Sunday, 31 October 2010

The media landscape in Afghanistan

A comprehensive USAID-funded analysis of the Afghan media's impact on opinions and behaviour after three years of media sector construction shows that the sector has grown by an average of 20 per cent per year for the last five years, with around 50 new TV stations and 100 new radio stations, most of which have been created with little or no international assistance.
The report, Afghan Media in 2010, is based on 6,648 close-ended interviews in 107 districts, covering all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, a daily week-long audience survey of over 1,500 individuals, approximately 200 qualitative, open-ended interviews, and ten community case studies. It says that most of the new broadcasters are local TV and radio stations with small footprints and many of which are perceived by the larger, national broadcasters as promoting particular political, ethnic or religious interests.
The media sector has improved slowly, as has the regulatory environment, with little or no opposition. It has also become profitable, with around $50 million a year in revenues.
TV - which is now in 48 per cent of homes nationally - is replacing radio in urban areas, but the radio and telephone are the main forms of media usage in most of the country. Internet use remains low at four per cent, despite interest amongst university students. The report adds that "experiments in information dissemination via mobile phones show promise".
Just three companies - Tolo TV, Moby Group and Lemar TV - represent half the TV market, although the radio sector is more fragmented, with six stations sharing more than half the listening audience, with the rest divided between 112 other stations.
Interest in national news, drama and music and entertainment shows rate highest, followed by religious programmes, movies, political debates, international news and local news. People tend to have a lot of confidence in what they hear, although they always try to confirm by referring to a variety of sources.
For the future, Afghans want the media to act as a watchdog over government, provide education, promote national unity and Afghan cultural identity.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Anyone here any idea how many contracts we let?

The first attempted audit of some 7,000 reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan let by the US government between 2007-09 notes that the US departments of Defense and State, USAID and other agencies are “unable to readily report on how much money they spend on contracting for reconstruction activities” on contracts worth nearly $18 billion during this period.
The auditors had attempted to look at all contracts issued since 2002, but found the records so sparse that they were unable to do this.
The snappily-titled "DOD, State and USAID Obligated over $17.7 Billion to About 7,000 Contractors and Other Entities for Afghanistan Reconstruction During Fiscal Years 2007-2009", published by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, makes no real attempt to audit the contracts, merely to work out how many contracts had been issued and for how much.
In fact, the SIGAR auditors can't even deal just with US contracts, let alone those of other governments and NGOs working in Afghanistan: "There is still no central U.S. government database to track reconstruction projects from the various US agencies and departments, let alone, the international community," said the SIGAR report.
The 45-page report concludes that: "The audit shows that navigating the confusing labyrinth of government contracting is difficult, at best. Within the Defense Department alone, there are four contracting organizations managing DOD-funded reconstruction contracts. The audit found that not only do those four DOD contracting organizations not coordinate and share information with one another, there is minimal sharing of information across government agencies."
Predictably, "a relatively small number of contractors and other entities accounted for the majority of obligations." All the obvious big boys - the Beltway Bandits - are there. As are a number of smaller and more exotic companies. Who, for example, are No Lemon Ltd, which received contracts from the Defense Department worth $95million?
Here's just part of the list, showing USAID contracts. All figures in millions of dollars:

Contracts reported by USAID, FY 2007-FY 2009

Louis Berger International, Inc. $736m
Development Alternatives, Inc. $296m
Chemonics International, Inc. $230M
Bearing Point, Inc. $130m
Association for Rural Development $70m
Deloitte Consulting $60m
Norse Air Charter, Ltd. $48m
Creative Associates International, Inc. $47m
Checchi & Company $42m
International Foundation for Election Systems $37m
Personal services contracts(a) $36m
AECOM International Development $36m
International Relief and Development $34m
Emerging Markets Group $32m
Associates in Rural Development $24m
Advanced Engineering Associates $24m
Constella Futures International $14m
International Resources Group $14m
State University of New York $8m
Al-Haj Abdul Ghafar Ghazanfar Co.Ltd $8m
Rashad Elham Trading Company, Ltd. $8m
Ahham FZCO, Ltd. $6m
Partnership for Child Healthcare $ 6m
PA Government Services, Inc. $6m
Global Strategies Group $6m
Afghanistan Management Group $5m
Descon Holdings, Ltd. $5m
Camp Dresser McKefee International $3m
Aircraft Charter Solutions, Inc. $3m
IO Global Services $2m
QED Group $2m
Protection Devices, Inc. $2m
Lakeshore Engineering Services, Inc. $2m
University Research Company $2m
Bank Alfalah, Ltd. $2m
Macro International $2m
Agility International, Inc. $1m
GW Consulting $1m
Dell Computer $1m
Computer Sciences Corporation $1m
MWH Americas, Inc. $1m

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Where is Mullah Omar?

Where is Mullah Omar? Even senior members of the Taliban don't seem to know his whereabouts, according to sources. They say he disappeared two months ago. Can there be any connection between this event and Pakistan's determination to play a key role in any negotiations over the ending of hostilities in Afghanistan? The same sources say that many senior Taliban figures are now in favour of a negotiated end to the fighting, adding that Sirajuddin Haqqani met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during the summer in the south of the country.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

al-Qaeda former military chief in Waziristan?

A very old picture of Saif al-Adel

Interesting article in Spiegel Online that says former al-Qaeda military chief Saif al-Adel, who has spent the last nine years under house arrest in Iran, is now in Waziristan. The article claims that al-Adel, who is Egyptian, was freed by the Iranians in exchange for unnamed Iranian prisoners kidnapped by al-Qaeda. This could include Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped by gunmen in November 2008 and freed following what the BBC referred to as "a complicated intelligence operation" in March this year.
The source for the story is Noman Benotman, a senior analyst at the London-based Quilliam Foundation counter-extremism think tank and an expert on al-Qaida. Until 2002, Benotman was himself a trainer at jihadi military camps in Afghanistan, where he led the Libyan mujahideen. He says his sources on Saif al-Adel are reliable.
If Adel's release is true, this is certainly a worrying development. He is an experienced member of al-Qaeda, even if he has been out of circulation for years. He is thought to have been in Iranian custody since October 2001, when he and other al-Qaeda supporters, including members of Osama bin Laden's family, were caught having crossed into Iran as they fled in front of US and Allied troops.
It has previously been reported that Saad bin Laden, one of the al-Qaeda leader's sons, had also turned up in Pakistan, having also been released by the Iranians from house arrest in 2008. He was reported killed in a US drone strike in 2009, but other reports denied this was true.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Survey reveals public opinions in Pak tribal areas

Nearly nine out of 10 people in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) oppose the US pursuing the Taliban and al-Qaeda in their region, according to a survey of more that 1,000 people from 142 villages in all seven tribal agencies that make up the region.
Carried out for the New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow, the interviews were conducted by Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme (CAMP), a Pakistan-based NGO that works in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
They also reveal that nearly 70 per cent of FATA residents want the Pakistani military alone to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. While only one in ten think suicide attacks are often or sometimes justified against the Pakistani military and police, almost 60 per cent believe they are justified against the US military.
More that three-quarters of FATA residents also oppose drone strikes, with only 16 per cent believing that they accurately target militants, while 48 per cent think they largely kill civilians and another 33 per cent feel they kill both militants and civilians.
However, despite the strong opposition to the US, more than three-quarters of FATA residents oppose the presence inside their region of al-Qaeda and over two-thirds oppose the presence of the Pakistan Taliban. Sixty per cent oppose the presence of the Afghan Taliban. If al-Qaeda or the Pakistan Taliban were on the ballot in an election, less that one per cent of FATA residents said they would vote for them. Only 12 per cent would support justice being delivered by the Taliban.
The antipathy of FATA residents towards US policy in the region is not a sign of opposition to the US in general. Most people would support America if it changed its regional policies.
FATA residents strongly support the Pakistan Army, with nearly 70 per cent backing the Army's campaign against militants. The most popular person, by a significant margin, is General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistan Army's Chief of Staff. And while they are opposed to the US drone missile strikes, opposition falls dramatically if those attacks were to be carried out by the Pakistan Army instead.
For more information and a regional breakdown of the survey, check out the website.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

'Lost' UN report on human rights crimes

A couple of weeks ago Thomas Ruttig and Sar Kuovo of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, provided links to a leaked copy of the 'lost' UNHCR report mapping crimes committed by armed factions in Afghanistan between 27 April 1978 and 22 Dec 2001. For those of you who missed it first time around, the 294-page report, which names names and was written in 2005, can be found here.
The report briefly appeared on a UN site, but was taken down and is today largely unknown. As rumours circulate of possible peace negotiations and deals, we should not forget the past of some of those involved.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Confirmed: Barodar involved in peace talks

Last Saturday (see below) I asked if it was possible that Afghan Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar, pictured above, was leading peace efforts, having been released from custody in Pakistan. Yesterday the Daily Telegraph confirmed that he was indeed at the centre of these discussions.
The paper said: "Highly-placed sources have told The Telegraph that Barodar has been meeting with Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with security guarantees from both governments and the US. Four other Pakistan-based Taliban leaders supportive of Barodar are also thought to have been contact with US authorities, and are reported to have travelled into Afghanistan under NATO escort on several occasions.
"Barodar isn't acting on our behalf but our understanding is that he is meeting with people in his organisation to build a consensus that will let the Taliban come to the dialogue table," an Afghan official said."
Update: The ISI is saying that there is no truth in the fact that Barodar was released recently. See this article in the WSJ, for example.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Afghan government censors media organisations

Afghanistan's Information minister, Sayed Makhdum Rahin, has banned a number of media organisations in recent weeks, leading some journalists to warn against a growing threat to freedom of expression, according to the latest report from the Institute of War and Peace Reporting's Afghan Recovery Report .
Fariba Wahedi's report says that the Pashto-language news website was closed in September after publishing articles commenting on the health of Afghan vice-president, Mohammad Qasim Fahim. At one point the site erroneously reported that Fahim had died. Even though this report was withdrawn after 30 minutes, the site was still closed down following complaints from Fahim.
According to an English-language statement on the website, the website was closed because Rahin, who they regard as pro-Iranian, "resents and opposed because the website's majority visitor are pashtoons". It cites numerous examples of physical brutality against its reporters and staff.
The statement adds that the reporter who wrote the story, Mirwais Jalazay, "is under heavy death threats by Qasim Fahim's gunmen, who threaten to take his life."
The website's main office is based in Albany, New York, but it employs 130 journalists in Afghanistan from where it is trying to raise support for its campaign to be allowed to re-open. It thoroughly deserves to be supported. Please visit the website and spread the news.
Emrooz TV, which broadcasts in Dari from Herat, was also closed in July, but allowed to reopen a week ago. It was alleged to have been promoting sectarian hatred - a charge which the station's management strongly reject. It is believed the station was shut down following pressure from the Iranian government.
Saqi TV, which also broadcasts from Herat, was closed on 5 September after being accused of inciting people to protest against plans by an American pastor to burn copies of the Koran. Again, the station strongly rejects such charges and insists it asked people to remain calm.
There are thought to be 850 newspapers and magazines in Afghanistan, along with 20 TV channels, 100 radio stations and six news agencies.
* On Monday this week Afghanistan’s telecoms watchdog shut down 17 internet cafes in Kabul for allowing access to “immoral websites”, officials said.
The net cafes had been warned last week not to allow customers to look at porn or un-Islamic websites or they would face action. Mohammad Ibrahim Abbasi, a member of the Afghan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ATRA), said the council of ministers had ordered officials to shut down all venues that allowed access to material that violated Islamic teachings and the constitution of the country.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

What Afghans think about us

A catalogue of abuses, including civilian casualties, night raids, wrongful detentions and deteriorating security have generated stereotypes of international forces in Afghanistan as violent, abusive and sometimes deliberately malevolent in their conduct and nature. So says a report on what Afghans think, published last week by the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations regional policy initiative on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Trust Deficit: The Impact of Local Perceptions on Policy in Afghanistan says that many Afghans are angry and resentful at the continued presence of thousands of foreign troops. They believe the troops deliberately stoke up the conflict and cause more civilian casualties than the insurgents, even though this latter point is demonstrably untrue.
The report notes that "In the course of this research, the Open Society Foundations found few meaningful differences in perceptions of international forces, regardless of the ethnicity of the Afghans interviewed, their level of education, political affiliation, or proximity to conflict. Those with staunch pro-government or pro-Western views, and those belonging to regions or groups that have benefited the most in the post-Taliban period also expressed negative attitudes toward the international community, and international forces in particular."
The report says that belated attempts to win hearts and minds have usually been too-little-too-late. It says that by dismissing Afghan perceptions of the international community as propaganda, policy-makers have often failed to understand how much these negative perceptions may be distorting policies. It urges policy-makers to recognise the cause and importance of Afghan communities' narratives, to take them seriously and where necessary to institute meaningful investigations and disciplinary procedures.
The military powers should stop the increased use of night raids, exercise greater political accountability over special forces operations and be very wary of building up local militias.
The international community should work with the Afghan government to ensure that any reconciliation talks include a transitional justice mechanism that acknowledges the suffering of the victims and helps Afghan communities address past grievances. They should establish a public, national registry for victims of conflict that will publish not only the number of casualties caused by the ongoing conflict, but also account for the cause of death, and those believed to be responsible.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Taliban statement on negotiations poses questions

Has the Taliban modified its negotiating stance in relation to the withdrawal of foreign troops? It has always stated its implacable hatred towards the ISAF forces and pledged to continue fighting until all foreign troops are withdrawn. But a statement issued today by the Taliban presents what could be considered a softened line. The statement, called Known Figureheads and the Futile Reconciliation Slogans, is a diatribe against President Karzai's High Peace Council, which is described, predictably, as an American pawn. However, the statement continues:
"The reconciliation propaganda launched by the Americans and the Kabul Puppet Administration is meaningless in the light of this hard fact that how can reconciliation be materialized in condition of presence of more than 100,000 foreign troops, being armed with motley of weapons, aircrafts, missiles, tanks and other warfare hardware.
"The rationale for reconciliation can be only convincing when, at least, the invading Americans put signature on a document before the people of Afghanistan and the world, binding them legally to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan in a given time-frame.
"This is necessary because the Kabul mercenary government has signed various agreements with the Americans which allow them to keep their troops stationed in Afghanistan for tens of years."
I have not seen the Taliban leadership argue this before. It appears they are saying that they would be willing to talk about reconciliation with the Karzai regime provided the USA agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan on a publicly-stated date. Previously, the Taliban has always made it clear that negotiations could not start until after the withdrawal of troops. Unless this is a careless translation, it looks to me like a small, but significant change.

Instability spreads into the North

The latest quarterly report from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office is about as bleak as they come. It's worth quoting the first paragraph of the report in full:
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) counter-offensive is increasingly mature, complex and effective. Country-wide attacks have grown by 59% while sophisticated recruitment techniques have helped activate networks of fighters in the North where European NATO contributors have failed to provide an adequate deterrent. Some provinces here are experiencing double the country average growth rate and their districts are in danger of slipping beyong any control. Clumsy attempts to stem the developments, through the formation of local militias and intelligence-poor operations, have served to polarise communities with the IEA capitalising on the local grievances that result. In the South, despite more robust efforts from the US NATO contingents, counter-insurgency operations in Kandahar and Marjah have similarly failed to degrade the IEA's ability to fight, reduce the number of civilian combat fatalities or deliver boxed government."
The map above, taken from the report, shows in red the provinces that have severely deteriorated this year and overlays them onto NATO command areas. Four out of 12 of these provinces are in Regional Command North, with less than nine per cent of all troops, while two out of 12 are in RCs South and South West, which have 53 per cent of the total troops. The four northerly provinces have all seen huge increases in security incidents. Baghlan, for example, has only 300 troops, but has seen a 140 per cent increase in attacks. This suggests that much of the growth in instability reflects the absence, not the presence of NATO troops.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

USIP warns on pitfalls of peace negotiations

A report due to be published tomorrow on the dangers of talking peace with the Taliban, written by Matt Waldman for the US Institute for Peace, recommends that the Afghan-international coalition should engage in direct or indirect talks with the Taliban, but that the latter organisation is divided and has within it groupings whose objectives vary enormously.
In Dangerous Liaisons with the Afghan Taliban: The Feasibility and Risks of Negotiations, Waldman says that confidence building with the Taliban may involve delisting and releasing insurgents - already happening if my previous story is true - while ensuring careful control and reciprocity.
He correctly notes that any agreement could threaten human rights and freedoms, particularly for women. He says any power-sharing settlement will need to be inclusive, just and must address the underlying causes of the conflict.
This report is the third on a similar subject by Waldman this year. His first, Golden Surrender, was written for the Aghan Analysts Network and the second, The Sun and the Sky, was for the London School of Economics. That report was criticised in some quarters for alleging that up to seven members of the Taliban's ruling shura were ISI agents.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Barodar leading Taliban peace efforts?

Many Pakistani newspapers are reporting that Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar, deputy commander of the Afghan Taliban, has been freed in recent days so that he can play a role in peace negotiations. Is he the senior Taliban figure that NATO admits it has allowed to travel to Kabul for peace discussions? US Commander General David Petraeus admitted in London this week: "There have been several very senior Taliban leaders who have reached out to the Afghan government at the highest levels, and also in some cases have reached out to other countries involved in Afghanistan".
He added: "These discussions can only be characterized as preliminary in nature. They certainly would not rise to the level of being called negotiations".
While the Taliban's official spokesman has denied that peace talks are taking place, saying that such stories are designed to sap the morale of Taliban fighters, it looks increasingly as if talks-about-talks are occurring.
Update: The ISI is claiming that there is no truth in stories that Barodar was released recently. See this article in the WSJ, for example.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Group behind abduction of Linda Norgrove

Interesting Daily Telegraph article on Jamaat-ud-Dawa al-Quran wal'Sunnah and its leader Qari Ziaur Rahman, the group thought to have been responsible for kidnapping Linda Norgrove. Surprisingly little has been written about this organisation, considering its long history and significance in Kunar and Nuristan. Anyone got any more info? Qari Ziaur Rahman, who is also said to be the most senior Taliban leader in Kunar province - others say he works for al-Qaeda - was wrongly reported killed in US airstrikes both last year and again in March this year. The US is known to have posted a $350,000 reward some time ago for his death or capture, but he appears to have avoided both so far. An interview with him, conducted by Asia Times in 2008, can be found here.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Understanding the Haqqani Network

In case you're interested, the reward is now $5 million

The latest report from the Institute for the Study of War on the Haqqani network in Eastern Afghanistan is a tour de force by author Jeffrey Dressler. The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan to Afghanistan explains how this formidable fighting organisation, based on two generations of fighters, has become the most dangerous element of the Afghan Taliban.
While Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura, based in the city of the same name in Baluchistan, remains as titular head of the Taliban, it is Sirajuddin Haqqani and his network of tribal, Pakistani and international fighters that are the backbone of the insurgency, particularly in the east of the country.
Dressler provides a comprehensive history of the network, showing how the Haqqani family, members of the Zadran tribe, have been able to dominate the region through their ruthless attitude towards competitors and their proxy status in relation to Pakistan's ISI intelligence service.
While paying lip service to Mullah Omar, the Haqqanis retain considerable freedom to do exactly as they please, particularly in their relations with al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters, most of whom are based in the Haqqani-dominated area around Miran Shah in North Waziristan. As Dressler points out, the Pakistan Army has consistently refused to mount an operation to take on the Haqqanis, regarding them as an important element in their political strategy in Afghanistan.
Dressler notes that until recently Coalition forces in Afghanistan lacked the resources to take on the Haqqanis. However, the massive increase in special forces, combined with drone attacks in North Waziristan, has now begun to have an impact.
He recommends exploiting the tribal disputes in the southeast of Afghanistan to exacerbate rifts over such issues as civilian casualties, expanding special forces operations, expanding the drone campaign and even conducting limited unilateral raids into North Waziristan to capture or kill key figures in the network.
It goes without saying that these are all military solutions to a situation that may, in the end, defy this kind of endgame. Nonetheless, Dressler's report is full of facts and details and essential reading for anyone who wants to follow the military campaign.

Peace strategy based on flawed assumptions

The Afghan government's Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP), signed into law by President Karzai in June, is based on flawed assumptions according to a new report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit .
Peace at all Costs? Reintegration and Reconciliation in Afghanistan, written by Tazreena Sajjad, argues that the APRP is based on the assumption that reintegration will lead to a de-escalation of conflict and a strengthening of the rule of law. It is also based on the premise that insurgent leaders will be interested in 'reconciling' because of the incentives being offered, including amnesties and third-country resettlement.
However, say the author, reintegration and reconciliation may not be mutually reinforcing. Unless adequate support for the reintegrating combatants is provided, she says, they will fail. She adds that offers of economic opportunities and political dialogue do not address issues such as the failure of the Afghan government to deliver on its promises, the resentment felt towards foreign military forces, the involvement of external actors in funding the insurgency and other factors.
There are also differences between the Afghan government and the United States over timing; the Afghans want reintegration and reconciliation to take place simultaneously, whilst the United States wants to see disarmament, but is less willing to negotiate politically with the insurgents.
The report offers seven recommendations to those involved with the APRP, including increasing transparency, establishing stringent standards for the Afghan government to implement the APRP, recognising local realities and considering the demands of conflict victims.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

White House thoughts on AfPak

The highly critical White House report to Congress on Afghanistan and Pakistan reported in the Wall Street Journal last week is now available to read in its entirety on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.
Dated 30 September, it is the second such report, as specified under s1117 of the Supplemental Appropriations Act 2009 which requires an updated report from the President to Congress every 180 days.
It reports on eight objectives that the White House has established in order to judge its campaign to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is probably the best guide to US thinking and policy achievement in the region.
While much of the report remains secret - for example, Objective 2 is actually classified and confined to a classified annex - the harsh language and criticism levelled against Pakistan is unusual and indicates a substantial degree of frustration and blatant anger in the White House.
The recent spat over border incursions that led to Pakistan blocking supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan is undoubtedly connected to this report. In the past the USA has tried to tone down its criticism of both the Zardari government and the Army high command, but not on this occasion.
The report notes increasing support in Pakistan for the Army in inverse proportion to support for President Zardari's government. It says his decision to travel to Europe during the flooding crisis "exacerbated inter-party tensions, civil-military relations and damaged his image in the domestic and international media."
The report is highly critical of Pakistan's military efforts against insurgents, noting that "The military, augmented by the paramilitary Frontier Scouts, engaged in operations that were designed to retain cleared areas and stop militants from conducting offensive operations in settled areas, but the Army stopped short of the kind of large-scale operations that would permanently eject extremist groups - including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda."
It says that the failure to 'hold and build' in cleared areas "could eventually turn last year's operational successes into stalled strategic efforts". The Pakistan Army conspicuously avoided military engagements that would put it into direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan. "This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritising its targets", says the report.
On the White House's Objective VI, namely reversing the Taliban's momentum so that the US can transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government on a timeline that will permit the US to begin to decrease its troop presence by July 2011, the report notes positive developments in some areas, but concludes: "Long-term prospects for sustainability, however, are viewed with guarded optimism and rated as temporary. Current trends remain tenuous until more permanent and effective governance is established in areas being secured." It notes that the campaign faces "a resilient enemy that continued to exploit governance and security gaps in a number of areas."Polling indicates that there has been no statistically significant change in the perception of security by Afghans since September 2008.
Reporting on the impact of the surge in US troops, the report notes: "ISAF has reduced coalition-attributed casualties despite the increase in kinetic activity. "
On governance in Afghanistan, the report produces many figures, but one stands out: Afghans' confidence in the government's actions to reduce corruption is low and has decreased from 21.5 per cent to 16.5 per cent. It says: "Afghan anti-corruption efforts continue to be weak."
If you want to know about what the White House thinks about Afghanistan and Pakistan, you could do a lot worse than start with this report.

Monday, 4 October 2010

USAID subcontractors "paid insurgents for protection"

Those of you concerned about your US tax dollars may want to read a new report from the Inspector General of the US Agency for International Development. The report on a $349 million contract awarded to Development Alternatives Inc (DAI) for a small-scale infrastructure and community development project near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan found that more than $5 million may have been paid by subcontractors to the Taliban to guarantee security.
The Inspector General's report states: "The review found no indication that Edinburgh International (a DAI security subcontractor - Ed.) had misused USAID funds to pay the Taliban or others in exchange for protection. However, there were indications that Afghan subcontractors working on the LGCD project had paid insurgents for protection in remote and insecure areas of Afghanistan. The payments were allegedly made as part of a security arrangement with local communities that very likely included the Taliban or groups that support them. We also found indications of pervasive fraud in DAI's LGCD office in Jalalabad and indications of endemic corruption in Nangarhar Province, where Jalalabad is located."

Another falling out between the 'brothers'

More fallout from the kidnapping of two former members of the ISI and British-born Pakistani journalist Asad Qureshi and his driver in March this year. On Sunday morning the body of Sabir Mahsud was found in the main market of the Razmuk area of North Waziristan. A letter on his body signed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan said that he was the leader of the Asian Tigers, the group that abducted the four men in March and later killed one of them, Khalid Khwaja. The letter said that Mahsud's killing was in revenge for Khwaja's death.
Mahsud became leader of the Asian Tigers - believed to be an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - at the end of August following an internal feud within the group over an Arab widow (see my blogpost on this incident) that led to at least seven deaths. Until he was killed in that shootout by Mahsud and his supporters, the leader of the Asian Tigers had been Usman Punjabi. Sabir Mahsud is a former member of the TTP, but he was expelled for criminal activities.
Khwaja, the former airforce and ISI officer, had been highly respected by many jihadis in the tribal areas and had often acted as a go-between between them and the government. When he was kidnapped, the TTP urged the Asian Tigers to release him, but to no avail. Instead they murdered him.
Asad Qureshi, who was educated in Bradford, was released in September along with his driver, but there has been no word on the fate of Colonel Imam, the other ISI officer kidnapped at the same time. Fears must now be growing for his safety.
According to The Daily Telegraph, Qureshi and the other prisoners were kept in isolation in a six by six foot cell, barely able to move, and subjected to physical and mental torture. He appears to have been released following the intervention of relatives in Pakistan, although it is unclear if a ransom was paid. The Telegraph quoted Qureshi as saying: "I was terrified. I was beaten and whipped. One of my colleagues was killed. I feared for my own life and I am lucky to be alive."
Update: Was the shooting incident in Dandy Darpakhel at the end of August in which Usman Punjabi and five of his associates were killed connected to the payment of a ransom for the freedom of Asad Qureshi? It was said at the time that it was a dispute over a wealthy Arab widow whose husband had been killed in a drone strike. However, this may not be the case. Qureshi was first reported released on 9 September, but had undoubtedly been freed some days before after the payment of a ransom by his family. The PTI news agency reports today that there was a gunfight between Usman Punjabi's group and the Sabir Mahsud group - who together made up the Asian Tigers - over the division of the ransom. Mahsud came out on top of that dispute, but appears to have angered the TTP, which killed him and two others after kidnapping them from their office in Miranshah on Sunday.
Evidence that the TTP was bound to take revenge on Sabir Mahsud for killing Usman Punjabi can be found in an article published in The News International at the time of the August shoot-out:
"A Taliban commander, when reached by phone, in North Waziristan said the incident had sent a wave of shock and concern among the militants. He said senior Taliban leaders, including some from tribal areas and Punjab, had taken strong exception to the killing of six militants by their colleagues and threatened to punish the culprits. “The Taliban are now trying to get hold of Sabir Mahsud and his men and punish them for their crime,” said the Taliban commander, wishing not to be named."
The same article mentioned that the Asian Tigers had fallen out over money and over what to do with the hostages. What a squalid and murderous little world these people inhabit.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Members of President Karzai's High Peace Council

Here is the full list of the 68 members of President Karzai's High Peace Council, formed to negotiate with the Taliban and announced earlier this week. It was set up following the Peace Advisory Jirga held in Kabul in June which was attended by around 1,200 elders and influential people. Two further appointments to the council are expected.
The council comprises:
Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, Pir Syed Ahmad Gilani, Ayatollah Sheikh Muhammad Asif Mohseni, Prof. Abdur Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, Haji Muhammad Mohaqiq, Syed Noorullah Sadat, Syed Mansoor Naderi, Haji Suleiman Yari, Muhammad Ismail Khan, Dr Farooq Wardak,, Professor Nimatullah Shahrani, Arsala Rahmani, Maulvi Pir Muhammad Rohani, Haji Muhammad Naeem Kochi, Haji Din Muhammad, Mullah Taj Muhammad Mujahid, Maulvi Muhammad Shah Adil, Haji Fazal Karim Aimaq, Maulvi Qayamuddin Kashaf, Maulvi Mohiuddin Baloch, Maulvi Shafiullah, Arif Khan Noorzai, Muhammad Daqiq, Ataullah Lodin, Anwar Khan Ishaqzai, Hassan Takhari, Maulvi Abdul Hakim Mujahid, Asadullah Wafa, Maulvi Khudaida, Qazi Muhammad Amin Wiqad, Habibullah Fawzi, Muhammad Akbari, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, Maulvi Shahzada Shahid, Muhammad Ismail Qasimyar, Amir Muhammad Agha, Faqir Muhammad Khan, Muhammad Yusuf Waezi, Abdul Ghani Khan Tokhi, Sher Muhammad Akhunzada, Haji Amanullah Otmanzai, Abdul Wahid Baghrani, Khalifa Qazal Ayyaq, Maulvi Qalamuddin, Engineer Ibrahim Spinzada, Haji Moosa Khan Hotak, Maulvi Salikzada, Abdul Hameed Mubarez, Siddiq Ahmad Osmani, Mawdodi, Aminuddin Muzafari, Syed Muhammad Amin Tariq, Baz Muhammad Khan Zurmati, Abdul Khaliq Hussaini, Haji Muhammad Daud Zahidyar, Muhammad Hashim Faulad, Maulvi Jora, Haji Sherin Khan Noorzai, Haji Fazal Karim Fazal.
The eight women on the council are: Sara Surkhabi, Jamila Hamidi, Hawa Alam Nuristani, Najia Ziwari, Siddiqa Balkhi, Gulhar Jalal, Dr Gulalai Noor Safi and Qamar Khostai.