Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Minister's gaffe reveals IMF audit of second Afghan bank

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell's gaffe yesterday, when he was photographed carrying a document on Afghanistan as he left a National Security Council meeting in Downing Street, revealed that the British government was not unduly concerned about President Karzai leaving office in 2014.
However, less coverage was given to another point in the document's final paragraph, which reveals that there is substance to rumours that a  second Afghan bank - after Kabul Bank - may be facing financial problems. This probably refers to Azizi Bank, the country's second largest financial institution, which is thought to face a shortfall of funds and for which the IMF has demanded an audit.
Below, so far as is possible, are the actual words that can be read on the document. Where Mr Mitchell's hand obscures the words, I have suggested likely candidates (in brackets).
The document itself is headed 'Protect.Policy', presumably a reference to the government's CONTEST programme for countering international terrorism, which contains four strands: Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare.

"Protect Policy

Agenda item 1: Northern Ireland update
No DFID points to make

Agenda Item 2: Afghanistan Update
Points to make: We have been encouraged by the progress made by the Government of Afghanistan in recent weeks to meet IMF requirements. An IMF (team) is planning to visit Afghanistan in September to resume negotiations. We are hopeful that the Government will have demonstrated sufficient progress towards credible reforms of the financial sector, and actions to address the Kabul Bank fraud, so that a new programme can be agreed over the Autumn.

* The World Bank have told us that the suspension of UK and other donor funds to the Afghan Government will soon begin to destabilise actions essential to successful transition. To guard against this I have (agreed) fund critical interventions in the ARTF  (Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund) investment Window (for x months) while negotiations on the new programme are (continuing. This)..... does not change our suspension of support to the Government .....costs to ensure .... leverage during IMF negotiations.

* Note that Karzai has publicly stated his intention to step down at the end of his second term as per the constitution. This is very important. It improves Afghanistan's political prospects very significantly. We should welcome Karzai's announcement in private and in public.

*(on Vice-CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) presentation). Afghan perceptions of violence are very important for their confidence in their future and for their readiness to work for the Afghan government. Have we got the strategic communications on levels of violence right?

IMF programme: Although the critical reforms to the banking sector are not yet complete, we have been encouraged by the actions of the Afghanistan Government in recent weeks - for example in commencing the forensic audit on the second bank at risk. The IMF is planning to visit Afghanistan in September to take negotiations forward and we are hopeful that there will be evidence of sufficient progress from the Afghan Government to submit a new programme to the IMF board in the autumn. We are continuing to work closely with both sides for resolution.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Understanding the Pak Army offensive in Kurram

A timely report from Jeffrey Dressler at the Institute for the Study of War on the Pakistan Army's current offensive in Kurram in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) says that the insurgency in Afghanistan's Eastern region is likely to benefit from the action.
Dressler explains that the action is aimed at curbing the activities of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose supporters have been involved in the capture and murder of Shias living in the region, while giving more freedom to the Haqqani network to launch attacks into Afghanistan.
The Shias live in parts of Kurram that control access to Afghanistan, which explains why the Haqqani network - which is strongly supported by the Pakistani military - spent months negotiating a peace agreement with them so that the Shias could travel safely through surrounding Sunni areas - in exchange for transit rights for Haqqani fighters to Afghanistan. Unlike the TTP, which directs much of its activities towards the Pakistani state, the Haqqanis are oriented towards fighting in Afghanistan and rely heavily on the Pakistani Army and ISI for political and financial support.  Their agreement with the Shias was put in jeopardy by the actions of local TTP commanders who continued to target Shias for purely sectarian reasons.
Dressler points out that the Pakistani military action is targeting only selected pockets of militants, while groups that have recently declared a truce with the Pakistani military or are aligned with elements of the security establishment are allowed room to expand. These include, for example, Fazal Saeed's group. Saeed - who has added the name Haqqani to his own - announced in June that he was defecting from the TTP and setting up a new organisation - see my report on this development here. He denounced the TTP for using suicide bombers to attack "mosques, markets and other civilian targets" and said he was redirecting his followers to cross the border and fight in Afghanistan.
Dressler makes it clear that the Pakistani military has little interest in curbing militancy in the region. It is simply taking on those elements of the TTP that have turned on their former mentors, solely in order to strengthen the insurgency in Afghanistan.

RAND's plans for Afghan peace talks

A new report, Afghan Peace Talks: A Primer,  from the RAND Corporation says that the Washington should help to appoint a figure of international repute "with the requisite impartiality, knowledge, contacts, and diplomatic skills" to take charge of putting together and then orchestrating a negotiation process with the Taliban. Afghans should be at the centre of this process, but with several concentric rings of regional and other interested governments on the periphery.
Authors James Shinn and James Dobbins point out the paradox that America's chance of getting an acceptable agreement depends on it not needing one: "Only if Washington has an acceptable non-negotiated outcome in prospect will American diplomats have much chance of securing their negotiating objectives", they say. US diplomats should prepare for two futures: one negotiated, one not. And both aimed at preventing an al-Qaeda-linked regime coming to power in the country. 
If negotiations fail, American military engagement will extend well beyond 2014. However, a promise to leave by an agreed date may be the carrot that will persuade the Taliban to enter meaningful negotiations.
The report also suggests that a UN peacekeeping force might be the best way to police any negotiated settlement in order to "set a high threshold for evasion by any party of its undertakings." It says that, as in Iraq, the US must:
include former insurgents in an enlarged coalition government; 
promise to 'go home'; 
remain heaving engaged in the implementation of whatever accord is finally reached.
The authors say that the US should seek a UN-endorsed facilitator to promote agreement between the various parties, and that Bonn - or Geneva - would be a good location for peace talks. Doha is suggested as another possible location. "We recommend that only the Afghan parties take formal part in the core negotiations over their country’s future but that all of the major external stakeholders, including India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, conduct parallel, less formal discussions with a view to exercising convergent influence on the Afghan parties."
Not a lot new here, but coherent and well argued.

Taliban falls out with influential Noorzai tribe

An interesting article by Ron Moreau of Newsweek, published on the Daily Beast website, notes that the Noorzai tribe has fallen out with the Taliban leadership over the question of money. The tribe has taken exception to the demands from the Taliban's Quetta Shura leadership that all money raised locally should pass through the centre before being distributed to regional areas.
The Noorzai are a force to be reckoned with in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The 4.5 million members of the tribe inhabit a large part of the south of Afghanistan, with significant groups in Kandahar, Kabul, Farah, Helmand, Herat and Nimroz. Eighty per cent of the population of Farah is from the Noorzai tribe while 42 per cent of the population of Helmand is Noorzai, who live in Washer, Gereshk, Garamser and Lashkar Gah. Another million live over the southern border in Baluchistan.
The dispute centres on Maulvi Habibullah, a prominent member of the Noorzai tribe. As head of a big madrassa in the largely Afghan town of Gardi Jungal in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, Habibullah is an influential pro-Taliban leader among the Afghans who live along the frontier and a major fundraiser for another Noorzai leader, Mullah Baz Mohammad, a powerful Taliban commander in the western Farah Province.
Habibullah's decision to send money to Mohammad without reference to the Quetta Shura upset Maulvi Ismael, the Taliban's military commander, who took Maulvi Habibullah prisoner. When Mullah Baz Mohammad heard about this he promptly organised the kidnapping of Maulvi Ismael, who was not released until Habibullah was freed. 
At the end of all these shenanigans, says Moreau, "the incident has embarrassed the Quetta Shura’s leadership and humiliated its military council’s chief." It has also led to serious tensions between the Noorzai and the Taliban leadership which will not easily be swept under the carpet. Somewhere in the background of all this is the growing realisation amongst many Afghans that the insurgency is deteriorating into a warlord-led free-for-all, prompting memories of the terrible period in the early 90s. Then, Afghan turned on Afghan and much of Kabul was destroyed. 
The Afghan tribes have always proved to be the undoing of wannabe rulers of the country. Once again it looks like the same old same old.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Insider's account of bin Laden raid

Nicholas Schmidle has written a very detailed account for New Yorker magazine of the US Navy SEALs raid on Abbottabad in Pakistan in which Osama bin Laden was killed on the night of 1-2 May. His largely uncritical account includes some interesting details, including the fact that this was not the first time that the SEALs had crossed the border into Pakistan from Afghanistan. In fact, he says, they "had surreptitiously entered the country on ten to twelve previous occasions", mostly into north or south Waziristan, as they attempted to capture/kill bin Laden - who was known to the Joint Special Operations Command by the codename 'Crankshaft'.
How did Schmidle - who was expelled from Pakistan in 2008 without explanation - get such incredible access to both planners and participants, allowing him to write this insider's account of the raid? The fact that his father is Richard Schmidle, a lieutenant general in US Special Operations and now deputy commander for US Cyber Command, probably helped.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Excellent explanation of Pakistan-US tensions

The clearest explanation I have read so far of the spat between Pakistan and the USA, written by Sebastian Abbot, Kathy Gannon and Kimberly Dozier and published by AP last Wednesday, was followed only by the Washington Times and Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. 
It reveals that the US Ambassador to Islamabad phoned Washington in an urgent attempt to get the CIA to call off a drone strike on 17 March, the day following the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davies. Cameron Munter believed the attack would further inflame already strained ties with Islamabad.
In the event the attack was approved by CIA director Leon Panetta , resulting in the death of around 40 people. The CIA said they were all militants, but strong evidence from the region suggests a local jirga, set up to discuss a mining dispute, was attacked.
Other attacks followed, many of which seemed timed to cause maximum embarrassment to both countries.
As predicted, relations deteriorated very rapidly and were only set back on course again recently with the removal of the second Pakistan CIA station chief within six months. An excellent article.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Abdullah Anas to represent High Peace Council in Europe - report

Abdullah Anas
Pajhwok Afghan News is reporting that Abdullah Anas -  a good friend - is likely to become the Afghan High Peace Council's representative in Europe.
They say Burhanuddin Rabbani, former Afghan president and currently leader of the 67-member High Peace Council, has told associates on the council that he wants to hire Anas.
Anas, who fought against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, is the son-in-law of Abdullah Azzam, the renowned Palestinian theorist of jihad who formed the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) organisation in Peshawar, which became the main organising centre for Arabs fighting against the Soviets. Azzam was murdered in Peshawar in 1989, along with two of his sons.
Anas, who is Algerian by birth, but who has British nationality, also worked for MAK alongside Osama bin Laden and other Arabs, but fell out with him when bin Laden decided to form al-Qaeda. Anas formed a close relationship with Ahmad Shah Massoud during the anti-Soviet jihad and has retained strong links with his family and other figures in the Panjshir Valley. It is also rumoured that he has played a behind-the-scenes role in recent attempts to negotiate with the Taliban. More on this soon.