Wednesday 20 July 2011

How aid ends up financing mansions in Dubai

A new report from the US Office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) looks in detail at the scandal of large US currency exports from Afghanistan - mostly to private bank accounts in the Gulf - and shows that efforts to safeguard US cash entering the Afghan economy have been hampered by ineffective coordination, inconsistent Afghan cooperation and insufficient cash controls.
This is not a new problem, but it has not been investigated very thoroughly in the past. The same problem dogged US operations in Iraq, where billions of dollars simply disappeared.
SIGAR says US agencies cannot easily follow what happens to cash dollars that enter Afghanistan, with the possibility (and likelihood) that much of it is being stolen or, in some cases, diverted to the Taliban.
“The United States has poured billions of aid dollars into a country plagued by corruption, insurgency and the narcotics trade. It is essential that we use all available tools to ensure that US dollars are protected from fraud and diversion to the insurgency. We must also ensure that the Afghan government is a full partner in efforts to set a fledgling financial sector on sound footing,” said Herbert Richardson, acting head of SIGAR, when launching the report today.
He pointed out that the Afghan government has not cooperated with US officials to build a strong and clean financial sector.
SIGAR says that since 2002 the US Congress has appropriated more than $70 billion to implement security and development assistance in Afghanistan. Although only a small proportion of this ends up as cash in the Afghan economy, tens or possibly hundreds of millions of dollars - SIGAR does not give a figure - very quickly leaves the country in suitcases destined for foreign bank accounts.
A recent report published by Spiegel Online found that many of the most expensive properties in Dubai have been bought by Afghans with close connections to the government.
Vulnerabilities identified by SIGAR's auditors include failing to record serial numbers of cash given out to contractors and other recipients of US funds and the failure of Afghan commercial banks to record the serial numbers of Electronic Funds Transfer payments by US agencies to contractors when they are converted to cash.
The report notes that the Afghan Attorney General's office has not cooperated fully in prosecuting individuals suspected of having committed financial crimes; out of 21 leads forwarded by FinTRACA to the Afghan government, only four were prosecuted. President Karzai has even prevented US government advisers from gaining access to the Central Bank, where the atmosphere is described as "hostile".

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Oh, and thanks for all those killings...

Inspire's tribute to Hakimullah
The sixth edition of al-Qaeda's English-language magazine, Inspire contains a full-page tribute to Pakistan Taliban boss Hakimullah Mahsud, thanking the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan "for taking revenge on behalf of Shaykh Usama bin Ladin".
Hakimullah, however, is very unlikely to see this tribute. He has not been heard of for months and is presiding in name only over an organisation that is riven with splits and turning on itself. Fearing a drone attack similar to the one that killed his predecessor, Baitullah Mahsud, he is hidden and silent. 
The "revenge" mentioned in the tribute  presumably refers to the mass-casualty suicide bombs the TTP lets off in public places in Pakistan with monotonous (and bloody) regularity. Some people say that Inspire is slick. Sick would be more accurate.

Cowper-Coles book offers fascinating diplomatic insights

I've started to read Cables from Kabul: the Inside story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign, by Britain's former ambassador, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was in post from 2007-2010. I will write a fuller assessment of the book when I have finished it, but already it is clear that it is stuffed with fascinating material. He discusses the frustration of the British system for diplomatic staff of 'six weeks on, followed by a two-week breather', saying "Sometimes, in despair, learning that some member of the team had just disappeared 'on breather', I would feel I was running a railway station rather than an embassy".
Describing running the British embassy, he says: "Mostly, however, it was more like being the headmaster of a run-down but generally happy and successful prep school, or the governor of an open prison whose inmates were repaying their debt to society handsomely and many times over. None of us doubted that, compared with our rivals - the overlarge and persistently unhappy American Embassy, the Canadians, the French, the Germans, the Danes and the Dutch, plus a UN mission almost always at war with itself - we were by far the most effective diplomatic operation in town. We knew more, did more, worked harder and had more fun than any of the other Embassies."
Rivals? I thought we were all in it together! More of this fascinating book anon.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Taliban still mostly killing civilians with its IEDs

Conflict-related civilian deaths in Afghanistan increased by 15 per cent increase in the first six months of 2011, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) which today released its 2011 Mid-year Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.
UNAMA said the dramatic growth was mainly due to the use of landmine-like pressure plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by what it calls Anti-Government Elements (AGEs) - ie the Taliban.
UNAMA documented 1,462 civilian deaths in the period, with 80 per cent attributed to AGEs, an increase of 28 percent in civilian deaths linked to AGEs from the same period in 2010. A further 14 per cent of civilian deaths were attributed to Pro-Government Forces (PGF), down nine per cent from the same period in 2010. Six per cent of civilian deaths could not be attributed to any party to the conflict.
With 368 civilian deaths, May 2011 was the deadliest month for Afghan civilians since UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties in 2007. In June 2011, a further 360 civilian deaths were recorded.
June also saw an all-time high in the number of security incidents in a single month and the highest-ever number of IED attacks recorded in a one-month period.
“Afghan children, women and men continue to be killed and injured at an alarming rate,” said Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative for the Secretary General.
IEDs and suicide attacks accounted for 49 per cent of all civilian deaths and injuries in the first six months of 2011. Civilian deaths from IEDs increased 17 per cent over the same period in 2010, making IEDs, with 444 victims, the single largest killer of Afghan civilians in the first half of 2011 and causing 30 per cent of all civilian deaths.
Air strikes remained the leading cause of Afghan civilian deaths by Pro-Government Forces, with an increasing proportion resulting from attacks by helicopters. In the first six months of 2011, 79 Afghan civilians were killed by air strikes, a 14 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2010. Forty-four of the total 79 civilian deaths were from helicopter attacks.
Civilian deaths from ground combat and armed clashes in the first half of 2011 increased by 36 per cent compared to the same period in 2010 while two per cent of all civilian casualties occurred as a result of night raids, down slightly from the first half of 2010. UNAMA documented 30 civilian deaths during night raid operations in the first six months of 2011.

The Haqqani network - the fountainhead of jihad

A new report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point on the Haqqani Network - The Haqqani Nexus and the Evolution of al-Qa'ida - argues that this family-based jihadi network both protected and shaped al-Qaeda from its earliest days and allowed bin Laden's organisation to aspire towards global jihad.
While carefully avoiding any direct association with international terror organisations, the Haqqani Network has been unwilling to disengage from al-Qaeda and has aided its growth onto the world arena. "By shedding new light on the history of al-Qa’ida, this report also tells us that al-Qa’ida and the Haqqani network, and not the Quetta Shura Taliban, became the United States’ primary enemies on 11 September 2001," say authors Don Rassler and Vahid Brown.
To date, the history of al-Qaeda has been understood in terms of the its outgrowth from the Maktab al-Kidamat organisation in Peshawar under the auspices of Abdullah Azzam. This approach, say the authors, fails to take into account the important connections between al-Qaeda's leaders and the Haqqani clan. "The scholarly and policy community have misapprehended the precise local context for the development of global jihadism - a context to be found in the Haqqanis' Paktia and not Azzam's Peshawar - and have underestimated the Haqqani network's critical role in sustaining cycles of violence far beyond its region of overt influence."
They argue that the ties between the Haqqani network and al-Qaeda have remained just as close since 9/11 under Sirajuddin Haqqani's command as they were prior to that when under the control of his father, Jalauddin. Sirajuddin continues to play an important role as a mediator - between the Pakistani ISI and the various factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, between the TTP and local Shias in Kurram and even between the Iranian state and al-Qaeda. In this latter case it is suggested that in 2010 he helped to secure the release of a top Iranian diplomat in exchange for several al-Qaeda commanders, including Saif al-Adel.
The authors point out the paradox of the fact that while the Haqqani network has functioned as Islamabad's proxy in Afghanistan, it has also served as al-Qaeda's local enabler for more than 20 years.
They say that even though the Pakistanis have in the past offered up the Haqqani network as a way of ending the conflict in Afghanistan, the organisation is unlikely to disengage from its relationship with al-Qaeda and other jihadist organisations: "Positioned between two unstable states, and operating beyond their effective sovereignty, the Haqqani network has long been mistaken for a local actor with largely local concerns. It is vital that the policy community correct the course that has taken this erroneous assessment for granted and recognize the Haqqani network’s region of refuge for what it has always been – the fountainhead of jihad."

Friday 8 July 2011

FATA still attracting Western Islamists

A new edition of Paul Cruickshank's paper The Militant Pipeline Between the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Region and the West has been published by the New America Foundation. It looks at 32 'serious' jihadist terrorist plots against the West between 2004 and 2011 and shows that 53 per cent of them had operational or training links to established jihadist groups in Pakistan, compared to just six per cent having connections to the Yemen.
Between January 2009 and June 2011 there were seven serious plots against the West in which those involved were trained or directed from groups in Pakistan, and just two that linked to the Yemen.
This new report looks at five new cases studies not included in the original version, including the failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, the 2010 Hamburg cell, the alleged Norway cell, Najibullah Zazi's New York group and the Manchester plotters. It also gives a detailed breakdown by country of known militants moving from Europe to Pakistan for training and makes the point that Germany has seen a particularly alarming rise in travel flows to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
An average of five people a month left Germany to try to receive training in the tribal areas of Pakistan. In contrast US counterterrorism officials believe fewer American extremists appear to have travelled to Pakistan in 2010 and early 2011 than in 2009.
However Cruickshank notes that the CIA drone campaign is having an impact on foreign fighters, many of whom have been killed in missile strikes, although it has not yet staunched the flow of Westerners travelling to the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the report is the case history of Rami Makanesi, a member of the Hamburg jihadist group, who provided a 180-page account of his time in FATA to German security police following his deportation from Pakistan to Germany in September 2010.
Makanesi describes the paranoia of the al-Qaeda operatives he met about both the drone campaign and about spies. He says he came across Lebanese, Algerians, Kuwaitis, Turks, Tajiks and French militants of North African descent. In Mir Ali, in North Waziristan he was able to procure lodgings for five Euros a month and was easily able to obtain money sent from Germany. He kept in touch with his family in Germany via internet cafes. 
He said the largest contingent of foreign militants in Mir Ali were Turks, of whom there were 100-150. There were also around 100 'Tatars' in the town and less than a dozen Arabs. During the summer fighting season in Afghanistan, the town almost emptied of foreign fighters, who made their way across the border with little hindrance from local Pakistani Army patrols.  
He concludes: "Despite growing concern over Yemen, the tribal areas of Pakistan remain al Qaeda’s number one safe haven and the most threatening to the West as a whole."

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Using the Taliban's own rules to challenge its actions

Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network has published another of her insightful reports, this time into the Taliban's code of conduct (Layha in Pashto), using the much updated code to gain an insight into the organisation itself.
The Layha: Calling the Taliban to Account notes that the first version of the code appeared in 2006 as an attempt to consolidate the movement, inspire fighters and to curb their excesses. In the background was the fact that the organisation's image was being tarnished by corruption and abuse.
Later versions of the code, published in 2009 and 2010 illustrate the leadership's fears of fragmentation, concerns about the uncontrolled killing of suspected spies and the exploitation of jihad for criminal or material gain.
Clark notes that some clauses, such as those that permit kidnapping, are contrary to international law, while others, if applied, could reduce civilian suffering in the conflict. Added to this is the fact that the code is not enforced in some areas and attacks on civilians, for example, continue unabated.
However, civilian unhappiness with some of the clauses has led to revisions. For example, the 2006 version called on mujahideen to beat and kill recalcitrant teachers and burn their schools and have nothing to do with NGOs. These clauses were dropped in later editions.
Clark argues that the Taliban is very sensitive to charges that it violates its own code and often kills civilians. Journalists, she says, could find the Layha useful in helping to frame questions to put to the Taliban, for example in asking for explanations of fines issued by the Taliban, of ransom demands for prisoners or of attacks that kill civilians. She says it is important to ask more from the Taliban in terms of conduct that conforms with international human rights law.

Pakistan Taliban begins to break up

The leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Hakimullah Mahsud, has been isolated for much of the last year and is rapidly losing control of his organisation, according to news reports  from Pakistan.
A report in the Express Tribune, for example, notes that there was a large split from the organisation  recently, when Fazal Saeed Haqqani - in charge of the TTP in the Kurram tribal region - announced that he was leaving the organisation, along with around 1,000 of his fighters. Haqqani said he was opposed to the killing of civilians. The TTP has killed hundreds of civilians in a series of indiscriminate bombings throughout Pakistan in the last two years.
Just days before, Shakirullah Shakir, the main spokesman for the TTP's Fidayeeen-e-Islam suicide squad, was gunned down in in the Qutab Khail area of Miranshah in North Waziristan while riding his motorcycle to Mir Ali. No-one claimed responsibility for the targetted killing, but it is likely that the two events are connected. Shakir was a close aide to Qari Hussein Mahsud, the TTP's main organiser of suicide bombings.
Haqqani said he had decided to form a new organisation called Tehreek-e-Taliban Islami that will concentrate on fighting in Afghanistan: "“I repeatedly told the leadership council of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan that they should stop suicide attacks against mosques, markets and other civilian targets,” Haqqani told the AFP news agency by telephone.
“Islam does not allow killings of innocent civilians in suicide attacks,” he said, likening what TTP does in Pakistan to “what US troops are doing in Afghanistan” and vowing to continue the fight alone against the Americans.
There have also been reports of fighting between TTP factions in Khyber and Orakzai districts in recent weeks.

Afghanistan Conflict Monitor ceases publication

Sad news: the Afghanistan Conflict Monitor and its sister publication the Pakistan Conflict Monitor have ceased publication. A note from the publishers - the Simon Fraser University-funded Human Security Report Project in Vancouver, Canada - says "As a result of staffing constraints, changes in media reporting on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a shift in our strategic priorities, we have decided to discontinue the Afghanistan and Pakistan Conflict Monitors. As a consequence, we will no longer be producing the Daily Briefing, or updating the websites.
"Instead of continuing to feature news stories, which are increasingly well covered by other online news media like Foreign Policy's “AfPak Channel,” we will be focussing on more in-depth research and policy material from governments, researchers, and major NGOs. These resources can be found on our research portal, the Human Security Gateway."