Wednesday 30 November 2011

Getting aid right in Pakistan

Bringing out a report on the effect of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act - which regulates US non-military aid to Pakistan - just as relations between the two countries disappear down the pan may not be the best of timing. But a 17-strong panel brought together by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program has concluded that robust US civilian assistance to Pakistan serves important interests in both countries.
Aiding Without Abetting: Making US Civilian Assistance to Pakistan Work for Both Sides also warns that changes are needed to the Act and offers almost 30 recommendations. The report recommends that aid should not be tied to security or economic reform and that Pakistan should be pressed to return to an arrangement with the IMF.
It suggests a more realistic timeline for stepping up the percentages of US aid to be dispensed through Pakistani government structures, while at the same time pressing the country to improve tracking and donor oversight of aid. Support for the Benazir Income Support Program should only be continued if political manipulation can be halted.
Priorities for funding should be clean urban water, power, sanitation, youth organisations and literacy training. Support should also be given to the small/medium enterprises sector.
There are many other good proposals in this report from a group of experts who clearly understand the weaknesses of the present system.
However, it is hard to be as optimistic as the authors of this report about the prospects for the future. It is self-evident that much of the senior bureaucracy in Pakistan is in reality a kleptocracy. Aid enriches officials - and international NGOs - and only seldom reaches down to the masses. Monitoring costs consume an ever-increasing proportion of aid. And the political context is becoming ever-more complex. The Woodrow Wilson report says that terminating the US assistance program "would fuel anti-Americanism in Pakistan". In truth, relations between the two countries are so bad at present, that short of outright war, it is hard to perceive them as being any worse: the Raymond Davis affair, the killing of bin Laden, the growing Pakistani opposition to drone attacks, the recent cross-border attack, the ongoing support by the Pakistan military for the insurgency in Afghanistan and many other incidents mark what must be the worst year for US-Pakistan bilateral relations in a generation. I'm not convinced that even a $7.5 billion aid program can sort that lot out.  

BAE Systems dishonours a US hero

Former US Marine sergeant Dakota Meyer, a recipient of America's highest award for valour, is suing British defence contractor BAE Systems, saying the company ridiculed his award and falsely claimed he was mentally unstable and suggested he had a drink problem. The claims, says Meyer, cost him a job.
Meyer has filed a lawsuit in San Antonio, Texas, claiming his former employer - BAE Systems OASYS Inc, prevented him from getting a job by telling his prospective employer that he was a poor worker during the three months he worked for the company in the spring of this year.
Even worse for BAE Systems, it turns out that Meyer left the company after protesting that it was selling advanced thermal-optic sniper scopes to Pakistan. The scopes were more powerful than those used by US troops and Meyer was appalled that they could be used against his former comrades in Afghanistan. "This is where I could see me still 'doing my part' for the guys who are in the same situation now that I was in 18 months ago," he explained in an email to his former supervisor. Meyer's lawsuit alleges that the supervisor "berated and belittled" him after he objected to the sale.
After Meyer resigned in May, he attempted to get his old job back, but the BAE supervisor then wrote to his previous manager, saying that he was mentally unstable, was not performing his duties and had problems with social drinking.
Mayer received his Medal of Honor from President Obama at the White House in September this year. The citation reads: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the repeated risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a member of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps Advisory Command 3-7, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on 8 September 2009". During a six-hour ambush at Ganjgal in Kunar, he saved 36 lives. Ignoring orders to the contrary, he repeatedly drove a Humvee into the ambush site to rescue his fellow Marines and Afghan soldiers. Together with fellow Marine, Staff Sgt. Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, he made five runs to pull out wounded Afghan troops, and then went back in, only to find that the remaining four Marines were dead. Rodriguez-Chavez was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions (along with Captain Ademola D Fabayo) that day. Mayer is only the third living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War and the first living US Marine to be so honoured.
The company intends to contest the case, although the chances of BAE Systems winning  are negligible. Who was the idiot that sanctioned the action against Meyer? And who was the even bigger idiot trying to sell such advanced weaponry to Pakistan?

Thursday 24 November 2011

Debating the US National Intelligence Estimate

Excellent, well-informed article by Steve Coll in the New Yorker on the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on the war in Afghanistan. Coll says the NIEs, which are seldom published and are classified Secret or Top Secret, contain the most up-to-date information on the Obama Administration's take on the war. The last two, he says offered a gloomy picture, with the 2010 report warning that "large swathes of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban".
The new draft, around 100 pages long and due to be circulated shortly, contains six Key Judgments and is said to be gloomier than the typical public statements made by US military commanders in Afghanistan.
It is said to raise doubts about the authenticity and durability of alleged gains in Kandahar and Helmand provinces since the Obama troop surge and also suggests that the next generation of political leaders after Karzai will be more corrupt.
It also questions the success of the programme to train and equip the Afghan military and police forces, noting that the projected cost of running a force of 350,000 after 2014 will be $8-10 billion a year, more than the US is willing or able to pay.
As Coll points out, you hardly need secret information to come to these conclusions. It is not hard to see that little progress is being made in the country and that conditions in many areas are deteriorating, despite the billions of dollars sloshing around in military and civilian aid.
Coll says that Maj.Gen. John R Allen, the US commander in Afghanistan, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, believe the NIE to be too pessimistic and that they intend to dissent from its conclusions. With General David Petraeus now in charge of the CIA there is also a danger, says Coll, that intelligence from that quarter will also be 'militarised'. To guard against this he argues that unclassified versions of the key judgments in the latest NIE should be published so that they can be publicly debated. Well said.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Can the Libyans solve a bin Laden mystery?

Until its final days, the regime of Libya's Colonel Gaddaffi liked to remind the West that it was his government that issued the very first arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden, way back in March 1998.
That warrant accused bin Laden and three Libyan accomplices of responsibility for the 1994 murders of Germany's top counter-terrorism officer, Silvan Becker and his wife Vera, in the coastal city of Sirte - ironically the place where Gaddaffi himself met his end in October. The warrant was forwarded to Interpol headquarters in Lyon France and on 15 April 1998 it was issued as an official international arrest warrant. However, the 'red notice' warrant received almost no publicity at the time and was only revealed years later in an obscure French book on bin Laden.
With the death of Gaddaffi and the capture of his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi a few days ago, perhaps the true story of the Beckers' murder will be revealed.
At the heart of this story is the question of whether or not the Beckers were killed by Islamists opposed to the Gaddaffi regime or by the regime itself. 
According to the official story, Becker worked for Division Six, the terrorism department of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the BfV). He had responsibility for Arab terrorism and latterly, for the Tamil LTTE. Vera Becker is also believed to have worked for the BfV and both were said to be working on the investigation into the Lockerbie bombing, elements of which were planned in Germany.
Working in such sensitive posts, they should never have been in Libya in the first place and no convincing explanation of how the couple ended up there on a 'sight-seeing' tour has ever been given.
However, on 10 March 1994, soon after arriving in Libya, the couple were both shot and taken to a military hospital in Sirte. Vera Becker died on 28 March and Silvan Becker died on 10 April 1994.
Were the couple on an officially 'unauthorised' visit to Libya - don't forget that Libya had been accused of bombing the La Belle nightclub in Berlin in April 1986 and that there were no diplomatic relations between the two countries - or was something else afoot? To this day, the BfV refuses to offer any further information on the affair or even to confirm that Becker was involved in the La Belle/Lockerbie investigations.
The Libyans accused three citizens - Faraj al-Alwan, Faez Abu Zeid al-Warfali and Faraj al-Chalabi, all members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Groups - of carrying out the killings on the instructions of Osama bin Laden. All three are still wanted by Interpol where their mugshots can be found on the official website.
However, other scenarios have been proposed. According to some reports, the Beckers travelled to Egypt under false identity to work with Egyptian intelligence officers evaluating the results of the embargo on Libya and to update their information on changes within the leadership of the Libyan intelligence community. Having finished their official business in Cairo, the couple headed up to Alexandria for a few days relaxation. 
According to this scenario, it was whilst they were in Alexandria that they were likely abducted and taken across the border to Libya where they were interrogated and later shot - although presumably the Libyans would have killed them outright rather than let them live.
The Interpol warrant for bin Laden was first revealed by French writers Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie in their book Bin Laden: the Hidden Truth. They maintained that the warrant was not acted upon or publicised because Western intelligence agencies, in particular MI6, were funding the Libyan Islamic Fighting Groups to the tune of £100,000 in the hope that they would assassinate Gaddaffi.
Whatever happened, with the departure of Gaddaffi and his security apparatus, there is now an opportunity to solve this case.

Monday 14 November 2011

Will the real Zabihullah Mujahid please stand up?

Reports that Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has been arrested in Paktika Province may be somewhat premature. Much as all IRA statements in the past were signed by P O'Neill, which was never a specific person, ZM is a nom-de-guerre used to show that statements are sanctioned by the Taliban leadership, not the actual person. Whilst there is possibly a person who issues press statements on behalf of the Taliban leadership, it is much more likely to be the cover name for anyone speaking on their behalf. The person arrested in the Saw Hawsa area of Paktika told his captors that he was the Paktika ZM and that others existed in different areas. 
Of more significance is the Taliban's claim yesterday to have obtained detailed security plans (see above) for this week's Karzai-controlled 'loya jirga' taking place in Kabul. The 28 pages and six maps seem genuine enough although Afghan government officials claim they are fake. 

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Lessons not learned by Taliban fighters

Yesterday's attack on Combat Outpost Margah in the Barmal district of Paktika province, only a couple of miles from the border with Pakistan, is not the first large-scale assault on this base.
In yesterday's attack around 70 insurgents - many of them foreign fighters, identified by their radio chatter prior and during the attack - were killed for no reported US casualties. Most of those killed died through accurate bombing from aircraft and artillery called in during the six-hour attack.
Compare that attack to an almost identical event that occurred at COP Margah on 30 October last year, when 60 US soldiers from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry came under attack in the night from a large number of insurgents, of whom around 80 were killed. Reports on that attack can be found here and here
The ferociousness of that encounter, one of the largest between US forces and insurgents in the last 10 years, can be gauged from the medals awarded afterwards: Fox Company soldiers received one Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, 12 Army Commendation Medals, two Purple Hearts and 10 Combat Infantrymen Badges.
And just a few weeks before the recent attack, on 7 October, Haqqani fighters launched a series of attacks on several US bases in the area, including Margah. According to one report, COP Margah itself was hit by 111 high explosive rockets plus mortars. Then, at 8am, as this official photo shows, an attempt was made to drive a truck bomb across flat ground straight into the base. It was stopped 50 yards short of the base when the driver was killed and the explosives ignited. 

Presumably in most of these cases the US had advance information about the attacks. But why, having been so comprehensively defeated at this location, did the Taliban/Haqqani fighters come back again and again?

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Pak Taliban flexes its muscles in FATA

TTP warning leaflet distributed in Tank last week
An article on the website of the FATA Research Centre says that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has started a campaign against tribal elders and peace committee members who are opposed to them in different parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It says that more than 20 pro-government tribal elders and members of tribal lashkars (militias) have been killed in Bajaur alone in the last two months, forcing many to reconsider their decision to support the security forces in the area.
TTP militants have also begun to kill the leaders of the Abdullah group, the only anti-TTP group based in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkwha. The Abdullah group has been successful in keeping the TTP out of these areas for the last two years. But on 25 October Shahad u Din Burki, head of the Abdullah Group in Tank was gunned down. Later the same date another member of the group, Asmatullah Mahsud, was also shot dead. The TTP later distributed leaflets in the area warning people not to work for the government.
Contractors working for the government on road construction in South Waziristan have also been targetted by the TTP, including Faizullah Bhittani - whose son was killed - and Saboor Bhittani, both from the Tank district.
There are also serious problems in Orakzai agency, which the army has claimed on numerous occasions to have cleared of militants. The News reports that parts of Upper Orakzai are still a stronghold of the TTP and that several hundred Pakistani and foreign fighters control an area of 25 square kilometres in this mountainous region. From here they can easily move from Mamozai either towards Kurram and the border with Afghanistan, or towards the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. The TTP fighters recently showed their contempt for local security forces when on 11 October they subjected the governor of Orakzai Agency, Syed Masood Kausar, to a rocket attack that killed a boy and injured nine officials.
So bad has the situation become that Salamat Khan Orakzai, head of the pro-government Amn Lashkar militia announced this week that he was closing down their centre in Shahukhel village in Hangu district due to non-cooperation from the security forces and the government. Nine members of the lashkar have been killed in the last year and 13 others injured. “The government had pledged to provide us with arms and ammunition but it could not deliver on its promise. We cannot continue battling the militants on our own,” said Salamat Khan Orakzai.

Monday 7 November 2011

Istanbul conference - not a lot happened

Whatever happened at the Istanbul conference on 'Security and Cooperation in the heart of Asia' that promised so much and was billed as the precursor to the Bonn conference to be held next month?
Not a lot is the short answer. Most of Afghanistan's neighbours were unwilling to support American plans to establish permanent military bases in the country beyond 2014. Nor would they act as guarantors for a 'new regional mechanism' for peace in the country.  Host country Turkey, together with the USA, were forced to drop the original draft proposal to set up a contact group for monitoring a series of confidence-building measures, opting instead for a much more anodyne statement.
In the end this conference fell victim to American attempts to load it with a series of geopolitical manoeuvres that tried to sideline Russian and Chinese ambitions in Central Asia. This strategy was never going to work. In fact, in the long term it has probably strengthened the hand of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the only regional security mechanism the Russians and Chinese (and Pakistan) are willing to countenance. The chances of the Bonn conference in a few weeks time producing a diplomatic breakthrough - or even of the Taliban showing up - are receding by the day.

Friday 4 November 2011

Taliban fighters told to avoid civilian casualties

Mullah Omar's Eid-ul-Adha message emphasises the need to avoid civilian casualties, even suggesting that religious scholars should be used to preach protection of civilian life, wealth and honour to the mujahideen. He says that all civilian casualties caused by the mujahideen should be reported to superiors. If a case is proved against a muhahideen then a penalty should be implemented in accordance with sharia law.

US civilian aid to Afghanistan begins to fall

The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan - part of the US State Department - has issued a status report on civilian engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan that makes it clear that US civilian aid will begin to decline as troop levels are reduced over the next three years.
Already US economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan has fallen from $4.1 billion in 2010 to $2.5 billion this year, the report says, as it shifts from funding stabilisation projects to "long-term sustainable development at lower funding levels".

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Whatever happened to the 9/11 planners?

A recently released photo of KSM in Guantanamo
Readers with a good memory may remember that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was a response to the attacks on America carried out by al-Qaeda. Those attacks were conceived and organised by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who is now in Guantanamo. According to KSM there were 35 people who knew in advance about the attacks on America. What has happened to them? You can read their story in an article I have written (together with Yosri Fouda) for openDemocracy. The Fate of the 9/11 planners and the failure of Justice can be found here.