This blog aims to highlight issues and information that don't always make it into the mainstream media. Recognising that comment is cheap, wherever possible it will link you directly to documents and sources that are mentioned in the text.
I realised some time ago that it was impossible to write about Afghanistan without writing about Pakistan and other neighbouring countries. With that in mind, the reader will come across articles that, while not specifically about Afghanistan, in some way shed light on the conflict.
In the fifth paper on Afghanistan from the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) Antonio Giustozzi takes a look at the composition of the Taliban in areas outside the Pashtun belt, from which it has traditionally recruited. The Taliban beyond the Pashtuns argues that the Taliban has started making significant inroads among other ethnic groups and has coopted bandits and disgruntled militia commanders previously connected to other organisations. There is also some evidence of small groups of ideologically committed Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmen from the north of the country joining the Taliban. The Taliban is actively seeking to expand the conflict to northern and other remote areas: "There is evidence that human resources have been committed, with hundreds of cadres having moved north and west, while funds and weapons might be on their way," says Giustozzi. However, he says that despite a clear intention, the overall success of the project is not yet clear: "If there is little doubt about the Taliban’s intentions, the issue of what potential exists there for the insurgency to expand among non-Pashtuns remains open. As of late 2009, the largest contribution to the Taliban insurgency north of the Hindukush was still coming from Pashtun communities in Kunduz and Baghlan." He notes that the alliance between the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has made it easier to recruit young Uzbeks, but points out that memories of the Taliban occupation of the north in the 1990s are still very bitter. Amongst the Tajiks, only a few from Logar have so far joined up. However, "Undoubtedly there is a reservoir of highly conservative attitudes in the more remote parts of Afghanistan, which is likely to predispose some communities to receiving the Taliban message with a sympathetic ear."
Col Imam threatens to reveal secrets unless his captors demands are met
This blog covered in detail the kidnap and killing of Khalid Khwaja, a former Pakistani airforce pilot who was murdered in Waziristan in May, having been captured by a previously unknown group that called itself the Asian Tigers, but was widely thought to have been a Punjabi group sympathising with the Pakistan Taliban. (See this article for example). Khwaja was kidnapped along with a former ISI officer and British journalist Asad Qureshi and held for several weeks before he was executed after being accused of passing information to the ISI. It was thought at the time that the two other captives would quickly be released. Now, however, a video has emerged showing an interview with the ISI officer who is still being held. He is generally known as Colonel Imam and has been an important ISI contact man with the Taliban leadership for many years and counts many of the top men amongst his wide net of contacts. His real name is Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar. In the tape obtained by Flashpoint Global Partners and available on their website, Col. Imam says he has been kidnapped by Lashkar Jhangvi al-Alami, Abdullah Mansour - one of the Punjabi Taliban factions. He says he has sent tapes and messages to the goverment but they have been ignored. He says his captors cannot be pressurised and that their demands should be accepted. Then the Colonel makes a shocking threat. "“You people know about the services I rendered for my country. If the Pakistan government does not care about me, then I don’t have any reason to care about the nation either, and [I] will reveal all the weaknesses of our nation.” “Whatever game is being played with Afghanistan, India, Russia, and America, I know about all of it. It is now for the Pakistani government to decide. Four months have now passed but you don't care about me. I am fed up of spending my whole life all the time in a basement." So the brave ISI officer is threatening to release secret information if his former employers don't save his life. Not only is he an idiot, but he is also a coward. The fate of Khwaja has already been decided and we can only hope that Col Imam's captors show some mercy. And let us not forget about Asad Qureshi, who was unfortunate enough to team up with the other two men.
As a fascinating insight into the way a modern army operates, the 92,000 War Diary documents released yesterday by Wikileaks are of interest. (Actually, that should be 77,000 documents, as Wikileaks have decided to censor some of the material on the grounds of national security.) But there is little here that is new. Once you get to understand the weird military form of communication, there are some fascinating details. Thus we find out that military statistics on IED attacks are not always accurate. On the 29th April 2005, for example, a report from the South of Afghanistan records an IED explosion 12kms west of Camp Echo. A US soldier received injuries, said the report, and was being casevaced to Kandahar. Under remarks, however, a follow-up note says "Initial report was not accurate. Cause of injury was M60D negligent discharge, which wounded two soldiers, neither seriously." In fact one US soldier had been shot in the arse by another and the bullet had entered and exited his left buttock before going on to wound a comrade slightly in the arm. Thus do we enter the fog of war. It is impossible to read anything more that a small percentage of these reports in such a short time, but if we look at the Guardian's coverage - where reporters had several weeks to dredge and trawl these documents for juicy details, we find that their team of around a dozen journalists have turned up precious little of much quality or relevance. If you think I am being a little harsh, ask yourself: is anyone going to lose their job over these leaks? Is US army policy going to change? Do you now know much that you did not know before, even if you may not have known so much detail? Were we all not aware that Coalition Special Forces have been engaged in assassinating Taliban leaders for some considerable time? What do you think 500 SAS soldiers and hundreds more US Special Forces are doing in Afghanistan? Did we not know that the US forces were using drones piloted by contractors in Nevada to kill Taliban fighters? Is it new to reveal that the Taliban has massively increased its use of IEDs, with a consequent rise in civilian casualties? Have we not all grown tired of hearing about the fact that the intelligence agency of our major ally in the region - Pakistan - is supporting our enemy, the Taliban? The possibly new information is frustratingly inconclusive. Thus there are 'reports' that the Iranians are supplying equipment to the Taliban, but little in the way of proof. There are 'reports' that the Taliban may be using advanced anti-aircraft missiles, but no clear evidence. In fact, the US military denied at least one of the missile attack reports today. President Karzai's spokesman said he was "shocked" at the scale of the leaks published yesterday, which cover the period from 2004 to the end of 2009, but thought that "most of this is not new". Even Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks said there was no "overarching revelation" to come out of the cache of documents. "The real story of this material is that it's war - it's one damn thing after another," he told a London press conference today. "It is the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children, insurgents, allied forces, the maimed people. Search for the word 'amputation' in this material, or 'amputee', and there are dozens and dozens of references." (Actually I could not find a way to search the documents on the Wikileaks site using self-generated search terms. The only way to search them is by browsing by type, category, region, affialiation, date or severity.) Assange compared the impact of the released material to the opening of the archives of the East German secret police, the Stasi - which could be a bit of an exaggeration. As military leaks go, this was pretty low quality. The last Wikileaks report on Afghanistan - a leaked CIA report on shaping public opinion in Europe, was more dramatic in its content than almost all these reports.
As predicted by this blog in March, the director of Pakistan's troubled counter-terrorism coordinating body has resigned. Tareq Pervez, director of the National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta), resigned yesterday, saying it was for personal reasons. However, for months there has been discussion over who should have control over the agency, which was only set up last year. It is believed that Pervez wanted to be under the prime minister's office, instead of under Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister. His argument was that he would have greater freedom to investigate. However, it was the prime minister himself who allocated responsibility to the Interior Ministry. The spat has delayed any serious action by the new agency which will have its hands full trying to coordinate Pakistan's various security and intelligence organisations. Some of them have in the past had very close relations with Islamist terrorists that are now on government wanted lists. The resignation came on the day that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan mounted an attack on a military firing range in the northwestern city of Mardan in which four soldiers were wounded. The attackers refused to stop at the entrance to the range, prompting the guards to open fire. Three of the men wore suicide jackets that detonated as they were shot at, wounding the soldiers. Four other gunmen gave covering fire during the incident, two of whom were killed. And in Karachi in the south two Pashtun political parties opened up a feud in which more than a dozen people have died so far.
Robert Blackwill, the former US ambassador to India and former presidential envoy to Iraq in the George W. Bush administration, proposes the de facto partition of Afghanistan into North and South as the best policy option in an article published on the Politico website and reposted by the UK Afghanistan Study Group. Blackwill says that with President Obama's counterinsurgency policy failing, the US has six options: stick with the policy; find other ways to entice the Taliban to enter a coalition government; try to save parts of Pashtun Afghanistan in an 'ink-blot' strategy'; give up the countryside and defend Kabul and Kandahar; rapidly withdraw all US forces; or accept a de facto partition, enforced by US/NATO air power and Special Forces, along with the Afghan National Army. While not the best outcome, Partition means that the North, which holds about 60 per cent of the population, could be defended with around 50,000 international troops, says Blackwill. Of course, it would also mean the de facto creation of a kind of Pashtunistan - the long-held dream of many of Afghanistan and Pakistan's Pashtuns. How long before Pakistan then crumbled?
The US Department of Defense has 19 per cent more contractor personnel (207, 600) in Iraq and Afghanistan than uniformed personnel (175,000), according to a recent report from the US Congressional Research Service. The impact of such huge numbers of contractors on military doctrine, not to mention the difficulty of managing them, are problems that have still not been solved. "These efforts are still in progress and could take three years or more to effectively implement," says the report. The figures for Afghanistan show that in March this year there were 112,092 contractors working for the DoD. Of these, 16,081 were US citizens and 17,512 were third-country nationals. The rest, 78,499, were Afghan nationals. The DoD uses significantly more local nationals in Afghanistan than US citizens and third-country citizens combined. More of this kind of stuff can be found here. And you might want to look here where a CRS report published last week discusses US Special Operations Forces (SOF). In relation to Afghanistan, the report notes the change of command of SOF in March from the Special Operations Command-Central to the Commander of ISAF, then General Stanley McChrystal. The report notes this probably happened because of a lack of unity of command, combined with criticism of a large number of civilian casualties resulting from SOF night missions. The report's author does not know whether General David Petraeus will stick with the same policy, which has been severely criticised within the US military hierarchy. US military officials have said that SOF raids have killed or captured 186 insurgent leaders and detained an additional 925 lower-level insurgents in the past 110 days. The raids have been particularly effective around Kandahar, they say, where there are "indications that IED attacks have decreased and that Taliban control appears to be weakening". It really does say this. The report goes on "Senior NATO officials note that intelligence suggests that SOF missions aimed at provincial insurgent leaders have compelled some Taliban leaders to begin internal discussions about accepting the Karzai government’s offer of reconciliation. It has also been reported that a number of insurgent leaders have left their bases in Afghanistan to seek sanctuary in Pakistan because of the raids." Officials also say that in 80 per cent of these raids no shots are fired. SOF units have been carrying out five raids a day against a "constantly updated list of high-value targets." The same report also provides some interesting information on the US Village Stabilisation Program, which is set to be rolled out in 23 rural areas where regular forces cannot operate. This militia programme will see local Afghan police chiefs in charge of the armed groups, watched over - hopefully - by US Special Forces Operational Detachment - Alphas (ODAs). To ensure that the militias do not turn on the Karzai government and its US allies, the report suggests that US army instructors do not provide the militias with tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) used by US and NATO forces. Hmmm. The Taliban seems to be doing well enough without being taught the finer points of soldiering.
The men who train suicide bombers in Pakistan are using powerful drugs to create the right psychological state of mind needed by their charges to kill themselves, according to reports from Peshawar. One article, published today in The Tribune Express, says the drug given to suicide bombers is methamphetamine, known locally under the name Pervitin. Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, is available in Pakistan in the form of Ritalin, which is used in the treatment of attention deficit disorders in children.However, the very powerful side effects are well known and access to the drug is restricted. Unsupervised use of the drug can cause paranoid psychosis, and one or more of the following symptoms: euphoria, anxiety, increased libido, alertness, concentration, energy, self-esteem, self-confidence, sociability, irritability, aggression, psychosomatic disorders, psychomotor agitation and hubris. The drug was given to both German soldiers during the Second World War and also to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The drug is often injected and this is thought to be the way it is being used with young potential suicide bombers. Given in high doses, the drug given a sense of invincibility, coupled with an increase in focus and mental alertness and the elimination of fatigue. There have been a total of 248 suicide attacks in Pakistan between 2002 and 2010. More than 3,000 civilians and 2,500 military personnel have lost their lives in these attacks. Yet little serious research has been conducted into the phenomenon and we know little, if anything about the success of the Pakistani security forces in de-programming the young boys (mostly) they have freed from training camps or captured.
Pakistan's 'fake' degree scandal is growing by the day. Dawn reported today that according to the Higher Education Commission, the number of fake degrees amongst Pakistani politicians has now reached 47, with another 28 considered 'doubtful'. A total of 934 degrees are being examined by the HEC. Dawn's report said the degree of Faryal Talpur, the sister of President Asif Ali Zardari and also head of the PPP's Women's Wing, as well as those of Ports and Shipping Minister Nabeel Gabol, MNAs Shamshad Sattarand Mukesh Chawla and Presidential Adviser Faisal Raza Abidi have all been declared "suspicious". More records are being sought. Faryal Talpur later said that her degree was authentic and resending her degree to the university for re-verification was inappropriate. She said that she had an authentic MA degree in Sociology and no one had contacted her in this regard. Faisal Raza Abidi also said that his degree was genuine. In Pakistan, it is a requirement for national and provincial politicians to hold a valid university degree. The present situation has come about because on 24 June this year the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to initiate action against legislators accused of having used fake degrees to contest the most recent election. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry issued the order after writing a detailed judgment rejecting an appeal by Rizwan Gill, a former PML-N member of the Punjab Assembly, for possessing a fake bachelor’s degree. In Rizwan Gill's case, he had secured 72 per cent in a subject called IPS. When asked in court to define what it stood for, he answered with a long silence. At the court’s insistence and after much thought, he replied “Health and Physical Education”. The detailed marks certificate produced on record by Mr Gill himself noted that IPS stood for “Islamic Studies/Ethics and Pakistan Studies”. “This answer of the appellant said it all,” the verdict said. The ECP is required to depute an officer to supervise the entire exercise, while sessions judges conducting the investigations are required to conclude the probe within three months. One wonders how high the scandal will reach. Meanwhile, in the Rawalpindi District Court 48 lawyers have been struck off after it emerged that their law degrees were fakes. The affected lawyers had been practising for between 10 and 23 years.
A threatening Taliban nightletter directed at a named woman
With the Karzai government now urgently looking to cut a deal with elements of the Taliban, the publication by Human Rights Watch of a report on the likely consequences for women is timely. The 'Ten Dollar Talib' and Women's Rights points out that moves towards reconcilation raises serious concerns about the possible erosion of recently gained rights and freedoms for women. It describes continuing abuses of women's rights by the Islamist militants and offers recommendations on what should be done to protect these rights. Women interviewed for the report noted that some of the oppression of the Taliban years has already returned to Afghanistan. Many women had received threatening letters and phone calls telling them to stop working or to remove their daughters from school. Others had received signed 'night letters', such as the one above, which states: "We warn you today on behalf of the Servants of Islam to stop working with infidels. We always know when you are working. If you continue, you will be regarded as enemy of Islam and will be killed. As we have killed Hossai yesterday whose name was in our list, your name and other women’snames are also on our list." Another woman who taught in a girls' school received a letter stating "We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut the heads off your children and shall set fire to your daughter." The report recommends that the Afghan government commits itself to prioritising the protection of women's human rights and that these rights should be non-negotiable. It says that the full participation of women leaders at the negotiating table will help to ensure these rights are not traded away. It also criticises the amnesty law introduced in January 2010 that provides immunity from prosecution to combatants who agree to join the reconciliation process, saying that this violates Afghanistan's oligations under international law.
Spoof stories about the Taliban training ‘killer monkeys’ have been circulating around the net for a few days now. Such stories can often be found on the pages of the Onion and other such diverting sites. So it was a bit of a surprise to see that the story has been taken up by the People’s Daily Online, main organ of the Chinese Communist Party. Quoting from a “recent report by a British-based media agency”, the People’s Daily says the agency spotted the said monkey soldiers holding AK47s and Bren light machine guns while its reporter was in the Waziristan Tribal region”. I have included above an exclusive photograph showing one of these devil creatures in action. There is a clear logic to this incredible development in modern warfare, says the PD: “In a sense, the emergence of "monkey soldiers" is the result of asymmetrical warfare. The United States launched the war in Afghanistan using the world's most advanced weapons such as highly-intelligent robots to detect bombs on roadsides and unmanned aerial vehicles to attack major Taliban targets. In response, the Taliban forces have tried any possible means and figured out a method to train monkeys as "replacement killers" against American troops.” I knew I should have read my tracts of asymmetric warfare more closely. And what is worse is that the despicable Taliban are hoping to use animal rights activists in the West to force the withdrawal of troops on the grounds that they are inflicting terrible cruelty on the poor little simians. What an awful adversary are these Talibs. Whatever next! Murdering marmots?
This picture shows thousands of demonstrators in Karachi protesting against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the wake of a double suicide attack on a Sufi shrine last Thursday night in Lahore in which more than 40 people died. Thousands of people were at the shrine of Hazrat Syed Ali bin Usman Hajweri, popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, at the time of the attack by two bombers. The following day protesters burned tyres outside the shrine before noon prayers and more than 5000 people, mostly followers of the saint, later staged a rally in Lahore, while similar demonstrations were held in other cities across the country. Participants at a rally in Multan, for example, wore green caps and turbans and accused Taliban militants of trying to destroy religious harmony in Pakistan. The Sunni Tehreek movement announced a nationwide general strike for Saturday in protest against the attacks. The TTP has denied planning the atrocity, even though it has been instrumental in a wave of bloody attacks over the past three years. A year ago the shrine of another Sufi saint revered amongst many Pashtuns, Rehman Baba, was almost destroyed by a bomb in Peshawar.