After Nato what?April 3, 2012
With tensions mounting between Afghanistan and the United States over embarrassing errors of judgment and disagreements about means and ends, both governments now acknowledge that Nato is on its way home.
The conversation about an early exit of US and Nato forces from Afghanistan has focused on numbers of soldiers, combat strategy, territory and ideology — and about whose policies have been thwarted, whose interests have been undercut, who cuts deals with whom and who will run Afghanistan when the West has left.
These questions are critical to the future of Afghanistan and its neighbours. They are also short-term, transactional and, ultimately, incomplete lenses through which to view a complex country and an even more complicated regional political economy that, after decades of war, is barely headed to recovery. After years of insisting that building the Afghan “nation” was irrelevant to Western aims, it turns out that building the Afghan state was precisely what was needed and what is dangerously lacking now.
The evidence, easy to find, is damning. Anticipating the departure of foreign troops, the World Bank and the Afghan government recently examined Afghanistan’s post-Nato economic prospects and reported what insiders have known for a long time: The foreign military presence has driven international aid priorities, often to the exclusion of basic needs. Though skewed toward the military mission, this aid has been essential to the survival of the Afghan government and state. In Nato’s absence and with deep donor discord about Afghanistan’s future, civilian assistance is likely to diminish, too.
With security compromised by this huge financing shortfall, essential investment for development will become increasingly difficult. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s complaints about abuses committed by foreign security forces notwithstanding, it is already difficult, if not impossible, for aid organisations to function in insecure environments. Worse may come when troops leave. Crunch the numbers, and the same truths emerge: Without security, assistance disappears; without aid, the state barely survives.
Afghanistan cannot live hand-to-mouth at the mercy of foreign donors. This admonition will sound familiar to those who followed Afghanistan’s failed-state troubles in the 1990s. Karzai’s early, ambitious development strategies were meant to build an increasingly self-sufficient state, but 10 years of war thwarted this goal. Nato’s departure may provide the economic shock needed to persuade Afghans that an accountable and capable state is necessary to avoid future penury, and Afghanistan’s neighbours — particularly Pakistan, still home to two million Afghan refugees — that helping to solve Afghanistan’s economic woes is in its best interests, too.
That sounds like a lot for Pakistan’s military to swallow. But endless interference across the border, meant to stabilise Pakistan’s own security, hasn’t worked: Military and civilian casualties are very high; insurgency has grown at home even as the army claims anti-Taleban victories along the Afghan border; and younger generations show little patience for a garrison state armed with intrusive intelligence officers, tone-deaf generals and corrupt politicians. Recent public opinion polls show profound dissatisfaction across the political spectrum and are forcing politicians, judges and, no doubt, some generals to rethink their roles and the nature of the state they’ve built over the past 60 years.
This is the political message that could drive new relationships between the two countries. The starting point is not encouraging, but the logic of change is. Pakistan’s economy, although larger and more diverse than Afghanistan’s — Afghans can barely imagine Pakistan’s per capita income of close to $3,000 — is not flourishing. The costs of war have hit the budget hard, the price of regional mistrust and instability are calculated in investment losses. These are the consequences of military adventures in Afghanistan, and, many Pakistanis would argue, recent misplaced alliances with the United States. If Afghanistan can teach Pakistan anything, it is that security is not solely about armies, fighting doesn’t fix poverty, closed borders won’t stop frightened, hungry refugees — and spoilers inevitably lose the big battles.
Without Nato in Afghanistan and with an inevitably declining American presence in Pakistan, both countries have to rethink their bilateral relationship; with economics at the center, they stand a chance of succeeding where they have previously failed. This is one way to think seriously about how these two neighbours recover from the worst they have inflicted on one another.
Nato was always going to leave Afghanistan. The hard work now needs to be done where it is most needed — at home in Kabul and Islamabad.
Paula Newberg is the Marshall B. Coyne Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University
© Yale Center for the Study of Globalisation
Source: Khaleej Times
Afghan disasterFranklin C Spinney
Monday, April 09, 2012
The PR disasters over the last three months – including pictures of American troops urinating on Afghan corpses, the burning of Qurans, and the massacre of Afghan civilians, including women and children, by at least one deranged American soldier – have morphed into a grand strategic debacle. From the perspective of the Afghan insurgency, these are gifts that will keep on giving.
Why do I use the modifier grand strategic?
Because these incidents have (1) increased the moral strength of the Afghan insurgents by handing them a coup to rally supporters and attract the uncommitted to their cause. They also widen the existing rift between the United States military and the Karzai government, which in any case is viewed by many Afghans as a corrupt, illegitimate, quisling lapdog of the US.
And (2), they are visibly weakening the rapidly crumbling solidarity at home. Recent polls in America, for example, suggest the already overwhelming majority of Americans who now think it is time to exit the Afghan enterprise is growing again. Moreover, an increasing number of politicians and editorial boards are now beginning to reflect the views of the majority of American people.
These incidents have magnified the already widespread perceptions among Afghans of a grotesque mismatch between the ideals we profess uphold and what we do.
The emerging moral asymmetries between the US and its insurgent adversaries go well beyond trite comments about staying the war weariness and make a mockery of Defense Secretary Panetta’s wildly optimistic claim that we reached a turning point thanks to the 2011 surge. The US is leaving Afghanistan, the only questions left are how soon and how messy the departure will be?
Two recent essays help one grapple with some implications of these questions:
The first is an op-ed, “Why the Military needs to leave Afghanistan, and Soon,” by Phil Sparrow in the Sydney Morning Herald. Sparrow explains why people who argue we should remain in Afghanistan, because the Afghan people don’t want us to leave, simply don’t know what they are talking about.
Certainly, the one per cent living in fortified compounds who have profited from the corruption unleashed by the torrent money we have poured into that impoverished country have been enriched by our presence, but what about the other 99 per cent?
Sparrow explains why the time to leave has arrived, and the sooner we depart the better.
“Afghanistan: A Gathering Menace” is a deeply troubling essay by Neal Shea in the current issue of the American Scholar. Shea paints a grim portrait of how the confrontation dynamics of the Afghan guerrilla war are evolving violent psyches in some of the American troops who are being tasked to carry out the endless patrols and night raids.
These search-and-destroy operations have morphed the aim of winning hearts and minds into a futile attrition strategy aimed at killing insurgents faster than the local population can replace them ... and according to Shea, the unfocused violence emerging from this strategy is having frightening side effects on the psychology of some of our soldiers.
History has seen this peculiar kind of unemployment affliction before – for example, the unemployed hoplites in ancient Greece, selling their killing services to the highest bidder, or the unemployed German soldiers after World War I donning the brownshirts – and the results are never pretty.
The writer is a former military analyst for the Pentagon.
Afghanistan beyond 2014April 10, 2012
The US plan for a drawdown from Afghanistan by 2014 had always appeared to be dictated more by US domestic political compulsions, rather than the on-ground situation in that country, which is why its success looked doubtful. These plans have hit serious snags lately. President Obama and his advisers thought that by increasing the number of troops in his “surge” they would be able to bomb the Taliban to the negotiating table, and at the same time, enable the Afghan army and police to take over the country’s security responsibility by the drawdown deadline. The Americans are nowhere near these ambitious objectives.
Recent events like the killing of French and British soldiers, the desecration of the Quran, the shooting of two senior US officials by an Afghan intelligence officer and the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians by Staff Sgt. Bales have shaken the US, even though Washington is putting a brave face. There are differences among Mr Obama’s political team, the Pentagon and the State Department, and deeper ones between the United States and Nato countries on the Afghan issue.
The situation in Afghanistan has not only created problems between the US government and the Afghan government but deep differences within the Afghan government itself. The harsh words recently exchanged between President Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff and his media adviser, in the presence of Gen John Allen, the senior allied commander in Afghanistan, and US ambassador Ryan C Crocker, is a case in point.
The Afghan government has asked that the US/Nato forces be pulled out from villages and outposts to their main bases and the Taliban have quit the Qatar negotiations. Meanwhile, the deliberate US/Nato attack at Salala on November 26 has seriously affected Pakistani-US relations and the efforts underway to repair them would not be easy.
Under these circumstances, there is general uncertainty about Afghanistan’s future beyond 2014. What is certain is that the US, which has vital interests in the region because of its geo-strategic importance with China and Russia in the neighbourhood and its rich mineral resources, will stay on by retaining bases in Afghanistan after 2014, even though this will be unacceptable to both the Afghan government and Taliban.
While the Afghan government may accept that fate in exchange for monetary assistance, the Taliban, the dominant force in southern and eastern Afghanistan, are likely to fiercely oppose continued US presence. In the very least, the Americans would want to retain Bagram Airbase near Kabul and Shindhand Airbase near Herat in western Afghanistan, but this would leave southern and eastern Afghanistan to the Taliban who, if they decide to, will be free to re-establish their Islamic Emirate, with Kandahar as the temporary capital until they recapture Kabul.
This could mean a division of Afghanistan, and no country in the region would want that. In that scenario, the Americans would be likely to maintain bases in the west and in northern Afghanistan, which is under the Northern Alliance area. But even that will work only if they are able to improve governance in their occupied region and to strengthen the army and police there.
As for southern and eastern Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban, the region will continue to be punished with drone and air strikes by US and Nato forces. This would be an extremely dangerous situation from Pakistan’s point of view. That danger is compounded by the fact that the US and Nato have encouraged the Afghan government to provide safe havens to Pakistani Taliban fugitives in the country’s Kunar and Nooristan provinces.
The Afghan government has issued these people with identity cards by giving them refugee status and is providing them shelter and rations. Kunar province is Pakhtun-dominated area but the governor is a Northern Alliance nominee. These fugitives, under the command of Maulvi Fazlullah, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad and Wali Muhammad, continue to threaten Mohmand and Bajaur agencies and the districts of Dir, Swat and Chitral. This is done with the purpose of turning the area into a buffer against any threat to areas controlled by the Northern Alliance where the US intends to consolidate its bases.
The Taliban in the south and east may continue to harass the Northern Alliance but they will be unable to threaten Kabul because of the presence of US bases. For this reason the present Afghan government will have to sign an agreement for the US bases to continue to stay beyond 2014.
This is the situation the Pakistani government should use as a hypothesis for its own plans Afghanistan. The government also needs to critically rethink its policies and course of action regarding the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and the jihadi networks within this country.
The writer, retired brigadier, is a former home secretary of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The war is overApril 14, 2012
Salman Tarik Kureshi
This piece is not about the 33-year long war in Afghanistan. Nor is it about the so-called war against terror, which some Islamists, ironically echoing Huntington, see as a war between Islam and the west. The war I am talking about is the Cold War, which ended in 1989, with the economic and political collapse of the USSR.
The historian Phillip Bobbitt holds, in his book Terror and Consent, that the Cold War was itself only a part of what he called the “epochal war of the twentieth century”, which began at Sarajevo in June 1914. This war, or a consecutive series of wars, was the climax of nationalism and the evolution of the nation state, which, in Bobbitt’s view, is now in the process of being replaced by the ‘market state’.
According to Bobbitt, earlier states were born of the conquests of princes and monarchs. These monarchic states were amoeboid entities, which shrank, expanded or coalesced according to the relative military and political skills of their rulers. A new kind of state began to emerge, first in western Europe, one that was not necessarily congruent with the monarch’s power. In England in the 17th century, the people cut off the head of their king on behalf of the British state. In the 18th century, the French people also beheaded their king, along with much of the titled aristocracy. Thus, painfully and violently, the specifically modern institution of the nation-state emerged on the stage of history. Now, the point of the nation-state — whether its justification lies in claims of ethnic homogeneity, linguistic unity, religious differentiation, ideological commitment, or any other motivation — is that it is a more or less unified geographical area that commands the continuous institutionalised loyalty and commitment of its citizens. And it defends its citizens militarily against other, usually neighbouring, states.
The stability or otherwise of a nation-state is not really affected by its ethnic or linguistic homogeneity. The Germans have arguably been among the most intensely nationalistic people in Europe, yet the German nation is divided among the three state entities of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Pakistan’s northern and eastern neighbours, China and India, despite their enormous vertical and horizontal diversities and competing consciousnesses, are massively stable facts of geography.
In his earlier work The Shield of Achilles, Bobbitt described the evolution of the state over the last six centuries, through the princely state, the kingly state and the nation-state. He is most interested in what lies beyond the nation-state. This new entity he calls the ‘market-state’.
The nation-state, developed over six centuries as the optimal institution for waging war and organising peace, derived its legitimacy from improving the welfare of its citizens through the provision of security and order, towards which end it used military force and the rule of law. The new market-states, Bobbitt suggests, use various forms of market relationships, offering to optimise the opportunities of their people. They are, or are developing as, states whose borders may even be hazy, compared to earlier rigid territorial markers, since the defence of those borders is not the primary preoccupation of their leaderships. Instead, the energies of these societies move increasingly towards trade and regional interdependence. One observes these kinds of developments happening in, for example, Europe, China and the ASEAN countries.
Just as the market-state flourishes best in a cross-border, globalised environment, its adversaries have also harnessed cross-border, globalised methods of combat. It is an interesting thought that not only amorphous entities like al Qaeda and the Taliban, who use atavistic militancy and armed violence against the forces of modernisation, but also American militarism and ‘exceptionalism’ are obstacles to the emergence of the globalised market state.
So are states like Pakistan, whose reactionary identity narratives and recidivist militarism are entirely out of sync with the times. Pakistan’s strategic role in the Cold War was as part of the US’s anti-communist cordon sanitaire in southern Asia, and this helped us build a strong army and air force and to lay the basis for the kind of elitist economic development we had selected for ourselves. More, we were the military nemesis to the largest non-communist Soviet ally, India, and thereby helped divide the possible Third World unity. We were the US’s conduit to China, and thereby helped break up the communist monolith. Later, we were a staging post for the US’s anti-communist Islamist warriors.
All this strategic utility to the US ended in 1989 and only a transactional on-again-off-again relationship remained. But the Pakistani powers-that-be have not grasped that the Cold War is over and the benefits thereof are no longer available. There are no longer two superpowers, between whom one can choose sides or play off against one another. There is only a loose, but fairly uniform set of values embodied in the phrase ‘international opinion’, against which Pakistan’s continuing preoccupations and attitudes are seen as negatives.
Let’s face it. We cannot expect to snap and snarl at the sole superpower on one side, while seeking its largesse on the other. As Ahmed Rashid pointed out in a recent interview published in this newspaper: “The leadership is not waking up to the really sad realities. There’s this feeling that somehow the Americans will come bail us out, the Chinese will come bail us out. In this day and age, nobody will.”
Since the Cold War ended, numerous other nations have aligned themselves with the new scenarios, experiencing an era of reforming and reshaping their economies, reorienting societal values, embracing new technologies, developing regional trade relationships, and most importantly, establishing peaceful borders. All these changes simply bypassed us.
And there lies the problem. Whether it is our intelligence agencies, with their bizarre double games, or our armed forces, with their expensive shopping lists, or our civilian elite, who skimmed their shares from the inflow of goodies, nobody seems to grasp that the Cold War is long over. The pre-1989 goodies that flowed are simply not there anymore.
Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was a former Japanese army intelligence officer who remained in the forests of the Philippines until 1974, refusing to accept that World War II had ended nearly 30 years ago. Is this characterisation valid for our civilian and military elites? Will we continue to let history go on passing us by, increasing only in numbers as we sink deeper into denial, squalor and internecine violence?
The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet
Before the Afghan drawdownApril 17, 2012
IN a series of brazen attacks in Afghanistan on Sunday, the Afghan Taliban attacked key Nato bases, embassies, parliament and government buildings in Kabul and three eastern provinces, stoking fears of stalemate in any peace negotiations.
Even as Nato forces termed the attacks ineffectual, emphasising the preparedness of Afghan army units, seven heavily guarded sites in Kabul were targeted. Apparently planned over months, these attacks expose Afghan intelligence failures and the loopholes in Nato’s transition policy.
“These operations have been a regular feature of Taliban strategy over recent years seeking to show that they can strike at the centre of Afghan and international power as well as elsewhere in the country in their own heartlands,” said terrorism expert, Jason Burke.
In 2014, the US will have fought a 13-year-war in Afghanistan. Though there is fear that once the foreign forces exit, the country will fall into civil war with Al Qaeda elements in Pakistan unleashing extremists to destabilise the region, the latter’s role in achieving regional stability cannot be understated.
The approaching end of this war comes at a time when a troubled relationship between the US and Afghanistan and continued anti-American sentiment in Pakistan reflects little common strategic interest and more the short-term desire for the US to extricate itself from this conflict.
The recent Kabul attack, aimed at humiliating the government and its western allies, is not a one-off, and could undermine the peace process by giving the Taliban more bargaining power. Any negotiation is a contest of force and this is a demonstration of the Taliban, Burke adds. “This war is a long-running trial of stamina as much as anything. With the US and Nato allies clearly on the way out the Taliban do have a number of internal issues to address but are generally happy to wait until they leave.”
The major challenge is the lack of a clear agenda for a two-year transition period. Internal political divisions and external pressures have weakened the government and made it susceptible to a power vacuum to be filled by war profiteers of all kinds waiting for the international community to leave with or without a stable settlement.
The assumption that Afghanistan will remain stable after 2014 is incorrect: President Karzai might stay in power perpetuating political conflict; the Taliban will threaten Kabul; Pakistan will face increased militant activity.
The West cannot economically afford to fight in Afghanistan anymore where leaving a self-sustaining government and an army to take over responsibilities of security and governance is the only option for it. The current peace dialogue comes with the recognition that the Taliban could overrun troop surge gains over 2009-10; and that Pakistan has refused to clamp down on Afghan Taliban sanctuaries.
The Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported the US had spent $25bn from 2001 to 2010 training and equipping the Afghan army and police forces. It spent another $14bn in 2011. A 2010 International Crisis Group study stated the army could disintegrate after the US withdrawal. And given high attrition rates and low retention, an Afghan army capable of fighting the Taliban will cost billions of dollars a year.
Writer and Kandahar resident Alex Strick van Linschoten explains only one kandak or basic unit is able to operate ‘independently’ of international assistance within the Afghan National Army and there’s a long way to go in terms of training and supporting the logistical backend of the Afghan security services. The current strategy also supports militia (warlords) forces, allowing the US to withdraw troops from various parts of the country, at least for a few years, but in the long-term these forces are a ‘ticking time bomb of insecurity’ themselves.
Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus wants its fair share of strategic interference or it might become a deal-breaker; so if the Haqqanis are unavailable on the negotiating table, cross-border attacks will increase. Burke’s assessment is that this is probably because any access to them is mediated at the very least — if not controlled — by Pakistani intelligence services. It is the latter rather than the Quetta Shura which has a greater influence over the Haqqanis.
That those safe havens need to be destroyed if stability is to be brought to Afghanistan is another concern for the US when wanting to negotiate with the Haqqanis using the Pakistani intelligence’s ‘traditional’ links. Suggesting that Turkey might be “an example of what success might look like in such a volatile region,” regional expert Ahmed Rashid writes in Pakistan on the Brink: “Pakistan must act as a normal state, not a paranoid, intelligence service-driven entity whose operational norms are to use extremists and diplomatic blackmail.”
Karzai’s lack of leadership and his reconciliation efforts have been criticised by ethnic minorities, civil society and women who claim he is shoring up support among a conservative Pakhtun constituency. His government has received $784m for the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme, for convincing low-level insurgent fighters to denounce violence. So far, a little more than 3,000 fighters, the majority of them non-Pakhtuns from the north, have signed up.
In a bid to shore up confidence, the US signed a deal with Karzai’s government that authorises night raids only after the sanction of an Afghan review board. This agreement removes one of the obstacles in what is termed the Strategic Partnership Document, outlining the basis for cooperation for the years after Nato’s 2014 drawdown.
Without a regional strategy, these fractured relationships and political disagreements will precipitate mistrust. The US has not engaged Afghanistan’s neighbours — Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Their historic relationships are decisive having worked in the past with local warlords and ethnic groups, pumping in money through proxies as Richard Holbrooke had noted in 2009.
There has been no formal engagement with Iran or Pakistan as partners on the Afghan endgame. If the US leaves responsibly, guaranteeing security, the end result could be satisfactory, even at the cost of the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been lost and the Taliban regaining their foothold in the southern and eastern provinces — but without claiming associations with Al Qaeda and without providing safe haven for the latter.
The writer is a senior assistant editor at the Herald.
Afghans at the crossroadsApril 17, 2012
The once remarkable gains in protecting and promoting equality between women and men in Afghanistan are now facing their most serious challenges.
Two questions must be asked: Are the emerging challenges to women’s rights an indication of an overall backslide in security and stability in Afghanistan? Is this evidence of women’s rights being negotiated away as part of the peace and reconciliation process?
The struggle of Afghan women is not one that can be separated from the overall struggle of the Afghan nation to achieve peace and stability. The situation of women and girls — their progress, their opportunities and their access to real justice — must be one of the primary indicators to measure the direction and success of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
A decade ago, as the global debate on Afghanistan’s future raged, it was the plight of Afghan women that captured the world’s attention. The persecution of women and girls was stark: from restricted mobility and highly limited access to education; to needing male guardians to go out in public; to the rampant policing and persecution of “moral crimes” committed by women; to the exchanging of women and girls between families to settle disputes.
Afghan women have fought for over 10 years to ensure that their sisters, daughters and families never again face such a future. Yet in 2012, as the world redefines its role in Afghanistan, policy makers and peace negotiators need to look to the situation of women and girls as a barometer of how inclusive, democratic, secure and stable Afghanistan is today.
Important gains have been made, namely a Constitution that enshrines equality between women and men, a Parliament in which women hold 28 per cent of the seats, the implementation of the country’s first law on ending violence against women, and the establishment of shelters and services for women and girls recovering from violence. In addition, girls are back in school — constituting 2.4 million of the more than seven million children in primary and secondary education.
That Afghanistan has taken so many steps in so short a time is highly notable — and a sign of hope for a stable, just and democratic country. But as the peace and reconciliation process evolves, as the International Security Assistance Force draws down, and as more and more parties are encouraged to come to the negotiating table, Afghan women are seeing that the pace of change as regards women’s issues has not only slowed down but in some ways has gone into reverse.
Early-warning indicators are there, but not yet being heard. Violence against women and girls — in the form of physical and emotional abuse, and forced marriages — remains at almost pandemic levels. Impunity of the perpetrators of violence is almost absolute. Women who run away from forced marriages continue to be jailed. Women are often pressured to withdraw complaints and opt for mediation by elders even in cases of serious crimes of violence, leaving them without any protection or justice. Religious leaders recently released a statement justifying certain types of domestic violence, proposing limitations on women’s education and employment opportunities.
Afghan women are now better positioned to articulate their rights. They have important roles on the High Peace Council and in Parliament. They see firsthand the need to monitor the peace and reconciliation process and recognise the importance of engaging with the families of insurgents. They also know that the international community must not forget its commitment to Afghan women and girls beyond 2014.
Policy makers in Afghanistan and in capitals around the world must see that the worsening situation for women has come with a worsening political and security environment. Women have suffered immeasurably during the last 35 years of war — and it is unacceptable that they should now pay the highest price for any peace deal. Women cannot accept peace at any price, nor should the international community. We must stop relegating women’s issues to a side agenda at international forums on Afghanistan. The summit meetings in Chicago and Tokyo need to make space for women. If Afghan women continue to be ignored within the major political decision-making processes affecting their country, the vision of a more secure, prosperous and stable Afghanistan cannot be realised.
Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile from 2006 to 2010, is executive director of UN Women, which advocates gender equality and empowerment of women
© International Herald Tribune
Taliban offensiveApril 20, 2012
IN the midst of the Taliban attacks in central Kabul on Sunday, a journalist called the British embassy for a comment. “I really don’t know why they are doing this,” said the exasperated diplomat who answered the phone. “We’ll be out of here in two years’ time. All they have to do is wait.”
The official line is that by two years from now, when US and Nato forces leave Afghanistan, the regime they installed will be able to stay in power without foreign support. The British diplomat clearly didn’t believe that, and neither do most other foreign observers.
However, Gen John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, predictably said that he was “enormously proud” of the response of the Afghan security forces, and various other senior commanders said that it showed that all the foreign training was paying off. You have to admire their cheek: multiple simultaneous attacks in Kabul and three other Afghan cities prove that the western strategy is working.
The Taliban’s attacks in the Afghan capital on Sunday targeted the national parliament, Nato’s headquarters, and the German, British, Japanese and Russian embassies. A large number of people were killed or wounded, and the fighting lasted for 18 hours.
There was a similar attack in the centre of the Afghan capital only last September. If this were the Vietnam War, we would now have reached about 1971.
The US government has already declared its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan in two years’ time, just as it did in Vietnam back in 1971. Richard Nixon wanted his second-term presidential election out of the way before he pulled the plug, just as Barack Obama does now.
The Taliban are obviously winning the war in Afghanistan now, just as North Vietnam’s troops were winning in South Vietnam then. The American strategy at that time was satirised as “declare a victory and leave”, and it hasn’t changed one whit in 40 years. Neither have the lies that cover it up.
The US puppet government in South Vietnam only survived for two years after US forces left in 1973. The puppet government in Kabul may not even last that long after the last American troops leave Afghanistan in 2014. But no western general will admit that the war is lost, even though their denial means that more of their soldiers must die pointlessly.
“It is consuming me from inside,” explained Lt-Col Davis, and he wrote two reports on the situation in Afghanistan, one classified and one for public consumption. The unclassified one began: “Senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and the American people as regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognisable.”
Col Davis gave his first interview to the New York Times in early February, and sent copies of the classified version to selected senators and representatives in Congress. But no member of Congress is going to touch the issue in an election year, for fear of being labelled ‘unpatriotic’.
Afghanistan: back to the drawing board!April 23, 2012
By: Khalid Iqbal
The recent violence in Kabul has exposed various myths. Foremost is that the US policy of winning ‘Afghan hearts and minds’ is mere rhetoric; the ground reality is the recurring barbaric practices of the American soldiers in Afghanistan, who have been acting like occupation forces of the medieval era. Recently, the pictures published in Los Angeles Times show soldiers from the American army’s 82nd Airborne Division joyfully posing with dismembered body parts of insurgent corpses. Earlier in January, a video had surfaced showing the US marines gleefully urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, the desecration of the Holy Quran at an American base triggered countrywide riots. In March, a US army sergeant went on a night-time shooting rampage in two Afghan villages killing 17; reportedly, this incident also involved rape. The sequence looks like a planned monthly calendar of activities.
About the latest photographs, Commander Isaf General John R. Allen said: “It represents a serious error in judgment by several soldiers, who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with US Army values.” The American Embassy in Kabul also released a similar statement: “Such actions are morally repugnant, dishonour the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of US soldiers and civilians…….and do not represent the core values of the United States or our military.” After every incident an ‘investigation’ is launched to determine the cause; but in all probability, no meaningful punitive action is taken. Hence, the recurrences go on!
The aura of a successful Nato/Isaf military mission after a decade-long hard work seems to have evaporated into thin air. The well coordinated attacks on seven sites in the heart of Kabul, including four Embassies, and three sites in Paktia, Logar and Nangarhar were aimed at humiliating the Afghan government and the foreign forces. The fact that insurgents retain the capacity to launch extensive and long duration attacks confirms that the US/Nato is years away from neutralising them. These attacks have enhanced Taliban’s bargaining power. For months after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there were no Taliban attacks in Kabul. But now they are frequent and fatally effective. This is just one yardstick of measuring their progress. According to a senior US army officer, the Taliban now roam freely across much of the country. The occupation forces barely control the territory they can see from their highly fortified bases.
The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told a Reuters’ correspondent that the 30 specially trained mujahideen had spent months working with mock-ups of the targets to rehearse the attacks. He claimed that heavy machineguns, rocket grenades and ammunition had been put in place before the assault with inside help from the Afghan security forces. Mujahid said: “The attacks were very successful for us and were a remarkable achievement, dealing a psychological and political blow to the foreigners and the government…….These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months.” These attacks, therefore, reinforce the belief that the Taliban have hardened sympathisers even among the most elite security forces on whose support they could count on for stacking vital logistics, like weapons, in sensitive zones and facilitating infiltrators to reach and use them whenever required.
“Knowing that foreigners lack the will to remain in Afghanistan, their intent is to show that Afghan forces are unable to effectively fight the Taliban after the foreign withdrawal. The Taliban’s operating here at both physical and psychological levels,” said Professor Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. In the same vein, Dipankar Banerjee, the Director of New Delhi’s Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, said: “We’re only going to see an increase in these attacks. It helps [the militants] ensure political dominance in the new order as they slowly take over.”
The Afghan National Army (ANA) and police are years away from evolving into cohesive national entities. The Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported that America had spent $25 billion from 2001 to 2010 on their training; it spent another $14 billion in 2011. A 2010 International Crisis Group study stated that the army could disintegrate after the US withdrawal. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, too, maintained that “it is neither competent nor trusted.” In the absence of firm financial guarantees, however, the Afghan army and police may disintegrate.
Last week, the US/Nato officials discussed the size and amount that is required to sustain the Afghan security forces after 2014; rough estimates are $4.1 billion a year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the US to commit that it would provide “at least $2 billion” a year after its troops withdraw. Meanwhile, the US/Nato expects the Afghan forces to grow to 352,000. The current model of the Afghan security forces is focusing heavily on maintaining an army, which is trained and equipped to handle aggression by other countries. Ironically, the post-withdrawal Afghan government would require strong armed forces capable of maintaining law and order within the country.
President Karzai has criticised both Nato and the Afghan forces. He said: “The fact that terrorists were able to enter Kabul and other provinces was an intelligence failure for us and especially for Nato.” But US Defence Department Spokesman George Little claimed that the Pentagon did not believe there had been an intelligence failure. “If we’re held to the standard to have to know precisely when and where each insurgent attack is going to occur, I think that’s an unfair standard,” he said. While Defence Secretary Leon Panetta at a news briefing stated: “We had received a great deal of intelligence that the Haqqanis were planning these kinds of attacks.” Two captured insurgents, reportedly, claimed that they represented the Haqqani network. This shows that the Haqqanis now have sufficient presence and strength within Afghanistan to carry out such activities. However, Panetta and Dempsey were cautious enough not to link the attack to Pakistan. “We’re not prepared to suggest that this emanated out of Pakistan,” Dempsey said. Fixated in his campaign year framework, Senator John McCain opined that such attacks reflected the risk of the drive to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan!
According to the objectives of the two-track strategy, the Afghan war was supposed to end with the Taliban begging for negotiation after they were appropriately “degraded” by the US/Nato forces. But exactly the opposite is happening! The Americans are ready to give in anything in exchange for the rhetoric of “victory”, while the Taliban do not seem interested in allowing them even such symbolic concession. Against this backdrop, the Americans do not have a dialogue partner with whom they could negotiate with a fair degree of assurance that whatever is agreed to would be implemented. So, back to the drawing board!
n The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.
Afghanistan: Ides of March or BadalApril 24, 2012
By: I. M. Mohsin
A series of well coordinated attacks by the Taliban led to shock and awe in the high security zone of Kabul. Amid insinuations from foreign military commanders, emphasising that the Taliban had no capacity to disrupt the well guarded city’s way of life, the rockets appeared to be awesome. Reportedly, the brunt of incursion was directed against the Diplomatic Enclave, especially the US, the UK and German Embassies as well as Nato headquarters and bases.
As the firing got intense, a loudspeaker from the US Embassy howled: “Duck and cover. Move away from the windows.” Parliament also bore the terrible onslaught and President Hamid Karzai had to abandon his palace to seek security of the foreign troops. The bloody drama went on for about 18 hours before the Afghan forces claimed to have killed about a 100 assailants conducting the raid. Likewise, the countries whose Embassies got smacked claimed that only minor damages had been done, as did the army commanders.
The Afghans, according to history, stop fighting during the winter season. Following the same tradition, the Taliban went into hiding that encouraged the foreign troops to philosophise about the collapse of their ‘enemy’ in the ongoing counterinsurgency. Bruce Riedel and Michael Edward O’Hanlon, in an article, observed: “The insurgency persists, but if the US doesn’t withdraw prematurely, the Afghan security forces will be able to contain it by 2014.” The American powerbrokers identify their struggle as insurgency, despite being in the hole in this war.
The Taliban, who were once derided for by many segments of local population, have been claiming that they are fighting for the freedom of their homeland from the occupation forces. Since 2006, they have been very helpful to their brethren in many ways. Quite often, the foreign forces had to look the other way to stay peacefully in the area of their deployment. Several reports indicate that sometimes the troops also collaborated with the locals/Taliban in the production and smuggling of opium. Enquiries were ordered against them, but were hushed up.
The Taliban spokesman claimed to have launched the latest attack to avenge the burning of the Holy Quran as well as the crime committed by Sergeant Bales wherein 17 Afghans were killed. Going by their tradition, too many Afghans would have complimented the ‘enemy’ for such a daring break-in. Karzai, however, acknowledged a collective intelligence failure, but was mainly critical of Nato’s reaction when Kabul was under siege.
As the attack ended, it provoked pervasive debate about its purpose. Some see it as the Ides of March, destiny-related, as explained in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Others perceive it as a way to humiliate the US and prove that the Taliban will prevail no matter what.
Senator John McCain considers that the attack highlights the risk of reducing US deployment in Afghanistan, as against Obama’s stand on it. Despite having been a POW in Vietnam, he forgot how the US had to abandon the country. US Ambassador Crocker, who is said to be doing some political manipulation among the Afghans, expressed the feeling that the Taliban could not have staged it by themselves, blaming Haqqani network. However, Secretary Clinton called Foreign Minister Rabbani and urged solidarity between US and Pakistan to meet the emerging threats. Then Defence Secretary Panetta and Chairman JCSC General Dempsey indicated that they had no intelligence reports as to who did the deplorable deed. Against this backdrop, the latest attack underlines the following facets of the war.
First, even after 10 years, the US/Nato is at bay on intelligence collection.
Second, the foreign forces appear to be more conscious of their own security concerns and less about ‘winning the hearts and minds of the locals’.
Third, If history is any guide, the Taliban will win wider support among the Afghans, if they continue their current onslaught against the foreign troops.
Last, foolish tactics, like the burning of the Holy Quran or the massacre in Kandahar, would not frighten the Afghans. It incites religious reaction that would be like a windfall for the Taliban.
The US is in a soup in Afghanistan. It being an election-year, both Republicans and Democrats are in a spin. The machinations of the neocons under George W. Bush have brought the US almost to a point of no return. Since 9/11, the fear-complex has been cultivated by various means to justify the Iraqi misadventure and the Afghan debacle. Now, the US is looking for an exit strategy that is yet to be defined. Having suffered from the war for 10 years, the Afghans are ready to mount pressure for an equitable settlement so that the foreign forces leave. That is why Oalf Caroe, rightly, said: “Unlike other wars, Afghan wars become serious only when they are over.”
n The writer is former secretary interior.
America’s Afghan dilemmaApril 27, 2012
By Patrick Seale
The gloomy topic of Afghanistan is expected to dominate the Nato summit in Chicago on May 20-21, when the assembled leaders will have to wrestle with three uncomfortable facts:
The first is that talks with the Taliban have broken down, removing any immediate prospect of a negotiated exit from the conflict. This conjures up the spectre of a forced Nato retreat — in other words of a humiliating defeat.
This month provided worrying evidence of the Taliban’s growing ability to mount coordinated attacks all over the country, even in areas of maximum security. On April 15, Taliban suicide fighters infiltrated into Kabul and attacked the heavily-defended Embassy Quarter and Parliament. In the ensuing gun fights, some 36 insurgents were killed as well as 11 members of the Afghan security forces.
The second uncomfortable fact is that public opinion in the United States and its allies is weary of war and seems unconvinced that fighting and dying in distant Afghanistan makes them safe from terrorist attack. The Obama administration has not yet come round to this view, as may be seen from a recent statement by Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Kabul: “To get out before the Afghans have a full grip on security, which is a couple of years out, would be to invite the Taliban, Haqqani [a Pakistan-based Islamist network], and Al Qaida back in and set the stage for another September 11. And that, I think, is an unacceptable risk for any American.”
But is Crocker right? Some US allies clearly do not think so. One or two of them have already announced their decision to quit before the previously agreed 2014 deadline. Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard said this week that Australia’s 1,550 soldiers would shift from a front-line role to a largely support function by mid-2013. At Chicago, she is expected to try to persuade her fellow leaders that mid-2013, not end-2014, should be the date to end Nato’s combat role in Afghanistan. France’s Francois Hollande has gone one better. If he is elected President of France on May 6 — as is widely expected — he has pledged to bring France’s 3,550 troops home by the end of this year.
Thirdly, because of what it sees as a continuing terrorist threat, the US seems determined to maintain some sort of long-term presence in Afghanistan — much to the displeasure of Iran and Pakistan. Nato leaders are bound to squabble in Chicago over who will foot the bill for continued assistance to Afghanistan after 2014. Because budgets are tight, Nato members have agreed that it will no longer be possible to fund and equip an Afghan army of 352,000 — an overly-ambitious target which is expected to be reached this year. Instead, the force is to be reduced to 230,000, at a cost to donors of about $7 billion (Dh25.7 billion) a year. The US will probably have to pay the lion’s share, with the rest coming from other Nato countries.
But if the Afghan army is slimmed down, as is proposed, what will happen to the 120,000 men laid off? Armed and trained, they might join the insurgents — a nightmare scenario for Nato. A disturbing development this year has been a rash of incidents in which Afghan soldiers turned their guns on their Nato trainers. Since January, 16 Nato troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers.
Agreement was reached last weekend on a draft US-Afghan strategic pact, providing for counter-terrorist cooperation and US economic aid for at least another decade after 2014. In the lengthy negotiations, two contentious issues were resolved which opened the way for agreement on the strategic pact. First, the US agreed to hand over to Afghans the detention centre at Parwan, where suspected insurgents are held and interrogated, and secondly, the US agreed to give Afghans control over night raids on houses of terrorist suspects by US Special Forces. To the outrage of many Afghans, these night raids often involve the forced entry into houses where families are asleep. The violation of the privacy of women has caused particular anger.
One wonders when the US will grasp that its counter-terrorist policies create more terrorists than are killed by its drone attacks, air strikes and other violent acts. America’s ongoing ‘war on terror’ has aroused fierce anti-American feeling in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other Muslim countries, undermining the legitimacy of leaders in these countries, who are seen to be collaborating with the US in waging war on their own people.
Earlier this month, the US offered a $10million reward for information leading to the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant group. Apparently undaunted, Saeed continues to criss-cross Pakistan making fiery anti-American and anti-Indian speeches. He does not seem to be in danger of arrest. Pakistani opinion is still inflamed by a US air strike last November which accidentally killed 24 Pakistani border troops. A Financial Times report from Islamabad this month noted that US-Pakistan relations had sunk to their lowest level in a decade.
Several shocking incidents have greatly damaged America’s reputation and seem to point to poor training of young American soldiers and a breakdown of discipline. In January, a video was released showing American soldiers urinating on dead Afghan insurgents; in February, the accidental burning of copies of Quran at Bagram Air Base led to widespread rioting. In March, a US sergeant went on a rampage killing 17 Afghan civilians, including women and children; in April, the Los Angeles Times published photos (allegedly taken in 2010) showing grinning American soldiers of the 82nd airborne division posing with mangled body parts of Afghan insurgents.
The US might perhaps ask itself why it has aroused such hate in the Islamic world and what it might do to restore its reputation. It might care to consider the following suggestions: Wind down the ‘war on terror’ and stop killing Muslims; put a firm check on Israeli colony building and promote the creation of a Palestinian state; reduce the US military presence in the Gulf States by reverting instead to an ‘over the horizon’ naval presence.
Above all, the US should strive with maximum goodwill to reach a fair settlement with Iran over the nuclear issue. In return for a verifiable Iranian pledge to stop enriching uranium above the limit allowed by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the US should end its economic warfare against Tehran. Instead of inciting the Arabs against Iran — and thereby fuelling Sunni-Shiite antagonism — the US should encourage Gulf States to include Iran in the region’s security architecture.
Washington seems unaware that it will need Iran’s help if peace and stability are ever to be established in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘Crippling sanctions’ on the Islamic republic are unlikely to win its cooperation. This is not the least of the many incoherent features of American policy.
Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.
Source: Gulf News
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