Wednesday 19 December 2012

More evidence of Petraeus' flawed judgment

More evidence of General David H Petraeus' flawed judgment is evident today in an excellent article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the Washington Post.
The article catalogues Petraeus' inappropriate relationship with Kimberly and Frederick Kagan of the right-wing, defence-contractor supported, Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute respectively.
The husband-and-wife team appear to have been taken on as unpaid advisers to the General during his time in Afghanistan, promoting a series of hawkish policies that chimed nicely with their corporate sponsors' (DynCorp International, CACI International and General Dynamics) agendas. Shocking that America's most senior general in Afghanistan should have allowed himself to become associated with two such arms industry pimps.

Monday 17 December 2012

Tattooed militant amongst Peshawar base attackers

Heavily tattooed body of Peshawar airport attacker
Tattoo was an unfinished version of this design by Boris Vallejo
Photos published in Pakistan show that one of the 10 militants who carried out the attack on Peshawar airport at the weekend was heavily tattooed with demonic images. Although the attack was quickly claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistani officials had already suggested that up to five of the attackers were Uzbek and that one at least had come from Daghestan in the Caucasus.
The tattoos have been the subject of much debate in Pakistan (see this strand, for example), with various religious authorities stating very clearly that they are un-Islamic. The Express Tribune quoted Professor Khursheed Ahmed saying “You cannot perform religious duties if you have tattoos on your body”. He therefore drew the conclusion that the attackers could not be muslims! 

The same conclusion was drawn by Allama Tahir Ashrafi, head of Pakistan Ulema Council. “It was astonishing to see the body with a horrible face tattooed on his body. Islam does not allow drawing tattoos. This cannot be the body of a Muslim.”
The attack on Peshawar airport began on Saturday night. The target was the military side of the base, where fighter planes and helicopters are housed.
Five of the attackers were killed during the attack on Saturday, along with three civilians and two policemen. Five more militants were killed on Sunday afternoon when they were spotted in the nearby village of Pawakai. Two of them exploded their suicide vests. The airport reopened after 18 hours.
This was the third attack on a Pakistan military base in the last few months, a phenomenon mirrored in neighbouring Afghanistan where 10-12-man teams have also attacked two large coalition bases in recent months. Highly disciplined teams of well-trained fighters have been central to all these attacks, suggesting that trainers with military backgrounds and contacts are involved in preparing and planning them. Uzbek fighters are seen as some of the best trained fighters and continue to cause problems in the tribal areas. Yesterday 17 Uzbek men without papers were arrested by Frontier Corps personnel travelling on a bus in Chaghi, Balochistan.

Update: On Tuesday Provincial Information Minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, informed the provincial assembly that two of the attackers killed on Saturday at the airport were Chechens and three were Pakistanis. The five men killed in Pawakai on Sunday were from Pakistan, Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Dagestan. 

Thursday 13 December 2012

Information on UK drone usage in Afghanistan

Some interesting facts and figures on UK drone use emerge in a Parliamentary report, published by the House of Commons library. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones): an introduction notes that the UK currently operates four major types of UAVs in Afghanistan, three of which are operated by the Army (Hermes 450, Class 1 Desert Hawk and the T-Hawk) and one (the MQ-9 Reaper) used by the RAF.
The five RAF Reapers are the only armed drones used in Afghanistan, but there are also nine Hermes 450 drones that provide tactical level imagery to unit and formation commanders on the ground and which require an airstrip to launch.
There are also 239 Desert Hawk 3s, which are hand-launched drones, designed to provide ground forces with a live tactical video feed and which are primarily used by bomb defusing teams to examine suspicious structures or vehicles.
There are also apparently 64 Black Hornet nano-drones, that weight only 16g, although no information is provided on their
operational use.
Currently there are 31 RAF personnel qualified to pilot the Reaper aircraft, with plans to train a further 16 pilots. "Reaper pilots are all RAF and Royal Navy pilots who are qualified in operating other military aircraft. The majority have served on at least one operational tour on a traditional manned platform. 32 RAF personnel are qualified to pilot the Reaper. Operators of the Army’s unmanned UAVs are not required to be qualified pilots because of the greater level of autonomy of their UAVs."
Altogether 290 personnel are involved in delivering Desert Hawk, Hermes 450 and Reaper. This includes command, aircrew, technicians, intelligence and support staff. The total financial approval for delivering and supporting the UK Reaper system from 2007 until the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2015, is £506 million.
Since entering service in 2007, only one Reaper has been lost, due to mechanical failure. Eleven of the Hermes 450 drones have crashed in the same period. The UK’s fleet of UAVs have carried out over 100,000 hours of flying in Afghanistan and fired 349 precision-guided weapons (297 Hellfire precision guided missiles and 52 laser guided bombs). The report says Afghan civilians have only been killed on one occasion by drones in March 2011, when two insurgents and four civilians were killed and two civilians injured. A report into the incident has not been published.

Cruelty and Tax Evasion in Pakistan

Two more very useful reports:
Amnesty International has published “The Hands Of Cruelty”: Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas which sets out in graphic detail the barbaric techniques used by both the Pakistan Army and also by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the tribal areas.
Second, The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives and the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, both based in Islamabad, have jointly published Representation without Taxation! An analysis of MPs' income tax returns for 2011 which shows that 61 per cent of all lawmakers in the Pakistan Parliament and regional assemblies paid no income tax in the year they contested elections. Even former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and his 25-member Cabinet paid no tax in their respective elections years. All this in a country which has one of the lowest tax to GDP ratios (about 9 per cent) in the developing world. Even Sierra Leone has a higher ratio.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Long way to go for women's rights in Afghanistan

Here is a link to the UNAMA report Still a Long Way to Go:Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan, published yesterday. The report "examines implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW law) by judicial and law enforcement officials for the period October 2011 to September 2012 and identifies the many challenges Afghan women still face in accessing justice. 
The analysis is based on information gathered from 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and highlights the reporting, registration and judicial process followed under the EVAW law and the Penal Code by the Afghan National Police (ANP), prosecutor’s offices and primary courts in a representative sample of violence against women incidents."
The report notes that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission recorded 4,010 cases of violence against women from 21 March to 21 October 2012 throughout Afghanistan compared to 2,299 cases it recorded for the entire solar year in 2011 (from 21 March 2010 to 21 March 2011). 
However, it says that increased reporting may be the result of increased public awareness and sensitization to violence against women and to women’s rights generally through efforts of civil society organizations, the Government and international actors. But overall reporting of incidents of violence against women to police and registration of such incidents by the police remained low.

Thievery unchecked as equipment lies unused

Everyone is aware that huge amounts of dollars are leaving Afghanistan every year, usually in the luggage of corrupt politicians and officials on their way to the Gulf. According to one estimate, an estimated $4.5 billion was taken out of the country in 2011 alone.
Once the problem was recognised, a working party at the US Embassy in Kabul came up with a 'bulk cash flow action plan' to monitor the money passing through Kabul's airport. Its 33 proposals including training and investigative efforts, installation of cash-counting machinery and various other moves.
In August this year the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) decided to review these measures, conducting a site visit to the airport and interviewing officials in Kabul. The results are not very encouraging, as set out in Anti-Corruption Measures: Persistent Problems Exist in Monitoring Bulk Cash flows at Kabul International Airport, published by SIGAR yesterday.

Unused currency counting machines at Kabul Airport
They found, for example that the two bulk currency counters, designed to record serial numbers, create databases and process up to 900 bills per minute - and then to transmit this data via the internet to the Financial Transactions and Records Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA) at the Central Bank - were not being used for their intended purpose. VIPs were being allowed to bypass these controls, the machines were located in an inaccessible cupboard and staff did not feel comfortable using them. "Although DHS officials told us that Afghan customs officials have been provided on-the-job training on the use of the bulk currency counters, we did not observe any use of the machines. However, we were able to check that each machine was plugged into an electrical outlet and appeared to be in working order."
Neither machine was connected to the internet or a computer server and a new Very Very Important Persons (VVIP) lounge was being built at the airport where there was no main customs screening or use of a bulk currency counter. Officials told the SIGAR inspectors that they feared the repercussions of making the system work. "As of October 2012, according to DHS officials, efforts to connect the bulk currency counters to the internet or a computer server were “at a standstill.”
So just to recap, corrupt Afghan officials and politicians are stealing billions of dollars every year and exporting their ill-gotten gains through the main airport in Kabul, without let or hindrance. Systems set up specifically to deal with the problem lie unused and unconnected in some cupboard in an inaccessible part of the airport. Welcome to Afghanistan.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Two useful CRS reports on Afghanistan

Two useful CRS reports on Afghanistan.
1) In Brief: Next steps in the War in Afghanistan? Issues for Congress. "This short report considers issues that may be of interest to Congress as it considers the strength and duration of further U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, to 2014 and beyond."
2) Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians

Report to Congress sees progress in Afghanistan

Between 1 April and 30 September this year Taliban attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces were up only one percent compared to the same period last year. Such attacks increasingly take place outside populated areas and the security of many of Afghanistan's largest cities is has improved substantially, according to the latest Report on Progress Towards Security and Stability in Afghanistan, written by the US Department of Defense, for members of Congress.
However, the report notes the increase in 'insider attacks' and states that "The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government, and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan."
The report notes that between 1st March and 30th September the US decreased its military forces in Afghanistan by 25 percent, while other Coalition forces increased by one percent. There are now around 68,000 US forces in Afghanistan.
Overall, says the report, the surge accomplished what it set out to do: "The comparison in violence between 2012 to date and 2010 (the first year with surge-level forces present for the same nine month period) is stark: EIAs have declined by 12 percent, IED explosions have declined by nine percent, ISAF-caused civilian casualties have declined by 28 percent (insurgent-caused civilian casualties increased by 11 percent), Direct Fire (DF) attacks have declined by nine percent, and indirect fire attacks are down by 24 percent. The ANSF has grown by 88,464 personnel, and has dramatically increased its capabilities. The areas of the country influenced by the insurgents and the ability of the insurgency to attack the population have been significantly diminished."
Lots more facts and figures in this 172-page report, which only barely hides the fact that Coalition forces are no nearer defeating the Taliban than they were two years ago.

NGOs and attitudes to the Taliban

Ashley Jackson of the Humanitarian Policy Group and Antonio Giustozzi from King's College London have produced an invaluable discussion paper on the Taliban's attitude to NGOs.
Talking to the Other Side: Humanitarian engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan looks in particular at Faryab and Kandahar provinces, noting that whilst at a leadership level there are clear attitudes towards foreign NGOs, at a local level commanders exert considerable discretion and flexibility.
Although senior and provincial Taliban leaders state that where an aid agency obtains its funding does not influence access, in practice many local commanders are suspicious of projects funded by ISAF troop-contributing countries. They were also hostile towards Western notions of women's rights. "In general, but particularly pronounced at local level, there is deep and prevalent hostility towards aid organisations and a general difficulty in distinguishing between different actors (NGOs, UN agencies, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), for-profit contractors, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and so on)."
This is an extremely useful report that highlights the dilemmas facing local Afghan staff who may recognise the need to speak to Taliban power brokers, but are prevented from doing so by a culture of 'don't ask, don't tell', within NGOs. That in turn increases the risk that local staff will be seen as 'spies' working for foreigners.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Momentous events in South Waziristan.

What was behind the decision of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen of South Waziristan to issue an ultimatum to 40,000 displaced Mahsud tribespeople to leave Wana by 5th December?
The decision - later extended to 15 December - was taken at a jirga held in Rustam Bazaar in Wana, attended by elders from all nine subtribes of the Ahmadzai Wazirs. Overseeing the jirga was Maulvi Nazir, the pro-government militia commander who, only days before, had been injured in a targeted suicide attack in the same town that killed eight of his companions.
As far as the jirga was concerned, the attackers of Maulvi Nazir were from the Mahsud tribe and they were therefore entitled to tell them to leave. There is a long history of bitterness and rivalry between the two tribes, and this recent incident has been used by political officials to encourage the Ahmadzai Wazirs to act against the Mahsuds.
The Mahsuds, in turn, form the backbone of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Pakistani Army action aimed at the TTP in South Waziristan is the reason there are so many Mahsuds living temporarily in Wana. Many of their homes have been destroyed or are in areas that are too dangerous for occupation.
Some sources say that the suicide attacker tasked with killing Maulvi Nazir was despatched by Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of the TTP. The attack was an attempted revenge for the killing of Wali Muhammad on July this year. Wali Muhammad was a close associate of Hakimullah and had only returned to South Waziristan recently, having been expelled by Maulvi Nazir in the past. (more on the background to this feud can be found here).
In the past the Ahmedzai Wazirs have usually attempted to settle their differences with the Mahsuds, not least because they have always needed their agreement to get access to DI Khan and other border areas. The Mahsuds control access to important strategic roads - such as that running from Tank-Jandola-Wana - and have been able to exert a stranglehold on the Wazirs in the past.
However, that era may now have come to an end with the opening of a new road on 18 June this year. Built by the Pakistani Army with American money, the 105-km Kaur-Gomal-Tanai-Wana road means that the Wazirs no longer need permission from the Mahsuds to connect with the rest of the country (more on this here).
Tribal politics in FATA are complex and this may not be the end of the matter. Already, Pakistani officials are talking about putting pressure on the Utmankhel Wazirs in North Waziristan to expel Mahsud tribesmen from Miramshah.
All of these events may be the reason that rumours are growing of a split within the leadership of the TTP. Hakimullah's policy of war against the Pakistani state appears now to come with a price tag that is too high for many of his fellow tribesmen to bear. No wonder that Waliur Rahman, touted as someone who can cut a deal with the military and also turn TTP guns towards Afghanistan, is being spoken about as a future leader of the organisation.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Another senior al-Qaeda leader killed in Pakistan

The death of Sheikh Khalid Abdul Rahman al-Hussainan - aka Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti - in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan's tribal areas yesterday is a serious blow to al-Qaeda. According to some accounts, the Kuwaiti cleric, part of a recent trend of 'internet imams',  was a likely successor to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and played an important role as religious advisor to the organisation and member of al-Qaeda's religious committee.
Sheikh Khalid Abdul Rahman al-Hussainan
He was well known for his lectures and videos, many of which were put out by the As-Shahab organisation. He was also the last known Arab with a serious religious  background living in Pakistan's tribal territories.
According to reports 46-year-old al-Hussainan was killed whilst taking his early morning meal. A statement on an al-Qaeda-linked web forum, posted on Friday, stated: "“We celebrate to you the news of the martyrdom of the working scholar Shaykh Khalid al-Hussainan (Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti) while eating his suhoor (dawn time) meal, and we ask Allah to accept him in paradise."
More detail on his background can be found in an interview published earlier this year by Flashpoint Partners.
The death of al-Hussainan comes in the wake of the killings of at least three contenders for the leadership role in al-Qaeda since the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Ilyas Kashmiri, Atiyah Abd-al Rahman and Ayman al-Awlaki have all been killed in drone strikes, leaving a serious gap in the top leadership of the organisation.

Friday 7 December 2012

End of Hakimullah's bloodthirsty reign?

Waliur Rahman, TTP leader in waiting?
Reuters is reporting an imminent change of leadership in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, saying its bloodthirsty - and by some accounts, heroin-addicted - leader Hakimullah Mahsud will soon be replaced by his rival and long-time adversary Waliur Rahman. This blog reported the threat to Mahsud's leadership three weeks ago - see Latest FATA Security Report below, on 13 November.
Reuters adds that the change will signal a new emphasis on actions in Afghanistan, rather than against the Pakistani state. It has been clear for some time that the TTP's strategy of killing Pakistani soldiers and police and targeting civilians has been winning it no friends. It was a strategy heavily influenced by al-Qaeda ideologues, who also provided funding to the organisation. Presumably these sources have now dried up, or perhaps Wali has done a deal with the ISI?
Update: Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal argues strongly that reports of a split between Rahman and Mahsud are much exaggerated. "Dare I say that Pakistani officials are using Reuters and other news agencies as part of a not-so-sophisticated information operation designed to split the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's top leadership? It is high time that news organizations see through this patently obvious nonsense," he says. He may be right, but there are other sources on the fading star of Hakimullah. One to watch.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Looking into post-2014 Afghanistan

The Congressional Research Service has come up with an informative and timely report on the functioning of the Afghan state, particularly in the context of likely events following Western military withdrawal in 2014.
Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance by Kenneth Katzman doesn't attempt to set out solutions, but gives a good overview of the stresslines that are likely to become apparent in the next couple of years.
No matter who wins the 2014 Presidential elections, there is a widespread belief that governance will founder, says Katzman, and if it does so, then "The informal power structure consisting of regional and ethnic leaders—who have always been at least as significant a factor in governance as the formal power structure—is expected to assert itself".

Monday 3 December 2012

Splits develop within the Taliban leadership

Anand Gopal, who is Bernard L Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation, has written an interesting article on splits within the Afghan Taliban. Based largely on interviews with Taliban figures in the UAE and with others interviewed via telephone or skype calls in Pakistan, the article, published by the Combating Terrorism Center suggests that the Taliban leadership is fracturing: "Certain commanders have been dismissed from the insurgents’ top brass, spats have erupted between leading figures, and a growing number of field commanders are contravening the orders of their superiors. In the process, a political struggle between blocs favoring and opposing talks with the United States has emerged."
Gopal says there are three reasons for the recent disagreements: the arrest and detention of Mullah Barodar by the Pakistanis; the US military strategy of killing mid-level Taliban leaders; and the initiation of peace talks by Washington.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Massive leak of German docs on Afghanistan

More than 5,000 pages of German Bundeswehr 'Briefings to Parliament' discussing that country's military involvement in Afghanistan and dating from 2005-2012 have been leaked to the DerWesten blog portal. The documents, some of which are not very clear, are security-coded 'for official use only, the lowest of four levels of security.
The blog says that it has asked the Bundeswehr to publish the documents, but has been turned down. It adds that there is nothing in the documents that would threaten German national security. However, the documents do contain detailed charts that illustrate the fact that German troops in Afghanistan are involved in combat operations far more than is generally reported. DerWesten has asked its readers to help review the documents and point out those that are most significant.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Help build a school for 900 girls

Sometimes projects come along that really need support. A group of campaigners in Badakhshan is attempting to raise $500,000 by next April to build a school for 900 girls. The school has been in existence for 10 years, but is still housed in tents first distributed in 2001.
Supported by Afghan MP and Presidential candidate Fawzia Koofi, it deserves success. Fawzia writes: Educating women is a human rights issue. But it’s much more than that. It is the means through which we can stabilize Afghanistan. I know this better than anyone. I was one of 19 children, born to a father with 7 wives. My mother, his second wife, was illiterate. None of the girls in my family ever went to school.
"Until - thanks to the bravery and support of my mother - I became the first female in my family to get an education. Today I am a member of the Afghan parliament and a leading candidate in next year’s presidential elections. Education changed my life and enabled me to fight for the rights of others.
"And now I am asking for your help in changing other girl’s lives. Please help us to educate a schoolgirl today and who knows what she will become tomorrow. She could be the next world leader or Nobel Prize winner. And if does –that will be down to you."

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Latest FATA security report

The Third Quarter Security report from the FATA Research Centre shows that 878 people died in this region of Pakistan from July to September, with another 391 injured.
Most of those killed - 342 - died in 48 clashes between the security forces and militants - to which should be added another 209 militants killed in clashes with the Army in Bajaur Agency, whilst another 71 people died in bomb blasts. US drone attacks killed 113 people, whilst landmines and IEDs killed another 27 people.
Overall, violent incidents increased in FATA during Q3. A breakdown of the casualties suggests that of the total of 1,269 people killed or injured, 625 were militants, 479 were civilians, 126 were security personnel and 39 were pro-government militia. Total casualties were up from 1010 in Q2, with the majority of incidents and casualties taking place in Khyber, Orakzai, Bajaur and North Waziristan Agencies.
The report points out some interesting developments in relation to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In Khyber, for example, the murder of prominent militant Tariq Afridi has led to increased tensions with the TTP: "After the killing of Tariq Afridi, there is confusion among different ranks of TTP militants; and leaders have started to feel threatened for their lives. The situation remains unstable and must be closely observed as critical decisions are being made amongst the top tier of militants in the region."
The report notes that the TTP is pressurising the local tribes in North Waziristan to move to Afghanistan if the area becomes the subject of a Pakistan Army offensive. However, there is resistance, particularly from the Mahsud tribe that makes up much of the TTP foot soldiers.
The report also notes the rising importance of Wali ur Rahman, ostensibly second in command of the TTP, but now in the ascendancy compared to titular leader Hakimullah Mahsud: "Hakimullah is believed to be on drugs these days, he is considered mentally weak, and is on constant run from military. Hakimullah has also reportedly issued orders for killing Tariq Afridi and as a result has lost his support from high profile Taliban commanders. On the other hand, his counterpart Wali Rehman is considered comparatively cool minded, realist and rational." pt 2.

From AP today: "Petraeus and Broadwell apparently used a trick, known to terrorists and teenagers alike, to conceal their email traffic, one of the law enforcement officials said.
Rather than transmitting emails to the other's inbox, they composed at least some messages and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder or in an electronic "dropbox," the official said. Then the other person could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail that is easier to trace."
That was pretty pathetic - not to mention obvious - wasn't it? Didn't they know that the server keeps a log of which computers access the email account? Stick to soldiering, General.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Amazing fact: According to the Wall Street Journal, David Petraeus' affair with Paula Broadwell came to light after the FBI conducted a probe into the use of the CIA director's gmail account. Yes, his gmail account. Petraeus appears not to have understood the most basic issues of online security. Never mind the betrayal of his wife, he should have been sacked for incompetence.

Restored Mausoleum of Timur Shah opens in Kabul

The Mausoleum of Timur Shah, badly damaged during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s, has been reopened by President Karzai and the Agha Khan. Built in 1817, the octagonal red brick building is in the style of the early Moghul and Afghan kings of Delhi. 

The interior of the simple building, which is surrounded by a small park, contains a plain, undecorated sarcophagus. The tomb itself lies in the vaults beneath the building, alongside that of the ill-fated Shah Shujah, Timur's son, who was murdered outside the Bala Hissar citadel in 1842. 
Born in 1746, Timur Shah served as governor of Herat before facing down a military challenge to the throne from his elder brother, and then moving his capital from Kandahar  to Kabul. After his death in 1793 his son Zaman Shah buried him in a garden on the banks of the Kabul River, but it was not until 1817 that construction of the Mausoleum began. 
His court was highly influenced by Persia and he himself was reliant on the infamous Qizilbash bodyguards for his personal protection.
During the course of conservation work, negotiations took place for the relocation of the 200 or more informal traders who had encroached on what had been the garden around the Mausoleum. At one point it was thought that the traders could be incorporated into a new development on land adjoining the garden, but these plans were rejected and the traders were removed in 2005. Since then, a perimeter wall has been constructed to protect the site, which has been planted with mulberry trees – matching those seen in historic photographs (see below) – and laid out with paths.
Since its restoration, the central space of the Mausoleum has been used for lectures, seminars and exhibitions, and discussions are under way with the relevant authorities for the space and reclaimed garden to be used for cultural events.
Below is another picture of the Mausoleum, one of the earliest photographs taken in Afghanistan. The photo was taken by  John Burke in 1879-80.
In 1878 John Burke accompanied the British forces deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs "illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad". Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region.
Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, in partnership at first with William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. However, Burke is best known as the first significant photographer of Afghanistan and its people.(Pic courtesty of the British Museum).

Friday 9 November 2012

US military drone strikes in Afghanistan

According to Wired's DangerRoom blog the US military has launched 333 drone strikes so far this year in Afghanistan, the highest total ever. It's also about the same number of drone strikes as the CIA has launched in neighbouring Pakistan over the last eight years.
For comparison, US drone strikes in Afghanistan totalled 255 in 2009, 278 in 2010 and 294 in 2011.
The US military has 61 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols in Afghanistan, each with three or four remotely-piloted vehicles. In comparison, the CIA is believed to operate a total of 30-35 drones and is looking to purchase another 10.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Dumb comment of the month

According to the Washington Post:
             "U.S. military and intelligence officials said that Mullah Fazlullah, the mastermind of the attack on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, operates out a region adjoining Pakistan where several hundred US troops are stationed. But they said finding Fazlullah is not a priority because he is not affiliated with al-Qaeda or with insurgents targeting US and Afghan interests.
              “Our guys just aren’t tracking him,” a senior Special Operations official said. “He is viewed as an ‘other-side-of-the-border’ problem.” When asked if Fazlullah was a priority, a senior intelligence official responded, “Not with so many other potential targets” in Afghanistan."
Exactly the same way as the Haqqani Network is viewed in Pakistan, as just one of those 'other-side-of-the-border' problems.

Haqqanis' suicide trainer designated by State Dept

Here's the link to the US State Department's designation of Qari Zakir as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. The Haqqani Network itself was designated in September.
As chief of suicide operations for the Haqqani Network, Zakir has been responsible for some terrible atrocities, listed in the designation, which allows the US to freeze any assets of his it finds under its control.
Both Zakir and the Haqqani Network itself were also designated by the UN 1988 Sanctions Committee yesterday, which requires all UN member states to implement an assets freeze, a travel ban, and an arms embargo against them.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Asad Rahman dies after police beating

Asad Rahman, the well known social activist and legendary hero of the Baloch nationalist movement also known as Chakar Khan, died in Lahore on Tuesday.

Son of a former chief justice of Pakistan Supreme Court, Mr Rahman, 62, was an ardent advocate for Baloch rights, although a Punjabi himself. In the 1970s he was part of the London Group, a study circle in England that quit university to join Baloch fighters in the Marri hills to fight a guerrilla campaign.
Other prominent members of the London Group were Najam Sethi, the author Ahmed Rashid, Rashid Rahman (Asad's elder brother and now editor of the Daily Times in Pakistan), Dilip Dass and Mohammad Ali Talpur. You can read more about this extraordinary saga here.
In early September the Daily Times reported that Mr. Rahman, along with his 30-year-old son Mahmood, were badly beaten by Punjabi Police officers outside their home in Lahore - and later, in the police station - after they tried to save life of a rickshaw driver who had been injured in a road accident. It appears that he never recovered from the beating. The police officer accused of beating Mr Rahman, Sub-inspector Shabih Raza, was initially suspended from duty, but has since been transferred to active duty at another police station.

You can read a fuller obituary for Asad Rahman, written by Malik Siraj Akbar, here.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Role of UK psyops unit in Afghanistan

The MOD announced yesterday that the secretive 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group (15 POG) has been awarded the Firmin Sword of Peace in recognition of its work in Afghanistan. The award is given to "the unit or establishment of each Service judged to have made the most valuable contribution to humanitarian activities by establishing good and friendly relations with the inhabitants of any community at home or overseas".

Based at the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre at Chicksands near Bedford, 15 POG is a Tri-Service unit under Army command, subordinate to 1 Military Intelligence Brigade, Theatre Troops and LAND. Its members are made up of 37 regulars and 28 reservists from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army combat and combat support arms, Royal Air Force and RAF Regiment. More here.
Although it has existed in various forms since the Second World War, in its present form 15 POG attained initial Operating Capability only in 2007, when it was supplied with new multi-media equipment supplied through MOD DEC ISTAR Project DRUMGRANGE. These comprise mobile AM and FM commercial radio broadcast systems, TV editing suites and large-volume print production units, together with antennæ, power generators and various other ancillary needs.
In a little-reported aspect of the war in Afghanistan, a small team from 15 POG has been continuously deployed to Helmand for six years. "Working predominantly with the Afghan civilian population it has sought to inform, reassure, educate and through the promotion of free and unbiased discussion persuade Afghans that their futures are best served not with the Taliban, nor with ISAF, but with themselves and their elected government", says the MOD.
In addition, "The unit runs a network of radio stations employing local Afghan's as DJs, broadcasting music, poetry, debate programmes and even a Helmandi soap opera, as well as producing graphical posters and leaflets to communicate in an area where literacy rates are only around 20%."
They also run information campaigns to prevent children picking up spent ordnance they find, disseminating information from farming and veterinary workshops using their radio stations, and promoting debate on political issues of the day.
Speaking about the award, the Commanding Officer of 15 POG, Commander Steve Tatham Royal Navy, said:
"We are delighted that our work is being recognised by this award. We are proud of our achievements helping foster better relations with the Afghans and building a sense of community and nationality, and of our support Task Force Helmand's wider aims.
"The levels of literacy and technology in Helmand present challenges for us, but there is an appetite for information, education and debate that our work helps to satisfy. It is heartening to see how our work can directly improve people's lives, whether helping them participate in elections, improve their farming and livelihood, or promoting basic healthcare."
In case you are wondering about the deer's head emblem: "The Group adopted the stag's head formation sign in recognition of the sterling work carried out by the Indian Field Broadcast Units that supported the Chindit campaign against the Japanese in South East Asia. The deer’s antlers represent the combat support function of PSYOPS and the antennae associated with radio, a major means of disseminating PSYOPS messages."

Friday 26 October 2012

Useless USACE

A report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) looks into the problems at Camp Pamir, built by DynCorp for the Afghan Army. It appears to be a classic example of the gravy train principle, where a major contractor builds a load of shoddy facilities that begin to fall apart, but walks away from responsibility having been paid in full for its rubbish work.
Loo with a view
In 2010 SIGAR reported that the newly-built facilities at Camp Pamir in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan were at risk of structural failure because of poor site grading and serious soil stability issues. However, in December 2011 the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which had let the $72 million contract to DynCorp, released the company from further liability and warranty obligations. In doing so, the USACE did not comply with specific regulations that require an independent audit. As a result the Defense Department is now apparently responsible for sorting out the mess. Repair costs are estimated at $2 million.
This one cracked me up
SIGAR has asked the commanding officer of USACE to justify the cost of further repairs and submit the DynCorp settlement to an appropriate audit agency for review. They have also asked the CO to explain in writing why the settlement was determined to be fair and reasonable.

The pitfalls of development aid in Afghanistan

The publication yesterday of a Parliamentary report on British aid to Afghanistan - mostly ignored by the national press in Britain - paints a picture of failure on an almost operatic scale.
Despite acknowledged improvements to education (five million kids in school, compared to one million in 2001) and falls in child mortality, much of the aid effort is wasted, stolen or simply inappropriate. 

Donors have given around $30bn (£19bn) in development and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan since 2001, with the total rising each year. Afghanistan is now the world's largest recipient of official development assistance; 71% of its gross domestic product is funded by foreign aid. (Military aid over the same period, at $243bn, dwarfs humanitarian and development programmes). The UK is Afghanistan's third biggest donor, behind the US and EU institutions, having committed £178m annually up to 2014-15 and having increased spending in 2010 by 40%.
However, the size of the problems is enormous: an estimated nine million Afghans (nearly a third of the population) live in poverty. Child malnutrition is among the highest in the world; more than half of Afghan children (54%) are chronically malnourished (stunted), over a third (34%) are underweight and 72% of children under five suffer from key micronutrient deficiencies. One-third of the Afghan population cannot meet its daily caloric requirements and is considered chronically food insecure.
The report from the House of Commons International Development Committee notes that almost all the aid bypasses the Afghan government, which limits its ability to build public services and strengthen governance systems. Nor can it accurately track aid expenditure. The Afghan government itself can hardly absorb even the small percentage of aid donations it actually gets to spend. Aid does not get to the provinces and there are substantial problems of corruption and lack of project management skills.
BBC journalist David Loyn told the committee of the "aid juggernaut in Afghanistan, which has corrupted the elite of the country, corrupted people in the countryside and made it far harder for any of the effective international actors, such as DFID, to operate well within the country."
Donors seem to be unable to coordinate their efforts, although the UK's DFID is seen as better than others. And they all appear to have different strategies and objectives. One witness told the committee how lack of coordination was creating more conflict and confusion at a local level than it was solving.
Britain's aim, says the committee, should be to focus less on creating a viable state in Afghanistan and instead work at a local level to deliver "measurable benefits" to people. There should be a greater emphasis on providing services and alleviating poverty. And although DFID has spoken at length about women's rights in Afghanistan, the committee says it is concerned that this has not been followed by adequate action and funding. It recommends that girls' education be made a greater priority and that DFID fund women's shelters and legal advice for women. 

Incidentally, despite the importance of this subject, comparatively few aid organisations appear to have given evidence. Here's a list of witnesses who either spoke or submitted written evidence: 
Christian Aid, Amnesty International,Save the Children, Global Witness, Lael A. Mohib, ActionAid, Human Rights Watch, Met Office, British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group, International Rescue Committee, Shapur Amini (Afghan Academy International UK), Abdul Ehsan Mohmand, Oxfam, Naysan Adlparva, Adam Smith International, Afghan Council UK, Parliamentary Outreach,  David Loyn, (BBC Afghanistan and Development Correspondent), Mervyn Lee (Mercy Corps), David Haines, Howard Mollett (CARE International UK), Department for International Development (DFID), David Page (Chair of Trustees, Afghanaid), Professor Stuart Gordon (London School of Economics), Gerard Russell, (Afghanistan Analyst), Orzala Ashraf (Independent Civil Society Activist), Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, (Secretary of State for International Development), Rory Stewart MP. 

Thursday 25 October 2012

The cost of cheap clothing

German discount clothing retailer Kik  has agreed to pay compensation to victims of a factory fire in Karachi in which 258 workers were killed and 110 others injured, according to Der Spiegel online. Kik maintains it took 75% of the factory's output, although locals suggest up to 90% went to its European outlets.
Following the September blaze at the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi, which made ready-to-wear garments for export and employed 1,500 people in atrocious conditions, Kik agreed to pay an initial $500,000 to compensate victims and their families. This works out at less than $2,000 for each victim.
The Pakistan government has announced payments to each family of around $5,500 per family, but many have yet to receive their payments or their cheques have bounced.
Kik chain has  annual revenues of more than a billion euros and some 3,000 stores in eight countries. Two of the three Pakistani factory owners are facing murder charges.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

LUMS students campaign in support of professor

Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy is one of Pakistan's most respected scientists, a theoretical physicist who has a global reputation. He is a recipient of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize and the American Physical Society's Joseph A. Burton Award. He has made important contributions to our understanding of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) and the theory of quarks and gluons. More recently he has been interested in problems in condensed matter physics. 
He is also known as a great educator, anti-nuclear activist, environmental campaigner and someone who will not be cowed by right-wing or religious bigots.
After three decades at Qaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, last year he started working at Lahore University of Management Sciences. However, LUMS has just announced that it will not renew his contract - the reasons are not entirely clear but several sources are reporting it is because he has insisted on teaching a course on science and religion. Presumably he does not accept some of the more 'unusual' scientific theories taught by extreme Islamists.
Students at LUMS - once regarded as a liberal institution, but increasingly dominated by religious and political extremists - have started a petition urging the university to renew Professor Hoodbhoy's contract. You can sign a copy of it here

Monday 22 October 2012

The Limits to Justice, pt3

"James Connell, a lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks, on Friday insisted he doesn't know how to handle information pertaining to his client because the government won't explain what's classified. He could be prosecuted for mishandling classified evidence, he said, so "I treat everything at the highest classification level and drive my IT folks crazy." It also makes it extremely difficult for him to prepare his case. Connell said the National Security Agency created a document specifically explaining the classification of evidence in military commissions, but the government has refused to provide it to the defense. "It stuns me that no one will give us this information," he said."
From an article by Daphne Eviatar, Senior Counsel, Human Rights First
The Military Commission hearing the case at Guantanamo has been adjourned until early December.

Role of FBI in domestic terrorism cases

Trevor Aaronson has a remarkable article in the September/October issue of Mother Jones magazine, highlighting the extent to which the FBI relies on sting operations to catch and convict alleged terrorists.
He says that in the absence of any externally organised terrorist plots in the USA, the FBI is preoccupied with targetting 'lone wolf' operatives. 
Aaronson says in many cases paid FBI undercover agents - of whom there are said to be around 15,000 - often propose a plot, provide explosives, lead a target in making a fake oath to al-Qaeda and then organise the arrest and subsequent press conference.
He says nearly half the terrorism prosecutions in the US since 2001 involve informants, some of them earning as much as $100,000 for their efforts. Such sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants, of which 49 defendants participated in plots led by FBI agent provocateurs. A full list of the cases can be found here.
With only three exceptions, all the high-profile domestic terror plots in the last decade were actually FBI stings, including the Washington Metro bombing plot, the New York subway plot and the attempt to blow up the Sears Tower. As one former FBI officer concedes in the article, the uptick in successful terrorism convictions might not be evidence of a growing threat, so much as a greater focus by the FBI.

Friday 19 October 2012

Jorge tells it like it is

"Jorge is committed to the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. Our employees understand that the solutions we deliver are critical to our customers’ missions, many of which are matters of national security. Any improper activities, or even the appearance of impropriety, could damage Jorge’s ability to perform and result in serious adverse consequences for our customers, the Company and the individuals involved.
    As members of the Jorge team, we believe in the importance of our mission. We hold ourselves, our peers and our partners to the highest ethical standards because it is the foundation of our organization."

- From the Jorge Scientific website, the US defense contractor whose employees in Afghanistan were shown drunk and intoxicated on drugs in a video posted by ABC News.
The video, allegedly taken at an operations centre belonging to Jorge Scientific in Kabul, shows semi-naked men downing vodka shots and wrestling with each other. In one scene a man identified as the medic of the group is shown in a dazed state after shooting up with Ketamine, a strong anaesthetic. In another scene men are shown throwing live ammunition into a bonfire - for laughs.
Contractors working for the US Army are banned from using alcohol and drugs.

Thursday 18 October 2012

The Limits to Justice, pt2

More from the 9/11 pretrial hearings at Guantanamo, as reported in yesterday's LA Times:

"The government wants a protective order prohibiting the release of material from CIA "black sites," the secret prisons where the defendants were held before being moved to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. Defense lawyers complain that in addition to hampering them at trial, the restrictions block them from even discussing those events with their clients, including (Khalid Sheikh) Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times.
The issue is crucial to both sides. Prosecutors do not want trial jurors hearing about torture or other "enhanced interrogation techniques," and argue it would be a "sideshow" distracting from whether the defendants are guilty of conspiracy and terrorism in the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
But defense lawyers said that restriction would severely handicap them in strategizing on how best to defend the clients in the capital murder trial, tentatively scheduled to begin in May.
"They're holding our clients in isolation," said an exasperated Navy Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki, an attorney for Ramzi Binalshibh, who allegedly managed the terrorist cell that carried out the plane attacks at the Pentagon and in New York and Pennsylvania.
Cheryl Bormann, a lawyer for Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward, was equally frustrated with limited access to her client in the heavily guarded prison.
"He can't call me to say he's sick," she said. "We can't write to our clients. Now on top of it I have additional rules, and this protective order is completely unnecessary. It would be creating more difficulties.""
KSM's approved camo jacket

However, at the same hearing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed won the right to wear a camouflage jacket at his trial in Guantanamo Bay. (For my previous coverage of this issue, look here.) Judge Pohl yesterday stated that while the Guantanamo Bay commanders can determine what the 9/11 mastermind wears inside the prison, the court can determine what he wears whilst present at the court.

The strange world of Pakistan's Ulema

As the world comes to terms with the attempted murder of a Swati schoolgirl in Pakistan in the name of Islam, it is worth taking a closer look at some of the characters who speak out in the name of Islam in that country. One who has been in the news recently is Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, head of something called the Pakistan Ulema and Mashaikh Council.
In particular, there is the strange story of a reception at the German Embassy in Islamabad on 5 October. After leaving the event at 11pm, he seems to have disappeared. According to one report he was found by police on the outskirts of Islamabad a few hours later, asleep on the back seat of his car. A clearly intoxicated Ashrafi later told the police he had been kidnapped and injected with alcohol or some kind of poison. Some reports said three men from Waziristan had been questioned by police, although no charges have followed.

Maulana Tahir Ashrafi
The case was widely reported in Pakistan where Ashrafi is known for his sympathies towards the Taliban and to Deobandi Islam in general. You can read one version of the story here. However, a rather different account of the story can be  found on the Let Us Build Pakistan website which strongly suggests Ashrafi was more sinner than sinned against. Whether any of this has anything to do with the fact that Ashrafi came out against Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws in an article published on 3 September is anyone's guess. You decide.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

The Limits to Justice, pt1

Extract from Guardian's coverage of yesterday's Military Commission at Guantanamo:
"The judge, army Colonel James Pohl, declared it was not relevant in a discussion of whether the defendants had the right to voluntarily skip court sessions, according to Reuters.
Mohammed's lawyer, air force Captain Michael Schwartz, said forcibly removing them from their cells and hauling them into court would subject them to physical and emotional strain reminiscent of their time in CIA custody.
"We have to talk about torture," Schwartz said.
"No we don't," the judge replied.
"I think we do," Schwartz said.
"I'm telling you I don't think that's relevant to this issue. That's the end of that," Pohl snapped.
When Schwartz persisted, Pohl said angrily: "Are you having trouble hearing me? Move on to something else!"