Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Brief Guide to the Crisis in South Asia

[A statement in draft that meets length limits of under 1200 words for a publisher.]

By fall, 2009, the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan has turned ominous. The Taliban are gaining ever more strength in communities around Afghanistan. General McChrystal, who heads ISAF, the coalition forces opposing the Taliban, believes that without changes the war could be lost within a year. In the mean time the countries providing troops for ISAF are losing resolve. The Italians have declared their desire to leave, and the Germans want out. Even the Americans, whose commitment is crucial, are dithering as they consider the proposals. The generals want lots more troops (as many as 40,000) while the Vice President wants less; prominent Senators demand a time-table for getting out, and some senators are ready to quit now. The British alone seem confident about staying -- they say so often, as if to keep up their resolve.

At the same time the legitimacy of the Afghanistan government for which these forces have been fighting has been deeply compromised by voting irregularities in the last election. Corruption seems to have percolated all the way down: local officials, underpaid and under protected, demand cash and special favors to perform merely elementary services. And there is the drug industry: uncounted numbers of folks, powerful and weak, rural and urban, are involved in an illicit economy that brings in nearly half the country’s income.

General McChrystal’s broadly published judgment of the situation cannot have helped the situation on the ground, for it re-affirms what the Taliban have been claiming all along: they will be there when the Americans have left; and ultimately they will prevail. What can the ordinary good people of Afghanistan do but re-consider their connections in such a climate? After so many years of war, they have learned how to survive. Dr. Monsutti reports that the Hazara families situate their relatives on both sides of a conflict in order to ensure viable options, whatever the outcome; similar strategies must be in practice elsewhere in the country. This society, after so many years of conflict, is now composed of fragile alliances and agreements that can be invoked or ignored as circumstances require. These are the means through which folks cope with the exigencies of internecine and intermittent war that grinds on for decades.

But when it comes to preferences, there is no doubt about the genuine wishes of the Afghanistan peoples: They want a government that responds to their circumstances, not one that provides no services or protection like the present one, and not one that limits simple pleasures – kite flying, music, television -- as the Taliban did when they were in power. Scarcely 6% admit to wanting the Taliban back. Rather, they would like a democracy that works. Thousands of people, women as well as men, of every ethnic stripe, participated in the first national election. At that time the voting booth inked finger was a mark of pride. It is largely frustration with the current administration and fear of the threats of the Taliban that reduced participation in the last election. The evident corruption of the process has deflated hope but reportedly few people want to go through the election again.

Most of the talk among Americans is about what to do about Afghanistan while little is being said about the source of the Taliban problem: Pakistan. It was the Pakistani military that in the mid-1990s made use of a group of sincere, zealous schoolboys led by their Quranic teacher, Mullah Muhammd Omar, to create an organized, trained, and equipped essentially Pashtun military force. After their defeat in 2001 the Taliban who escaped into Pakistan’s tribal areas found a supportive environment for reconstituting themselves, which reportedly they began to do as early as 2003. They could not have acquired their present sophistication without the help of Pakistan’s InterServices Intelligence Directorate, the agency that protected, trained, and provisioned the Afghan Taliban for the real agenda, the on-going war against India.

Because the real concern of the Pakistani military is the struggle with India over Kashmir, they consider radical fighting groups like the Taliban to be vital resources. As a Muslim state claiming the right to rule adjacent Muslim lands, the military has allowed radical Islamist groups to form so that they can be deployed in case of war (well, in the continued war) with India. The most notable of those which the ISI fostered and supplied were the Jaish-i Muhammad, the group that captured and murdered Daniel Pearl, and the Lashkar-I Taiba who produced suicide bombers for Kashmir and only last year masterminded the attacks in Mumbai in which 173 people were killed. Owing to the tolerance of the ISI, Mullah Muhammad Omar, head of the original Taliban, has long had his headquarters in Quetta despite official claims that he cannot be found.

This policy arises from Pakistan's need for a friendly Afghanistan. Ever since the 1980s the Pakistanis have recognized the importance of Central Asia in their future. For them Afghanistan must be a friendly state through which the resource-rich lands of the Central Asian republics can be accessed. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan gas pipeline, for example, which has been in the planning stage for years, is crucial to Pakistan’s future prosperity. For that, the Pakistanis have, with Chinese help, already invested over a billion dollars to build a new port on the Indian Ocean at Gwadar. Another reason for Pakistan’s desire for a friendly government in Kabul is the perceived need for “strategic depth” in case of war with India.

In truth, Pakistan is a conflicted state. It is fighting a war with India while it claims to be helping in the “War on terror” against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And while affirming friendship with the United States the Pakistan government regards Afghanistan as allied to India and thus an enemy regime. For this situation the Taliban, posed as they are against the Kabul government, are prized assets for the war with India. The contradiction of this policy came vividly to light in 2008 and 2009 when some of the Taliban began to push beyond the tribal zones where they had been based conveniently close to the Afghanistan border, and established themselves in neighboring sectors of Pakistan. After taking over Swat they announced their intention to impose their brand of “Islamic sharia” there. But what finally aroused the Pakistani military was a prominent Taliban leader’s announcement that they were ready to bring their brand of Islamic sharia to all of Pakistan. The Pakistan army responded by attacking the Taliban of Swat; friends only a few weeks before, now they were mortal enemies. The fighting in Swat forced a sudden migration: more than two and half million natives of Swat fled, creating a crisis for the government that was barely alleviated before the Swatis were allowed to return home.

So the picture in South Asia is convoluted: A fractured society (Afghanistan), a conflicted state (Pakistan), a resolute opposition that is faced in two directions (the Taliban), a looming neighbor (India), and a foreign military force (ISAF) that scarcely understands how to deal with this tangle of antagonistic forces.

And into this bundle of interlocked problems we must include a few other issues of vital importance to the region: the still-active Al Qaeda cells, the Nuclear worry about Iran, nuclear weaponry in the arsenals of both Pakistan and India, and the vulnerability of oil flows through the Indian Ocean. Now we have not a regional crisis but a world crisis -- no less than a situation perilous to the world order as we know it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Signs of internal distrust among the Taliban leadership?

The BBC reports that relatives of Baitullah Mehsud have been tortured and even killed by members of the Taliban. The Taliban so far have denied it. But if the report is true it makes us wonder how much distrust pervades relations among the Taliban. Even without the influence of large cash awards for help in the apprehension (or killing) of a Taliban or Al Qaeda leader, there can be lots of intrigues and festering grudges among the Pashtun peoples, so it's difficult to know what's behind this development. But there appears to be evidence that among the Taliban there is an air of distrust. Do they believe that such close relatives would have helped get Baitullah killed? Here is the BBC report. RLC

Taliban 'kill' Mehsud relatives

Thursday, 17 September 2009 BBC News

Militants in Pakistan have been accused of killing two relatives of top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who died last month in a US missile strike.

The men were seized by the Taliban on suspicion of spying and providing information about the Taliban commander's whereabouts.

The Taliban deny killing the men and said they are investigating.

Meanwhile, at least 10 corpses have been found in the troubled northern district of Swat, officials say.

About 300 bodies of suspected militants have turned up in the Swat valley over the last two months.

Locals say the army are responsible for the deaths. But the military has consistently denied involvement with any extra-judicial killings.

They say many militants were killed during operations in the valley and also point the finger at local tribal militias taking revenge on Taliban militants in the area.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that the bodies were found lying by the river. All of them were shot in the head and chest from close range.

'Signs of torture'

Meanwhile there is continuing disquiet in South Waziristan, where the Taliban are reported to have seized six of Baitullah Mehsud's relatives.

The captives included his father-in-law Ikramuddin and his nephew Iqbal Mehsud.

Two of the captives are reported to have died in the militants' custody. They have been identified as Iqbal Mehsud and a cousin of Baitullah Mehsud called Akram Gul.

Iqbal Mehsud was well-known and considered to be very close to his uncle.

He had acted as Baitullah Mehsud's envoy to the government during negotiations with the Taliban on many occasions. Iqbal Mehsud had also been involved in negotiating with the government over the release of certain militants.

The Taliban say he has died in custody due to illness. The body has been handed over to his family.

However, other clansmen and officials have told the BBC's Abdul Hai Kakar in Peshawar that Iqbal Mehsud died after being tortured.

They say cuts made by knives are visible all over his body and his nails have been pulled out.

Baitullah Mehsud's father-in-law is still being held.

The Taliban say they have set up an an investigative team to inquire into the incident.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The situation in Afghanistan: An experienced observer's view

I reproduce below part of a recent Bill Moyers interview (on September 11, 2009) with Nancy Youssef, a reporter with the McClatchy newspapers who has recently returned from Afghanistan. Youssef has been working in that part of the world for many years, and I thought her perspective on the Afghanistan war can help us visualize better what is at stake in the Afghanistan/ Pakistan war. RLC

BILL MOYERS: Is it clear to you what our goals are there? [Afghanistan]
NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, the Secretary lays it out the following way. He says that because the Taliban cooperated and collaborated with Al Qaeda, the United States must make sure that the Taliban's not allowed to return so that it therefore doesn't allow Al Qaeda to return. I guess the question that I have, and that hasn't really been answered is, that may have been true then, but what is the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda now?

Because if the premise of the strategy that is that the Taliban can't be allowed to return, because they'll provide sanctuary for Al Qaeda, I want to understand what that relationship is between those two, to determine if that, in fact, will really happen. For me, it's not clear yet. And it's a very hard question to answer. Because the word Taliban, in a way it doesn't mean anything anymore.
BILL MOYERS: Who is the enemy? Who are these soldiers fighting?
NANCY YOUSSEF: I don't know. I mean they're fighting this nebulous group called the Taliban. And some of them are fighting men who are joining because they need money. Or because they've been forced or coerced into fighting the Americans. Some Taliban are people who have no ties to the ideological Taliban at all, but are just angry that occupation forces, in their mind, are in their country. Some are people who are ideologically driven, who want an Islamic state in Afghanistan, who want to work with Al Qaeda. It's a very, varied enemy. And I think that's what part of what makes a strategy so hard and what makes it so difficult for the troops. Because everyone they're fighting could be a farmer the next day, could be a local. There are no borders. There's no uniform. There's no way to distinguish one from the other. So, I think that's what makes it so hard. The Taliban that I saw, and I was in Kandahar were people who--
BILL MOYERS: That's the southern part of the country right near the Pakistan border.
NANCY YOUSSEF: That's right. And it's one of the most important provinces historically. And you go there and the Taliban is this bullying organization that is a form of order that at least the Afghans are familiar with. And they control the community. The local government that we've established does not. The police chief, the Taliban police chief, lives in the city. The U.S. backed police chief doesn't. He lives on base or he lives in Kandahar proper. And I'm talking about in the provinces. The local district leader who works on behalf of the Karzai government. It's too dangerous for him to live in the city. He lives on the base, or he lives in Kandahar. So, it's a coerced, forced order. It's sort of the devil you know versus the devil you don't.
BILL MOYERS: And what about Al Qaeda? The guys who did attack us on 9/11. Where are they? And who are they now?
NANCY YOUSSEF: The United States believes that the leadership is in Pakistan. But, you know, something I struggle with personally is what happens if the next attack is planned in Somalia or Yemen or Europe, where they've expanded or have a presence there? What is the United States response then? I sometimes worry that we're fighting the last war instead of the next one. And I think when you look at Al Qaeda and how it's spread, you start to wonder. They don't use a sanctuary anymore. It's now an apartment and internet access to start planning these attacks, and how do you defend against that? I don't know.
BILL MOYERS: So, what do the generals whom you interviewed, the colonels and on down tell you remains our goal?
NANCY YOUSSEF: You know, I spoke to General McChrystal when I was there. And I think more than anything, he wants the opportunity to try this out. That if we're going to do it, let's do it. Let's really put our effort towards this. We think about this as--
BILL MOYERS: What does that mean? More troops?
NANCY YOUSSEF: More troops. More time, more than anything else. That this is not something that can be turned around in time for a political or an election cycle. He needs time more than anything else.
BILL MOYERS: You know, Nancy, that's what the generals kept telling President Johnson in the early days and at the peak of the escalation in Vietnam.
NANCY YOUSSEF: But, you know, we talk about Afghanistan as an eight year war. But the truth is it's been eight separate individual years of war. So, I think that's the--
BILL MOYERS: What's the distinction?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Because we've never gone after this in a real way. There was a strategy 2001 to 2003. And then we tried something else 2003 to 2005. And then it escalated and we tried something else. So, I think if we-- to me, I think what General McChrystal's really saying is if we're going to do, let's do it. Let's really do it. And I think that's the disparity that from the military perspective they'll tell you we haven't really been given the chance, because we were too busy in Iraq. So it's a true argument. It's a fair argument. That was an argument made in the past. We need more time. We need more time. But I think for the commanders on the ground, it feels a bit of a rollercoaster. It went from being the just war, during the campaign, and in the early days of the Obama Administration, to a potential quagmire that we're not sure we want to send more troops to.
BILL MOYERS: But now, Obama's made it a, quote, "war of necessity".
NANCY YOUSSEF: He's made it a war of necessity, but yet, there's a real debate about basic questions on this war. This war of necessity, what's happening now in Washington and all these assessments. We're trying to answer very basic questions, "What is the goal? What is the strategy? How do you implement the strategy?" So, even though we call it a war of necessity, I don't think it's ever been treated at a war of necessity, even now. That debate is just starting, in year eight of the war. It's extraordinary.
BILL MOYERS: Things just seem to be going off the rails there. Is that your judgment, too?
NANCY YOUSSEF: I think-- remember that President Obama sent 21,000 more troops, and what happened was the United States expanded its reach. Now, you ask the Afghans, they'll say that when U.S. troops show up, more problems show up for us. Because then the fight starts.
BILL MOYERS: They're caught in the middle.
NANCY YOUSSEF: That's right. Then they are caught in the middle. I mean, when you go to Afghanistan, the Afghans are not trying to work with Karzai, embrace their new democracy. They're trying to survive within the confines of the district. They're manipulating the Taliban, whichever local district leader or warlord in charge. They are not looking for some grand democratic process. That's not what's happening. So, when the U.S. troops show up, from their perspective, it's more problems. Now, the United States will say, "Things could get worse before they get better, because we have to engage them in the fight." But I don't think the Afghans are on board with that yet. I think they feel like we-- I can't tell you how many Afghans said to me, "I don't want the Americans. I don't want the Taliban. I just want to be left alone."
BILL MOYERS: What are they like these people who are caught in the middle? I mean, you got to know a lot of them. You wrote about them in your dispatches. What do they say to you?
NANCY YOUSSEF: You know, they're tired is what the sense I got more than anything else. There's this renewed effort in the United States to engage in Afghanistan. And they've been living with it for eight years. We talk so much about the Washington clock. And how the President--
BILL MOYERS: The Washington clock?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Yeah. How they have 12 to 18 months by the administration's estimates, the military does, to turn things around. I think the Afghan clock is ticking a lot faster. They're tired. They're frustrated that this country has brought a corrupt central government that doesn't serve their interests. They're smart. They're savvy. And they are trying to survive. You know, so many people tell me that Afghanistan's not ready for democracy. I would argue, "Look at the democracy that they've seen. Who would be ready for that?" And that's where they are. They--
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean? What democracy have they seen?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, the democracy they've seen is from their perspective a fraudulent election that's brought about a government that's more corrupt, in their view, than even the Taliban was. And by the way, they don't get any more basic services. They have to pay a lot more in bribes to get basic things done. Their warlords in some cases are more empowered under the system, not less. Who would want to democracy under that? I think we have to think about how we've defined democracy in their minds. It's really become about survival.
BILL MOYERS:I know from reading that our forces are trying to do some good things there. Roads, schools, they move into a village, get acquainted with the elders, try to establish some basis of trust and credibility. And yet, then, you know an attack during a wedding party, I was reading the other day, will completely negate those good intentions, right?
NANCY YOUSSEF: That's right. I was in Zhari District, which is about 20 miles west of Kandahar. When the Canadians first came in, they painted schools and they built new schools for the residents. And you know what happened? The NATO forces eventually had to destroy them, because the Taliban took them over. So--
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean the Taliban took them over? This suggest the Taliban are far more sophisticated than a lot of us think.
NANCY YOUSSEF: I don't think they need to be sophisticated. They own everything. They own the terrain. They know the terrain better than anyone. All they have to do is sort of bully their way in. Because without enough forces, how much security can you really provide that school. That's the thing. We've talked about this Taliban as they've come up with a strategy. I don't think they really had to do anything too complex. We have currently-- there are 101,000 troops, U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

It's an extraordinarily small number for a country of that size and that level of complexity to it. So, why build these schools if you can't establish security? It was a problem in Iraq, too. They would brag about, "Well, we put up this new school. We provided new electrical grid." And the next day it would be, it would be bombed. And Afghanistan's in that same place. But Afghanistan, I think, will take longer. It's just a far more complex country. And I'm not sure that the United States is ready for that yet. Or at least has been readied for it yet. It's going to take years.
BILL MOYERS: What's your greatest fear of what might happen there?
NANCY YOUSSEF: You know, because I'm the Pentagon correspondent, someone said this to me that stayed with me forever. My biggest fear from the military perspective is that Iraq doesn't fall apart quickly, but that--
NANCY YOUSSEF: Iraq. That Iraq falls apart slowly. And that we find ourselves in a place where we're doing this with troops. That as we're slowly bringing down troops in Iraq and slowly building up in Afghanistan, we find ourselves in a really difficult situation in both countries.
BILL MOYERS: So, you fear we have to reengage in Iraq?
NANCY YOUSSEF: I fear that we're going to find-- I don't know that the United States will. I mean, the Status of Forces Agreement makes it very clear that the United States is not going to engage.
BILL MOYERS: The Iraqis want us out.
NANCY YOUSSEF: That's right.
BILL MOYERS: There's a legal agreement to get out.
NANCY YOUSSEF: That's right. But what happens when the violence starts to escalate in Iraq and starts to escalate in Afghanistan, and we're say, at 80,000 troops in both countries? What is the United States role at that point? Is the plan to sit aside and do nothing? Will the Iraqi Government still feel that way? Depending on what the violence is? That's what keeps me up at night. Is that fear of that point where the United States finds itself engaged in both wars or at least heavily committed to both and not quite out of one, not quite in the other.
BILL MOYERS: President Obama has said that on the 24th of September, as you indicate, he will set forth his strategy. Do the officials you cover at the Pentagon have a sense of where his head is on this?
NANCY YOUSSEF: You know, that's the fundamental problem in all of this. You'll hear this. You might hear these phrases about counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency. Counterterrorism argues for a very narrow approach. We leave some drones there. We leave a few troops there. We keep an eye on things and we attack when necessary. And in Washington, that's sort of being led by Joe Biden. And then the counterinsurgency argument is we do everything. We build up a stable government so that there's no room at all for the Taliban to come back in. We build the economy.

We build better governance. And on this camp is, Hillary Clinton, General Petraeus, General McChrystal. And the problem is nobody knows where Obama is on that spectrum.
BILL MOYERS: Suppose he commits to a long war. Will the American people-do we have that kind of patience?

NANCY YOUSSEF: I don't know anymore because you see these polls come out and the majority now don't think this war is worth fighting. I was thinking about it. 60 days ago, when General McChrystal started the assessment, the political capital for this war was much, much higher. We hadn't had the health care debate the way it has.

We hadn't seen the kind of troop deaths that we had seen. And the political capital has diminished so quickly. At the minimum, General McChrystal's arguing for a strategy to build up the Afghan forces to a capacity that would cost about $3 billion dollars a year. This is in a country that generates $800 million of total revenue every year. So, at the minimum, he's talking about committing the United States and Europe and NATO to an indefinite financial commitment to Afghanistan. How do you sell that in this current economic climate? I don't know how you do that.
BILL MOYERS: And in the last eight years, there's been about $32 billion of foreign aid that's been splashed across Afghanistan. Can you see any of the effects of that?
NANCY YOUSSEF: It's very, very minimal because at the core it's security. I mean, that same number, you'll hear talked about how much has reached the Afghans. It's something ridiculously small. Like $4-$6 billion that actually has reached the ground in Afghanistan. Do you see it? Not really. You'll see it in pieces. You know, you'll see the ring road, or a paved road of some kind there. Or you'll see a new water system, or a new school, or a new crop buildup. But there's nothing linking all those things together. That's what's missing. So, it's very piecemeal. So, it's sort of like a mirage of a big pool of water in the middle of the desert. You know, you see it and then it sort of disappears, because it doesn't have any real long term impact.
BILL MOYERS: You're reporting depicts a very dismal picture there. So does every other bit of reporting I've seen, including the cover story a couple of weeks ago of "The Economist", which reaches a grim conclusion about the state of things there. But is there-- I'm not looking for a silver lining, but for a reporter's assessment, is there any good news there?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Yeah, the good news is that the United States is committed to it. The good news is that the world thinks that this is a priority. The good news is that there's now a renewed effort and that the best minds are on this and trying to come up with a solution. And that--
BILL MOYERS: The best and the brightest?
NANCY YOUSSEF: I don't want to say-- Maybe. But to me, I think the question at this point becomes either the United States commits to this and really commits to it. Or it walks away. But this middle ground of sort of holding on isn't going to work anymore. And that, to me, the good news is at least we are now coming to a head. We're at least coming to that decision point. And that's a critical decision that needs to be made. And to me, that's good news, because at least it gives everybody involved some sense of where this is going. I think that's something worth looking forward to because what's been going on up until now is unacceptable.
BILL MOYERS: But people say to me, you know, they're opposed to escalating the war. But they say, "How can we walk away from the people who joined this fight in no small part, because we've asked them to?"
NANCY YOUSSEF: Right. And what happens if the United States and the Coalition leaves? The Taliban invariably comes back. And there's the potential now for Al Qaeda to come back and we start it all over again. This is the problem with Afghanistan. You can't stay. You can't go. There are no absolutes in this. And it's this fine line that everybody's trying to walk. Are we prepared for the risk that comes with leaving and allowing the Taliban to come back in and potentially for that sanctuary to rise again? And now you've got a population that's more angry and more empowered in a very, very powerful and dangerous part of the region.
BILL MOYERS: But you're going back.
NANCY YOUSSEF: I have to go back. You know--
BILL MOYERS: Why do you have to go back?
NANCY YOUSSEF: Because I'm the Pentagon Correspondent, and I think it's really dangerous to depend on people in the Pentagon to tell you what's happening on the ground. There's no way to understand it other than to go. And I'm not smart enough to just sort of read reports. I have to feel it. I have to smell it and touch it and feel that fear in some way. I have to be in the humvee and feel the fear of not knowing what's going to happen. Or be in the car with the Afghan with my Afghan friends and feel what it's like to not know if that coalition soldier's going to kill you or not. There's just no way for me to understand it. And the vantage point of Washington, in some ways, doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter.

What matters is what the troops are doing. And you can't replicate anything going there. And I really do love it. It's a beautiful country. I love the people. I love hanging out with the troops. I love understanding it. To me it's a great privilege to have a job where I can go to the frontlines and really see what's happening. It's a great way to make a living.
BILL MOYERS: But just this week the "New York Times" correspondent, Farrell, was held hostage. And as he and his journalist friend, who in Afghan interpreted for him, was killed. He got away, but the Afghan was killed. And just this week, your colleague, who was in Afghanistan, Jonathan Landay of "McClatchy," was in a hostile action and in a perilous situation. Why do you put yourself in that?
NANCY YOUSSEF: It's sort of like Afghanistan, the alternative is far worse to me, which is to do nothing, which is to say nothing. You know, I have a unique background. My parents are from Egypt. And I'm, I'm raised Muslim and I feel like I have something to say. I feel like I can walk that line between what the local populations are feeling. What the military is feeling. And I don't walk in blindly. Every time I go, I sort of look at my hands and feet and say, "Oh, I hope I come back with all of these." I mean, I know what's involved.

I know those risks, and it's around. I mean, it's become personal, in a way. Every day this week, I wake up, and there's a bombing. And I worry about my friends in Afghanistan. And my colleague who sits right across from me at work is caught in an ambush. And I think, "What can I do to sort of tell people about this? What people have to know. They just have to know."

American problems in Afghanistan arise from failures of commitment

In the current discussion about whether/how/how long/ our troops should remain committed to Afghanistan there are still voices who say, "We have been in Afghanistan for eight years and we are still faced with a dangerous threat from the Taliban. It isn't working. We should just get out of there." Almost three years ago I received an anonymous comment:
I am a senior military officer who recently returned from Afghanistan. It is shocking to me that there is little understanding, or concern, about the war in Afghanistan here in Washington. When one is in Afghanistan, particularly when one is in the field, one deludes oneself into believing that someone is in charge and someone cares what is going on. There is no such someone. I feel particularly sorry for the Afghans.

That was the situation in the fall of 2006. The point is, for a number of those years in which our troops were fighting in Afghanistan our leaders in Washington had little interest in what was going on there.

No wonder we have a problem there now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More on the critical situation in Baluchistan

A statement in a recent post by Arundhati Ghose, former Indian ambassador to the United Nations, reveals an interesting detail about the Pakistani position on Baluchistan that has been little discussed. She is referring to negotiations over the projected pipeline through Baluchistan to India:
Pakistan has been at pains to reassure India that the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will be secure through the territory of Balochistan. They now accept that they are facing threats there similar to the ones ‘in other areas’, presumably, Swat and Waziristan, where they are fighting a civil war.
One could speculate further: India now has the option to internationalise the struggle for self-determination of the Baloch people, should it wish to—in the United Nations and other international forums.

That Pakistan now acknowledges a problem in Baluchistan is not really new, but the importance of the problem there has not been much discussed in the western press. And yes, it is as serious as the problems in Swat and Waziristan. For Afghanistan it is certainly serious because the Taliban seem to be free to move through the Baluchistan/ Afghanistna border freely, which has enabled them to have a powerful position in Helmand, and now also Kandahar.

Note also the remark about India's options. It helps us appreciate the Pakistani worry about the sense of threat from India. Of course Pakistan would never tolerate "self-determination" of Baluchistan: too much already invested [Gwadar] in such a strategic location on the India Ocean and currently the main source of Pakistan's gas supply. That India would think of proposing "independence" for Baluchistan would surely be nothing more than a move in the strategic "game." [Click on the title for a link to Ambasssador Ghose's article.]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fareed Zakaria on why we need to stay in Afghanistan

Fareed Zakaria has to be one of the savviest guys we have on our side, so whatever he thinks I would like to hear. Here is his case for how to look at Afghanistan. And again I like his case because it stresses the need to stay inside Afghanistan, and explains it well. I don't know if he is right, but I agree that, Yes, it is now time to face how desperate the situation is. RLC

Time to Deal in Afghanistan
By Fareed Zakaria The Washington Post Monday, September 14, 2009

It is time to get real about Afghanistan. Withdrawal is not a serious option. The United States, NATO, the European Union and others have invested massively in stabilizing that country over the past eight years, and they should not abandon it because the Taliban is proving a tougher foe than anticipated. But there is still a large gap between the goals the Obama administration is outlining and the means available to achieve them. This gap is best closed not by sending in tens of thousands of more troops but, rather, by understanding the limits of what we can reasonably achieve in Afghanistan.

The most important reality of the post-Sept. 11 world has been the lack of any major follow-up attack. That's largely because al-Qaeda has been on the run in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The campaign against terrorist groups in both countries rests on ground forces and intelligence. A senior U.S. military official involved in planning these campaigns told me that America's presence in Afghanistan has been the critical element in the successful strikes against al-Qaeda leaders and camps. Were America to leave the scene, all the region's players would start jockeying for influence over Afghanistan. That would almost certainly mean the revival of the poisonous alliance between the Pakistani military and the hardest-line elements of the Taliban.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Afghanistan is not in free fall. The number of civilian deaths, while grim, is less than a tenth the number in Iraq in 2006. In the recent Afghan election, all four presidential candidates publicly endorsed the U.S. presence there. Compare this with Iraq, where politicians engaged in ritual denunciations of the United States constantly to satisfy the public's anti-Americanism.

The Obama administration's answer to the worsening situation in Afghanistan appears to be: more. More troops, civilians, tasks and missions. There is nothing wrong with helping Afghans develop their country. But if the goal is to give Afghanistan a strong, functioning central government and a viable economy, the task will require decades, not years. Afghanistan is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. It has had a weak central government for centuries. Illiteracy rates are somewhere around 70 percent. Building a 400,000-strong security force, as some in Congress have proposed, will be arduous in this context, not to mention that its annual cost would be equivalent to 300 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product.

The focus must shift from nation building to dealmaking. The central problem in Afghanistan is that the Pashtuns, who make up 45 percent of the population and almost 100 percent of the Taliban, do not feel empowered. We need to start talking to them, whether they are nominally Taliban or not. Buying, renting or bribing Pashtun tribes should become the centerpiece of America's stabilization strategy, as it was Britain's when it ruled Afghanistan.

Efforts to reach out to the Taliban so far have been limited and halfhearted. Some blame President Hamid Karzai, who, bizarrely, wants to start this process himself by negotiating with Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, who has shown no sign of wanting to deal. But the U.S. government remains deeply reluctant as well, or at least wants to wait until Taliban forces are on the defensive. But, as one American official said to me, "Waiting to negotiate till you are in a position of strength is a bit like waiting to sell your stocks till the market peaks. It sounds good, but you will never know when the time is right."

The dealmaking should extend to the top. U.S. officials should stop trashing Karzai. We have no alternative. Afghanistan needs a Pashtun leader; Karzai is a reasonably supportive one. Let's assume the charges of corruption and vote rigging against him are true. Does anyone really think his successor would be any more honest and efficient? The best strategy would be to see if we can get Karzai to work with his leading opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, in some kind of coalition. The muddied elections actually create an opportunity to build a national unity government.

There are three ways to change security conditions in Afghanistan. First, increase American troops. Second, increase Afghan troops. Third, shrink the number of enemy forces by making them switch sides or lay down their arms. That third strategy is what worked so well in Iraq and what urgently needs to be adopted in Afghanistan. In a few years, Afghanistan will still be poor, corrupt and dysfunctional. But if we make the right deals, it will be ruled by leaders who keep the country inhospitable to al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups. That's my definition of success.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of "The Post-American World." His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

Skyreporter's statement of the situation in Afghanistan

I don't always like what Skyreporter says but his recent post is a credible formulation of the situation in Afghanistan. In so far as it is accurate, it is greatly worrisome -- so what's new about that? This is Afghanistan and Pakistan. RLC

Taliban Leaders Mock U.S. 9/11 Legacy From Pakistan Havens
By Arthur Kent, Skyreporter.com

Sept. 11, 2009 - On the eighth anniversary of 9/11, the West's effort to rid southwest Asia of the menace of terrorism is collapsing in a surge of bloodshed and corruption on a truly damning scale.

One fact stands shamefully above all others.

Today the least worried combatants in all of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the warlords who enjoy an untroubled sleep each night and by day dispatch killing force with virtually no fear of retaliation, are Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his leadership council, safe in the protective embrace of Pakistan's military in Baluchistan province.

The U.S.-led coalition of international forces in Afghanistan is unwilling to tackle this most pressing of objectives, even by political and diplomatic means. Yet until the zealots of Omar's rump Taliban leadership feel the heat in Pakistan, there's no prospect of easing the pace and ferocity of violence in Afghanistan.

Today in Kabul, no Afghan man, woman or child, nor even America's top general, Stanley McCrystal, can be certain the next pair of eyes they meet will not belong to a suicide bomber or gunman, a random glance that will be their last sight on earth.

McCrystal's new mantra, that U.S. strategy will shift to "protecting the Afghan people" is less credible than a box full of ballots from Paktika.

The good general seems oblivious to the most basic fact confronting him and his Western legions. The only way to protect Afghans is to end the war, and the only way to end the war is to put pressure, real pressure, directly upon the Taliban leadership where they live and command their fighters' war effort: Pakistan.
Even this week's conviction in Britain of three would-be airline bombers, who took their orders from Pakistan's tribal areas, has done little to dent the dome of denial Western governments maintain over the dirty secret of Pakistan.

History tells us we should have learned from past mistakes. Here's a story this reporter filed to the Calgary Herald on Oct. 28, 2001, some 47 days after the 9/11 attacks on America, and about two weeks before the forced exit of Mullah Omar's regime from Kabul, along with Osama bin Laden's Arab fighters and their foreign cohorts.

How little has changed, and not only with regard to the collateral killings of civilians by air strikes aimed at Taliban fighters.

The Arab fighters heard over the radio, and the Talibs - most fled to refuge in Pakistan. They have operated from those Pakistani havens for eight long years. As we see from today's carnage in Afghanistan, no amount of official denial can alter that fact.

For more see Skyreporter.com October 28, 2001.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ahmed Rashid Gets It Right Again. The Stakes In Afghanistan Are Huge

This blog arose out of a sense of helplessness. Presumably we all feel helpless as the world careers along its own path at an ever swifter pace, out of the control of anyone, even of an empire as powerful and all-pervasive as the American empire. So we are reduced to pointing out formulations that seem best to characterize the nature of the situation, the dangers that lie ahead. Once in a while I see an important one, and I want to say, “Yes! I wish everyone would read this."

I am thankful for Ahmed Rashid’s readiness to confront the nonsense now coming from otherwise sensible "authorities." He is at least informed: Unfortunately his book "Descent into Chaos" is so long (with so many blunders to agonize over and so many issues to worry about) that the people who should read it are deterred from facing it. But the world won't change to fit our conceptions of it: We have to do our best to understand it as it is, to catch an image of it on the wing. We must pay attention to those who have labored to understand, and Rashid is as good as we have of informed observers of the crises in Central Asia. Here is his latest attempt to explain how dangerous are trends in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To stress its importance I reproduce it here in full.

In Afghanistan, Let's Keep It Simple
By Ahmed Rashid The Washington Post Sunday, September 6, 2009

For much of the 20th century before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was a peaceful country living in harmony with its neighbors. There was a king and a real government, which I witnessed in the 1970s when I frequently traveled there. Afghanistan had what I'll call a minimalist state, compared with the vast governmental apparatuses that colonialists left behind in British India and Soviet Central Asia.

This bare-bones structure worked well for a poor country with a small population, few natural resources and a mix of ethnic groups and tribes that were poorly connected with one another because of the rugged terrain. The center was strong enough to maintain law and order, but it was never strong enough to undermine the autonomy of the tribes.

Afghanistan was not aiming to be a modern country or a regional superpower. The economy was subsistence-level, but nobody starved. Everyone had a job, though farm labor was intermittent. There was a tiny urban middle class, but the gap between rich and poor was not that big. There was no such thing as Islamic extremism or a narco-state.

In 2002, I spent a great deal of time in Washington trying to urge the Bush administration to focus on rebuilding Afghanistan's minimalist state, which had been utterly destroyed by 30 years of war. At that time a bunch of experts in Washington, some now closely associated with Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, estimated that it would cost the international community about $5 billion a year for 10 years to re-create a basic Afghan state that could counter any threat that al-Qaeda or the Taliban might pose.

The keys were investment in agriculture, because that is where jobs lie; rebuilding the roads that used to link the major cities and border towns, so the economy could take off; and investing in an Afghan army and police force. In addition, the country needed a workable government model, modern and inclusive education and health programs, and a functioning justice system.

We all know what happened. The Bush administration left Afghanistan underresourced, underfunded and in the hands of the CIA and the warlords, and went off to fight in Iraq. When al-Qaeda and the Taliban saw that George W. Bush was not serious about Afghanistan, they found it easy to return. The insurgency began in the summer of 2003, as the Taliban reoccupied large chunks of the country, used drug money to arm its men, and improved their firepower and tactics so much that the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, recently said the situation is "serious" and "deteriorating."

Now any operation to patch together a minimalist Afghan state would cost between $10 billion and $15 billion a year and require tens of thousands more Western troops, which nobody is willing to provide. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is widely expected to request additional forces, but he's not going to get that many.

Today Washington is bickering over what constitutes success in Afghanistan, whether the Obama plan will work, how long American public opinion will hold up, how many more troops and dollars are needed and how to stop its alleged NATO allies from slipping out through the back door. Asked what success would look like, Holbrooke even quipped: "We'll know it when we see it."

Many dissenters in Washington, such as columnist George Will, insist that the Afghans are incapable of learning and unwilling to build a modern state. Others, including former British diplomat Rory Stewart, argue that Afghan society should be left alone. But the dissenters do not sufficiently acknowledge the past failures of the Bush administration that led us to this impasse. What's worse, they offer no solutions.

So what needs to be done? First, the American and European people need to be told the truth: Their governments have failed them in Afghanistan over the past eight years, and not a single aspect of rebuilding the minimalist state was undertaken until it was too late. The capital, Kabul, for example, got regular electricity only this year, despite billions of dollars in international aid. Millions of dollars for agriculture has been wasted in cockamamie schemes to grow strawberries and raise cashmere goats.

Governments also need to explain that the terrorist threat has grown and that al-Qaeda has spread its tentacles throughout Africa and Europe. And the West must admit that the Taliban has become a brand name that resonates deep into Pakistan and Central Asia and could extend into India and China. Second, the minimalist state must be rebuilt at breakneck speed. President Obama understands this. His plan for the first time emphasizes agriculture, job creation and justice; on paper, at least, it's an incisive and productive blueprint. But will he be given the time to carry it out?

The Democrats want to give him just until next year's congressional elections and then start bringing the troops home. For the first time, more than 51 percent of Americans want their men and women back from Afghanistan. The Republicans are looking for slipups, such as the apparent fraud in the presidential election last month, so they can pounce.

However, the Obama administration needs two or three years before it has any chance of success. So the president's first task is to create public and congressional support to give the plan sufficient time.

Third, the insurgency can never be defeated as long as the rebels enjoy a haven. The retreating Afghan Taliban was welcomed in Pakistan in 2001 and is still tolerated there because of a certain logic put forward by the Pakistan army that mainly involves containing India's growing power in the region and in Afghanistan in particular.

Bush never really pushed this issue, choosing to treat then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with kid gloves. Today the Islamabad government is divided between civilians and the military, and as the civilians show themselves more inept, the army's power is once again ascendant.

In recent months the army has seemed more determined to take on the Pakistani Taliban -- since April it has lost 312 soldiers and killed some 2,000 Taliban members. Yet there is no strategic shift to take on the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

Despite Holbrooke's attempts to pursue a regional strategy, there is still no breakthrough with Pakistan. And India continues to act tough with Islamabad, offering the Americans little room to maneuver. There is no easy way out of this quandary except time and more international aid to Pakistan.

Last, there have to be Afghan partners on the ground to help build a minimalist state. Unfortunately, Bush ignored that too. The corruption, the growth of the drug trade and the failure to build representative institutions after partially successful elections in 2004 and 2005 were all glossed over, as Bush feted President Hamid Karzai and did not ask hard questions.

The apparent rigging of the Aug. 20 elections has plunged Afghanistan into a political and constitutional crisis for which neither America nor the United Nations has any answer. (In another sign of turmoil, the deputy intelligence chief was blown up by a suicide bomber last week, and the Taliban claimed responsibility.) But the electoral fraud was assured months ago when Karzai began to ally himself with regional warlords, drug traffickers and top officials in the provinces who were terrified of losing their jobs and their lucrative sinecures if Karzai lost. It seemed obvious to everyone except those who mattered in the West.

To emerge from this mess with even moderately credible Afghan partners will be difficult, but it has to be done. (The Americans could start by forcing Karzai to create a government that includes all leading opposition figures.) Without a partner, the United States becomes nothing but an occupying force that Afghans will resist and NATO will not want to support. Holbrooke's skills as a power broker will be sorely tested, with his past successes in the Balkans a cakewalk compared with this perilous path.

The Obama administration can come out of this quagmire if it aims low, targets the bad guys, builds a regional consensus, keeps the American public on its side and gives the Afghans what they really want -- just the chance to have a better life.

There is no alternative but for the United States to remain committed to rebuilding a minimalist state in Afghanistan. Nothing less will stop the Taliban and al-Qaeda from again using Afghanistan and now Pakistan to wreak havoc in the region and around the world.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who has covered Afghanistan for 30 years, is the author of "Taliban" and "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mr "Unlucky" has gotten lucky, but what about the Afghanistan peoples?

Heidi Vogt of the AP reveals that Parwez Kambakhsh -- whose last name means "Little Luck" or "Short on luck" -- has been quietly released from prison. His offense was asking questions about Islamic teaching on the status of women. That he was released seems like good news, but the delibertae inconspicuousness of the release reveals that the Karzai administration is unready to challenge the judicial system that put him in prison. Here is more evidence of the contradictions that people in Afghanistan have to live with: the administration holds a different view but doesn't want to rock the boat with the Islamic jurists -- even those who cannot bear to have questions asked about their rulings. It is a clash of moral visions, even moral orientations, that is implicit in much of what goes on the Middle East and Central Asia. And on this level women and women's status seem to occupy central stage. Even today a woman for no apparent reason was gunned down in Kandahar. For some people women are the emblem of many issues that seem to be at stake in their contested world. I don't know the answer but it appears that that contradiction in views -- sometimes held by the same person -- is endemic. RLC

Secret pardon frees Afghan journalism student
By Heidi Vogt, Associated Press Writer - Mon Sep 7, 9:48 am ET

KABUL - An Afghan journalism student who was jailed for asking questions in class about women's rights under Islam has been freed after nearly two years, a media rights group said Monday.

Activists have called Parwez Kambakhsh, who was convicted of blasphemy and originally sentenced to death, a victim of an Afghan justice system that panders to religious conservatives at the expense of individual freedoms.

He was released several weeks ago after President Hamid Karzai signed a pardon in secret, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which talked to his lawyer.

Kambakhsh has since fled Afghanistan out of fear that he will be the target of reprisal attacks, the group said. Afghan officials said they could not confirm his release.

Kambakhsh was studying journalism at Balkh University in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and writing for local newspapers when he was arrested in October 2007. He was 23.

Prosecutors said he showed contempt for Islam by asking questions about women's rights and for distributing an article he had taken off the Internet that asks why Islam does not modernize to give women equal rights. He also allegedly wrote his own comments on copies of the article.

The original death sentence in the Islamic state sparked an international uproar, and judges lightened the sentence to 20 years in a second trial. Rights groups sent thousands of petitions condemning the imprisonment and calling for Kambakhsh's release.

The case will be remembered as a "miscarriage of justice marked by religious intolerance, police mistreatment and incompetence on the part of certain judges," Jean-Francois Julliard, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement.

Some said Kambakhsh's arrest may have been a reprisal aimed at his brother, who angered Afghan warlords with writings about human rights violations and politics.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Taliban kill Shiite Children as a stipulated religious obligation

It is hard to visualize a world in which the whole agenda of the Taliban and Al Qaeda would be actualized. Part of it, only occasionally mentioned in the public discourse, is the stipulated anti-Shia orientation of the Taliban / Al Qaeda movement. They would, if they could, stamp out Shi'ism as a religious service. It is not merely that they cannot tolerate the American or other Western presences in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or the secular rulerships of the Middle East, or the Russians who now hold Chechnya, or the Uzbek secular government; it is also that other Muslims are intolerable. Shiites, yes, but also even other Muslims, those who have little concern about enforcing the sharia law as the Taliban/ Al Qaeda understand it. So, from here the movement appears to foster the internecine conflicts we hear about today from the Christian Science Monitor.
There is increasing talk about withdrawing from Afghanistan: What would be left behind? Can we live with that kind of world? Here is what the CSMonitor tells us has just happened. RLC

Pakistani Taliban attack Shiite children
Officials say the Sunni militants have attacked the minority sect as part of their strategy. Four children were targeted as they headed to school.
By Huma Yusuf

September 08, 2009

Taliban militants killed four schoolchildren in a remote town in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt on Tuesday. Local officials say the attack has sectarian dimensions as militants – who hail from the majority Sunni sect – targeted students of the minority Shiite sect. Previously, the Taliban have singled out minority sects as part of their strategy in Pakistan.

According to Agence France-Presse, some students were on their way to school when they were ambushed by the militants. (Click here to see a map of the region from the Council on Foreign Relations.)

The students were going to school in Atmankhel town of Orakzai district when the militants opened fire, killing four boys and wounding six others, local administration official Asmatullah Khan told AFP.

"It appears to be a sectarian attack as the slain students belonged to the minority Shiite sect of Islam," he said. "The attackers were Taliban."

Residents said the dead students were all younger than 16, but were not able to give the exact ages of the victims.

Eyewitnesses report that tribesmen from Atmankhel retaliated after the attack on the school children, killing two militants and leaving several wounded, reports Dawn, an English-language Pakistani daily.

The Pakistani Taliban have attacked schools in Pakistan's northwest since 2007, the Inter Press Service reported in January. According to the Associated Press, more than 170 schools were blown up or burned down by January as part of the militant campaign. These attacks did not, however, result in casualties, as the militants usually struck the schools when they were closed.

The Taliban have targeted members of the minority Shiite sect before. In 2008, the Taliban besieged Parachinar, a Shiite enclave in Pakistan's tribal belt, reported The New York Times.

The Taliban, which have solidified control across Pakistan's tribal zone and are seeking new staging grounds to attack American soldiers in Afghanistan, have sided with fellow Sunni Muslims against an enclave of Shiites settled in Parachinar for centuries.

Writing in Newsday, James Rupert explained that the Afghan Taliban also targeted the Shiite minority in Afghanistan.

In the five years of Taliban rule over most of Afghanistan, the bitterest warfare and deadliest atrocities were those between the Taliban, drawn mainly from Afghanistan's dominant Pashtuns, and the minority Hazaras, set apart from other Afghans as followers of the Shiite branch of Islam and historically the most downtrodden of the country's ethnic groups….

The brutality of the Hazara-Taliban conflict has been rooted partly in the special antipathy that the Sunni Muslim Taliban and their Arab allies have for Muslims of the Shia sect…. "They do not regard us (Shias) as people," said Ahmed Hussain, another Bedmushkin resident.

In recent months, the Taliban have also set their sights on members of Pakistan's Sufi sect. In March, CBC News reported that the Taliban bombed the mausoleum of Sufi poet Rahman Baba on the outskirts of Peshawar, and the caretakers of Sufi shrines in Pakistan's southern Sindh Province have also been attacked.

The killing of the schoolchildren in Pakistan comes as the military is engaged in a fresh offensive against Taliban militants in Khyber Agency, a neighboring tribal region. According to the South Asian News Agency, more than 57 militants have been killed and 107 arrested by the Pakistan Army in the past week.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Baluchistan, the part of the Taliban war that is being overlooked.

Many observers of the war with the Taliban/AlQaeda in Afghanistan-Pakistan have been focused on the decay of legitimacy of the Afghanistan government and the aggressive activities of the Pakistan military against the Taliban in Swat and the tribal areas.

But developments in Baluchistan have been critical to the war inside of Afghanistan. That is, even though the Pakistani army has gone after the Taliban in the tribal areas it has been indifferent to [even supportive of?] the Taliban in Baluchistan. The reason for the different policy toward to Taliban of Baluchistan is that that group -- led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, whose headquarters has long been known to be in Quetta -- is focused on overturning the government in Kabul.

So these Taliban are useful to Pakistan. We tend to forget that Pakistan sees itself as at war with India. Afghanistan has clearly allied itself with India so that from the point of view of the Pakistani military Afghanistan is with the enemy. The Taliban of Baluchistan are assets to be protected. These are the Taliban who have direct access to the Helmand province, where the largest crops of opium are produced in Afghanistan. Observers have known for years that MM Omar has a strong position in Quetta and the American military knows that the Taliban of Baluchistan have been active in Afghanistan, but the American people have as yet missed the fact that some Taliban are Pakistan's guys -- the guys now attacking inside Afghanistan.

This is to say that the current focus on policies and developments inside Afghanistan, as if that is the theater of the war, misses the most significant feature of the contemporary situation: Pakistan is still nourishing the Taliban who oppose the government in Kabul. So Pakistan is against some of the Taliban (those in the tribal areas) and is for some other Taliban (those in Baluchistan). If we don't find a way to contain Pakistan's support for the Baluchistan Taliban there will be no resolution to the war.

To clarify the situation in Baluchistan, I point to a recent article by MEMRI. [Click on the title above for a link.] RLC

Special Dispatch - No. 2506
August 26, 2009 No. 2506

Senior Pakistani Journalist on Baluchistan Problem: 'Pakistan has Pitted Radical Taliban Against Secular and Democratic Baluchi Forces… Promot[ing] Religious Radicalization'

In an article, senior Pakistani journalist Malik Siraj Akbar analyzed the Baluchi movement for independence from Pakistan, arguing that Pakistan's state institutions are supporting the pro-Taliban groups and eliminating progressive forces in Baluchistan province.

Akbar, who is the Baluchistan bureau chief of Lahore-based Daily Times newspaper, pointed out that in its bid to crush the Baluchi independence movement, Pakistan is not only using American weapons against the Baluchis, but is also supporting non-Baluchi refugees so as to create demographic imbalance in Baluchistan.

Following are some excerpts from the article, entitled "A Home-grown Conflict:" [1]

"Baluchi Youth Have Removed the Pakistani Flag from Schools and Colleges… Punjabi Officers Refuse to Serve in Baluchistan, Fearing They Will Be Targeted" [Click on the title abover for the rest of the article] . . .

Saturday, September 05, 2009

An Indian Intelligence View of the Murderous Intrigues in the Afghanistan War

Ambassador Bhadrakumar has been aware of intelligence activities in South Asia for a long time. His assessment of the underside of the murder of Abdullah Laghmani is chilling enough to be worthy of reproducing here. And, yes, there is an even more seamy side to cold blooded murder than most of us have imagined. RLC

“Spooks spill blood in the Hindu Kush”

Asia Times By M K Bhadrakumar 09/03/2009

Like in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, the murder of Dr Abdullah Laghmani, the deputy head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, could have been foretold. But the sheer brutality of his murder by a suicide bomber in front of a mosque in the town of Mehtarlam in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday afternoon in the holy month of Ramadan speaks of a visceral hostility not easily fathomable.

A self-styled Taliban spokesman promptly claimed responsibility. "We were looking for him for a long time, but today we succeeded." Commentators will no doubt rush to underscore that Laghmani's killing demonstrates the growing "sophistication" of Taliban operations. Indeed, Laghmani was a heavily guarded figure right in the sanctum sanctorum of the Kabul power structure. The first circle of the Afghan security establishment has been breached. High professionalism is the hallmark of the operation.

However, there are wheels within wheels. At critical junctures in the progress of the Taliban movement, an unseen hand has often summoned the assassin to clear the path or tilt the scales. The chronicle is chilling: Ayatollah Mazari, the top Shi'ite cleric of Afghanistan, (1994); Mohammad Najibullah, president of Afghanistan (1996); Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, (2001); Haji Abdul Qadir, also in the Northern Alliance, (2002). The list seems never-ending. "The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on ... " [1]

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been stalking Laghmani for a decade. It is rare for an intelligence agency to single out one individual as its mortal enemy and publicly warn him. The ISI had bestowed on Laghmani that rare honor more than once publicly. If one could go back and take a peep into the Northern Alliance's (NA's) intelligence apparatus during the anti-Taliban resistance in the latter half of the 1990s, one would spot Laghmani as an operative of exceptional brilliance in the shadows.

Being an ethnic Pashtun, he had keen insight into the political culture of the Taliban movement and the mindset of its patrons in the ISI, which was an invaluable asset for the NA. Pakistan got a taste of what Laghmani could do when in July 2008 he established the connection between the suicide bombers who attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul and the ISI by tracing a cellphone found in the wreckage to a facilitator in Kabul who was in direct telephone contact with a Pakistani intelligence official in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. The ISI felt the maximum heat from him in his native region of eastern Afghanistan, given the complexity of the situation there involving factors such as the traditional failure of the Taliban to strike deep roots among the Ghilzai tribes, the presence of the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani and al-Qaeda and the continuing influence of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e Islami.

In sum, Laghmani is not easily replaceable for the Tajik-dominated Afghan intelligence in Kabul on account of both his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Pashtun tribal alignments and the inner working of the Taliban and the ISI, as well as his operational skills.

The timing is significant. He has been a key ally of President Hamid Karzai. Pakistan has adopted an air of indifference to the outcome of the Afghan presidential elections, but a strong undercurrent of anxiety is palpable. Especially so, as the prospect of Karzai winning another five-year term as president is appearing. Everything now hinges on the American effort to rein in Karzai by getting the leading contenders to form some kind of a national government and to include technocrats in his cabinet. But then Karzai might well reject such a proposition. Karzai has tasted independence and may have come to like it.

To quote Ahmed Rashid, the well-informed Pakistani author who advises the Pentagon, "Karzai, of course, is showing his independence more and more from the Americans and does not want to be seen as an agent of the West in any way."

With such a curious power calculus forming in Kabul, the ISI needs to prepare for the return of Mohammed Fahim, the head of the NA intelligence - Laghmani's boss - and former defense minister, to the top echelons of Karzai's government as first vice president. That is a tough call. There is no one today in Afghanistan with Fahim's reach of experience in intelligence and military operations.

Pakistan succeeded to get the United States pressure Karzai to remove Fahim from his powerful post as defense minister and send him into political oblivion in 2005. (The US probably had its own geopolitical objectives too.) Pakistan now faces the specter of Fahim rising up, as it were, from the ashes like a phoenix, more powerful than ever. A massive media campaign has appeared against "warlord" Fahim, ever since he began figuring as Karzai's running mate. Unsurprisingly, he evokes strong partisan feelings. But to the consternation of his detractors, Karzai remains unmoved.

Now, Fahim used to be Laghmani's mentor. Indeed, the Fahim-Laghmani team would have turned the heat on the Taliban and the ISI from day one of the new Karzai presidency. Fahim, with his vast experience as an "operations man", is quite capable of carrying the fight to the ISI camp, and Laghmani would have been a "force multiplier" for him in the Pashtun regions. There was an attempt on Fahim's life already in August and Laghmani's murder is most certainly intended as a warning.

Prime facie, Pakistan ought to have nothing to fear from a Karzai presidency. Karzai has repeatedly expressed his willingness to work for a political transition that accommodates the Taliban as an Afghan group, provided it eschews violence. But in Karzai's scheme of things, the reconciliation of the Taliban should be preferably through an intra-Afghan peace process and through a loya jirga (tribal council).

And there is no guarantee that the other Afghan groups will concede any dominant role to the Taliban. Besides, the Afghan-ness of the political process might incrementally loosen the ISI's grip over the Taliban. Indeed, Laghmani with his seamless knowledge of the Taliban leadership and the Pashtun tribal alignments would have posed a constant headache to the ISI if any intra-Afghan peace process got under way.

Laghmani's murder highlights continued interference in Afghanistan. In the coming period, we may see an escalation of such interference. Pakistan, for its part, will feel tempted to exploit the differences that have cropped up between Karzai and Washington.

Pakistani commentators see the Americans "breathing down his [Karzai's] neck harder then ever". They anticipate that in the name of a crusade against public corruption and for good governance, the US will seek the exclusion of important political allies of Karzai who belonged to the Northern Alliance, such as Fahim, Karim Khalili, Mohammed Mohaqiq, Rashid Dostum and Ismail Khan. Indeed, these NA stalwarts ("warlords") will stubbornly reject a Taliban-dominated power structure in Kabul.
Therefore, in the shadowy world of the spooks, the second Karzai presidency may be starting on a bloody note. From all accounts, Laghmani was a popular figure in the Afghan security establishment and he figured in Karzai's inner circle. The general expectation was that he was destined to occupy a key post in any new government under Karzai. There will be many in Kabul who may want to avenge his untimely death. [1] Quatrain 71of the The Rubaiyat by Persian poet Omar Khayyam (circa 1048-1143) reads, The Moving Finger writes, and having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, Nor all your tears wash out a Word of it.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.