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.
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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.
Today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its 2013 Annual Report, focusing on Pakistan and 28 other countries around the world, including Afghanistan. As an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department, USCIRF's Annual Report identifies violations of religious freedom, as defined by international conventions, and provides policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
Based on our monitoring over the past year, we have concluded that the situation in Pakistan is one of the worst in the world.
The report found that "sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi'a Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith." An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology that undertake attacks impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country's security and stability.
In the face of increasing attacks against Shi'as and consistent violence against other minorities, Pakistani authorities have failed to provide protection and have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.
In light of these particularly severe violations, USCIRF recommends that Pakistan be designated a "country of particular concern," or CPC, by the U.S. Department of State for these systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom. The CPC designation is a special blacklist created when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 the International Religious Freedom Act. Unlike some other ‘blacklists,' the CPC designation does not carry any specific penalties for the countries on the list. What it does do is assign a framework through which U.S. officials can encourage the designated country's government to address the egregious violations of religious freedom. This can come in the form of a binding roadmap of agreed actions, a waiver, or punitive steps if progress is lacking.
Countries currently named by the State Department include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated as "countries of particular concern," and USCIRF has concluded it overwhelmingly meets the threshold established in the Act.
The facts speak for themselves. As the report states:
The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shi'a Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed "unIslamic" will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country's blasphemy law, used predominantly in Punjab province but also nationwide, targets members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently results in imprisonment. USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalize various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views deemed "un-Islamic." The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.
Designating Pakistan as a CPC would make religious freedom a key element in the bilateral relationship and start a process to encourage Islamabad to undertake needed reforms.
There are a range of issues that should be on the bilateral agenda, whether or not Pakistan is designated a CPC. The U.S. government should include discussions on religious freedom and religious tolerance in U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogues and summits, as well as urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities from violence and actively prosecute those committing acts of violence against Shi'as, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and others; unconditionally release individuals currently jailed for blasphemy; repeal or reform the blasphemy law; and repeal anti-Ahmadi laws. The United States can also highlight to the new government how the Federal Ministry for National Harmony is an institution unique among other nations, and maintaining it would keep a partner to discuss ways to promote religious tolerance and freedom. For sure, none of these are easy, so naming as a CPC would cut through the distractions and help create the political will to act.
The situation in Pakistan is acute, with the increasing violence against diverse religious communities and a system of laws that violate human rights. With a new government soon coming to power, there is a unique opportunity to work together to confront these threats to Pakistan. At the same time, negative pressures could tilt the new government in the wrong direction. For instance, the Pakistani Taliban's targeting of "secular politicians" could give traction to their offer from late 2012 to cease violence in exchange for constitutional amendments to install their religious vision over the country. The CPC process would support Pakistanis who want a better future for their country and counterbalance these pressures -- if the Pakistani government fails to address these issues concretely, penalties could follow after a CPC designation.
The United States is Pakistan's only friend that has the heft and desire to encourage it to tackle these difficult challenges. For sure, the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is complicated and designating a CPC would likely complicate things further. However, to protect all Pakistanis, these issues cannot be ignored and must be confronted and addressed.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Any personal views expressed are his own and may or may not reflect the views of the commission. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The looming drawdown of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014 has raised a multitude of concerns, among them fear that the al-Qaeda organization in Pakistan [hereafter AQC] will return to set up camp. This is overwrought. Any residual U.S. force should contain a heavy concentration of Special Forces operators whose top priority will be hunting al-Qaeda remnants who move back across the border into Afghanistan. AQC may be able to carve out small pieces of territory, but even a small number of U.S. troops in tandem with unmanned aerial vehicles should ensure it enjoys little more freedom of movement than at present in Pakistan's Tribal Areas.
Pakistani militants are likely to receive less attention. This is understandable. Yet their access to territory in Afghanistan, alongside the sanctuaries they already enjoy in Pakistan, is cause for significant concern, as it may amplify the threats they pose to India, to Pakistan, and to U.S. interests in the region. Moreover, as Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to jumpstart stalled peace negotiations, it is worth noting that their presence in Afghanistan further complicates the already tortuous search for a settlement.
Home Away from Home
Most of the major Pakistani militant groups and a host of minor ones are active in Afghanistan. They fight alongside the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, both of which enjoy sanctuary in and support from Pakistan. Some Pakistani organizations are also engaged in a revolutionary jihad against their own government, with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leading that charge. Organizationally, whether to wage war against the state is the greatest dividing line among militant groups endogenous to and based in Pakistan. Operationally, it does not preclude collaboration on either side of the Durand Line.
Anti-state militants displaced by Pakistani military incursions into FATA and the Swat Valley in 2009-2010 have regrouped across the border in Afghanistan. From there, they launch cross-border raids into Pakistan. The two countries have been waging a low-level border war since the late 2000s, fueling suspicions in Pakistan that Afghan forces are providing sanctuary and support to these militants. Even if true, such assistance would pale in comparison to Pakistan's well-documented support for insurgents fighting in Afghanistan.
Militants fighting against the Pakistani state are sometimes co-located in Northeastern Afghanistan with those from Pakistan's proxy organizations, most notably members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) who have been active there since the mid-2000s. Though still small in number, LeT's presence in Afghanistan has grown since 2010. This likely owes to an increased need for a safety release valve following pressure on the group to reduce its India-centric activities after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as well as the appeal of the Afghan front for those motivated to fight America or simply to join the biggest jihad in town. Pakistan's intelligence services also may have endorsed this expansion as a means of gathering information about those anti-state militants pushed across the border. The past several years have witnessed attempts by LeT to solidify its presence in the Salafi-strongholds of northern Afghanistan where the group has longstanding roots.
In short, though militants overwhelmingly remain based across the border in Pakistan, Northeastern Afghanistan has become a sanctuary not only for Pakistani militants arrayed against the state, but also those aligned with it.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
No one knows with certainty how the conflict in Afghanistan will evolve once U.S. and NATO troops draw down or what the cascading impacts will be on Pakistan, India or the region. But several broad pathways are easy to envision. The worst-case scenario is a conflagration that draws in regional actors, most notably India. The more likely outcome is an ongoing insurgency that does not lead to the overthrow of the state, but also does not escalate into a full-blown proxy war involving countries other than Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hopes for a political settlement between the Afghan government and the insurgents don't look good at present, but even this best-case result wouldn't come without challenges. In all cases, the drawdown of U.S. and NATO forces brings with it the opportunity for Pakistani militants - pro- and anti-state - to take greater advantage of cross-border sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
In the absence of a negotiated settlement and amidst an ongoing insurgency, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan could deteriorate further, leading Kabul to provide the TTP and associated anti-Pakistan militants the type of support Islamabad already suspects they are receiving. As a result, Pakistan could face not only a domestic jihadist insurgency, but also the sort of durable threat of cross-border jihadist violence that it has long supported against its neighbors. Moreover, an escalating proxy war could create conditions for a greater instability along both sides of the border. A conflict that draws in regional actors, particularly India, would exacerbate this dynamic. But even increased bilateral tensions, fueling and fueled by a cross-border proxy war, would have a destabilizing impact. For U.S. officials, this would further complicate an already labyrinthine regional environment and could impact the operations of any residual force.
Regardless of the outcome in Afghanistan, LeT is likely to keep a small presence in the Northeast where its members have worked to carve out territory. The group is also likely to agitate for regenerating the jihad directly against India, both in the form of terrorist attacks against the mainland and increased activity in Kashmir. The latter has been torpid since the late 2000s. Several incidents there this year may augur the rumblings of renewed jihadist activity, though it is too early to know whether they will amount to much. Important here is that access to safe haven in Afghanistan for LeT and other Pakistani proxy groups conceivably reduces ISI situational awareness of what their members there are doing. This would increase plausible deniability for militant leaders under some form of Pakistani state control and, thus, for the Pakistani state itself. Each could conceivably claim they did not sanction plots orchestrated from across the border, with the result being to heighten the likelihood of such attacks occurring. This is of most concern to New Delhi. Given LeT's past readiness to include Westerners in its target set for attacks in India, this rightly concerns U.S. policymakers and practitioners too.
In the event of a settlement that enabled the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network to migrate back across the border into Afghanistan, it is possible that elements from among them would provide at least a modicum of assistance to India-centric groups with factions operating there. More troubling, it is far from certain that all Afghan-centric militants would buy into any settlement. Questions exist regarding how much control the Quetta Shura (leaders of the Afghan Taliban currently or previously based in Quetta, Balochistan) has over its own foot soldiers, much less those operating under the banner of the Haqqani Network or the Pakistani Taliban. Some could be expected to fight on and, depending on the posture of the Pakistani state, to assist the TTP in launching cross-border attacks as well. Once again, the result could be a durable threat of cross-border jihadist violence. As a result, accounting for Islamabad's compulsions vis-à-vis those militant groups straddling the Durand Line and waging a domestic insurgency against Pakistan also adds another wrinkle to any peace negotiations.
One Factor Among Many
Multiple variables including host nation preferences, domestic political and budgetary constraints and broader U.S. defense policy objects will (and should) determine the size, composition, and focus of any residual U.S. force in Afghanistan post-2014. It is unrealistic to imagine that the main focus of any residual force will not remain on supporting the Afghan National Army and targeting al-Qaeda along with other actors that have the intent and capabilities to launch transnational attacks. However, the presence of anti-Pakistan militants and possibility for escalating cross-border jihadist violence means U.S. and NATO officials will need to contend with whether to target them too.
Doing so could help serve a political purpose, reducing the threat to Pakistan's internal stability and in so doing possibly helping to defuse regional tensions. However, there is no guarantee such a payoff would accrue. More tangibly, it might provide a means for transactional targeting, i.e. the U.S. removes anti-Pakistani militants from the Afghan battlefield in exchange for assistance capturing, killing or otherwise curtailing militants of significant concern in Pakistan. Yet even this would mean sparing sparse resources and require buy-in from a host government in Kabul that has very different priorities.
Hunting India-centric militants hiding in Afghanistan, though likely to engender less animosity in Kabul, would come with its own set of hurdles. To begin with, debates persist about the costs and benefits of aggressively pursuing the small number of LeT militants in Afghanistan if the group is not actively targeting the U.S. homeland. The direct threat consists primarily in the form of terrorist attacks against India that could include Western interests. Indirectly, of course, are concerns another Indo-Pak crisis might eventuate. Either way, it is unclear what role, if any, the small number of LeT militants in Afghanistan would play in generating such attacks. As already noted, the more relevant issue is one of plausible deniability. This suggests the need to realign intelligence officers and analysts whose expertise will be essential for identifying emerging and evolving jihadist threats in the region, thus making it more difficult for militants to carry forward plots or plausibly claim no involvement in them.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan and re-forged its relationship with Pakistan in order to destroy al-Qaeda Central. Finishing that job is important. However, with the drawdown looming and AQC's capability to strike the homeland severely degraded, Washington must begin reorienting its South Asian counterterrorism architecture in line with the decreasing threat from al-Qaeda and growing potential for regional attacks against U.S. interests and regional instability post-2014. Although it is but one component among many, the availability of sanctuary for Pakistani militants in Afghanistan should inform this process. It also must factor in broader U.S. foreign and defense policy planning for South Asia, including any strategy designed to reach a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His next book, provisionally titled Peripheral Jihads, explores how jihadist groups in S. Asia, the Middle East and N. Africa adapted to the post-9/11 environment and will be published by Columbia University Press in 2014.
During a recent trip to the region, Secretary of State John Kerry decided not to visit Pakistan out of respect for the country's ongoing electoral processes. He made the right choice.
The United States has repeatedly found itself in the middle of Pakistan's domestic politics, a problem partially of its own making. In 2006, the United States tried to broker a power-sharing deal between exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and then-President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf, who unceremoniously took power in a bloodless coup against the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999, desperately needed domestic and international legitimization of his presidency. Bhutto - the popular scion of a political family from Sindh - could offer the domestic portion of that by participating in national elections that would be sure to put her back into office as Prime Minister. An increasingly unpopular Musharraf could stay on as president.
While U.S. mediation was warranted to some extent on account of the high stakes involved in the "global war on terror," the result was disastrous. After months of secretive meetings with a coterie of high-level American officials and informal representatives, Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile in Dubai only to be assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban ten weeks later. Ever since, the United States has in some way been blamed for her death and the circumstances following it, most notably the election of Bhutto's widow, Asif Ali Zardari, as President of Pakistan.
If Secretary Kerry had visited Pakistan, he would have inevitably signaled de facto American support for the incumbent Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and co-chairman Zardari, who remains President until September. Zardari and the PPP would have relished such attention given their dismal electoral chances, but the United States did not take the bait.
Maneuvers to elicit U.S. support for legitimacy within Pakistan are not new tactics for Pakistani politicians. Since his self-initiated exile in 2008, Musharraf has diligently sought U.S. government support to anoint his return to Pakistani politics. After all, if the United States did this for Bhutto in 2006, then why not for him - the secular, U.S.-leaning, cosmopolitan general turned statesman who enjoys an occasional scotch?
Musharraf should get credit for trying. He lobbied hard within U.S. political circles, with his Philadelphia-based office regularly releasing photographs and announcements of his meetings with members of Congress. In a slightly disingenuous move in 2011, his office even released a photograph of Musharraf with Vice President Joe Biden at a football game, suggesting the meeting was planned. The Vice President's office quickly covered its bases by clarifying that it was a chance encounter with "no substantive conversation."
In reality, Musharraf tried many times to get meetings at the State Department and White House but failed. Don't look for the United States to change track now that Musharraf is back in Pakistan. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Rick Olson recently said of his return: "I don't see this as a terribly large or significant event...he doesn't have a great deal of support." The White House later chimed in to say Musharraf's return was "an internal matter." And recall that just the week before, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified in a morning briefing that the United States "has no favorites among Pakistani politicians and we are looking forward to work with whoever is elected on May 11." An unnamed senior State Department official was even blunter, saying the United States "did not want to lead anyone to conclude anything about where" U.S. interests may lie."
It is now clearer than ever before that the United States does not want to get involved in Pakistan's domestic politics. Letting political affairs run their course is the best thing the United States - or any other country, individual or institution - can do. Given negative Pakistani public and government perceptions of the United States, it is extremely unlikely that the United States could effectively achieve its objectives if it chose to get more involved.
No doubt America will find another way to sustain stable and friendly relations with the Pakistani government - too much is at stake. Until the end of 2014, the United States will remain heavily dependent on the Pakistani military's cooperation in keeping NATO supply routes from Afghanistan through Pakistan open. Longer term challenges of Pakistan-based Al Qaeda members and affiliates, as well as Pakistan's nuclear program, demand the United States has a more normalized relationship with Islamabad. Time will tell if the United States can truly go cold turkey on getting involved in Pakistani politics to advance its own interests.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)
Roderic Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (London: Profile Books, 2011)
Artemy M. Kalinovsky, A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)
The idea that history offers lessons for the present is uncontroversial and common to the point of cliché. Yet, American foreign policy decisions often proceed with barely a look to the past. And so we were informed in 2009 by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, likely to return as a fixture in future Democratic administrations, "[T]here's absolutely no valid comparison between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan" and the U.S.-led campaign to enable the Afghan people to "reclaim their country." Is that so?
In her award-winning book about the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake, Frances FitzGerald states:
Americans ignore history, for them everything has always seemed new under the sun....Americans see history as a straight line and themselves standing at the cutting edge of it as representatives for all mankind. They believe in the future as if it were a religion; they believe that there is nothing they cannot accomplish, that solutions wait somewhere for all problems like brides.
Just as history's lessons were dismissed as advisers begat brigades in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan has been discarded as irrelevant to our own war by American policymakers, commanders, and commentators. This has left us, in the words of Lord Butler of Brockwell, "like a driver who commits to some manoeuvre in the road without looking into the rear mirror." Indeed, American leaders believe we are on a different road entirely. While there are significant differences between the two interventions, the road winds through the same mountains.
Two books released as the latest incarnation of foreign intervention winds down - one by Rodric Braithwaite and the other by Artemy Kalinovsky - tell the troubled tale of the Soviet intervention and withdrawal. In doing so, they shatter mischaracterizations that prevent the West from looking to this decade as a source of lessons. The only major flaws of these books, Afgantsy and The Long Goodbye, is that they were published years too late to serve as rejoinders to Undersecretary Flournoy and others who came before her who insisted that Afghanistan, in the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, stood "at the dawn of a new day."
Yet, while Braithwaite and especially Kalinovksy draw on previously unpublished Soviet records and interviews, they were not the first to strike at the myths of the Soviet intervention rooted in the Cold War. Almost twenty years ago, Diego Cordovez, the U.N.'s point man on Afghanistan in the 1980s, and journalist Selig S. Harrison produced the insightful Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal. These three books demand to be read and revisited in combination. They very much complement each other. Braithwaite's Afgantsy provides a vivid, novelistic account of the war in its entirety. Kalinovsky's more scholarly text provides the oft-missing Soviet perspective based on Politburo records, now housed at the Wilson Center thanks to Kalinovsky himself. Cordovez and Harrison give us the ultimate insider's account, bringing readers along for the ride as the U.N. emissary shuttles back and forth between Moscow, Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad, furiously working to get deadly foes to sit down at a table and talk.
The common Western narrative holds that once Soviet forces crossed their southern border into Afghanistan in December 1979, they were modern-day Cossacks waging a war of unmitigated brutality. With U.S. support, the noble mujahideen prevailed. This narrative, rooted in the hostile spirit of the Cold War, tells us we have nothing to learn from the Soviets in Afghanistan because our mission is so different in its purpose, aims and methods. Our very nature is so different that comparisons are useless. Or so we tell ourselves, and in doing so ignore the nuances of history.
The Soviets also had trouble reconciling their mission with Afghan history. In one memorable exchange captured by Kalinovsky, Soviet Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Kapista cited the British experience in Afghanistan in the 19th Century. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko responded, "Do you mean to compare our internationalist troops with imperialist troops?" Kapitsa retorted, "No, our troops are different - but the mountains are the same!"
There are many aspects of the Soviet experience relevant to the current U.S.-led campaign, but none are more relevant to the present day than the Soviet efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement and withdraw their military forces. On these aspects of the war before the war, these three books have a great deal to say, primarily by way of three key lessons: Even a "reconciliation" that promises substantial government concessions may not succeed. Timing is everything. Pakistan is not to be trusted.
By the time Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to power in 1985, the view that the Soviet war in Afghanistan was a quagmire was commonly held in the Politburo and in the military. Frustration with Afghan partners - particularly General Secretary Babrak Karmal - was at an all-time high, leading to his replacement with Mohammad Najibullah in 1986. Gorbachev came to accept that the Soviets would not leave a socialist government in their wake, but he was not ready to abandon their client regime entirely. He pushed a second, internal track on Najibullah: the policy of "National Reconciliation," which was far reaching in its concessions to the mujahideen.
The reconciliation program sought to reach out to biddable elements in the armed opposition, as well as non-Communist political and religious leaders not involved in the rebellion. In doing so, they sought to strengthen the position of the Afghan armed forces. Through a re-tooled aid package, more emphasis on outreach to tribes, efforts to make Afghan officials more independent, and dialogue with insurgent commanders, the Soviets hoped to set the conditions for a durable state as they planned to withdraw. Attempts to make the Afghan government more representative, rather than dominated by the ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), were key. The new policy was announced in December 1986. That same month, Gorbachev called Najibullah to Moscow and informed him that a military withdrawal from Afghanistan was now official Soviet policy. The government, with Soviet advisers over their shoulders, drew up a new constitution that established "an Islamic legal system run by an independent judiciary, greater freedom of speech, and the election of a president by a loya jirga assembly consisting of parliament and tribal and religious leaders."
While sensible, the National Reconciliation program arrived too late. All sides were too entrenched. The Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA were still at loggerheads. The "Peshawar Seven" and "Tehran Eight" mujahideen parties were strong and confident in the countryside and the mountains, dripping with a desire for revenge and a hatred of the Kabul-based government. The Pakistanis and the Americans doubted the Soviets and the Afghan government were serious about a negotiated settlement. And they understood that, regardless of Soviet intentions, a compromise on their parts was not necessary. One independent-minded Soviet colonel wrote in a letter: "[O]ne has to keep in mind that the counter-revolution is aware of the strategic decision of the Soviet leadership to withdraw the Soviet troops from the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] ...The counter-revolution will not be satisfied with partial power today, knowing that tomorrow it can have it all."
Gorbachev also fumbled the timing of announcing troop withdrawals. In February 1988, against the advice of the Soviet negotiating team in Geneva, Gorbachev announced a full withdrawal would begin on May 15, assuming an agreement was reached in Geneva. He hoped that his announcement and the signing of the accords would induce the United States and Pakistan to cease arming the mujahideen. According to Harrison, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had warned Gorbachev that "a formal commitment to a specific target date would give the impression of an urgent need to withdraw." Gorbachev was wrong and Shevardnadze was right. The withdrawal timeline was one of the few cards the Soviets had left in their deck and Gorbachev gave it away. Subsequent Soviet efforts to negotiate directly with the Peshawar Seven and Tehran Eight were futile.
In response to Gorbachev's announcement, U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz demanded that the the two superpowers take a symmetrical approach to the withdrawal of military aid to their respective proxies. In other words, American aid to the mujahideen and Soviet aid to the government would be withdrawn simultaneously. Early drafts of the accords had not envisioned symmetry. Gorbachev was apoplectic, but it was too late.
Moscow had greater concerns linked to a successful withdrawal from Afghanistan - namely negotiations over American nuclear-tipped missiles in Europe. Success in these negotiations depended on improving relations with the United States. And so, on April 14, 1988, the Geneva Accords were signed. They committed the Soviets to execute a "front-loaded" withdrawal within nine months. The United States and the USSR agreed to "positive symmetry," meaning that aid continued to the mujahideen and the Afghan government alike, rather than negative symmetry, which would have withdrawn aid to both. Besides, the Soviet leadership believed that the Accords, which prohibited Pakistani interference and intervention in Afghan affairs, would mitigate the problem of aid to the mujahideen. At any rate, Gorbachev assured Najibullah that, "Even in the harshest, most difficult circumstances, even under conditions of strict control - in any situation, we will provide you with arms." Like the rest of the world, neither of them anticipated the dissolution of the Soviet Union less than four years later.
Pakistan has three interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan that endure to the present day: blunting Pashtun nationalism, preventing strategic encirclement by India, and maintaining strategic depth against India. Support for violent Islamist non-state actors, from the Taliban of the present to the Peshawar Seven of the 1980s, has allowed them to accomplish all three. With Pakistan under the leadership of pro-Islamist Zia ul Haq, the idea of a socialist state and Soviet forces on Pakistan's border was intolerable.
As early as 1980, the Central Committee of the Politburo in Moscow understood Pakistan was the key, and envisioned, according to Politburo records, "a complex of bilateral agreements between Afghanistan and its neighbors, above all Pakistan, and systems of corresponding guarantees from the USSR, USA." As such, the USSR and the Republic of Afghanistan signed the Geneva Accords, which committed Afghanistan and Pakistan to mutual relations, non-interference and non-intervention as well as to "interrelationships for the settlement of the situation." The Geneva Accords committed Pakistan to cease support for the mujahideen. As Cordovez explains, the whole negotiations process was premised on "international disengagement" that would "allow the Afghans themselves to sort out their differences."
Anyone hoping for Pakistani "disengagement" was disappointed. According to Shultz, when President Reagan asked Zia how he would counter Soviet accusations that aid to the mujahideen continued, Zia responded, "We will deny that there is any aid going through our territory. After all, that's what we have been doing for eight years." The UN monitoring mission - the key enforcement mechanism of the Accords - was an embarrassing failure. Before the ink on the Accords was dry, the Soviets and Afghan government began lodging legitimate complaints against Pakistani violations of the agreements. At one point, President Zia told the Soviet ambassador to Kabul that he would support a coalition that was divided in three between the former PDPA, "moderates," and the mujahideen. We do not know if he was serious, however, because the offer ended with the Pakistani leader's own life when his plane crashed later that summer. What we do know is that Pakistan has always sought to be kingmaker in Afghanistan, regardless of what outside powers do.
In the face of these treaty violations, the Soviet leadership hinted they might keep their military forces in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal deadline if the accords were not strictly adhered to. The bluff failed. The Soviets continued to withdraw their forces. The last of them crossed back into the Soviet Union on February 15, 1989.
The Nuances of History
History has not repeated itself in Afghanistan, but it has rhymed. There are important differences between the Soviet and U.S.-led campaigns that are worth keeping in mind. Brutal Soviet tactics, particularly early in the war, targeted entire communities. This had a direct effect on how the international community, Pakistan, and the mujahideen responded, particularly in terms of their recalcitrance to negotiate in good faith. The Soviet campaign was more deadly and indiscriminant in its violence, resulting in the deaths of up to a million Afghans - about 9% of the Afghan population at the time (admittedly, this figure is debatable). By the time of the Soviet withdrawal, there were millions of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Since the U.S.-led intervention began in 2001, most of these refugees have returned.
The scholar Louis Dupree described the Soviet strategy as "migratory genocide." In other words, the Soviets sought, in some provinces, to depopulate the countryside, the powerbase of the rebels. Joseph Collins, a longtime observer of Afghanistan, argued that for the Soviets, "[t]here was no talk about protecting the population; Soviet operations were all about protecting the regime and furthering Soviet control." Later in the war, the Soviets became obsessed with connecting the government and the population - but still, the Soviet campaign stands in contrast to that waged by ISAF, which has focused on controlling key rural areas and protecting rural communities. There has been operational success on this front. While there is reason to doubt these gains will endure, in this respect, the West has learned from the Soviet experience. Now, it is time for the West, and America in particular, to learn from how they negotiated their withdrawal so as not to repeat their mistakes.Ryan Evans is a PhD Candidate at the King's College London War Studies Department. His report, "Talking to the Taliban" - co-written with John Bew, Martyn Frampton, Peter Neumann, and Marisa Porges - will be released this month.
DANIEL JANIN/AFP/Getty Images
"Sooner or later the Americans are going to leave the region. The problem isn't that they will just leave, but that they might abandon the region altogether. That will leave us alone with these thousands of militants to deal with without any international support"
This bold statement about Pakistan's militancy problem was given to me by a recently retired military officer in the Pakistan Army, who served at a key appointment during Operation Zalzala in 2008 in South Waziristan against domestic militants. According to another General of the Pakistan Army who was active in the Wana Operation against militants in 2004, Pakistan's basic counterterrorism policy has been fairly simple: "either kill the terrorists wherever they are found, or coerce them to support your cause against the other anti-state militants." It is under this lens that Hafiz Saeed, founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba needs to be understood.
Pakistan's refusal to arrest Hafiz Saeed might seem confusing. A man carrying a 10 million dollar bounty on his head, and who has been charged by the United States and India for links to terrorism and hijacking, walks around freely in major city centers of Pakistan, is invited for television interviews, and now runs one of the country's fastest growing charity organizations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). What is more confusing still is the fact that while the United States has placed a handsome bounty on his head, it has been fairly silent over the issue ever since, and hasn't been pushing the authorities in Pakistan to take any action against Saeed.
Recent interviews with key officials in the military and police forces of Pakistan revealed to this author that Hafiz Saeed has been left alone because although he might be a threat to India, at the moment he and his followers are not a threat to Pakistan.
The security establishment of Pakistan categorizes militant threats into three spheres: 1) Groups that are threat to Pakistan only, 2) Groups that are threat to both Pakistan and the United States, 3) Groups that are a threat to only the United States, India, or any other country. Hafiz Saeed, for Pakistan, falls into the third category. Moreover, if anything Hafiz Saeed has recently transformed and rebranded himself as a political and social actor renouncing violence altogether. Could Hafiz Saeed lead to a Sinn Fein-style of transformation of militant groups in Pakistan? According to some in the power circles of Pakistan, he certainly could.
Saeed is increasingly looked upon by the security establishment as a key figure who will, after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, mobilize the armed militants from different factions, and either pacify their animosity toward the Pakistan state, or encourage their evolution into political actors. Many in the establishment entertain the view that militants can only be dealt in their own language; in other words, by another militant on behalf of the establishment. But why Saeed?
Hafiz Saeed is a perfect mix of what the establishment requires: an anti-Indian down to the bone, a patriot in the sense that he would not rise up against the Pakistani state, Saeed is considered radical enough by all types of militants, which allows him to sit down and negotiate with groups like the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the anti-government Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But he is not motivated by sectarian differences - something that is particularly attractive to the security establishment in the midst of the wave of sectarian and religious violence crippling Pakistan.
In a sense, Saeed is the new face of the evolution of militancy in Pakistan, the kind that Humaira Iqtidar predicts in her book, Secularizing Islamists: Jama'at-e-Islami and Jama'at-ud-Da'wa in Urban Pakistan, from far right extremism to center right, and then to progressive. Saeed's evolution into a political actor, along with his charismatic ability to mobilize thousands of people, is what makes him marketable to an establishment that is desperately seeking ways to counter terrorism in Pakistan during and after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the words of Saeed, "The militant struggle helped grab the world's attention," he told the New York Times, in what would have been an unimaginable interview even a year ago. "But now the political movement is stronger, and it should be at the forefront of the struggle."
While Saeed was once used as a pivotal player against India in Kashmir, the establishment in Pakistan is currently more concerned with the internal threat that Pakistan faces from groups like the TTP. A senior police official who has led several offenses against militants in southern Punjab told me that he believes "Saeed has been redirected and is now being used as a tool to ensure the disarmament and evolution of militant groups in Pakistan".
The analysis of this police official makes even more sense when juxtaposed with the recent rise of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), which is a consortium of over 36 right wing and religious organizations. DPC is one of the movements led by Hafiz Saeed that has united and mobilized followers of different radical ideologies, which Pakistani officials hope will create a force to broker peace between the government and militants. In other words, Hafiz Saeed is seen as a middle-man between the anti-state militants and the security establishment of Pakistan. And for this reason, Pakistan is unlikely to act against or compromise on Hafiz Saeed, despite overwhelming pressure from India, and dossier of evidence suggesting links between Hafiz Saeed and terrorism.
Saeed has successfully maintained his relevance and importance to the establishment of Pakistan, and is now being cultivated as a major political actor who could ensure that the militants disarm, and will negotiate peace on behalf of the establishment. It remains to be seen whether this policy will eventually work, but the fact is that Pakistan really doesn't seem to have any other option to fight the ever growing number of militants. And until this policy fails to bear fruit, Pakistan will have to live with the burden of being blamed for supporting militants like Hafiz Saeed.
Hussain Nadim is a faculty member at the Department of Government and Public Policy at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), in Islamabad. He was previously a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
In his compelling account in Foreign Policy of his time working for the Obama administration, Vali Nasr portrays his boss, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, as an energetic and skillful diplomat whose efforts to begin peace talks with the Taliban were systematically undermined and sidelined by a White House more concerned about domestic politics and more persuaded by the Pentagon's strategy of sending more troops than a strategy of "patient, credible diplomacy". According to Nasr, Holbrooke died literally with the secret to ending the Afghan war on his lips, unheard by Barack Obama, "the president who did not have the time to listen."
It is to Holbrooke's credit as a leader and as a man that someone as passionate and eloquent as Nasr has taken the task of defending his legacy. But is he persuasive? In reading his article, I often found myself drawing exactly the opposite conclusion than he did from the same anecdote. For example, he vents his frustration at Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who he says obstructed Holbrooke because Lute "thought he knew Afghanistan better". But since Lute had been covering Afghanistan in the National Security Council since 2007 and had previously served there, he probably did know Afghanistan better than Holbrooke, who was only appointed in 2009. Here, it would be just as easy to perceive Holbrooke as a blowhard, than as the beleaguered victim of a turf war the Nasr portrays. When Nasr describes the "internet start-up" dynamic of Holbrooke's office, with its "constant flow of new ideas, like how to cut corruption and absenteeism among the Afghan police by using mobile banking and cell phones to pay salaries; how to use text messaging to raise money for refugees; or how to stop the Taliban from shutting down mobile-phone networks by putting cell towers on military bases," a reasonable person could be excused for seeing in this frenzied creativity a lack of focus and a dissipation of energy that might be fatal to a complex diplomatic endeavor, rather than the laboratory of the solution to Afghan stability that Nasr implies.
For Nasr, Holbrooke had the diplomatic solution to the Afghan war, but he was actively undermined by the administration in pursuing it. My problem with this thesis is that there was an area where Holbrooke did have carte blanche to use his diplomacy, and in my view he used it rather badly. That area was the 2009 Afghan presidential election.
In 2009, I was the Special Assistant to Kai Eide, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). I already had some experience in the Afghanistan. I had first visited Afghanistan in 1994 for a French NGO. I returned in 1995, when I spent a year running a humanitarian project for the same NGO, and returned again in the summer of 1997 to do research. From 2001 to 2011, I worked almost exclusively on Afghanistan for the UN, and had been part of the UN team that set up the 2004 elections. By 2009, when I went to Kabul to work for Eide, I had some knowledge of the country, its recent history, and its elections.
Before meeting Holbrooke, I knew of him only by his reputation: he had negotiated Dayton, he was close to Hilary Clinton, he had visited Afghanistan several times, he thought outside of the box, and he attracted talented staff-all of these qualities that Nasr describes very well. In sum, I had an open mind and I looked forward to what his reputed talents might bring to the Afghan imbroglio, which was becoming increasingly complex as the presidential election approached. We knew that 2009 would be a complicated year and the various parts of the international community in Afghanistan would have to work closely together to get through the election in particular.
It was therefore surprising, in terms of the US-UN relationship, that shortly after his appointment Holbrooke made disparaging public remarks about Eide's leadership at the annual Munich security conference. Eide, who read them in the press in Kabul, complained immediately to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Jim Jones (with whom he had excellent relationships). They passed them on to Clinton who apparently spoke to Holbrooke. A phone call was set up between Eide and Holbrooke to smooth the waters, but it ended very badly, with the conversation heating quickly and both men hanging up on each other.
A few days later Holbrooke came to Kabul. Holbrooke clearly had no intention to "reset" his relationship with Eide. His first comment on meeting Eide was, "When does your contract expire?" As an observer, I tried to discern the logic in Holbrooke's antagonism. It only made sense, I thought, if Holbrooke was sure he would be able to get rid of Eide, which is what we suspected that he wanted. But until he achieved that, why wouldn't he try work with Eide? After all, Eide had a trustful relationship with Karzai, close relations with most of the cabinet, and was in charge of a formal mandate to support the upcoming presidential election. According to Nasr, Holbrooke practiced "the type of patient, credible diplomacy that garners the respect and support of allies." What I witnessed was an impatience and lack of respect that alienated allies.
When I look back, it strikes me that Holbrooke didn't really have a plan to get rid of Eide. Instead he substituted his will for a strategy, then acted as if he had already accomplished what he had sought when he clearly had not. By doing so, he sidelined allies without removing his enemies.
Never mind the failed removal of Eide, what about Karzai? Holbrooke gave every impression that he wanted to use the 2009 election to unseat Karzai. Holbrooke's second question to Eide during that breakfast meeting was who he thought would be a viable alternative to Karzai. (Eide chose not to respond.)The method he selected was to persuade a number of prominent Afghan politicians to run against the incumbent. This strategy became an open secret and a running joke among politicians in Kabul. In his book about his time in Afghanistan, Eide recounts meeting then-Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud at a social event. Eide asked how he was and Massoud responded that he was lonely. "I must be the only person in Kabul whom Holbrooke has not invited to challenge Karzai for the presidency," he said.
Holbrooke's decision to encourage a variety of candidates to run was undoubtedly motivated by Afghanistan's two-round electoral system, which requires a candidate to win 50% of the votes in the first round, or the top two vote-getters face of in a second round. Holbrooke surely calculated that a large number of first round candidates would be likely to siphon votes from Karzai, making it more difficult to reach 50%. This was good as far as the political arithmetic went, but it missed several factors that were critical to the Afghan context. First, potential Karzai opponents wanted to be the candidate blessed by America-they wanted to be Queened by America, not to be a pawn among pawns in a grander U.S. strategy to bring Karzai below 50%. Pawns, after all are easily sacrificed once they've fulfilled their purpose. And once these candidates realized that Holbrooke was making the same deals with rivals, some of the more serious ones dropped out. Second, Holbrooke underestimated Karzai's real strength. Just because he didn't like him, and just because many Afghans were clearly frustrated with their president, didn't mean that they wouldn't vote for him in the end.
Again, as with his antagonism toward Eide, I was left wondering whether Holbrooke had a plan, a strategy based on a serious reading of ground truths with options for action based on different scenarios. Or was this like the cell phone towers and the text messaging for refugees-just part of the constant flow of new ideas?
Once it was clear that Karzai would get the most votes, the objective changed: instead of getting rid of Karzai, it became desirable for Karzai to not win the first round, and go to a run-off instead. Two days after the election, Holbrooke, then-U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and a few advisors came to breakfast at Eide's Kabul residence. The discussion was mostly about how to plan for the release of the election results, the need to avoid statements that were not founded in actual facts, and so forth. Everyone agreed that no public comment should be made until the official results were out. Holbrooke, nonetheless, argued that given the fraud, the election had to go to a second round to ensure the legitimacy of Karzai's win. Eide warned him not to raise that with Karzai, whom Holbrooke was scheduled to see later that day. "You have to understand that he sees you as someone trying to get rid of him," Eide cautioned. Holbrooke dismissed the warnings with a joke. He and Karzai were the best of friends now, he said.
But during his lunch with Karzai, Holbrooke ignored Eide's advice and mentioned the need for a second round. Karzai was understandably apoplectic. Most of the votes were still being counted. Hardly any preliminary results had come in. Yet Holbrooke was already dictating what outcome would be legitimate and what would not. This seriously damaged an already patchy relationship. An election needs winners and losers, but if it is to serve its political purpose, an election cannot be a means of humiliation.
This controversy was soon overshadowed by what became the real story of the election, the massive fraud that had taken place, which as Sarah Chayes pointed out in her article on Nasr's piece , was dismissed by Holbrooke in the run-up to the elections. While the fraud prevention measures set in place by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had failed, the detection measures had worked. What remained were the mitigation measures. Getting them to work was an incredibly painful process that required much negotiation, cajoling, pressure, and creativity on the part of the international community working with the electoral institutions, some that were more cooperative than others.
The four month-crisis that followed the election began with a courageous order from the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to reinstate the fraud triggers it had suspended-in other words, to set aside the votes that were deemed to be tainted by fraud. Weeks of negotiations were spent to get the IEC and the ECC to agree to the terms of an audit of the fraudulent votes. Then both campaigns had to be convinced, and the audit's methodology painstakingly explained and defended. When the audit was completed, and the results showed Karzai was below 50%, it took several weeks for Karzai to be convinced that the audit was correct. Every day brought winter closer, and the time in which a second round could be held became shorter. The role of the international community in the audit was crucial, as was its role in keeping the main parties engaged in the process. Eide, in particular, played a central role, and was even able to broker a meeting between Karzai and his primary challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to see if, face-to-face, they could find a solution (they couldn't). But Holbrooke's actions had taken away or dulled many of the tools needed to solve the crisis. Eide's credibility was badly damaged by his public disputewith Peter Galbraith over how to handle the electoral crisis (Holbrooke had pressured the UN Secretary-General to appoint Galbraith, an old friend, as Eide's deputy a few months before). The U.S. embassy in Kabul had been undermined by Holbrooke's positions. The entire international community was under suspicion by Karzai.
I remember when the crisis finally reached its resolution. I was sitting with Eide and Tom Lynch, a member of the UN election team, in Eide's residence. He was waiting for a former Taliban to arrive for a meeting. Just before his visitor was due to arrive, Eide received a phone call from Eikenberry. "Come to my residence immediately. I think we have news." Eide did not want to stand up the Taliban, so he told Lynch and me to represent him. Eikenberry was there, along with the French and British ambassadors and a few embassy aides, waiting expectedly.
But the person who walked into the room a few moments later, saying that after several long nights of negotiation he had convinced Karzai to accept the second round, was not Holbrooke. It was John Kerry. Senator Kerry, while visiting Kabul that week, had managed to earn Karzai's trust. Karzai asked him to extend his stay while the negotiations over the elections continued. Kerry had become an accidental diplomat, but he played his unexpected role with great skill. Holbrooke, the professional diplomat, had spent all his powder in the early stages of the game. I have no idea where he was when the great Afghan electoral crisis of 2009 was finally resolved, but he was nowhere near the action in Kabul.
It is not surprising that, in his defense of Holbrooke, Nasr focuses on reconciliation - a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. This was the great "what if?" In his defense of Holbrooke, Nasr writes that Holbrooke, just before his death, had "found a way out that just might work", but refused to tell his wife "until he told the president first". Then, of course, he died, taking his McGuffin with him. This is amateur movie plotting, not political analysis.
Obama is a convenient scapegoat for the failed reconciliation effort, and on that Nasr makes a strong case. But there is no scapegoat for Holbrooke's election strategy. Nobody in the White House or the military stood in his way. It was his strategy, which he designed and implemented, on which he took forceful decisions. And yet the end result was to contribute to creating a crisis whose effects still linger. Every time a member of the international community raises with Karzai a legitimate measure that might ensure a better 2014 election, Karzai mentions Holbrooke, and everyone backs off.
Nasr's Holbrooke was a champion of diplomacy. I would argue that his significant talents were less those of diplomacy, and more those of a gifted translator of American power. Diplomacy requires the navigation of hostilities, the building of alliances, and the seeking of leverage. It is more than a pro-consul-like projection of power, even if that power is projected with intelligence and stubbornness, and appears to achieve results. Both the cynical and the serious definitions of diplomacy emphasize the need to often convince actors to act against what they perceive as their best interest, either by deceit (Sir Henry Wotton: "a diplomat is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country"), distraction (Will Rogers: "diplomacy is saying ‘nice doggy' until you find a rock"), or deception (Daniele Vare: "diplomacy is the art of letting the other party have things your way"). All of these involve subtlety, calculation, strategic clarity, and the husbanding of alliances. Those were the skills called for during the 2009 election. In Holbrooke's way of operating throughout that event, I saw something closer to the opposite of those skills.
The pity is that, if America is indeed weakening-which is Nasr's larger thesis-it will need much more classical diplomacy and much less Holbrookean bluster. But as long as Holbrooke is held up as the model American diplomat, our foreign policy will seem increasingly like empty thunder, and then we'll know what weakness really means.
Scott Smith has covered Afghanistan for many years with the United Nations, including as a special assistant to the head of the U.N. mission there in 2009 and 2010, and is the author of Afghanistan's Troubled Transition: Peacekeeping, Politics and the 2004 Presidential Elections. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia's School for International Public Affairs. The views expressed here are his own.
As the Obama administration seeks to "responsibly withdraw" from Afghanistan by 2014, it must also retool its policy toward a more strategically important, nuclear-armed, and volatile Pakistan. Given U.S. engagement and leverage with Pakistan will only further decline, and its current single digit approval rating in Pakistan, it needs all the help it can get to contain a hydra of militant groups from tearing Pakistan apart or triggering a war with India. To the extent that external actors have a role to play in Pakistan's internal stability - the onus, after all, lies with its own leadership - the United States might find the most unlikely of partners in Pakistan's northern neighbor and "all-weather friend:" China.
Sino-Pakistan relations have consisted of four phases. After diplomatic ties were established in 1951, relations cooled as Pakistan sided with the United States against seating China in the United Nations. The 1962 Sino-Indian war and 1963 Sino-Pak boundary agreement cemented ties against a common adversary; China became and remains a vital source of military and nuclear technology for Pakistan. In the late eighties, a thaw in Sino-Indian ties - trade between the two rising economic giants is now six times that between China and Pakistan - and the spread of militancy into China's restive Xinjiang region from Pakistan diluted the relationship. Since 9/11, Chinese concerns about Pakistan's stability have only deepened with attacks on some of the 13,000 Chinese workers living in Pakistan.
Three lessons for the United States emerge from this narrative.
First, while China remains committed to Pakistan, especially to balance India, its position on Indo-Pak relations has shifted. From threatening intervention in the 1965 Indo-Pak war to former President Jiang Zemin urging the Pakistani Parliament to put Kashmir on the back burner and focus on development in the nineties, to the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister engaging in unprecedented shuttle diplomacy following the 2008 Mumbai attacks that nearly brought both sides to war, China is emerging as a key crisis-manager in South Asia - in large part to maintain regional stability for its own economic growth.
Second, despite these shifts, China retains a high favorability rating in Pakistan at 90%. Underpinning this credibility is China's perceived unstinting support vis a vis India and economic assistance, generally in the form of soft loans with no grating conditionalities, that have resulted in a range of prominent infrastructure and defense-related projects in Pakistan.
Third, China is increasingly focused westward. Since 2000, China's "Go West" policy has sought to tackle underdevelopment in its vast western regions, including Xinjiang. Pakistan can potentially provide an outbound route for goods from Xinjiang and an inbound maritime route through its struggling Gwadar port for an increasingly Persian Gulf-oil dependent China. Similarly, an influential essay titled "Marching West" making the rounds in China's policy circles argues for expanding ties with China's western neighbors. In contrast to a tense Pacific, China's west, the essay contends, is also fertile ground for Sino-U.S. cooperation, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Given China's potential crisis-manager role in South Asia, its standing in Pakistan, and its concerns about militancy therein, China and U.S. interests seem to converge. This runs askance of the "string of pearls" theory that views Pakistan as a central element in China's evolving grand strategy in the Indian Ocean, potentially to U.S. detriment. Consider, however, the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030 report. In one of four scenarios for the future of geopolitics it outlines, the optimal one is a "fusion" of Sino-U.S. interests - sparked by their jointly defusing a looming war between Pakistan and India.
Operationalizing this convergence will not be easy. The Chinese have less reason to press Pakistan on militancy given its forthcoming assistance in clamping down on the group of greatest concern to Beijing: the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Here, the United States must flag to the Chinese the risk of "mission creep" by other more sophisticated militant groups based in Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba, a lethal terrorist group that has primarily targeted India, has also noted the mistreatment of Chinese Muslims in its manifesto, "Why We Wage Jihad." On Indo-Pak relations, China's role is complicated by its balancing strategy; border tensions with India; and Pakistan having ceded a portion of the disputed Kashmir territory to China in their 1963 boundary agreement over Indian objections, technically making China a party to the Kashmir dispute. Indeed, India strongly opposes Chinese involvement in South Asia, including a mere reference to U.S.-China cooperation in the region in a 2009 joint statement. However, its view might change if it perceived China to be playing a stabilizing role.
Despite a crowded agenda, the United States and China must think boldly at the highest levels about their strategic convergence in Pakistan. The administration should encourage Beijing to host the next meeting of the Friends of a Democratic Pakistan - revitalizing the group and widening China's role as a stakeholder in Pakistan. The process of putting together and hosting the meeting may nudge Beijing to more broadly assess its interests and exposure in Pakistan as U.S. engagement in the region scales back. Additionally, both sides should quietly consider a crisis-management and coordination mechanism on Pakistan - one that will require the State Department to think across traditionally siloed regional Bureaus.
A final lesson from history: citing Pakistan's pivotal backchannel role in the normalization of Sino-US relations, Premier Zhou En Lai subsequently remarked to Henry Kissinger that "the bridge that helped them cross (the divide)" must not be forgotten. As the Obama administration scales back in South Asia and rebalances to the Asia-Pacific, navigating new chasms with a rising China, Pakistan might yet again serve as a bridge.
Ziad Haider is an attorney at White & Case LLP and Co-Director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the US Department of Justice and a national security aide in the US Senate. Follow him on Twitter: @Asia_Hand.
As Americans try to make sense of the latest salvo of rhetoric coming out of Kabul, Afghans are also perturbed by confusion engulfing their country's prospects at a time when both sides are expected to soberly focus on immediate challenges, maintaining Afghanistan's stability, and making sure that America's longest war is not perceived as a defeat when the mission ends in 2014.
Instead, all sides are witnessing a gradual erosion of bilateral trust that can be traced back at least as far as the controversial 2009 Afghan presidential elections. President Hamid Karzai has alleged that Western powers were trying to undermine his candidacy, while Afghan politicians accused his campaign and each other of fraud.
Evolving perceptions of U.S. and Afghan intentions since then continue to spark both nations' suspicions, raise questions about respective motivations, increase casualty counts on all sides, and test the strategic partnership that is essential to a successful transition process encompassing the security, political and economic sectors.
Such conditions can become untenable and strengthen the agenda pursued by most Taliban and their regional extremist support network.
The latest controversy was sparked a few hours after twin suicide attacks in Kabul and Khost killed scores of civilians last week. During a speech on International Women's Day, President Karzai accused the United States and the Taliban of unintended collusion and of holding back-channel talks. Without offering further details, he suggested to the Taliban that their attacks will create a sense of insecurity that could end up prolonging the U.S./NATO engagement, and criticized the United States for holding secret talks with the insurgent group that do not involve him.
In a convoluted way, the Afghan president is trying to convince elements of the "patriotic Taliban" to step up and put a stop to the carnage that is hurting ordinary Afghans. It is also not clear what evidence exists that continued Taliban atrocities are what the U.S. and NATO governments desire in order to have an excuse to prolong their presence in Afghanistan. Karzai has failed to explain how such a scenario aligns with the ongoing talks his government is carrying out with the U.S. and others on the post-2014 presence of troops to fight terrorism and train and support Afghan forces.
In his comments, Karzai also claimed that Americans and other countries are eyeing different elements of Afghanistan's mineral reserves, which he said would be negotiated taking Afghan interests into account.
There may be an element of truth to the claims, but both the Taliban and U.S. officials denied the accusation and offered strikingly opposite commentary. Many Afghan pundits, including opposition political parties, were highly critical of the tirade, describing it as far-fetched and provocative.
A week later, in an interview broadcast in Kabul on Thursday, Karzai offered a more positive assessment of his relations with the United States, and said that his comments were not meant to be critical, but corrective.
Whether Karzai's rant was purposefully timed during the top Pentagon official's visit or not, Chuck Hagel's first visit as Secretary of Defense did not go as planned. He was hoping to resolve two outstanding issues: one regarding the transfer of prisoners to Afghan custody, and the other Karzai's recent demand that Special Operations forces be withdrawn from Wardak Province. Although discussions are ongoing, neither issue was resolved during the conversations that took place hours after Karzai's diatribe.
Some commentators floated the notion that Karzai was getting back at Hagel because of sharp comments that were attributed to the then-Senator in 2003 during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in which President Karzai was grilled by U.S. lawmakers. Heads of state are not usually asked to testify before Congress, and the Afghan ambassador at the time was fired for erroneously scheduling the event, though Karzai's staff had previously approved the president's appearance before the Committee.
The issue that seems to have rattled Karzai the most, however, is linked to his suspicion that the U.S. government is undermining his lead on the peace process by holding secret talks with Taliban representatives.
Karzai is not entirely incorrect when he says that secret contacts are underway between U.S. intermediaries and high-flying Taliban representatives who are now "sipping coffee" with Westerners in the Gulf and Europe. However, he is wrong to assume that these contacts amount to negotiations on the future of the country. The American interlocutors are mostly go-betweens who advocate dialogue and may not have the full blessing of the American government.
The Taliban say they are interested in talking to the Americans about a prisoner exchange, which would also help boost their political credentials through interactions with the international community, whereas Washington is partly using the contacts to convince Taliban leaders to enter into talks with Kabul. With the Taliban adamant so far about not recognizing Karzai as a stakeholder, the U.S. effort should not be seen as counter-productive.
If one is to assume that the "patriotic Afghan Taliban" - as Karzai described them in a speech this week - are actually in touch with him, they are not responding in kind, preferring instead to remain anonymous, since none have dared to advocate a desire to enter into peace talks with Kabul yet. This means that the so-called reconcilable Taliban are either being restrained by their more extremist counterparts, are not in a position to engage right now, are not willing to recognize Kabul, or do not exist as at all.
On the issue of prisoner transfers from U.S. to Afghan custody, Karzai's weekend ultimatum was once again rejected, as U.S. officials expressed misgivings about dangerous individuals who they fear Afghan officials will release. Instead of discussing the merits of the process and arriving at a mutually acceptable solution, the two sides have so far stuck to their respective positions.
With regard to the demand that U.S. Special Forces vacate Wardak province after allegations of civilian mistreatment last month, Karzai's request has yet to take effect. With parts of the province under Taliban control, and Wardak serving as a strategic entry point into Kabul, American officers, local leaders and even Afghan security officials have questioned the validity of the demand. So far, neither side has offered a mutually satisfactory solution that would not jeopardize the security situation and put the capital at risk.
Following the weekend outbursts, Karzai's spokesman lamented that the President is not taken seriously when he demands that his Western allies take practical steps to address all contentious issues, especially his demand for exerting more pressure on Pakistan, seen by Kabul as backing Afghan Taliban efforts.
Regardless of their actual origin, Karzai's pointed accusations nowadays are part venting, part drama and mostly motivated by political calculus. They are undoubtedly also intended to influence the upcoming presidential elections and the legacy Karzai wants to leave behind when he steps down in 2014.
However, his excessive use of the public pulpit - instead of diplomatic and political channels - could reduce the effectiveness of his overtures. This type of in-your-face politics may not win him many converts in Afghanistan, or help realize his political aspirations.
What is less apparent to Karzai and his politically motivated cronies is the public relations impact in Western nations, as well as the strategic communications bonanza that such rhetoric provides to his domestic and regional detractors.
Although Karzai is justified in the eyes of many Afghans when he complains about civilian casualties and chastises the West for waging war in Afghan villages instead of pursuing terrorist in their hideouts in the tribal regions of Pakistan, his choice of venue, rhetoric and timing undermines the real intention.
Provocative claims not only exacerbate public confusion, but they also dampen support for the Afghan mission in troop-contributing nations where questions about further engagement already abound.
Contrary to the delusional belief within Karzai's inner-circle that the West needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the West, the country cannot afford to alienate those who have contributed to the positive changes that have taken place over the past decade, and who are committed to continue to help beyond 2014.
This is not to say that mistakes were not made over the years, that certain strategic and tactical decisions were not erroneous, or that Western policies have all been thoughtful. There is enough blame to be shared on all sides, but now is not the time to engage in finger pointing or scoring points.
At the same time, Afghan sensitivities that are known to benefit the armed opposition need to be taken into account, as all sides need to engage in more coordination and trust building, and aim for solutions to technical or legal concerns.
However, if Karzai's intention is to engage in political flirtation with America's enemies, either in the hope of becoming the peacemaker or to be remembered as the nationalist who accelerated the Western withdrawal, his plan could backfire and end up damaging his domestic political base. Many Afghans consider the core Taliban (with the exception of some who are not in a position to act) as a pariah radical group supported by hardline regional actors. By alienating his base, there is a risk that Karzai could become a weak lame-duck president earlier than expected.
What Afghan leaders need to be reminded of is that hardcore Taliban and regional detractors are the beneficiaries of fractured domestic politics and incoherent international relations. There are powerful networks in the region (and some within the country) that want to destabilize the country and damage Afghan relations with the international community. Those are detrimental for stability and the transitions Afghanistan and many others are facing over the next two years.
This delicate situation requires better management of frustration and rhetoric on both sides in order to accomplish the goal of meaningful strategic partnership.
Omar Samad is President of Silkroad Consulting. He was Afghan Ambassador to Canada (2004-2009) and France (2009-2011), and Spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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In January, Afghan forces shot grenades and bullets at a remote village in Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan. One civilian died, and villagers rushed six other injured residents to the hospital in Jalalabad. Nasir saw it all happen. He then had to beg $11,000 from friends and relatives to cover medical care for his injured family members.
Several days later, Nasir asked the district chief of police why Afghan forces fired on the village. "We had an intelligence report that insurgents were in the village and we wanted to scare them, so we just started firing on the village," the police chief told him. Furious, Nasir complained to the Afghan Army Regional Corps Commander and the Provincial Governor's office to no avail. He went to the Governor's office itself to demand an investigation and financial help for the medical bills. An official there told him to rewrite his complaint letter to blame opposition forces. When Nasir refused to lie, he was turned away.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Of the hundred or so families I interviewed with my colleagues for a report by Center for Civilians in Conflict, most say they've received nothing from their government for deaths or injuries caused by Afghan forces.
One major reason these families are ignored is that Afghan officials often refuse to acknowledge that its security forces cause civilian casualties in the first place. Over the past year, Center for Civilians in Conflict interviewed other civilians harmed by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) whose complaints were ignored by their government. And we're not the only ones to notice. In its latest protection of civilians report, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted: "UNAMA is concerned by the reluctance of ANSF leadership to acknowledge civilian casualties caused by ANSF. Senior ANP [Afghan National Police] and ANA [Afghan National Army] senior officers consistently asserted that ANSF do not cause civilian casualties."
Like Nasir, some of the civilians we interviewed appealed to Afghan officials for an investigation and assistance in response to deaths and injuries caused by Afghan forces. But local Afghan officials frequently denied that harm had been done, cast blame on other warring parties, or were wholly indifferent. While Afghan government programs exist in principle to ease the suffering of all civilian victims of the conflict, in practice the government rarely investigates, holds accountable, or offers assistance to those harmed by its own security forces.
This is a disturbing trend, and eerily similar to how the United States and other international forces dealt with civilian casualties at the start of their time in Afghanistan. The civilian casualties they caused-and ignored-generated anger and harsh criticism from ordinary Afghans and President Karzai. Commanders eventually recognized that their mission was undermined every time Afghan civilians are killed or injured by international forces.
Civilian harm caused by Afghan forces hasn't yet generated the same level of local anger, nor had the same strategic effect, for two main reasons. First, Afghans have historically been opposed to the presence of foreign forces on their soil. Civilian harm caused by international forces played into these anti-foreigner sentiments. In contrast, many Afghans I have met expressed pride in their security forces, particularly the Afghan army. Second, the ANSF have not yet caused as many civilian casualties as international forces or the Taliban, primarily because they have not been in the lead during combat operations. As could have been predicted, ANSF-caused civilian casualties are increasing as Afghan forces assume control of their country.
Civilian deaths caused by Afghan forces are beginning to spark some protests, albeit less frequently than when international forces are responsible for such incidents. Over time, it's easy to see how Afghan forces could lose the support of their people. Three weeks ago, an elder from Nangarhar told me, "[Afghan forces] call us insurgents. That is why they kill us. Some Taliban are in our villages, but many are ordinary civilians. The Afghan army chases them and when they go to the villages [the Afghan army] shoots civilians...We are upset with both sides-the government and the Taliban. They shouldn't be killing us. The Taliban and the ANSF are the same."
To be fair, the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are responsible for the overwhelming amount of civilian casualties. Many Afghan officials are quick to highlight this fact in an apparent strategy to deflect criticism. But, that is no excuse for the Afghan government to ignore civilians harmed by its own security forces. The population is looking to them not only for security but also to be an honest broker-capable of protecting, serving, and taking responsibility for its actions. That means Afghan forces, and the government behind them, need to avoid civilian harm and respond with integrity when civilian casualties do happen.
Best practices can be found close to home. In 2008, international forces began noticeable efforts to better prevent and respond to civilian casualties they caused. Instead of frequently denying responsibility for them and not offering any assistance in the aftermath, international forces started building up policies and practices that sought to avoid civilian casualties and dignify the families left behind when civilians were killed or injured. They saw this shift as both a strategic and a humanitarian imperative.
To start, ISAF instituted a mechanism within command headquarters to track and investigate civilian harm, analyze it for lessons learned to help prevent recurrence, and respond to allegations of civilian casualties with timely information rather than denials. Some international forces began offering monetary payments to civilians in recognition of their losses and as a culturally appropriate gesture of dignity.
These practices are by no means perfect and we still meet many civilians harmed by international forces who are not offered the assistance they deserve. But ISAF policies to track, analyze, and respond to civilian casualties have meant fewer civilians are harmed and the response to many incidents of civilian harm has improved. In 2012, UNAMA found that international military forces caused 491 civilian casualties, a marked reduction from 2009, when they were responsible for 1008 civilian deaths and injuries. For the Afghan government not to enact similar policies is a wasted opportunity to learn from past mistakes.
It's not too late. There are two ways to prove to the Afghan people that their forces are there to help, not to cause more harm.
First, Afghan forces need to own up to the harm they cause. They need a fully operational civilian casualty mitigation team-similar to what ISAF created-housed in the National Security Council. It should be staffed professionally and be responsible for tracking, investigating, and responding to civilian harm. Last summer, the Afghan President's Office began a worthwhile effort to track civilian casualties caused by Afghan forces. But the main input to this system is reporting from Afghan forces spread out in the provinces-a dispersed system that is woefully weak. The effort will certainly fail unless this reporting structure is strengthened and all data gets from the countryside to the capital. Investigations and harm response procedures need a major overhaul, as both are inadequate to actually identify and help civilians harmed. (Civilian harm that violates international or domestic law should be dealt with through separate legal channels.)
Second, the Afghan government should offer financial help to civilians harmed by Afghan forces. There are already two programs in effect to assist war victims, but they don't go nearly far enough, and civilians harmed by Afghan forces are rarely offered help. One program-called the Code 99 Fund-is housed in President Karzai's office and gives payments of about $2,000 for family members killed and about $1,000 for conflict-related injuries. Another program, under the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled, offers smaller monthly sums for conflict-related losses. In our interviews, we found that nearly all recipients of this aid were harmed by the Taliban or international forces.
One simple reason civilians harmed by Afghan forces don't get as much help is that the forces responsible don't have a way of referring people to these assistance programs. That's an obvious fix that's needed and could be immediately rectified by creating protocols for what to do once a civilian has been harmed. When I met with the spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Defense several weeks ago, he agreed that such procedures should be developed for the Afghan Army. The Ministry of Defense, Interior, as well as the National Directorate of Security-all of which oversee elements of the ANSF-should act without delay to create these channels for getting civilians through the system.
The United States and its allies shifted tactics to better avoid and respond to civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but they're not off the hook yet. They can and should do more to ensure that the security forces they leave behind are professional and accountable, including supporting the Afghan government in creating a civilian casualty mitigation team and fixing its assistance programs. The US and NATO allies currently offer $6 billion each year to pay for the ANSF, so they have plenty of leverage. Donors should strongly encourage the Afghan government to direct a small amount of those funds towards these civilian-centered initiatives. Whether or not Afghan forces are prepared to avoid and respond appropriately to civilian harm will ultimately reflect on the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan.
As Afghan forces take the lead, ordinary Afghans will judge their security forces by how they treat civilians. That means both their ability to avoid harm to civilians during operations, and their response when civilian casualties occur. The Afghan government has something to prove, too, as its immediate and long-term legitimacy will very much depend on whether people like Nasir and his family are cared for, not ignored.
Trevor Keck is a Kabul based field researcher with Center for Civilians in Conflict.
*Names have been changed
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is right to worry about perpetual war, but wrong to worry about drones killing Americans in America. His concerns about domestic drone strikes unfortunately obscured a far more pressing debate about how to manage and regulate surveillance via drones and other techniques such as wiretaps and Internet traffic monitoring.
The truth is, drones are not actually all that good at killing people, nor at bringing them to justice. The reason they are used in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia is because no better alternatives are readily available. Within the United States, the president has far more capable means at his disposal for using force. In terms of surveillance, however, drones are among the most effective tools in existence.
During his 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday, Paul proposed a resolution against the use of drones to "execute or target American citizens on American soil." The resolution is superfluous because the chief limitation on the use of drones is how well they work -- not legal, moral, ethical, or constitutional considerations.
The question is not what drones themselves are capable of, but how those capabilities compare to the alternatives available to military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials. Compared to other means the American government has at its disposal for the domestic use of force, a drone-launched missile is a crude, blunt, and ineffective instrument. It is not possible to deploy the FBI to Pakistan's tribal areas or to rural Yemen. Drones are being used in these countries because they provide a capability that is better, in the eyes of the national security apparatus, than the alternatives of inaction or bombing from manned aircraft.
The reason for "signature strikes" in Pakistan and Yemen -- where patterns of behavior are targeted instead of specific individuals -- is because of a paucity of information. It is far easier for the U.S. government to gather information inside the United States than it is in Waziristan.
Drones, will, of course, grow more technologically capable of flying for a longer time, seeing with keener sight, and aiming explosives still more precisely. But even the apotheosis of these efforts will do no more than replicate the abilities of a trained sniper. There is no reason to be more fearful of a drone-based assassin than one armed with a rifle. The same existing laws and norms that prevent the president from capriciously bombing, say, Texas or ordering commando squads to assassinate American citizens, also apply to domestic drone attacks.
During his filibuster, Paul worried that the government might "kill people in America without even knowing their name." This worry is baseless. National security hawks can save face by agreeing that using drones to kill American citizens in the United States would be wrong and unconstitutional. But other infringements on constitutionally protected freedoms are not notional. By grandstanding on the issue of drone attacks, Paul loses the credibility that he and other advocates for limitations on the executive's power need to hold the president to account on the use of present-day surveillance technologies.
Unfettered surveillance from drones would be useful to law enforcement, just as it would be useful to not require search warrants. It is easy to convince the military, and law enforcement authorities, to give up capabilities that were never that useful to begin with. This is why the United States ratified the international treaty banning chemical weapons with comparatively little controversy -- chemical weapons never were all that effective as a tool of war (there was a heated debate about tear gas, which is useful). But the international treaty against land mines remains unsigned despite decades of effort by human rights advocates (and a Nobel Peace Prize), because land mines are seen as a useful force multiplier. The true challenge is to place limitations on tools that are genuinely useful to authorities but whose use infringes on the rights of citizens.
As the ACLU's Jay Stanley and Catherine Crump have written, the domestic use of drones by various state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies is already widespread, and is not effectively regulated. "Because of their potential for pervasive use in ordinary law enforcement operations and capacity for revealing far more than the naked eye, drones pose a more serious threat to privacy than do manned flights," they wrote in a 2011 report. Since then, the domestic use of surveillance drones has only increased, with only a scant patchwork of regulation by some states. (Bills have been introduced into the legislatures, though not yet passed, in Florida, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, Montana, and Texas, according to the ACLU.) None of those state-level regulations would restrict federal efforts.
The 5th Amendment's due process protections are not at risk from drones within America's borders for the simple reason that drones are an ineffective tool for bringing people to justice -- as was shown when Navy SEALs were sent to apprehend Osama bin Laden, rather than a drone. But the power of drones that can loiter indefinitely overhead, tracking the past and future movements of all who pass below, is real. The questions of how the 4th Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches applies to drones, and of privacy concerns more broadly, are vexing ones that Senator Paul can help us, as a nation, come to terms with.
Konstantin Kakaes is a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation and can be found on Twitter @kkakaes.
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As the United States and other NATO member countries gradually withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, a discussion is taking place on how to support the country after 2014. But the most important voice is missing: that of the Afghan people.
More than a decade of Western involvement has created an enormous industry of alleged experts who claim to have studied Afghanistan from top to bottom. But their authority belies a simple truth: these experts often have a surprisingly limited understanding of this complicated country. This is because even when these experts make it to the country they are writing about, they are sequestered to secure areas with limited access to ordinary Afghans, have little opportunity to travel outside Kabul, and are rarely given the time or resources to study the local languages beyond a few words. Put another way, the majority of the experts we rely on for advice in crafting policy and spending hundreds of millions of dollars have rarely had the experience of simply walking down the street and buying a piece of bread at a local bakery.
This has created a closed conversation loop, which has driven countless millions of dollars into research and initiatives designed to help Afghanistan, but is far removed from the realities of Afghan life and the needs of the country.
This may appear counterintuitive given the reams of literature prompted by this war. Since 2001, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, economists, historians, and even retired civil servants have made the trek to Afghanistan in large numbers to work and write. Hundreds of books and countless reports have emerged on a myriad of topics intended to benefit reconstruction, along with reprints of every text ever written by any military that has engaged Afghanistan, going all the way back to Alexander the Great.
This research has been aided by an unlikely partner: the military. Academia and the application of violence have rarely mixed well, but in the name of applied research to support reconstruction efforts, they joined forces in Afghanistan. In striking contrast to the Iraq War, academics were flown in to inform the decisions and actions of operations personnel. Suddenly anthropologists and sociologists were thrust to the forefront of a gargantuan military effort, led for a time by an Ivy League, PhD-wielding general who encouraged them at every turn. On the civilian side, funding by USAID alone for initiatives and research related to democracy, governance and elections skyrocketed, with spending reaching more than one billion dollars between 2007 and 2011.
Yet this cadre of experts was increasingly called upon to explain a country they were rarely able to see and experience, and therefore understand. The literature that followed, published overwhelmingly only in English and consumed and discussed by peers in similarly restrictive environments or overseas, slowly began to pull away from reality. Afghans watched as unfathomable amounts of money were spent on projects intended for their benefit, but about which they had rarely been consulted.
Now, as Afghanistan moves toward its post-2014 existence with fewer resources, it is more essential than ever that rigorous research be conducted to support achievable policy objectives that will benefit Afghanistan for years to come. But for this to happen, the Afghan voice must re-enter the discussion in a meaningful way. A few steps would go long way in ensuring they are heard.
First, donor agencies and other funding bodies should consider funding for the findings of any unclassified research to be published and disseminated through various media in the languages of Afghanistan, Dari and Pashtu. This inexpensive gesture would provide a steady stream of material to the local media, which, with more than 50 TV channels and 100 radio stations, is well suited to launch any discussion about what is good for the country.
Second, letting the researchers head out into the field would have an immediate impact, grounding them by exposing them to the ways Afghans live. With this, a more honest security assessment, rather than perpetual paranoia, would do wonders. But if we cannot let the researchers out, presumably because of security concerns, we must invite key elements of Afghan society in. Instead of listening to the Afghan diaspora who often serve as advisors but who are not intimately tied to the fate of Afghanistan, we should call on the increasingly educated and eloquent youth, whose relatively unexamined views on the future are remarkably different from the ruling elite.
Perhaps most importantly, ask Afghans what kinds of changes they would like to see in their country beyond 2014. In the hundreds of focus group and panel discussions our organization has conducted with thousands of Afghans from all walks of life over the years, we have been struck by their pragmatic interests in maintaining newly constructed infrastructure, ensuring continued access to education and health services -- even for their daughters -- and in pursuing some sort of viable peace agreement with insurgents. We sometimes do not get the answers we would like to hear: Afghanistan remains deeply traditional, patrimonial and skeptical of change. But this makes asking Afghans - and sharing what we learn - all the more important: to ensure funds are spent on programs and initiatives that Afghans have concluded are beneficial, and not wasted on projects Westerners assume they should appreciate.
With foreign forces drawing down, Afghans are preparing to once again shoulder the burden of running their country. By seriously engaging Afghan society and working with them to create policy to help them achieve their own goals, we can support the gains that have been made over the last decade and ensure that the missing Afghan voice is brought back into the debate over the direction of the country.
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As the Obama administration rethinks its strategy for South Asian engagement, and Senator John Kerry assumes his duties as Secretary of State, a more "naturalized" approach to diplomacy should be considered. Despite their many differences, South Asia's acrimonious nations are tied together by ecological factors which can provide fertile ground for regional cooperation, thereby building trust in other areas and reducing chances of greater conflict. The term "ecology" connotes environmental factors such as climate change, water and food availability as well as pollution concerns, but more significantly implies an appreciation for the relationship which humans must have with their environment in order to form productive societies. Given President Barack Obama's bold statement at his second inauguration regarding the salience of climate change, and his commitment to peace-building in South Asia, the timing may be right for making these connections for 'green diplomacy.'
The greatest loss of human life and economic damage suffered by South Asia since 2001 has not been due to terrorism and its ensuing conflicts, but rather due to natural disasters ranging from the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the Indus floods of 2010 to seasonal water shortages and drought. Although such calamities themselves might not be preventable, their human impact can certainly be mitigated. Such mitigation of environmental stresses is most efficacious through regional approaches to ecological cooperation to draw on efficiencies across the ecology of the area. Furthermore, the cooperation from such regionalism has the potential for building trust to resolve long-standing territorial disputes, especially between India and Pakistan.
Raising ecological factors from a technocratic matter to one of high politics will require leaders to reconsider the role of existing regional organizations, most notably the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), as well as scientific organizations such as the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). SAARC's charter, for example, prevents India and Pakistan from linking technical regional cooperation to broader territorial disputes that are deemed to be bilateral matters. However, bilateral agreements such as the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan are also confined by their highly specific terms of reference. The treaty has been tested by the numerous ongoing disputes between the two countries on water management projects, but it was never intended to be an ecological management agreement; rather, it divided up the rivers based on water flow metrics. Instead of renegotiating an agreement that is structurally focused on dividing natural resources rather than finding environmentally efficient solutions, it would be more productive to consider new cooperative mechanisms regarding conservation and improving the quality of the watershed.
International environmental treaties, such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands protection, which include transboundary cooperation within their mandates, can also provide a mechanism for linking ecological cooperation to broader resolution of disputes and enhanced regional security. If with technology nations can find more efficient means of water and energy utilization across South Asia, the pressures on distributive aspects of water and energy scarcity can also be reduced, thus lessening the chance for conflicts over these resources.
The most consequential ecological features in South Asia are the Himalayas and the rivers that are largely derived from their geography. Some of the worst territorial disputes in the region also span these mountains. Hence, scientific and socio-cultural research on mountain ecosystems is likely to play a pivotal role in galvanizing regional cooperation and reaping peace dividends. International development donors need to configure existing programs to incentivize projects that build trust and have the potential for subsequent peace-building.
For example, cooperation on glacial scientific research or estuarine ecology could be constructively linked to resolution prospects for the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes. Some of the notable programs with potential for such reconfiguration include the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE), the South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy (SARI/Energy), and the South Asian Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP). Yet, the current approach of donors, as exemplified by efforts such as ICIMOD's program covering seven transboundary corridors (none of which include both India and Pakistan), tends to focus on the low-hanging fruit rather than initiatives that could provide a more lasting impact on regional peace. Connecting environmental factors with basic human necessities such as food and healthcare can also raise the political prominence of these approaches. Recent concerns about communicable diseases such as dengue and polio can provide impetus for regional cooperation that has broader peace-building goals.
Trade can also be more appropriately configured to consider environmental factors as a cooperative mechanism. For example, goods for which one country has a comparative advantage in terms of climate or water availability could be targeted for trade priority. Thus trade should focus on importing products whose energy or water inputs are more efficiently obtained elsewhere rather than trying to build massive new domestic infrastructure for water or energy. At the same time, trade in energy itself, through efforts such as gas pipelines or technology transfer for renewable energy infrastructure, should be encouraged, as the huge rise in resource consumption projected for South Asia will require supply-side as well as demand-side cooperative strategies.
All of these prospects for ‘green diplomacy' are pragmatic and plausible if science can be coupled with good leadership and resource incentives from the international community. South Asia has much potential for development and peace but the linkage between ecology and security will be essential in most efficiently and effectively realizing that potential.
Saleem H. Ali is professor of politics and international studies at the University of Queensland Australia, and the founding director of the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security at the University of Vermont. He is the author most recently of a report titled "Ecological Cooperation in South Asia: The Way Forward" for the New America Foundation. He can be followed on Twitter @saleem_ali
Better late than never? We know it's already halfway through February of 2013, but we'd still like to say congratulations to the authors whose AfPak Channel articles received the most views in 2012. The results reveal that AfPak Channel readers have varied interests -- from gender issues in Pakistan to Afghanistan's uncertain future to the controversy over U.S. drone strikes. If you haven't already read these, you can get started by following the links below, which are arranged in the order of views received, starting with the most-read.
1. Pakistan's almost suicide bombers, by Hussain Nadim
2. 10 lessons the US should learn from Afghanistan's history, by William Byrd
3. The once and future civil war in Afghanistan, by Ryan Evans
4. President Karzai and the secondary sex, by Rachel Reid
5. Imran Khan's new Pakistan, by Kiran Nazish
6. Voice of a native son: Drones may be a necessary evil, by Zmarak Yousefzai
7. Putting the Afghans in charge, by Roger D. Carstens
8. Dodging the drones: How militants have responded to the covert U.S. campaign, by Aaron Y. Zelin
9. The dishonorable defense of honor, by Rabail Baig
10. Fixing Pakistan's tanking economy, by David Walters
Big thank you to all of our contributors for their hard work, excellent analysis, and love for all things AfPak.
Jennifer Rowland and Peter Bergen, Editors of the AfPak Channel
AREF KARIMI/AFP/Getty Images
Maintaining a large military presence in Afghanistan is not in the strategic interests of either the U.S. or the Afghan government. It does not help the United States accomplish its long-term goal of countering terrorism from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, nor its short-term goal of helping Afghanistan achieve stability and self-reliance in fighting insurgency. It is also economically unsustainable. However, retaining a smaller, lighter, residual presence in Afghanistan is critical to U.S. strategy and vital to core U.S. interests.
Additionally, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan must be based on a vision that goes out decades: Considering only short-term goals amounts to strategic myopia, unworthy of the sacrifices made by almost 2,200 U.S. service members in Afghanistan alone.
A Case for Lighter, Smarter, Long-term Residual Presence
With Osama Bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda's capabilities diminished in the Af-Pak region, the immediate threat of attacks on the U.S. from the region has greatly diminished. But the ingredients that could help Al Qaeda regenerate in the next decade remain, and thus the mission endures.
In fact, the "surge" of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009 had little to do with bin Laden; rather, it was an attempt to rescue the failing mission of stabilizing Afghanistan. Bin Laden was hunted and killed not by the surge, but by a small, specialized group, the likes of which I argue should remain in Afghanistan to monitor and guard against the long-term threat of terrorist cells.
More importantly, a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy must include the training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to counter domestic threats. But this will take significantly longer than estimates suggest. As such, the U.S. must alter its stated strategy in Afghanistan to consider the training and equipping of the ANSF a key element of its plan to counter threats, and support Afghanistan in its domestic fight against terrorists that, left unchecked, could re-emerge. The numbers of trainers must be kept low and should not be outsourced to contractors. Currently, the only elements specifically designed to counter insurgencies are the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). Considering the nuanced task, the training force should be predominantly SOF.
With nearly 2,200 troops dead, thousands more wounded, and half a trillion dollars spent in America's longest war, merely staying the course in Afghanistan is no longer possible. In fact, with no sound opposition to President Obama's plan of swift withdrawal, the U.S. has decided to accelerate the transition from combat to training mission and, arguably less advertised, concentrate forces in a few heavily fortified locations such as Bagram Air Base.
Eleven one-year strategies in Afghanistan have brought us to a point where people consider "strategic retreat" the best of the worst options available. In pursuing this plan, however, the United States and its strategic partners in the Afghan Government risk a return to a time where fractured Afghan groups battled for supremacy, and an apathetic and financially exhausted U.S. didn't want to spend any more blood or treasure. History has shown that this "strategic retreat," fails to consider the greater geo-strategic importance of maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan
Without a firm presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. will have no bases in South-Central Asia. The only other alternative is Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, whose lease is going to expire in 2014, and Kyrgyz President Almaz Atambayev has made it clear that his government will not extend the agreement any further. From a regional perspective alone, the U.S. must maintain a residual footprint in Afghanistan as a mechanism of influencing Central and South Asia. Stability in the AfPak region is critical in monitoring and combating a reemergence of al-Qaeda.
Ultimately, for the Obama Administration to achieve its objective of maintaining pressure on al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, and supporting Afghanistan as a strategic partner - it must consider a nuanced strategy when looking at the composition of the U.S. residual presence. After 2014, Obama should employ a specialized force with a light footprint, but a big contribution. I recommend the following elements be in the mix:
1. A counter-terrorism task force to focus on the remnants of al-Qaeda and any insurgent groups that pose a threat to U.S. assets and interests. The specialized CT elements need to be able to engage targets throughout the country, so this will have to include both primary bases, and lily pads to extend their reach. These elements should train and utilize their Afghan counterparts as much as possible; ultimately, the Afghan counter-terrorism elements themselves should take over.
2. A robust counter-insurgency training force comprised of both ground and air special operations forces that will focus on the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in specialized COIN training - similar to that in Colombia. This extends to the mentoring of the Afghan Air Force, civil affairs, etc.
3. The only "conventional force" presence should be in the protection of U.S./Coalition bases. These bases should have maximum flexibility by maintaining minimal infrastructure in only 4 locations (Bagram in the East, Mazar-e-Sharif in the North, Herat in the West, and Bastion in the South). Additionally, a limited aviation training presence should be kept in the main training base for the Afghan Air Force, Shindand Airfield. The U.S. will probably maintain Bagram and Kabul, whereas Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, and Bastion should be supported by NATO partners.
4. In Kabul, all that should remain are the headquarters at ISAF - with some of its coalition partners' participation - a limited contingent on the military side of the Kabul airfield, and a NATO Training Mission Afghanistan command.
5. SOF should abandon the "Afghan Local Police" (ALP) in most areas and focus more on the development of the ANSF. A few years ago, with over 100,000 U.S. personnel in country, SOF could afford to focus on the ALP concept. Now, with only a few thousand U.S. service members in-country, the emphasis must be on the uniformed security services.
In terms of numbers, the right mix is about 4,000 SOF and SOF enablers, and 4-5,000 conventional forces and headquarters support. While the 9,000 U.S. personnel seems to be the "just enough" figure for an enduring presence, it seems the President may now be set on a lower figure due to financial constraints.
Setting a Long-Term U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan
The United States non-military strategic course in Central and South Asia needs to start in 2015, not end in 2014. The U.S. needs to consider its 2025 strategic vision, and make smaller contributions to the region but with bigger payoffs.
For example, the U.S. should work with other key allies to coordinate on increasing trade and creating more jobs in a region that is currently plagued with high rates of unemployment and poverty. Coordinating with Pakistan and investment giants such as the United Arab Emirates to secure funding for a road or railroad from Helmand to the port of Gwadar, or with Qatar to invest in Afghanistan's and Pakistan's natural resources can create thousands of jobs and boost economies. This is not something that is purely altruistic; such activities can greatly benefit U.S. interests. Furthermore, a strategic "pivot to Asia" can only be accomplished if there is stability in Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is critical to trade corridors from oil-gas rich Central Asia states (including Afghanistan) to the end users of South and East Asia. In effect, Afghanistan's geo-strategic importance goes far beyond trans-national terrorism threats.
Over the past 11 years, the international community has committed billions of dollars in an effort to stabilize and reconstruct a country ravaged by three decades of war. The U.S. alone has spent over $600 billion in the longest war in its history, with over $20 billion in governance and development funds. And yet, Afghanistan is still not economically self-sustainable. Perhaps that is not so shocking, though. President Obama himself made it clear (as early as May 2012) that, "Our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars and many more American lives."
Another way of looking at this, however, is the way most American veterans of the conflict view their sacrifices: as a strategic investment. They might argue that the dollars spent and the lives lost deserve a much more impressive outcome than simply a strategic retreat with Afghanistan in dire straits.
For their part, few Afghans welcome the U.S. withdrawal. While important to equip and strengthen the Afghan security forces, Presidents Karzai and Obama did not address crafting a long-term strategy that looks towards a stable Afghanistan in 2030, rather than a short-term "stable enough to transition security" by 2014.
Presidents Karzai and Obama - two leaders unable to seek reelection and concerned about their legacy - may still be able to give the people of Afghanistan a gift that can help stabilize Afghanistan. President Karzai has a unique opportunity to leverage his last year in government to broker a deal that can offer real hope of change and progress. On the American side, the U.S. and other donors should minimize "hand out" aid and focus on investments in Afghanistan. Donor programs don't create revenue, but rather act as symptomatic relief. Public funds, partnered with private firms, can help develop a self-sustaining Afghan economy. For the past three decades, the United States has appeared to prefer short-term strategies. They did not recognize the long-term consequences of inattention following the Soviet withdrawal. They seemed satisfied with the near term and non-committal cruise missile-targeting of Osama Bin Laden after a series of terrorist attacks in the late 1990s.
President Obama's inaugural speech last month made it clear that the "decade of war" has come to a close. By 2014, the U.S. should conclude this chapter by leaving behind a small training force, a robust counter-terrorism force, and an economic support model that is viable in the long-term. Significant intellectual and limited monetary capital must go toward achieving sustainable Afghan economic growth in the mid-to-long-term. Rather than how much is spent in Afghanistan, donors - and in particular, the U.S. as the largest - need to start paying attention more to effectiveness of what is spent.
Ultimately, the most important date on our 2014 calendar should be the April Afghan Presidential election rather than the December withdrawal deadline. If the election is not credible or moderately successful in maintaining the trust of key stakeholders in the democratic progress, the numbers of U.S. troops remaining will not make much difference in the post-election environment. The Afghan people and the international community will be watching closely to ensure that the election is an example of the democratic progress that 13 years of Coalition presence made possible. The troop levels, important as they may be, are only secondary to the success of the political process.
Gianni Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
Viewers watching the Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing for former Sen. Chuck Hagel Thursday could be forgiven for forgetting that America is at war.
Apparently, so did their senators.
In a marathon hearing that spanned eight hours, several Senate votes and one lunch break, Hagel's past statements and future outlook on Iran and the state of Israel won far more airtime than a conflict in which 66,000 US troops now serve. More time was spent discussing the appropriateness of talking with the leaders of Iran, with whom we are not currently at war, than the feasibility of talking to the leaders of the Taliban, with whom we presumably are. (Vice President Joe Biden noted a little over a year ago that the "Taliban per se is not our enemy.")
As the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekran tweeted, "At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali."
In the hearing's second session the word Afghanistan received only one mention.
In their curious mix of apathy and amnesia concerning America's longest-ever war, senators on both sides reflect the views of the American public. Polling shows more than sixty percent of Americans no longer think the war is worth its cost. CNN notes that in a fall CNN/ORC International poll not even five percent named Afghanistan as "one of the most important issues facing" America. And fifty-one percent of respondents in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said the war was "not worth it.
The recent presidential campaign also made precious little mention of the war still being fought and for which National Guard units continue to deploy. The President talked about bringing a "responsible end" to the war while Vice President Joe Biden repeated throughout the summer and fall that "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive." On the Republican side Clint Eastwood and his empty chair mentioned Afghanistan more than GOP nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
As former Amb. Ronald Neumann noted recently at the Brookings Institution, the debate around the war's future "has been completely ignored in the electoral period, and it is being framed all too much in bumper sticker phrases, which simply are idiotic ways of trying to understand the complexity of Afghanistan."
Americans and politicking officials have clearly developed a habit of ignoring America's decade-long war, but it is curious to see the next Secretary of Defense receive so few inquiries from senators about the war whose end he will presumably oversee in the coming years. A thorny rash of unpleasant questions surrounding Afghanistan's future confront the president and the Pentagon's next chief. These include: how many U.S. troops to keep in Afghanistan, how to define their mission, how generously to fund the Afghan forces and at what levels, and whether and how to proceed with peace talks with the Taliban.
None of those issues, however, sat in the spotlight at Thursday's hearing.
To those few questions Hagel did receive on Afghanistan he offered vague and decidedly noncommittal answers, aside from noting that he fully supports the president's current policy to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. But on the issue of post-2014 troop levels -of both American forces and the Afghan Army - Hagel said he did not want to speculate regarding exact numbers because he had not been aware of all conversations between President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"As far as I know, as of this morning the president had not -- not made a decision on what a residual force, numbers-wise, would look like. I have not been included in those discussions, so I don't know, other than knowing that he's got a range of options, as you do," Hagel said regarding US troop levels. "As to what kind of a force structure should eventually be in place by the Afghans, I don't know enough about the specifics to give you a good answer, other than to say that I think that has to be a decision that is made, certainly, with the president of Afghanistan."
In 2008 then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama called Afghanistan the war "that we have to win." Now it is the war everyone wants to forget. Except those who cannot: on the same day as Hagel testified, the Kentucky National Guard announced it would hold two "departure ceremonies" for soldiers preparing for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A growing confidence in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) capabilities appears to be an important factor in planning for a smaller U.S. residual force as Washington charts its post-2014 security mission. But despite ANSF's extraordinary growth rate, its abilities are increasingly limited largely because it was raised with low recruitment criteria and cannot function without continued international support. Although the Afghan army and police have slowly improved their skills in combat, their capacity and reach is still inadequate. In the past couple of years, the readiness and efficiency of the ANSF had been further undermined by a rising number of casualties, higher attrition and desertion rates, Taliban infiltration, and a growing distrust from their international partners over insider attacks.
However, among the promising elements of the ANSF are the Afghan Special Operation Forces or Afghan SOF. These are the elite Afghan commandos who are advised by U.S. Special Forces teams and are more carefully vetted than other members of the Afghan security forces. Members of Afghan SOF are picked from select units within the Afghan army and the police. After an initial three-month training in reconnaissance and other skills-including advanced rifle marksmanship, mortars and convoy operations, intelligence gathering, combat communications and medical skills-Afghan SOF then embed with U.S. forces for a six-month on-the-job training deployment before stepping out on their own. These elite fighting forces are widely commended by U.S. commanders for their competence in leading independent operations and specialized missions, including their roles in replacing U.S. forces in conducting night raids that have long triggered popular anger and strained U.S.-Afghan relations. Casualties in Afghan SOF units are minimal, and they have only experienced one "insider attack," which further adds to their credibility.
However, a number of important challenges will hamper the ability and success of these nascent forces after 2014.
Prominent among them is the size of the contingent. While the ANSF overall strength presently boasts at 350,000 troops, the number of Afghan SOF is at a trifling 12,000 personnel, which has increasingly limited their reach across the country. In order to expand their grasp, the Pentagon should boost the size of Afghan commandos by at least another 15 to 20 thousand soldiers.
Raising and sustaining elite forces is unquestionably more costly than the conventional forces. However, the Pentagon must weigh the cost of sufficient defense against the cost and implications of having resource-strapped Afghan SOF units confined to their bases with a lighter U.S. military footprint on the ground. With so much at stake, U.S. commanders must recognize the value of such a force in Afghanistan - a war that has so far cost U.S. taxpayers over half a trillion dollars. And while the upkeep of each American soldier in Afghanistan alone reportedly costs the Pentagon one million dollars a year - an estimated $66 billion for the current force level-maintaining an efficient, well-trained, and somewhat high-tech Afghan security force is a low-priced insurance policy.
Additionally, the Afghan Defense Ministry is already making long-term changes to structuring its security force to ensure it is affordable. By 2017, the ANSF force level is scheduled to shrink from 350,000 troops to roughly 240,000, a nearly 30 percent reduction in personnel. Higher pay will boost retention rates for the reduced force, which may mitigate the current problems with high attrition and desertion rates within the Army, and could mean fewer soldiers to replace. In this case, the downsized conventional force should be reorganized and modernized. And the ongoing reduction of international forces in Afghanistan must come with a renewed commitment from NATO to shouldering some of the cost of boosting the size of Afghan SOF.
Given the United States' own budgetary and fiscal problems, the optics of any added financial commitment to expanding the Afghan commandos units will understandably be unappealing to Washington. However, the Obama administration's affinity for America's own Special Forces should inform the White House's understanding that it will be these burgeoning Afghan Special Forces that will not only fend Afghanistan after 2014 but also deter the many existential security challenges that may threaten U.S. national security.
Another important challenge that hinders the ability of the Afghan SOF to function effectively is the lack of enablers-air and fire support, aerial surveillance, intelligence, medevac, and other resources-that U.S. troops currently provide. Regardless of how well the Afghan Special Forces are trained, they simply cannot stay operational in combat without these important enablers. Fortunately, the Pentagon is reportedly exploring plans to train and equip the ANSF with vehicles, attack helicopters, a handful of cargo planes, unarmed tactical drones, and other necessary equipment. These capabilities will only augment the crucial role Afghan SOF units play in preserving Afghan stability, without which they will be confined mostly to their bases, ceding the countryside to insurgent elements, including the Taliban.
As the ANSF take on the operational lead in nearly ninety percent of Afghanistan and the international forces assume their number one goal to "to train, assist and advise Afghan forces" by this spring, achieving the goal of ultimately having Afghan forces lead security nationwide at the end of 2014 will depend largely on their combat skills and readiness. The ANSF readiness this year will also depend on whether they continue to benefit from U.S. air support and other enablers. The Afghan SOF program is a bright spot and a critical element in the Afghan security forces, but their reach is limited given their small number and the lack of enablers, equipment and trainers. Responsibly preparing to deter many of the threats Afghanistan will face after 2014 requires more Afghan Special Forces. However, if the United States' post-2014 mission in Afghanistan is narrowly focused on counterterrorism operations, any continuing training of Afghan forces will be severely undermined, and that will have drastic implications for the larger Afghan transition.
Javid Ahmad, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views reflected here are his own.
Denying al Qaeda's re-emergence in Afghanistan requires ensuring that Afghanistan can be sufficiently stable and capable of defending itself, as President Barack Obama explained during the surge announcement at West Point on Dec. 1, 2009. Al Qaeda is not present in large numbers (perhaps less than 1,000) in Afghanistan now, but Secretary Leon Panetta stated in November 2012 that "intelligence continues to indicate that they are looking for some kind of capability to be able to go into Afghanistan as well." The U.S. and NATO cannot allow war weariness and economic conditions to obscure the realities and requirements they face. The recently announced accelerated shift to a "support role" in Afghanistan could become a guise to withdraw if "support" means just a few thousand counterterrorism forces and trainers.
In the eyes of many officials, a sound counterterrorism strategy rests on the assumption that the U.S. and NATO can kill their way toward a better future, against the Taliban and the Haqqanis or against al Qaeda and its affiliates. A decade of war proves the falsehood of this assumption. Experts outside the military are better qualified to determine how best to assist Afghanistan in the areas of governance, economic development, and reconciliation, and how best to move forward in Pakistan. But my experience in accelerating the growth of the Iraqi security forces -- in size, capacity, and confidence -- during the Iraqi "surge" of 2007 to 2008 qualifies me to speak about what is necessary to help the Afghan army succeed in taking lead responsibility.
The Afghans and NATO began a program of accelerated Afghan National Army (ANA) growth in 2009, recognizing that sufficient capacity is still years away. The ANA's combat power is only partially developed. The tip of the ANA's spear, its fighting units, is more developed than its shaft, its enabler capacity. Its human intelligence ability can sense near-term threats, but its capacity to detect and anticipate threats is low. On the ground, it can maneuver well, but the ANA lacks the air and ground mobility to shift forces around the country in order to mass against the enemy. Lack of mobility and its still-developing staff capacity reduce the ANA's ability to apply timely and coordinated force. The ANA can place accurate enough direct fire against the enemy once engaged but has only limited land-based indirect fire ability. Nor does it have adequate air-delivered fires, important in the mountains and remote areas of Afghanistan. Pending medical, supply, maintenance, and transport capacity means that the ANA has limited ability to maintain momentum against the enemy once engaged. Leadership quality varies. All these shortcomings affect the ANA's confidence and combat power; none will be complete by the end of this year or next.
None of this should be a surprise. In 2009, the Afghans and NATO wisely placed primary emphasis on accelerating fighting units, with secondary emphasis on enabler capacity. While their own systems were being developed and fielded, ANA fighting units could receive the support they needed from their NATO partners. As Afghan systems emerged, NATO support could be "thinned out" and ultimately cut altogether. To do otherwise would have been to grow the ANA at the pace of its slowest element, an approach that did not match the Afghan "surge" strategy adopted in 2009. In an underdeveloped country that has suffered from over 30 years of war and has very low literacy rates, growing enabler systems -- supply, medical, transport, analytic, staff, communications, air- and land-based indirect support -- takes longer. For this reason, the ANA will need some U.S. and NATO enabler support beyond 2014.
So how should the U.S. and NATO assist the ANA in taking lead security responsibility? First, leave a combat brigade, at least through 2014, to partner with Afghan forces in the east -- a strategically important area where heavy fighting against the Haqqanis will continue. Second, in the south and southwest, embed assistance teams with every ANA battalion and higher to provide access to NATO enabling support, solidify gains already made, and deny the Taliban's return to their historical stronghold. Third, in the west and north, embed assistance teams with ANA brigades and higher -- again to provide access to NATO enabling support and solidify gains already made. Fourth, provide development teams for the ANA's major commands (recruiting, logistics, medical, areas support, and detention), the ANA's general headquarters, and the Ministry of Defense -- to continue development of the ANA's "shaft." Finally, the U.S. and NATO should leave behind "dual-purposed" enabler forces -- intelligence, airlift and medical evacuation, air and ground indirect fires, supply, maintenance, ground transport, and logistics. These forces would support both the residual NATO training teams and provide the ANA support it does not have, until its systems reach sufficient capacity. Combined, these actions will improve both ANA combat power and confidence, increasing the probability that it will be successful in assuming lead security responsibility.
The exact size of this assistance and support effort can only be determined by a proper civil-military dialogue among the NATO nations and the Afghans. But, if the United States and NATO want to increase the probability that the ANA will be successful, the number will be around 30,000 troops, and this number will be required at least for the rest of this year and next. The size and cost of this force will diminish over time and will be significantly less than then near $10 billion per month the war cost at its height. U.S. and NATO strategic objectives are not yet accomplished in Afghanistan and cannot be "outsourced" to the Afghans. Pushing the Taliban out of the south is not permanent. The counteroffensive in the east is incomplete. The Taliban and the Haqqanis have not been defeated, and al Qaeda intends to return to Afghanistan.
Killing Osama bin Laden was a hugely important success, but it was only a disruption. Al Qaeda is not "dismantled or defeated," and it remains dedicated to bleed America and the West, to depose governments it claims are apostate, to eliminate the state of Israel, and to gain control of Central Asia, North Africa, and the Greater Middle East. Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. They control an area about the size of Texas in North Africa that includes parts of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, and Chad. Despite ample sanctuary elsewhere, they want to return to Afghanistan -- for historical and symbolic reasons in addition to the complexity of the terrain, which is a nightmare for counterterrorism forces. They still recruit within the U.S. and Europe and have not given up on attacking both directly. They have not waivered with respect to their strategic objectives; neither should the U.S. or NATO.
If the United States and NATO don't finish the job now, they will leave it to another generation. Many of those fighting in Afghanistan now were 5 and 6 years old at the start of the war; we do not want the same future for the current generation of 5- and 6-year-olds. Leaving an adequate assistance and support force in Afghanistan through 2013 and beyond is in the U.S. and NATO's security interest. Certainly, the U.S. and NATO cannot afford to conduct operations as they have for the past decade. But equally certain, the U.S. and NATO cannot allow war weariness and economic conditions to obscure the realities and requirements they face. If the U.S. and NATO provide less-than-adequate support to the ANA this year and beyond, they should at least not fool themselves of the likely waste and result.
Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik (retired) is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, where Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst and team lead.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (Little Brown and Company, New York 2012), 673pp. $29.99.
On October 3, 2009, an assembled impromptu force of hundreds of Afghans overran a deeply vulnerable U.S. outpost, killing eight American soldiers. In retracing this tragic battle and the events that led to it, Jake Tapper has written perhaps the best book set in Afghanistan to date.
This deeply researched book covers the four successive cavalry squadrons -- reconnaissance units of about 300 soldiers, mostly men -- who serve in what will become known as Combat Outpost (or COP) Keating. Albeit written without ever visiting the small outpost of the title, Tapper traces its three-year (plus) history from its establishment in the summer of 2006 through the major attack on the base in October 2009. The COP would be destroyed by American airpower just days later, denying its use to local Afghans. Tapper's narrative arc clearly lays out the human drama, which, in full disclosure, involves friends and acquaintances of mine from my previous military service. I know these men well enough to know that Tapper has accurately captured them.
At one level, this book is simply a piece of tightly crafted narrative non-fiction. Divided into three sections, with a very helpful list of the shifting cast of characters, Tapper chronicles life in this desolate piece of remote, and majestically beautiful, Eastern Afghanistan. The work depicts the all-too-human struggles encountered, from the physical challenges of the soldiers on the ground, to those more strategic and moral with which the more senior officers wrestle.
While Tapper clearly admires his subjects, this book is no whitewash. With the possible exception of then-Lieutenant Andrew Bunderman who finds himself unexpectedly in command during the attack, there are no unambiguous heroes. But Bunderman is a rare under-developed character. Elsewhere, compromised situations force compromised decisions, from the seniors leaders to the privates on the ground. Perhaps because Tapper never embedded with these units, instead reconstructing events post hoc, he maintains an admirable detachment, highlighting flaws even in those men he most clearly admires. This narrative alone is more than worth the price of admission.
Tapper is equally effective at capturing the Army's socio-economic breadth and depth, adding nuance and texture to the oft-depicted cliché of a divide between officers and grunts. Upper middle class officers such as Michael Howard, Chris Kolenda and Brad Brown, who despite having command responsibility for Keating (and numerous other bases), did not live there or share its hardships, come to life in the narrative. So do Keating's more humble denizens, such as both the newly married, recently orphaned Ryan Fritsche, who dies on a hillside near the outpost under the tenure of the second occupying squadron, and the Army mechanic and de facto bigamist Vernon Martin, who perishes in the final battle some years later.
However, the book works most powerfully as a metaphor for the entire Afghanistan project. In the cycle of four units relieving each other over the course of three years, the mood comes full circle. The first squadron shows great enthusiasm, ignoring the clear tactical vulnerability of an outpost in a valley in order to be near to the Afghan villagers. Three years later, this inherent vulnerability and ineffectiveness can no longer be ignored, but the last unit cannot marshal the resources necessary to close the base before it is over-run. While the commanders of the last unit will shoulder much of the official blame, it is not clear that they could have done any more than the final commanders of a similarly indefensible valley fortress, at Dien Bien Phu-the infamously mis-sited French base in Vietnam, whose similar, if larger scale, vulnerability put an end to the French campaign in IndoChina. Tapper's prologue deals with the incredulous analyst who details the laundry list of reasons why Keating should not be positioned where it was-base of a peak, rivers on two sides, no good road, far away even by helicopter. While the analyst does not use the words "rice bowl" as Viet Mihn General Giap famously did the soon-to-be-surrendered Dien Bien Phu, the sentiment is clearly the same.
In these four units we see the complete cycle that characterizes most encounters with Afghanistan-naïve idealism, then modest success, then decline, then concern....and finally disaster. Perversely, it is the modest successes that encourage continued investment in the campaign. Afghanistan seems to have become a "baited ambush" at all levels of war, with just enough enticement to keep investing. The limited tactical successes of Chris Kolenda (the second squadron commander) give the illusion of military and political progress, though they quickly fade. And at the grand strategic level, the 2009 elections that return President Karzai to power are lauded despite being widely considered fraudulent-because they are. But at both levels, being able to "check the box" on an accomplishment seems to justify more effort. The ability to convince one's self that things are improving, or at least that improvement is "just around the corner," has been instrumental to this decade-long debacle.
The irony, of course, is that the Army, like most American institutions, uses a short-term rewards system. Therefore, the officers (and their civilian advisors) who conceptualized the fatally placed base continue to progress through the ranks, based on their glowing "report cards" for establishing COP Keating. Meanwhile, the commanders who were flabbergasted and scandalized by the placement of the inherited outpost are forever tainted by it being destroyed under their watch.
Tapper has done a two-fold service with this book. First, he lays out a highly engaging narrative that fully engages the reader across three years in one desolate corner of Afghanistan-albeit via the American viewpoint. But more importantly, he provides a window into the false hopes and visions that enabled this failed experiment, an attempt to create government in spaces that had actively avoided such. Tapper shows-without telling-that the United States had, and has, no national interest remaining in Afghanistan, other than eliminating Al Qaeda safe havens. The U.S. presence in general was misguided and the "outposting" push into the remote valleys of Nuristan and Kunar particularly inane. Tapper's characters show the price that was paid-in blood, in careers, in broken relationships, in damaged psyches, not to mention in money.
Tapper's book is not anti-war by any means. But it is anti-stupid war. And he clearly shows that, while there was a clear justification for the overthrow of the Taliban regime, by the time of the events he narrates, this was a war of choice.
A bad choice.
Douglas A. Ollivant, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a retired Army officer. He spent 12 months in 2010-2011 as the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commander, Regional Command East, Afghanistan. He is on Twitter at @DouglasOllivant.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington to discuss a bilateral strategic agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, policymakers and the public are debating the pace of troop drawdown and the residual force post-2014, when the security handover to Afghan authorities finishes. Missing from these discussions is a focus on the political and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan - areas that will serve as greater determinants of Afghan stability than whether there are zero, 4,000, or 9,000 U.S. troops. Politics ultimately drive the Afghan conflict, and its resolution will require a broader political consensus and stronger economic foundation than currently exists.
President Karzai's visit offers an opportunity for the Obama administration, members of Congress and others to drill down and express support for a number of political and economic priorities, which could assist in strengthening the legitimacy and competence of the Afghan state as the United States and NATO drawdown. The current Afghan state is deeply flawed and has alienated many Afghans due to its exclusive and predatory nature. The constitutional system, which vests great power in the hands of the executive without real checks and balances, lends itself to abuses of authority. Officials often use formal state institutions to support their patronage networks, fueling high levels of corruption, cronyism, and nepotism on the national and local levels. What's more, the dependency of the Afghan government and its security forces on high levels of international assistance for the foreseeable future, especially in a time of global austerity, threatens to undermine a sustainable transition.
Creating a stronger political consensus and a more solid economic foundation for the Afghan state will be required for long-term stability in Afghanistan. In their meetings with President Karzai and his team, senior U.S. officials must state their expectations about these political and economic processes, clarifying that long-term security support is contingent on Afghan progress on these efforts. Expectations should include the following:
First, a free, fair, inclusive and transparent presidential election is required in which President Karzai transfers power to a legitimately elected successor. President Karzai must work to ensure that the electoral bodies, including the Independent Electoral Commission and an electoral complaints mechanism are independent and credible. The United States hopes to see parliamentary approval of the electoral laws and the implementation of a plan to ensure a successful election.
Second, the United States supports an inclusive political reconciliation process, led by Afghans. The United States supports outreach by President Karzai to more Afghan stakeholders, including the political opposition, women, and civil society groups, in addition to Taliban insurgents. The United States and Afghanistan should create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate their peacemaking, public statements regarding negotiations and outreach to stakeholders, as well as to establish a venue, where representatives of the parties to the conflict can meet outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan to discuss a political settlement.
Third, the United States remains committed to the agreements made at the Tokyo conference in July 2012 by the Afghan government and the international community. In addition to agreeing to provide $16 billion in civilian assistance through 2015, the international community committed to improving the effectiveness of its aid, aligning its assistance with Afghan priority programs, and providing more aid through the Afghan government's budget rather than through outside contractors. However, the disbursements of these dollars depends on the Afghan government progressing on its own commitments, including:
Fourth, the United States supports the development of Afghanistan's mineral sector, in a way that benefits the Afghan population and not a select few. While Afghanistan is already a candidate member of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Karzai administration should develop an Extractive Industries Development Framework that governs Afghanistan's natural wealth through an "accountable, efficient and transparent mechanism which builds upon and surpasses international best practices", as agreed to in Tokyo. The Ministry of Mines should continue to engage with civil society in order to increase transparency in the mining sector and to respond to the needs of communities affected by mining.
The Obama administration must focus on political and economic priorities during President Karzai's visit. Military aspects-troop numbers, training of the Afghan forces, and financial support to the security services-won't be enough to ensure Afghanistan's security and stability over the long term. Leaving behind an unprepared and expensive force to battle an insurgency that NATO has struggled to contain is more likely to create instability than lasting security. Instead, U.S. efforts must be focused on building a more sustainable Afghan state.
John Podesta is Chairman and Caroline Wadhams is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Pakistan has accepted an Afghan "roadmap" for peace, according to news reports this week. If true, this would be quite a breakthrough given the setbacks of the last year, such as the suspension of talks by the Taliban in March, cross-border shelling into eastern Afghanistan, and recent allegations that Pakistan was involved in an assassination attempt on the Afghan intelligence chief last week. Ending a conflict that has claimed so many thousands of Afghan lives is desperately needed, and signs of a shift in Pakistan's attitude to talks could be a positive step towards that. However, a recently leaked copy of the Afghan High Peace Council's "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015,"[posted here], which has not yet been made public, lays out a trajectory that does little to assuage fears that a deal with the Taliban could erode women's rights and human rights in general.
The roadmap contains five steps. The first includes an end to cross-border shelling, the transfer by Pakistan of Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan or a third country, and pressure on the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Phase Two (slated for the first half of 2013) includes safe passage for Taliban negotiators to unspecified countries, contact with Taliban negotiators, agreement on the terms of a peace process, and further delisting of Taliban by the United States and the United Nations.
Phase three, in the second half of 2013, envisages a ceasefire. Taliban prisoners would be released in exchange for renouncing violence. The plan proposes that the Taliban could transform into a political movement, and prepare to contest elections (presumably including the Presidential elections in 2014). While the emergence of a political party from the Taliban is conceivable, and desirable, the hope that this could be achieved next year seems remote. There are clearly reformers within the Taliban, but many who have engaged in preliminary negotiation efforts have been killed by hardliners or imprisoned by Pakistan, while Afghan negotiators have been assassinated. Consequently the breadth of commitment to politics and peace within the Taliban movement remains uncertain.
Step three also contains the most frank description I've seen so far about non-elected appointments of Taliban as an incentive to reconciling. This will likely include critical governorships, potentially legitimating some of the shadow provincial governments of the Taliban. Appointments remain one of the primary means of patronage in Afghanistan, so it's hard to imagine jobs not being a part of a peace deal, however unpalatable it may seem to those bearing the brunt of the ongoing Taliban violence against civilians. But the roadmap contains no red lines here, such as the exclusion from government jobs of commanders suspected of war crimes and other serious human rights abuses. There's a pragmatic argument for this -a peace process is more likely to last if it can defuse the enmity created by atrocities committed by both the Taliban and the government. Unfortunately, whenever I raise the basic human rights principle of "no peace without justice," I usually get a withering dismissal from Afghan and international officials. This year, though, the principle seemed oddly vindicated when the Taliban cited the corruption of the Afghan government as a reason for not negotiating with them.
When consulted, a majority of Afghans tend to support calls for justice and accountability. But it's not until step four of the roadmap, when the real deal-making has already been done, that the Afghan government plans to "mobilize" support from its citizens. There is much more that the government could do now to reassure its citizens -particularly women -that their protection is the primary goal of any peace agreement.
The roadmap, though, doesn't even mention women until the final paragraph, when a government pledge to uphold constitutional guarantees of freedom is repeated. Given President Hamid Karzai's proclivity for casting off women's rights when there's a political incentive, this isn't enough, and certainly doesn't measure up to the Tokyo declaration of July 2012, which has far stronger promises to respect rights. But the Tokyo declaration was signed when 16 billion donor dollars were on the table, so the roadmap may be the more accurate indicator of the government's commitment to women.
Those foreign dollars can still be made to count. In steps four and five, the roadmap talks of international support in implementing the peace process. It would be better if it allowed for international monitoring of the peace process and its implementation, with a place for women at the negotiating table. Only if women are there to argue for their own protections can this not result in a significant setback. It is areas where the Taliban are active, and where the roadmap might formalize their power, that women in public life are most at risk. One woman I met recently, whom I'll call "Shamsia,"was from a conflict ridden area of southeastern Afghanistan. Before we'd finished our introductions, Shamsia launched into her worst fears about the 2014 transition: "Everyone is afraid. Everyone talks about it, particularly women who are working. After 2014, when the Taliban come back, they will kill those who are working with the government." Earlier this week the head of the women's affairs department in Laghman province, Najia Sediqi, was killed by gunmen, five months after her predecessor was assassinated by the Taliban.
Persuading the Taliban to embrace politics over violence, and equality over segregation will take more than prisoner release and government jobs. It will take leadership, and probably many more years than the current roadmap envisages. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been the clearest international voice supporting women's rights in the peace process, but will soon step down. A female activist recently described her as the "conscience of the world" on this issue. When the U.S. Senate holds confirmation hearings for her successor, they can help ensure that the next secretary will also act as a strong "conscience" for the peace process. The international community should also make sure that the roadmap doesn't abandon justice. If peace rewards all Taliban commanders, no matter how terrible their crimes, and doesn't make room for women in the process, this roadmap could be a dead-end for human rights.
Rachel Reid is the Senior Policy Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Open Society Foundations.
With all combat troops scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the negotiations taking place in Kabul on the presence and role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond that point must include a plan for a Contingency Force as part of the troop drawdown. And the United States should take the lead in establishing this Contingency Force, either under the flag of NATO, or as a new coalition concerned with security and stability in Afghanistan in coming years.
The only alternative under discussion within the Obama administration at the moment is the possibility that some Special Forces stay behind in Afghanistan to work in an advisory or training capacity. Similarly, any U.S. residual force that will stay behind following negotiations will likely have a limited role, with additional U.S. military used primarily as force protection: protecting U.S. and international trainers instead of directly assisting ANSF if needed. The residual force options that are currently being discussed are mainly related to support for training efforts and counter-terrorism operations against transnational terrorist groups. This would not be considered a Contingency Force.
In fact, a counter-terrorism residual force, consisting of Special Forces and other troops, can be much smaller if a proper Contingency Force is in place for Afghanistan. Establishing this contingency capacity means the counter-terrorism officers would not have to deal with the emergency situations described in this article.
A too rapid drawdown?
One might argue that the current NATO troop drawdown calendar (2011-2014) was based more on domestic political agendas than on-the-ground security. The result has been an extremely tight and relatively inflexible transition calendar, which leaves few options to respond to potentially changing security dynamics or attacks by the various ‘Taliban' insurgent groups.
Domestic political pressure for a rapid drawdown inside the United States, other NATO countries, and Afghanistan has been reinforced by four key factors. In the U.S. and NATO countries there are calls for ‘an end to the war and return of the troops,' combined with a repositioning toward concerns in the Middle East (particularly Iran and Syria, but also Yemen). Simultaneously, officials in the United States and other NATO countries have become increasingly disillusioned with the Karzai government, and concerned about the deeply troubling ‘insider attacks' on NATO troops.
These political dynamics have created real pressures for a fast-paced troop withdrawal - confirmed by the U.S. Senate recently voting in favour of an accelerated withdrawal - and a neglect of a larger consideration of the security risks related to the upcoming fighting seasons.
The deliberations that existed around contingency planning during the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq are almost completely missing in the case of Afghanistan - and those that do surface are mainly related to safeguarding security during the upcoming presidential elections in 2014 or counter-terrorism in the region. This ignores both the possible threats of the 2013 fighting season, or other security issues that might arise in the years following.
Why do we need a Contingency Force?
Firstly, a Contingency Force would provide an additional guarantee for the safety of foreign interests, infrastructure and staff, such as the diplomats at consulates and embassies, should these come under attack. The recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the coordinated attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September 2011 and the Indian Embassy bombings in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 are sufficient cases in point.
Secondly, the Contingency Force would offer a safety valve while Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) grow in numbers, strength and confidence in an environment that will remain uncertain and unstable for the foreseeable future.
Will ANSF be able and willing to respond to serious insurgent attacks before and after the transition end date of 2014? Despite progress in some areas, particularly in terms of handing over responsibilities to ANSF as planned, there is a risk that increased insurgent activity in the south or elsewhere in Afghanistan could lead to unmanageable situations.
The actual strengths and weaknesses of ANSF are not the essential point. What should be the focus is proper planning to respond to the possibility that ANSF could be confronted by a manner or level of insurgent attack in the South that means they cannot hold the country together. Since the build up of ANSF is such a key element of the transition plan (and exit-strategy) ‘narrative,' we see a dynamic that any public discussion of possible future failure of ANSF, and planning for that contingency, is considered ‘off-message.' This could ultimately lead to a failure of the entire transition project.
The actual current strengths and weaknesses of the insurgency are also not particularly relevant to the calculations that a Contingency Force is needed. Contingency planning does not depend on a complex debate on the current strength of the Taliban and ANSF; one need only acknowledge a possibility that the Taliban could produce a new security dynamic, which we argue would most likely be focused in southern Afghanistan.
Possible scenarios of concern could include, for example, blockading the Kandahar-Kabul road or the road between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, a move into the suburbs of Kandahar City, taking over Lashkar Gah and blocking the bridges over the Helmand River, or gaining control of the Spin Boldak border crossing.
For an example of a new dynamic in the insurgency, look to the complex attack on Camp Bastion in September 2012 that resulted in the destruction of six AV-8B Harriers, the death of two United States Marine Corps service staff and the wounding nine others. This single assault - using 15 insurgents, explosions to enter the base, dividing attackers in three different waves, and making use of U.S. army uniforms - resulted in a four and a half hour fire fight, and caused damages of up to $200-240 million.
Clearly this type of complex, coordinated attack was not anticipated by U.S./NATO-ISAF forces at Bastion, and it illustrates unmistakably that the evolution of the insurgency must be considered in proper planning for future security threats. The more recent coordinated attack with explosives laden vehicles on Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad in December 2012 confirms that the Bastion attack is not an incident.
Geo-political consequences of losing the south
Any serious defeat of ANSF forces or a considerable loss of terrain to the insurgency - before or following the 2014 transition - would not only be a symbolic triumph for the Taliban, it could also completely reconfigure the power structure in Afghanistan and the region.
The geo-political consequences of ‘losing the south' or a similar such scenario would be significant, not the least of which would be the destabilising effect on the wider region, particularly Pakistan, where it could provide a boost for the insurgency.
Drawdown Contingency Plan: Size, location, mandate
It is important to note that having a Contingency Force on standby is not the same as continuing an international military operation in Afghanistan. It would provide Western political leaders with options if a security crisis breaks out in the country.
Size: Given the current levels of ANSF and the continuation of ANP and ANA training and capacity building efforts after 2014, a standby Contingency Force of around 5,000 foreign troops would be sufficient. The Contingency Force would be a standard brigade-size combat team of around 3,500-4,000 soldiers, plus mobility (transport helicopters, but also some attack helicopters) and other support capabilities (intelligence, logistics, medical teams, etc.).
The Contingency Force of 5,000 should be on standby from January 2013 onwards. Given the short time frame before the next fighting season, this means the Contingency Force should initially be included in the calculations of the NATO troop drawdown. Until General John Allen has officially presented his recommendations to the White House, it is not clear how many U.S. forces will be withdrawn in coming months. But at the start of 2013, the United States could start contingency planning by delaying the troop withdrawal of around 2,000 forces until the end of the fighting season of 2013 to complement the transitioning NATO-ISAF forces. These troops would not continue fighting but would convert to contingency troops. Thus, they would still be withdrawn from combat, but would move to a different base to prepare for emergency support operations.
During the six months following the 2013 fighting season, the United States could increase its share of contingency forces to 3,000, and request that its NATO and non-NATO allies contribute a total of 2,000 forces to that group before the end of 2013. This would ensure a total Contingency Force of 5,000 under the flag of NATO before the start of the 2014 fighting season.
The graph below illustrates this scenario, which is of course only one of the many possible outcomes, included here to start a constructive discussion on a contingency system.
* The average numbers of insurgency attacks are based on statistics from previous years (NATO, ISAF Violence Trends Presentation, 30 September 2011).
When deliberating strategic options for a Contingency Force, synergies should be explored - whether in terms of providing a model or in more direct ways - with the NATO Response Force (NRF), a joint force of around 13,000 troops, preparing and training together for about a year, at the disposal of the Atlantic Alliance and with the existing EU Battlegroup (EUBG) structure which has at least 1,500 European troops on standby at any time, currently headquartered in Germany.
The allocation of the 2,000 non-U.S. troops could also be based on a rotating roster, where countries commit a small number of standby forces for a specific period, for example six months to a year (similar to the NATO Response Force which recently extended rotation periods from six to twelve months, and the EU Battlegroup system that rotates every six months). After such a period, other countries will take their place, sharing the burden and making sure a nation's contingency troops are only committed in small numbers and for a limited amount of time.
Location: The foreign Contingency Force could be stationed in or close to Afghanistan. For the latter option, contingency troops stationed in, for example, one of the Central Asian Republics, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait or the UAE, could be logistically more challenging but politically easier to ‘sell' than troops stationed in Afghanistan. Another option is to choose several locations, increasing flexibility and linking the Contingency Force to Afghanistan's main geographical areas and the ANSF units operating in these areas.
Mandate: The Contingency Force would safeguard the results of past and present efforts to ensure stability and security in Afghanistan, while guaranteeing the security transition process can be completed in a sustainable and responsible way. The Contingency Force would, in essence, have the same mandate as NATO-ISAF - particularly its current ANSF support role - but it would be subject to a very specific, predefined set of conditions with regards to when and how it could be deployed. The Rules of Engagement need to be specified as soon as possible in full coordination with the Afghan government.
The Contingency Force should remain operational in Afghanistan until at least 2024, in line with the ten-year timetable envisaged during the Chicago Summit in May 2012, unless of course the security situation changes drastically. The mere existence of the Contingency Force would boost the confidence of the ANSF.
Conclusion: the Contingency Planning window is open
The moment to act is now. With the U.S. presidential elections out of the way and only two more years in the tight calendar of the security transition process a Contingency Force should be established as part of the remaining terms of withdrawal. An operational reserve Contingency Force would provide options to western political leaders when faced with a crisis situation in Afghanistan. It also represents a politically viable compromise between the two extremes currently being talked about in Washington: leaving just a few thousand troops in Afghanistan after 2014, or leaving as many as 30,000 troops.
The fewer foreign troops there are in Afghanistan, the greater the need for proper contingency planning, especially given the essentially uncertain nature of the situation before and after transition. Security transition planning should be based on a solid assessment of possible future scenarios of instability and insecurity, rather than on political hopes or aspirations for what the future will hold.
Norine MacDonald QC is the President and Founder of the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). Jorrit Kamminga is Director of Research at ICOS and Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael.
Watching your mentor fall from grace is never easy. This month many have questioned and saluted David H. Petraeus, who resigned from his post as director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair. Critics chide his judgment, and friends remind us of his brilliance and victories in Iraq. Most acknowledge his indelible mark on how America must fight wars amongst the peoples: creating local partners through peaceful interaction, rather than enemies through the sole use of lethal force. But Petraeus left another mark on a war to prevent future 9/11s, by fighting without troops but with trainers, spies and drones in Pakistan.
The war in Iraq was self-inflicted, the war in Afghanistan was necessary, but the war in Pakistan always carried the nightmare scenario: religious fanatics capturing nuclear weapons and setting them off in American cities. As the commander of U.S. Central Command and then as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, Petraeus pushed the Pakistani military to go after the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network, enticing them with weapons and trainers, and reprimanding with unilateral action. Despite Pakistani military's duplicity - interdicting some insurgents while continuing to harbor the virulent Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis -with a mix of diplomatic and military acumen Petraeus was able to help stabilize a nuclear-armed country that seemed bent on imploding in the spring of 2009.
The question then was not how Pakistan can help us in Afghanistan, but how can nuclear-armed Pakistan stop self-destructing?
It was during that period that I met Petraeus, and after he read my Foreign Affairs article on ways to stem the tide of instability in Pakistan, he asked me to advise him. That year was the most difficult time in U.S.-Pakistan relations since 9/11. The Pakistani Taliban had routed the Pakistani military out of one third of the country. Taliban flags flew high in the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan's northeast, and the Swat valley, just sixty miles from the country's capital, was stained with the blood of many women and children. A year prior, India and Pakistan had come close to nuclear war after the Pakistani intelligence-backed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorized Mumbai, and Osama bin Laden was still on the run.
Yet there was a glimmer of hope. Since 2007, U.S. Special Forces trainers and weapons had slowly improved Pakistan's Special Services Group, Frontier Corps and 11th Corps troops. They began fighting harder and gaining public support against the Pakistani Taliban's nationwide suicide bombing campaign.
In late 2008, Operation Lionheart in the Bajaur tribal agency was led by junior officers that pushed their general to experiment with Petraeus' counterinsurgency principles: clear, hold and build. For years, clearing was easy for Pakistani troops, while holding was ignored and building was nonexistent. In 2009, they began to hold after clearing. Petraeus and former Admiral Mike Mullen - then Joint Chiefs of Staff - encouraged this slow improvement as the Pakistani troops pushed the insurgents out of the Swat Valley and South Waziristan by the winter of 2009. Not only did this stem the tide of suicide attacks, but also temporarily decreased cross- border attacks into Afghanistan. Pakistan did not self-implode in 2009.
During these years I frequently visited South Asia exploring questions about transnational insurgencies, India-Pakistan rivalry, and Afghanistan's future. I briefed Petraeus after every trip and authored a report and several memos for him. He was always encouraging, endorsing contrarian thinking, debating history and never judging my analysis on the basis of my age or religion.
Like many generals and diplomats, Petraeus understood the delicate dance of getting things done in Pakistan: feed the military beast but protect the nascent democracy. But he went one step further: he understood the negotiations culture and the contradiction between what Pakistani military and civilian leaders were willing to promise publicly and deliver privately. When I argued for the creation of institutional mechanisms to exchange lessons learned, he agreed but correctly pointed to challenges: the radioactive nature of American military instructors in Pakistan, and depleting patience of U.S. legislators with Pakistan's reluctance to target the Haqqani Network and Taliban leaders in exile.
When Pakistanis showed progress, Petraeus was willing to acknowledge their contributions. After the success in Swat and South Waziristan he cheered General Ashfaq Kayani, highlighting the sacrifices of the Pakistani military in his congressional testimonies, and he chided him in private when Kayani equivocated on expanding operations against the Haqqanis.
Petraeus understood the importance of personal relationships and changing the insurgents' master narrative: Pakistani soldiers were America's mercenaries. When the Indus River swelled up in July 2010, causing the worst floods in Pakistan's history, and leaving 20 million homeless and one-fifth of the country under water, Petraeus immediately sent help. Scores of U.S. troops and helicopters rescued thousands of Pakistanis and provided food and medicine.
But the U.S.-Pakistan goodwill didn't stick after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May 2011, and Pakistan closed NATO's supply lines for seven months after a NATO airstrike killed 24 of its soldiers, prompting the White House and Congress to cut aid.
Still, Petraeus showed guarded optimism about Pakistan as he made his transition to the CIA. He had helped stopPakistan from becoming a failed states, but he couldn't change its policy of fomenting insurgency in Afghanistan. In my book that's pretty darn good.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is a Provost Fellow at Tufts University, and the author of "Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering and Fomenting Insurgencies." (www.haidermullick.com @haidermullick)
Anyone seeking to understand Afghanistan in general, the flaws in the United States' effort there, or life on the ground as a political advisor in the midst of a counterinsurgency, should read The Valley's Edge by Daniel Green.
The book is a detailed, first-hand account of how a team of U.S. soldiers and civilians, focused on improving governance and development, operated in the midst of a worsening insurgency in one of the most remote provinces in Afghanistan. In the popular media and in academic articles, those who have followed the war over the past decade have been inundated with terms such as "Jirga," free and fair elections, pervasive corruption, and the nature of the Taliban insurgency. The Valley's Edge gives life to these expressions as the reader experiences through Green a meeting with disgruntled elders, seating a provincial council for the first time, a patrol to inspect development projects, the deaths of friends, and the inside stories behind how local government officials actually conducted their corrupt activities.
I first met Dan Green during his second tour as a State Department political advisor to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Uruzgan Province, one of the world's most remote locales, while serving there as a Special Forces officer in 2006. My distinct memory after sitting down with Green for the first time was that he was the first person that I had come across who seriously dedicated himself to understanding the complicated tribal and interpersonal political dynamics at play in every corner of Afghanistan. His work made me realize how superficial our knowledge of Afghan society and the insurgency was at the time (and still is to a large degree), and how those dynamics were critical to understanding popular support for the insurgency. In 2005 and 2006 the U.S. and coalition effort was taking a very black and white approach to the growing insurgency - those in government positions were good and deserved our support, while those labeled as "Taliban" were targeted.
Green's efforts, as described in The Valley's Edge, helped me realize how much we had to learn and how long it was going to take. As shown in the book, after sustained efforts to engage a cross section of Afghan leaders, it took Green the better part of a year to even begin understanding the complex and decades-old rivalries, feuds, and competing tribal groups that were interwoven into the fabric of a fledgling government, an under-resourced coalition effort, and a resurgent Taliban.
The Uruzgan described in The Valleys Edge is a microcosm of issues that have plagued the war effort in the past decade. For example, Green highlights the dichotomy that exists between maintaining security and improving governance. Security in Afghanistan was often established and sometimes brutally maintained by warlords cum government officials. In the case of Uruzgan, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, Governor Jan Mohammed Khan, ruthlessly repressed the Taliban's attempts to reassert their influence in the province. However, his efforts were often at the expense of his tribal rivals, from whom he would withhold government positions and development aide. Green slowly peels back the onion on Jan Mohammed's network of supporters and rivals, and describes how the disaffected tribes viewed the United States as complicit in the repression because we often took the default position of supporting the "legitimate Afghan government".
Green aptly describes how Jan Mohammed's removal as governor ushered in a more democratic and legitimate official, but, in turn, also created a vacuum of significant tribal support for the government. This vacuum opened the door to the resurgence of the Taliban backed by the tribes that were forcefully repressed during Jan Mohammed's rule. The result was a significant spike in violence by the summer of 2006 that lessoned the ability of the PRT and NGOs to conduct development programs. Thus, though governance improved in Uruzgan, the removal of the province's most powerful strongman and his allies, coupled with the transition from the U.S. to the Dutch military in 2006 was a recipe for disaster.
Throughout The Valley's Edge, the reader is able to witness the evolution in the Taliban's tactics, from an uncoordinated and sporadic hit-and-run campaign to classic insurgent techniques of intimidating and assassinating government supporters. Green describes how by his second tour in 2006, the first suicide bomber, car bombs and a huge increase in IEDs were taking a toll on the populace, the efforts of the PRT, and him personally.
The reader also experiences the inadequacies of NATO. Green gets a firsthand look at the Dutch replacement of the U.S. presence in Uruzgan, and again it proves to be a microcosm of the broader flaws associated with NATO taking the lead for security in Afghanistan. He aptly describes how the Dutch found themselves dealing with a very hostile insurgency by the time they took charge of the province in the fall of 2006, which was far removed from the peacekeeping-like effort the Dutch government had signed up for in 2004-2005. In hindsight, this proved true of the entire NATO effort, as evidenced by the myriad of national caveats imposed on the various NATO forces by their governments intended to limit their exposure to the insurgency. The caveats imposed various limitations on what each nations' forces could and could not do, such as engaging in offensive operations or imposing geographical limitations on where units could patrol. Ironically these caveats over time prevented NATO from dealing with many of the sources of instability driving the insurgency, and severely hampered the flexibility of the NATO-ISAF commander. Green describes first-hand what he noticed during his third tour in Afghanistan as a military officer: the lack of will and capability in our NATO allies to prosecute a fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign. Voicing frustration, he also describes the lack of planning behind, and relative ineffectiveness of, the U.S. civilian surge in the fall of 2009.
The strength of The Valley's Edge is that it gives the reader perspective on the war's progression over time, while remaining focused on one geographical location. Green's multiple tours span six years and allow the reader to experience the digression in security, the transition to NATO, and our evolution in dealing with the Afghans. The Valley's Edge is certainly a recommended read, and one that historians will reference generations from now as they recount the history of the war in Afghanistan.
Michael Waltz is a Senior National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation and a former advisor on South Asia to Vice President Cheney.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
An October report by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic claims to have found significant flaws in media reports regarding casualties caused by U.S. drone operations in Pakistan. Three organizations, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation, maintain databases that collect information on the casualties for each strike and their research is regularly cited in congressional reports and news articles. While the Columbia report laments that these estimates can only "substitute for hard facts and information that ought to be provided by the U.S. government," it proceeds to weigh in on the casualty debate. After a strike by strike comparison of the three databases' 2011 data, Columbia concludes that two of these organizations "significantly undercount the number of civilians killed by drone strikes," while singling out the Bureau as the most accurate and reliable source of information on drone casualties.
The Columbia study is quick to critique the drone data compiled by the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal, yet it devotes negligible attention to potential shortcomings in the Bureau's reporting. The study repeatedly applauds the Bureau's investigative practices, analysis criteria and the breadth of its sources. It offers the most guarded criticism, writing only, "we do not agree with the Bureau's analysis of media sources in all cases." Upon reading Columbia's "Counting Drone Strike Deaths," one is led to conclude that the Bureau's casualty estimates are both methodologically rigorous and empirically sound.
And yet, a careful reading of the separate 65 page dataset, which details the findings of Columbia's exhaustive comparison, reveals numerous instances in which the Columbia researchers reject the Bureau's interpretation of the evidence or dispute the credibility of their sources, criticisms that receive no mention in their widely circulated report.
Columbia only analyzed reports for 2011, but had they continued on with their research, they would have found that these problems pervade the Bureau's reporting on strikes from 2004 through 2012.
Based on this tenuous evidence the Bureau has claimed 45-240 civilian casualties. Taken together, this methodologically flawed reporting accounts for over 25 percent of the 474-884 civilian casualties the Bureau claims died between 2004 and 2012. While it is highly probable that some of these deaths may in fact have been civilians, in the face of so much ambiguity, it would be more prudent to label the deceased as unidentified or unknown. This would provide a more accurate representation of the evidence, and acknowledge that despite the best attempts to gather information, there is still much uncertainty about the outcome of individual strikes and the overall effect of the U.S. drone program.
The trends highlighted above point to three broader methodological flaws in the Bureau's analysis that Columbia researchers fail to highlight. The first is a problem of evidence. The Columbia report suggests that the widest range of sources will provide the most credible evidence, and based on the fact that the Bureau cites the largest body of sources and has the highest casualty figures, its numbers are the most reliable. Beyond the fact that the Bureau is a notable outlier as compared to the other two datasets produced by New America Foundation and The Long War Journal, it is a mistake to privilege quantity of evidence over quality. Pakistan Body Count, South Asia Terrorism Portal and the Long War Journal are secondary sources that rely on reporting from other media outlets and should not count as corroborating sources, yet the Bureau does so. Antiwar.com, sify.com, Prison Planet and the World Socialist Web Site are simply not credible news outlets, yet these are some of the sources that the Bureau is praised for citing.
The second problem is the absence of transparency in investigations of drone strikes carried out by the Bureau's own researchers. The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 13 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 56-64 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties. The strike on January 6, 2010 includes a typical description: "According to the Bureau's researchers five rescuers died, named as Khalid, Matiullah, Kashif, Zaman and Waqar, all belonging to the Utmanzai Wazir tribe." However there is no indication of whom these researchers are or the standards they apply to their reporting.
The same criticisms that the Columbia report levies at unnamed Pakistani government officials discussing drone strikes on the condition of anonymity, could just as easily be aimed at the Bureau's own reporting:
We do not know who the unnamed Pakistani officials are, although observers believe they are Pakistani army officials. What definition these officials use to categorize a person as a militant or civilian is unknown. Nor do we know how the Pakistani Army confirms such deaths or the quality of information it is able to rely on given the limited accessibility of some of the tribal regions to even the Army.
The Bureau's researchers might well be the sort of local journalists or "stringers" the Columbia report is quick to term unreliable. Nor does the Bureau make mention of whom their sources are, when or where they were interviewed, or what was said. If the Bureau wants its findings to be taken seriously by other researchers, then it should provide independent reports of its investigations rather than cursory references in the midst of its dataset.
The third problem is one of interpretation. The Bureau consistently counts references to "local" deaths as civilian casualties, but as the Columbia dataset notes, these descriptors are not synonymous. The media reports are riddled with references to "local militants" and "tribal militants." It stands to reason that a significant number of the militants operating in the tribal regions of Pakistan would live in the area, and thus the mere fact that the deceased are reported as local is not sufficient to establish that they are civilians. And yet, the Bureau consistently claims just that. Even worse, it frequently labels the fatalities as civilians when the media accounts refer to them in neutral terms such as "people" or admits that their identity is unclear.
Furthermore, the Bureau's written methodology provides limited insight into how it makes these interpretations. The methodology makes no mention of how the Bureau treats reports of "local" deaths. Nor does it explain how it deals with conflicting reports. The methodology says that when reports differ it provides a range of total casualties, but it does not explain how the Bureau determines who to count as a civilian. It goes on to state that "where media sources refer only to ‘people' killed... we indicate that civilian casualties may be possible." One would assume they indicate this by way of an asterisk or note, but it would seem that in most instances it reports a range of civilian casualties with a low end of zero and a high end of the total killed. This denotes the uncertainty but potentially inflates the high end of the range of civilian deaths. Moreover, it signals a clear preference for counting unidentified casualties as civilians.
Admittedly, this somewhat esoteric discussion about the veracity of the Bureau's claims versus those of other databases, or the appropriate methodology for counting casualties, risks losing sight of the broader picture. These are not merely numbers; these are people. And no matter which database you reference, civilians are being killed by the hundreds. While this consideration should be paramount, an assessment of the drone program should also take into account those factors that are less quantifiable: the elevated rates of PTSD in areas where drones operate, the dangerous example being set for other states, most notably China and Russia, and the increase in anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan that risks endangering the lives of American citizens.
But as the Columbia study points out, numbers matter. Numbers drive our public discourse. Numbers are how politicians measure outcomes. Numbers are how we make sense of our world. And numbers are vulnerable to manipulation, a distortion that is equally dangerous whether it involves government officials lowballing civilian casualty reports or independent researchers potentially inflating them.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
Correction: This post initially stated incorrectly that "The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 15 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 65-73 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties." The correct numbers are 13 strikes and 56-64 reported civilian casualties.
With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Driving north from Mazar-i-Sharif, in Northern Afghanistan, to the Uzbek border last week was a revelation. I first lived in Mazar in 1993, while I worked for the International Organization for Migration assisting Afghan refugees returning to northern and central Afghanistan. Back then, the roadway was decrepit and insecure, and travelers feared to veer from the roadbed due to landmines. Recently, as USAID's senior-most representative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, I met with key leaders and observing the impact of USAID projects. This corridor of infrastructure and commerce, includes not only a new road, but a railroad line (Afghanistan's first!) and new electricity transmission lines that supply cheap, reliable power to much of the north and Kabul. A new customs facility at the border is also generating greater trade - and collecting more revenue for the Afghan government.
There is a virtuous cycle of security, commerce, investment, confidence and good governance building in the north that shows what a successful Afghanistan can look like. This virtuous cycle is essential to stability post-2014, and must be reinforced and replicated. Here is some of what we saw.
First stop: the Hairatan Customs Depot. Trucks and trains from Uzbekistan first arrive in Afghanistan at the Hairatan Customs Depot, where shippers enter their data online, and government officials review their shipments and forms, determine the value of the goods and the tax rate, and begin tracking shipments to ensure they arrive safely at their destinations. With the help of USAID's technical experts, customs officials have streamlined the process from 26 to 16 steps, cutting processing time by 40% and removing opportunities for corruption. These steps alone are estimated to have increased revenues over $7.5 million in the last year.
An increasing portion of shipments coming across the border move to the next stop -- the Naibabad Railroad Depot - via Afghanistan's first railroad. Here, shipments from Central Asia and Russia - wood, flour, steel, and cooking oil - are loaded onto trucks headed for markets and consumers in Mazar and Kabul. On average, Afghan customs officials collect $1,000 per shipment for every shipment worth $15,000 - resources that are making the Afghan government more self-sustaining.
Down the road, at the Gorimar Industrial Park, we went to a soy processing plant and an oxygen tank production facility. With support from USAID and USDA, Afghans are processing soy beans into soy flour and edible oil and using the by-product for high-protein animal feed. We watched some of this feed being loaded for export to Uzbekistan. Next door, oxygen tanks - once only imported from neighboring countries - are now produced locally and sold to hospitals in Mazar for 40 percent of the cost just a few months ago. The oxygen factory is an Afghan private investment.
Finally, our last stop of the day - the Balkh Diary Plant, is a cooperative owned and self-sustaining business located in the center of Mazar that produces milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese. USAID has been working to increase the milk yield with local dairy producers - mostly women with 1-2 animals. These efforts have been so successful, increasing milk yields five-fold, that they now have excess milk to sell to the factory. The plant can produce 8,000 half-liter bags of milk per day, each sold for 15-20 Afghanis, and pays approximately 800 farmers to supply milk to the plant, creating a profitable enterprise that is getting resources directly into the hands of Afghan farmers and milk and export grade yogurt into the hands of Afghan consumers at higher quality and lower price.
Afghans have the capacity, will, and resources to create regional hubs of commerce that will carry the economy, fund their government, employ their youth, positively engage their neighbors, and feed their population. Problems of local governance and corruption are hurdles to this dynamic, but the primary constraint at the moment is insecurity as illustrated by the horrific and senseless bombing that targeted Eid celebrants near Mazar in Faryab province last week. Improving governance and the economic environment are essential to further progress and to attracting the private sector investment critical to sustain this momentum.
Given the inherent challenges of the transition through 2014, getting the Afghan people to see and embrace the demonstrable progress they've made as a society is essential. It is critical to engage the population around the vision of sustaining these investments - and the progress in the north provides an important window into what that looks like.
Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
Will Afghanistan be ready for a 2014 transition? The International Crisis Group's (ICG) October 2012 report on this question drew a significant amount of attention for its warnings about electoral and political strife that could envelop the country following the withdrawal of NATO combat troops (and large amounts of aid) by the end of 2014. Less attention was paid, however, to the ICG's concerns about the state of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF, which consists of the army and police).
The report notes, "[a]s political competition heats up in the approach to the elections, there is a genuine risk that internecine competition between leaders of factions within the ANSF could lead not only to more green-on-blue incidents, but also to an increase in already high attrition rates and, in the worst case, disintegration of command and control soon after U.S. and NATO forces withdraw."
These warnings are even more concerning in light of the fact that the United States is pursing an inordinately military-heavy strategy in developing Afghanistan's security forces. The current strategy focuses on capacity building and neglects the reinforcement of democratic principles that are necessary to ensure Afghanistan's success: accountability, subordination to civilian authority, and respect for human rights, the law of armed conflict (LOAC), Afghan law, and the use of traditional justice. The United States must address these concerns by establishing parallel political and civilian tracks.
The goal of U.S. efforts vis-à-vis ANSF development appears straightforward: the U.S. strives to increase the capability of ANSF to sustain operations that ensure security, safeguard and establish governmental control, and combat terrorism. U.S. forces involved in ANSF development are focused on the skills ANSF need to confront armed opposition groups and crime. This translates into advice on targeting processes, the military decision-making process, law and order procedures, fire and maneuver, small unit tactics, etc. However, it is not apparent that U.S. policy and practice for this effort is taking into account the political, military, and social complexities involved in ANSF development; viewing it through the lens of security sector reform (SSR) helps to clarify this.
Just as is the case for foreign troops in Afghanistan, Afghan security forces can only succeed with the support of the civilian populace. How does U.S. assistance and advising take this need for acceptance into consideration, though? Moreover, how does it take into account the dire need to ensure that citizens can hold ANSF accountable for infractions that jeopardize such acceptance?
These are serious questions concerning U.S. efforts to develop ANSF and establish security. It appears that the United States does not have in place adequate doctrine, policies, or practices to monitor, report, and address ANSF progress with respect to complex matters of SSR and the professionalization of democratically controlled security forces. Such matters include the following:
The current U.S. training strategy for the ANSF risks furthering the conflict in Afghanistan by creating capable security forces that civilian authorities and Afghan citizens ultimately are not able to hold accountable. The absence of accountability and democratic control in cases of U.S.-assisted security forces has led to corruption, sectarian strife, and human rights and LOAC violations, for example, as we have seen already in Afghanistan, as well as in Uzbekistan, El Salvador, Vietnam, Iraq, Nicaragua, and South Sudan.
The United Nations 2011 report on protection of civilians in Afghanistan shows that Afghanistan needs to establish a system that allows for the investigation of ANSF infractions, and establishing one that sets methods to hold agents of abuse accountable is an even more daunting effort. The history of U.S. security assistance demonstrates the importance of monitoring, reporting, and advising on accountability and subordination of the ANSF to civilian authority: if accountability and subordination are insufficient, Afghanistan risks returning to an era of civil war.
The same ramifications confront ‘shadow governments' (i.e. Taliban local governments) that currently exist in Afghanistan when they do not reign in armed opposition groups sufficiently. Popular backlash against Taliban abuses, such as attacks on girls and the extrajudicial killings of mullahs, forces the Taliban to either discipline their fighters or deny responsibility. Just as the inability to control and hold accountable low-level fighters weakens support for the Taliban, the inability to control and hold accountable ANSF will weaken support for the Afghan government. It is essential that U.S. policy recognizes how the lack of transparency, accountability, and democratic control of security forces foments conflict.
The United States, however, cannot ensure Afghanistan will be properly equipped for accountability and control of ANSF if there is not a strong parallel political track between U.S. civilians working on the ANSF development effort and their Afghan counterparts. Things appear not to have changed much from Oxfam America's 2009 report on U.S. security assistance, which pointed out that "[i]n Iraq and Afghanistan, reliance on the U.S. military and private contractors to plan and implement U.S. SSR efforts has strongly reinforced the focus on operational capacity over accountability to civilian authority and respect for human rights." Oxfam correctly highlights in its report that the "[Department of State] should remain the lead agency in SSR, with the Department of Defense (DoD) facilitating the development of professional and accountable armed forces that are under civilian authority."
Advising and assisting ANSF is not just a military endeavor-it involves a great deal of political involvement and oversight. With a policy that utilizes a parallel political track, the U.S. can direct advisory brigades and teams in providing information to appropriate civilian counterparts so that they can address complex political-military issues. The U.S. must establish a strong political component that is led by the U.S. Department of State and dedicated to monitoring, reporting, and advising on the above SSR concerns in Afghanistan.
Another issue that U.S. policy vis-à-vis ANSF development neglects is civil society's involvement in the process. And because the conflict in Afghanistan is driven in part by Afghans' lack of trust in their government, such neglect is egregious. The existing U.S. efforts to encourage confidence in ANSF are superficial, consisting of propaganda campaigns rather than civil activities that would foster organic support for ANSF. Just as there must be democratic structures and processes that allow the Afghan government to control and monitor its security forces, there must be external avenues that allow Afghan citizens to convey concerns that help shape ANSF development and operations. For instance, providing assistance to civil society's involvement in these matters, such as building the ability of media to provide security sector oversight, encourages citizens to dialogue with their government and hold it responsible for its performance through the ballot box.
Educating Afghan media on their role in civil society as a ‘watch dog' for security force infractions is a critical positive step toward countering a myriad of issues-intimidation, government framing of incidents, restriction of information, etc.-that can hinder media oversight. The United States needs to establish a parallel civilian track that looks to secure the involvement of Afghan citizens in oversight of the ANSF through media, advocacy organizations, discussions with civil representatives, and elections. Afghans' use of elections to hold politicians responsible for the performance and control of domestic security forces is a clear demonstration of democratic accountability.
South Sudan-another test region for U.S. security assistance-provides a good example of what happens when security forces use overwhelming force in a nascent democracy, but citizens have no avenue to advocate for reform or hold their government accountable. When the Sudan People's Liberation Army (the SPLA-South Sudan's army) began to forcefully disarm militias in its historically restive Jonglei State-an effort that began in March 2012 and continues to date-the intervention resulted in numerous reported deaths, rapes, and extrajudicial killings, as well as a humanitarian crisis that persists to this day.
The SPLA's efforts in Jonglei State have alienated many from the Government of South Sudan. And while the fallout was predictable, the residents' inability to seek justice and security from the government is a failure for protection of civilians. Furthermore, it foments future conflict in South Sudan. Similar activity in Afghanistan would prove that Kabul and its forces are out of touch, not carrying out the will of the people, and essentially illegitimate.
As the United States looks toward a successful transition in 2014, it must address the above inadequacies if it hopes to provide Afghanistan with a fighting chance.
Ali A. Riazi is an advisor to NGOs and the U.S. government and military, with a focus on civilian protection, security sector reform, humanitarian affairs, and counter-terrorism. He served previously with the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office and the U.S. Marine Corps. He can be found at https://twitter.com/ali_riazi and http://www.abeingforitself.com.