Wednesday, 22 December 2010

UN Secretary General outlines worsening security situation

A report to the UN Security Council by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, covering the period since mid-September paints yet another grim picture of the political and military situation in Afghanistan. During the reporting period the number of security incidents was 66 per cent higher than during the same period in 2009, with violence peaking on polling day and decreasing thereafter.
Despite significant pressure on the insurgents, "anti-Government elements were able to sustain high levels of activity in areas into which they had recently expanded, particularly in the north and the north-east, where the international military presence is less dense."
Suicide attacks averaged three per week and UN facilities in Herat also came under attack, although no staff were injured and all the attackers were killed. It was the third attack against UN premises in three years. The Taliban justified the attack by saying that the UN had voted to extend the mandate of the ISAF forces and had also reported "inaccurately" on civilian casualties carried out by the Taliban.
The Secretary General uses the report to inform the Security Council about progress in reconciliation through the High Peace Council, on handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan forces, on relations with Pakistan and other neighbouring countries, on the Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan held in Istanbul in November, on the Kabul Silk Road initiative and on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
However his report noted that "The continuing deterioration of the security situation has inhibited the implementation of development projects and limited access for humanitarian activities." This in turn has increased the demand for humanitarian assistance.
The report states that anti-government elements were responsible for the deaths and injuries of 4,738 civilians - 76 per cent of the total, during the reporting period. Suicide and IED attacks caused most civilians casualties (998 deaths and 2.062 injuries). In the same period there were 742 civilian casualties due to pro-government forces. Of these, 162 deaths and 120 injuries were due to aerial attacks ie Coalition bombs.
UNAMA also recorded 403 assassinations and executions of government supporters and 219 abductions during the reporting period. This was an increase of 107 per cent on the same period last year. More than half the assassinations occurred in the south of the country.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Justice is 'key battleground of the insurgency' - report

Justice is fundamental to stability in Afghanistan, yet the Afghan government and its international partners have generally treated it as a secondary issue, according to a new Chatham House report.
No Shortcut to Stability: Justice, Politics and Insurgency in Afghanistan  by Stephen Carter and Kate Clark argues that lack of justice is the key common element underlying much of the weakness of the Afghan state and is the most important political driver of the conflict.
They cite a Taliban supporter in Wardak province, who tells them: "Imagine: a district police chief was assigned by Kabul – and the police under him were robbers. They plundered and looted and raided people’s houses ... People became angry and, to take revenge, they stood against him and his group. The Taliban used this opportunity …Our district is all Taliban now. The people support them."
While other factors such as money, drugs and foreign interference also drive the insurgency, case studies from several provinces illustrate the centrality of justice in determining attitudes towards the state.
Carter and Clark say that the Taliban has exploited the justice deficit to the full, playing on the deep desire of Afghans for security and the rule of law, even for the "harsh, but just" Taliban justice that existed prior to 2001. And while the military pay lip service to the need for justice, it was the decisions taken in 2001 to finance and arm factional militias to defeat the Taliban that layed the ground for the judicial abuses that have become rampant since then.
Ordinary Afghans have watched as these warlords have received valuable contracts for security and logistics and have blamed the foreigners as much as the strongmen for their woes.
While the military forces have seen it as expedient to ignore injustice, the Afghan government has taken decisions which actively undermine the rule of law and accountability, including pardoning drug dealers, rapists and Taliban commanders, neutering anti-corruption bodies and watering down electoral monitoring: "President Karzai appears to accept that injustice at the hands of the government has driven many to fight, but not, it seems, the extent of his own responsibility as head of state."
As with several other important reports published recently, the authors make it clear that there is no shortcut to stability, which requires making justice an issue of core interests. That is there one and only recommendation: "The impact of justice and rule of law is real: arguably it is the key battleground of the insurgency".

Friday, 10 December 2010

US policy questioned by academics and researchers

The following letter was sent today to the President of the United States by a group of academics, journalists and NGO workers. The list is growing and more information can be found at
Mr. President,
We have been engaged and working inside Afghanistan, some of us for decades, as academics, experts and members of non-governmental organizations. Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone. This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. Over 680 soldiers from the international coalition – along with hundreds of Afghans – have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the United States now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.
Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population. Foreign forces have by now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Red Army.
Politically, the settlement resulting from the 2001 intervention is unsustainable because the constituencies of whom the Taliban are the most violent expression are not represented, and because the highly centralized constitution goes against the grain of Afghan tradition, for example in specifying national elections in fourteen of the next twenty years.
The operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces are not going well. What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war. These measures, beyond their debatable military results, foster grievance. With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution. Drone strikes in Pakistan have a marginal effect on the insurgency but are destabilizing Pakistan. The losses of the insurgency are compensated by new recruits who are often more radical than their predecessors.
The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure. Military action may produce local and temporary improvements in security, but those improvements are neither going to last nor be replicable in the vast areas not garrisoned by Western forces without a political settlement.
The 2014 deadline to put the Afghan National Army in command of security is not realistic. Considering the quick disappearance of the state structure at a district level, it is difficult to envision a strong army standing alone without any other state institutions around. Like it or not, the Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape, and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement. The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. In fact, the Taliban are primarily concerned about the future of Afghanistan and not – contrary to what some may think -- a broader global Islamic jihad. Their links with Al-Qaeda – which is not, in any case, in Afghanistan any more -- are weak. We need to at least try to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are part of the Afghan political system. The negotiations with the insurgents could be extended to all groups in Afghanistan and regional powers.
The current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban are not enough. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account. In addition, from the point of view of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations – women and ethnic minorities, for instance – as well as with respect to the limited but real gains made since 2001, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year. This is why we ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. A ceasefire and the return of the insurgency leadership in Afghanistan could be part of a de-escalation process leading to a coalition government. Without any chance for a military victory, the current policy will put the United States in a very difficult position.
For a process of political negotiation to have a chance of addressing the significant core grievances and political inequalities it must occur on multiple levels – among the countries that neighbour Afghanistan as well as down to the provincial and sub-district.  These various tables around which negotiations need to be held are important to reinforce the message -- and the reality -- that discussions about Afghanistan’s political future must include all parties and not just be a quick-fix deal with members of the insurgency.
We believe that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan, enables the Taliban to become a responsible actor in the Afghan political order, ensures that Afghanistan cannot be used as a base for international terrorism, protects the Afghan people’s hard-won freedoms, helps stabilize the region, renders the large scale presence of international troops in Afghanistan unnecessary and provides the basis of an enduring relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. All the political and diplomatic ingenuity that the United States can muster will be required to achieve this positive outcome. It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would allow the United States to exit Afghanistan while safeguarding its legitimate security interests.
Matthieu Aikins
Scott Atran
Anthropologist (University of Michigan) and author of Talking to the Enemy 
Rupert Talbot Chetwynd
Author of Yesterday’s Enemy - Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?
Robert Abdul Hayy Darr
Author of The Spy of the Heart and humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Gilles Dorronsoro
Visiting Scholar (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and author of Revolution Unending
David B. Edwards
Anthropologist (Williams College) and author of Before Taliban
Jason Elliot
Author of An Unexpected Light
Antonio Giustozzi
Author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop and editor of Decoding the New Taliban
Shah Mahmoud Hanifi
Associate Professor, James Madison University
Daniel Korski
Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations
Felix Kuehn
Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban
Minna Jarvenpaa
Former Head of Analysis and Policy Planning, UNAMA
Anatol Lieven
Professor, War Studies Department of King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country
Bob McKerrow
Author of Mountains of our Minds – Afghanistan
Alessandro Monsutti
Research Director, Transnational Studies/Development Studies at The Graduate Institute, Geneva
Ahmed Rashid
Journalist and author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos
Nir Rosen
Fellow, New York University Center on Law and Security
Gerard Russell
Research Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University
Alex Strick van Linschoten
Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban
Astri Surkhe
Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway
Yama Torabi
Co-Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan
Jere van Dyk
Author of In Afghanistan and Captive
Matt Waldman
Afghanistan Analyst