil and military, in the past. Sharif, a popular and business-oriented leader, appears to have the right instincts on a number of issues. He favors trade over aid, and he favors open borders with his neighbors. We could directly assist him by lowering the tariff rates on Pakistani imports, especially those on textiles -- at least to the level of European countries which have already given Pakistan that concession. Call it a level-playing field. At worst, you will lose South Carolina. But we will bring the emerging and powerful Pakistani business community to our side. In turn, it will help Sharif make the case domestically for open trade with India. You could also use quiet diplomacy with India to help it work things out with Pakistan on trade and border issues while waiting for the next Indian elections in spring 2014.
We also have a substantial proportion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds that have not yet been disbursed and though that aid program ends next year, you could extend it for another two years without seeking additional monies and thus use the full $7.5 billion that has been allocated. Though this is not a huge amount when compared with Pakistan's needs, the symbolic value would be substantial.
Currently, Sharif is personally running the foreign, commerce, and defense ministries -- a tall order for any prime minister. But it allows us to deal with him on a wide range of issues at the highest level. His energy ministers are already working with our key officials and even intelligence collaboration exists, regardless of the underlying mistrust. If we can avoid looking for an obvious quid pro quo in the short run, we may be able to help the Pakistanis also play the long game.
In short, we may be able to do business with Sharif. Recall that he did help President George H. W. Bush with Somalia in the early 1990s.
You will have only a short time with him on Wednesday. Instead of having him recite his grievances, it might be better to have him define a path for the future that helps both countries, and offer to help strengthen his position at home as a result. He will get that. You do not get to be prime minister of Pakistan for a record third time without such smarts. Trust him. But tell him you will verify his moves once he gets home.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
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Afghanistan has come a long way since the United States and its allies arrived in the country 12 years ago. Daunting challenges remain, but it is a far cry from the failed state and terrorist hideout it was in 2001. Doom-and-gloom press prognostications of an inevitable post-2014 return to Taliban tyranny do not reflect the realities on the ground. The fact is that Afghanistan has a solid chance of becoming significantly more stable, productive, and self-sustaining. This outcome, however, depends upon the will of the United States, its partners, and the leaders Afghans choose in next April's presidential elections.
As political leaders in Washington wrestle with budget issues in the coming months, they should resist the temptation to slash funding for Afghanistan. Outbursts from an outgoing President Hamid Karzai should not obscure larger U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the region. Abandoning Afghanistan now would squander the significant investments and sacrifices the United States and its partners have made there, including the sacrifices still borne by many U.S. service members and their families. The scale of the investments needed over the next few years pale in comparison with the magnitude of the earlier ones, which have enabled the Afghan government and its police and military forces to degrade the Taliban-led insurgency and build the country's institutions and economy.
Although skepticism exists in Congress and even parts of the administration, most officials who have worked on Afghanistan, regardless of their political leanings, tend to have far more confidence in the future of the country. That's why I and many other former officials and diplomats and civil society leaders have come together to support a new initiative - the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
Underlying our confidence is an appreciation of how much Afghanistan has changed for the better. Living standards have improved dramatically across most of the country. Significant advances have taken place in agriculture and healthcare. An unprecedented 8.2 million children and young people, four million of them young women and girls, are now in school in Afghanistan, and 180,000 of them are in university classes. Women in Afghanistan, who suffered unspeakable oppression under the Taliban, have become an increasingly significant voice in Afghan society, calling for minority rights, criticizing corruption, and demanding the rule of law. Fresh, young leaders with passion, commitment, resilience, and incredible talent are already emerging. These twenty- and thirty-somethings are serving in the private sector, non-governmental organizations, government, academia, and many other professions. Though they are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and often refugees who grew up abroad, they see themselves first and foremost as Afghans. The recent victories of the Afghan soccer and cricket teams, which were celebrated across all ethnic lines and throughout the country, highlighted this new reality.
The Taliban insurgency will not overrun Afghanistan's central government so long as the United States and its partners continue to support the Afghan government and its military and security forces as planned. Some 80 percent of the population is now largely protected from Taliban violence, which has increasingly been confined to the country's more remote regions. The major cities and transportation routes are now secured by the Afghan security forces rather than by foreign troops.
Why surrender this success in the area of security -- the sine qua non for success in every other aspect of communal life?
The next generation of Afghan leaders offers a compelling vision and opportunity for the country's future: Afghanistan can combat corruption and hold increasingly free and fair elections -- undertaken within a legal framework and overseen by independent electoral watchdogs -- that produce officials and legislators acceptable to the country's voters. It can become a country where the political rights of women are fully respected. It can undertake an inclusive peace process that addresses the root causes of conflict. And it can continue to develop its economy, trade, and regional ties.
True, these would be immense achievements for any poor, remote, war-torn country, but this vision is not beyond the reach of Afghanistan, with modest international support. Given all that we have achieved together and all that we have sacrificed together, it would be worse than foolhardy to short change this future now. It would be tragic.
Michèle Flournoy, a former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, co-chairs the Center for a New American Security's board of directors; she is also a signatory to the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to preserving and protecting the progress made by the Afghan people since 2001.
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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's memories of Washington cannot be pretty. He was last in town in July 1999, when he met then-President Bill Clinton to discuss the escalation of tensions amongst India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir, an area long disputed between the two neighbors. Four months later, Sharif was out of a job.
Sharif's own Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, initiated the coup that led to his ouster after Sharif pulled troops out of Kargil -- at Clinton's urging -- to avoid any further escalation. His entrée into the "military's space" by initiating these troop withdrawals ultimately led to his downfall.
This time around, Sharif is in a much stronger position politically. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, dominates the National Assembly as a result of its landslide victory in the May elections earlier this year. The military, a perpetual thorn in the side of the civilian government, is showing no visible signs of getting in Sharif's way for the time being. The government is about to receive a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to breathe life back into the country's economy. Sharif's economic team seems to be making all the right noises on other aspects of economic reform, mainly in the privatization of state-owned steel mills and railways, as well as improvements in the energy sector.
This week, Sharif is in Washington, where he will meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday for an official visit at the White House. Meeting with Obama is typically a sign of strength for foreign leaders back home, but in Pakistan, the American president is so unpopular that Sharif wins no domestic brownie points for the meeting. In fact, it could hurt Sharif or be used against him. When he returns to Pakistan, any dramatic moves on security issues could be construed as a response to American pressure, real or not.
Furthermore, the strengths of Sharif's government are irrelevant under the current circumstances, especially on the issues the United States cares about the most. While his engagements with the American business and development communities will be more positive, Sharif will face "hard messages" from Obama and other American officials that won't be as easily answered. Among many issues, high on the White House's agenda will be the drawdown in Afghanistan, the lingering al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan, the recent uptick in tensions with India, and everlasting concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. High on Pakistan's agenda will be pushing for an end to CIA drone strikes, asking for continued assistance in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and seeking more information on NATO's plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
If it sounds like nothing's changed, that's because it hasn't. A combination of patronage, pressure, and mixed messages has always defined U.S.-Pakistan relations. In December 1998, when Sharif traveled to Washington at Clinton's invitation, security concerns at the time centered on India and nonproliferation. When President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington in January 2011 for the memorial service of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard C. Holbrooke, he was lucky Obama even met with him. Some American policy advisors at the time seriously questioned Pakistan's willingness to disrupt the Taliban, viewing the country's "double game" with the militants as reason enough to deny Zardari an audience with Obama.
While military ruler-turned-president Pervez Musharraf received a much warmer reception in Washington during his 2006 trip, he too faced the music when dealing with American officials on Pakistan's relations with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and its nuclear weapons program. Another military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, probably enjoyed the highest level of American patronage in the history of Pakistani leaders -- the result of his covert cooperation with the United States in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. But during his 1980 visit to Washington, even Zia faced pressure from the Carter administration to give up Islamabad's secretly expanding nuclear program.
Given the trends, it is apparent that Sharif will have the same kind of trip every other Pakistani leader to the United States has had: beset with unrealistic expectations in Washington and Islamabad; a scramble for "deliverables" identifying progress in the relationship; disappointment that the White House did not grant the Pakistanis the coveted "state visit;" mixed messages on both sides about how "hard" and "soft" the talking points were; and an underlying cynicism questioning the existence of the "unholy alliance" between the two countries. In all fairness, the same circumstances apply when American officials travel to Pakistan.
It is easy to get excited at the prospect of high-level engagements; such visits offer a potential pivot moment for bilateral relationships going through difficult times. We all know how badly the United States and Pakistan need a pivot, but the two countries may have already moved beyond that point. The visit occurs at a time when the countries have initiated a period of more subdued, private, and pragmatic engagement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Pakistan in August was an initial attempt to "open a new chapter" in the relationship. The recent release of $1.6 billion in military and economic aid was possible because "ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again." And while the recent decreased frequency of drone strikes does not appear to be coordinated, it probably doesn't hurt.
This new tone and approach can be helped along by strong diplomatic ties at the highest levels of government -- a condition that has been lacking in both U.S. and Pakistani policymaking circles for several years. Sharif's visit to Washington this week gives both him and Obama an opportunity to formally begin a professional relationship that could do just that.
But as in all things U.S. and Pakistan, a heavy dose of reality is recommended. The two countries face many potential pitfalls as they look towards 2014 when NATO departs Afghanistan, and high-level diplomacy alone cannot ensure that Pakistan and the United States successfully avoid them. Coordination between American and Pakistani militaries, intelligence services, diplomats, and development specialists will also be in demand; engagement on many of these fronts is still recovering from the conflicts of the past two years, whether it be the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis incident, or the cross-border incident at Salala. At the least, the Sharif-Obama discussion will offer a taste of what challenges lay ahead and one way to engage on them.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lands in Washington this weekend, he would not be blamed if he is wracked by mixed feelings. His last visit to the U.S. capital, in July 1999, occurred in the wake of the Kargil adventure with India that he allowed to get out of hand, and which led to a break with his army chief and his eventual ouster as prime minister. Due to the coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan was in the political doghouse until the then-president became a U.S. ally in the wake of the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the allied invasion of Afghanistan. For over a decade, Musharraf played the Afghanistan and terrorism cards to his advantage, while his own country slid into the depths of militancy and terrorism. Ironically, he never visited his own troops who were fighting and dying inside the border region. Neither did most of Pakistan's civilian leaders.
Sharif promised a change toward more active democratic governance when he took over after the May 2013 elections, but his tenure has had a slow start. If he is to make a difference, he will need to show much more alacrity, planning, and boldness in his dealings at home and abroad. He comes to Washington, a place that Charles Dickens once called city of "magnificent intentions," though a number of realities will challenge him both during and after this visit.
First, Washington is distracted at home by its recent budgetary battle and government shutdown. Abroad, Syria and Iran have stolen the attention of policymakers and lawmakers alike. The good news is that Pakistan is not on the front burner. But the bad news is also that Pakistan is not on the front burner. Sharif will, at best, meet a polite reception, but it is unclear what big issues bring the two countries together, while many issues potentially threaten this tenuous relationship. The impending coalition exit from Afghanistan is a short-term issue. A stable and prosperous Pakistan is what will matter most for the long run. Sharif needs to resist the temptation of showing how important he is to the Americans. If he is strong at home in governing and delivering on the promise of democracy, he will carry greater weight abroad.
Second, Sharif has yet to establish clear civilian control over the military. His tentative steps in handling the upcoming changes in the military's leadership leave more questions on the table than answers. Exercising his constitutional prerogative to appoint military commanders is critical, but so is the timing of those actions. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave him an opportunity by publicly announcing that he would in fact be stepping down at the end of November. Sharif muddled that opening by delaying the naming of the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army chief. What lessons will the Americans draw from this? Most likely that they must continue their military-to-military relationship as the dependable cornerstone of the current engagement with Pakistan, at least until they exit Afghanistan next year.
Third, despite Pakistani claims of victory when the United States agreed on Friday to pay $322 million worth of arrears of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to Pakistan, the future is uncertain. Pakistani Finance Minister Sen. Ishaq Dar, during his recent visit to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, said he had taken up the issue of CSF payments with U.S. State and Treasury Departments and they had assured him that payment would be made soon. But the reality has been obfuscated by that cheerful announcement.
CSF payments will cease at the end of 2014. Currently, there are no U.S. plans to support Pakistani military operations beyond next year. Furthermore, no payments will be given to Pakistan for the period when the Ground Lines of Communication with Afghanistan were closed. So forget about those seven months. And U.S. authorities have laid down new rules, meaning that the previous claims for expenditures outside the border region and unrelated to military operations will no longer be entertained for reimbursement. In effect, roughly a third of the previous claims will not be paid. The only bright side is that claims will now be paid on a quarterly basis at the potential rate of roughly $100 million a month.
Fourth, Pakistan has not shown many signs of ground work in Washington since the Sharif government took over. Not on the Hill, nor with the administration. Even the prime minister's own visit was not preceded by high-level preparation. And there is no Pakistani ambassador in town, as yet. All of this leads one to believe that no major issues will actually be discussed or resolved. Afghanistan will loom large. India may be raised. But the United States has its own India agenda that does not always include Pakistan. Congress will likely want to know what will happen to Dr. Shakil Afridi and to Musharraf. Will Sharif be able to provide a clear set of answers?
Pakistan needs a new and clear strategic overview of its region and global relationships. It cannot lurch from crisis to crisis, nor can it rely on the global fear of its nuclear arsenal falling into the wrong hands to be the excuse for aid to a country that has not clearly defined its domestic or foreign policy. It faces a huge domestic terror threat. It needs to open its borders to its neighbors and to trade across the region. Sharif has an opportunity to boldly and unambiguously state where he stands on these issues. If he does so in Washington, he may mark an early turning point in his tenure. Ambiguity and business as usual, however, will not do.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
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In an historic moment this weekend, Pakistan's two-term army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani announced that he would retire at the end of November after six years at the helm. An official later stated that Kayani would not seek any other job after retirement, putting an end to speculation in Pakistan that Kayani may stay on in another perhaps more powerful role. This marks a necessary transition in the slow return to the supremacy of the elected civilian government over the military that has dominated decision making in Pakistan for the past 13 plus years, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's first government was overthrown by a coup on behalf of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. But the road ahead for Pakistan's political evolution remains difficult, as stunted civilian institutions struggle to assert themselves in the face not only of lingering military power, but also a massive internal militancy and potentially hot borders on both Pakistan's East (with India) and West (with Afghanistan). While this is a start, a number of other transitions are needed for Pakistan to regain its stability. Kayani may be gone, but military influence in the country remains powerful. His successor as army chief would do well to keep it on a downward trajectory.
Kayani, a graduate of the command and staff college at Fort Leavenworth, was the first head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate to become army chief. He is also the last army chief to have fought in a full-fledged war, with perennial rival India in 1971. His U.S. training often led U.S. leaders to mistakenly assume that he was "pro-American," most notably former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who made 26 visits to Pakistan to with meet Kayani during his tenure as chairman. Mullen also penned an over-the-top paen to Kayani for TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People" issue in 2009, calling Kayani "a man with a plan." However, Mullen ended that relationship in 2011 on Capitol Hill with a scathing attack that described the anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban Haqqani Network as a "veritable arm of the ISI." Mullen, like others, had made the mistake of assuming that Kayani would bury his strong nationalism in favor of meeting U.S. goals in the region, even after Kayani had made it clear that he did not think the United States had a clearly defined strategy for Afghanistan or the region and hedged his bets accordingly.
At home, Kayani tried to act as a political umpire between often-warring political parties, resisting the temptation to intercede or take over when they got into seemingly intractable feuds. In 2009, for instance, he prevented a major crisis during the Pakistan Peoples Party government of then-President Asif Ali Zardari when then-opposition leader Sharif led a "long march" into Islamabad to restore the ousted chief justice, admitting to a visitor: "I could have taken over then but did not." Kayani stayed his hand for six years, but some powerful negatives have also marked his two-term stint.
Within the army itself, Kayani fostered unhappiness, especially among the younger officers, when he accepted a second three-year term from Zardari in 2010. The gap between him and his senior officers also widened. His newestcorps commanders are some 17 courses junior to him at the Pakistan Military Academy, a veritable lifetime in military circles. And the disastrous 2011 killing of two Pakistani civilians by Raymond Davis in Lahore, followed by the U.S. raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, the attack on the Pakistani border post at Salala, and the subsequent closing of the ground line of communications for the coalition in Afghanistan tarnished Kayani's tenure. He had to face angry young officers at the National Defence University after the Abbottabad raid, and some senior officers were critical of his management style, saying that he reflected a paradoxical desire to be close but to retain a cool aloofness. As a result, Kayani kept his cards very close to his chest and relied on a handful of key colleagues to keep him informed of developments inside the army.
During this time, the ISI also came under severe criticism with accusations that it had overstepped legal boundaries in its pursuit of critics, including journalist Saleem Shahzad who was killed after publishing critical articles of the military's dealings with militants. Separately, Kayani announced an inquiry, but did not share the results of the investigation, into the videotaped killings of unarmed, bound, and blindfolded captives during the counter militancy campaign in Swat.
But for all of the criticism, the ISI appeared to gain greater strength during Kayani's term as army chief. Instead of becoming a policy-neutral intelligence agency, it came to be more of a policymaking body. If the post-Kayani transition is to take hold, the role of the ISI will need to be re-examined and reduced, and its relationship as a multi-service institution (rather than as a fief of the army alone) should be reshaped with civilian authorities. Sharif must take the lead in selecting the head of the ISI and also demand regular intelligence briefings, while resisting the urge to ask for policy advice or implementation. He must also regain control of a Defence Ministry that is heavily dominated by retired military officers. The challenge for Sharif will be to find capable civilians, starting with a full-time Defence Minister, who can make defense-related decisions, rather than trying to manage the ministry himself.
Kayani made history by averting a coup and supporting the return of civilian rule. Sharif could make history by regaining control of the country's polity. He must begin by exercising his constitutional prerogative to select the next Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff and the head of Pakistan's army. He has a choice among capable three-stars, one of whom will have to provide strong and inspiring leadership for an army that has suffered the ravages of continuous insurgency and militancy for over a decade.Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within
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It is past time to shed the illusion that talks with the Afghan Taliban can result in a grand bargain that somehow resolves the Afghan conflict. The belief that there is, after all, nothing to lose in trying to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table is misguided. Three years of continuing American attempts to get talks going have had consequences that are anything but benign. These efforts have diverted attention from needed domestic reforms; undermined confidence in the critical economic, political, and security transitions underway with the departure of U.S. and other NATO forces; and harmed prospects for a viable Afghan state after 2014.
The damage accruing from mostly wishful thinking about reaching a comprehensive settlement with the insurgents is widely evident. It has planted doubts about American intentions and further strained Washington's testy relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai and his close advisors have interpreted American diplomatic initiatives as deliberately sidelining the Kabul government's participation in negotiations. Fears that the United States and Pakistan are working in tandem to strike a deal with the Taliban that would divide up Afghanistan have also worsened Kabul's already acrimonious relations with Islamabad. The Karzai government's own peace initiatives have also intensified differences with Pakistan, which is accused of blocking Taliban participation in talks. Karzai's recent visit with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while cordial, is unlikely to end those suspicions.
But the most destructive fallout from the ill-founded prospect of a negotiated peace with the insurgency has been its effect on the Afghan people, only a minor fraction of who support the Taliban's return. The possibility that the Taliban might once again wield power has exacerbated ethnic tensions within Afghanistan. In particular, the country's northerners detect what they believe to be a Pakistani solution that cedes the south and east to the Taliban, who are then thought certain to make a bid for power over the entire country.
Overall, the possibility of a Taliban return to power has spread confusion among Afghans and intensified hedging strategies beyond those already occasioned by the withdrawal of foreign forces. Local and foreign economic investment has dried up, and the flight of human and physical capital has accelerated. Afghans in the provinces and districts, many ambivalent in their loyalties, have greater reason to distance themselves from Kabul. While Afghan leaders keep pursuing a political outcome, the country's security forces are being asked to take greater risks against the insurgency.
The allure of a political settlement in Afghanistan for the United States and others is, perhaps, understandable. With an outright military victory against the Taliban unlikely in the foreseeable future and an insurgency that faces great difficulty in overrunning the country, it is tempting to conclude that both sides are ready for a negotiated peace. A power-sharing agreement would presumably avoid further conflict and the high probability of a protracted civil war. Talks hold out the promise that with the Taliban and its allies joining a political process, a stable, inclusive Afghan government could emerge. Necessary compromises might shift the country in a more conservative religious direction, but an agreement, it would be hoped, could preserve the core of the Afghan constitution and protect the social and economic gains of the last 12 years. Certainly the Afghan people are anxious to see an end to 35 years of almost continuous warfare.
For departing coalition forces, a political solution would avoid testing the ability of the Afghan security forces to fend off the insurgency. By fostering an agreement, the United States and its allies could be absolved of the criticism that they will desert the Afghan people. Despite all they have failed to accomplish, these countries could say that the years of military involvement were justified by having laid the groundwork for a durable peace.
Afghanistan's neighbors also see the attractions of a political outcome as they all fear the uncertainties of a civil war that might follow the withdrawal of foreign troops. None would welcome an outright Taliban military victory that might spill extremist ideas and militants across their borders. Even Pakistan recognizes the possible gains from a political accord, albeit one that promotes its interests. Although it firmly backed Taliban efforts to wrest full power in Afghanistan until 2001, that was before Pakistan had to contend with a radical Islamic insurgency of its own.
Yet all of the various back channels employed by the United States to get the Taliban to start negotiating have only revealed that they have no strong incentive to stop fighting. The more tireless the U.S. efforts to get a peace process going, the seemingly more convinced the insurgents are of American desperation, and the more they believe their current strategies are working. While those in the West may doubt that there is a military solution, the insurgents apparently still believe in one.
Supposedly among an increasingly divided Taliban leadership there are those who favor holding peace talks, but even these alleged pragmatists offer little hope for serious negotiations. Privately they have made it clear that their side will not agree to a ceasefire and disarming, or accede to many of the basic principles of the constitution. The Taliban have shown no interest in negotiating directly with the Karzai government, and it is doubtful that they would accept the presence of any foreign military personnel in the country post 2014. The Taliban representatives who opened a political office in Doha proved to be mainly interested in winning the release of the group's prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in gaining legitimacy for the insurgency.
It is high time that the United States and its partners stop believing that there exists a shortcut to ending the Afghan conflict and a clear path for a graceful exit. The United States should instead concentrate its remaining resources and influence in the country on working with the Afghan government to improve its governance, development, and security forces. There may indeed be a political outcome in Afghanistan, but only when elements of the insurgency, seeing that the state is here to stay, conclude that time is not on their side and their grievances are best addressed within the system. Such a peace is likely to be realized through the gradual reintegration of insurgents in hundreds of small agreements across the country, not around a negotiating table in Doha or anywhere else.
Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. He served as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003.
Assertions and opinions in this editorial are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.
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No one knows who killed Islam Bibi. The 37-year old police lieutenant, the most senior female officer in southern Afghanistan's dangerous Helmand province, was riding a motorcycle to work in early July with her son-in-law, when she was shot and killed. During her career, she faced many threats, only some of them related to the violent insurgency and rampant narco-trafficking that threaten all Afghan police officers in the province. In April, Bibi told a journalist that her family opposed her working as a police officer, and that her own brother had tried to kill her three times.
In spite of these daily hazards, both inside and outside the home, she took great pride in her work. "I love my country. I feel proud wearing the uniform and I want to try to make Afghanistan a better and stronger country," she said. "I am a policewoman and I will be a policewoman in the future. I'd be proud if my daughter wanted to follow me."
It has been 12 years since the fall of the Taliban government but threats and attacks on Afghan women in public life provide tragic examples of how far away equal rights for women are in Afghanistan. Some Western observers, arguing for a swift disengagement from Afghanistan, seem increasingly convinced that the effort is doomed. This chorus holds that perhaps women's rights are a "Western" imposition on Afghan society that just won't stick. Or perhaps Afghans just aren't ready for these ideas. Maybe even Afghan women themselves don't believe in these rights. In such a traditional society, people say, shaking their heads, what can we do?
Unfortunately, such myopic arguments for scaling back international aid and involvement in women's rights in Afghanistan, at a time when coalition troops are preparing to withdraw from the country, is increasingly common. This thinking displays a clear lack of understanding that the frontline fighters for women's rights in Afghanistan since 2001 have been brave, resilient Afghan women who don't have the luxury of ending their struggle next year. The foreign rush-for-the exits impulse in Afghanistan, and willingness to write-off women's rights along the way, doesn't just overlook the sacrifices that Afghan women have made in fighting for their rights. It ignores the fact that the battle for women's rights has been a long, painful, and continuing process worldwide.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." When did the feminist movement begin in the United States, or in the United Kingdom, or in Iceland - which has been ranked several times the best country in the world for women? How long did it take these countries to achieve full gender equality? Wait, ignore that last question - no country has yet achieved full gender equality.
In 1848, the first U.S. women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. Seventy-one years later, in 1919, the U.S. constitution was amended to give women the right to vote, but it was not until 1984 that the last state, Mississippi, ratified this amendment. Today, women in the United States earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In the United Kingdom, women have had the right to vote since 1928, but recent research shows that women's progress towards pay equality has stalled over recent years. And Iceland, the paragon of women's rights, has topped the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for four years. The first women's rights organization in Iceland was founded in 1894, and women gained equal voting rights in 1920. But in 2011, Icelandic women were earning 10% less than men, and in 2012, the (female) Icelandic Prime Minister warned that the pay gap had grown.
Similar to the fight for women's rights in these progressive Western countries, the fight for women's rights in Afghanistan will also be a long one. Many historians believe it began in 1880 with reforms instituted by Amir Abdul Rahman Khan and his liberated wife that included raising the age of marriage for girls and granting women the right to divorce and own property. In the 1960s through the 1980s, some Afghan women, at least in urban centers, enjoyed freedoms unheard of today. Photographs of women from that era, showing them with uncovered heads in knee-length skirts wandering about town or rapt in university studies, are akin to postcards from a lost world. But these freedoms were largely unknown in rural areas and have long been at odds with conservative male interpretations of the role of women in society.
The Taliban government that took power in 1996 aimed to, and largely succeeded at, turning back the clock on the fight for gender equality in Afghanistan. Activists kept working - running underground girls' schools, sheltering women fleeing violence, etc. - but they did so at risk of their lives and with the greatest secrecy.
When the Taliban government fell, women seized their new opportunities with joy and passion. They sent their daughters to school and joined the workforce, with many choosing to serve as police officers, soldiers, lawyers, judges, or members of parliament. By entering public life, these women demonstrated that they craved equality as much as women in, say, Iceland. And, thankfully, many Afghan men have also supported women's rights. Afghan men send their daughters to school and support their wives who work. Some have even devoted their careers to fighting for the rights of women.
The West didn't introduce Afghans to women's rights or push them to adopt an unwanted system of gender equality. The main contribution of the international community to women's rights in Afghanistan over the last 12 years has been creating a space -- by putting the government under international scrutiny and providing extensive funding -- that has helped the Afghans fighting for women's rights begin to take back all that was stolen from them by the Taliban.
But today, as foreign military forces and donors withdraw from Afghanistan, there are inescapable signs that the space is shrinking and a rollback in women's rights is under way. Since mid-May, opponents of women's rights - including one of the men Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently appointed to head the country's human rights commission - have been fighting to repeal a key post-2001 law that punishes violence against women.
Then in July, a court reversed the 10-year prison sentences handed down to the in-laws of tortured 13-year-old bride Sahar Gul, unknown assailants assassinated Islam Bibi, a 25% member quota for women on the country's 34 provincial councils was reduced to 20% (after the lower house of parliament tried to ban it entirely), and a new law passed by the lower house of parliament and pending in the upper house could effectively end prosecutions for underage and forced marriages and domestic violence by banning victims and witnesses from testifying against family members in court.
The countries that have committed significant amounts of their national "blood and treasure" to Afghanistan should remember that the road ahead in the struggle for women's rights is a long one - as it has been in every other country. But continuing to put political pressure on the Afghan government to protect these rights, and providing financial support for schools, clinics, hospitals, shelters and legal services for women and girls can make the road shorter and less harrowing in Afghanistan.
Heather Barr is the Afghanistan Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
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Afghan perceptions of Americans and the United States come from a number of incredible historical tales, Cold War policies, conspiracy theories, and - of course - Hollywood movies, all of which have coalesced into a single image: Superman. But seeing the United States as the comic book epitome of power and invincibility cuts both ways. While it has often worked in its favor, it has also done considerable damage to America's reputation among Afghans.
The "Superman" image of the United States was first introduced to Afghans in a rather dramatic fashion almost two hundred years ago. In the early 1830s, Pennsylvania-born Josiah Harlan set out to become the king of Afghanistan. Although he ultimately failed to secure the country's throne, Harlan's military prowess and personality along the way impressed the Afghans and he was named the prince of Ghor, a province in central Afghanistan that had been the capital of the powerful Ghurid dynasty a few centuries earlier. Harlan returned to the United States 20 years later, but is remembered as the first American in Afghanistan.
For almost a century after Harlan's visit, Afghan-U.S. interactions remained uneventful. But in the 1950s, to counter the growing Soviet influence in Afghanistan, America came in as a "good warrior" - a Superman - fighting for the development of Afghanistan. As part of this new engagement, hundreds of American advisers, doctors, engineers, and teachers came to the country to build new dams, roads, and schools, enabling Afghans to experience American culture firsthand. During this period, Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in Afghanistan's volatile south, even came to be known as "little America."
During this time, many Afghans travelled to the United States on scholarships, some of whom played key leadership roles in the following decades. Hafizullah Amin, for example, the last Afghan communist president prior to the Soviet invasion of the country, received a master's degree in education from Columbia University in 1958. Although Amin called himself a staunch communist, the Soviets suspected he was secretly pro-American because of his time in New York.
After the Soviet invasion in 1979, the Superman image of the United States grew larger as billions of dollars in aid and arms were sent to the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the communists. This vision of America as a crusader for freedom was reinforced when Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, then-National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, stood at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and told a group of anti-Soviet fighters that "God is on your side."
But perhaps the most important contributions to this ethos have come from Hollywood. In the late 1980s, the film Rambo III, in particular, embodied the Superman image of America for Afghans. In the movie, Rambo, with his buffed muscles and thirst to kill Soviets, made all of the right moves to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. He braved the towering mountains of Afghanistan on a horseback. He displayed his ghairat (enthusiasm and honor) by accepting an Afghan challenge to play buzkashi, a national sport which is similar to polo. And he impressed Afghans further by effortlessly beating the best and toughest chapandaz (players). He even took up arms and joined a ragtag group of Afghan fighters to blow up a Soviet military base.
The movie was such a big hit in Afghanistan that even high ranking officials in the communist regime loved it, despite having initially banned the film. Thousands of VHS copies of the film were smuggled into Kabul and provided a massive boost to America's image. Afghans loved seeing the American superhero on their side, sharing their sorrows, and fighting ferociously against the "evil" communists.
But by the early 1990s, the Afghan cause had become a thing of the past. The Soviet Union had collapsed and many Afghans soon realized the world did not want to be bothered with their infighting. Neighboring countries, especially Iran and Pakistan - which many Afghans saw as the Lex Luthors of the region - vied for domination through the armed proxies they had fostered throughout the 1980s, while the United States was nowhere to be seen.
When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, rumors spread that the United States was covertly supporting them - speculations the militant group was happy to use as it indirectly strengthened its brutal image. Yet despite America's absence, its culture was still a touchstone for many Afghans. For example, the Taliban had banned watching movies and listening to music during their five-year rule, but it did not stop Afghans from going to great lengths and taking incredible risks to smuggle pirated copies of James Cameron's Titanic and watch them secretly in their homes. Realizing its attempts to isolate and "purify" the Afghan culture weren't working in Kabul and other major cities, the Taliban even used its religious police to check teenage boys for a "Titanic haircut" or fashions resembling those of the movie's main characters.
It was only after the tragic events of 9/11 that Afghans were finally exposed to the real "hard" powers of the American Superman. In October 2001, Afghans saw B-52 bombers circling high overhead and dropping bombs that shook the country's tall and seemingly invincible mountains.
With the Supermanimage of the United States in mind, many Afghans initially welcomed the arrival of the U.S.-led coalition forces and saw it as the beginning of a new era of change in the country. However, this did not last very long. The United States failed to deliver on its promises, and Afghan expectations for what the U.S. could achieve after the ousting of the Taliban were too high.
Since then, the failure of the U.S.-led international coalition to defeat the Taliban, a flurry of anti-U.S. propaganda from regional powers, and outbursts by Afghan government officials against the United States during times of tense relations have only served to worsen perceptions of America in the region.
For Afghans, the inability of the United States to get Pakistan to end its ties with the Taliban or to bring about the fundamental changes as it had promised, caused many to wonder "why?" Unable to find satisfactory answers, the people's high hopes gave way to pervasive conspiracy theories. By 2006, rumors, speculations, and fantastical theories about the United States had become more than an article of faith for many Afghans.
In fact, the current prevailing impression often espoused by the increasingly influential Afghan media and local political pundits is that the United States is nursing a grand plan to dominate the region through its presence in Afghanistan. Afghans have also come to believe that the United States, contrary to its frequently professed commitment to democracy and human rights, will make deals with any violent extremist group that could serve its interests, even if they are diametrically and violently opposed to democratic ideals and women's rights.
The recent debacle over the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar only strengthened these beliefs. To Afghans, the grand opening of the Taliban's office, complete with the movement's white flag and plaque proclaiming "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," was an affirmation that the United States, in collaboration with Pakistan, is now seeking to restore Mullah Mohammed Omar, the militants' reclusive leader, to power. At its press conference, the Taliban not only failed to recognize Afghanistan's constitution and even acknowledge direct talks with the government, but it also clearly stated that the militant's violent war, which is responsible for over 80 percent of civilian deaths, will continue. The fact that President Obama voiced his support for the Taliban's office, despite this uncompromising statement, shocked many in Afghanistan.
After 12 years of war, Afghans have learned to lower their expectations and expect contradictory statements from the United States, regardless of what popular Hollywood movies and shows such as 24 suggest. But all of this disillusionment, confusion, and widespread uncertainty has further deteriorated America's reputation and standing among Afghans.
As coalition troops prepare to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the United States needs to understand the power and importance of its image and Afghan perceptions in the context of Afghan war. If it is serious about fighting extremism and supporting democracy and human rights, it needs to make a clearer commitment to the Afghans actively fighting for democratic ideals, human rights, and women's rights. It also needs to show that America fully supports next year's presidential election, and that a peaceful transition of power remains a top priority for everyone invested in the region. Lastly, it needs to ensure that the Afghan security forces will receive the continued technical and financial support they need to succeed.
If it fails to do any of this, and continues with its often opaque and short-term policies, while seeking to desperately treat violent extremists as the inevitable power players in Afghanistan, the terror attacks of the last two decades could look like a sideshow compared to future threats emanating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
While Afghan-U.S. relations have been tense in recent months, and the window of opportunity is narrowing every day, a belief in the image of America as Superman still carries more weight with Afghans than U.S. boots on the ground. After years of "hard" power, the United States needs to understand the value of its "soft" power brand, especially in Afghanistan.
Ahmad Shafi is an Afghan journalist and a former producer for the National Public Radio's Kabul Bureau.
Najib Sharifi is the Director of Afghanistan New Generation Organization-a youth empowerment body based in Kabul. He is also a founding member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness (A3), a Kabul-based Afghan think tank.
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"Time is running out" to help nuclear-armed Pakistan's civilian government survive. That is what then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said in support of the recommendations of an Atlantic Council report that was released in February 2009. The report, which provided a comprehensive look at Western relations with Pakistan, estimated that, at that point, then-President Asif Ali Zardari's government had between 6 and 12 months to enact successful security and economic policies or face the prospect of collapse. "There is still time for us to be able to help the new civilian government, turn around its economy, stabilize the political system, and address the insurgency" festering in the eastern tribal lands on the Afghan border, said Kerry.
Kerry and his co-sponsor of the report, former senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), stressed that efforts to defeat extremist Islamist militants in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan required help for the people of both strife-torn countries. Speaking from his and Kerry's own experiences in the Vietnam War, Hagel warned that "if you lose the people, you lose everything. We cannot lose the people of Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan."
Today, as Kerry emerges from his first and much delayed visit to Pakistan as the current U.S. Secretary of State, he must have been struck by a sense of déjà vu. The mission that he and Hagel, now the U.S. Secretary of Defense, defined in 2009 remains largely unfinished. Pakistan has another civilian government facing an uphill task after the depradations of the previous one. Complicating the situation is the continuation of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil that anger the Pakistani public and undermine the government's ability to work with the United States, and Pakistan's uncertain behavior regarding the Afghan Taliban that leads it to hedge in bringing them to the reconciliation table. Mistrust still pervades the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Despite the change in names and positions, it is clear that with the anticipated clash of expectations regarding the hard economic and political realities of Afghanistan and South Asia, Pakistan today faces a tough task ahead, just as it did in 2009. Righting the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will take a longer-term plan of action, similar to one the Atlantic Council outlined four years ago. No Band-Aid approach of financial flows or even arms and equipment will work. The detailed recommendations provided in the 2009 report, and validated by discussions with Pakistan's leaders, including then-opposition leader Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's current Prime Minister, remain unimplemented. Secretaries Kerry and Hagel might do well to dust off the report they co-sponsored and see if they can persuade the Obama administration and the American public to appreciate the gravity of the situation in South Asia, while emphasizing the need for Pakistan to take ownership of its problems at a faster pace than the new government appears to be doing for now.
Re-starting the dormant Strategic Dialogue, as Kerry did last week, is just one component of this bilateral relationship. Pakistan should rapidly select and appoint a person of intellectual and political heft to be its ambassador in Washington, as leaving that slot vacant has sent a negative signal. The much delayed invitation from the White House to Sharif is welcome as a signal of the rebuilding of a relationship that was badly cracked by the successive events of 2011, truly the annus horribilis of this fraught "friendship." It is critical that the United States uses this reengagement to shore up the civilian government in Pakistan, even while it depends on the Pakistani military to help it exit Afghanistan in an orderly fashion.
It will be even more critical for Pakistan's civilian government to exhibit a strong desire and ability to take charge of key ministries. Energy appears to be front and center, and rightly so, though Sharif may want to rethink taking over the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence. Being prime minister is a large enough challenge; he should let other professionals run these key ministries. If civilian supremacy is to be established with confidence in Pakistan, Sharif needs capable persons running those ministries fulltime and should let them rationalize their operations and produce doctrines that are practicable and far-reaching.
Restoring the quality and strength of the federal and provincial bureaucracies is another key element in institutionalizing policy making. Pakistan's problems are too big to be left to the highly personalized "kitchen cabinet" or Punjabi loyalists. Signals matter too. Last week's selection of the new president did not reflect the need to honor a person of national or international standing with that post. Sharif chose a loyalist whom few in Pakistan knew before his nomination. Being a decent person, though necessary, is not enough for the job of Head of State. Sharif had much better candidates at hand but missed an opportunity to restore the grandeur and dignity of the office of President.
On regional relations, Sharif has the right instincts of a good businessman and he needs to stick with them. Open borders with India and Afghanistan can only bring longer-term stability and peace. But then why the inordinate delay in granting India Most Favored Nation status? There will be short-term costs for some trade sectors, for example the Punjabi agriculturalists, but those can be mitigated by persuading India to roll back some of its internal subsidies, allowing both sides to gain from the increase in trade. A regional approach to energy, involving central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India may be far more effective than the pipe dream of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline that has floundered on the shoals of global politics and threats of U.S. sanctions. Joint Indo-Pakistan private sector investments may be the key to rapid results, starting with export-oriented operations that will not threaten domestic producers or markets; provided the bureaucrats can be persuaded to loosen their grip on the rules and regulations that weigh things down.
But what can the United States do regarding its relations with Pakistan? First, the administration can create a center of gravity for decision making on Pakistan, ensuring that there is a cohesive and comprehensive approach rather than departmental policies that may run at cross purposes. Then, it needs to ensure buy-in from the Pakistanis for its aid programs, including the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill for $7.5 billion that will end in 2014. Adding transparency in financial flows from the United States to the central Pakistan government and down to the provincial level will allow the Pakistan people to trust the U.S. assistance and show that promises are measured against ground realities. It should also change the pattern of expenditures so the aid monies flow into Pakistan and stay there, rather than flowing back to Washington consultancies.
Pakistan has the technological and managerial skills to implement, monitor, and evaluate aid projects to international standards. What it lacks is institutional capacity at the policy making level to make sound economic and financial decisions. This will require investing in centers of excellence across the country, where Pakistanis can learn the tools of decision making, and a new breed of managers and entrepreneurs is fostered. Pakistan needs help with its infrastructure, to connect itself internally and with neighbors, but the economy will only stabilize and grow if policy making keeps pace with its growing needs. A stable polity and growing economy will provide a platform for educating and developing productive jobs for the nearly 100 million Pakistani youth that are currently below Pakistan's median age of 22 years.
But this window of opportunity is narrowing for the governments of Pakistan and the United States. Sharif's honeymoon with the Pakistani population will likely be shorter than expected, as high hopes clash with the inability of the government to deliver results rapidly. As such, he will need to approach these issues in parallel rather than seriatim. To best help Sharif in these efforts, the United States would do well to review, update, and implement the recommendations that then-Senators Kerry and Hagel supported in 2009. If it does not, it will likely repeat the bilateral relationship rollercoaster ride of the past decade and suffer the consequences.
Shuja Nawaz is the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
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Afghan and international observers recently experienced uneasy joy when two separate election laws were passed by Afghanistan's legislature and, as if it were the natural course of democratic events, the laws were then signed by President Hamid Karzai. On July 13, the National Assembly passed the Law on the Duties and Structures of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), which will govern the composition and conduct of the country's election management body and its election watchdog.
Then, on July 15, the National Assembly passed a new electoral law that will provide a much-needed legal framework for the presidential and provincial council elections in 2014, as well as parliamentary elections in 2015. The enactment of these laws concludes a long process which included extended delays, years of debate, and, at times, the involvement of the IEC, Afghan civil society, various executive agencies, the international community, and other Afghan stakeholders.
Most striking to observers of Afghan politics is that President Karzai actually signed off on the new laws. In Kabul, the time-consuming parliamentary process is frequently bypassed altogether. Instead, laws are often drafted by the executive branch and endorsed through presidential decree. This departure from what has become the norm, especially for legislation so critical to the future of Afghanistan's nascent democracy, is an important step forward for a country still struggling to establish a resilient democratic framework.
These recent developments are curious, however, as similar laws have been presented to Karzai in the past, only to be rejected and sent back to the National Assembly with a laundry list of suggested changes. But very few of the president's previous suggestions appear in the new laws. Pinpointing Karzai's motivation to change course - not just with regard to these specific laws, but also his decision to yield to a more democratic legislative process - is critical to understanding how these laws were adopted at all.
Many groups have lobbied Afghanistan's executive branch to encourage the National Assembly to pass these laws. Most recently, at a July 3 meeting of senior officials in Kabul, the Afghan government was criticized for failing to meet its commitments in the Tokyo Framework (one being the establishment of a robust electoral architecture). Many stakeholders have called on international diplomats to focus more on Afghanistan's political transition, a focus that now appears to be reality, which is an encouraging development. Leaders in the U.S. Congress and other Western capitals have also recently been focused on Afghanistan's upcoming political transition.
But Karzai's political motivations throughout this process have been unclear. Perhaps the outgoing president suddenly came to the realization that another electoral decree with the parliament in recess would be counterproductive and unacceptable to the National Assembly and Afghanistan's various political coalitions. Although the increased diplomatic focus was likely important in the passage of these laws, it probably was not international pressure or a desire to embrace democratic change that altered the president's mind. He may have simply realized that the laws contained much of what he and his team wanted (such as excluding international commissioners from the IECC and sustaining the Single Non-Transferable Vote system). It is anyone's guess as to what really motivated Karzai to ultimately sign these laws, but it seems that by delaying the process at every turn since 2011, he has achieved much of what he wanted.
Now that the laws have been adopted, it remains to be seen whether they address the myriad problems which have plagued Afghanistan during the previous two electoral cycles. In the aftermath of flawed elections in 2009 and 2010, observers and Afghan political coalitions called for an overhaul of the country's electoral framework to address some of the key deficiencies and fundamental flaws of Afghanistan's electoral institutions. A closer examination of the new laws shows how they address some of the key issues.
1. The Independence of the IEC and the IECC
Perhaps the most important issue that stakeholders hope the new electoral laws can address is the independence of electoral institutions. It remains to be seen, however, whether the new laws can provide a stronger legal basis to prevent other Afghan institutions from interfering in the election process, as was the case in 2010. While the laws do contain a number of clauses that aim to provide legal protection for the institutions, the most significant change is the introduction of a new selection mechanism to appoint IEC and IECC commissioners.
The new laws call for the leadership of both organizations to be chosen by the president, but only after a selection committee composed of a broad spectrum of Afghan representatives submits a list of 27 suggested candidates to the president for consideration. The composition of the selection commission includes the Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house), the Speaker of the Meshrano Jirga (the upper house), the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the head of the Independent Commission on the Oversight of the Implementation of the Constitution, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, the heads of registered political parties with at least six members in parliament, and one representative from Afghan civil society.
The decision to use a more inclusive mechanism to appoint IEC and IECC leadership is a step forward in moving away from the perception of bias (and the reality of bias in the case of 2009) created by unilateral presidential appointments. However, the mechanism does not go so far as to create a more formal check on the appointments, such as parliamentary approval.
The selection committee has now been chosen and has already provided its recommendations for IEC appointments to President Karzai, who promptly made his selections. The committee will now turn its focus to the IECC. Despite early progress, it remains to be seen whether this mechanism will lead to the appointment of commissioners that will be seen as impartial by Afghanistan's competing political coalitions, and whether it provides enough of a check on executive authority so as to instill confidence in the eventual leadership.
2. The establishment of a permanent IECC
Just as challenging as appointing new leadership to Afghanistan's electoral institutions will be starting one of these institutions from scratch and doing so very quickly. One of the new laws calls for the creation of a new permanent institution for adjudicating electoral complaints. Afghanistan has had electoral dispute bodies in the past, but those bodies were temporary, so there is no current infrastructure in place for a complaints commission.
Once new leaders are appointed through the selection committee process, they will need to move quickly to stand up the IECC. This will entail establishing offices in all 34 provinces and hiring and training staff. However, no funding mechanism is in place to support the creation of the IECC, either financially or technically. To fill this void, the international community will need to provide the initial technical and financial assistance, which needs to happen quickly. The election commission's current timeline calls for the IECC to be established by August 24 so it can accept complaints during the candidates' nomination period, which is currently scheduled to take place from September 16 to October 6. In order to meet that timeline, work must start immediately.
3. The Women's Quota
Afghanistan will also hold elections for its provincial councils in 2014. While the new electoral legislation will not have a significant effect on the administration of the provincial council elections, there was an important change to the quota for women's representation within the councils. Though one draft of the new electoral law eliminated the 25% quota for women's representation entirely, a compromise was ultimately reached that resulted in a reduction of the quota to 20%, due in large part to the advocacy of Afghan civil society and outspoken voices in Afghanistan's lower house of parliament.
By removing the quota altogether from one draft of the law, opponents of the measure effectively set the table for a compromise. While Afghan civil society and the international community can say they worked to prevent the removal of the quota and achieved a reasonable compromise, Afghan women are ultimately disadvantaged. The reduced quota is an unwelcome development for Afghan women, particularly for a provincial level election, where it is even more difficult for women to compete equally with male candidates.
The international community should work hard to ensure that the Afghan government provides security for female candidates at the local level, and supports a robust female candidate recruitment process to ensure that the women who do run, at significant personal risk, are provided the resources necessary to conduct their campaigns effectively. These measures are critical to ensuring Afghan women are well represented at the provincial level.
4. Living with the Single Non-Transferrable Vote System
Another area where the new electoral law falls short is that it maintains the Single Non-Transferrable Vote (SNTV) system for electing provincial council and parliamentary representatives. As has been well-documented, the SNTV system is not conducive to the healthy growth of political parties, which are fundamental to a maturing democracy. Going forward, it will be critical for Afghanistan and the international community to find creative ways to revitalize Afghan political parties, given the reality of the SNTV system.
Though Afghan parties and coalitions are coordinating more today than they have in the past, much of that coordination has been through the Cooperation Council of Political Parties and Coalitions (CCPPC) and has been focused on the electoral reform effort. Now that some of these reforms have been adopted, this body must continue to lobby for reforms that promote party-based political participation. Recognizing the importance of this coordination, Afghan civil society has worked with the CCPPC in its advocacy initiatives, and should continue to do so. The CCPPC's next focus should be on potential amendments to Afghanistan's political parties law that can increase the formal participation of parties in elections, and eventually lead to the parties better representing the interests of citizens through the legislature.
Managing an election is challenging in any environment, and the challenges in Afghanistan are compounded by long periods of ambiguity, last-minute legal changes, and new institutional leadership. This new legislation calls for major changes that will require significant effort from Afghan institutions and their international partners. But the international diplomatic community should view the passage of these laws as the early stages of true progress. Afghanistan certainly has a long way to go, but this is the start of a sustained effort to address shortcomings with its democratic framework.
Now that the legal framework has been improved, we must focus on the next steps to improve democracy in Afghanistan. A peaceful political transition in 2014 is the highest priority and it appears that is now well recognized. Parliamentary elections in 2015 are also critically important as they will be the first elections held under a new Afghan administration and will symbolize either the strength or weakness of the new president. It is also important to continue to focus on reforms that can strengthen democratic representation and lead to a political system in which citizens feel that their elected officials are representing their interests, not simply trying to line their own pockets. The will for such advocacy is alive and well among Afghan civil society and political parties. The international community cannot ignore these voices, and must continue to support ongoing Afghan efforts for democratic reform.
Ultimately, political change must come from within. If Afghanistan is able to hold successful elections and improve its democratic system, it will be because Afghan activists and political leaders worked hard to make it happen. The adoption of these two election laws through democratic means is an encouraging step forward. However, we must recognize the work that is still needed to build a more democratic Afghanistan, and continue to support those Afghans who have devoted their lives to this cause.
Jed Ober is the Director of Programs at Democracy International. The views expressed here are his own.
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The game of "Chicken" typically involves two drivers, with cars on a converging course, daring one another to either swerve out of the way or risk a head-on collision. Ideally, one driver swerves and the other wins. The danger, of course, is that both drivers will believe that the other will swerve first and they will end up colliding. In this worst-case scenario, the size of the vehicle and its capacity to absorb the impact are key.
In an Afghan context, the U.S. and Afghan governments are on a collision course in a number of areas and unless cooler heads can prevail, the eventual crash will be devastating, yet totally uneven. For the United States, its international credibility will be undoubtedly damaged; but for the Afghan government, the fallout will be disastrous, and signal the beginning of the end for this period of relative progress and prosperity. Two prime examples of the stakes are the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which will determine the size and shape of the U.S. mission post 2014, and the tussle over taxing U.S. government contractors supporting military operations in Afghanistan.
Following the ill-choreographed opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar, Afghan President Hamid Karzai put the BSA on pause. Even though U.S. officials were quick to admit that the Doha event was embarrassing and not what they had intended, they also made it clear that they had acted with Karzai's blessing. That really should have been the end of it and the negotiations should have resumed.
Karzai's decision to halt the BSA talks was yet another attempt to challenge the United States when Afghan sovereignty was on the line. But with the negotiations still stalled, his move may prove to be a pyrrhic victory. One of the unintended consequences of his decision is that a "zero option" (keeping no U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014), which had little support in Washington and in NATO-member capitals, is now being considered in earnest.
As far as the U.S. government is concerned, the BSA is the sine qua non for a continued U.S. military presence past 2014. In fact, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently set an October 2013 deadline for completing the BSA in an effort to force the issue with an Afghan government that is struggling to define its own vision of a post-2014 security environment.
Without the BSA, however, even those who warn against the "zero option" have been adamant that total withdrawal is not only likely, but also inevitable. In other words, unless the BSA is finalized quickly, the idea of leaving no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 will continue to gain momentum, and what started out as a dangerous possibility may become the most likely course of action.
Another ‘collision course' issue is the taxation of contractors supporting U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Admittedly, the U.S. government is partially responsible for this mess. The tax exemption rules for companies supporting U.S. government contracts, for example, were established through an exchange of diplomatic notes, leaving room for interpretation. Up to now, the U.S. and Afghan governments have not made the necessary amendments to limit ambiguity in contentious sections of the tax code. And now the Afghan government has implemented policies that the U.S. government considers unnecessary and undeserved predatory behavior.
In May 2013, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) presented an audit report to Congress that identified "nearly $1 billion in business taxes and penalties imposed by the Afghan government on contractors supporting U.S. operations." According to the report, the additional fees and penalties imposed on contractors will not only adversely effect military operations, but will cost the U.S. government hundreds of additional millions of dollars.
To complicate matters further, around the same time, the Afghan government stopped NATO convoys from crossing out of the country for about a week. According to a Washington Post report about the issue, "Afghan officials said they took the drastic measure to compel the United States to pay fines for failing to present properly processed customs forms for the thousands of containers that are exiting the country, mostly through the Pakistani border."
The idea of a seemingly petty customs fight forcing the U.S. military to ship more supplies by air, an expensive alternative, does not sit well with Congressional leaders who are already pushing for massive cuts in defense spending. Influential senators are starting to signal their displeasure and warn of potential consequences if the Afghan government remains unyielding in its position.
In particular, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), co-chairmen of the subcommittee that oversees foreign aid programs, and Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) sponsored an amendment to the annual budget bill for the State Department that withholds "five dollars of U.S. aid to the Afghan Government for every one dollar in fees imposed on the United States for bringing equipment and supplies back home." With the total amount of customs fee standing at $70 million, if passed, this amendment would have a huge impact on Afghanistan's development.
In discussing the amendment, Leahy said the fees are a "blatant extortion, it's the last straw...After all we have sacrificed in lives, in the wounds of our soldiers, and in the huge investments we have made to help that country, this is an insult." Graham responded similarly saying of the Afghan policy: "It's ridiculous, offensive, and will not stand." For his part, Coats stated: "We must not allow the Afghan government to exploit the United States further as we begin our anticipated draw down."
Karzai and those in his government certainly have the right to exercise their sovereignty and, perhaps, have some valid concerns regarding the BSA and reasons for the additional taxation/customs fees. But a failure to agree on the security arrangements post-2014 risks a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces; a draw-down that will strike physical and psychological blows to the Afghan National Security Forces who still need U.S. and coalition support and training assistance. It would also deny the United States a vital basing infrastructure that was built at significant cost and remains of great importance to both Afghan and U.S. national interests.
For Karzai, however, underestimating the Congressional commitment to holding the Afghan government accountable on the taxes and custom fees is perhaps the only thing more dangerous. Congress has the "power of the purse" and the ability to cut funding to U.S. activities in Afghanistan all together, something its members already threatened to do. One should also not forget that it was Congress that passed the Case-Church Amendment in 1973, cutting funding for and, effectively ending the war in Vietnam.
Furthermore, if the United States chooses to cut donor funds dramatically over perceived predatory behavior, other international donors will likely follow suit. Afghanistan is a country almost exclusively reliant on donor funds for its economic viability, and such action would put the Afghan government in a position from which it would struggle to recover.
Because of this, there is a sense that Karzai's team will consider the consequences of these "head-on collisions" and reengage its U.S. counterparts to resolve these challenges soon. Indeed, it appears that the Afghan government has already backed away from its demands for tariffs and custom fees; though undoubtedly the proof will be in the implementation of this concession.
But, the United States should also continue to compromise, particularly on issues related to Afghan fears over U.S. abandonment and a lack of enduring support. Unfortunately, the current political environment in Washington suggests that unless the Afghan government steers clear of collision courses at this critical juncture, Congress will simply pull the plug on the Afghan enterprise, making the Leahy-Graham-Coats amendment the opening salvo of a full U.S. withdrawal and the beginning of the end of U.S. financial support for Afghanistan.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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On July 3, 2013, a female health worker was killed in northwest Pakistan while conducting polio vaccinations; she was the latest to die in an on-going anti-vaccination campaign by militants. About three weeks earlier, on June 16, militants killed two male volunteers who were administering polio vaccines in northeast Pakistan. That these two attacks follow the fatal shooting of female health workers engaged in a polio vaccination campaign on May 28 provides a stark reminder that polio vaccinators in Pakistan continue to face a serious threat of violence.
Polio, a virus with no cure that can cause paralysis and death, has been the target of a worldwide eradication effort and since the vaccination campaign began in 1988, there has been a 99% decline in reported cases. Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan are the only countries were the virus is still endemic and continued violence against Pakistan health workers poses a threat to the continued success of these eradication efforts.
The recent wave of violence against polio workers is likely linked to opposition from the Pakistani Taliban to the vaccination campaign. On June 16, 2012, Taliban leaders in both North and South Waziristan banned the vaccination campaign pending a cessation of American drone strikes in the region. Since then, there have been at least 27 incidents of violence against health workers involved in Pakistan's polio vaccination campaign, and against the security personnel tasked with protecting them. At least 22 people involved in these efforts have been killed and another 14 people have been injured.
Increased opposition to polio vaccinations may also be linked to the revelation that the CIA used a fake Hepatitis vaccination program during its attempt to locate Osama bin Laden. Media outlets as diverse as Business Week, The Guardian, and Scientific American published pieces criticizing the ruse for endangering polio vaccinators. One anti-polio worker commented on the effects of the fake vaccination program in 2012 saying, "It's been over ten months since the Al-Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden is dead [sic], but his ghost is still haunting our efforts not only to persuade the people in the country's northwestern parts, particularly in the tribal belt, to get their kids vaccinated, but also to move freely."
In July 2012, this surge of violence against polio health workers in Pakistan began with two shootings in Gadap Town, Karachi. On July 17, a UN doctor from Ghana and his driver were shot; three days later, another polio worker involved in the same campaign was also shot. In October 2012, a polio vaccinator was killed in the Killi Jeo area of Quetta during a three-day vaccination campaign. But the violence against polio workers reached new heights in December 2012. In the span of just two days, eight people were killed in six separate attacks.
The increasing violence against health workers, as demonstrated by the December attacks, forced a widespread change in the way polio vaccinations are conducted in Pakistan. The World Health Organization suspended its vaccination campaign due to its inability to ensure security for its workers. The Pakistani government provided security guards for vaccination teams and issued new guidelines urging vaccination campaigns to avoid publicizing their visits out of fear of encouraging attacks.
In February 2013, Pakistan's Capital Development Authority (CDA) announced the launch of a four-day sub-national polio vaccination campaign, prompting some to report that the campaign violated the new guidelines. In particular, an anonymous senior official with the Prime Minister's polio monitoring cell was quoted as saying: "The CDA's fanfare that accompanied the launching drive has put the lives of over 160 vaccinators at stake." These fundamental changes and the confusion they have created is also illustrated by the refusal of some health workers, including the two killed on June 16, to accept protection from security details, out of fear that it will actually make them targets.
While the intensity of the violence against polio health workers decreased after the December attacks, it did continue. In January 2013, there were three incidents that killed three people (though one involved a roadside bomb that might have only incidentally targeted polio vaccinators). One person was killed in Ghalia Der, Mardan in February; and in March, a polio center was bombed, injuring one health worker, and another polio vaccinator was abducted for ransom. There were another seven violent incidents targeting polio teams in April and three more in May.
The violence against polio workers takes many forms. Shootings are the most prominent method of attack, constituting all but six cases, and at least 12 of the 27 incidents involved shootings by multiple attackers. The remaining incidents consist of two cases of abduction and mistreatment (including torture), one bombing of a polio center, one roadside bomb explosion, one attack with an ax, and one case of stone throwing.
The cases involving multiple shooters suggest that there is an organized attempt to target polio vaccinators by militant groups with the capability to direct such attacks. In none of the cases, however, did a militant group claim responsibility for an attack. In fact, the Pakistani Taliban has regularly denied involvement in the attacks.
The violence has taken a tremendous toll on Pakistan's polio workers, but it is not simply an issue for Pakistan's health and development workers. Setbacks in Pakistan's eradication efforts threaten the ability of other countries to remain polio free, as seen when strains of polio linked to Pakistan caused a small outbreak in China in 2011 and were found in an Egyptian sewer in 2012. While the number of registered polio cases in Pakistan dropped in 2012, the surge in violence against health workers occurred at the very end of the year, making its effects unlikely to show up in the numbers. As of July 10, 2013, there have been 18 cases of polio so far this year, compared to 22 cases during the same period last year.
The wider global community would also do well to pay attention to the attacks on polio workers in Pakistan because violence against health workers is an issue affecting many other countries. In May, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a report showing that, in 2012, there were 921 violent incidents affecting healthcare in 22 countries experiencing armed conflict and other emergencies. Nigeria in particular has seen attacks on health workers and polio vaccinators similar to those in Pakistan. At least nine polio workers were killed by gunmen in attacks there in early February 2013.
Historical experience suggests that health workers will often become targets in civil wars and insurgencies as they did in Nicaragua and Mozambique in the 1980s, Chechnya in the 1990s, and in Somalia in the 2000s. Giving greater attention to what does and doesn't work in Pakistan with regard to protecting polio workers will pay dividends in securing future global health efforts. In particular, examining Pakistan's efforts may provide international aid organizations with new information regarding the costs and benefits of eradication strategies that minimize publicity and increase the presence of armed security personnel in order to continue vaccinations during conflict.
David Sterman is a Master’s candidate at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and an intern with the New America Foundation.
Good intentions and clear political willingness to commit significant resources has meant that, waste and inefficiencies aside, the U.S. has been able to muster military and financial support for the war in Afghanistan from nearly 50 nations. Recently, however, Afghan and Coalition allies, along with other influential regional power brokers such as India, are starting to publicly question U.S. policy in Afghanistan, particularly the decision to engage with and support the Taliban in opening a political office in Qatar.
For reasons discussed below, the dialogue between the Taliban and the U.S. should continue, quietly and with limited objectives. But public, ill-choreographed, overly ambitious, and unrealistic attempts at reconciliation will continue to make the Doha peace process a dangerous and distracting sideshow that will hurt rather than support U.S. foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan.
For some time, the U.S. has been coordinating with other stakeholders to jump start reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Less than a month ago, that effort culminated in a rather embarrassing press conference for the opening -- according to the Taliban banner in the background -- of the political office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Afghan officials and many other governments, including the U.S., reacted harshly to what appeared to have been a serious miscalculation of the Taliban's intentions.
To be fair, Secretary of State John Kerry quickly admitted that "the United States is very realistic about the difficulties in Afghanistan," and acknowledged that a final settlement "may be long in coming," emphasizing that if the new Taliban office in Qatar proved unproductive, he would push for its closure. Similarly, the new Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador James Dobbins, reiterated support for the Afghan-led reconciliation, admitting that the Taliban's consequential press conference "may have been a combination of misunderstanding and a desire for a certain propaganda victory, which I think turned out to be - from their standpoint - disappointing." Placing such emphasis on reconciliation in the first place, however, was neither appropriate nor useful in achieving U.S. national objectives in Afghanistan and the region.
In fact, the disastrous grand opening of the Taliban office represents the first time that the U.S. has yielded political initiative to the Taliban - even if fleetingly. Or as the Brookings Institution's Bruce Riedel puts it, "instead of being treated as insurgents or terrorists, the Taliban got the symbols of statehood."
Furthermore, it has brought the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) negotiations to a halt. No matter how well intentioned the U.S. administration was in its avid support of Afghan-led reconciliation efforts, its attempt to take such an active role in the process has backfired. Many worry, however that President Karzai's emotional overreaction to the Taliban office will damage U.S.-Afghan relations even more than the U.S. attempts to restart the talks. This is particularly concerning given the July 9 report that President Obama is keeping the "zero option" -- removing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 -- on the table.
Beyond the immediate negative impact, however, hurrying reconciliation or looking for quick fixes also increases the risk of potentially calamitous outcomes. For example, continuing to support public engagement with the Taliban - who are in full ‘summer offensive' swing - while there is no national consensus for reconciliation, may lead to a spiral of violence and a fragmentation of the Afghan polity along ethnic, anti-Taliban, and fundamentalist lines. From there, it is not too far-fetched to imagine a return of al-Qai'da to an ungoverned and insecure environment.
Equally dangerous, in the near term, is that the uncertainty is also encouraging former mujahedeen commanders to consider rearming fighters to guard against their sense of abandonment by the U.S. These warlords, some of whom are still in the Afghan government, find it incredibly difficult to understand how the Americans, having sacrificed so much fighting the Taliban, are now bringing the insurgent group in from the cold.
Also of concern is that many Afghans believe that the so-called Taliban representatives in Doha owe their allegiance and loyalty more to Pakistan than the senior Afghan Taliban leadership; thus, arguably, giving no guarantee that negotiations in Doha will have any positive impact in Afghanistan at all in terms of reduced violence. Expectations in Kabul are that even if negotiations in Doha are wildly successful, rank and file Taliban in the field will not adhere to deals made there. Furthermore, no matter how much some have tried to convince the Western audience that digging ditches on a development project for $15 a day will convert the "$10 a day Taliban" to the side of the Afghan government, the fighters are not just in it for the money.
Furthermore, at least for now, the Taliban and the Afghan government are either incapable or unwilling to conduct substantive peace negotiations in Doha or anywhere else. The Taliban do not recognize the Karzai government as legitimate, and the Afghan government, for its part, is in no position to offer a "deal" to the Taliban that is going to be supported by the majority of the opposition groups and, more importantly, the majority of the Afghan people. As such, the U.S. should stop wasting effort and political capital on starting a process that is going nowhere for now, and should focus talks on limited and manageable objectives such as the near-term issue of prisoner exchanges and the mid-term objective of severing Pashtun tribal support to al-Qai'da and affiliated militants along the Af-Pak border. Reconciliation prospects are, at best, a long-term process that the U.S. can support, but cannot lead. It should not, particularly in its nascent stages, be taking center stage over other much more significant and meaningful issues.
This well-intentioned but ill-conceived meddling in Afghan reconciliation efforts has created a perhaps unfair -- but dangerously persistent -- perception that there is a convergence of interest between the U.S. and the Taliban, and a divergence of strategy between the U.S. and its allies. Although the Obama administration is trying to quickly correct this misperception, the damage is done. As the U.S. contemplates its next move, it needs to not only reconsider its position on Afghan reconciliation but also its relationship with the Afghan government - the other half of the reconciliation efforts.
In order to affect a real, sustainable, and positive outcome in Afghanistan, the U.S. is better off focusing less on reconciliation and, instead, reassessing and reaffirming its relationship with the Afghan government. Reaching a conclusion in the negotiations over the BSA and declaring the size of the residual presence in Afghanistan post-2014 are two important issues the U.S. could start with.
While achieving a peace deal in Afghanistan in time for the coalition withdrawal at the end of 2014 would be ideal, it is also highly unlikely. Instead of making attempts to entice both the Taliban and the Afghan government to substantive but rushed peace negotiations, the U.S. must refocus on providing solid, albeit conditional, aid and support to the Afghan government in return for progress, as outlined in numerous international community conferences. Rather than focusing on what has turned out to be a reconciliation sideshow in Doha, the U.S. should focus its considerable resources on improving Afghan governance and strengthening the Afghan National Security Forces.
Holding the Afghan government accountable for the poor governance and corruption that undermine economic progress and deny future opportunities to Afghans struggling to find jobs in a business environment plagued by bribery, uncertainty, and predatory behavior are much more important to peace in Afghanistan than reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. Coupling these challenges with the rampant narcotics production problem, the flight of many Afghan diplomats and other government officials out of the country, and lost opportunities such as the failure to capitalize on vast economic opportunities in the mining sector, makes open negotiations with the Taliban in Doha a sideshow, not the real challenge for Afghanistan's future.
But, like it or not, the Taliban now have a political office in Doha. The international community's demand on the Taliban political office should be simple: ultimate reconciliation will be an issue decided by Afghans, but as long as the Taliban attempt, via violent means, to forge an Afghanistan similar to that which existed pre-9/11, the world will not accept them as a legitimate entity. The U.S. and its allies - including Afghanistan - should insist that with such legitimate public representation comes responsibility in full view of the international community.
Throughout history, even the most polarized enemies sought open channels of communications. No one should consider dialogue between foes a bad thing; the key lies in identifying common ground in order to minimize violence and active fighting. If the most charged discussions remain private, and public declarations are carefully choreographed, the chance of embarrassment is minimized. Afghans should always be the lead in discussions with the Taliban office in Doha, but without pressure from Western partners expecting miracles; at least not until after next year's Afghan presidential elections.
It will probably take a very long time to see an eventual positive outcome in Central Asia, or to dissect the failures responsible for not getting there. However, efforts in Afghanistan don't have to end in disaster. For things to improve, American foreign policy must find a way to remain well-intentioned but also imaginative, with strategic and inspirational vision, worthy of what most around the world consider the most powerful nation on earth.
Ioannis Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
In a wide-ranging counterterrorism speech in May, President Barack Obama indicated that he would be scaling back the war that the United States has engaged in since 9/11. And he said the targeted killing program that has become a major component of this war is aimed at "al Qaeda and its associated forces," and "specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America," using a legal standard put forth in the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force to justify the strikes.
The President also alluded to the idea that drone strikes in Pakistan can target groups helping the insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that until the 2014 U.S. withdrawal, he would continue to target "forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces." But under Obama, the drone program has expanded to target a far greater range of militant groups than his May 23rd speech would indicate.
An exhaustive review of public data by this author shows that more than two-thirds of the strikes in Pakistan targeted groups whose principal aim was not to kill Americans in the homeland. And many of the strikes did not even target groups involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan. These findings confirm previous conclusions based on public data on the strikes.
President Obama has authorized six times as many drone strikes as President Bush, but killed half as many Al-Qaeda members. Many of the strikes have hit the foot-soldiers of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, while others have targeted groups on behalf of the Pakistani government. On May 29, the 369th American drone strike in Pakistan killed Wali-ur-Rehman, the second-in-command of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Until the United States began targeting the TTP on behalf of Pakistan in 2008, it arguably posed no threat to the American homeland, and the group was only a minor component of the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Even the idea that the drone strikes in Pakistan have reduced the threat to Americans in Afghanistan or the homeland is increasingly in jeopardy.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the drone strikes have killed up to 3,540 people in Pakistan since 2004, including at least 411 people described in news reports as "civilians."
The National Counter-terrorism Center lists hundreds of individuals thought to be senior terrorists, but only 11 of the thousands of militants thought to be killed in drone strikes appear on it.
Based on news reports, statements from the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and lists compiled by experts at the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal, 97 "high value targets" have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, less than 4 percent of the deaths in the entire program. Just 90 separate strikes appear to have been intended for these high value targets. And only 52 of the targets were members of al-Qaeda, the principal organization the United States is claiming to target.
It is, of course, possible that the CIA is aware of other senior militants. One strategy for finding these lesser-known terrorists is to assume that important names should show up in news reports.
This author's analysis of thousands of news articles on drone strikes in Pakistan turned up more than five hundred named dead. After removing women, children, and those clearly described as civilians, 247 names are left, presumably the "senior" terrorists the Obama administration claims to be targeting.
Twenty seven of these militants were falsely reported killed on multiple occasions, illustrating the difficulty of targeted killing, even with a weapon as sophisticated as a drone.
These names come from 171 strikes, about 46 percent of the total, meaning that in most drone strikes in Pakistan, there are no publicly named militants killed.
Some Pakistani journalists and analysts say militant groups conceal who is killed in strikes, removing their dead from attack sites before journalists or civilians arrive, in an effort to mask losses of senior leaders.
Others think the CIA is deliberately targeting unidentified low-ranking militants, a practice made possible through the "signature strikes" that became standard policy in Pakistan soon after President Obama first took office. These are strikes carried out solely on the basis of suspicious behavior, without knowledge of an individual target's identity.
This author's analysis of open source data supports the latter explanation.
The data shows that after Obama took office, the percentage of mid and senior-level militants being killed plummeted, and new groups began to be targeted. During the Bush administration, 54 named militants were killed in 29 drone strikes, while under President Obama, 190 were killed in 125 strikes.
When someone was killed by a drone strike under President Bush, they were nearly twice as likely to be a high value target than under President Obama. And under President Bush, 88 percent of the high value targets were from Al-Qaeda, but that proportion is only 47 percent under President Obama.
The drop in the number of named militants, and the broadening of targets beyond Al-Qaeda, provides further evidence for reports that signature strikes account for most attacks under President Obama.
Not only has the Obama administration lowered the bar of seniority when it selects targets, it has also expanded its program to include groups that were focused primarily on attacking the Pakistani government. And when it goes after these groups, it seems to allow a far broader definition of proportionality than usual.
Earlier this year, the New York Times' Mark Mazzetti reported that the Pakistani government agreed to allow the CIA to begin a targeted killing program in specific areas of Pakistan's tribal regions in 2004, if the U.S. would first kill militant leader Nek Muhammad, who had been leading an insurgency against the government in South Waziristan. Pervez Musharraf then publicly admitted in an interview with CNN that he had made such an agreement when he was President. In the first review of internal American documents on the targeted killing program, McClatchy's Jonathan Landay confirmed the CIA had been working closely with Pakistani intelligence through at least June 2010.
It is clear that at certain points in the last four years, the United States went to bat for Pakistan, targeting groups that posed no threat to Americans at the time. In doing so, it used disproportional force on a number of occasions, and plots against the United States over the past few years indicate that this may have inspired a new generation of global terrorists.
There are many militant outfits operating in Waziristan, which has seen almost all the drone strikes in Pakistan.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a federation of dozens of militant groups, was formed in 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike two years later. Created primarily in response to a June 2007 Pakistani military operation in Islamabad that killed hundreds of religious students from the Federally Administrered Tribal Areas (FATA), the TTP has carried out a series of indiscriminate, brutal attacks throughout Pakistan, killing thousands of civilians. After the TTP first became the target of drone strikes in 2008, it turned its attention to the West, trying to stage an attack in Barcelona, Spain and another in New York City.
Meanwhile, the Haqqani network and militants loyal to commanders Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazir, support the Taliban insurgencies in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has not taken much action against these groups, reportedly because they do not pose a threat to the Pakistani state.
A comprehensive analysis of 222 well-documented drone strikes by this author shows about 26 percent hit members of Al-Qaeda, 22 percent hit members of the TTP, and 39 percent hit the three groups focused on supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan. The rest could not be reliably linked to any single group.
Standards of proportionality seemed to fall by the wayside when the CIA targeted TTP members.
"We identified a consistent pattern where the CIA deliberately targeted rescuers," says Chris Woods, from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tries to document civilian deaths in the drone strikes. Between May 2009 and June 2011, at least a dozen strikes targeted rescuers responding to other drone strikes, killing up to 95 civilians. The CIA also targeted at least two massive funerals. After killing a mid-level TTP militant in June 2009, the CIA struck his funeral, which drew up to 5,000 people, killing 83, including 45 civilians. They missed their target, Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP's leader. It took 18 strikes, killing up to 295 people, including 72 civilians, to find and kill Baitullah Mehsud.
"Clearly there was a rule change, a change in the permissive environment in that period that allowed for this to happen," says Woods.
The TTP first began to threaten attacks against the United States in 2009, citing drones as its motivation.
In December 2009, a CIA double agent killed seven U.S. intelligence officers and contractors in a suicide bombing at Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, where CIA targeters were tasked with providing information for drone strikes. In April 2010, a series of drone strikes targeted Baitullah Mehsud's successor, killing up to 101, including 9 civilians. The next month, Faisal Shahzad, who reportedly received bomb-making training from the TPP, tried to detonate a car-bomb in Times Square. Shahzad and the double agent each appear in separate videos released after the attacks. Seated next to Baitullah Mehsud's successor, they explain they want to avenge American drone strikes.
Curtailing the ability of militant groups in the FATA to stage attacks against Americans - in the homeland or in Afghanistan - has been the main selling point of the targeted killing program. But highly-motivated groups like Al-Qaeda and the TTP have found ways to adapt to the drone strikes, and the insurgency in Afghanistan is stronger than ever.
In 2010, despite a troop surge and record drone strikes in Pakistan, the insurgency in Afghanistan strengthened. Every year since has been deadlier than the last. More coalition soldiers were killed in 2010 than in any previous year. For civilians, 2011 was the deadliest year of the war, with 3,021 deaths in more insurgent attacks than ever before.
While there is evidence that Osama bin Laden was concerned about the impact of drone strikes, and Taliban fighters have changed their behavior in response to the danger posed by the targeted killing program, the militant groups' ability to plan and attempt attacks overseas from the FATA has not been diminished. Since 2004, at least 14 of 32 serious terrorist plots against the West were tied to the FATA. Crucially, most of the people involved in trying to carry out these attacks were residents of the very countries where the attacks were to take place.
Earlier this year, the former head of forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, likened the use of drones by new presidents to a novice golfer who hits a good drive with one club, then insists on always using the same club. Targeted killings, he said, are a "covert fix for a complex problem." He joins a growing list of retired generals and CIA directors who are doubtful about the efficacy of drones.
Umar Farooq is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Atlantic. He tweets @UmarFarooq_
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Though direct talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States appear to be back on track after some protocol issues with the Taliban's Doha office were resolved, questions remain over President Hamid Karzai's continuing commitment to the dialogue process. Just one day after the Taliban inaugurated its office in Qatar, Karzai pulled the Afghan government out of the presumed peace talks, furious over the way the office was opened. On the surface, it was the display of the Taliban flag and the plaque reading "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that angered the Afghan government. However, as U.S. and Qatari officials scrambled to diffuse the crisis, it became clear that the Afghan government's rancor at the Taliban press conference went beyond those issues; but why?
It is no secret that Karzai remains opposed to direct talks between the Taliban and the United States. Eighteen months ago, when a Taliban representative appeared in Doha to start direct negotiations with the U.S., initially Karzai opposed the move vehemently, recalled his ambassador from Qatar and rejected any talks which did not include the High Peace Council (HPC), Afghanistan's government-constituted negotiating body. The Afghan government also insisted that the talks be held inside Afghanistan, or alternatively, Saudi Arabia.
Since the first attempt at direct U.S.-Taliban talks was aborted in March 2012, there has been intense international diplomatic engagement with Karzai and his inner circle over this issue. Diplomats from Germany, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom and Pakistan -- the most critical regional actor -- have tried to mitigate the Afghan government's objections and put forward proposals that incorporated Afghan demands that the peace process be ‘Afghan led.'
When Hina Rabbani Khar, a former Pakistani foreign minister, repeated ad nauseam that Pakistan supported an intra-Afghan dialogue, she was voicing the view favored by Kabul and communicated to Pakistan through various official and unofficial channels. And it made sense. War cannot be ended by just the two main fighting parties, in this case, the Taliban and the United States. There has to be a broader process of political settlement between a number of Afghan factions, including the Taliban, who have been fighting each other for decades. While some of these factions are represented within Karzai's inner circle and the HPC, several of them are part of the opposition and have no trust in the council.
According to Pakistani diplomats, Karzai had pledged to kick-start an internal Afghan process that would develop consensus on the peace talks and bring all of the powerful factions not currently part of the government or the HPC on board. This internal consultation was a necessary first step towards building a national consensus and producing a credible roadmap for talks with the Taliban. However to date, no such process is visible, and there is a shared view emerging in both U.S. and Pakistani policy circles that Karzai would like to see the dialogue process postponed until after the Afghan presidential elections in April 2014. At this point, even limited talks with the Taliban will have to address political structures in post-2014 Afghanistan. While Karzai and his inner circle would likely aim to keep the status quo, both his political opponents and the Taliban could use the peace talks to push for an entirely new set-up.
Karzai is also unhappy with the role Pakistan has played in coaxing the Taliban back to the negotiating table, and in convincing the U.S. that approaching 2014 deadlines demand a resolute move forward on reconciliation. In Pakistan's view, the time has come for the Obama administration to set a firm policy direction, which will in turn help convince a number of fence-sitters within Afghanistan and around the region that the U.S. is serious about exploring political channels to end the war.
Nobody expects quick progress with regard to the talks, but with tentative confidence building measures such as prisoner exchanges, the United States and the Taliban can set the stage for a comprehensive peace process amongst the Afghans themselves. There is also a growing constituency within Afghanistan that supports a political resolution to the conflict. If the Karzai government persists in standing against the tide, his inner circle and presidential nominee will likely be marginalized in the next election. As far as the joint U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement is concerned, it is an issue that can be resolved after the new president is sworn in. The U.S. must not allow itself to be blackmailed over the issue by an outgoing president with a narrow support base.
The next few days and weeks will likely show how far Karzai is willing to go in his opposition to direct U.S.-Taliban talks. Most of the Afghan government's concerns regarding protocol irregularities have been addressed. The Taliban have been persuaded to remove the flag and the objectionable plaque. Both Karzai and Obama have indicated that the Doha talks will now go on, and will not be derailed in the face of recent Taliban attacks. Obama admitted in his comments last Thursday that he had anticipated difficulties during the reconciliation process, but difficulties related to Karzai's own narrow political calibrations must not distract U.S. policymakers from the course that leads towards peace.
Simbal Khan (Ph.D.) is a Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a Senior Research Fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
June 18, 2013, marked a day of starkly contradictory events in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai and visiting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the fifth and last tranche of the security transition, with NATO forces handing over the complete ownership and leadership of all military operations across Afghanistan to their Afghan counterparts. Ordinary Afghans welcomed this development as a major step forward in their quest to consolidate Afghanistan's democratic gains.
On the same day, it was also expected that an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-executed peace initiative would be launched with the opening of a temporary venue in Doha, Qatar, facilitating the start of peace talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and Taliban representatives. It took the Afghan government almost two years to reach this critical point and to form a national consensus on the principles that would govern the peace process. Many consultations were also held with regional and international stakeholders, including the United States and Pakistan, which as two members of the "Core Group" agreed on the governing principles, clearly articulated in the Peace Process Roadmap to 2015.
The "Core Group" members agreed that in order for the peace process to succeed with sustainable outcomes, the Taliban must accept the Afghan Constitution and respect the democratic gains of the Afghan people, including the Constitutionally-protected rights of women. They must also cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, while verifiably renouncing violence. And it has been emphasized time and again that any external interference intended to influence the peace talks would jeopardize and stall the process.
However, as Afghanistan's leading strategic partner, the United States provided the Afghan government with specific guarantees against any possible violation of the above basic principles. The name of the venue in Doha was agreed to be the "Political Bureau of the Afghan Taliban," nothing more than a political address to be later relocated inside Afghanistan. But much to the dismay of the Afghan people and government, as they were still cheering the last phase of the security transition, Al Jazeera enthusiastically began broadcasting an elaborate inaugural ceremony for the "Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in Doha as its top news story.
Qatar's Deputy Foreign Minister, Ali bin Fahad Al-Hajri, and Taliban representatives unveiled the plaque that bore that name -- under which the Taliban had committed unspeakable atrocities against the Afghan people, systematically destroying their cultural heritage and economically isolating their country from the rest of the world. And a white flag -- under which the Taliban and al-Qaeda had masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 American citizens -- was hoisted on a tall pole outside the venue in an area of Doha that houses most diplomatic missions.
Symbolically speaking, the premeditated event that unfolded before the eyes of the international community betrayed not only the ongoing sacrifices of the Afghan people, but also those of their regional and international allies and friends for the institutionalization of peace and democracy in Afghanistan. The Afghan people were shocked by, and continue to express their outrage against, the way the event was organized and took place. To Afghans and most of their key allies, it seemed as if the forces of terrorism were being rewarded at the expense of the democratic gains made in Afghanistan, a remote possibility that no one could have logically predicted would happen.
But it unashamedly did, inviting a strong international reaction in support of Afghanistan's peace conditions. The people and government of Afghanistan are particularly thankful to India and Russia for their immediate, principled reactions against the blatant violation of their peace conditions. The government of India has rightly cautioned against creating "equivalence between an internationally recognized government of Afghanistan and insurgent groups," which would legitimize insurgent groups or "convey the impression of two competing state authorities for Afghanistan." Similar statements of support from Canada, China, Iran, Germany, Italy, and others have called on the Taliban to accept the Afghan Constitution, cut ties with terrorist networks, and cease violence against civilians, all while cautioning against any imposed measures on the Afghan-led peace process.
In Afghanistan, the unexpected Doha events have unprecedentedly unified the Afghan people in support of their elected government's efforts to reject any peace deal that infringes on their sovereignty and the democratic achievements of the past 12 years. The Afghan people have not been losing their children day after day, year after year, just to return to the same foreign-installed "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" that violated the very basic human rights of Afghan women, and that harbored al-Qaeda, which first terrorized the Afghan people and then masterminded the tragedy of 9/11.
Afghans remain disappointedly astounded at the way radicalism has been allowed to triumph over their new democracy. But they hold the moral high ground, and are firmly determined to consolidate the strategic gains of the past decade against the terrorism that continues to find a home and institutional support in Pakistan. Now is the time for the international community to recommit to standing by the Afghan people and helping them realize their democratic aspirations for an Afghanistan free from the dark forces of extremism and terrorism.
Afghans deserve moral and material support and respect for their decade-long sacrifices to institutionalize peace and democracy in their country. Failure to deliver on these basic expectations would surely take Afghanistan back to the 1990s, a scenario few want to repeat. The only way forward is to help sustainable peace take root in Afghanistan, and to protect it from any previously tried and failed shortcuts that cost both democracy and liberty.
Shaida M. Abdali is Afghanistan's ambassador to India, and formerly served as his country's deputy national security adviser.
FAISAL AL-TIMIMI/AFP/Getty Images
Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (New York: Penguin Press, 2013).
Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013).
It's instructive to linger over the scene-setting, thematic quotations that book authors choose to open their stories. It tells you something about where the tale is going. And where the author is coming from.
Mark Mazzetti, a national security correspondent for the New York Times, opens his new book The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, with a passage from John Le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:
"Good intelligence work, Control had always preached, was gradual and rested on a kind of gentleness. The scalphunters were the exception to his own rule. They weren't gradual and they weren't gentle either..."
Jeremy Scahill, a national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and the author of a previous book about the military contractor Blackwater, begins his new book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield with an observation from Voltaire:
"It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."
These are ominous openings. They signal that the story you're about to read wrestles with the darkest aspects of our human nature. What turns men into killers? What drives them from "gentleness" to savagery? How should we judge them for that?
They also tell you that each writer, who has been widely praised for the strength of his journalism, is after something more substantial here. Maybe even novelistic. You don't invoke Le Carré and Voltaire without a hefty dose of ambition. Fortunately for Mazzetti and Scahill, their gambles largely pay off.
Taken together -- and if you have the time, you really should read these books as companions -- The Way of the Knife and Dirty Wars are among the most comprehensive and soul-searching histories of the now 12-year-old 'Global War on Terrorism.' The authors are covering the same ground, the same organizations, and frequently the same people. Each book examines how the Central Intelligence Agency and the Special Operations forces of the military took leading roles in the terror war and were fundamentally changed by it.
In broad strokes, the CIA turned from an espionage agency steeped in the intrigue of Cold War spying into a global hit squad, killing terrorists in the most unforgiving reaches of the globe with its 21st Century weapon of choice, a remotely-piloted aircraft armed with air-to-ground missiles. The military has always been in the killing business, but the war on terror turned soldiers into spies, made them collectors of intelligence, jailors and interrogators, and deposited them in a world of covert affairs and skullduggery for which they'd never been trained.
Neither the CIA nor the special operators chose this war, which, from the beginning, knew no borders. Soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Scahill writes, "[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld wanted plans drawn up to hit Somalia, Yemen, Latin America, Mauritania, Indonesia and beyond. ...The world is a battlefield -- that was the mantra."
It didn't matter if the host governments of these nations invited American forces to clean up the dens of terrorist and fundamentalists, or their loose network of "supporters." The United States would find its authority through congressionally-enacted authorizations of force, secretive military and intelligence directives, and a broadly articulated doctrine of self-defense. The CIA and the special operators would be on point, and there was no peace in sight.
Practically from the beginning, it was clear that while the two forces might be after the same enemy, they weren't fighting as partners. "By early 2002, Afghanistan was neither a daily shooting war nor a hopeful peace but a twilight conflict beset by competition and mistrust between soldiers and spies," Mazzetti writes. Navy SEALs and Marines spent eight days digging up graves in a fruitless search for Osama bin Laden, whom intelligence wrongly indicated might have been killed in a recent air strike. In a far costlier communication breakdown, Green Berets shot up a compound they thought was filled with Taliban gunmen. After they'd killed more than 40 fighters and returned to base, they discovered that days earlier the CIA had convinced the men to switch sides and fight with the Americans. The Green Berets never got the message.
The two sides were institutionally at odds. Mazzetti and Scahill chronicle the military's effort to set up its own human spying networks in various countries, behind the backs of CIA station chiefs. There were predictable clashes, and much head-butting and chest-thumping, as the lines between the two sides started to blur, and at times neither was sure which business they should really be in.
The spies and the soldiers were like pubescent teenagers, clumsily responding to the rapid and explosive changes to life as they knew it. On these accounts, the authors agree. But it's when they look for the reasons behind these cultural shifts, and the motivations of the spies and the soldiers and the higher-ups pulling their respective strings, that their stories diverge.
In Mazzetti's account, which is the more empathetic, the responses of the CIA and the military seem biological, a set of almost organic responses to a changing environment. About the CIA's decision to start killing suspected terrorists outside internationally recognized war zones, he writes that "each hit the CIA took for its detention-and-interrogation program pushed CIA leaders further to one side of a morbid calculation: that the agency would be far better off killing, rather than jailing, terror suspects." The CIA was run mostly by men who, like Le Carré's aging spymaster Control, seemed utterly unprepared for the new war, and fought at every turn to preserve the agency to which they'd devoted their careers and pledged their lives. The CIA saw targeted killing with drones as "cleaner, less personal" than detention and interrogation. Killing was new business, to be sure, but doing it at a distance, and with deniability, echoed the old ways. Institutional preservation was their guiding instinct.
In Scahill's story, which is generally more concerned with the military's side of the tale, the transformation of special operations into a global "assassination machine" seems largely engineered by the government's most powerful men, particularly Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who used the crisis of terrorism to create private, "unaccountable" armies. Scahill sees leaders who had a moral choice and took a dark path, because it freed them from the moorings of the Constitution and reset the balance in the separation of powers decidedly in favor of the President. For him, the special operators become a private death squad, answering only to their commander-in-chief, not the Congress, not the public. The response to crisis wasn't about self-preservation, but seizing an opportunity to reengineer power in government.
Again, the authors' choice of opening quotations is instructive. Mazzetti approaches the story with the fascinated, occasionally even cold remove of a newspaper reporter who is drawn to the cultural shifts in the spy game. It's their mindset, how they slowly learned "the way of the knife," that most intrigues him. He's drawn to the humanity of killing, and how it twists people, as evidenced by his choice to close the story, in cinematic fashion, on a face-to-face meeting with an Dewey Clarridge, a complicated and deeply flawed old Cold Warrior-turned-terrorist-hunter who represents as well as any single man the uneven evolution of the CIA.
Scahill, by comparison, is a moralist. He is a journalist in the tradition of the ink-stained wretch, throwing rocks at the castle walls from the outside. Bill Moyers has called him "a one-man truth squad." Scahill inserts himself at times into the narrative (the book has photographs of him reporting in the field, and he is the subject of a new documentary film about his work), but he's not writing in the first-person for the sake of glory. When he asks, on the final pages, "How does a war like this ever end?" he does so with a personal stake. Like his subjects, Scahill has traveled to the frontlines of the dirty wars, and one gets the distinct impression he'd like to come home.
It's these subjective, stylistic differences that make the books such a palpable pair. The subject is the same, but the history is written through different lenses. The final results, however, are equally illuminating.
The books are also especially timely. Right now, the spies and the soldiers find themselves at a turning point. The armed forces are unwinding from a decade of war and relentless counterterrorism operations. The new Director of the CIA, John Brennan, himself a career intelligence officer who was schooled in the Cold War, has said he wants to emphasize the agency's traditional work in espionage and bring the days of killing to an end.
The soldiers and the spies want to return to their old ways. They may succeed, but only if they haven't lost them.
Shane Harris is a senior writer at The Washingtonian magazine and the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State. In September, he will be joining the New America Foundation as a Future Tense Fellow.
C.E. Lewis/U.S. Air Force via Getty Images
When citizens of NATO allies look at the record of failure of military interventions in Afghanistan over the past century-and-a-half, they may be tempted to ask: "What chance of success does NATO have?" People should realize, however, that comparing the present-day stabilization mission to past military adventures is not appropriate.
Past foreign involvements in Afghanistan-including those of the British and Russian Empires in the 19th century, and, more recently, the Soviet Union in the late 20th century-were motivated by imperial and ideological competition. Those powers were not striving to build a stable, democratic and self-reliant society. And they certainly signed nothing like the Afghanistan Compact or the number of strategic partnership agreements that NATO member states have with the country.
Today, more than 40 nations are working together to stabilize Afghanistan and consolidate its new democracy. This truly international endeavor enjoys the overwhelming support of Afghans, who constitute an important strategic asset in the fight to contain terrorism. Thus, it is clear that NATO is in Afghanistan for different reasons altogether, including the national security of its member states. One cannot deny the real security risk NATO allies will face if Afghanistan's stabilization efforts fail and the country once more becomes the domain of terrorists, criminals, and drug traffickers, as it was under the Taliban.
We know from 9/11 and other terrorist attacks that threats to global security are increasingly transnational in nature. Non-state actors are more dangerous today than state actors were during the Cold War when security threats primarily came from interstate hostilities centered on the ideological differences between the members of the Warsaw Pact and NATO.
Third World proxy conflicts characterized the Cold War between the two ideological blocs for more than four decades, and Afghanistan featured as one of the main Cold War theaters from 1979 to 1989. However, with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism at the end of the 80s, NATO's Cold War role ended.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a tragic reminder to NATO members that despite the demise of Communism, there were still many threats posed to the West by radical forces, threats that represented a dark side of the new world order shaped by globalization, and posed a direct challenge to NATO itself.
It is generally agreed that premature disengagement from countries like Afghanistan, and a failure to recognize the rising threat of terrorism, eventually contributed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Securing Afghanistan now and beyond 2014 is one of NATO's most important post-Cold War tasks-its raison d'être in a way-which must be strongly reaffirmed in the Brussels defense ministerial meeting this week. A firm commitment by the NATO allies to fighting and defeating the Taliban wherever they find safe sanctuaries and institutional support is the key to winning the war in Afghanistan.
In addition, NATO allies must commit to a robust program of training, equipping, and maintaining Afghanistan's national security forces (ANSF). The annual cost of afghanizing the security sector pales before NATO's yearly spending of more than $100 billion on their own military operations in Afghanistan. The staggering difference in cost-effectiveness between NATO and ANSF aside, it is Afghans' foremost duty to defend their country against any external aggression, including terrorism and organized crime. And they're already doing so, as they lead 80 percent of all military operations and provide protection for 90 percent of the Afghan population across the country.
In the meantime, NATO allies must firmly commit to the long-term implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which in many ways resembles the Marshall Plan in vision and scope. NATO allies understand that Europe could not have rebuilt on its own in the aftermath of the Second World War, under the increasing threat posed by the former Soviet Union, without external aid. Thanks in large measure to the Marshall Plan, war-ravaged Europe was able to rebuild rapidly, and today it is hard to believe that the previous century's two devastating world wars were fought primarily on European soil.
The success of the Marshall Plan in Europe in the 20th Century is an excellent reminder for the NATO allies in the 21st century that when nations come to each other's aid with firm and full commitment, no force-no matter how formidable-can prevent their victory if they stand together until the job is done.
Afghans have contributed significantly to the fight against terrorism and organized crime, two of the most dangerous threats to global security. Much remains to be done on their part to combat militancy, improve good governance and rule of law, and stimulate the economy, but a resolute NATO, armed with requisite security and development resources to deliver on its core mission, will be critical to securing Afghanistan. Afghans look forward to finding a strong and determined partner in the NATO alliance in the years ahead, a partner who can help finish the job started by the international community twelve years ago.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.
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On Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif made history by becoming a three-time prime minister of the embattled nation of Pakistan. His thumping 244-vote victory in the 342-seat house was a foregone conclusion following his party's runaway success during the May 11 general elections.
But the unprecedented success, followed by the oath of office that President Asif Ali Zardari administered, hardly brought any smiles for Sharif. His glum face during the parliamentary proceedings betrayed the enormity of critical challenges that stare him in the face: crippling power-outages, a stagnating economy, crushing inflation, massive unemployment, and the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban insurgency in the northwestern territories are but a few of the daunting issues Sharif would need to attend to on a war-footing.
During his acceptance speech after his election today, Sharif struck a conciliatory tone toward all friends and foes, promising to take them all on board in the "national interest." But he also chose to touch on an issue that has been a major source of friction with the United States: controversial drone strikes.
"The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop. We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty," Sharif said to the thumping of desks by MPs. Sharif seemed to be repeating what is already the consensus among most of the political elite, which as of now -- at least publicly -- stands united in its opposition to the drone attacks.
With this, Sharif upped the ante, signaling that his government is ready to undertake a critical review of relations with the United States, including the thorny issue of the unmanned Predator drones that have been targeting al-Qaeda and its Pakistani auxiliaries in the rugged Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan. The new prime minister's statement not only raised expectations at home but also sent a clear message to the U.S. administration that both countries must find a way of conducting this warfare in a way that minimizes, if not eliminates altogether, the resentment and anger that such strikes fuel in Pakistan.
This should ring alarm bells within the Obama administration, especially as John Kerry, the secretary of state, is set to fly in this month for his maiden meetings with the Sharif government and the military.
U.S. officials are worried about the volatile conditions in the region being exacerbated by Afghanistan's impending presidential election -- set for April 2014 -- followed by the withdrawal of the bulk of U.S.-led NATO troops from that country in December.
For an extremely cost-effective and peaceful exit via Pakistan, the administration is anxious to draw on as much Pakistani support as possible, which will require rubbing off as many sources of friction -- drone strikes being one of them -- as possible.
Meanwhile, some of the headaches confronting Sharif and his team are servicing the whopping $60 billion in external debt, preventing further bleeding of some four dozen public sector enterprises, just eight of which cost the nation at least three billion dollars annually, containing the spiral of deficit financing (that the previous government set in motion) and the ensuing inflation.
Another worrisome specter facing Sharif is a tenacious new entrant to the parliament: Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI), the political party of the cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan. Khan ran his election campaign on a platform that challenges the status quo and is directed at almost all the parties who have alternated power in the last two decades. Sharif was his special target in the run-up to the elections.
The PTI not only won a respectable number of votes in the national parliament (roughly 8 million) but will also lead the government in the volatile northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP).
This province has seen massive bloodshed and destruction as a result of the vicious Taliban insurgency being waged primarily in the neighboring tribal regions, where al-Qaeda and allied militant groups have been sheltering.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a central PTI leader, says his party will serve as a real watchdog in the national parliament. "We will not allow any mischief in the name of public interest," he told the media after parliament's inaugural session. "The PTI will jealously guard the interests of those who have voted us all into this privileged position."
The heavy burden of responsibility and the fear of an extremely focused opposition -- particularly the PTI -- are not likely to allow Sharif any missteps.
Much now depends on how Sharif's government aligns the need for urgent structural reforms and the revision of foreign policy, with the agenda of the mighty military establishment. That will also be critical to Sharif's desire for improving relations with India, which remains wary of the militants who draw support from inside Pakistan for their militant campaign in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies -- CRSS-Islamabad -- and is the author of The Most Dangerous Place.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), agreed to at the July 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, started out with high hopes. International donors pledged to provide Afghanistan with $4 billion in civilian aid per year through 2015 and to continue significant support through 2017 and beyond, while the Afghan government committed to governance improvements and a democratic political transition as per the Afghan Constitution. Less than a year into the implementation process, however, serious obstacles are being encountered.
As noted in a recent paper, the old adage about work in Soviet-era centrally-planned economic systems -- "we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us" -- appears to be increasingly applicable to TMAF implementation, which is being undermined by:
- Doubts about the realism of some pledges made by both sides, specifically the degree of genuine commitment by the Afghan government to improving governance and fighting corruption, and the level of international funding that will actually materialize in the face of donors' budget constraints and disappointment over limited Afghan progress;
- Short-term priorities that may sideline TMAF implementation, most notably the international community's preoccupation with its military exit strategy, and the Afghan government's focus on political maneuvering in the run-up to the 2014 election;
- Adherence to process, fulfilling the "letter of the law" and "checking the box" on benchmarks, which is being emphasized at the expense of substance; and
- Focus on the TMAF for its own sake, which is, perhaps, distracting both sides from achieving actual results and positive outcomes.
Furthermore, there is a risk that TMAF implementation will degenerate into a "blame game," with each side accusing the other of failing to live up to its side of the "bargain" and using perceived failures as justification for falling short on its own commitments.
A few examples illustrate these themes. Recent convictions of Kabul Bank senior executives involved in the theft and misuse of some $1 billion in deposits and other bank funds were presented by the Afghan government as evidence of its fulfilling commitments regarding the bank, but there was a perception internationally that the verdicts were too lenient. Regardless, the practical point is this: with the principals of Kabul Bank convicted on some other fairly minor charges but not on money-laundering charges, the government cannot initiate formal procedures to seize the stolen assets already identified in other countries, and an opportunity for the Afghan state to recover hundreds of millions of dollars has been lost -- irrespective of whether TMAF benchmarks regarding corruption were met or not.
Some efforts by international donors to move aid "on-budget" -- providing funds to the Afghan government for disbursement through its national budget and administrative mechanisms -- seem questionable. Most donor funding is currently "off-budget" -- channeled bilaterally -- but at the Tokyo conference, donors committed to putting at least 50 percent of their aid on-budget, a laudable objective, as part of the shift toward Afghan leadership during the transition. It was recently announced, for example, that the installation of a third turbine at the Kajaki hydroelectric plant (in a conflict-ridden part of Helmand province) would be turned over to the Afghan government, despite massive and ultimately unsuccessful international efforts to complete the project. It is unclear how the Afghan government will be able to succeed where the international community failed.
Intruding short-term priorities can also trump making mutual accountability work. The international imperative of a timely and smooth withdrawal of foreign combat forces may be interfering with efforts to hold the Afghan government accountable for its performance. For example, international pressure for action on Kabul Bank has greatly eased as the coalition has become increasingly focused on its military exit strategy. It also appears that the IMF-supported macroeconomic program, which provides balance of payments support and the critical IMF "certification" that enables funding through trust funds and other budget support, is likely to remain officially "on-track," even if the government's performance falls short of its targets (for example in the crucial area of domestic revenue). No one wants to deal with the consequences of going off-track, namely a budget crisis.
On the Afghan side, short-term political considerations in the run-up to the 2014 presidential election are sidelining and distorting TMAF implementation. Expectations that the government will take meaningful actions to improve governance, especially against high-level corruption, will become all the more unrealistic as the election approaches. There are also signs of possible manipulation of some TMAF benchmarks for narrow political purposes. For example, the Afghan government has strongly advocated that 100 percent of international funding for the 2014 presidential and the 2015 parliamentary elections be on-budget, ostensibly related to the TMAF benchmark of moving more aid on-budget. However, without safeguards to preserve the independence of electoral authorities, this may increase their vulnerability to interference or at least undermine public confidence in the elections (I am grateful to my colleague Scott Smith for making this point).
It is also uncertain to what extent the Tokyo pledge of civilian aid will be delivered. Based on Afghan and international experience, actual aid commonly falls short of pledges for a variety of reasons, and it would be surprising if the Tokyo pledge turned out to be an exception to this general pattern. Moreover, given that the pledge was slightly above even the high-end scenario ("accelerating progress") put forward in the World Bank study Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014, it seems clear that donors saw this amount as a "stretch target" -- something to be aspired to only if there is strong progress by the government in improving governance and fighting corruption in the spirit of the TMAF's objectives, prospects for which are doubtful in the short run.
Aside from these concerns, the TMAF is generating a substantial amount of paperwork, which may further distract those involved from substance. The government's "anti-corruption decree" of July 2012, intended to be a vehicle for implementing the TMAF, contained more than 150 specific action points/benchmarks, called for a large amount of reporting, and would be no small task to monitor.
Overall, the larger goals that animated the Tokyo conference and the promise of the TMAF are being undermined during implementation. But this should not come as a complete surprise given experience with conditionality, benchmarks, and similar arrangements in other countries, as well as in Afghanistan's own recent history. Such mechanisms do not work well in the absence of a reform constituency in the country that can leverage conditions and push reforms, if objectives and targets are overly ambitious or multitudinous, and if a medium-term perspective is lacking or is dominated by short-term priorities.
But how to move forward? Rather than investing more effort in trying to fix and fine-tune the TMAF, let alone add benchmarks or revisit the respective "failures" of both sides, the Afghan government and its international partners need to clarify and manage their own and each other's expectations. This will be particularly important in the immediate future while the challenges of elections and political transition, as well as the withdrawal of international combat troops, dominate the landscape.
Both sides can responsibly pursue their respective, clearly-defined objectives, while staying realistic about overlaps and disconnects. Progress would be facilitated by clear and honest communications. The main objectives of Afghanistan and the international community are interdependent and in many ways broadly consistent -- provided they are responsibly pursued and include a wider, medium-term perspective rather than solely serving narrow and short-term interests. The international community's key short-run priority is to withdraw most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and achieve a smooth security hand-over. For this hand-off to be sustainable, the achievement of several key Afghan national objectives is required, most importantly a successful presidential election and political transition, resulting in an effective new government administration and (later) parliament that are perceived to be legitimate both internally and externally.
Once these key milestones of the current political and security transition are successfully achieved, the TMAF, if tempered by realistic ambitions and timeframes, may provide the basis for a productive partnership between Afghanistan and the international community over the medium term.
William Byrd is an Afghanistan senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.
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As of this year, Afghanistan has experienced ten years of stabilization intervention, but what is there to show for it? Marked by massive expenditure with little to no accountability, and often marred by waste, stabilization in Afghanistan started out with arguably honorable aims. However, as troops prepare to leave in 2014, what legacy will be left behind?
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) began with perhaps the best of intentions: to fill the vacuum of law and order left by the fall of the Taliban and undertake reconstruction, badly needed in a country devastated by three decades of conflict. The security situation was perceived to be relatively benign, with the major threats being criminals and warlords seeking to reassert power.
PRTs did some positive work, often acting as the only authority in a security vacuum, and were appreciated, at least early on, by Afghans. They were no substitute, however, for the effective governance and security required. PRTs' predominantly military staff received little to no training, lacked the technical skills required to carry out development work and focused more on short term quick impact projects instead of the long term state-and-peace-building work that was so badly needed. Rather than seeking to build Afghan capacity - a central component of their mandate - they often worked around the government. The PRTs also created winners and losers, supporting local strongmen or funneling money through often corrupt construction companies.
Despite early U.S. government acknowledgement of these problems, PRTs expanded rapidly, led by a multitude of different nations that were often unable to effectively coordinate amongst each another. In 2008, the US Congress described the situation as one with "no clear definition of the PRT mission, no concept of operations or doctrine, no standard operating procedures."
As insecurity spread, the dual security and reconstruction roles of PRTs became increasingly schizophrenic. One incident in Ghazni province in 2004 saw PRT officials offering to build a well for villagers just weeks after they had fired rockets into the very same village killing nine children. Unsurprisingly, residents were hardly consoled and Afghan goodwill for the PRTs was quickly eroded.
But the amount of money available for military-led development continued to increase. In 2009, the US Army published the Commanders' Guide to Money as a Weapons System, which defined aid as "a nonlethal weapon" to be utilised to "win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents." Aid devoted to these objectives rapidly increased: annual funding for the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), the primary U.S. PRT funding stream, rose from $200m in 2007 to $1bn in 2010.
No centralised, comprehensive records appear to have been kept on the PRTs, either within the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) or the Afghan government, and rarely even within PRTs. When auditors found CERP project files incomplete or non-existent in 2009, CERP project managers told US auditors that their focus "was on obligating funds for projects rather than monitoring their implementation." Unsurprisingly there has been no comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of CERP-funded programmes; the most thorough examination is a 2011 SIGAR audit of CERP programming in the insecure eastern province of Laghman. It's a harrowing read. Of the $53m CERP funds allocated to the PRT between 2008 and 2011, 92% (or $49.2m) was dedicated to projects found by SIGAR to be "at risk or have questionable outcomes." Funds were not managed in accordance with standard operating procedures, which were finally established in 2009, and none of the 69 projects had sufficient documentation to track outcomes. Again and again, the audit found the Afghan government unable to take over PRT projects.
PRTs were not the only instrument of stabilization. Between 2003 and 2012, USAID obligated $1.1bn in stabilization funding to for-profit contractors but such projects fared no better. One example is USAID's ‘flagship counterinsurgency program' the Local Government and Community Development Programme (LGCD). The budget and timelines for the $400m, five-year project mushroomed despite questionable early evaluation findings and the fact that over half of LGCD's expenditures were on staff costs and security. USAID officials were unable to visit several sites because it was too dangerous. As for its impact, the USAID Inspector-General reported ‘the project's overall success seemed highly questionable.'
Part of the problem is that the goals of stabilization in Afghanistan were never comprehensively, consistently or clearly articulated. Stabilization works on the assumption that conflicts are fuelled by grievances about poverty or neglect, and that development projects that improve governance, opportunities and services can ‘stabilize' conflict situations. But evidence is lacking or discouraging. A 2011 Tufts university study found while there was some evidence some stabilization interventions can work in the short term, there is little evidence of long term security gains and much more indicating a tendency to create local conflict and ‘perverse incentives' to maintain insecurity.
In an world where aid agencies are required to prove their ‘value for money' and aid-receiving governments are pressured to become fully transparent, the lack of systematic, government-led push for accountability for the multi-billion dollar investments is hypocritical and irresponsible - and speaks to an ideological unwillingness to address the problems and pitfalls of stabilization approaches.
The lack of interest in documenting the impact of the stabilization efforts - both what works and what doesn't - does not bode well for the rest of the world. As global focus turns to other complex emergencies in Mali, Yemen and Somalia, stabilization is increasingly the approach of choice. Without recognizing systematic problems, stabilization interventions are unlikely to improve and begin to fulfill their lofty goals. After the troop drawdown in Afghanistan next year, perhaps we'll have a better idea of the true legacy of stabilization. But for now, the future looks worryingly unstable.
Ashley Jackson is a Research Fellow in the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute. Before joining ODI she worked for several years in Afghanistan with the United Nations and Oxfam.
Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images
Almost twelve years have passed since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but peace remains elusive. Four interlocking challenges with internal, regional, transnational, and international dimensions impede Afghanistan's stabilization and reconstruction. Each challenge facing Afghanistan feeds off the others, and together they have engendered a vicious circle that is destabilizing the country.
First, Afghanistan is an underdeveloped country and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict. Its new state institutions lack the basic capacity and resources to administer their mandates. These structural problems are compounded by the country's expanding population, 70% of which is illiterate and demand jobs that do not exist. Taken together, abject poverty, a lack of basic services, and a demographic explosion significantly contribute to instability in Afghanistan.
Second, it is clear that the Taliban leadership continues to receive protection from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishments. It stands to reason that without an external sanctuary, sustainable funding, weapons supplies, and intelligence support in Pakistan, the Taliban would be unable to reconsolidate its control over Afghanistan. Since 2003, the Taliban and its affiliated networks have gradually expanded their influence in the ungoverned southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, launching daily terrorist attacks that have injured and killed thousands of innocent civilians.
Third, Afghanistan is vulnerable to transnational security threats, stemming in particular from the narcotics trade and terrorism stand. These security threats feed into and are fed by Afghanistan's internal and regional challenges. Rife poverty and weak governance, for example, are as much responsible for mass drug production in Afghanistan as is the global demand for narcotics; this is not to mention the alliance between the Taliban and drug traffickers, who exploit Afghanistan's vulnerable population to destabilize the country.
Fourth, although the diversity of nations present in Afghanistan demonstrates international goodwill and consensus for supporting the country, each contributing nation has pursued its own aid strategies, effectively bypassing coordination with each other and the Afghan government. Hence, a lack of strategic coordination across international military and civilian efforts to ensure aid effectiveness has so far crippled the Afghan state and left it with no capacity or resources to deliver basic services to its people.
It is important to note, however, that in the face of the aforementioned complex challenges, Afghanistan and its international partners have a number of significant advantages, which must be fully harnessed to regain the momentum necessary to achieve peace in the country.
Foremost among these is Afghanistan's key, untapped asset: its people, who make up one of the youngest, most energetic, and most forward-looking nations in the world. They should be supported in acquiring higher education in technical fields, and their energy and skills must be harnessed to exploit Afghanistan's vast natural resources, worth more than one trillion dollars, to help the country develop a productive economy.
Secondly, Afghanistan's vital location should help it serve as a regional trade and transit hub for easy movement of goods and natural resources to meet the rising energy demands of India and China. Indeed, without this realization and utilization of Afghanistan as the heart of the New Silk Road, achieving regional economic integration will remain impossible. The recent India-China dialogue on how to protect their shared long-term interests in Afghanistan is a welcome development. The more these key regional players, including Russia and Turkey, get constructively involved in Afghanistan through investment in the country's virgin markets, the less space for the region's peace spoilers, whether state or non-state actors, to destabilize the country.
Finally, Afghanistan's friends and allies have gone through the learning curve, and gained invaluable experience in assisting Afghanistan effectively. Together, they have made many mistakes and learned many lessons over the past 12 years, which should be used as a strategic opportunity to avoid more of the same, and to do the right thing henceforth.
In line with the agreed-upon objectives of the 2010 Kabul Conference, which were re-affirmed in the Tokyo Conference last year, Afghanistan's nation-partners should align 80% of their aid with the goals of the country's national priority programs, while channeling at least 50% of their assistance through the Afghan national budget. This is the best way to prevent further waste of taxpayers' financial assistance, which have largely bypassed the targeted beneficiaries.
This means a firm re-commitment to bottom-up and top-down institutional capacity building in the Afghan state so that Afghans increasingly initiate, design, and implement reconstruction projects on their own. Meanwhile, the Afghan national security forces must be equipped with the necessary capabilities -- including capacity for logistics and equipment maintenance as well as adequate ground and air firepower -- to execute independent operations against conventional and unconventional enemies. This way, they will gradually relieve international forces of the duty Afghans consider to be theirs - to defend Afghanistan now and beyond 2014. On the whole, these vital efforts will help ensure the irreversibility of the transition process currently underway.
The Afghan people have placed much hope and trust in the strategic partnership agreements the Afghan government has signed with the United States, India, and other allies to help address the above security challenges confronting Afghanistan. But this long-term and necessary task cannot be accomplished by any one party alone. Every state in the region and beyond has a stake in the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan, knowing that the effects of terrorism and insecurity in one country can easily spill over to affect the rest in a globalized world. Thus, with Afghans leading the way forward, the burden of securing Afghanistan must be shared by the whole international community, both to ensure durable stability in the country and to maintain global peace and security.
M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan's deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.