Wednesday, 30 June 2010

US unable to assess Afghan military capabilities

If you want to read how the US is unable to assess the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces and how top-rated ANSF units don't have the capability to sustain independent operations, you might want to read the latest report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. You can find it here.

Tribalism and the Taliban

Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network continues that organisation's tradition of producing thoughtful, well-researched reports with How Tribal are the Taleban? Afghanistan's largest insurgent movement between its tribal roots and Islamist ideology.
While noting the lack of understanding - and interest - in the Taliban by many analysts, the report looks at whether the Taliban is a Pashtun tribal or nationalist force, rather than a supra-Islamist organisation as it likes to portray itself.
Ruttig notes the disintegration of traditional Pashtun society over the last 30 years - the decline in the importance of the jirga for solving problems and its replacement with the shura, the disrespect shown to elders, the dispersal of tribes and migration of tribespeople.
Ruttig argues convincingly that these changes mean that attempts to use 'tribes' for stabilisation through the formation of tribal militias are "misdirected". He says the Taliban movement is dualistic in nature: "There is a vertical organisational structure, in the form of a centralised ‘shadow state’. This reflects its supra-tribal and supra-ethnic Islamist ideology which appears to be ‘nationalistic’ – ie refers to Afghanistan as a nation – at times. At the same time, the Taleban movement is characterised by horizontal, network-like structures that reflect its strong roots in the segmented Pashtun tribal society."
Negotiating a peace settlement with such an organisation will not be easy, argues Ruttig, even after taking into consideration the legendary ability of Afghans to strike a compromise.

Four events leading in one direction

President Karzai's sacking of his interior minister and the head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, the possible extradition of Mullah Barodar from Pakistan to Kabul, the rumoured talks between the Karzai government and the Haqqani network and the resignation of General McChrystal. Four events that may be connected.
President Karzai is taking seriously the mandate he was given two weeks ago at the Peace jirga in Kabul to negotiate with the Taliban with a view to striking a deal for the reintegration and reconciliation of its fighters. His emissaries have already made it clear to the Pakistan military that they will be allowed to play a role in the endgame he hopes will end the fighting and they can probably smell a deal.
It was for this reason that Karzai decided to sack the interior minister and intelligence chief immediately following the Peace jirga. Both men are regarded by the Taliban (and Pakistan) as obstacles to negotiations, preferring instead a strategy based on destroying the organisation.
Hence the suggestions now circulating in Kabul and Islamabad that Barodar - and other senior Taliban leaders now in prison in Pakistan - will be brought back to Afghanistan, where Karzai hopes they will play a role in reaching out to sections of the Taliban leadership.
Hence too the talks with the Haqqanis. They are under the patronage of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service and would do nothing without their backing. Whilst it may not be true that Sirajuddin Haqqani himself made it to Kabul last week, it is likely that a more junior member of the family was present. (More on the Haqqanis can be found in a briefing note issued by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War on Monday).
Nor is this the only attempt to reach out to the fighters in the east of the country. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami fighters have already met with the president and negotiations continue.
And so was McChrystal's resignation simply a matter of the general making a stupid mistake? Hardly. He is bitterly opposed to a negotiated solution to the fighting and was intent on breaking the back of the insurrection before considering negotiations. He had already told President Obama that this strategy would require more time and that the US forces were unlikely to be able to begin withdrawal by June next year. These views are increasingly out of line with the White House, where Obama's political reputation will stand or fall on his ability to keep his promise to begin withdrawing US troops by then. If McChrystal couldn't deliver this promise, then he had to go. He simply decided that he was not going to go quietly. Holbrooke and Eikenberry, the US special envoy and ambassador to Afghanistan respectively, may also feel they cannot support Karzai's policy and they too may make an early exit.
What has prompted Obama to back away from his general and to allow Karzai to explore his way of doing things? Probably the offensive in Marjah. Despite all the hype, the much-trumpeted offensive - and the now-aborted early entry into Kandahar - have been disastrous. Resistance continues in this small town and if the full might of the US and Coalition military cannot solve that problem, what chance of an overall military victory?

Monday, 28 June 2010

Karzai in meeting with Haqqanis - al-Jazeera

While Washington remains obsessed with who is leading its military and political forces in Afghanistan, amid rumours that Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke may be next for the chop, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai appears to be cosying up to the Pakistani military.
al-Jazeera reports this morning that the president met with Sirajuddin Haqqani in face-to-face talks recently. "Haqqani, whose network is believed to be based across the border, is reported to have been accompanied to the meeting earlier in the week by Pakistan's army chief and the head of its intelligence services", the news organisation reports.
Such a meeting would not be inconceivable - although it has been denied by some sources. Karzai recently sacked his interior minister and intelligence chief in a move widely interpreted as being a concession made to the Taliban and Pakistan to encourage negotiations.
The Haqqani network is widely seen as being the main instrument of Pakistani policy in Afghanistan. Pakistan finances the network and allows its fighters - who include many foreigners - to move easily between Pakistan's tribal lands along the border and the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. So far, despite US pressure, the Pakistanis have refused to rein in Haqqani's fighters. Indeed, such a move would be almost impossible in Pakistan.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

How Afghanistan's cricketers took on the world

View Blog

This is one you have to watch. Not released yet (this is only a trailer), but already Out of the Ashes is causing ripples. You don't need to know anything about cricket to understand this film as you follow the story of the Afghan national cricket team from refugee camps in Pakistan - where many of the players learned the game as boys - to practice sessions in Kabul and on to qualifying tournaments overseas.
Finally they reach the World Cup qualifier in South Africa where they face their greatest test...
Backed by BBC Storyville and executive-produced by Oscar-winning director and cricket fan, Sam Mendes, the film follows the Afghan cricket squad over two years as they go from playing in their shalwar-kameezes on rubble pitches to batting their way around the globe and up the international league tables.
If you are around in London you can catch a preview on 2 July at the Frontline Club. More information here.

Supply chain corruption among Afghan truckers

"The findings of this report range from sobering to shocking". Thus Rep. John F Tierney, chair of the subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, speaking of his committee's report on the Department of Defense’s outsourcing of security on the supply chain in Afghanistan - referred to as the $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking (HNT) Contract - to questionable providers, including warlords.
Warlord, Inc.: Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan, the committee's six-month investigation, was prompted by an article by Aram Roston in The Nation about allegations that US trucking contractors were making protection payments for safe passage through insecure areas in order to supply American troops in the field.
The HNT Contract is split between eight Afghan, American and Middle Eastern companies and provides trucking for over 70 per cent of the total goods and materiel for US troops - around 6-8,000 truck movements a month.
The contractors are responsible for their own security, which most of them subcontract to local Afghan companies. The size of these operations is huge: a typical convoy of 300 supply trucks going from Kabul to Kandahar, for example, will travel with 400 to 500 guards in dozens of trucks armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). One convoy security commander said that he spent $1.5 million per month on ammunition. The logic is that outsourcing allows the US to direct a greater proportion of its troops to other activities instead of logistics.
But Tierney's Majority Committee report says that the HNT contract "fuels warlordism, extortion, and corruption, and it may be a significant source of funding for insurgents. In other words, the logistics contract has an outsized strategic impact on U.S. objectives in Afghanistan."
The report pulls few punches: security for the US supply chain is mainly provided by warlords who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority; the Highway Warlords run a protection racket; these funds, in turn, are a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban; the unaccountable supply chain security contractors are themselves fuelling corruption, with one company admitting that it pays $1,000 to $10,000 in monthly bribes to Afghan governors, police chiefs and local military units; there is no DoD oversight of the supply chain or the private security contractors; all this despite the fact that DoD has been warned in the past about protection payments.
When Tierney said the report's findings ranged from sobering to shocking, he was not kidding.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Failure of Counterinsurgency in Pakistan

A study on Counterinsurgency in Pakistan published by the Rand Corporation and written by Seth Jones and Christine Fair argues that despite some successes since 2001, militant groups continue to present a significant threat to Pakistan, the United States and several other countries.
Numerous militant networks ( Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) exist in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan has failed to develop an effective population-centric counterinsurgency strategy to combat them.
The authors add that Pakistan's decision to support some militant groups has been counterproductive and it has still not entirely broken with this strategy. The Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps have a mixed record in terms of clearing and holding territory, as illustrated by Operation al Mizan in South Waziristan in 2004. Operations have improved since then, but weaknesses remain.
The lack of an official counterinsurgency doctrine remains a "lingering challenge", while the lack of support for the police has had a detrimental effect on anti-terrorist operations.
The authors argue that four components are critical to adopting a more effective strategy: a population-centric approach based on a more central role for the police; the abandonment of militancy as a tool of its foreign and domestic policy; the reduction by the USA of its reliance on Pakistan, for example by seeking alternative routes to supply its troops in Afghanistan; the US should withhold some aid until Pakistan makes progress.

More on Waldman and the ISI

Has the London School of Economics distanced itself from Matt Waldman's report, published last week (see below), claiming that the Taliban is 'run' by commanders, many of whom are agents of the Pakistan Intelligence Service, the ISI?
When the story broke a week ago the report itself was not available on the LSE's website, although selected journalists had been given prior access. Thus is was impossible to check the precise nature of the claims.
When it was finally published on the website of LSE's Crisis States Research Centre on Tuesday, the report was introduced with comments by Professor James Putzel, director of the Centre. "This report is based on research carried out in Afghanistan, including interviews with important Taliban commanders who clearly believe that they are being 'run' by Pakistan's intelligence service," he says.
He continues: "The prevalence of such beliefs among insurgents themselves and the critical stance they take towards the relationship between their leadership networks and elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services may prove to be important as Afghans continue to explore the prospects for reaching a peace agreement."
The meaning of these two sentences is very different to the statements attributed to Waldman - and heard in the al-Jazeera interview below - in that Putzel is referring to the beliefs of Taliban commanders, rather than the fact of a relationship between them and the ISI.
Putzel also talks about 'elements' of the ISI, suggesting possibly a rogue faction, rather than emphasising - as Waldman did - that it was 'official' ISI policy to manage the Taliban.
Looking at the report itself, it appears to be more cautious in the way it reports the relationship between the Taliban and the ISI, stating merely that "Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement. They say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies." This is uncontentious and widely known.
What is more controversial is the suggestion that the ISI is "represented" on the Quetta Shura or that Pakistan's President Zardari recently assured capture Taliban leaders of his continuing backing. On these points, more evidence please.

Drug use rising in Afghanistan says UN report

Almost a million people in Afghanistan - roughly eight per cent of the population between 15 and 64 years old - are drug addicts, according to a report from the UN's Office of Drug Control.
The report says that many Afghans "seem to be taking drugs as a kind of self-medication against the hardships of life". But, as the report points out, this is causing greater misery by creating behavioural, social and health problems, as well as petty crime, traffic and workplace accidents.
Shockingly, the report reveals that around half of all drug users in the north and south of the country give opium to their children, thus condemning them to a life of addiction.
Only ten per cent of those surveyed had received any form of drug treatment, although 90 per cent felt they were in need of it.
The report warns that there is likely to have been substantial under-reporting of drug use, particularly amongst women and children where cultural issues make it difficult to obtain accurate information.
The survey of more than 2,600 drug users and those with knowledge of drug use in their communities follows on from the first survey in 2005. Since then, there has been a massive increase in the use of opium, heroin and other opiates.
Since the last report the number of regular opium users has leapt from 150,000 to 230,000. Heroin users have risen from 50,000 to 120,000. The highest prevalence is found in the main poppy growing areas in the north and south of the country.
The archetypal Afghan drug user is a 28-year-old father of three, married but not cohabiting with his wife, who resides with his extended family in a self-owned house or apartment. He is probably unemployed, is illiterate and has little education. If employed, he probably works as a farmer or unskilled labourer. His monthly earning are less than $120.
He will be spending just over $2 a day on heroin or $1.60 a day on opium. The survey estimates that drug users in Afghanistan spend around $300 million on their drug habit every year. About six per cent of respondents sold themselves for sex to provide money for their habit, leading to fears of a possible HIV epidemic among at-risk populations.
Many people began their drug addiction while refugees. For example, up to 40 per cent of heroin and opium users began to use the drugs while refugees in Iran.
The report does not discuss the financing behind the drug trade - which is said to involve senior members of the Karzai Administration - nor its impact on Taliban finances. But it does beg the question why there has not been a national campaign to highlight the impact of drugs on Afghan society. How do the Moslems of the Taliban justify the huge damage they are doing to their own people? It is well known that the bulk of opium and heroin produced in Afghanistan is consumed locally or in the neighbouring states of Pakistan, Iran and central Asia. Where are the fatwas condemning this murderous trade?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Importance of understanding tribal dynamics

The Williamsburg-based Tribal Analysis Center specialises in the collection and analysis of data related to tribes in remote areas. They note the new emphasis being given by the military to studying tribal affairs, both in Iraq and Afghanistan: "Repeated public statements by US military and civilian leaders now downplay military operations in favour of gaining the support of local communities, not only by bringing tangible benefits, but also by acting in a manner acceptable to tribal people."
However, they argue that it is equally important for NGOs and other civilian organisations to have a clear idea of the society in which they are operating.
The Center is not just interested in academic study: "Although we actively seek the input of trained anthropologists wherever possible, we do not limit ourselves to that pool of expertise, and seek to broaden substantially the scope of input. Thus we are just as interested in getting a detailed account of how a US military civic action officer, or a USAID official, dealt with a tribal jirga (council) in a particular Pashtun community, as we would in receiving an academic study of that same jirga."
They also publish good postgraduate theses submitted by their student authors. One such report already published is Badal: A culture of Revenge. The impact of Collateral Damage on Taliban Insurgency, written by Raja G Hussein of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
Other reports readers may find interesting include:
Pashtun Tribal Dynamics; The 1897 Revolt and Tirah Valley Operations from the Pashtun Perspective; Alikozai Tribal Dynamics: A very unusual Durrani Tribe; and Achakzai Tribe.
Coming soon are: Jirgas: How they vary from Tribe to Tribe; and Pashtun Story Telling: a clue to their violent culture.

Images from Afghanistan

This wonderful picture above of an old Afghan man being treated by a doctor for the first time in his life is part of an exhibition by my old friend and former colleague, David O'Neill. David has spent a lifetime working as a Fleet Street photographer, mostly for the Mail on Sunday.
His exhibition, Living Eye, is on show at Gray's Court in York, England, until 13 July. It includes some moving photos taken in Afghanistan, where David covered the advance of the Northern Alliance on Kabul in 2001, as well as more recent photos taken in Helmand with a medical evacuation team.
This one was taken high in the Hindu Kush in November 2001 in the last days of the Taliban regime. If you are passing by, drop in to see more of these brilliant pictures.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

And the Taliban response.....

The Taliban in Afghanistan gave short shrift to the LSE report suggesting that Pakistan's ISI had been supporting the organisation and that seven of its 15 shura members were ISI agents.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan believes the said report by the so-called research institute is a dictated drama of the political rulers of the West. It is not an investigative report based on facts and reasons, ethically carried out by academic research institute."
Its statement continues: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan openly invites all academic and research institutes, military and intelligence entities of the world including the London School of Economics to come to Afghanistan and behold the ranks of the Islamic Emirate with their own eyes that whether the Afghan gallant people or any foreigner make up the Mujahideen and leaders of the Jihad. Then again, they should check the ranks of the Karzai stooge administration to see whether their leaders are the gallant Afghans or the open enemies of our country and the invaders.
"After that, they should put their academic and investigative report conducted on the basis of the ground realities, at the disposal of the public of the world. Had they done so, these academic institutes would have abided by their recognized norms and principles; would have saved their calibre and reputations, and produced a useful academic report. At least, it would not have been a fabricated drama, ironically ordered by the arrogant powers."

Sunday, 13 June 2010

ISI officially represented on Taliban shura - report

Pakistani military intelligence not only funds and trains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan but is officially represented on the movement's leadership council, giving it significant influence over operations, a report released on Sunday said.
The report, The Sun and the Sky: the relationship between Pakisan's ISI and Afghan Insurgents, written by Harvard scholar Matt Waldman and published by the London School of Economics, says research strongly suggested support for the Taliban was the "official policy" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Waldman says up to seven members of the Taliban's shura are ISI agents. You can view an al-Jazeera interview with Waldman above.
Links between the some members and former members of the ISI and Islamist militants have been known about for some time, but Waldman's report is new in suggesting that this is the organisation's official policy.
The LSE report states: “As the provider of sanctuary and substantial financial, military and logistical support to the insurgency, the ISI appears to have strong strategic and operational influence — reinforced by coercion. There is thus a strong case that the ISI orchestrates, sustains and shapes the overall insurgent campaign.”
It also alleges that Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, recently met captured Taliban leaders to assure them that the Taliban had his government’s full support, although this has been vigorously denied by Zardari’s spokesman.

Friday, 11 June 2010

How to build peace and reconciliation

Plans for reintegrating Taliban fighters must address the concerns of Afghan women

The Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia has published the first in a new series of papers called Afghan Voices.
Will the Afghan Government's reintegration and reconciliation efforts bring peace to Afghanistan? is written by Wazhma Frogh, a postgraduate Chevening Scholar studying International Development Law and Human Rights at Warwick University.
Frogh's paper looks at the background to reintegration programmes in Afghanistan, noting that previous efforts, such as the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Plan and the Afghanistan National Independent Peace and Reconciliation Commission, failed because they were not directed at the Taliban or they had insufficient authority.
At the Peace Jirga recently concluded in Kabul it seems that everyone was clear on the meaning of reintegration, but that reconciliation is a more difficult concept. Frogh says it has been defined as a dialogue with at least certain elements of the Taliban. However, this was not clarified at the Jirga - which instead asked the government to develop its own framework on both reintegration and reconciliation.
Two concrete proposals emerged: the removal of militants' names from blacklists and the prompt release of Taliban militants from Afghan and ISAF prisons.
Frogh says that to succeed the government's plans must address four key issues: first, the ongoing instability in the country, not all of which is due to the Taliban insurgency, but is also connected to the failure to reward loyal supporters of the regime and also the failure to offer anything to the huge numbers of young people in the country, where around 60 per cent are under 25 years old.
Second,the need to clarify the elements of any potential reconciliation programme. If it is based on financial incentives, what happens when the money stops? She also asks if reintegration can really happen before reconciliation.
Third, Frogh says the plans must address the concerns of Afghan women, many of whom fear that their minimal gains since the overthrow of the Taliban will be reversed. She points out that only one of the 28 committees formed at the Peace Jirga was chaired by a woman. In three days no plenary opportunity was offered to any woman to express their worries.
Finally, the plans should also provide incentives for Taliban leaders to join the process.
In summary, Frogh says: "What is required is a comprehensive approach that includes a genuinely national consultative and consensusbuilding process and efforts to address both broader governance failures and other threats to Afghan stability and security (not just the Taliban insurgency). A comprehensive approach needs to address past injustices inflicted on all Afghans if enduring peace and stability is to be achieved." She says justice was a casualty of the Peace Jirga: "There was no mention of the war crimes during the civil war, nor the injustices and violence inflicted on the Afghan nation in the past nine years."

The Hell of life in Pakistan's FATA

It should never be forgotten that the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan - probably the most dangerous area in the world - have never been consulted over whether or not their land should be used as a launchpad for jihad against Western forces in Afghanistan and as a battleground against the Pakistani Army by local insurgents.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has no mandate from the tribal people and exerts its authority primarily through murder and intimidation. Its foreign 'guests' - Islamist militiamen - are there because it has suited the Pakistan military to have them there as its pursues its long-term strategy in Afghanistan of limiting India's infuence and making the Kabul regime into as much of a client state as possible.
The seven tribal agencies that make up FATA have been ignored by Islamabad and starved of investment. The people there are subject to disgraceful Colonial-era laws and receive little or no protection from the state.
A new report from Amnesty International - 'As if Hell fell on me': the human rights crisis in Northwest Pakistan - sets out in detail the impact this situation has had on FATA. Based on 300 interviews, it argues that the residents of FATA live in a human rights-free zone and that over a million have been turned into refugees: "The people of FATA - overwhelmingly members of the Pashtun ethnic group - already suffer from some of the lowest standards of living in Asia, and are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the conflict and insecurity caused by the Pakistan Taliban insurgency and the government's harsh response."
It notes that the overall literacy rate in FATA is around 17 per cent, with only seven percent of women being able to read. Nearly two-thirds of the population live below the national poverty level. There are only 33 hospitals covering over three million people. Millions of people have left, either to work in the Gulf, or to live in poverty and fear in cities like Karachi and Lahore.
Amnesty note that the Pakistani Taliban has combined a harsh interpretation of Islamic doctrine, unprecedented violence (particularly against civilians) and intimidation to drive out what few legal institutions existed in FATA.
"Taliban forces in FATA have prohibited music, forced men to grow beards, destroyed hundreds of schools and effectively stopped the operation of all schools in the area. They have used force to enforce their dictates that both women and girls be veiled and accompanied by male relatives when going outside their homes and have severely limited the operations of health clinics and humanitarian agencies. The Taliban have systematically abused the right to life and to freedom from arbitrary detention, torture, gender, religious and ethnic discrimination and the right to free expression - among other internationally recognised human rights."
This is a very well researched document and should be read by anyone with an interest in understanding the complexities of politics in Pakistan and the dynamics of the insurgency along the border with Afghanistan.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Neo-con thoughts on Afghanistan-Pakistan

David Gartenstein-Ross and Clifford May have edited a collection of essays on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the neo-con Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Theater: Militant Islam, Security and Stability includes essays on religious militancy in Pakistan's military, the US Army's Human Terrain System, an assesment of Pakistan's peace agreements with militants in Waziristan from 2004-2008 and several others, by writers including Hassan Abbas, Christine Fair and Sebastian Gorka.
Some of the essays are not bad, but all this from a pro-Iraq war organisation that is islamophobic and whose anti-Iran, anti-Hamas, anti-Hezbollah views, according to some commentators, differ little from those of Israel's right-wing Likud Party.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Resolution agreed at the Kabul Peace jirga

In case you have not seen it, here is the resolution adopted at the end of the National Consultative Peace Jirga held in Kabul last week.
The jirga's final resolution calls for the release of prisoners who have allegedly been detained by Afghan and foreign forces without sufficient evidence.
It also calls for the formation of a commission to lead efforts to open negotiations with the Taliban, who have vowed not to engage in peace talks until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
The resolution also says insurgents who want to take part in the peace process must cut their ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. It says militants who join the peace process should be removed from the U.N. blacklist.
On Sunday, President Karzai, in compliance with the resolution, called for a review of the cases of all prisoners linked to the Taliban and other militants and announced the formation of a special office to review the cases.
He simultaneously sacked his Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh. He appointed Munir Mangal as acting interior minister and Ibrahim Spinzada as acting intelligence chief. A statement on his website inferred that the officials had been sacked for not preventing the rocket and gun attack on the opening of the jirga last Wednesday. It said their explanations had not been satisfactory.
However, there is more to this. Both men were pro-American and agreed with the caution expressed by US policymakers over integrating former Taliban fighters into the police and armed forces.
Saleh, an ethnic Tajik who has a close relationship with the CIA, is thought to have been opposed to Karzai's stated policy of releasing Taliban fighters as a way of demonstrating goodwill towards the organisation. However, it is also likely that the Taliban itself has insisted on his removal as a precondition for talks. US opposition to the sacking is likely to be muted.
Otherwise the jirga resolution has few surprises -although it ends with a denunciation of Israel for its attack on the aid flotilla trying to get through the blocade to Gaza, during which nine people were killed by Israeli commandos.

Signs of religious conservatism in Pakistan

The Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has produced an interesting, if slightly confusing, survey of public attitudes towards Islamic radicalisation in Pakistan.
Interviews were conducted across Pakistan, mostly with people living in urban areas and small towns. About 30 per cent lived in rural areas. Many of those interviewed were in intermediate education (29.3 per cent) or studying at university (37.5 per cent). Only 8.3 per cent of those interviewed were illiterate and 2.2 per cent had been educated in madrassas. Therefore the survey sample was skewed towards educated, literate, professional people and it could be argued that the views of rural people were under-represented. Functional illiteracy is as high as 80 per cent in some parts of the country.
Despite this, respondents clearly had conservative views. Sixty-seven per cent thought it was a woman's religious duty to wear the veil in public places and 48.8 per cent believed women should not have the right to divorce. Nearly 23 per cent did not listen to music, with two-thirds of those not listening saying that this was for religious reasons. Just over half of all respondents endorsed Pakistani recording artist Junaid Jamshaid's decision to quit singing pop songs in 2004 and concentrate on singing religious nasheeds. Jamshaid has since joined the Tablighi Jamaat group of Islamic preachers.
Sixty-five per cent said that a person who did not pray five times a day could not become a better Moslem, while 59 per cent said that the struggle to implement sharia law in Pakistan was a form of jihad.
However, despite their conservatism, 81 per cent thought female education was "extremely necessary". Almost 60 per cent thought women should be allowed to work outside the home, compared to 40 per cent who did not.
On their religious beliefs, 77 per cent said they thought Muslims were lagging behind other nations and 31 per cent claimed this was because they had deviated from Islam. Under a fifth thought this was due to scientific and technical backwardness.
Almost two thirds (63.6 per cent) thought Pakistan's decision to joint the US-led 'War on Terror' was incorrect, although 46 per cent were wary of the Taliban, denying that it was fighting for Islam. Of those who were sympathetic to the Taliban, over a third condemned its acts of violence.
Overall, the survey results are confusing. According to PIPS: "All these findings indicate that the average Pakistani takes his religion seriously and wishes to see it in the public domain. But, unlike the Taliban, he does not want to make it claustrophobic for other people. The average Pakistani thus wants to look progressive in a conservative framework. He is caught between two competing narratives: the first one, which is primarily grounded in religion and is now championed by militant groups, makes him want to see his religion triumph; the other, usually trotted out by the government and the media, is mostly based on information and rational analysis, making him realize the significance of progressing in the world."

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Corruption increasing in Pakistan

Seventy percent of people questioned as part of a 205-page survey by Transparency International in Pakistan say that the present government is more corrupt than its predecessors.
TI's National Corruption Perception Survey 2010 says that overall corruption has increased by 11.37 percent from Rs195 billion in 2009 to Rs233 billion in in the last year. Punjab is the only province where provincial government is rated to be cleaner than previous provincial governments and Khyber-Pakhtunkwa is rated the most corrupt.
Police and the power sector are ranked as the two most corrupt sectors, followed by land administration. In fact the police have been judged to be the most corrupt sector for the last four years in a row.
Corruption in the judiciary, education and local government sectors has also increased compared to 2009, whereas Customs and Taxation are ranked the least corrupt.
Syed Adil Gilani, chairman of TI Pakistan, said that corruption is the root cause of poverty, illiteracy, terrorism, shortage of electricity, food and the lack of governance in Pakistan. He said the most corrupt sector is tendering, which eats at least 40 percent of the Pakistan's development budget.

UN Rapporteur questions legality of targetted killings

The UN Special Rapporteur on on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, has produced a detailed study of the implications of the increasingly common policy of extrajudicial 'targetted' killings, particularly in relation to drone attacks in Pakistan.
Alston's last major report was on the US failure to protect human rights in Afghanistan and Iraq - or even, for that matter, in US gaols. You can read my summary of that June 2009 report here.
Defined as "the intentional, pre-meditated and deliberate use of lethal force, by States or their agents acting under colour of law, or by an organized armed group in armed conflict, against a specific individual who is not in the physical custody of the perpetrator", the US has used drones for targetted killings on an increasingly wide scale in recent years, while other countries have used less spectacular, but equally lethal methods.
The result, says Alston, has been "a highly problematic blurring and expansion of the boundaries of the applicable legal frameworks – human rights law, the laws of war, and the law applicable to the use of inter-state force. Even where the laws of war are clearly applicable, there has been a tendency to expand who may permissibly be targeted and under what conditions."
He adds that the states concerned have often failed to specify the legal justification for their policies, to disclose the safeguards in place to ensure that targeted killings are in fact legal and accurate, or to provide accountability mechanisms for violations.
In addition, says Alston, and most troublingly, they have refused to disclose who has been killed, for what reason, and with what collateral consequences. "The result has been the displacement of clear legal standards with a vaguely defined licence to kill, and the creation of a major accountability vacuum."
Alston is not solely concerned with US drone attacks. He gives other examples, including the killing of rebel Chechen warlord Omar ibn al Khattab in April 2002 by Russian armed forces, the November 2002 killed of Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harithi and five others in Yemen in a CIA Predator strike, killings in Sri Lanka between 2005-2008 by both the Tamil Tigers and government forces and the January 2010 operation to kill Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai, allegedly by Mossad agents.
The report notes, for example, that Israel has developed specific legal arguments to justify its targetted killing of Palestinians. One human rights group has revealed that between 2002-2008 at least 387 Palestinians were killed as a result of targetted killings by Israeli forces. Of these, 234 were the targets, while the remainder were 'collateral' casualties. It is hardly surprising that Israeli leaders should consider it 'reasonable' to send armed commandos against the Gaza flotilla and to allow them to open fire, when its rules governing such actions are so lax.
Alston concludes that states should publicly identify the laws they use to justify targetted killings and also why killing is better than capture. They should make public the number of civilians killed in targetted killing operations and adhere to a range of measures aimed at ensuring mistakes are investigated and that all measures to prevent them are in place.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Who really killed Khalid Khwaja?

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir and Osama bin Laden
Two weeks ago, the blog Let us Build Pakistan published the transcript of a recorded conversation between prominent Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir and an unnamed person thought to be a senior member of the Pakistan Taliban.
The transcript seems to show Mir providing information to the Taliban member about Khalid Khwaja, a former Pakistani airforce pilot who was murdered in Waziristan recently, having been captured by a previously unknown group called the Asian Tigers.
Khwaja was kidnapped along with a former ISI officer and British journalist Asad Qureshi and held for several weeks before he was executed. The suggestion is that information provided by Mir to the Taliban may have sealed Khwaja's fate. The conversation took place while Khwaja was still alive and in the custody of the Asian Tigers.
Mir informs his contact that he believes Khwaja to have been working for the CIA and lists a number of alleged 'crimes'. He urges that he be further interrogated by his Taliban-linked captors. Within days of the conversation Khwaja was dead and had been left by the side of the road close to Mir Ali in North Waziristan.
You can read a transcript of the tape, which first surfaced on the ISI fan page on facebook, here.
The following day Hamid Mir answered the points raised against him, saying that the "concocted tape" was fabricated and that it was part of a government plot to discredit him because he was a vociferous critic.
His statement was accompanied by an alleged press release from the Pakistan Taliban on behalf of the Asian Tigers, also acquitting Mir of any blame and saying that no conversation had taken place between them and the journalist. You can read both here. Neither has much merit.
It is well known that Mir has long had connections with the jihadis in Pakistan and al-Qaeda. After all, he interviewed bin Laden three times - more than any other journalist. In 2007 former President Musharraf declared him a Taliban sympathiser and banned him from Geo TV for more than four months. If the recent tape turns out to be true, he should be banished from the airwaves for ever and prosecuted for incitement to murder.

Death of al-Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan

The reported death of Sheikh Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, also known as Sheikh Saeed, along with members of his family in a US drone strike in North Waziristan last week, is a huge blow for al-Qaeda. An Egyptian who was a long-time companion of al-Qaeda No. 2 Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, he was a founder member of al-Qaeda, a member of its ruling shura and - since May 2007 - the head of the organisation in Afghanistan.
As a veteran he would have known many of the Afghan Taliban leaders personally and would have been instrumental in ensuring that al-Qaeda did not offend its Taliban hosts and at all times in Afghanistan acted under their auspices. In recent years those relationships have come under strain and it was hardly surprising that al-Qaeda moved much closer to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and particularly its former leader Baitullah Mahsud - who was killed in a US drone strike last August. al-Yazid issued a fulsome tribute to Mahsud on his death, calling him a "valiant and incomparable leader".
Since his appointment as al-Qaeda emir in Afghanistan, al-Yazid has issued regular statements through al-Qaeda's as-Sahab media house. Covering such subjects as the death of Sheikh Abu al-Laith al-Liby, the June 2008 attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad, the December 2009 suicide attack on a CIA station in Khost and regular appeals to the people of Pakistan and appeals for money, they can be read on the website of the NEFA Foundation. No successor has yet been announced.