Khalil Nouri’s new article: An illustration of strategic change in Eurasian relations

A new article by Khalil Nouri in the HuffingtonPost illustrates how integrated are the issues in Afghanistan and the wider region of Central Asia. Locally the to-and-fro of negotiation is between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the interests of the respective parties actually include China, India, Russia, and of course the United States. Not much will happen without those and other parties engaging in the discussions. Afghanistan and its neighbors, once isolated and marginal to the current of world affairs, now commands a prominent place in world concerns. A civil war that is a surrogate international war; nuclear arsenals in the region; vitally needed reserves of gas, oil, and vital minerals; transport lines and pipelines that must remain open if the great populations centers of the world are to be supplied — these issues force the interests of the Eurasian powers to converge in Central Asia.

But in a sense there is no “Central Asia” without the wider configuration of nations whose interests now clash in this region as well as a few key places elsewhere. The Indian Ocean, the Gulf, Iran, East Asia, eastern Africa — these regions are likewise involved in the concerns of Central Asians.

I repeat myself on the pace of world change, but the process seems so awesome, as the emergence of new situations generates a plethora of unforeseeable possibilities. Crucial to this process is the ever-faster pace of technological development. The technologies of communication and transport are enabling social interchanges to trip relays of influence and interest all around the world, at an ever faster pace. New localities take on significances they have never had before, or at least not for a long time. This is the relevance of these developments for Central Asia. What was formerly marginal is now becoming more fully engaged with other places and peoples — and in certain respects becoming inescapably crucial to whatever happens next. [For a link to the source of the Nouri article click on the title above.]

A Paradigm Shift on the Chessboard of the Afghan “Great Game”
Khalil Nouri.
HUFFPOST: Posted: 05/17/11 12:29 PM ET

Ever since Pakistan began lobbying against Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai’s efforts to build a long-term strategic partnership with the U.S., urging him to look to Pakistan instead — and its Chinese ally — for help in striking a peace deal with the Taliban and rebuilding the Afghan economy, it was perceived to be Pakistan calling the shots for a new move on the chessboard of the Great Game.
However, despite how attractive that move may seem to them, it cannot come to fruition when few to even none of the players will consent to an all Afghan initiative; but in actuality, they are keeping the Afghan majority at bay from asserting their desire for such a plan. That said, this Pakistani rush to stack the deck in their favor in Afghanistan will fail due to the fact that there can only be one legitimate way to obtain stability in Afghanistan; through an all Afghan national ratification of a reconciliation process put forth for a genuine endgame to this decades-old grinding war in Afghanistan.
Subsequent to Pakistan’s clandestine call in Kabul, the Kremlin announced a three-day official visit by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to Russia at the invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev. This was scheduled ahead of Zardari’s trip to Washington, which has already been postponed; and now seems quite unlikely to take place anytime in the near future. Meanwhile, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul was immediately sent to Beijing for a quick rendezvous with his Chinese counterpart. And, thereafter, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was due to arrive in Moscow last Thursday on an official visit.
It seems, by all appearances, that this quartet is attempting to make strides towards an effort to introduce a model initiative initially engineered by Pakistan’s craving for a prime leadership status in Afghanistan’s forthcoming endgame.
However, in the wake of the May 2 killing of Osama Bin Laden and the Great Game players’ interlaced stopovers in Moscow and Beijing, along comes another keen contestant in the game, but a solitary one; the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must nowconsider steps to advance his partnership cajolement with Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
These interwoven trips are all a push for strategic positioning by the aforementioned Great Game playing quartet in a post U.S. troop drawdown environment starting in July 2011 and ending in 2014. It also boils down to acrimoniously preventing a long term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan, as the frontrunner to this antagonism, seeks to legitimize this notion where all parties have yet to give their endorsements. On the other hand, the underrepresented by majority, inept and weak government of Hamid Karzai who seems to have grown closer to Pakistan over the last year, cannot weather an outcome where all the key players have the decisive upper hand in this Great Game. Therefore, Karzai, whether he likes it or not, will have to abide by any outcome dictated to him by the major players. ….

[For more, click on the title above.]

Afghanistan – Pakistan talks. Reason for optimism?

I know I should know better, but the news that the Pakistanis and Afghans are talking separately, without the direct involvement of the Americans or [apparently] anyone else encourages me. What we know is that both governments are frustrated with the Americans. When both countries signal a desire to talk we wonder if they have reached a point of fatigue with the war and are ready address their concerns with a new seriousness. That key leaders of the Pakistani military are involved is significant, because we know they are disgusted with the Americans and trying to get them out. Can their talks with the Afghans indicate that they are fed up enough to curtail their support for the Taliban?

I would like to suppose that they are now trying to address certain inescapable realities: that the war benefits neither country while it nourishes radical elements that neither government can tolerate and at the same time prosper; also that opportunities await a time of peace, when the material benefits of strategic location and their respective resource bases could be realizes.

Years ago in a discussion among old hands at civil war elsewhere I heard someone say that such wars only end when everyone is tired of war and want to try something else. I would like to believe that both sides – even the Pakistanis, even the Taliban – would like to try something else. In the case of Afghanistan, war has been virtually continuous for two generations; in the case of Pakistan the practice of cultivating holy war fighters for a fruitless war against India has created an incendiary situation inside the country.

It may be wishful thinking, but I would like to hope so.

Below is a portion of the AP report on their meetings:

Pakistan says it firmly backs Taliban peace talks
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Sat Apr 16, 1:31 pm ET
KABUL, Afghanistan – Pakistan stands strongly behind efforts to make peace with the Taliban and that while the U.S. will play a role in any reconciliation, Kabul should set the parameters for any talks to end the war, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani said Saturday.
At a news conference, Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission comprising top-ranking officials is being set up to accelerate and promote a peace process.
Any solution to the war requires the support of Pakistan, and in particular elements of its security forces, which are believed to have links to insurgents in Afghanistan.
Gilani, army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and spy chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and other officials flew to Kabul at a time when U.S. relations with both nations are deeply strained. Having the trio of Pakistan’s power elite at the Afghan presidential palace at the same time underscored the importance of the daylong round of talks.
“We firmly believe that this process must have full Afghan ownership,” Gilani said. “It is for the Afghan nation to determine the parameters on which a reconciliation and peace process would be shaped.”
The U.S. backs reconciliation efforts, saying that it is willing to negotiate with members of the Taliban who renounce violence, sever ties with the al-Qaida terrorist network and accepts the Afghan constitution. It’s unclear whether the U.S. currently sees these as preconditions to talks or desired outcomes. But Gilani said that “conditions, qualifications or demands at this stage, in our view, may not be helpful.”
“Is the U.S. on board?” he asked, repeating a reporter’s question. “Yes, the U.S. is on board and whatever will be decided will be decided between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States.”
Gilani stressed solidarity between the two nations, which share a 1,500-mile (2,430-kilometer) border. He denied that Pakistan’s tribal areas were a safe haven for terrorists — a frequent allegation made in both the U.S. and Afghanistan.
“We are fighting a war on terrorism,” he said. “If there are military actions in our area, people they go to Afghanistan and if there is a military action by NATO forces, they come to Pakistan. Therefore, we should have more intelligence cooperation, more defense cooperation and more political cooperation.”
“We must complement each other. … There should be no blame game.” …

[For the whole article click on the title above]

American troops in Afghanistan: A worthy expression of outrage that is overdone

It’s hard to object to the harsh criticism of the US military in Afghanistan by Malalai Joya Kill Teams in Afghanistan: The Truth, but it is also hard to picture what can reasonably hoped for in Afghanistan, or any of the other countries of the Middle East / Central Asia, if there are no military mechanisms to stand behind social institutions. I agree with her outrage at the behavior of the Americans who intentionally but indifferently murdered several Afghans and then photographed themselves preening over the bodies. But Joya’s blanket condemnation of American troops is excessive; indeed, she seems to feel there is no need for American troops to be there at all. My question is, without them, or at least some military support, how could an orderly, just society ever be developed?

She seems to think that public demonstrations will make it happen. There is a line in her statement in the Guardian that stuck out to me:

[W]e are seeing the growth, under very difficult conditions, of another resistance [movement] led by students, women and the ordinary poor people of Afghanistan. They are taking to the streets to protest against the massacre of civilians and to demand an end to the war. Demonstrations like this were recently held in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Farah.
This resistance is inspired by the movements in other countries like Egypt and Tunisia – we want to see “people power” in Afghanistan as well. And we need the support and solidarity of people in the Nato countries.

How is “people power” going to work without the help of a viable military institution? — that is, the institutional support that the American/Nato forces are supposed to be providing.

If anyone whose situation demonstrates the need of a society for viable institutions of government — military and police institutions that are subject to just rulership, and an an effective system of adjudication of disputes — Joya herself is the ideal example, for she cannot live in Afghanistan under present conditions because the threats to her life. She directly, and correctly in my opinion, confronted the warlords of the country for their past crimes, and embarrassed them in a Loya Jirga. Good for her, we said. But they, at least someone, will not leave her alone if she dares to live to Afghanistan. She correctly identified the problem, at least one of the problems: Many of the power holders in the country, some of them in the current government, are former warlords with blood on their hands.

My question is how to encourage the establishment and maintenance of just institutions of governance in any society — in our own as well as all the rest. I don’t think it can happen merely by demonstrations in the streets, as much as I welcome them. Effective institutions of governance have to be developed — indeed, as happy as we can be for the progress made in Egypt and Tunisia, and we hope elsewhere, we all know that much remains to be done if those countries are to have a just, open, free society. The demonstrations in Afghanistan mimicking those in Egypt and Tunisia are a good sign, but what is to be done with the warlords? with the Taliban? with the Pakistani ISI that has been supporting the Taliban? Everyone would love to have the Americans and Nato forces out of Afghanistan, but what would happen to the Afghanistan people?

Societies have to be structured — that is, they must have mechanisms of social control and adjudication that are sufficiently effective for the society generally to be in support of it. And such institutional structures can only be established as all sides commit to establishing a working society.

And that entails having everyone with competing interests to seek mutual understanding and agreement, compromise through honesty and mutual respect.

It’s the failure to represent others fairly that I have a problem with in Joya’ critique. Yes, the behavior of American troops who killed several Afghans for sport and then bragged about it is outrageous, an offense to the Afghanistan military and the American people, and it should be punished. At the same time, though, Joya’s blanket condemnation of the American presence in Afghanistan is overstated.

Moreover, she claims that that Afghanistan would be better of without the American/Nato troops. It is hard to envision Afghanistan at this time solving its problems without help in stabilizing the country and controlling the insurgency. In an ideal world none of it should be necessary: the warlords would be tried for criminal behavior, Pakistan and Iran and India would not meddle in Afghanistan affairs, and the Americans would keep their troops home. Tragically, no one lives in an ideal world.

How is the problem of power to be solved in Afghanistan? When mobs can overrun a UN compound and kill several expatriates and a half dozen Afghans because they are offended by another outrageous act [Quran burning by a daft and foolish minister in Florida]; when Malalai Joya herself cannot show herself in Afghanistan for fear of being murdered in the streets — then there remains a fundamental problem of how to establish a functioning society. Mechanisms for the exercise and control of power have to exist in any society. Also, because human beings have differing opinions and perspectives they must practice the courtesies of social life: describing offenses accurately and fairly; also seeking ways of confronting each other with respect. Such conventions seem critical if progress is to be made in establishing institutions of governance that will ensure safe and effective social relations.

Steve LeVine’s doubts about the future prosperity of Afghanistan

Steve LeVine [The Oil and the Glory, January 25, 2011] has a valuable report on Afghanistan: to indicate how much has changed among the Taliban and to raise questions about the future potential of Afghanistan as a flourishing nexus of trade between Central Asia and India and the rest of the world. I still believe the potential exists but only in the distant future. His problem is with the policy proposals currently being made in order to encourage the development of the roads [and pipelines? cell phone masts?] that would link Inner Asia with South Asia. Whether he is right or wrong is less interesting to me than the discussion about the current issues, which seem to be always shifting, taking on new nuances. See The deadly risk of romance on the Silk Road

Asia Foundation’s Survey of Afghanistan: Generally positive news

The Asia Foundation “Survey of the Afghan People” has been published and has a bundle of surprises. [Click on the title above for a link to the source.] Most of us are discouraged these days, but the survey, done in summer, 2010 before the elections, presents an image of a people who are more positive than they have been for years. Here are some specifics.

In 2010, 47% of respondents say that the country is moving in the right direction. This figure has been increasing since 2008 (38%) and 2009 (42%).

In 2010, Afghans give a more optimistic assessment of their economic situation than in 2009. More Afghans say they are better off now than a year ago in all domains, particularly in terms of the financial wellbeing of their household. However, the benefits of increased financial well-being are not evenly shared, with those in the highest income bracket significantly more likely to report an improvement in their financial well-being in the past year than those in the lowest income category.

The majority of respondents are also aware of development projects in their local area relating to education and the same is true for projects targeting the reconstruction or building of roads and bridges.

[R]espondents are positive about the level of reconstruction and rebuilding, which remains the second most important reason for optimism cited by respondents who say the country is moving in the right direction. As in previous years, respondents are most satisfied with the availability of education for children in their local area, and the opening of schools for girls continues to be mentioned as a reason for optimism in the country, although to a lesser degree than in 2009.

Satisfaction with the performance of the national government has risen steadily over the last three years and 2010 records the highest levels of positive assessments of national government performance since 2007 in almost all regions.

In terms of local government, respondents give the most positive assessment of the performance of Provincial Councils, followed by district authorities and municipalities.

Confidence in both formal and informal representative bodies, including community shura and jirga, Provincial Councils, Community Development Councils (CDC) and Parliament remains relatively high.

Support for the application of democratic principles of governance remains high.

But of course not everything is sweetness and light in a place like Afghanistan:

Good security is identified as the most important reason for optimism, although it is mentioned by fewer respondents this year than in 2009. … [I]nsecurity is also cited as the main reason for pessimism, and by slightly more respondents in 2010 than in 2009.

In 2010, the only activity in which a majority of people say they can participate without fear is resolving problems in their community.

Actual experience of crime and violence remains relatively low, although there has been a significant rise in reported criminal victimization amongst respondents in the North East and South East.

Support for the government’s approach to negotiation and reintegration of armed opposition groups is significantly higher in 2010 than in 2009, suggesting that an increasing proportion of the Afghan public is in favor of a political solution to the ongoing conflict in the country, rather than a purely military one.

In 2010, there has been a significant fall in confidence in both national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) compared to previous years.

The majority of Afghans continue to say that corruption is a major problem in all facets of life and at all levels of government. In 2010, there has been a sharp increase since 2009 in the proportion of respondents who identify corruption as one of Afghanistan’s major problems, and as a main reason for pessimism amongst respondents who say that the country is moving in the wrong direction.

So, at a time when on this side of the globe hope has been waning it seems to be slowly gaining strength inside Afghanistan itself.

Of course we know better than to take these things too literally, too confidently. But it is news worth perking up about.

A railroad through Afghanistan

Good Afghan News [A great name, right?] has reported that the Chinese are planning to build a railroad through Afghanistan. In the long run, railroads, pipelines, airports, good highways, cell phones — these will transform Afghanistan by making the country accessible to more influences and more opportunities by reducing the price and time of contact with the wider world. But also, importantly, infrastructural improvements like railroads make heavy industries more feasible. The huge copper mine being developed by the Chinese as Aynak are the immediate inducement to the Chinese to develop this railroad, but that railroad, with an extension into Hajigak, might also carry iron ore.

The Chinese are thinking ahead 50 years while many of us in the US can think ahead barely four years at a time.

Here is the article [click on my title above for a direct link]:

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) signed an agreement today in Kabul in which the Chinese firm agreed to construct a railway corridor in Afghanistan.

MCC will construct a railway corridor from Aynak Copper Mine in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Logar to eastern Torkham and northern Hairatan border towns. Logar is 60 km south of the capital city of Kabul. “This northern railway is part of a wider plan to extend the Afghan rail network to connect Afghanistan to ports in Iran and Pakistan,” Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani told the media today.

Shahrani also told the media that the railway corridor will not only be used for transporting mineral deposits, but will also be used for the transportation of goods and passengers as well. According to the Ministry, MCC has also committed to employ Afghan workers as much as possible, and at all levels of the project.

Conflicted feelings about our “friends”

I’ve said plenty about how conflicted Pakistan is, and in fact, how conflicted the Muslim world is but it turns out that as I reflect on the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, places I care about and worry about, I am no less confused and conflicted myself. From one point of view, I support the war in Afghanistan/ Pakistan; I think it matters plenty [and I will soon present something about that]. But at the same time I grieve for the ways that the peoples and governments of these countries tolerate and even encourage the abuse of their own populations, abuses that are simply inexcusable.

So here is the other side of my view:

These countries as currently constituted are allowing and cultivating policies that makes support for them unpalatable. The United States and its NATO allies are investing heavily in a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan while the governments of these two countries demonstrate repeatedly an inability to defend and protect conventions of behavior that are taken to be essential and fundamental in the United States and Europe.

This is what we have heard in the news in recent days.
• Afghan Girls as young as 13 have been forced into marriage, and when they have run away even the police turn them back. Two of them were not only forced to return but flogged when brought back.

“Disguised in boys’ clothes, the girls, ages 13 and 14, had been fleeing for two days along rutted roads and over mountain passes to escape their illegal, forced marriages to much older men, and now they had made it to relatively liberal Herat Province. Instead, the police officer spotted them as girls, ignored their pleas and promptly sent them back to their remote village in Ghor Province. There they were publicly and viciously flogged for daring to run away from their husbands.”


• There is a new social ferment in Kabul over the publication of a video showing some Afghans who have been meeting secretly in Christian worship. Students at the university have been demonstrating, calling for these people to be killed. A member of Parliament declared,

“Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them.”

Popular sentiment on the street, according to live television interviews, agrees. [Rah-e Nejat, June 2, 2010; International Christian Concern, June 2, 2010]

• The Pakistan government has been cultivating radical Islamist groups who are fighting the American and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan. Now that it is clear even to the Pakistanis that those Islamists are bent on overturning the Pakistani government the government lacks the commitment and possibly the means to restrain them. The great surprise is how long it has taken for them even to admit what they have been doing to their “friends” [the US/Nato] and to themselves.

“Days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official declared in a surprising public admission that extremist groups were entrenched in the southern portion of the nation’s most populous province, underscoring the growing threats to the state. … The statements by the interior minister, Rehman Malik, after the killing of more than 80 people at two mosques last week here in Lahore, were exceptional because few Pakistani politicians have acknowledged so explicitly the deep roots of militancy in Pakistan. They also highlighted the seeming impotence of the civilian government to root out the militant groups, even in Punjab Province, providing a troubling recognition that decades of state policy to nurture extremism had come home to roost in the very heart of the country.”


This is what our troops are risking life and limb for.

Dorronsoro’s recommendation: Sue for Peace

In These Times has published an adaptation from Gilles Dorronsoro’s April 2010 report “Afghanistan: Searching for Political Agreement,” originally published on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website.* Dorronsoro’s experience and knowledge of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is so superior that his opinion needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness. This is not good news, but can we find anyone with better understanding of the situation on the ground? It is never wise to ignore wisdom.
I wish he were wrong… RLC

The Case for Negotiations Dealing with the Taliban is unsavory–but this war cannot be won.
By Gilles DorronsoroMay 24, 2010

The coalition’s strategy in Afghanistan is at an impasse. The renewed efforts undertaken since the summer of 2009 have failed to temper the guerrilla war. A few tactical successes are possible, but this war cannot be won. The coalition cannot defeat the Taliban as long as Pakistan continues to offer them sanctuary. And increasing resources to wage the war is not an option. The costs of continuing the war–to use Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s expression in the leaked telegram to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton–are “astronomical.”

The entire U.S. strategy revolves around a swift Afghanization of the conflict, yet the coalition’s Afghan partner is weaker than it was a year ago. The state’s presence in the provinces has declined sharply and the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai’s government is contested.

As a result of the massive fraud in the August 2009 presidential elections, the government has no popular legitimacy, and the legislative elections slated for fall 2010 will probably undermine the political system even further because fraud is inevitable. It is unlikely that the Afghan regime will ever be able to assume responsibility for its own security.

As a result, the coalition faces an endless war accompanied by an intolerable loss of life and treasure. A less costly alternative would be to negotiate a broad agreement with the Taliban leadership to form a national unity government, with guarantees against al Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan. But even if such negotiations might occur, they hold no guarantee of success.

Yet the cost of their failure is negligible compared with the potential gain: a relatively swift way out of the crisis that preserves the coalition’s essential interests. *Time* is not on the coalition’s side. The United States should contact Taliban leaders as soon as possible rather than waiting for the situation to deteriorate further.

In pursuit of a losing strategy

The Taliban cannot be defeated militarily because the border with Pakistan is and will remain open for the insurgents. The Pakistani army, which refuses to launch an offensive against the Afghan Taliban, has never considered taking action against the Taliban leadership based in Pakistan. The February arrest of acting Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is probably a sign that the Pakistani military wants more control over the insurgency to prepare for the negotiation process.

What’s more, the insurgency is now nationwide and cannot be contained by counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in two or three southern provinces. The COIN strategy cannot succeed because of the immense resources it requires. In a marginal, strategically unimportant district such as Marjah, the coalition would have to keep thousands of troops for years to prevent the Taliban’s return. To replicate such strategy, even in one province, would overstretch the U.S. military.

In addition to COIN, military strategists think they can quickly weaken the Taliban through the creation of militias, the co-opting of Taliban groups and targeted assassinations. These policies will not strengthen the Afghan government’s legitimacy or influence; to the contrary, they are destroying the Karzai government’s credibility. The effects of this strategy are irreversible, and with the acceleration of political fragmentation, the coalition is faced with the prospect of a collapse of Afghan institutions.

The Karzai government is unlikely to engage in institutional reform, given that it is increasingly dependent on the networks that ensured its fraudulent re-election. Consequently, the coalition is having more and more trouble influencing Karzai. The weakness of the central political institutions means that the development of the army and the police force–the coalition’s priorities–is occurring in a vacuum. Transferring security responsibilities to our Afghan partner will probably not be possible in the foreseeable future.

Afghans perceive their representative institutions as illegitimate. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of Afghan voters are believed to have supported Karzai during the 2009 presidential elections. All indications point to a high level of cynicism among the people and their rejection of the government; in fact, they massively refrained from voting even in places where security was reasonably good.

The legislative elections scheduled for September 2010 will further erode faith in the political system. The lack of security makes it impossible to hold credible elections in at least half of Afghanistan. And in February 2010, Karzai seized control of the ECC (Electoral Complaints Commission); there is no longer an independent institution to validate the process.

Aside from fraud and corruption, Karzai’s lack of legitimacy is linked to his presumed lack of autonomy vis-à-vis the coalition. Internal U.S. Army studies, and the experiences of numerous journalists and researchers indicate that a majority of the population in combat zones now considers the foreign forces as occupiers. Military operations are polarizing the population against foreign forces and further weakening Karzai’s regime, which appears irreparably unpopular and illegitimate. The coalition is perceived as the main provider of *insecurity*. Villagers do not want to see the establishment of coalition outposts that can bring only bombings and IEDs.

Furthermore, the coalition is hurt by the dependence of Karzai on his local allies, who generally oppose the coalition’s objectives. The coalition is also undermined when the Afghan government aggressively distances itself from the coalition when civilians are killed by “friendly fire.”

The failed Karzai government

The government in Kabul is now too weak to reassert control over the periphery of the country. As a result, the coalition is increasingly dependent on local strongmen who it helped put in place or with whom it has worked.

The weakening of the Afghan regime is very bad news for the coalition, which is promoting Afghanization in order to reduce its own investment. It is hard to build a military that is independent of the institutional network that constitutes the state. Problems such as ethnic tensions, local and national corruption, and the lack of a clear purpose make it hard to motivate soldiers and officers.

The coalition should recognize that an autonomous Afghan army is a very distant goal. The coalition’s large offensive to “clear” Taliban territory will not work, because the Afghan army and the police are not ready. If the coalition tries to secure Taliban territory on a long-term basis, it will overstretch itself and casualties will increase significantly.

Modest objectives would be more realistic. Most observers recognize the impossibility of a military solution. Nonetheless, different arguments have been put forward to reject negotiations. First, the coalition needs more time. Reinforcements are not yet fully in place, so talk of failure is premature. Second, experts such as Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid explain that the Taliban have reached the height of their influence, implying that the coalition would be in a stronger position in the future.

One can counter that the coalition should begin negotiations now while it still has the means to exert military pressure. There is nothing to indicate that the Taliban are going to slow their advance. They are pursuing a strategy that includes expanding their influence in the cities. And nothing indicates that the Karzai regime won’t be even weaker a year from now.

>From this perspective, the Afghan surge will have had the same result as all troop increases since 2003: a deterioration of security. Consequently, marginal military gains for the coalition in the next 18 months are the exact equivalent of a strategic defeat. Hence the need for a negotiated settlement.

But negotiations with Taliban leaders can be undertaken only if the Pakistani army agrees to act as a broker. Without Pakistan, there will be no solution in Afghanistan. Official negotiations must also include the Karzai regime and international guarantees preventing the return of radical groups to Afghanistan.

Along with negotiations, it is important to increase areas of cooperation with the insurgence. A ceasefire must therefore be observed during the negotiation process. The reduction in violence could help demobilize the Taliban and distance them from the radical groups currently in Pakistan, such as al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Likewise, aid must be demilitarized and NGOs must be permitted to negotiate directly with the Taliban in order to work in the regions under their control.

The privatization of security (reliance on militias, deals with individual tribes and private companies) is also dangerous. These groups will be difficult to control in the event of an agreement and are currently weakening Afghan institutions. The United States should immediately stop funding militias, which is counterproductive in the long term, and immediately bring an end to the proliferation of these armed groups.

Nothing guarantees that negotiations–if agreed to by the Taliban–will succeed. Furthermore, the regime that such negotiation will establish will be unstable for months, perhaps even years. But if the negotiations succeed, they will enable the formation of a national unity government in Kabul, a new constitution negotiated during a Loya Jirga, and both internal and international guarantees to prevent the return of al Qaeda.

Given the current impasse in which the coalition finds itself, such an outcome is the best that the United States can hope for.

*This essay was adapted from Gilles Dorronsoro’s April 2010 report “Afghanistan: Searching for Political Agreement,” which can be read on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website.*
*Gilles Dorronsoro*, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is the author of *Revolution Unending: Afghanistan 1979 to the Present

The Enduring Strategic Importance of Afghanistan for the Industrial World

Andrew Bacevich said on Bill Moyers Journal [4/9/10 PBS] that the war with the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan is the longest war in American history and is “utterly devoid of strategic purpose.” Moyers was enough convinced of this himself that he quoted Bacevich in the program that was aired last night. I have a great respect for Bill Moyers [and am outraged that his program and NOW have both been taken off PBS without sufficient explanation] but on this I think he has it wrong.

Bacevich’s view represents the usual American short term vision — we seem only to think ahead in four-year segments — and is unworthy of a man of his intellect and justly respected reputation.

I am of course dismayed at any suggestion that the United States should again abandon its oft-repeated commitment to the Afghan peoples. The American government supported the war against the Soviets during the 1980s and then disappeared in 1990s as the mujahedin fought over control of the country. Similarly, the Americans entered Afghanistan in 2001 and crushed the Taliban/AlQaeda, but then, again, withdrew its serious military assets to wage war in Iraq. If the Americans again abandon the Afghanistan peoples, a third time in as many decades, they would forever seal their reputation as untrustworthy and entirely self-serving.

But that is not the relevant reply to Bacevich’s claim that the war has “no strategic purpose.” The reply is to look ahead to see what American and other industrial nation’s interests are. If we look at the long term trajectory of affairs we see a world whose needs for hydrocarbons are rising exponentially. And in the region of Afghanistan, immediately to the north in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, are situated huge reserves of minimally developed gas and oil [leaving aside those that may exist in Afghanistan where the necessary research has yet to be done]. These reserves are just now being developed. And already there is a race for access to the reserves by the industrial nations of Eurasia. As Afghanistan is situated between Central Asia and the South Asian and Middle Eastern states it will eventually be a natural corridor of export from Central Asia to the many industrial countries already clamoring for it. []

In fact, three different pipeline plans are already in place: two of them from Turkemenistan’s Daulatabad gas field into Pakistan, one across the north, the other following the ring road through Herat and Kandahar, and the third running due south to Baluchistan and its Indian Ocean coast.

It is for this that the great powers are involved in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war, in their own interest. [] The United States already is trying to make sure that the hydrocarbon pipelines of Central Asia avoid Russia and Iran in order to avoid interdiction. So, for the Americans no less than the Indians and Pakistanis and Chinese and Japanese, etc. etc. Afghanistan needs to have peace, a secure peace, so that the pipeline construction festivities can begin. When that happens the United States needs to be in position to influence the agreements that will for a good while anchor the political and economic alliances of the industrial powers.

The Obama administration surely must understand this. The European leaders must know this, even if their own citizens don’t. Certainly the Chinese are demonstrating how well they understand it for they have been making deals with the Afghans for long term development. The Chinese are Afghanistan’s largest trading partner even now. And the Chinese have already — note already — built the port at Gwadar in Pakistan which will be the terminus of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Baluchistan pipeline on the Indian Ocean. One and a half billion dollars they have already invested in what was once a small fishing village. The ostensible reason is to construct a port that will accommodate ocean-going oil tankers. That Gwadar just happens to control the mouth of the Persian Gulf . . . well, is that merely an incidental circumstance?, or did it have something to do with other long term plans? The Chinese seem to be thinking decades ahead.

BGR, the German energy development company, estimates that within a crucial ellipse that includes the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea region, western Kazakhstan and northwestern Russia reside 74% of the worlds oil supplies and 70% of the world’s gas supplies. [] The huge resources lying directly north of Afghanistan will someday be transported by pipeline through either Afghanistan or Iran to the Indian Ocean whence it will be shipped to a thirsty industrial world.

That’s what can reasonably be seen in the moderately near future.
Why doesn’t Bacevich see that?

A source from Pakistan

A good friend has sent me a copy of a report from a source on the ground in Pakistan.  This is a helpful view of what is going on among the peoples of Pakistan.

Zubair Torwali pleads the case for a misunderstood people
Victims of their neighbours. Voiceless people?
What has happened in the region and what is happening now is the result of the conflicting agendas of the major powers involved in the game. In this mess the neighbours of the Pashtun region between the Oxus and the Indus are as responsible as the big powers.
The fact that Pashtuns living on both sides of the Durand Line are bearing the brunt of terrorism and the War on Terror is an obvious truth. As scapegoats for the last three decades, sometimes in the name of a ‘Jihad’ against the communist regime of the former USSR, sometimes in the name of strategic depth against contending neighbours, and now in the name of the so-called war on terror, the voices of the Pashtuns have not been adequately heard.
In this game the major players never bother about the actual people of the region. What has happened in the region, and what is happening now, is the result of the conflicting of agendas between the major players involved. In this mess, the neighbors of the Pashtun region – between the Oxus and the Indus – are as responsible as the big powers. Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Russia and the USA all have their own plans for the region at the cost of the destruction and genocide of the Pashtuns. Specifically, these states have designs which are irreconcilable with each other. Pakistan has always wanted a dependent regime in Kabul, one which would have no connection with India. Iran and Saudi Arabia have colliding agendas in the region, mainly based on sectarian grounds. Similarly China and the USA have their designs as well. But the most regretful and astonishing aspect of this game is that these players have never regarded the Pashtun people of the region as human beings. On the contrary, they have tried to make these people mere scapegoats. The realization of this crucial game is now greatly felt by the Pashtun intelligentsia on either side of the Durand Line.
For the last two months this writer has been engaged in an online discussion with many of the Pashtun intelligentsia. The discussion covers topics from politics to the phenomenon of global jihad. In this article some of the main concerns are given.   First, the Pashtun see the famous policy of ‘strategic depth’ as a deep grave for the Pashtun people. They are not reluctant about expressing their conviction that the Punjabi-dominated establishment of Pakistan has made the Pashtun people scapegoats for the ‘survival’ of Pakistan. They contend that what is happening in the region after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the late eighties has its roots in this “strategic depth policy”; and in this Pakistan has been helped by the Wahabi state of Saudi Arabia. To further this policy, they first produced the Mujahideen who were used against the Soviet Union. When this failed to achieve anything, the Taliban were installed in Afghanistan, who brought the peace of the graveyard into Afghanistan through the use of brute force against those who did not support the medieval version of Islam they wished to impose. Initially, the United States was happy with what was going on in Afghanistan, After 9/11, things took a serious turn. After the USA’s direct intervention in Afghanistan, the strategic depth policy dragged the war to the eastern side of the Durand Line and into the settled areas of the Pashtun population.
Second, the Pashtun intelligentsia sounds off on its grievances against the mainstream media, particularly in Pakistan. In spite of the brutality that the Taliban has inflicted upon women, children, the general public and the security forces, elements in the media still remain who support the militants and their version of jihad.
Besides that the media provide more space to pro-strategic depth and anti-Pashtun elements. People who spout the waging of jihad on neighbouring states are given extra space on the electronic media, whereas those who talk sense, keeping ground realities in view, are labeled as being treacherous or unpatriotic. Further, the media has continued to harp on issues for which it seems they are paid by some hidden forces. For example the media hype against the corruption of a single individual who happens to be the president of Pakistan. Thus the media ignores the core issues of security and Pashtun genocide.
No section of the media raise voices of protest against the banning of coverage during the South Waziristan operation. The talk-shows, which mainly mould the opinions of viewers, do not give due space to the Pashtun scholars and leaders. Instead they often invite ‘analysts’ who do not even know the geography of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Thus the Pashtun intelligentsia has started to think this selective and exclusive approach in the mainstream media is a threat to the national integrity of Pakistan, thus ringing memories of the exclusion of Bengalis before the partition of Pakistan.
Thirdly, the drone attacks on the Al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts of the in the Pakistani territory of FATA are seen by the Pashtuns not as an infringement of sovereignty but as a precise weapon which has to this date killed some of the top leaders of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. This hype in the name of sovereignty is an effort by the pro-Taliban segments of the media who want to protect them as strategic assets.
Fourth, the Pashtun intelligentsia is very sensitive about their identity issue. They think the North West Frontier Province should be given a specific name. They would like the province to be named Pukhtunkhwa, but a number of them also see Afghaniya as an applicable alternative.
These concerns and grievances are not baseless, since the Pashtun are the direct victims of terrorism and counter-terrorism. The Pakistani designers of foreign policy, the media and civil society need to listen to the Pashtun, as should the international community as well.
The writer is a freelance analyst and social activist based in Swat, Pakistan, and coordinates the Center for Education and Development there. Email: