Pressure building on Karzai to hold grand jirga

July 21, 2011

Since Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s announcement to convene a meeting of the traditional Loya Jirga to discuss and decide the terms for US forces to stay in Afghanistan, violent attacks in the already war-torn country are on the rise.

The assassinations of Karzai’s brother Ahmad Wali Karzai and senior adviser Jan Mohammad Khan have not only made the Afghans all the more sceptic, but they also raised many questions.

On the one hand, the US-led allies have announced their pullout schedule, while on the other the US is pressing Afghanistan for “strategic accord”.

A few months ago President Hamid Karzai had announced to convene the traditional Loya Jirga to discussing the current situation in Afghanistan and deciding on strategic ties with the US.

To this end, a high level commission has already been constituted with former Afghanistan president and spiritual leader Prof Sibghat Ullah Mujaddadi as its chief.

Despite its announcement of pulling its troops out of Afghanistan, the US wants certain permanent bases across the country.

Some insiders believe that US authorities have also selected sites in this regard and a few of them are already under US occupation of the US officials and troops.

Except Kabul, the other six bases would be in Afghanistan’s border regions neighbouring Central Asian Republics, Iran and Pakistan.

No one can deny continuation of the “Great Game” in Afghanistan which in turn was the continuation of the so-called ‘Cold War’.

Whatever might be the justifications of the rulers and religious leaders of the Islamic countries, all they in fact contributed to the US victory against former Soviet Union and making the former an unrivalled super power.

Again with the support of Islamic countries, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some circles do speculate that now the US is eyeing on certain other strategically important regions in South and Central Asia.

Analysts believe the US is strategically scattering its military might in Afghanistan and beyond.

Although the US strategic deal with Afghanistan is just a part of the “Great Game” but President Karzai is not in a position to give a green signal to the US in this regard as yet.

Certain regional allies of the US are also playing a dual game when President Karzai is going to take the Afghans into confidence over their future. The phenomenon that can hamper the Karzai’s initiative is the rising tide of violence. Even when all the Afghans want to get rid of wars and violence a minority of them can only thrive on the same. And this minority group is being patronised, financed and provoked by external financiers.

In the end only the Afghans will have to choose their future. They will have to shun tribal hostilities while realising the purpose of the US-Afghanistan ‘strategic ties’. Only through a grand reconciliation and unity can they thwart the external conspiracies.


Mortars from Afghanistan kill four in Pakistan

July 19, 2011

Mortar shells fired from across the border in Afghanistan hit a Pakistan military border post killing four soldiers, Pakistan security officials said Tuesday.

Two other soldiers were wounded in the attack in South Waziristan tribal district, they said, in the latest in a series of deadly cross-border incidents that have raised tensions between the neighbouring countries.

“Four soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in this cross-border attack,” a senior security official in Peshawar told AFP.

“More than 20 mortar shells were fired from across the border. Three shells slammed into a paramilitary Frontier Corps checkpost in Angoor Adda area,” he added.

Another security official in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan tribal district, confirmed the incident and casualties.

Both the officials blamed the Afghan National Army (ANA) for the attack.


The Secret Life of Ahmed Wali Karzai

July 19, 2011

Tacstrat Analysis

How America Runs Its Own Private Militias in Afghanistan, And Outsources Them To Drug Barons And Mafia Overlords

INTRODUCTION

The death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and provincial council chief of Kandahar province, has brought the War in Afghanistan to a crossroads. Beyond his death, both President Karzai and the US and its allies are at a loss for what endgame they plan now.

THE KING OF KANDAHAR

Ahmed Wali Karzai was commonly understood to be a CIA asset for the past nine years – a characteristic that can neither be confirmed nor be denied. He is said to have received payments from the CIA for a variety of jobs – providing information, ANA/ANP recruits, bases, and often interfacing with local tribal leaders on behalf of ISAF as the official part of the alliance with the US. Earliest sources place Ahmed Wali Karzai during the Taliban reign as the manager of a family-run Afghan restaurant on North Halsted Street in the Chicago’s Wrigleyville district, serving aushak (leek dumplings) and lamb dopiaza (tenderloin sauteed with yellow split-peas and onions). How this small-time restaurant owner in the US turned into multi-billionaire politician and “tribal elder” in Kandahar is a classic story of the CIA propping up its own frontmen as Third World “leaders”. Steve Coll has called him “the most visible, intractable symbol of the corruption and the corporate self-interest of the Karzai government in southern Afghanistan”.

Read Complete Article Here: http://tacstrat.com/content/?p=2832


The endless war

December 21, 2010

As the American-led war enters its tenth year and the much awaited review of the Afghan strategy is out, there is still no clarity about the real American objectives and interests in the region. Never in history has politics been what major powers and their players state in public. All politics, domestic as well as international, has an inside story which is revealed when none of the players involved is around to answer questions, unless the information is leaked deliberately. Therefore, going by public statements regarding American objectives in the Afghan war will be a mistake for any commentator or policy analyst.

Any war is a complex affair; it is partly a recognition of the intricate nature of the Afghan war that American strategy has alternated between maximal objectives like nation-building to more modest ones like going after al Qaeda leaders.

Nobody can escape some of the troubling questions about the current Afghan war, let alone Pakistan or Afghanistan itself. Some of these questions are about the end and the means of the war and how likely the American power establishment is to achieve them. In the initial heat of the military intervention, the war focused onremoving the Taliban regime, the capture and killing of al Qaeda leaders and rebuilding of state institutions, infrastructure, economic rehabilitation and social recovery. The Americans soon lost the momentum on more crucial functions of state and nation-building in Afghanistan by hopping on to another costly war in Iraq. In the words of one of the observers of the Afghan scene, it was reduced to a “poor man’s war”.

There cannot be a better reflection of ignorance of Afghan history and the social dynamics of Afghan society than the belief that the Afghans would see foreign intervention in their own interests and welcome it. A faction or some narrow-based social and political fragments on the losing end of local conflicts in Afghanistan have always welcomed foreign intervention. It was a mistake for Americans and their European allies to see this as a sign of domestic support.

Perhaps the narrow social constituency of support would have broadened if there had been some demonstrated dividends of peace and reconstruction and their recognition and ownership by wider sections of the Afghan populations. It was partly the frustrated expectations about the post-Taliban regime that provided a big window of opportunity to the Taliban to re-emerge as a resistance force.

The second review of the Afghan strategy of the Obama Administration says it all about both the complexity of the war and the big challenge of winning the war in the face of growing public anger and declining political support back home. For regional states, the question of what the objectives of the war are, how long the Americans are going to stay and what means they deem appropriate to pursue these goals remains a matter of concern. The longer the Americans stay in Afghanistan, the more likely they are to be presented by the Taliban as an occupation force. And the longer this war draws on, the worse the security conditions of neighbouring countries become. It is better that the Americans follow the brave initiative of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban and end this war rather than continue fighting. They must search for an honourable exit through a political settlement among the Afghans; continuation of the war through surges will only increase the pain for everyone. But such a recognition will require a bold ownership of strategy by a visionary political leadership.


US will begin Afghan withdrawl from July next year: Holbrooke

November 15, 2010

ISLAMABAD: The process of withdrawing US combat troops from Afghanistan will begin in July next year and will be completed in four years in a phased manner, America’s Special Envoy for Af-Pak region Richard Holbrooke said.

The process of troop withdrawal is not an exit strategy but a transition strategy, Holbrooke told reporters at a roundtable discussion here.

The US wants to return full sovereignty to the people and government of Afghanistan, he said.

A summit of NATO countries to be held next week will be attended by US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be invited to put forth his plans and policies, Holbrooke said.

The Taliban’s demand for Karzai’s removal is unacceptable, he said.

“The US and other countries, including Pakistan, support the government of President Karzai and the Taliban will have to live with this reality,” he added.

Holbrooke told a questioner that Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to cooperate to resolve the issue of terrorism.

“If Pakistan wishes to play a role and support the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, it would be welcomed,” he remarked.

Replying to another question, Holbrooke said the launching of a military operation in North Waziristan tribal region would be a tactical decision to be made by the Pakistan Army and the government.

At the moment, the Pakistan Army feels that it does not have the resources for this purpose, he said.

Asked about the sources of funding for terrorists and militants, Holbrooke said the funds primarily come from outside Pakistan and through the extortion of NATO supply convoys.

“This is a serious issue and we are working on it,” he said.

Asked whether Obama’s endorsement of India’s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council would hamper efforts to reduce tension between Pakistan and India, he said the US favours greater understanding between the two countries. He said the US leadership has repeatedly said that the two countries should work out their differences.

The ability of the US to talk freely and candidly with Pakistan and India would be helpful in reducing tension, he contended.

Responding to a question, Holbrooke said the US made a mistake by abandoning Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan but it would not repeat this mistake.


Neighbours wary of thaw in Pak-Afghan relations: NYT

July 27, 2010

The News International

‘The Indians are shell-shocked. They went in with more than a billion dollars, and now Pakistan is eating their lunch’

NEW DELHI: Recent moves by Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve their once-frosty relationship have prompted deep concern in other countries in the region and led some to consider strengthening ties to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s political rivals, the New York Times has reported.

The US government considers the Afghan-Pakistan overtures essential to combating insurgencies racking both nations. But India, Iran and Afghanistan’s northern neighbors fear that they are a step toward fulfilling Karzai’s desire to negotiate with Taliban leaders and possibly welcome some of them into the government.

These nations think that Karzai’s plans could compromise their security and interests by lessening the influence of Afghanistan’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minorities, with whom they have cultivated close links, diplomats and government officials say.

The apprehension, voiced pointedly by senior Indian officials in recent interviews, has emerged as yet another challenge for the US government, which seeks to encourage new initiatives to stabilise Afghanistan while minimising fallout on the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan.

In an attempt to assuage those concerns, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, traveled here last week to meet with India’s national security adviser and foreign secretary. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, arrived on Thursday for two days of meetings with top military and civilian leaders.

India has been riled by recent meetings involving Karzai and Pakistan’s top two security officials: Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the Army chief, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the intelligence director. Afghanistan and Pakistan have signed a trade agreement that allows Afghan trucks to drive through Pakistan to the Indian border.

Indian officials had wanted to send their trucks through Pakistan to Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government insisted they not be included in the negotiations. US officials hailed the deal as a major step forward in the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a vital development for Afghanistan’s economy.

Of greater concern to the Indians is Karzai’s interest in reconciling with elements of the Taliban leadership. Because of the Taliban’s historic ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Indian officials think that such a move would give Pakistan new influence in Afghanistan.

Allowing the Taliban, which is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, to have a role in the Afghan government is something “we don’t think is a very good idea,” a senior Indian government official said. “It’s not that there are two equal political factions, with equal legitimacy, that have a right to political power. Karzai is the elected president. Not the Taliban. It should not be a question of negotiating a place at the table for them.”

The Indian government, the official said, disputes “suggestions that come from the Pakistanis that the Taliban is legitimate, they represent the Pashtuns and therefore you need to deal with them and negotiate with them. That’s the difference. We don’t think they represent the Pashtuns.”

Compounding India’s pique is the fact that it believed it had cultivated close ties with Karzai. India has opened four consulates in Afghanistan, even though relatively few Indian citizens live there, and invested $1.3 billion in development projects – far more than Pakistan has.

“The Indians are shell-shocked,” said a Western diplomat involved in Afghanistan policy. “They went in with more than a billion dollars, and now Pakistan is eating their lunch.”

US officials are trying to persuade the Indians to abandon their traditional zero-sum logic that what’s good for Pakistan must be bad for them. “You cannot stabilise Afghanistan without the participation of Pakistan as a legitimate concerned party,” Holbrooke said at a meeting with Indian journalists here.

Speaking to reporters on his flight here, Mullen said that “the whole region has a role to play” in Afghan reconciliation but that the Kabul government must take the lead.

In his meetings, Mullen sought to assure Indian officials that the US-led counterinsurgency strategy was on track and that the United States has a long-term commitment to assist Afghanistan. “India, perhaps more than any outside country, has the greatest stake in our success in Afghanistan,” one US official said.

The United States, Mullen told reporters, is not “looking for the door out of Afghanistan or out of this region.”

But Indian officials remain deeply mistrustful of Pakistan’s motivations in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis, officials here contend, have deftly capitalized on Karzai’s fears of abandonment by the United States – fueled in part by his misinterpretation of President Obama’s pledge to begin drawing down forces by July 2011 – by offering to help forge a deal with an insurgency that his army, and Nato forces, have been unable to defeat.

“Pakistan wants to be able to control the sequence of events in Afghanistan,” a second senior Indian official said. “We don’t want a situation that would entail a revision to pre-2001, with backward-looking people taking the reins of power in Kabul.”

Iran, which is predominantly Shiite Muslim, is also worried about any greater political role for leaders of the almost exclusively Sunni Taliban. Diplomats in New Delhi say Iran has encouraged India to send more of its assistance to provinces in northern and western Afghanistan that are under the control of people who were part of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The diplomats said India has not shifted its efforts.

Whether the Taliban is genuinely interested in reconciliation is questionable. CIA Director Leon Panetta said last month that he saw no clear indications that insurgent leaders wanted to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government. Mullen echoed that assessment, saying he does not believe reconciliation is imminent. “We’ve got to be in a position of strength,” he said. “We’re just not there yet.”


Counterinsurgency Down for the Count in Afghanistan…

July 22, 2010

But the war machine grinds on and on and on.

By Ann Jones


US Army photo by Staff Sgt. William Tremblay

President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy isn’t working. So said a parade of Afghanistan watchers during the flap over war commander General Stanley McChrystal’s firing. But what does that phrase, so often in the media these days, really mean? And if the strategy really isn’t working, just how can you tell?

The answers to these questions raise even more important ones, including: Why, when President Obama fires an insubordinate and failing general, does he cling to his failing war policy? And if our strategy isn’t working, what about the enemy’s? And if nothing much is working, why does it still go on nonstop this way? Let’s take these one at a time.

1. What do you mean by “it’s not working”?

“It” is counterinsurgency or COIN, which, in fact, is really less of a strategy than a set of tactics in pursuit of a strategy. Counterinsurgency doctrine, originally designed by empires intending to squat on their colonies forever, calls for elevating the principle of “protecting the population” above pursuing the bad guys at all cost. Implementing such a strategy quickly becomes a tricky, even schizophrenic, balancing act, as I recently was reminded.

I just spent some time embedded with the US Army at a forward operating base near the Pakistan border where, despite daily “sig acts”-significant activity of a hostile nature-virtually every “lethal” American soldier is matched by a “nonlethal” counterpart whose job it is, in one way or another, to soften up those civilians for “protection.”

General McChrystal himself played both roles. As the US commander, he was responsible for killing what he termed, at one point, “an amazing number of people” who were not threats, but he also regularly showed up at Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s palace to say, “Sorry.” Karzai praised him publicly for his frequent apologies (each, of course, reflecting an American act or acts that killed civilians), though angry Afghans were less impressed.

The part of the lethal activity that often goes awry is supposed to be counterbalanced by the “sorry” part, which may be as simple as dispatching US officers to drink humble tea with local “key leaders.” Often enough, though, it comes in the form of large, unsustainable gifts. The formula, which is basic COIN, goes something like this: kill some civilians in the hunt for the bad guys and you have to make up for it by building a road. This trade-off explains why, as you travel parts of the country, interminable (and often empty) strips of black asphalt now traverse Afghanistan’s vast expanses of sand and rock, but it doesn’t explain why Afghans, thus compensated, are angrier than ever.

Many Afghans, of course, are angry because they haven’t been compensated at all, not even with a road to nowhere. Worse yet, more often than not, they’ve been promised things that never materialize. (If you were to summarize the history of the country as a whole in these last years, it might go like this: big men-both Afghan and American-make out like the Beltway Bandits many of them are, while ordinary Afghans in the countryside still wish their kids had shoes.)

And don’t forget the majority of Afghans in the countryside who have scarcely been consulted at all: women. To protect Afghan women from foreign fighters, Afghan men lock them up-the women, that is. American military leaders slip easily into the all-male comfort zone, probably relieved perhaps to try to win the “hearts and minds” of something less than half “the population.”

It’s only in the last year or two that the Marines and the Army started pulling a few American women off their full-time non-combat jobs and sending them out as Female Engagement Teams (FETs) to meet and greet village women. As with so many innovative new plans in our counterinsurgency war, this one was cobbled together in a thoughtless way that risked lives and almost guaranteed failure.

Commanders have casually sent noncombatant American women soldiers-supply clerks and radio operators-outside the wire, usually with little training, no clear mission, and no follow up. Predictably, like their male counterparts, they have left a trail of good intentions and broken promises behind. So when I went out to meet village women near the Pakistan border last week with a brand-new Army FET-in-training, we faced the fury of Pashto women still waiting for a promised delivery of vegetable seeds.

Imagine. This is hardly a big item like the “government in a box” that General McChrystal promised and failed to deliver in Marja. It’s just seeds. How hard could that be?

Our visit did, however, open a window into a world military and political policymakers have ignored for all too long. It turns out that the women of Afghanistan, whom George W. Bush claimed to have liberated so many years ago, are still mostly oppressed, impoverished, malnourished, uneducated, short of seeds, and mad as hell.

Count them among a plentiful crew of angry Afghans who are living proof that “it’s not working” at all. Afghans, it seems, know the difference between genuine apologies and bribes, true commitment and false promises, generosity and self-interest. And since the whole point of COIN is to gain the hearts and minds of “the population,” those angry Afghans are a bad omen for the US military and President Obama.

Moreover, it’s not working for a significant subgroup of Americans in Afghanistan either: combat soldiers. I’ve heard infantrymen place the blame for a buddy’s combat injury or death on the strict rules of engagement (“courageous restraint,” as it’s called) imposed by General McChrystal’s version of COIN strategy. Taking a page from Vietnam, they claim their hands are tied, while the enemy plays by its own rules. Rightly or wrongly, this opinion is spreading fast among grieving soldiers as casualties mount.

It’s also clear that even the lethal part of counterinsurgency isn’t working. Consider all those civilian deaths and injuries, so often the result of false information fed to Americans to entice them to settle local scores. To give just one example: American troops recently pitched hand grenades into a house in Logar Province which they’d been told was used by terrorists. Another case of false information. It held a young Afghan, a relative of an Afghan agricultural expert who happens to be an acquaintance of mine. The young man had just completed his religious education and returned to the village to become its sole maulawi, or religious teacher. The villagers, very upset, turned out to vouch for him, and the Army hospitalized him with profuse apologies. Luckily, he survived, but such routine mistakes regularly leave dead or wounded civilians and a thickening residue of rage behind.

Reports coming in from observers and colleagues in areas of the Pashtun south, once scheduled to be demonstration sites for McChrystal’s cleared, held, built, and better-governed Afghanistan, are generally grim. Before his resignation, the general himself was already referring to Marja-the farming area (initially trumpeted as a “city of 80,000 people”) where he launched his first offensive-as “a bleeding ulcer.” He also delayed the highly publicized advance into Kandahar, the country’s second largest city, supposedly to gain more time to bring around the opposing populace, which includes President Karzai. Meanwhile, humanitarian NGOs based in Kandahar complain that they can’t do their routine work assisting the city’s inhabitants while the area lies under threat of combat. Without assistance, Kandaharis grow-you guessed it-angrier.

From Kandahar province, where American soldiers mass for the well-advertised securing of Kandahar, come reports that the Afghan National Army (ANA) is stealing equipment-right down to bottled drinking water-from the US military and selling it to the Taliban. US commanders can’t do much about it because the official American script calls for the ANA to take over responsibility for national defense.

NATO soldiers have complained all along about the ill-trained, uninterested troops of the ANA, but the animosity between them seems to have grown deadly in some quarters. American soldiers in Kandahar report that, for their own security, they don’t tell their ANA colleagues when and where they’re going on patrol. Back in the 1980s, in the anti-Soviet jihad we supported, we trained Afghan jihadists who have today become our worst enemies, and now we may be doing it again.

Factor in accounts of what General McChrystal did best: taking out bad guys. Reportedly, he was vigorously directing Special Forces’ assassinations of high and mid-level Taliban leaders in preparation for “peeling off” the “good” Taliban-that is, those impoverished fighters only in it for the money. According to his thinking, they would later be won over to the government through internationally subsidized jobs. But assassinating the ideological leaders, the true believers and organizers-or those we call the bad Taliban-actually leaves behind leaderless, undisciplined gangs of armed rent-a-guns more interested in living off the population we’re supposed to protect than being peeled off into abject Afghan poverty. From the point of view of ordinary Afghans in the countryside, our “good Taliban” are the worst of all.

I could go on. If you spend time in Afghanistan, evidence of failure is all around you, including those millions of American taxpayer dollars that are paid to Afghan security contractors (and Karzai relatives) and then handed over to insurgents to buy protection for US supply convoys traveling on US built, but Taliban-controlled, roads. Strategy doesn’t get much worse than that: financing both sides, and every brigand in between, in hopes of a happier ending someday.

2. So why does Obama stick to this failed policy?

Go figure. Maybe he’s been persuaded by Pentagon hype. Replacing General McChrystal with Centcom commander General David Petraeus brought a media golden-oldies replay of Petraeus’s greatest hits: his authorship of the Army’s counterinsurgency manual, updated (some say plagiarized) from a Vietnam-era edition, and of Bush’s 2007 “surge” in Iraq, an exercise in sectarian cleansing now routinely called a “success.” If you can apply the word “success” to any operation in Iraq, you’re surely capable of clinging to the hope that Petreus can find it again in Afghanistan.

But like David McKiernan, the general he ousted, McChrystal has already misapplied the “lessons” of Iraq to the decidedly different circumstances of Afghanistan and so producing a striking set of failures. A deal to buy off the Shinwari Pashtuns, for instance, a tribe mistakenly thought to be the equivalent of the Anbar Sunnis in Iraq, ended in an uproar when they pocketed the money without firing a shot at a single Talib. Not so surprising, considering that the people they were paid to fight are not foreign invaders-that would be us-but their Pashtun cousins.

Moreover, the surge into the Afghan south seems only to have further alienated the folks who live there, while increasing violence against local residents. It has also come at the expense of American troops in the east, the ones I was recently embedded with, who face an onslaught of hostile fighters moving across the border from Pakistan.

3. What about the enemy strategy? How’s that working?

It seems the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and various hostile fighters in Afghanistan drew their own lessons from Petraeus’s surge in Iraq: they learned to deal with a surge not by fading away before it, but by meeting it with a surge of their own. An American commander defending the eastern front told me that hostile forces recently wiped out five border posts. “They opened the gate,” he said, but with the American high command focused on a future surge into Kandahar, who’s paying attention? In fact, as the battle heats up in the east, another official told me, they are running short of helicopters to medevac out American casualties. In this way, so-called strategy easily morphs into a shell game played largely for an American audience at the expense of American soldiers.

And all the while America’s “partner” in this strategy, the dubious President Karzai, consolidates his power, which is thoroughly grounded in the Pashtun south, the domain of his even more suspect half-brother, Ahmed Wali. In the process, he studiously ignores the parliament, which lately has been staging a silent stop-work protest, occasionally banging on the desks for emphasis. He now evidently bets his money (which used to be ours) on the failure of American forces, and extends feelers of reconciliation to Pakistan and the Taliban, the folks he now fondly calls his “angry brothers.” As for the Afghan people, even the most resilient citizens of Kabul who, like Obama, remain hopeful, say: “This is our big problem.” They’re talking, of course, about Karzai and his government that the Americans put in place, pay for, prop up, and pretend to be “partners” with.

In fact, America’s silent acceptance of President Karzai’s flagrantly fraudulent election last summer-all those stuffed ballot boxes-seems to have exploded whatever illusions many Afghans still had about an American commitment to democracy. They know now that matters will not be resolved at polling places or in jirga council tents. They probably won’t be resolved in Afghanistan at all, but in secret locations in Washington, Riyadh, Islamabad, and elsewhere. The American people, by the way, will have little more to say about the resolution of the war-though it consumes our wealth and our soldiers, too-than the Afghans.

Think of what’s happening in Afghanistan more generally as a creeping Talibanization, which Afghans say is working all too well. In Marja, in Kandahar, in the east, everywhere, the Taliban do what we can’t and roll out their own (shadow) governments-in-a-box, ready to solve disputes, administer rough justice, collect taxes, and enforce “virtue.” In Herat, the Ulema of the West issue a fatwa restricting the freedom of women to work and move about without a mahram, or male relative as escort. In Kabul, the police raid restaurants that serve alcohol, and the government shuts down reputable, secular international NGOs, charging them with proselytizing. Taliban influence creeps into parliament, into legislation restricting constitutional freedoms, into ministries and governmental contracts where corruption flourishes, and into the provisional peace jirga tent where delegates called for freedom for all imprisoned Taliban. Out of the jails, into the government, to sit side by side with warlords and war criminals, mujahideen brothers under the skin. Embraced by President Karzai. Perhaps even welcomed one day by American strategists and President Obama himself as a way out.

4. If it’s so bad, why can’t it be stopped?

The threatening gloom of American policy is never the whole story. There are young progressive men and women running for Parliament in the coming September elections. There are women organizing to keep hold of the modest gains they’ve made, though how they will do that when the men seem so intent on negotiating them away remains a mystery. There are the valiant efforts of thoroughly devout Muslims who wish to live in the twenty-first century. When they look outward to more developed Islamic countries, however, they see that their homeland is a Muslim country like no other-and if the Taliban return, it will only be worse.

American development was supposed to have made it all so much better. But tales abound of small, successful projects in education or health care, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and then dropped without a single visit from USAID monitors afraid to leave their Embassy fortress in Kabul. Regularly, USAID now hands over huge hunks of “aid” money to big, impossibly ambitious, quick-fix projects run by the usual no-bid Beltway Bandit contractors whose incompetence, wastefulness, unconscionable profits, and outright fraud should be a national scandal.

This, too, is a process everyone knows but can’t speak about because it’s not part of the official script in which the US must be seen as developing backward Afghanistan, instead of sending it reeling into the darkest of ages. Despairing humanitarians recall that Hillary Clinton promised as secretary of state to clean house at USAID, which, she said, had become nothing but “a contracting shop.” Well, here’s a flash from Afghanistan: it’s still a contracting shop, and the contracts are going to the same set of contractors who have been exposed again and again as venal, fraudulent, and criminal.

Just as Obama sends more troops and a new commander to fight a fraudulent war for a purpose that makes no sense to anyone-except perhaps the so-called defense intellectuals who live in an alternative Washington-based Afghanaland of their own creation-Clinton presides over a fraudulent aid program that functions chiefly to transfer American tax dollars from the national treasury to the pockets of already rich contractors and their congressional cronies. If you still believe, as I would like to, that Obama and Clinton actually meant to make change, then you have to ask: How does this state of affairs continue, and why do the members of the international community-the U.N., all those international NGOs, and our fast-fading coalition allies-sign off on it?

You have only to look around in Kabul and elsewhere, as I did this month, to see that the more American military there is, the more insurgents there are; the more insurgent attacks, the more private security contractors; the more barriers and razor wire, the more restrictions on freedom of movement in the capital for Afghans and internationals alike; and the more security, the higher the danger pay for members of the international community who choose to stay and spend their time complaining about the way security prevents them from doing their useful work.

And so it goes round and round, this ill-oiled war machine, generating ever more incentives for almost everyone involved-except ordinary Afghans, of course-to keep on keeping on. There’s a little something for quite a few: government officials in the US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, for-profit contractors, defense intellectuals, generals, spies, soldiers behind the lines, international aid workers and their Afghan employees, diplomats, members of the Afghan National Army, and the police, and the Taliban, and their various pals, and the whole array of camp followers that service warfare everywhere.

It goes round and round, this inexorable machine, this elaborate construction of corporate capitalism at war, generating immense sums of money for relatively small numbers of people, immense debt for our nation, immense sacrifice from our combat soldiers, and for ordinary Afghans and those who have befriended them or been befriended by them, moments of promise and hope, moments of clarity and rage, and moments of dark laughter that sometimes cannot forestall the onset of despair.

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter. Her new book, War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War, about her work with women in post-conflict countries, is to be published by Metropolitan Books in September. She is at work on her next book about what happens when America’s wars come home. To visit her website, click here.


US courts Karzai, vows not to abandon Afghans

May 12, 2010

Hillary Clinton says Washington’s civilian commitment will continue in the future

WASHINGTON: The US courted Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, pledging not to abandon Afghanistan as the two sides opened high-level talks aimed at showing a united front in the nine-year war.

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Afghan president Hamid Karzai urges West to buy off the Taliban

January 28, 2010

Christina Lamb in Washington and Miles Amoore in Wardak

After giving up on winning victory in Afghanistan by military means, the international community is resorting to the centuries-old method of buying its way out.

In London this week, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, will launch a British and American-backed plan for “reintegration” of the Taliban and call for international funding to offer jobs and bribes to bring insurgents in from the cold.

The conference, which starts on Thursday, will be the first big international gathering on Afghanistan since President Barack Obama announced his military strategy last month, including a surge of 30,000 American troops.

The aim was to accompany the surge with a new political strategy and ways for the Afghans to provide their own security by setting up local militias, which could include former Taliban.

With intelligence reports warning that Taliban influence is spreading, both aims now appear in jeopardy.

Divisions between civilian and military officials have led to a reported suspension of the militia programme, while Karzai’s newly appointed cabinet is regarded by many as even more corrupt than his last. Failure to offer effective government is seen as a critical factor in growing Taliban influence.

In Wardak, a province bordering Kabul, the risks of adopting American tactics are clear. Over the past two years, Karzai’s government has gradually lost control of the province to the Taliban.

Most local religious leaders are now bankrolled by the insurgents but one, Mullah Azizul Rahman Sediqi, known as “Super Mullah”, pledged his full support for a US-sponsored plan to arm militiamen so they could fight back.

He has since lived in constant fear of assassination. First the Taliban planted a bomb inside the mullah’s mosque. He removed the crude device and took it to a nearby field to detonate. Days later the Taliban fired mortars at his home, blowing out the windows.

Some believe the creation of militia forces in areas where the Afghan police force, army and Nato troops are too thinly spread – or too unpopular to maintain control – could be a critical part of handing over control of security to Afghans.

The first government-sponsored local militia in Wardak was set up last March in Jalez district and has doubled in size in the past 10 months to a force of more than 350.

Its commander, Mohammed Ali, claims his men, a ragtag bunch of lightly armed villagers aged from 17 to 50, have recaptured most of the villages in the district, pushing the Taliban into the barren mountains that surround it.

But despite repeated assurances of improved security, it was not possible to travel to the district last week without an armed escort.

“The Taliban still use the mountains to fire grenades at our convoys,” Ali explained with a toothless grin as he squatted in one of his mud-hut checkpoints on the road into Jalez. “They lay IEDs [improvised explosive devices] on the route into the district and ambush us.”

Hopes that Karzai would boost the prospects for security by cleaning up his administration were set back by the announcement of his new cabinet. Ten of his 17 nominees were rejected by parliament this month.

“I don’t think it’s a weaker government but it’s not as strong as it could have been,” David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said in Washington last week. However, he insisted: “The alternatives to this very, very difficult project in which we’re engaged are worse.”

Many people were disappointed with a government they regarded as weaker, according to Barmak Pazhwak, Afghan officer for the US Institute of Peace. “It’s more corrupt and more full of local power groups who Karzai did deals with to get elected,” he said.

Miliband insists the international community can exert leverage by withholding funds from ministries that don’t perform.

But the West’s toothlessness was highlighted by Karzai’s failure to take any action against his half-brother, Ahmed Wali, widely regarded as one of the biggest drug lords in southern Afghanistan.

In a gloomy prognosis for 2010, Major-General Michael Flynn, the most senior allied intelligence officer in Afghanistan, has warned that the Taliban have tightened their grip on the civilian population and believe they have only to keep on blowing up soldiers to achieve victory.

Last Monday, the Taliban showed their ability to penetrate the capital with a series of attacks that killed 20 and injured 70, leaving a shopping centre in flames.

Western officials tried to put a positive spin on the assault, pointing out that in contrast to the last big attack in October on a UN guest house, Afghan troops arrived on the scene promptly, taking on the insurgents and preventing wider bloodshed.

Given the spread of Taliban influence, however, it is unclear how much support there will be for Karzai’s reintegration plan to persuade Taliban militants to switch sides.

Central to the plan will be a grand peace council. This will include representatives from all sectors of Afghan society, including religious leaders, with the aim of giving armed opponents a guarantee that their views will be heard.

“The government will provide the Taliban and other insurgent groups who wish to respect the constitution a dignified way to renounce violence and peacefully reintegrate into their communities,” says a draft version of the plan.

The international community has insisted that key Taliban leaders such as Mullah Mohammed Omar would not be part of any such plan. “The red line is links to Al-Qaeda,” Miliband said. But the document offers “key leaders of the Taliban movement” an opportunity for amnesty and reintegration.

Aside from differences between nations over who to negotiate with, there is scant evidence that the Taliban wish to come in from the cold.

US officials admit that it was a bad tactical error for President Obama to cite a target date of July 2011 to start withdrawing troops in his speech announcing the surge.

The date, which was inserted by the White House at the last minute to assuage disgruntled Democrats, has led the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan to believe they just have to wait.

“The Taliban are telling the local population the Americans will be gone in 18 months and we’ll be in charge so you better not cross us or we’ll kill you,” said an adviser to General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan.

McChrystal is circulating among his field commanders a paper written by a special forces major called “one tribe at a time”, which backs partnerships with tribal militias.

But reports yesterday claimed that the US had suspended the militias, fearing they could lead to the creation of new warlords. According to The New York Times, Hanif Atmar, the Afghan interior minister, said that while some of the militias had been effective in combating the Taliban, others were out of control.

“In Kunduz, after they defeated the Taliban in their villages, they became the power and they took money and taxes from the people,” he said.

Troops target opium town

American patrols were probing Taliban defences this weekend around a town of mud-walled compounds that may become the first big battlefield of the American “surge” in Afghanistan.

Their target is Marjah, a Taliban-controlled farming town in Helmand province that is expected to be the focus of an American-led offensive in coming weeks.

“It’s been clear for weeks about the need to clear out Marjah, so that’s going to happen,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, during a tour of the province.

The Americans plan to field three battalions against fighters in the town, 380 miles southwest of Kabul. They will be joined by units of the Afghan national army. Some of the 9,500 British troops in Helmand are expected to mount a parallel operation.

About 30,000 troops will pour into Afghanistan as President Barack Obama’s “surge” intensifies.

Military sources believe the Taliban may fight to hold Marjah, because it lies at the heart of Helmand’s opium production.

US marines are gathering intelligence in advance of any battle. On Friday, three squads of the marines’ 1st battalion, 6th Regiment, were fired on from nearby houses as they moved into a desiccated poppy field.

Additional reporting: Michael Smith


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