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

Monday 29 November 2010

'The storyline does not match the facts' - ICG report

In a particularly frank report, the International Crisis Group says that US policy in Afghanistan is failing. "The storyline does not match facts on the ground", its argues, adding that "successive US administrations deserve much of the blame for this state of affairs".
Afghanistan : Exit vs Engagement says that a decade after US engagement began, Afghanistan is best understood as "a complex system of multi-layered fiefdoms, in which insurgents control parallel justice and security organs in many if not most rural areas, while Kabul's kleptocratic elites control the engines of graft and international contracts countrywide".
The policy of providing billions in international funds has simple cemented linkages between corrupt government officials and violent local commanders. "From the start the policy was untenable; selecting some of the most violent and corrupt people in the country, stoking them up with suitcases of cash and promises of more to come and then putting them in charge was never a recipe for stability, never mind institution building".
Mistakes included shifting resources from Kabul to Iraq immediately after the fall of the Taliban, the absence of policy coherence between Washington and NATO, as well as between US civilian and military officials, measuring inputs rather than outcomes and not taking seriously the task of reintegrating and reconciling former fighters.
The failure to encourage anything more than a rudimentary justice system has exacerbated problems, allowing insurgents to fill the vacuum.
However, ICG is against a rush to the exit. This would lead to the collapse of the Karzai government, Taliban control of most of the country and growing conflict in neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan.
The report says that negotiations with the Taliban have little chance of success in the present climate and that the key is to improve security, justice and governance, although there are no quick fixes.

Leaked documents fail to impress

Once again, following the latest batch of leaked documents - this time official US diplomatic cables - released via approved newspapers on behalf of the Wikileaks site, I am forced to conclude that there is little to get excited about. The King of Saudi Arabia wants to bomb Iran? US diplomats spy on other diplomats? Iran gets missiles from North Korea? None of these stories would normally make the news list even on a quiet day. Perhaps they are saving the best stories for later.
In the meantime, Nicolas Sarkozy has a "thick-skinned and authoritarian personal style", Kim Jong-il is a "flabby old chap" and Dmitry Medvedev "plays Batman to Putin's Robin". It's all a bit like reading school reports. The Guardian has had 20 journalists working on this stuff for weeks and still there is nothing in their coverage that would rank as earth-shattering or even dramatic. Presumably if there was we would have heard something previously from the three million or so US citizens that have access to all this guff via the siprnet network where it is all stored.
Like the US Army combat reports that were previously leaked via Wikileaks, most of the reports here are of interest to geeks and academics only. Can you remember any of the stories connected to these previous leaks? Soldier Bradley Manning, who passed them all to Wikileaks, has a lot to answer for - in terms of hours wasted globally by mankind in reading less-than-fascinating speculations by bored diplomats. 
Of course it is occasionally interesting, diverting even, to read the stuff that the US intelligence agencies thought was so boring that they merely categorised as 'secret'. The colour of the wallpaper at the CIA headquarters in Langley is officially a secret. In fact out of the 250,000 documents leaked, only 4,330 are even in the category of Secret/Noforn, which means they should not be disclosed to foreign intelligence agencies. The rest are mostly unclassified or confidential.
If the rest of this material is of the same level of interest this will be one of the largest damp squibs in recent times. Compare this leak with the leak of UK Parliamentary expenses, for example. That led to the mass resignation of MPs, prosecutions and revelations of extraordinary details of the lives led by British lawmakers. The Wikileaks stuff is banal in comparison.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Wikileaks disclosures threaten diplomatic mayhem

What will be the effect of the imminent publication of three million documents by Wikileaks, some of which are likely to be diplomatic cables that will highlight internal US opinions on close allies and enemies alike? Already, the UK's D-Notice secretary, Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance, has issued a warning to British news outlets requesting that they check with him before publishing anything. The D-Notice, which is a kind of official self-censorship request, has been published by blogger Guido Fawkes and can be found here.
Over the last 24 hours as Wikileaks prepares to publish, US diplomats at embassies around the world have been calling on their host governments to explain that the next few days could be difficult. In some cases the publication of sensitive cables may well have a lasting impact on international relations. Not since Soviet Russia's publication of diplomatic cables and agreements after the 1917 revolution or the publication of thousands of documents by the Iranian regime after they were reconstructed from shredded documents found in the US Embassy in 1979 has such light been cast on the inner diplomatic machinations of a major world power.
Whether this is a good thing or not is harder to judge. The modern state cannot function without secrecy, and there is no logical argument - except anarchism - for complete transparency. There is something about the Wikileaks project as presently constructed that smacks of adolescent anti-authoritarianism. And as for transparency, why does Wikileaks itself refuse to publish details of where it gets its income and how it spends it? Is it a journalistic fighter for truth or simply a money-making machine for its creator? You decide.

Friday 26 November 2010

Mullah riddle

Q: What's the difference between a fake mullah representing the Taliban leadership and a real one?
A: No idea.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

US Defense Dept paints picture of uneven progress

The fourth six-monthly report on Progess Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan, submitted by the Pentagon to Congress this month, notes that progress across the country remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance and development. It says signs of progress on security are evident in areas such as Central Helmand, but that governance and development lag behind these gains. Overall, 45 per cent of all violence and two-thirds of all IED attacks take place in the south of the country.
The report highlights the progress in the town of Marjah, which until the offensive launched during the summer was an insurgent command-and-control centre, a base for IED construction and a nexus for the narcotics industry. "Now the city is controlled by the Afghan Government", says the report. "Signs of progress in Marjah include voter registration, increased activity in local marketplaces and the reopening of schools that were closed for several years."
However, this rosy picture is somewhat contradicted by figures in the main body of the report. For example, Afghans' positive perceptions of security have declined since earlier this year, with the number of Afghans rating their security sitation as "bad" now the highest since the nationwide survey began in September 2008. The number of kinetic events, which included direct fire and IED attacks, has increased nearly 55 per cent over the previous quarter and 65 per cent compared to the third quarter of 2009. This rise, says the report, is due in part to the increase in Coalition forces and the increased tempo of operations. The large growth in direct fire attacks may be a result of a shortage of explosives for IEDs, a phenomenon noticed elsewhere.
IED attacks make up about a third of all attacks, but account for nearly 60 per cent of coalition and half of Afghan Security Force casualties.
The report states that growth in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has been among Afghanistan's "most promising areas of progress", although improving the quality of the force "remains a serious challenge" and a potential shortage of trainers next year may threaten recent gains. The main problems are shortfalls of officers and NCOs, low literacy rates and lack of technical expertise. And while targets for recruiting soldiers were met ahead of schedule, recruiting police officers and keeping them continues to be a problem

Friday 12 November 2010

CIA drone campaign 'accurate and proportionate'

The most detailed database compiled so far on the accuracy of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan suggests that reports of the inaccuracy and disproportionality of civilian to military deaths are "grossly misleading", according to an article in the latest issue of the Jamestown Terrorism Monitor.
Written by three researchers at the University of Massachusetts, the article says that most of the critical reports have appeared in the Pakistani press and that they have impugned both the accuracy of the CIA drones strikes and over-estimated the number of civilian casualties.
The researchers compiled a database over the last year that draws extensively on Pakistani and Western newspaper reports of attacks, most of which are in the tribal territories along the border with Afghanistan. They only used cases where it was possible to compared multiple independent reports and always used low-end estimates for suspected militants slain. Where there was doubt, casualties were listed as 'unknown'.
According to the database, by 19 June 2010 there had been 144 confirmed CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, killing 1,372 people. Of those killed, only 68 (4.95%) were clearly identified as civilians, while 1,098 (80%) were reported to be militants or suspected militants. These included 50 high-value targets. The status of the remaining 206 deaths (15%) on the database could not be determined, so were assigned to the category 'unknown'.
The data also revealed that despite a substantial intensification of the Predator strikes starting in 2008 and accelerating through 2009 into 2010, and the broadening of target categories to include low level Pakistani Taliban, the ratio of suspected militant to civilian fatalities has remained steadily high and has gradually (if unevenly) improved.
The campaign's overall ratio of suspected militant to civilian fatalities appears to be substantially better than that of ground operations undertaken by the Pakistani Army.
The authors conclude that the CIA drone campaign is neither inefficient nor disproportionate in terms of civilian casualties. However, they note: "This conclusion does not, of course, resolve the ongoing debate over the use of Predator drones. Other objections are certainly being raised, perhaps most interestingly that their use may make going to war too easy, and thus result in a proliferation of armed conflict." The other question, not touched upon by the authors, is whether or not the drone campaign is legal under international law.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Afghanistan moving in right direction - survey

The Asia Foundation's Afghanistan in 2010: A survey of the Afghan People,  questioned more than 6,000 people this summer in all of Afghanistan's provinces and found that 47 per cent of them believed that the country was moving in the right direction - up from 38 per cent in 2008 and 42 per cent in 2009.
Insecurity remains the main reason for pessimism, cited by 44 per cent of respondents who say the country is moving in the wrong direction. Other reasons for pessimism include corruption, bad government and unemployment.
Over half of those questioned feared for their personal safety in their local area, with 17 per cent of respondents saying that they or someone in their family had been the victims of violence or crime in the past year. One in ten victims reported that this was due to the actions of militias and insurgents and about one in 16 said it was due to the actions of foreign forces.
Support for the government's approach for negotiation and reintegration of armed groups is significantly higher in 2010 than in 2009, with 83 per cent supporting government efforts to negotiate with armed insurgents, compared with 71 per cent in 2009. Support is highest in the east, south-east and north-west and lowest in the Central/Hazarajat region. Eighty-one percent agree that the government should provide assistance, jobs and housing to those who lay down arms and want to integrate.
The number of respondents who have sympathy with the insurgents has fallen from 56 per cent in 2009 to 40 per cent in 2010.
More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in terms of financial wellbeing, quality of food, availability of goods and employment opportunities. People are generally satisfied with the availability of schooling for children, the quality of drinking water and the ability to move safely in local areas. They are less satisfied with the availability of jobs and electricity.
There's plenty more facts and figures in this report and although opinion surveys are not always the way to understand what is happening in a society, this one is thorough and well thought out and because it is the fifth time it has taken place, it has a certain amount of credibility.

Monday 8 November 2010

Three exhibitions at Canada House in London

One of the pictures from Kandahar through Afghan Eyes
There's a few more days to see the Unsung Heroes of Afghanistan exhibition at Canada House in Trafalgar Square, London. The travelling exhibition, brought together by the Funder's Network for Afghan Women and the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, profiles some of the Afghans who are working to make positive, lasting changes to their country.
Largely unknown in the West, these Afghans are working for human rights, gender equality, poverty relief, health, cultural revitalisation, education, a free press and an independent civil society. The exhibition is open from 10.00 to 18.00 until Thursday.
Also showing at the same venue is the exhibition, Kandahar through Afghan Eyes, a photographic display that captures the reality of life in Kandahar through the eyes of its young people.
A third exhibition at the same venue shows photos from rural Faryab in northern Afghanistan, as part of research project carried out by Jennifer McCarthy, a Canadian PhD student in the Department of Geography at King’s College London.
As Jennifer states: "They communicate the most important issues affecting their daily lives. They are at once inspiring and frightening in their honesty and intimacy and reframe what we think we know about life in Afghanistan."

Friday 5 November 2010

Taliban militants who function like criminal gangs

Example of a Taliban tax receipt 

In what must be regarded as one of the best, most informative reports written this year on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point  has published Gretchen Peters' superb report on Crime and Insurgency in the Tribal Areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Well researched and containing mounds of fascinating material, this report demonstrates that much of the insurgency in both these countries is primarily a criminal enterprise. This has been a theme pursued by this blog for some time, but Peters' report nails it to the ground, leaving little doubt in the reader's mind. According to Ms Peters:
"Within a realm of poor governance and widespread state corruption, anti-state actors engage in and protect organized crime — mainly smuggling, extortion and kidnapping — both to raise funds and also to spread fear and insecurity, thus slowing the pace of development and frustrating attempts to extend the rule of law and establish a sustainable licit economy. Militant groups on either side of the frontier function like a broad network of criminal gangs, not just in terms of the activities in which they engage, but also in the way they are organized, how funds flow through their command chains and how they interact—and sometimes fight—with each other."
She argues that the prevalence of crime offers possibilities to coalition forces, who can turn people against the insurgents by protecting them from the criminals. Growing numbers of local people, she says, are questioning the religious, political and ideological motives of the insurgents.
In Afghanistan, says Peters, the Quetta Shura of the Taliban increasingly behaves like a traditional drug cartel, seeking to maximise profits by processing opium into heroin. The organisation now demands that money earned from extortion and narcotics flows directly into central coffers instead of being controlled by district-level commanders.
The Haqqani network, based in the east of the country, raises much of its income from kidnapping or protecting smugglers or extortion. A third group, the Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, makes money by smuggling lootable resources such as timber and precious stones or antiquities.
In Pakistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has all the hallmarks of a powerful criminal empire, whose actions are threatening to damage the Afghan 'Taliban' brand name. Evidence of widespread criminality makes it hard to sustain Pakistani efforts to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban.
Peters' report is full of examples showing how money is raised by the insurgent groups, including the huge amounts of money raised by 'taxing' trucks that bring supplies to the coalition forces in Afghanistan. These trucks routinely pay up to 40 per cent of the value of the consignment as tax to Taliban gunmen.
The gunmen themselves regularly fall out with each other over spoils, with dozens of fighters having been killed in fire-fights over who has the right to extort. Some of the material Peters references comes from the CTC's Harmony database which includes documents captured from Taliban fighters. These include correspondence showing commanders warning off rivals from carrying out extortions on their territory. Such extortion and 'taxing' is so widespread that in some areas the Taliban actually issues receipts so that traders are not fleeced more than once.
There is an old adage in reporting: Follow the money. In this case, as Peters shows so convincingly, it leads to a cesspit of crime - a million miles away from the stated goals of Islamic justice.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Why Pakistan's anti-terror courts don't work

Pakistani journalist Huma Yusuf has produced a very helpful note  on Pakistan's anti-terrorism courts for the East-West Center, which shows some of the problems of bringing terrorism suspects to justice in that country.
For example, the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act does not apply to residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, no matter where in Pakistan they are arrested. Instead, they must be dealt with under the Frontier Crimes Regulations, drawn up by the British in 1848 and designed to enforce collective responsibility. As Yusuf notes: "When suspected militants are repatriated to FATA, they often rejoin the insurgency."
Residents of the so-called "settled areas" are also not subject to national laws and often go free. The decision to send a terror suspect to the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), for example, is at the discretion of the officer who conducted the arrest.
Suspects who remain in detention are under the jurisdiction of joint investigation teams, including officials from the police and intelligence services. These teams rarely have access to the site of the arrest and have to rely on eyewitness accounts of military personnel. This means militants are frequently acquitted or serve only minor sentences.
Yusuf notes that according to a recent report by the Punjab Public Prosecution Department, suspected terrorists are freed when witnesses subject to intimidation refuse to testify. Between 1 January and 30 September 2010 proceedings were initiated in 1,324 cases registered under the ATA in the Punjab; in 306 cases the accused were freed when witnesses rescinded their testimonies; in 372 other cases the accused reached a compromise with prosecutors.
The court system is very inefficient, with more than 3,000 suspects remaining in makeshift detention camps awaiting trial.
The Anti-Terrorism Act itself violates certain basic rights, including the right to trial by jury with a full defence. Extra-judicial confessions recorded by security staff are admissible as evidence and suspects can be detained for up to 90 days without charge.  

Tuesday 2 November 2010

More trouble between the Brothers....

In yet another example of how crime and money are at the centre of much of the activity of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a notorious kidnapper and TTP commander, Adnan Afridi, was found dead with three bulletholes in his head in Rawalpindi on Monday.
As in the case of the Punjabi Taliban/Asian Tigers, who fell out and began killing each other after arguing over the division of ransom money, Afridi's story is less about Islam and more about money and crime.
Afridi, who came from the Wandgarai tribe of Bar Qambarkhel in Bara sub-division of Khyber Agency, was once a senior TTP commander and close aide of TTP leader Hakimullah Mahsud. He was in his late twenties and usually based in Darra Adamkhel, but had been in hiding for the past few weeks after falling out with the TTP leadership. He was expelled from Sadda in Kurram agency after killing some local TTP commanders in an attack on a vehicle. He had also been involved in a fierce gunfight with another prominent TTP commander, Mullah Toofan, in the Neka Ziarat area of central Kurram in July which resulted in 10 fighters being killed. Both sides in the dispute had used heavy weapons in the fighting.
Afridi was also involved in a feud with the Lashkar-i-Islam group in the Khyber region, having killed two of their commanders, Azam and Said Noor, in suicide attacks. The feud started when he refused to hand over three Sikhs he had kidnapped for ransom in March this year. One of the Sikhs was beheaded, while the other two were rescued in a Pakistan Army operation. In interviews he gave after being freed, one of the surviving Sikhs, 17-year-old Gurvinder Singh, said "All the bandits wanted was money. They were not religious men. We did not see any one of them offering prayers even once."
Some reports say that Afridi was also behind the August 2008 killing of Haji Namdar, chief of the Bara-based militant organisation Amr Bil Maroof wa Nahi Anil Munkir (Suppression of Vice and Promotion of Virtue Movement). Haji Namdar, who was a religious zealot but against attacks inside Pakistan, had forcibly rescued six Frontier Corps personnel captured by Afridi during an attack on a security checkpost in Ziarhai in 2008.
Haji Namdar had at first been lionised by the TTP, but was later accused of betraying the TTP after it tried to move into the Khyber agency that year. While at first supporting the TTP, who wanted to stage attacks on NATO convoys passing through the Khyber Pass to Kabul, he turned against them. The TTP has never been able to establish much of a foothold in the Khyber agency, where most tribesmen follow the moderate Barelvi school of Islam. It is thought that slain TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud sent Afridi to kill Haji Namdar in revenge for his alleged betrayal.
Afridi was last seen in the Shah Kas area of Jamrud tehsil in the Khyber agency, but moved on from there to Kohat after staying briefing in Bara in the last week of October. He had been staying with another TTP activist, Qudrat Khan, but only narrowly escaped when security forces arrived, killing Khan.
From there he was thought to have moved to the remote Tirah Valley, in the process cutting his long hair and trimming his beard. For some reason he decided to travel to Rawalpindi, where one of his many enemies caught up with him. Like many of his former brothers-in-arms, he seems to have spent more of his life killing fellow jihadis than anyone else.
This killing and others in recent weeks, including the apparent murder of one of Baitullah Mahsud's brothers, show that many of the militant islamist groups based along the border are beginning to break down and to destroy themselves. This process, exacerbated by the drone strikes that are killing many senior commanders and attrition by the Pakistan Army, is inevitable. Lacking the discipline of the Afghan Taliban and only motivated by the idea of plunder, these groups will eventually self-destruct.

Monday 1 November 2010

Talibs travel to Kabul for talks with Karzai

Maulvi Abdul Kabir during his arrest in Peshawar in February

Pakistani newspapers are reporting today that a delegation of mid-level Taliban leaders travelled to Kabul two weeks ago to meet Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
They say the Taliban leaders who met Karzai were Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the governor of eastern Nangarhar province during Taliban rule and head of the Taliban's Peshawar council until his arrest in February this year in Peshawar; his deputy governor in the Taliban regime, Sedre Azam; and Anwar-ul-Haq Mujahed, a militant leader from eastern Afghanistan credited with helping Osama bin Laden escape the US assault on Tora Bora in 2001.
Kabir is a senior member of the Zadran tribe, as are Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani and many of their supporters. Some reports suggest the meeting was an attempt to persuade Kabir to break with the Haqqanis and thus weaken their tribal support.
He is thought to have been a close aide and possible successor of Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar, the Taliban No2 who was also captured earlier this year. As leader of the Peshawar shura of the Taliban, Kabir was responsible for liaison between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's faction of Hezb-i-Islami and the Pakistan Taliban.
The men were said to have been brought by helicopter from Peshawar in neighbouring Pakistan and driven into Kabul. Mujahed has been in Pakistani custody since June last year when he was picked up in a raid in Peshawar. Kabir is on the US most wanted list.
They spent two nights at a heavily fortified hotel in the Afghan capital before returning to Peshawar by helicopter, where Mujahed was placed again in custody.

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.