Sunday, December 7, 2008

Interesting on Afganistan

Returned Afghan refugees at a camp in Chamtala in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Rafiq Maqbool/The Associated Press)

From Great Game to Grand Bargain
Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Barnett Rubin & Ahmed R. Rashid
From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008

Seven years after the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan commanders it supported pushed the leaderships of the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan, an insurgency that includes these and other groups is gaining ground on both the Afghan and the Pakistani sides of the border. Four years after Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election, the increasingly besieged government of Hamid Karzai is losing credibility at home and abroad. Al Qaeda has established a new safe haven in the tribal agencies of Pakistan, where it is defended by a new organization, the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. The government of Pakistan, beset by one political crisis after another and split between a traditionally autonomous military and assertive but fractious elected leaders, has been unable to retain control of its own territory and population. Its intelligence agency stands accused of supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, which in many ways has replaced Kashmir as the main arena of the still-unresolved struggle between Pakistan and India.


Afghanistan requires far larger and more effective security forces, international or national, but support for U.S. and NATO deployments is plummeting in troop-contributing countries, in the wider region, and in Afghanistan itself. Afghanistan, the poorest country in the world but for a handful in Africa and with the weakest government in the world (except Somalia, which has no government), will never be able to sustain national security forces sufficient to confront current -- let alone escalating -- threats, yet permanent foreign subsidies for Afghanistan's security forces cannot be guaranteed and will have destabilizing consequences. Moreover, measures aimed at Afghanistan will not address the deteriorating situation in Pakistan or the escalation of international conflicts connected to the Afghan-Pakistani war. More aid to Pakistan -- military or civilian -- will not diminish the perception among Pakistan's national security elite that the country is surrounded by enemies determined to dismember it, especially as cross-border raids into areas long claimed by Afghanistan intensify that perception. Until that sense of siege is gone, it will be difficult to strengthen civilian institutions in Pakistan.


Unfortunately, no government in the region around Afghanistan supports a long-term U.S. or NATO presence there. Pakistan sees even the current deployment as strengthening an India-allied regime in Kabul; Iran is concerned that the United States will use Afghanistan as a base for launching "regime change" in Tehran; and China, India, and Russia all have reservations about a NATO base within their spheres of influence and believe they must balance the threats from al Qaeda and the Taliban against those posed by the United States and NATO. Securing Afghanistan and its region will require an international presence for many years, but only a regional diplomatic initiative that creates a consensus to place stabilizing Afghanistan ahead of other objectives could make a long-term international deployment possible.


The Pakistani military does not control the insurgency, but it can affect its intensity. Putting pressure on Pakistan to curb the militants will likely remain ineffective, however, without a strategic realignment by the United States. The region is rife with conspiracy theories trying to find a rational explanation for the United States' apparently irrational strategic posture of supporting a "major non-NATO ally" that is doing more to undermine the U.S. position in Afghanistan than any other state. Many Afghans believe that Washington secretly supports the Taliban as a way to keep a war going to justify a troop presence that is actually aimed at securing the energy resources of Central Asia and countering China. Many in Pakistan believe that the United States has deceived Pakistan into conniving with Washington to bring about its own destruction: India and U.S.-supported Afghanistan will form a pincer around Pakistan to dismember the world's only Muslim nuclear power. And some Iranians speculate that in preparation for the coming of the Mahdi, God has blinded the Great Satan to its own interests so that it would eliminate both of Iran's Sunni-ruled regional rivals, Afghanistan and Iraq, thus unwittingly paving the way for the long-awaited Shiite restoration.

The true answer is much simpler: the Bush administration never reevaluated its strategic priorities in the region after September 11. Institutional inertia and ideology jointly assured that Pakistan would be treated as an ally, Iran as an enemy, and Iraq as the main threat, thereby granting Pakistan a monopoly on U.S. logistics and, to a significant extent, on the intelligence the United States has on Afghanistan. Eighty-four percent of the materiel for U.S. forces in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan, and the ISI remains nearly the sole source of intelligence about international terrorist acts prepared by al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan.

Taliban's Spiritual Fathers Denounce Terror. Could Taliban Be Next?
By Jeffrey Donovan, Abubakar Siddique
RFE/RL, November 18, 2008

In May, Darul Uloom Deoband Madrasah, located north of New Dehli, issued an unprecedented fatwa, or religious decree, against terrorism. Earlier this month, 4,000 senior Indian ulema and muftis -- Muslim clerics with the authority to interpret Islamic law -- backed the fatwa in a mass gathering in the city of Hyderabad.


Darul Uloom Deoband was formed about 150 years ago as a spiritual resistance movement to British rule. Over the years, its austere form of Sunni Islam, which harkens back to the early days of the faith, spread across northern India and what is now Pakistan. Thousands of madrasahs propagating its teachings cropped up across the region, including along the Afghan-Pakistan border. It is here that many Taliban, including leader Mullah Omar, received their schooling.With their teachers now coming out against terrorism, will the Taliban in Pakistan or Afghanistan follow suit? Madani is unsure. But he wants senior clerics from the eight member states of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to come together to debate whether to endorse the Deobandi decree.

Russia Opens Afghan Transit Route For NATO's Germany
By Ahto Lobjakas
RFE/RL, November 21, 2008

Germany has became the first NATO nation to win Russian permission to use the country's railways to transit military goods bound for Afghanistan.

Moscow certainly has a real interest in the stability of Afghanistan. Russia itself is home to an estimated 20 million people with Muslim backgrounds. Afghanistan's descent into chaos would also spell disaster for the strategically important and energy-rich Central Asian nations on Russia's highly exposed southern flank.But Russia now appears to prefer cultivating cooperation with some handpicked allies over forging links with the entire alliance. Thus, the Russian Foreign Ministry statement noted Germany will be permitted to transit "weapons, military equipment, and military goods."

German general breaks silence on Afghanistan
By Judy Dempsey
IHT, November 30, 2008

Germany was responsible for training the Afghan police, but the German Interior Ministry, led by the conservative Wolfgang Schäuble, has come under repeated criticism from the United States and other NATO allies for providing too few experts and inappropriate training.The training scheme was "a miserable failure," Ammon told DPA, the German press agency, after describing the German record in Afghanistan to a gathering last week of a reservists' association. The government had provided a mere €12 million for training the Afghan Army and police while the United States has already given more than $1 billion, he said."At that rate, it would take 82 years to have a properly trained police force," he said. More damaging for Germany's reputation, Ammon said, was that its police-training mission was considered such a "disaster" that the United States and EU had taken over responsibility

Strategy shift poses stiff challenge for Obama
By Michael R. Gordon
IHT, December 2, 2008

"Afghanistan is not Iraq," said Ali Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister, who projects that it will take 10 years to establish stability in the country. "It is the theme park of problems." One major difference is that Iraq is a heavily urbanized society. When President George W. Bush announced the Iraq troop surge, the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia was focusing its attacks on Baghdad. By deploying five additional combat brigades in and around the city, the United States was able to concentrate its combat power in the area that its primary foe had chosen as the main arena.

In Afghanistan, while there are important cities like Kandahar that experts say need to be protected, much of the population lives in rural areas. "Fifty percent of Afghans continue to live in villages of 300 persons or less, and 75 to 80 percent live in a rural environment," said J. Alexander Thier, an expert on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace, a government-financed research center. "The insurgency is rural-based."

Another critical difference pertains to the local army and the police who fight alongside the Americans. When the buildup began there were more than 300,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers. The quality of the Iraqi troops was uneven, and they depended on the Americans for airstrikes, artillery and some logistical support. But the Iraqi security forces demonstrated with their March offensive in Basra that they were able to deploy over long distances; and they have now expanded to more than 500,000.

In contrast, Afghanistan has a minuscule military for a nation with a population of 32 million — several million more than Iraq — and a territory that is a quarter larger than Iraq. The Afghan Army is nearly 70,000 strong, and the Afghan police number about 80,000, though many police officers are regarded as corrupt or ineffectual.

The conflict in Afghanistan is also complicated by a haven for militants just across the border in Pakistan, where a sympathetic Pashtun population is in control and has been able practically to ignore the Pakistani central government. For the military effort in Afghanistan to succeed, the Pakistani military would have to establish control of much of that lawless territory: a formidable task that would require a new emphasis on counterinsurgency by the Pakistani military and a greater willingness on the part of Pakistani leaders, who may be distracted by the flare-up of tensions with India after the attacks in Mumbai last week.

For all that, the political weakness of the Afghan government may be American officials' biggest worry. While Iraq is rife with sectarian tension and political rivalries, Iraqis have a tradition of a strong centralized state. In Afghanistan, power has long been decentralized and distributed, and there is broad dissatisfaction with President Hamid Karzai, who is expected to campaign for re-election next year. In Afghanistan, there is no memory of a centralized state," said Marvin Weinbaum, a former analyst in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and a scholar at the Middle East Institute. "What they do have is a memory of a central government of limited scope and limited reach. Their expectations were driven up by our rhetoric and our proposals, and now somehow we have to find a way to meet those expectations."

Another reason sectarian violence declined so drastically in Iraq was the alignment of Sunni tribes with American forces. The Sunni Awakening in Anbar Province was under way before the surge, but the arrival of additional troops reinforced the effort there and encouraged the growth of Awakening movements in other parts of Iraq. In Afghanistan, the tribal network is far more fragmented, and commanders are wary of building up the strength of one tribe for fear of alienating a rival tribe.


Afghan refugees return home to a life of desperation

By Adam B. Elick IHT, December 3, 2008

In Pakistan, they lived in poor but industrious refugee settlements. Men held down manual-labor jobs, and most Afghans had homes, however spartan. Pakistan played host for decades. Although it still maintains dozens of camps, Pakistan closed two large camps in North-West Frontier Province near the Afghan border during the past 18 months, saying they had become sanctuaries for militant groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban.The nation's largest camp, Jalozai, was closed in May, forcing 110,000 Afghans to choose between two bleak options: relocate within Pakistan or return home.With Pakistan suffering from a food and fuel crisis, and with rent prices soaring in nearby cities like Peshawar, the answer was easy enough for 70 percent of them....


No Dream for Karzai

The Economist, December 4, 2008

The new administration is collecting champions of the Afghan problem. The vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a veteran of many visits to the region. The next secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has called Afghanistan and Pakistan the “forgotten front-line” in the war on terror, and has advocated the appointment of a special envoy to the two countries. If she gets her way, a probable candidate for the job is her old ally, Richard Holbrooke, a former American ambassador to the UN. He is also the chairman of the New York-based Asia Society and sits on its task-force on Afghanistan with Barnett Rubin, an expert on the country.

A dream team of Afghanistan-watchers, however, may be a nightmare for Mr Karzai, who enjoys a hearty, backslapping friendship with the loyal Mr Bush. Mr Obama has been sharply critical of him for not having “gotten out of the bunker” to organise the country in a way that would build confidence.


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