Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Images of "heaven" for young suicide bombers

Below is a report by the Pakistan Times on the kind of training ("brainwashing"?) that the Taliban give to young men whom they want to become human bombs. It speaks for itself. RLC

Taliban create artificial 'jannat' to lure suicide bombers
PTI - Peshawar, December 12, 2009

Taliban fighters in Pakistan's lawless South Waziristan tribal region created an artificial "jannat" (heaven) that they used to brainwash teenagers into becoming suicide bombers, describing it as a depiction of the place they would go to after carrying out attacks.

The "jannat" was part of a sprawling militant-held compound in Nawazkot area that was recently captured by security forces after intense fighting.

A group of journalists were yesterday shown the facility where boys aged 12 to 18 years were turned into human suicide bombs under the supervision of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

The "heaven" consisted of four rooms, each with crude paintings of "jannat" or paradise, which is depicted as a place with lush green fields and trees, flowing rivers of milk and honey, lofty mountains and homes with red roofs and blue walls.

The "jannat" also depicted other heavenly pleasures awaiting suicide bombers after their "martyrdom", army officials told the journalists.

Some paintings showed "hoors" (angels) who live in heaven.

The walls of the rooms had slogans saluting the Taliban and the names of would-be suicide bombers were written in blood on them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Syed Saleem Shahzad on the unsettled life of Al Qaeda leaders

Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online has the fullest treatment of the location of major leaders of AlQaeda that I have seen in a long time. RLC

Osama can run, how long can he hide?
Asia Times By Syed Saleem Shahzad 12/11/2009

"I believe that al-Qaeda can be defeated overall but I believe it is an ideology and he [Osama bin Laden] is an iconic leader, so I think to complete the destruction of that organization, it does mean that he needs to be either captured or killed, or brought to justice."- General Stanley McChrystal, United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander in Afghanistan

"We don't know for a fact where Osama bin Laden is, if we did, we'd go get him." Robert Gates, a former US Central Intelligence Agency director and the current defense secretary.

ISLAMABAD - General Stanley McChrystal, as in the testimony quoted above to United States congressional committees this week, is unequivocal on the need to first roll back Taliban gains in Afghanistan as a prerequisite for the capture or elimination of Osama bin Laden and then the "ultimate defeat of al-Qaeda".

Apart from the difficulty of rolling back the Taliban, despite an additional 30,000 US troops surging into the country, US intelligence, as per admissions this month, are further away from catching bin Laden than they were eight years ago, when US forces notoriously let him slip through their grasp in the Tora Bora mountains.

There is little dispute that bin Laden and his close associates, including his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, move around in the vast and inhospitable mountainous territory that straddles the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; the porous border exists only as a line on a map.

"Intelligence reports suggest that the al-Qaeda chief is somewhere inside North Waziristan, sometimes on the Pakistani side of the border, sometimes on the Afghan side of the border," US National Security Adviser James Jones said this week. The US has a US$50 million bounty for the "capture, killing or information leading to the capture or killing" of bin Laden. This had been doubled from $25 million in 2007. He remains on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list.

Apart from one legal border crossing, 15 mountain passes are frequently used to travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan, by militants, traders, smugglers and innocent travelers. These paths originate in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and feed into the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan, Khost, Pakita and Paktika.

It is this area that will become the stage for the next chapter in the hunt for bin Laden, with US forces on the Afghan side and Pakistan troops on the other. The theory is that al-Qaeda and its allies will be caught in the middle.

Interaction with generally well-connected militant sources leads Asia Times Online to believe that bin Laden, 52, is alive and healthy, despite a history of kidney trouble. Since the construction of a US base in 2007 at the intersection of the Afghan province of Kunar and Bajaur Agency in Pakistan, bin Laden is confirmed to have flitted from place to place on either side of the border.

He is definitely known to have spent time in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, but all sources say that nowadays he is more often than not in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden has numerous safe houses and is protected by a strong network of diehards in the Pakistani tribal areas, in addition to an intelligence network on both sides of the border that has to date managed to stay a step ahead of both Western and Pakistani intelligence.

Top Taliban and other commanders adopt a similar pattern in avoiding the attention of unwelcome visitors. Even though a former Afghan premier, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is known to move around Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan, he remains at large. Hekmatyar also makes brief trips into the adjacent Pakistani regions of Chitral and Dir.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, runs the largest and most effective Taliban network in Afghanistan. He moves in the provinces of Khost and Paktia, and also in North Waziristan, always one step ahead of his pursuers - including drones.

Similarly, Ilyas Kashmiri, now one of al-Qaeda's most wanted men as he is intimately involved in defining and directing al-Qaeda's and the Taliban's struggle, moves between bases of operation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, never staying in one place for more than a night or two.

Not so fortunate was Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader killed in a drone attack earlier this year. He stayed only in the districts of Ladha and Makeen in South Waziristan and did not have other sanctuaries, making it easier to track him down.

The difficulty in trying to trace bin Laden is that he moves across such a broad area, and that, unlike even the Taliban, there is no defined target. Coalition forces have a broad idea of where the Taliban's command centers are and in which areas to expect resistance.

By comparison, bin Laden and his few dozen al-Qaeda deputies are shadows shifting across an endless landscape on which Taliban fighters, Pakistani tribal people and jihadi youths are more visible.

There is no recent credible first-hand information on when bin Laden was last seen. A few Taliban fighters who were arrested a few weeks ago could only share with their American interrogators what they had heard from their contacts - that bin Laden had moved between North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

It is safe to assume that he has not been in South Waziristan since the Pakistani military began major operations there about two months ago to take on the Pakistani Taliban. His most likely immediate destination would have been Khost, directly across the border.

Such speculation, though, has been around for years and bin Laden is nowhere nearer to being caught, let alone his chasers seeing his dust trail. Indeed, from the Pakistani perspective, their last verifiable sighting was in September 2003 near Bush Mountain in the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan. By the time the army arrived, he had long gone; all that was left were first-hand accounts of his having resided in the area.

All the same, the net might be getting tighter. Late on Thursday night, CBS News reported that a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone had killed a top al-Qaeda official in the Pakistani border area. Unnamed officials said the person killed was not bin Laden or Zawahiri, but that he was "one of the top five terrorists on the US wanted list", according to the report.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Anthropologist's insights on the Taliban and Al Qaeda

It's a joy to read an informed statement of the situation in Afghanistan/Pakistan by someone who has both a sense of the situation on the ground and a detailed grasp of the history that relates to that situation. Scott Atran is an anthropologist who has been helping the American military think about the situation they have to deal with in the South Asian war. I'm thankful that the New York Times would publish his perspectyive. RLC

To Beat Al Qaeda, Look to the East

Published: December 12, 2009

IN testimony last week before Congress, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, insisted that President Obama’s revised war strategy will “build support for the Afghan government,” while Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, vowed that it will “absolutely” succeed in disrupting and degrading the Taliban.

Confidence is important, but we also have to recognize that the decision to commit 30,000 more troops to a counterinsurgency effort against a good segment of the Afghan population, with the focus on converting a deeply unpopular and corrupt regime into a unified, centralized state for the first time in that country’s history, is far from a slam dunk. In the worst case, the surge may push General McChrystal’s “core goal of defeating Al Qaeda” further away.

Al Qaeda is already on the ropes globally, with ever-dwindling financial and popular support, and a drastically diminished ability to work with other extremists worldwide, much less command them in major operations. Its lethal agents are being systematically hunted down, while those Muslims whose souls it seeks to save are increasingly revolted by its methods.

Unfortunately, this weakening viral movement may have a new lease on life in Afghanistan and Pakistan because we are pushing the Taliban into its arms. By overestimating the threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we are making it a greater threat to Pakistan and the world. Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan are unlike Iraq, the ancient birthplace of central government, or 1960s Vietnam, where a strong state was backing the Communist insurgents. Afghanistan and Pakistan must be dealt with on their own terms.

We’re winning against Al Qaeda and its kin in places where antiterrorism efforts are local and built on an understanding that the ties binding terrorist networks today are more cultural and familial than political. Consider recent events in Southeast Asia.

In September, Indonesian security forces killed Noordin Muhammad Top, then on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted terrorist list. Implicated in the region’s worst suicide bombings — including the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in Jakarta last July 17 — Noordin Top headed a splinter group of the extremist religious organization Jemaah Islamiyah (he called it Al Qaeda for the Malaysian Archipelago). Research by my colleagues and me, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department, reveals three critical factors in such groups inspired by Al Qaeda, all of which local security forces implicitly grasp but American counterintelligence workers seem to underestimate.

What binds these groups together? First is friendship forged through fighting: the Indonesian volunteers who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan styled themselves the Afghan Alumni, and many kept in contact when they returned home after the war. The second is school ties and discipleship: many leading operatives in Southeast Asia come from a handful of religious schools affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah. Out of some 30,000 religious schools in Indonesia, only about 50 have a deadly legacy of producing violent extremists. Third is family ties; as anyone who has watched the opening scene from “The Godfather” knows, weddings can be terrific opportunities for networking and plotting.

Understanding these three aspects of terrorist networking has given law enforcement a leg up on the jihadists. Gen. Tito Karnavian, the leader of the strike team that tracked down Noordin Top, told me that “knowledge of the interconnected networks of Afghan Alumni, kinship and marriage groups was very crucial to uncovering the inner circle of Noordin.”

Consider Noordin Top’s third marriage, which cemented ties to key suspects in the lead-up to the recent hotel bombings. His father-in-law, who founded a Jemaah Islamiyah-related boarding school, stashed explosives in his garden with the aid of another teacher at the school. Using electronic intercepts and tracing family, school and alumni ties, police officers found the cache in late June 2009. That discovery may have prompted Noordin Top to initiate the hotel attacks ahead of a planned simultaneous attack on the residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In addition, an Afghan Alumnus and nephew of Noordin Top’s father-in-law was being pursued by the police for his role in a failed plot to blow up a tourist cafe on Sumatra. Unfortunately, Noordin Top struck the hotels before the Indonesian police could penetrate the entire network, in part because another family group was still operating under the police radar. This group included a florist who smuggled the bombs into the hotels and a man whose eventual arrest led to discovery of the plot against the president. Both terrorists were married to sisters of a Yemeni-trained imam who recruited the hotel suicide bombers, and of another brother who had infiltrated Indonesia’s national airline.

Had the police pulled harder on the pieces of social yarn they had in hand, they might have unraveled the hotel plot earlier. Still, their work thwarted attacks planned for the future, including that on the president.

Similarly, security officials in the Philippines have combined intelligence from American and Australian sources with similar tracking efforts to crack down on their terrorist networks, and as a result most extremist groups are either seeking reconciliation with the government — including the deadly Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the island of Mindanao — or have devolved into kidnapping-and-extortion gangs with no ideological focus. The separatist Abu Sayyaf Group, once the most feared force in the region, now has no overall spiritual or military leaders, few weapons and only a hundred or so fighters.

So, how does this relate to a strategy against Al Qaeda in the West and in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Al Qaeda’s main focus is harming the United States and Europe, but there hasn’t been a successful attack in these places directly commanded by Osama bin Laden and company since 9/11. The American invasion of Afghanistan devastated Al Qaeda’s core of top personnel and its training camps. In a recent briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. case officer, said that recent history “refutes claims by some heads of the intelligence community that all Islamist plots in the West can be traced back to the Afghan-Pakistani border.” The real threat is homegrown youths who gain inspiration from Osama bin Laden but little else beyond an occasional self-financed spell at a degraded Qaeda-linked training facility.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq encouraged many of these local plots, including the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In their aftermaths, European law and security forces stopped plots from coming to fruition by stepping up coordination and tracking links among local extremists, their friends and friends of friends, while also improving relations with young Muslim immigrants through community outreach. Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have taken similar steps.

Now we need to bring this perspective to Afghanistan and Pakistan — one that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with Western-style aid programs, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure. Reading a thousand years of Arab and Muslim history would show little in the way of patterns that would have helped to predict 9/11, but our predicament in Afghanistan rhymes with the past like a limerick.

A key factor helping the Taliban is the moral outrage of the Pashtun tribes against those who deny them autonomy, including a right to bear arms to defend their tribal code, known as Pashtunwali. Its sacred tenets include protecting women’s purity (namus), the right to personal revenge (badal), the sanctity of the guest (melmastia) and sanctuary (nanawateh). Among all Pashtun tribes, inheritance, wealth, social prestige and political status accrue through the father’s line.

This social structure means that there can be no suspicion that the male pedigree (often traceable in lineages spanning centuries) is “corrupted” by doubtful paternity. Thus, revenge for sexual misbehavior (rape, adultery, abduction) warrants killing seven members of the offending group and often the “offending” woman. Yet hospitality trumps vengeance: if a group accepts a guest, all must honor him, even if prior grounds justify revenge. That’s one reason American offers of millions for betraying Osama bin Laden fail.

Afghan hill societies have withstood centuries of would-be conquests by keeping order with Pashtunwali in the absence of central authority. When seemingly intractable conflicts arise, rival parties convene councils, or jirgas, of elders and third parties to seek solutions through consensus.

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

American-sponsored “reconciliation” efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban may be fatally flawed if they include demands that Pashtun hill tribes give up their arms and support a Constitution that values Western-inspired rights and judicial institutions over traditions that have sustained the tribes against all enemies.

THE secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, suggest that victory in Afghanistan is possible if the Taliban who pursue self-interest rather than ideology can be co-opted with material incentives. But as the veteran war reporter Jason Burke of The Observer of London told me: “Today, the logical thing for the Pashtun conservatives is to stop fighting and get rich through narcotics or Western aid, the latter being much lower risk. But many won’t sell out.”

Why? In part because outsiders who ignore local group dynamics tend to ride roughshod over values they don’t grasp. My research with colleagues on group conflict in India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories found that helping to improve lives materially does little to reduce support for violence, and can even increase it if people feel such help compromises their most cherished values.

The original alliance between the Taliban and Al Qaeda was largely one of convenience between a poverty-stricken national movement and a transnational cause that brought it material help. American pressure on Pakistan to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda in their sanctuary gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban, who forged their own ties to Al Qaeda to fight the Pakistani state.

While some Taliban groups use the rhetoric of global jihad to inspire ranks or enlist foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban show no inclination to go after Western interests abroad. Their attacks, which have included at least three assaults near nuclear facilities, warrant concerted action — but in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan. As Mr. Sageman, the former C.I.A. officer, puts it: “There’s no Qaeda in Afghanistan and no Afghans in Qaeda.”

Pakistan has long preferred a policy of “respect for the independence and sentiment of the tribes” that was advised in 1908 by Lord Curzon, the British viceroy of India who established the North-West Frontier Province as a buffer zone to “conciliate and contain” the Pashtun hill tribes. In 1948, Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, removed all troops from brigade level up in Waziristan and other tribal areas in a plan aptly called Operation Curzon.

The problem today is that Al Qaeda is prodding the Pakistani Taliban to hit state institutions in the hopes of provoking a full-scale invasion of the tribal areas by the Pakistani Army; the idea is that such an assault would rally the tribes to Al Qaeda’s cause and threaten the state. The United States has been pushing for exactly that sort of potentially disastrous action by Islamabad. But holding to Curzon’s line may still be Pakistan’s best bet. The key in the Afghan-Pakistani area, as in Southeast Asia, is to use local customs and networks to our advantage. Of course, counterterrorism measures are only as effective as local governments that execute them. Afghanistan’s government is corrupt, unpopular and inept.

Besides, there’s really no Taliban central authority to talk to. To be Taliban today means little more than to be a Pashtun tribesman who believes that his fundamental beliefs and customary way of life are threatened. Although most Taliban claim loyalty to Afghanistan’s Mullah Omar, this allegiance varies greatly. Many Pakistani Taliban leaders — including Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by an American drone in August, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud — rejected Mullah Omar’s call to forgo suicide bombings against Pakistani civilians.

In fact, it is the United States that holds today’s Taliban together. Without us, their deeply divided coalition could well fragment. Taliban resurgence depends on support from those notoriously unruly hill tribes in Pakistan’s border regions, who are unsympathetic to the original Taliban program of homogenizing tribal custom and politics under one rule.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Taliban were to sever ties to Mr. bin Laden if he became a bigger headache to them than America. Al Qaeda may have close relations to the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban leader living in Pakistan, and the Shabi Khel branch of the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan, but it isn’t wildly popular with many other Taliban factions and forces.

Unlike Al Qaeda, the Taliban are interested in their homeland, not ours. Things are different now than before 9/11. The Taliban know how costly Osama bin Laden’s friendship can be. There’s a good chance that enough factions in the loose Taliban coalition would opt to disinvite their troublesome guest if we forget about trying to subdue them or hold their territory. This would unwind the Taliban coalition into a lot of straggling, loosely networked groups that could be eliminated or contained using the lessons learned in Indonesia and elsewhere. This means tracking down family and tribal networks, gaining a better understanding of family ties and intervening only when we see actions by Taliban and other groups to aid Al Qaeda or act outside their region.

To defeat violent extremism in Afghanistan, less may be more — just as it has been elsewhere in Asia.

Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, John Jay College and the University of Michigan, is the author of the forthcoming “Listen to the Devil.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

A deadliine? Ahmed Rashid

A Deadline We Can Believe In?: Advantage: Taliban
NY Times By AHMED RASHID Op-Ed Contributor December 11, 2009
Lahore, Pakistan - WHILE President Obama deliberated three months before
releasing his new Afghan surge strategy, his decision actually muddied the
waters as far as American credibility in Afghanistan and Pakistan is
concerned, and created misapprehensions in Europe.

Many NATO allies were thunderstruck at the deadline announcement. The
British, who have the second-largest contingent in Afghanistan, have said
their 10,000-troop presence in Helmand Province will not be affected by any
timeline. Senior administration officials have spent the last week in Europe
and in Afghanistan and Pakistan rowing back on what the president said,
insisting that the plan is flexible.

In the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, most people are of two minds. They would
like the Americans to leave soon, but don't want to lose their front-line
status in the war on terrorism, which brings vast amounts of American aid.
Despite widespread anti-Americanism on the streets, the ruling elites are
nervous about being dumped by America, as they were in 1989 after the
Soviets withdrew.

Much of the confusion was the fault of President Obama himself. He should
have devoted far more time in his West Point speech to thoroughly explaining
the 18-month timeline. It seems almost as though his speechwriters got no
input from the Afghan experts working for Richard Holbrooke, the American
envoy here, who could have told them how poorly it would play in the region.

On the battlefield, there is no doubt that extra troops deployed in the east
and south of Afghanistan will help in retaking areas now held by the
Taliban. But the fear is that the Taliban will melt into the north and west
of the country, where NATO troops operate under caveats that limit their
ability to go on the offensive. Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai has
contradicted the Obama plan by saying that the Afghan Army and police will
not be ready for five years.

Nor has President Obama outlined exactly what the civilian surge hopes to
achieve. He has ruled out nation-building, but that is precisely what
Afghanistan needs. Most important is building a functional Afghan economy
with permanent jobs in place of the temporary positions provided by the
present donor-driven development projects.

Pakistan remains the biggest problem. While President Asif Ali Zardari has
said all the things Washington wants to hear, there is no agreement as yet
from the Pakistan military to go after the Afghan Taliban strongholds in
Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Provinces. The Pakistan military is
unlikely to act unless there is a parallel movement by the Americans to
defuse Indo-Pakistani tensions over Kashmir, and unless India is more
willing to reduce its forces on Pakistan's eastern border.

We can understand the president's serious domestic constraints — the
economy, health care and Congressional elections next year. But this is all
the more reason to make sure that the United States and NATO can deliver
success in the next 18 months and get all the nations in this region to back
their efforts. All this could have been done without an arbitrary timeline.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central
Asia” and “Descent Into Chaos.”
Back to Top <>

A great article by Newsweek on the Afghanistan/Pakistan war

It's great that some of our journalists are addressing some of the fantasies that have been promoted about the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova of Newsweek provide a helpful response to those who promote the notion that the current war is like the Soviet/ Mujahedin war of the 1980s. RLC

Learning From the Soviets
By Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova | NEWSWEEK Dec 11, 2009 [From the magazine
issue dated Dec 21, 2009]

Talk to Russian veterans of Afghanistan and it's hard not to think that
they're rooting for the U.S. to lose. For these proud men, seeing NATO
succeed at a job they botched would deepen the humiliation of defeat. Easier
to affirm that if the Soviets couldn't win there, no one can. "We did not
succeed and you will not either," says Gen. Victor Yermakov, who commanded
Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1983. "They didn't trust us. They
won't trust you." Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, who served in Afghanistan under
the occupation and has just completed a four-year term as Russia's envoy in
the country, is no more optimistic. "We tried to impose communism. You are
trying to impose democracy," he says. "There is no mistake made by the
Soviet Union that the international community has not repeated."

Such unrelenting bearishness is hardly encouraging, and there are undeniably
echoes of the Soviet experience in President Barack Obama's new Afghan
surge. Obama is doubling down on his attempt to do what no foreign power
ever has: defeat an Afghan insurgency and leave behind a stable and
legitimate local regime. The Soviets' misadventures in Afghanistan—begun 30
years ago this Christmas Eve—faced many similar challenges: managing tribal
politics, stemming support for insurgents from over the border in Pakistan,
creating a credible government in Kabul and viable local security forces,
and containing civilian casualties. Yet the differences are equally
profound, and they suggest that America may just manage to succeed where
Russia failed—in part by learning from its own and the Soviets' mistakes.

Moscow's troubles in Afghanistan started nearly the moment the war began,
with a deluge of international condemnation far stronger than the Soviet
leaders ever expected. The U.S. imposed trade sanctions and boycotted the
1980 Moscow Olympics. Obama today finds himself in a very different
position. The NATO campaign enjoys wide international support—including from
Russia, in spirit at least.

But the most important difference between then and now is that the Taliban
isn't backed by a superpower supplying it with money and deadly weapons.
That makes it a far less formidable enemy than the mujahedin of the 1980s,
who were enthusiastically supported and armed by the U.S. and Pakistan.
Washington suspects, with reason, that many of the old insurgents still
fighting today—notably Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani—are getting
covert support from elements in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence
agency. But even if that's true, the ISI's current involvement is nothing
like that of the old days, not least because Pakistan's civilian government
officially opposes the Taliban and had even made sporadic attempts to fight
it. A generation ago, Stinger missiles, supplied to the rebels in large
numbers after 1986 thanks to a campaign by U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson,
effectively robbed the Soviets of their air superiority. Today's Taliban has
no such technological advantage, and few friends. As a result, "the
Americans are in a much better position than we ever were," says Yuri
Krupnov, director of Russia's Institute of Regional Development, which
promotes Russian-Afghan ties. "This will not be a second Vietnam."

Another reason he's probably right is that NATO is proving better at
learning from Moscow's mistakes than the Soviets were. Take civilian
casualties. Initial military victory came almost effortlessly for both the
Soviets and NATO. But both powers soon stepped on the same rake: losing
hearts and minds by accidentally hitting civilian targets. Yermakov recalls
ordering his troops to mine the irrigation channels around the town of
Gardez in 1983. Many dushmany (a pejorative local term for the mujahedin)
were blown up, but so were channels essential for local farmers. "At one
point our aviation destroyed half of Kandahar because somebody did not get
the right instructions," says Alexander Shkirando, a fluent Pashto and Farsi
speaker who spent 10 years in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a political and
military adviser. NATO has made similar blunders—notably two bombings of
wedding parties in Kunduz and Uruzgan—but on nothing like the same scale.
The exact number of Afghan civilian casualties during the Soviet campaign is
hard to come by, but estimates range from 700,000 to more than a million.
According to the United Nations, combined civilian deaths directly and
indirectly caused by the latest war range from 12,000 to 30,000.

The Americans have been careful to avoid the wanton brutality of the Soviets
not only on the battlefield but in their treatment of prisoners too. Even
before U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal commissioned a review earlier
this year, the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004 led to an improvement in the
treatment of detainees at the U.S. interrogation camp at Bagram. And as dire
as conditions at Bagram may have been, they were nothing compared with the
abuse committed by the Soviets' proxy force of Afghan secret police, who
murdered at least 27,000 political prisoners at their notorious detention
center at Pul-e-Charkhi. Russians like to compare the Soviet and U.S.
occupations: Krupnov asks, "Who is more imperialist, the Soviets or the
Americans?" In reality, however, there's a world of difference in the two
armies' behavior.

The Soviets tried a surge of their own in 1984–85, boosting troop levels to
118,000 to clear rebel areas like the lower Panjshir Valley and the
strategic road to Khost. But it didn't work. The mujahedin would "melt away
like mist," recalls Paulius Purickis, an ethnic Lithuanian draftee who
served as a sergeant. "We were never able to engage them in a head-on
battle," he says. General McChrystal hopes to avoid that problem with the
extra troops being made available to him, which will allow him to "clear and
hold" whole provinces, with small forward posts used to befriend and gather
intelligence from locals.

The Soviets also tried to win hearts and minds, of course. But they left
that job to the KGB, with dismal results. Today, rather than run a network
of secret torture centers as the Soviets' proxy Mohammad Najibullah did,
President Hamid Karzai has set himself up as a defender of the rights of
Afghans detained in U.S.-run prisons, something that plays well with the

The Soviets also bungled the process of building relations with tribal
leaders. Vasily Kravtsov spent 12 years in Afghanistan, rising to become the
ranking KGB officer in Kandahar responsible for establishing an Afghan
security and intelligence service in the area. Pashtun tribal politics were
Kravtsov's specialty, and the bane of his life. The problem was, in part, a
communist agenda to enlighten the Afghans by replacing religious schools
with secular ones and to undermine the authority of local mullahs. "We made
stupid ideological mistakes," says Gen. Ruslan Aushev, one of the most
decorated Russian commanders of the Afghan war. "We told the Muslim people
that religion was the opium of the masses!" U.S. officials have tried to be
more culturally sensitive: as McChrystal put it in a recently leaked report,
the American military is shifting away from "an excessively defensive
posture to enable the troops to engage with the Afghan people."

Perhaps the closest parallel—and the area with the most lessons for
Washington today—is in how to shore up the local government. And here again
there is reason for optimism. Moscow's puppet Najibullah was weak and
unpopular and ended up hanging from a lamppost soon after his patrons went
home. Karzai is also little loved. But for all his troubles, he's in a far
better position than his predecessor, for despite electoral gerrymandering
and allegations of corruption, Karzai is still more popular than any other
politician in the country.

That's a huge asset, for getting local government right is probably the
ultimate key to success or failure. To do that, Washington should probably
make a point of ignoring the Russians' advice. Today Russian veterans insist
that the main reason for their failure was their attempt to impose a foreign
mindset on an age-old system of tribal alliances: "Forget your ideas of
bringing democracy there," says Yermakov. But communism wasn't the real
problem, and neither is democracy. Indeed, democracy may be the solution.
Najibullah's government fell not because it was secular and socialist but
because it disintegrated under the twin evils of tribalism and corruption.
Moscow grafted a veneer of communism onto a narrow, repressive, and widely
hated Pashtun tribal clique that was no match for the mujahedin. This
suggests that the key today is to support a government that's as inclusive,
democratic, and accountable as possible. That means doing everything in
Washington's power to get Karzai to clean up his act. The United States,
with its rapid adaptation, has already shown it is in better shape than any
previous invader to win the Afghan war on the ground. The challenge now is
to also avoid repeating Russia's mistakes on the way out—and to become the
first foreign force to leave Afghanistan in better shape than it found it.

Robin Wright on what's at stake in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war

Many of us have been trying to say that the stakes in Afghanistan are higher than most Americans recognize, so I appreciate Robin Wright’s formulation of the issues in the Washington Post yesterday. The point is: the issues are serious and the long term consequences are momentous. The most interesting thing she says here is, “Bin Ladenism can't provide answers to everyday challenges such as education, housing, jobs and health care. There's an air of fatigue about al-Qaeda; it's becoming somewhat passé. The search is on for something better.” Yes. Indeed, many populations around the world are looking for something better. The American project in Afghanistan is being watched closely. Will the Americans again cut and run? Will they follow through? This is Obama's -- and the Western world's -- burden. RLC

The real stakes in Afghanistan
Washington Post
By Robin Wright Thursday, December 10, 2009

Oddly, President Obama's West Point speech never probed the critical long-term stakes for the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three issues central to the outcome should enter the public debate as his strategy is launched. The first is America's place in the world in the 21st century. Officials from Moscow to Beijing, from Iran's revolutionaries to Somalia's pirates, will scrutinize this last-ditch U.S. effort -- and weigh their actions, reactions and interactions with the United States on how Obama's effort fares.

Failure by the world's mightiest military power, backed by the largest military alliance, to uproot the Taliban -- a force without an air force, armored corps, long-range artillery, satellite intelligence or powerful foreign backer -- would vividly illustrate the limits of U.S. power. The consequences could dwarf those of the defeat in Vietnam, even if the loss of life was smaller.

The era of a unipolar or uni-power world is effectively over, but a U.S. failure in Afghanistan and Pakistan could mark its formal end, just as it did for the bipolar world when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. Indeed, the period from Vietnam to Afghanistan -- with withdrawals under pressure from Hezbollah extremists in Lebanon and warlords in Somalia along the way -- could come to be seen as the period marking the demise of American power.

And not just "gun" power. At its core, American power is also supposed to be about moral power -- using might to confront, contain or prevent fascist, totalitarian or unjust regimes from unacceptable aggression, repression or injustice. American power has been abused. Neither party has clean hands. But few other nations have been willing or able to assume that role.

U.S. standing in the Islamic world is also at stake. The historic rule of thumb is that winners have influence; losers don't. Winners get to set standards. Their ideas get more attention. Their leaders gain greater authority.

And the outcome of the U.S. confrontation with various branches of al-Qaeda and the Taliban is pivotal to the future of the Islamic world. Almost a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Muslim world is at a crossroads. Polls show key Muslim societies are increasingly rejecting extremism -- even if respondents are still not enamored of the United States. Vast numbers of Muslims now recognize that Bin Ladenism can't provide answers to everyday challenges such as education, housing, jobs and health care. There's an air of fatigue about al-Qaeda; it's becoming somewhat passé. The search is on for something better.

U.S. strategy in South Asia is now based not only on defeat of the forces behind the Sept. 11 attacks; it's also designed to help build credible alternatives to extremist ideologies and governance. Winning on this front in Pakistan and Afghanistan is as important -- and potentially harder -- than the military campaign. The winner is likely to have greater sway among the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. And "winner" means not so much the United States as the principles, such as more accountable government, modern education and economic opportunity from legitimate trades.

Finally, U.S. interests in the wider region are also at stake, notably on two fronts.

Obama's strategy will deeply affect India, the world's largest democracy. Long-standing tensions between Pakistan and India have taken the world closer to the brink of nuclear war than any conflict has since World War II -- and still could, since Pakistan has failed to contain extremists responsible for terrorist atrocities in India, including the Mumbai attacks last year. U.S. failure to help nuclear Pakistan expand or shift its military focus from India to the more immediate threat from its internal extremists risks allowing those tensions to deepen.

Just as worrisome are the stakes with Iran, which borders both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan has become for Iran what Iraq once was: a surrogate battlefield with the United States. Once Afghanistan's rival, Shiite-dominated Iran has reportedly supplied the same weapons and explosives to Sunni Taliban fighters that it provided Shiite militias in Iraq, on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend -- at least for now.

Iran manipulated (and often fueled) the problems that ensued after the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In the process, it has become a regional superpower rivaled only by Israel. U.S. failures in Afghanistan and Pakistan would further strengthen Iran's position as its increasingly authoritarian government cracks down on a legitimate opposition movement and threatens to expand its nuclear program.

Many Americans are tired of the war in Afghanistan. We're alarmed at the cost in human life to all sides, the drain on our national treasury and armed forces -- not to mention on the Afghan people -- and the length of this conflict. We have doubts that the fast-paced initiative Obama has proposed will work. But as U.S. actions are evaluated over the next 18 months, we should remember that the outcome will determine America's goals and standing far beyond the South Asian theater for years to come.

Robin Wright is a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the author of "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East." A former diplomatic correspondent for The Post, she has reported on Afghanistan since the 1980s.

Skyreporter: Kabul Airport is a major source of heroin export

I am unsure what to think of what Skyreporter has to say, but certainly his December 10 notice about drug smuggling through the Kabul airport makes one wonder how much progress has been made in controlling of the graft in Afghanistan. Here is what he has to say. RLC

Kabul Airport Confirmed As Gateway For Heroin Loot
By Arthur Kent, Skyreporter.com December 10, 2009 -- After years of denial and deception, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's ministers has finally admitted that Kabul Airport is a bleeding wound of corruption.

Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal has confirmed estimates by U.S. officials that an estimated $10 million per day is smuggled through the airport. And that's just cold hard cash: no one has dared to place a dollar figure on the amount of heroin that takes flight from Kabul each day.

Predictably, Zakhilwal and his patrons from Washington have failed to explain exactly how this key transport hub, just a short drive from the U.S. Embassy, was allowed to fall under the sway of Afghanistan's cash-swamped heroin Khans and their accomplices in high office.

The truth is that American officials, like their counterparts at Kabul's other foreign embassies, watched the scandal as it unfolded, literally on their doorsteps, and did nothing about it - as detailed by Skyreporter.com in regular dispatches since March of 2007.

Worse, many of the "internationals" went to considerable lengths to conceal the problem.

Counter-narcotics efforts at the airport were thrown into chaos in October of 2006 with the dismissal of the respected chief of border police, Gen. Aminullah Amerkhel.

Accusations against him by the Karzai regime's then-Attorney General proved groundless. But in the meantime, smuggling went into overdrive and drug busts at the airport plummeted, from five or six per week on Amerkhel's watch to only one a month. (Please see our Afghan Heroin series, from page 39 of Recent Stories.)

Karzai's Interior Minister of the time, responsible for policing, refused to comment. It was the same story at the U.S. Embassy, the State Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. DEA agents in Kabul and Washington failed to reply to repeated phone inquiries. British and Canadian officials stonewalled Skyreporter's queries, too.

While the regime and its foreign sponsors obscured the truth, Afghanistan's heroin trade literally took flight.

In May of 2007, quite by accident, one bust exposed the sinister scope of Kabul Airport's dirty secrets (see Afghan Heroin Discovered En Route To Canada on page 29 of Recent Stories).

At the airport's main gate, a pair of Afghan cops stopped a courier van for a routine check. Lifting the hatchback, they were greeted by a familiar, pungent smell.

Before them were six carpets, bundled and bound. The cops worked their fingers through the weave. Sure enough, each rug contained granules of pure heroin, sewn and knotted into the yarn.

In all, the estimated 18 kilos were worth as much as $1.8 million. Cut to 40% purity, the haul might generate $6 million in the West. There was a waybill attached: the rugs were prepaid to Toronto via Dubai, with sender and recipient clearly marked.

Canada's then-Ambassador to Kabul, Arif Lalani, did not return telephone queries about the bust, nor did the Prime Minister's office or Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. The RCMP responded to an email, but refused to comment.

We followed up with the airport policemen two months later, and were told that the confiscated rugs had been turned over to officers working out of the Karzai government's Ministry of Interior. There, they had vanished - with no further investigation.

The policemen were certain where the heroin-laden rugs had gone: "back with the people who shipped them."

A year later, in 2008, President Karzai was forced to fire both the Attorney General who triggered the airport policing scandal, Abdul Jabar Sabet, and Interior Minister Zarar Muqbul. Both men are candidates for investigation by the current Attorney General, Ishaq Aloko, whose list of upcoming prosecutions awaits Karzai's signature.

Gen. Amerkhel has been vindicated, with his record declared clear by both Aloko and Karzai. He is now security chief at the Ministry of Education.

Only this week, however, three long years after the scandal broke into public view, comes the admission by Afghan and U.S. officials of Kabul Airport's role in bankrolling lawlessness -- and the Taliban's war effort.

Not so remarkably, half a world away in Canada, another controversy has shed light on the role played by members of the U.S.-led coalition.

Leaked emails that were originally sent from Kabul in 2007 by senior Canadian diplomat, Richard Colvin, currently an intelligence officer posted to Washington, include this revealing query to the head of Canada's Afghan Task Force:

"What credibility can the embassy bring to bear on counter-narcotics when we do not even have a single dedicated officer? Because of under-staffing, we are unable to process the very heavy flow of information and intelligence, resulting in critical information gaps about key issues and personalities."

Colvin's Conservative government masters have responded by attacking his credibility, particularly over his reports on the abuse of prisoners by Afghanistan's security service, the NDS. The politicians' harsh criticism has triggered a backlash by a group of 35 former Canadian ambassadors, who've sprung to Colvin's defence.

Public servants, they say, must be free to tell their bosses the truth, not simply what they want to hear -- which of course cuts to the chase about the entire international mission to Afghanistan.

>From Kabul Airport and the corruption-plagued Karzai regime, to the strategic threat posed by the Taliban's safe-havens in Pakistan, the U.S. and its allies have been guilty of defaulting to information control, instead of seeing the challenges of Southwest Asia for what they really are, and rising to them.

Now we're to believe more of the same - more troops, more Karzai and more P.R. - will turn things around.

Kabul's smugglers know where to put their money. It's still flowing through Kabul airport, a five-minute drive from Gen. Stanley McChrystal's desk.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A source of support for "rightest" agendas

We often wonder where the money is coming from when movements of various sorts “spring up.” Of course they are rarely spontaneous. Someone needs to take the lead. Someone needs to put up the funds. Someone needs to plan. Someone needs to establish mailing lists and email lists and to disseminate the news to sources according to the agendas of the movement. Here is an article about where a number of social movements representing the “far right” have come from. As the Progress Report presents it, the source is a wealthy family from Kansas, the Kochs. RLC

From the Progress Report progress@americanprogressaction.org


Billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch are the wealthiest, and perhaps most effective, opponents of President Obama's progressive agenda. They have been looming in the background of every major domestic policy dispute this year. Ranked as the 9th richest men in America, the Koch brothers sit at the helm of Koch Industries, a massive privately owned conglomerate of manufacturing, oil, gas, and timber interests. They are best known for their wealth, as well as for their generous contributions to the arts, cancer research, and the Smithsonian Institute. But David and Charles are also responsible for a vicious attack campaign aimed directly at obstructing and killing progressive reform. Over the years, millions of dollars in Koch money has flowed to various right-wing think tanks, front groups, and publications. At the dawn of the Obama presidency, Koch groups quickly maneuvered to try to stop his first piece of signature legislation: the stimulus. The Koch-funded group "No Stimulus" launched television and radio ads deriding the recovery package as simply "pork" spending. The Cato Institute -- founded by Charles -- as well as other Koch-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, produced a blizzard of reports distorting the stimulus and calling for a return to Bush-style tax cuts to combat the recession. As their fronts were battling the stimulus, David's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) spent the opening months of the Obama presidency placing calls and helping to organize the ver y first "tea party" protests. AFP, founded in 1984 by David and managed day to day by the astroturf lobbyist Tim Phillips, has spent much of the year mobilizing "tea party" opposition to health reform, clean energy legislation, and financial regulations.

STOPPING CLEAN ENERGY: David Koch presents himself as a champion of science. Next year, because of his donations, a wing of the Smithsonian will be named after him. Nevertheless, Koch has done more to undermine the public's understanding of climate change science than any other person in America. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, funded in part by Koch foundations, has waged an underhanded campaign to falsely chargethat a set of hacked e-mails somehow unravels the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring. Koch finances the "Hot Air" tour, a nationwide roads how using a balloon to depict climate change science as "hot air." Despite the brothers' extravagant wealth, Koch's Americans for Prosperity has run populist ads mocking environmentalists as spoiled brats more concerned about their "three homes and five cars" than about economic conditions. In addition to its efforts to misinform the public, Koch Industries has spent nearly $9 million dollars so far on direct lobbying, much of it on climate change legislation. With a team of Koch-funded operatives going as far as attempting to crash the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week, the brothers may succeed in scuttling any prospect for addressing climate change.

STOPPING HEALTH REFORM: Much of the fierce opposition to health reform can be credited to Koch organizations. As the health care debate began, AFP created a front group, known as "Patients United," dedicated itself to attacking Democratic health care reform proposals. Patients United has blanketed the country with ads distorting various provisions of the health reform legislation, particularly the public option. Patients United even centered a media campaign around Shona Robertson-Holmes, claiming she had a brain tumor the Canadian system refused to treat. However, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Patients United has been exaggerating Holmes' case, and that she in fact had a benign cyst. In their quest to block health care reform, Koch-funded groups have fostered extremism. A speaker with the roving Patients United bus tour repeatedly compared health reform to the Holocaust while an eight-by-five foot banner at an AFP health care rally with Rep. M ichele Bachmann (R-MN) read, "National Socialist Health Care: Dachau, Germany" superimposed over corpses from a concentration camp. Although many were surprised at the level of anger AFP channeled into Democratic healthcare town halls in August, it wasn't the first time Koch groups have helped to hijack the health reform debate. Back in 1994, Americans for Prosperity, then known as Citizens for a Sound Economy, worked closely with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to bring mobs of angry men to health reform rallies withthen-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

A LONG HISTORY OF STOPPING PROGRESS: The Koch brothers clearly have a financial stake in blocking reform. Koch Industry oil refineries are major carbon dioxide polluters, and George-Pacific, a Koch Industries timber subsidiary, is one of the largest contributors to the loss of carbon-sink capacity. According to the EPA, Koch Industries is responsible for over 300 oil spills in the U.S. and has leaked three million gallons of crude oil into fisheries and drinking waters. So there are clear business-related reasons why Koch would want to block regulatory enforcement, clean energy, labor, and other reforms. But part of their opposition stems from a long family tradition of funding conser vative movements to shift the country to the far right. Fred Koch, father of Charles and David and the company's namesake, helped to found the John Birch Society in the late 1950s. The John Birch Society harnessed Cold War fears into hate against progressives, warning that President Kennedy, Civil Rights activists, and organized labor were in league with communists. By presenting progressive reform as a capitulation to the Soviet Union, Fred Koch and the other industrialists bankrolling the Birch Society were able to galvanize hundreds of thousands of middle class people into supporting their narrow agenda of cutting cor porate taxes and avoiding consumer regulations.

The many Al-Qaeda operating in Pakistan

According to a UPI report [December 2] a “senior US intelligence official” says only about 100 al-Qaida members remain in Afghanistan.” But there are “several hundred” al-Qaida "operating from" Pakistan. That much we could surmise. What the article then reveals, again, is that the issues that have to be dealt with are in Pakistan. And yet the Pakistani military usually act insulted that anyone would suggest such a thing.

But what is frustrating to me is that the headline is about the few in Afghanistan, not the many that are "operating" in Pakistan.

Olivier Roy on the problem of the Taliban

We have to listen when Olivier Roy talks because he has had so much experience on the ground in Afghanistan and Central Asia generally. The other day I copied his recent piece from the NYTimes. Here is another similar statement written for the Christian Science Monitor. Here I preserve a few details worth taking close note of. RLC

Obama agenda in Afghanistan: Don't forget about Pakistan
By Oliver Roy - The Christian Science Monitor - Wed Dec 2, 4:00 am ET Florence, Italy –

It is true that, at a time when the Taliban are on the move and the Kabul government embodies more than ever a failed state, nothing can be done without a military surge. The Taliban smell victory and have no interest in negotiating. The only alternative is to leave or to escalate the fighting.

But can the new counterinsurgency work? ….

The Taliban insurrection is both an ethnic and a social movement. The Taliban embody both a Pashtun irredentism and a shift in the traditional tribal system. The insurgency is limited to Pashtun-populated areas or pockets: the south; and, in the north, Baghlan, Kunduz, Balkh and Badghis, often delivered by the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In Pakistan, too, the "liberated Islamic areas" are all Pashtun. Non-Pashtun Islamic militants choose other ways to act.

The issue of Pashtun frustration at being shut out of power has not been ignored by the Western powers. . . . .

But now the non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan have no more military means to protect themselves from a bloody Taliban comeback, and they cannot rely on an Afghan national army. Thus the quandary is how to placate the Pashtuns without weakening further the other ethnic groups whose fears of a Taliban comeback make them the best allies of the NATO troops.

President Hamid Karzai was appointed largely because he could embody a traditional Pashtun identity. . . . Yet, this has been to no avail because the tribal aristocracy he represents has lost its roots in the tribal areas. . . .

[I]n Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, traditional [tribal] leaders of this [Iraqi] kind have almost disappeared. They have been replaced by a new elite of young madrasa-educated Taliban, more connected to Pakistan and the Gulf than to the West.

What of the role of Pakistan? . . . Until now the Pakistani Army has used both Taliban and Islamist militants as a proxy tool of its regional policy of "strategic depth" vis-à-vis India. It still wants a Pashtun Islamist government in Kabul.

This complex and dangerous cooperation between the Army and the Taliban was based on a deal: The Taliban, Afghan or Pakistani, might push their agenda in Afghanistan or in the northwest territories in Pakistan but should not contest the leadership of the Pakistani Army. Islamabad is off limits.

The Taliban broke this deal when they made a foray from their Swat stronghold through Buner in the direction of Islamabad. The Army had no choice than to counterattack. But the objective of the Pakistani Army is not to destroy the Taliban. It is to bring them back into the fold after a red line has been crossed.

. . . Pakistan has been fighting through proxies in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. It can wait for American and NATO troops to leave the region.

Only finding a way to alleviate Pashtun frustration in Afghanistan and getting Pakistan to give up its decades-old policy of supporting Islamists in power there will change anything fundamental.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The coming generation in Pakistan: Unprepared?

A few days ago [Nov 22, 09] Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times gave us a summary of the British Council’s recent survey of Pakistan’s young people. The report indicates that this generation, the largest in the country’s history, is deeply disillusioned with their government and democracy. Not good news for the future of that country.

They feel abandoned by their government and are discouraged about the future. Few have found jobs, and half of those interviewed actually stated that they lack the skills to enter the workplace. One in four could not read or write. Most identify themselves as Muslims before claiming they are Pakistani. Their greatest worry is inflation – not the Islamist insurgency that has been expanding over the country. Only a third of them think democracy is the best system for Pakistan; about the same number saw "Islamic law" [some version of sharia?] as preferable. The most respected institution was Pakistan’s military; the next-most respected were the religious schools. Scarcely any of them had much respect for the civilian government.

So, along with all the other reasons to worry about Pakistan there is the generation of Pakistanis that will rise to prominence in the next two decades or more: they are under-educated, disillusioned with the institutions of governance, respectful of the military and the religious schools; indifferent to the threat of radical Islamism even as it become more vicious before their eyes.

It is hard for any of us to peer into the future with much discernment, but the picture this report gives us of the up-coming generation in Pakistan suggests that they are even less adequately able to envision and prepare for the kind of world they are likely to face in the future.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Richard Antoun: A huge loss

Those of us who knew Richard Antoun are shocked to hear that a graduate student walked into his office and stabbed him to death on December 4. The student admitted to stabbing him four times. Hard to fathom. Of course we all would like to know more ...

That the attacker was from Saudi Arabia makes it all the more unfortunate, as his action could easily be read by some people as another example of how crazy those people are over there in the Middle East. Whatever reasons come out, they will never make much sense because Antoun, I am confident, never had an enemy.

Antoun was the least deserving of an attack from anyone from any side in the Middle East, as he was a model of serious scholarship, an example of how to write about a world filled with easily bruised sensibilities. While some "experts" of Middle Eastern affairs can justly be accused of bias and insensitivity, Antoun worked hard to represent fairly the diverse viewpoints of the peoples he studied -- some of them inclined to believe that their views and circumstances are poorly represented by the news media and academia. Unlike some, he was not given to broad generalizations about peoples and societies: he was always specific and explicit about the situations and peoples he wrote about. I have often mentioned his work in my classes and at times assigned one or another of his monographs.

He was everywhere respected and beloved. A huge loss.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Today's gold-mine of insight on the Taliban: NYTimes

Today's New York Times Op-Ed section is a gold mine of insight on the situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan and the problems of dealing with the Taliban. Articles by Olivier Roy, Graham Fuller, and Seth Jones provide in one narrow space more informed insight on the problems and possible solutions -- no, feasible ways of dealing with the problems -- than I have seen. Thanks to them -- all of them quite familiar with Afghanistan on the ground -- and to the Times for providing these comments at such a critical time. I hope our congress bothers to read them. RLC

December 4, 2009
Then There's Pakistan and the Pashtun

FLORENCE — President Obama is betting that sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will rapidly change the balance of power in the field, erode local support for the Taliban, give breathing space to the Kabul government to clean up its act, allow humanitarian aid and development to reach the countryside and possibly bring some war-wearied Taliban to the negotiating table. Al Qaeda would thus be deprived of any sanctuary, and the U.S. mission there would be accomplished.

In essence, the president announced a short-term military surge in Afghanistan to lay the ground for implementing a long-term political agenda — one first put in place by the Bush administration in 2002 — that focuses on good governance, fighting corruption, training a professional police and promoting economic and social development.

Since the political project has failed over the last eight years, the logic goes, only military action can revive the conditions for it. So everything depends on a military progress in counterinsurgency.

It is true that, at a time when the Taliban are on the move and the Kabul government embodies more than ever a failed state, nothing can be done without a military surge. The Taliban smell victory and have no interest in negotiating. The only alternative is to leave or to escalate the fighting.

The idea seems to be to use tactics that worked in northern Iraq: playing traditional tribal leaders against extremists, offering them incentives and hoping that the large strata of the population who don’t share the radicals’ agenda will turn against them.

In this perspective, the corrupt and distrusted Kabul government is more a liability than an asset, which means that the American and NATO troops would have to be politically involved at the local levels instead of handing over the keys to Kabul once the field has been cleared.

For such a policy to work, the Taliban insurrection must be correctly understood and Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan must be at least neutralized.

The Taliban insurrection is both an ethnic and a social movement. The Taliban embody both a Pashtun irredentism and a shift in the traditional tribal system. The insurgency is limited to Pashtun-populated areas; in Pakistan, too, the “liberated Islamic areas” are all Pashtun. Non-Pashtun Islamic militants choose other ways to act.

The issue of Pashtun frustration at being shut out of power has not been ignored by the Western powers. They supported the dismantling of the ethnically non-Pashtun Northern Alliance forces that took Kabul in November 2001 — a rather easy task after the assassination of their charismatic leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.

But now the non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan have no more military means to protect themselves from a Taliban comeback, and they cannot rely on an Afghan National Army. Thus the quandary is how to placate the Pashtuns without weakening further the other ethnic groups whose fears of a Taliban comeback make them the best allies of the NATO troops.

President Hamid Karzai was appointed largely because he embidied a traditional Pashtun identity. He appointed Pashtun governors and has played on Pashtun traditions. Yet this has been to no avail because the tribal aristocracy he represents has lost its roots in the tribal areas.

In northern Iraq, traditional tribal leaders happily answered Gen. David Petraeus’ opening toward them to get rid of the threat of non-Iraqi Al Qaeda fighters who ignored or even tried to suppress them. But in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan, traditional leaders of this kind have almost disappeared. They have been replaced by a new elite of young madrassa-educated Taliban, more connected to Pakistan and the Gulf than to the West.

What of the role of Pakistan? If they find a shelter in Pakistan, the Taliban could easily escape the brunt of the two coming years of a military surge. They can expect that the U.S. will be unable to bolster a counter power in the Afghan tribal belt or strengthen the Kabul government. So they just have to wait.

Pressure on Pakistan will yield very little — the arrest or the killing of some Taliban leaders or Al Qaeda cadres.

Until, now the Pakistan Army has used both Taliban and Islamist militants as a proxy tool of its regional policy of “strategic depth” vis-à-vis India. It still wants a Pashtun Islamist government in Kabul.

This complex and dangerous cooperation between the army and the Taliban was based on a deal: The Taliban, Afghan or Pakistani, might push their agenda in Afghanistan or in the northwest territories in Pakistan, but should not contest the leadership of the Pakistan Army. Islamabad is off-limits.

The Taliban broke this deal when they made a foray from their Swat stronghold through Buner in the direction of Islamabad. The army had no choice than to counterattack. But the objective of the Pakistan Army is not to destroy the Taliban. It is to bring them back into the fold after a red line has been crossed.

As long as the Pakistan Army does not consider its campaign against the Taliban as a matter of life and death for itself, it will not help in any serious way with the American and NATO agenda in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been fighting through proxies in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. It can wait for American and NATO troops to leave the region.

As far as I can see, only finding a way to alleviate Pashtun frustration in Afghanistan and getting Pakistan to give up its decades-old policy of supporting Islamists in power there will change anything fundamental. Unless a broader and more coherent policy is defined that includes these elements, 30,000 additional U.S. troops plus more from NATO are not going to make a difference.

Olivier Roy is a research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research and the author of “Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah.”
Tribune Media Services

December 4, 2009
Take the War to Pakistan

Kabul, Afghanistan
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S decision on a timetable for withdrawal of American troops only makes official what everyone here has known for a while: the clock is ticking in Afghanistan. The Taliban have long recognized this, and many captured militants have reminded their interrogators that “you have the watches, but we have the time.”

As we quicken the pace, the top American commander here, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has repeatedly noted that there are many issues to focus on: building more competent Afghan Army and police forces, adopting more effective anticorruption measures and reintegrating “moderate” Taliban and other insurgent fighters into Afghan society and politics.
But perhaps the most difficult issue is largely outside of General McChrystal’s control (and got short shrift in President Obama’s speech at West Point): undermining the Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan. Thus far, there has been no substantive action taken against the Taliban leadership in Baluchistan Province, south of the Pashtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan. This is the same mistake the Soviets made in the 1980s, when they failed to act against the seven major mujahadeen groups headquartered in Pakistan.
This sanctuary is critical because the Afghan war is organized and run out of Baluchistan. Virtually all significant meetings of the Taliban take place in that province, and many of the group’s senior leaders and military commanders are based there. “The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us,” a Marine told me on a recent trip to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, across the border from Baluchistan. “Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices.”

Like a typical business, the Taliban in Pakistan have an organizational structure divided into functional committees. It has a media committee; a military committee; a finance committee responsible for acquiring and managing funds; and so forth. The Taliban’s inner shura, or governing council, exerts authority over lower-level Taliban fighters. It is composed of the supreme Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, his principal deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, his military commander, Abdullah Zakir, and roughly a dozen other key leaders. Many Taliban leaders have moved their families to Baluchistan, and their children attend Pakistani schools.

Mullah Baradar is particularly important because he runs many of the shuras involving senior Taliban commanders, virtually all of which are in Pakistan. “Omar is reclusive and unpolished,” one Taliban figure recently said to me, “and has preferred to confide in a small number of trusted advisers rather than address larger groups.”

Yet Pakistan and the United States have failed to target them systematically. Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps forces have conducted operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas to the north, and the United States has conducted many drone strikes there. But relatively little has been done in Baluchistan.

The United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. There are several ways to do it, and none requires military forces.

The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. Most Taliban are in or near Baluchi cities like Quetta. These should be police and intelligence operations, much like American-Pakistani efforts to capture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Qaeda operatives after 9/11. The second is to hit Taliban leaders with drone strikes, as the United States and Pakistan have done so effectively in the tribal areas.

The cost of failing to act in Baluchistan will be enormous. As one Russian diplomat who served in the Soviet Army in Afghanistan recently told me: “You are running out of time. You must balance counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan by targeting the leadership nodes in Pakistan. Don’t make the same mistake we did.”

Seth G. Jones, the author of “In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan,” is a civilian adviser to the American military.

December 4, 2009
Stretching Out an Ugly Struggle

Many decades ago as a fledgling C.I.A. officer in the field, I was naïvely convinced that if the facts were reported back to Washington correctly, everything else would take care of itself in policymaking. The first loss of innocence comes with the harsh recognition that “all politics are local” and that overseas realities bear only a partial relationship to foreign-policy formulation back home.

So in looking at President Obama’s new policy directions for Afghanistan, what goes down in Washington politics far outweighs analyses of local conditions.

I had hoped that Obama would level with the American people that the war in Afghanistan is not being won, indeed is not winnable within any practicable framework. But such an admission — however accurate — would sign the political death warrant of a president to be portrayed as having snatched defeat out of the jaws of “victory.”

The “objective” situation in Afghanistan remains a mess. Senior commanders acknowledge that we are not now winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan; indeed, we never can, and certainly not at gunpoint. Most Pashtuns will never accept a U.S. plan for Afghanistan’s future. The non-Pashtuns — Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, etc. — naturally welcome any outside support in what is a virtual civil war.

America has inadvertently ended up choosing sides in this war. U.S. forces are perceived by large numbers of Afghans as an occupying army inflicting large civilian casualties. The struggle has now metastasized into Pakistan — with even higher stakes.
Obama’s policies would seem an unsatisfying compromise among contending arguments. Thirty thousand more troops are less than called for and will not turn the tide; arguably they present more American targets for attack.

They will heighten traditional xenophobia against foreigners traipsing through Pashtun villages and homes. It is a fool’s errand to persuade the locals in Pashtun territory that the Taliban are the enemy and the U.S. is their friend. Whatever mixed feelings Pashtuns have toward the Taliban, they know the Taliban will be among them long after Washington tires with this mission.

The strategy of the Bush era envisioned Afghanistan as a vital imperial outpost in a post-Soviet dream world. That world vision is gone — except to a few Washington diehards who haven’t grasped the new emerging global architectures of power, economics, prestige and influence.

The Taliban will inevitably figure significantly in the governance of almost any future Afghanistan, like it or not. Future Taliban leaders, once rid of foreign occupation, will have little incentive to support global jihadi schemes — they never really have by choice. The Taliban inherited Osama bin Laden as a poison pill from the past when they came to power in 1996 and have learned a bitter lesson about what it means to lend state support to a prominent terrorist group.

The Taliban with a voice in power will have every incentive to welcome foreign money and expertise into the country, including the Pashtun regions —as long as it is not part of a Western strategic package.

An austere Islamic regime is not the ideal outcome for Afghanistan, but it is by far the most realistic. To reverse ground realities and achieve a markedly different outcome is not in the cards and will pose Obama with the same dilemma next year.

Meanwhile, Pakistan will never be willing or able to solve Washington’s Afghanistan dilemma. Pakistan’s own stability has been brought to the brink by U.S. demands that it solve America’s self-created problem in Afghanistan. Pakistan will eventually be forced to resolve Afghanistan itself — but only after the U.S. has gone, and only by making a pact with Taliban forces both inside Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself.

Washington will not accept that for now, but it will be forced to fairly soon. Maybe the Pakistanis can root out bin Laden, but meanwhile, Al Qaeda has extended its autonomous franchises around the world, and terrorists can train and plan almost anywhere in the world; they do not need Afghanistan.

By now, as in so many other elements of the Global War on Terror, the U.S. has become more part of the problem than part of the solution. We are sending troops to defend troops that themselves constitute an affront to Afghan nationalism. Only expeditious American withdrawal from Afghanistan will prevent exacerbation of the problem.

Afghans must themselves face the complex mechanics of internal struggle and reconciliation. They have done so over long periods of their history. The ultimate outcome is of greater strategic consequence to Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran, India and others in the region than to the United States.

Europe and Canada have lost all stomach for this mission that is now promoted primarily in terms of “saving NATO” for future (and obsolescent) “out of area” struggles in a world in which Western strategic preferences can no longer predominate.

In a counterbalance to the mini-surge, Obama wisely establishes a date for genuine withdrawal in 2011. The surge may just be worth it if it enables Obama to put the U.S. military and Kabul on notice that time is quickly running out to demonstrate genuine political and military progress.

So the ugly struggle continues with little prospect for genuine improvement. There are no good choices. Obama has only kicked the can down the road.

Only with immense luck will his real goal — creation of the minimally acceptable terms for an American withdrawal — come into sight, providing a tiny fig leaf to mask what will essentially constitute a strategic American failure that was inherent nearly from the beginning in America’s global military response to the challenge of 9/11.

Graham E. Fuller is a former C.I.A. station chief in Kabul and a former vice-chairman of the C.I.A.’s National Intelligence Council. He is author of numerous books on the Middle East, including “The Future of Political Islam.”
Tribune Media Services