Afghanistan: Seen Through the Lens of Anja Niedringhaus
(The Atlantic) Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus has been covering conflicts from Bosnia to Afghanistan for more than 20 years, earning a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, as part of a team of AP photographers covering the Iraq War. She has traveled to Afghanistan numerous times, photographing events from 2001 until today, sending photos from Kandahar as recently as yesterday. Documenting a decades-long story like the Afghanistan War is a challenge for any photojournalist, from simple logistical issues, to serious safety concerns, to the difficulty of keeping the narrative fresh and compelling. Niedringhaus has done a remarkable job, telling people’s stories with a strong, consistent voice, an amazing eye for light and composition, and a level of compassion that clearly shows through her images. Gathered here are just a handful of her photos from the war-torn nation, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. [40 photos]
Afghanistan’s Abdullah leads in vote count
(Al Jazeera) Ex-foreign minister ahead of closest rival Ashraf Ghani in presidential election though run-off vote seems likely.
“With 500,000 votes [out of 7 million] from 26 provinces Dr Abdullah is leading with 41.9 percent; Dr Ashraf Ghani has 37.6 percent and is in second; and Zalmai Rassoul has 9.8 percent in third position.”
Relief in Afghanistan after largely peaceful landmark election
(Reuters) – Afghanistan’s presidential election closed on Saturday amid relief that attacks by Taliban fighters were fewer than feared for a vote that will bring the first-ever democratic transfer of power in a country plagued by conflict for decades.
It will take six weeks for results to come in from across Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and a final result to be declared in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
This could be the beginning of a potentially dangerous period for Afghanistan at a time when the war-ravaged country desperately needs a leader to stem rising violence as foreign troops prepare to leave.
The Taliban threat to wreck the vote through bombings and assassination failed to materialize, and violent incidents were on a far smaller scale than feared.
Turnout was seven million out of 12 million eligible voters, or about 58 percent, according to preliminary estimates, election commission chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani told reporters.
That was well above the 4.5 million who voted at the last election in 2009 which was marred by widespread fraud.
Afghan hope prevails as presidential election day arrives
Ordinary Afghans vow to defy fraud, violence and intimidation to turn out in large numbers to choose Hamid Karzai’s successor
There has been bloodshed and fraud on the campaign trail, and there will almost certainly be bombs and assassinations, voter intimidation, ballot-box stuffing and vote buying as Afghanistan goes to the polls on Saturday to choose a new president.
But Afghans are vowing to defy the violence and the cheating to vote in large numbers, at least in areas where they can reach voting centres safely, after a campaign that even cautious observers are admitting has been more successful than almost anyone anticipated. …
After more than a decade under President Hamid Karzai, there have been widespread fears that the election would be sewn up in favour of a chosen successor, or that people disillusioned with corruption and mismanagement would stay away. In 2009 the vote that returned Karzai to power was marred by widespread fraud, with more than a million ballots thrown out.
This time around the race still appears to be a wide-open competition between three frontrunners, all former ministers with advanced degrees, multi-ethnic tickets and an avowed commitment to women’s rights.
Election organisation has improved so much that this will be the country’s first poll held on schedule, and with tighter anti-fraud measures. A new generation has come of age, keen to have a say in their future, and insurgent violence is angering as well as deterring voters.
Two Associated Press journalists shot in Afghanistan
Photographer Anja Niedringhaus is killed and another wounded after attack in Khost province on eve of presidential election
An Afghan police officer has shot dead a foreign photographer and badly injured another in the country’s violent east, as they were covering preparations for the country’s presidential election.
The man opened fire on Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon from the Associated Press in a police headquarters in Khost province, after the women arrived with a convoy of election materials on Friday.
Colleague and Friend Remembers Slain Photographer Anja Niedringhaus
David Guttenfelder, who worked closely with Niedringhaus, says her death is “a profound loss for photojournalism.”
How branding trumped results in Afghanistan
(Op-ed Ottawa Citizen) This month marks 10 years since the opening of the first Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan. That calls for an accounting of the extent to which Canada helped Afghanistan attain stability and to which our Afghan mission promoted Canada’s image through the last decade.
The embassy was established in Kabul with four Canada-based officers. Opening an embassy with such a tiny staff complement in a country with insurmountable political, security, social and economic problems clearly reflected the Canadian government’s lack of understanding of the complexities of post-conflict issues and the extent of the efforts required for the stabilization and peace-building process.
Yet, with a small office and in the absence of any clear road map, the Canadian embassy helped contribute to Afghanistan’s progress and earned a positive reputation for Canada. …
Unfortunately, Canada’s reputation was short-lived and so was the Afghan government’s relative success in earning legitimacy, as Canada drastically cut back financing of the national programs.
New York Times Topics: Afghanistan
The Guardian Afghanistan World News
Vanity Fair May 2010 The Professor of War
Globe & Mail December 4 2009 Afghanistan matters to India; India matters to us
The Nation: The Taliban Is Not Al Qaeda 16 May 2013
Afghan Taliban attack in Kabul throws peace talks into further doubt
(Reuters) – Taliban militants attacked key buildings near Afghanistan’s presidential palace and the U.S. CIA headquarters in Kabul, a brazen assault that could derail attempts for peace talks to end 12 years of war. Al Jazeera reports that:
The attack came ahead of a planned event where Karzai was expected to speak about his talks with James Dobbins, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the issue of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban through their newly opened office in Qatar.
“Dobbins has said that they are waiting to hear from the Taliban to see whether they are willing to come to the table. We were expecting President Karzai to say in that meeting today that he was going to send an advance fact-finding party to Qatar where the Taliban has its [office] to try and get those talks going,” reported Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse from Kabul.
Afghan sources, however, told Al Jazeera that the Taliban representatives in Doha were adamant that they would not speak with the Karzai government
Police remove flagpole at centre of Afghan, Taliban row
(Reuters) – Police have removed a flagpole from the Taliban’s office in Qatar, an official said on Sunday, expunging the last visible sign of official decoration that riled the Afghan government and derailed nascent peace talks.
The Taliban was due to hold discussions with U.S. officials in Qatar last Thursday – originally raising hopes the meeting could develop into full-blown negotiations to end Afghanistan’s 12-year-old war.
But the session was cancelled when the Afghan government objected to the fanfare surrounding the militants’ opening of an office in the Gulf state, complete with flag and official plaques.
Brian Stewart: Forget the cynics, why the Taliban might just want peace
Despite the histrionics, it’s much better to negotiate now, with the U.S. still around
(CBC) … given the hard bargaining that is inevitable, no one should be surprised by any abrupt postponements, angry walkouts, temporary boycotts, surly resumptions of talks, and significant up-ticks in fighting even as negotiators meet.
These are, after all, peace talks. That’s what negotiations have been like during the hard processes that ended modern wars, from Korea in 1953, to the Lebanon civil war in the late-1970s and ’80s, and the Balkans in the late-1990s.
Afghan peace bid stumbles on Kabul-Taliban protocol row
(Reuters) A fresh effort to end Afghanistan’s 12-year-old war looked in trouble on Thursday after a diplomatic spat about the Taliban’s new Qatar office delayed preliminary discussions between the United States and the Islamist insurgents.
Afghanistan Rejects Talks With Taliban and the U.S.
(NYT) Less than 24 hours after the Taliban opened an office for peace talks in the Gulf emirate of Qatar, the Afghan government backed away on Wednesday from even starting discussions with its adversaries and broke off talks on future military cooperation with the United States. (Reuters) Afghan government to shun U.S. talks with Taliban — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday his government would not join U.S. peace talks with the Taliban until they were led by Afghans and would suspend negotiations with the United States on a troop pact.
NATO to hold 2014 summit on Afghanistan troop withdrawal
(Reuters) – NATO countries will hold a summit next year to discuss troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
The United States and its 28 NATO allies have been working toward withdrawing combat troops in 2014, a milestone Rasmussen said is in sight.
Dr. Charles Cogan: Born Yesterday
(HuffPost) I was bemused to read about the uproar caused by press revelations of “bags” of money from the CIA being delivered to the office of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul…as if we were all born yesterday.
Foreign Policy reports that Karzai again suggests U.S.-Taliban cooperation after deadliest day for American forces this year
In a speech to tribal leaders and elders on Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai repeated his assertion that the Taliban is working in cooperation with foreign militaries to maintain an international presence in the country.
New Tensions Crop Up Between U.S. and Afghanistan as Major Transitions Loom
With Ambassador James Dobbins, a career diplomat serving in a number of conflict zones, including Afghanistan. And Said Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington from 2003 to 2010, before that, he was President Karzai’s chief of staff.
… President Karzai is facing a transition, a political transition in Afghanistan.
And he would like to remain relevant for this process of the transition. … He feels that he will be a lame-duck president therefore. Also, his calculations personally are that the United States has larger plans and they would like to stay in Afghanistan and the region. He would like to be seen as the man who is pushing America out or defending the Afghan interests.
Foreign Policy: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the last of the 33,000 “surge” troops that President Obama dispatched to Afghanistan have left the country, leaving 68,000 American forces to fight the war. Panetta argued that the surge had accomplished its goals of reversing the Taliban’s momentum and building up the Afghan security forces.
NATO suspends joint patrols with Afghan forces
NATO has suspended joint ground operations with the Afghan police and army after a surge in what have been described as insider attacks on NATO troops, 51 of whom have been killed in such attacks this year. “We see this as a temporary and prudent response to current threat levels,” said Col. Tom Collins, a senior spokesman for NATO-led forces in the country. The Guardian (London) (9/18), Reuters (9/18)
Prince Harry targeted in fatal Taliban attack on ‘impregnable’ military base
Prince Harry was the target of a dramatic attack by the Taliban on Britain’s “impregnable” headquarters in Afghanistan, the terror group has claimed. Prince Harry is safe, but 2 U.S. marines were killed. By his presence, he is attracting unwelcome attention and very possibly further loss of life – is this right? Should he not either be deployed incognito or in areas where he will not be endangering others?
Dr. Charles Cogan: The Haqqani Network: The Background
In an Associated Press dispatch of September 7, the day the Haqqani network was labeled a terrorist organization by the United States Government, Matthew Lee and Bradley Klepper stated that the network of Jalaludin Haqqani was “a leading recipient of CIA money” during the Afghan mujahidin struggle against the Soviet Union. Another AP dispatch of the same date by Sebastian Abbot and Kimberly Dozier claimed that the network functioned “with extensive support from U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services.”
While this was basically the case, a few clarifications are in order. In the first place there was no aid furnished directly by the CIA to the mujahidin groups fighting the Soviets. It was done essentially through the Pakistani military intelligence service, the ISI. As agreed between the then ISI chief Gen. Akhtar and the CIA, the aid was to be furnished to seven resistance parties.
Sections of Taliban ready to accept US presence in Afghanistan – report
Moderates say they can see no prospect of victory so are prepared to negotiate – but not with the Karzai government
Taliban prepared to accept Afghanistan ceasefire and political deal, say experts
Academics who conducted private talks with Taliban say senior figures believe war in Afghanistan is not winnable
A belief that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and fear of a future civil war has persuaded Taliban leaders of the merits of a ceasefire, power-sharing and a political deal, according to a group of experts and academics who conducted private talks with senior Taliban figures.
Simon Tisdall: Afghanistan — a ragged retreat threatens to turn into a slow-motion rout
(The Guardian) The latest killings in Afghanistan are a stark reminder to western leaders of the folly of ignoring the situation in the country
The killing of 17 people by Taliban insurgents in Musa Qala, the deaths of 10 Afghan army personnel in a separate, large-scale assault in Helmand, and the killing of two US soldiers by an Afghan national army recruit could be dismissed as just another bloody day in Afghanistan.
Alternatively these gruesome events, taken together, might sensibly be seen as another urgent warning to neglectful western politicians that their policy of gradual, go-slow withdrawal is rapidly unravelling. It is a warning they may ignore at their peril.
Barack Obama and David Cameron have set a departure date for Nato forces of 2014. But the deteriorating security situation, the rank unreliability or underperformance of large sections of the Afghan army and police, and the fearful persistence of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban may yet force their hand, turning ragged retreat into slow-motion rout.
Lessons From Afghanistan
(OpenCanada) Lessons learning is something that all modern militaries do. War is too costly to repeat mistakes, so the Canadian Forces along with the rest of the countries operating in Afghanistan have spent and will continue to spend much time and effort looking back at the past decade to figure what they can do better next time.
What went wrong in Afghanistan
The war in Afghanistan lasted longer and was arguably far more complex [than the French Revolution], but Canadian experts are ready to tell us what went wrong. In the lead-up to the NATO Summit next month, we ask Canada’s top military commentators to assess what went wrong – and what we can learn from our failures.
U.S. troops are killed as Afghan Koran protests continue
Demonstrations continued against the U.S. in Afghanistan several days after Korans were burned at the largest NATO air base in the country, leading to the deaths Thursday of two American soldiers by a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform. U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to hold accountable those responsible for what he called an “inadvertent” sacrilege. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (2/24), The Wall Street Journal (2/24)
Afghanistan withdrawal plan outlined by Downing Street
(BBC) Afghan forces will take over lead security responsibility in all parts of Afghanistan by the end of next year, Downing Street has said.
Pakistan slams India-Afghanistan development pact
Pakistani authorities have reacted angrily to a pact signed by India and Afghanistan to enhance bilateral cooperation on a range of issues such as education, security and economic trade. Pakistan and Afghanistan have seen their relationship deteriorate recently as officials trade accusations Pakistani intelligence services are involved in supporting terrorist activities. Google/The Associated Press (10/6)
Afghanistan Haqqani militant Haji Mali Khan captured
(BBC) A senior leader of the militant Haqqani network, Haji Mali Khan, has been captured in Afghanistan, the Nato-led international force Isaf has said.
Saffron could displace opium poppies as Afghans’ cash crop of choice
(Globe & Mail) Farmers’ fields outside the western Afghanistan city of Herat are about to blossom into a purple form of gold.
Once rife with poppy, the lucrative spring crop used to produce heroin, these plots are now seeded with saffron flowers. They yield the burnt orange granules that trade as the most expensive spice in the world. At its highest quality, saffron sells for between $2,000 and $4,000 per kilogram in global markets, enticing farmers to switch their allegiance from opium, which sells as little as a tenth as much.
How the Haqqani Network is Expanding From Waziristan
The Pakistani-Based Militant Group Needs a War In Afghanistan to Survive
(Foreign Affairs) The network of militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas are playing an increasingly destabilizing role in NATO’s possible negotiations with the Taliban
Despite their origins as a marginalized border tribe, the Haqqani brothers may now be eyeing a future role on the Afghan national stage. The Haqqanis’ backers in Pakistan will have to make their own decision about whether they are going to take part in a negotiated reconciliation, or if, as Washington has suggested, they will ramp up their proxy war inside Afghanistan.
The Wars of Afghanistan
Charles Cogan reviews Peter Tomsen’s The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers.
(Foreign Policy) The author’s disapproval of troubled and troubling Pakistan, and his criticism of Pakistani policy in Afghanistan as “unholy,” is patent, and it gives the book an unfortunate polemic tinge. But overall, this is a useful book, particularly for the period when the author describes his own contacts with many Afghan players as he tried to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to a negotiated conclusion. The effort failed, but the account is instructive. The fractious tendencies in Afghan society were too strong. They remain so today.
Before 9/11: The tale of an Afghan ‘lion’
Journalist Ed Giradet met the remarkable Ahmed Shah Massoud during the Afghan insurgency against the Red Army. Twenty years later, on the eve of 9/11, he tried to see him one last time.
Billions spent on Afghan police but brutality,corruption prevail
(Reuters) – An Afghan policeman shot dead taxi driver Mohammad Jawid Amiri six month ago, for no apparent reason. According to a Kabul police official, the shooting was an accident, and the offending policeman is now behind bars.
That’s news to the family of 27-year-old Amiri.
They say the only contact with the policeman they had since the shooting was when his family offered a sheep and three bags each of rice and flour as compensation, but only if the Amiris signed papers saying their son died a traffic accident, and not from gunshot wounds.
Suicide bomber attacks Karzai memorial service
(FP Morning Brief) A suicide bomber exploded himself at a service for Ahmed Wali Karzai, killing four people, including Kandahar’s chief cleric. All Afghan senior government officials that were present survived the attack.
(FT) Killing of Karzai’s brother shakes US
The killing of Ahmed Wali Karzai, one of the country’s most powerful men, deprives the US of a linchpin in its anti-Taliban strategy
Ahmed Wali Karzai was an indispensable problem
The assassinated half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai ran Kandahar with guile and toughness. The US worked with him, but he symbolized how out of reach US goals are.
(CSM) US officers came and went in his region. Some were more concerned than others about allegations he was involved in Afghanistan’s opium trade (he lived rent-free in a mansion owned by a powerful drug lord) or the protection rackets around guarding US fuel and supply trucks. But all of them worked with him. How could they avoid it? He had intelligence, resources, and local respect. He genuinely opposed the Taliban. And any replacement was no likely to be better, and could well have been worse. So, yes, an indispensable man — but an enduring example of how the Afghan system, which frequently preys on the poorest with little mercy, isn’t changing.
(MSNBC) ‘Good friend’ kills Afghan president’s half-brother — Taliban claim responsibility for assassination at heavily guarded house
Canadian forces leave Afghanistan as mission ends
Canadian troops have begun to return home from Afghanistan, as the country’s nine-year combat mission comes to a close.
At a flag-lowering ceremony on Tuesday, troops officially handed over control of their last district to US forces.
Afghan central banker flees
(BBC) Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, the governor of Afghanistan’s central bank, resigned his position and fled the country, saying that the government interfered in his corruption investigation into Kabul Bank. He said that he left Afghanistan after receiving reports from “credible sources” that his life was in danger due to the investigation. He is now in the United States, where he has residency.
Robert Fulford: The Taliban had no tolerance for tolerance
When they blew to pieces the gigantic Buddhas of the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan, much of the world learned for the first time about the darkness at the heart of the Taliban. Suddenly, they acquired an air of menace in our collective imagination.
… Today the region is considered a relatively stable and peaceful corner of Afghanistan. The government forces believe they can keep it that way. But the Taliban hasn’t stopped trying to create fear and anxiety among the people. On June 7 the body of Jawad Zehak, a popular Bamiyan provincial official, was found on a road in the neighbouring province of Parwan, beheaded. While Western leaders make plans to withdraw troops, the sorrows of the Afghans in that valley are far from over.
Karzai seeks Pakistani help to fight Taliban
(Al Jazeera) Afghan president says Islamabad’s help in combating “extremism and terrorism” can restore stability in region.
Peace doves hover over Islamabad
By M K Bhadrakumar
(Asia Times) A momentous week stretches ahead as Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrives in Islamabad on Saturday for the inaugural session of the joint Afghan-Pakistani commission for reconciling the Taliban. The Pakistani army chief as well as the Inter-Intelligence Services head will be sitting on the commission and investing it with an unmistakable halo of prestige and authority.
Jim Lobe — Afghanistan: To go or not to go
WASHINGTON – With only three weeks left before United States military forces are scheduled to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, the debate over the size and pace of that withdrawal has become increasingly intense.
… Releasing a highly critical staff report on the effectiveness and sustainability of US aid programs in Afghanistan on Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry expressed strong doubts about the current strategy.
“While the United States has genuine national security interests in Afghanistan,” said Kerry, a key foreign policy ally of the White House, “our current commitment, in troops and dollars, is neither proportional to our interests nor sustainable.”
Obama’s big decision: Should they stay or should they go?
(The Independent) As the fighting season starts, President Barack Obama considers how many troops to pull out of Afghanistan
M D Nalapat: Time for white paper on Afghanistan (PO)
… Pakistan has a treasure trove of documents that show the manner in which the US and other countries helped the Taliban, including details of the cash and other payments made by the incoming Bush administration in the weeks preceding the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre by teams formed by “Al-Qaeda”. What is needed is for these documents to get released in the form of annexures to a White Paper that would show the extent to which the US (and other countries) have been complicit in building up the Taliban.
How the Mazar-e-Sharif UN attack developed
Thousands of worshippers, flogged into a rage by sermons denouncing a burning of the Quran by a fringe preacher in the United States, spilled out of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif and marched about a mile to the UN compound and attacked UN workers inside, easily overwhelming the 60 or so Afghan police who tried to protect the site. One safe room at the UN compound proved ineffective in sheltering those inside. The attack developed so quickly that U.S. forces were unable to mobilize in time to intervene. The Wall Street Journal (4/4)
States of Conflict: An Update
(NYT) Afghanistan saw the completion of the American and NATO troop surges that were the focal point of President Obama’s December 2009 policy decision. Afghan security forces grew both in number and quality, and NATO clarified its plan to keep partnering with them through 2014. And while September’s parliamentary elections were marred by fraud, this time it was primarily Afghans who held other Afghans accountable in the aftermath — demonstrating some fledgling aspects of a working democratic system.
Kabul and its environs are reasonably secure and under the general control of Afghan Army and police forces, not NATO troops. But the insurgents have proved resilient, as indicated by trends in violence. Extremist sanctuaries in Pakistan remain a major problem despite Washington’s increased aid to that country. And corruption in the Kabul government remains endemic. In sum, the war’s basic trajectory remains unclear.
Dr. Charles G. Cogan: Picking a fight
(HuffPost) … It is the Pakistani sanctuaries that have become a major, if not the major problem for the United States’ war in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Financial Times published on December 16th, Bill Harris, until recently the leading U.S. civilian official in Kandahar, said Washington’s attempts to improve relations with Islamabad had failed to halt a steady stream of fighters from Pakistan over the past year: “We are on a bullet train to failure in Afghanistan if we try to fight this war to any kind of conclusion with Pakistan sanctuaries open.”
What is to be done? It is not just a question of freedom of movement for insurgents going from Pakistan to Afghanistan and back again for rest and recuperation. It is that the ISI is aiding some of the insurgents inside Afghanistan: almost certainly the Haqqani network (which seems to have been involved one way or another in the suicide attack against the CIA base in Khost, as well as the Indian Embassy in Kabul); probably the Hekmatyar group (like the Haqqani’s, a former mujahidin group); and even possibly the Afghan Taliban themselves.
Cables Depict Afghan Graft, Starting at Top
From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest official is a distinct outlier.
Describing the likely lineup of Afghanistan’s new cabinet last January, the American Embassy noted that the agriculture minister, Asif Rahimi, “appears to be the only minister that was confirmed about whom no allegations of bribery exist.”
Dr. Charles Cogan — Bait and Switch in Afghanistan: How 2011 Became 2014 and Beyond
(HuffPost) In the November 19th communiqué of the summit meeting of NATO in Lisbon, the idea that American troops will begin to come home in July 2011 seems to have gone away. Instead there is mention of a “transition” to Afghan forces which is going to begin in some provinces at the start of 2011. The transition involving all the provinces is to be completed by the end of 2014, at which time the US-NATO mission presumably is to be terminated.
Karzai Government Challenges Election Results
The announcement of final results from parliamentary elections deepened a confrontation between election officials and the government of President Hamid Karzai, which vowed to challenge the outcome even as it was endorsed by international officials.
Iran Is Said to Give Top Karzai Aide Cash by the Bagful
(NYT) The payments, which officials say total millions of dollars, form an off-the-books fund that Mr. Daudzai and Mr. Karzai have used to pay Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders and even Taliban commanders to secure their loyalty, the officials said.
“It’s basically a presidential slush fund,” a Western official in Kabul said of the Iranian-supplied money.
You would cry too: In defense of Hamid Karzai
(Foreign Policy) The problem with focusing on Karzai so much is it places the entire onus for success or failure on Karzai, the person, when the bigger problem is the institution of the presidency. Afghanistan has one of the most centralized governments in the world.
American and Afghan Troops Begin Combat for Kandahar
American and Afghan troops began active combat last week in an offensive to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds surrounding the city of Kandahar, military officials said Sunday. In the last several days, soldiers shifted from guarding aid workers and sipping tea with village elders to actively hunting down Taliban fighters in marijuana fields and pomegranate orchards laced with booby traps.
Opposition Sees Gains After Afghan Voting
Opposition candidates are cautiously optimistic that they may have greatly improved their strength in the next Parliament, despite widespread charges of fraud and low voter turnout that may yet discredit the results of Saturday’s election.
Voters brave Taliban attacks
Despite intimidation and fraud claims, parliamentary election draws praise
(Ottawa Citizen) The bombing of a Canadian-Afghan governor’s convoy was among the most dramatic outbursts of violence Saturday as Afghans voted to choose a new parliament — one critics hope will stand up to President Hamid Karzai, whose regime has been plagued with charges of corruption.
Millions of Afghans took part in what appeared to be a more peaceful election than the country witnessed a year ago, but outbreaks of violence and accusations of ballot fraud showed the challenges that remain for democracy in the war-torn nation.
Afghanistan election: Why the next parliament won’t check Karzai’s power
(CSM) The results of Saturday’s Afghanistan election aren’t expected for days, but because the parliamentary candidates ran as individuals, not as party members, they are unlikely to unite in opposition to President Hamid Karzai.
Taliban, corruption conspire to undermine Afghan voter confidence
Election observers say that the Taliban have been largely successful in efforts to intimidate voters and otherwise thwart the upcoming election in Afghanistan, even as confidence among the electorate in the election prospects has plummeted as a result of corruption. Poll watchers predict the lowest voter turnout since the Taliban’s downfall, with potentially far fewer voters appearing at the polls than the 30% of registered Afghan voters who turned out for last year’s presidential election. The Wall Street Journal (9/16)
MD Nalapat: Afghanistan’s fate may matter most for China
Both Chinese and Pakistani militaries believe that a US victory in Afghanistan would entrench US forces there. A defeat may leave the country to become a low-hanging fruit for its neighbours’ influence.
Small wonder that the Pakistani army’s operations against the Taliban have had zero success, even though they are widely loathed and feared by Pashtuns, unlike during the Soviet war in the 1980s. Small wonder that Beijing is willing to make a foe of New Delhi over Kashmir, including rejecting visas for Indian army commanders who had been invited to visit China.
The prize of this 21st century version of the Great Game is nothing less than military control of Asia. Through a NATO humiliation in Afghanistan, China hopes to replace the United States as the pre-eminent military power in the region. In the same way, the defeat of the Soviets in 1988 led to the eclipse of Moscow by Washington across the globe.
MD Nalapat holds the Unesco peace chair at Manipal University and is a former editor of The Times of India.
Hamid Karzai’s brother made £500,000 on Kabul Bank property deal
(Telegraph) The brother of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a half-million pound profit in eight months on a luxury villa in Dubai bought with a loan from the bank at the centre of a financial and political crisis in Kabul.
Corruption undermines NATO support in Afghanistan
Endemic political corruption in Afghanistan, including alleged efforts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to block corruption investigations, has frustrated public support for the ongoing war effort among NATO allies. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he has asked Karzai to crack down on corruption — or risk losing support for NATO’s continued presence. Kabul Bank, in which Karzai’s brother Mahmoud Karzai is a shareholder, is at the center of a corruption scandal that has exposed a network of family and political relations at the heart of the corruption allegations and threatens to undermine Afghanistan’s banking system. The Washington Post (9/7) , The New York Times (free registration) (9/7)
Female MP takes on Afghan patriarchy
With international forces edging close to withdrawal and Taliban violence on the rise, Afghanistan’s women appears to be facing a grim future.
Karzai’s Brother Under Drug Suspicion
(Spiegel) Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is facing hard times. As his brother fights accusations that he’s involved in the country’s rampant drug trade, an increasing number of Afghans are disappointed by their government. Many are starting to think about potential presidential successors.
Outside View: Is Pakistan the enemy in Afghanistan?
(UPI) Harvard University’s Matt Waldman has made a valuable contribution to the debate involving Pakistan’s complicity in supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan and its duplicity in its relationship with the United States and the other coalition nations.
In his discussion paper “The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship Between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents,” Waldman states: “Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement. They say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions and supplies. In their words, this is ‘as clear as the sun in the sky.’”
The huge scale of Pakistan’s complicity
(Globe & Mail) Thanks to WikiLeaks, the involvement of Inter-Services Intelligence in the Afghan conflict is now obvious, argues Chris Alexander, Canada’s former ambassador to Afghanistan
WikiLeaks Releases Afghan War Reports in Unprecedented Leak
A website called WikiLeaks just published secret documents related to the war between the U.S. and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The documents detail deals, armed conflicts, strategies, politics, intelligence operations and some casualties from 2004 and 2010, painting the most complete, publicly available picture of the Afghan War yet.
Afghanistan war logs: Story behind biggest leak in intelligence history
From US military computers to a cafe in Brussels, how thousands of classified papers found their way to online activists
(The Guardian) US authorities have known for weeks that they have suffered a haemorrhage of secret information on a scale which makes even the leaking of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war look limited by comparison.
Viewpoint: Time for US to join talks with the Taliban
(BBC) With the battle against the Taliban becoming bloodier by the day and the prospects for victory uncertain, many are confounded by US plans – including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, most Afghans, Afghanistan’s six neighbours and other powers in the region.
With growing anti-war feeling in countries like the US and Britain, many Afghans fear that an over-hasty withdrawal by Western forces could lead to the collapse of the Kabul government, prompting renewed inter-ethnic conflict in Afghanistan – and even civil war.
For some time now, Mr Karzai’s mantra has been to talk to the Taliban. Only a negotiated settlement and power-sharing, he argues, can end the war, allow Western forces to leave in good order and bring peace to the region.
Gen. Petraeus confirmed as new US Afghan commander
Petraeus, seen by some analysts as President Barack Obama’s last, best hope to salvage the Afghan mission, won full support from both Obama’s Democrats and opposition Republicans after the previous commander was sacked one week ago.
Fewer than 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: CIA chief
(ABC News) CIA director Leon Panetta has estimated there are only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda militants operating inside Afghanistan, as US forces work to “flush out” mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Overture to Taliban Jolts Afghan Minorities
President Hamid Karzai’s drive to strike a deal with Taliban leaders is causing unease among Afghanistan’s minorities, who suffered the most during their rule.
Breaking: General Stanley McChrystal tenders his resignation
(The Guardian) A senior Capitol Hill source tells me that General Stanley McChrystal had tendered his resignation to President Barack Obama and that the White House is actively discussing a replacement who could be quickly confirmed by the Senate.
The Runaway General
(Rolling Stone) Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House
[Background: 12 May 2009 (TIME) Stan McChrystal: The New U.S. Commander in Afghanistan]
LSE Crisis States Research Group Report: Pakistan’s ISI and the Afghan Insurgency
There is little doubt in the minds of most analysts that a connection exists between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the insurgency in Afghanistan. However, there is a great deal of confusion as to how deep the connection between these two organizations goes. Speculation has ranged from undercover agents gathering intelligence, to former agents providing assistance, all the way along the spectrum to outright control by the ISI. A new report by the LSE’s Crisis States Research Group, The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan Insurgents, based primarily on interviews conducted with nine insurgent (Taliban and Haqqani) commanders, has attempted to shed some light on this covert world.
‘The Sun in the Sky: The Relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents’
(LSE Crisis States Research Centre, June 2010) Abstract:
Many accounts of the Afghan conflict misapprehend the nature of the relationship between Pakistan’s security services and the insurgency. The relationship, in fact, goes far beyond contact and coexistence, with some assistance provided by elements within, or linked to, Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) or military. Although the Taliban has a strong endogenous impetus, according to Taliban commanders the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement. They say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies. In their words, this is ‘as clear as the sun in the sky’.
Directly or indirectly the ISI appears to exert significant influence on the strategic decision-making and field operations of the Taliban; and has even greater sway over Haqqani insurgents. According to both Taliban and Haqqani commanders, it controls the most violent insurgent units, some of which appear to be based in Pakistan. Insurgent commanders confirmed that the ISI are even represented, as participants or observers, on the Taliban supreme leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani command council. Indeed, the agency appears to have circumscribed the Taliban’s strategic autonomy, precluding steps towards talks with the Afghan government through recent arrests.
Pakistan’s apparent involvement in a double-game of this scale could have major geo-political implications and could even provoke US counter-measures. However, the powerful role of the ISI, and parts of the Pakistani military, suggests that progress against the Afghan insurgency, or towards political engagement, requires their support. The only sure way to secure such cooperation is to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity, especially its latent and enduring conflict with India.
Massive mineral deposits found in Afghanistan
New-found treasure could change the country’s fortunes or plunge it into endless war
(Arab News) KABUL: New deposits found by the United States in Afghanistan could turn the impoverished country into a global mining giant.
A memo issued by the Pentagon has described a wide range of previously unknown mineral deposits, estimated to be worth $1 trillion, to have been discovered by an American geologist in Afghanistan, according to The New York Times.
The minerals found include gold, copper, iron, cobalt and lithium, which is essential for producing batteries used in many everyday electronics, such as laptops and smart phones.
Afghanistan: Justice action plan heading for oblivion
President Hamid Karzai has refused to extend an action plan for transitional justice which expired in March 2009 but failed to achieve most of its targets, according to human rights groups.
(International Center for Transitional Justice) The Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Action Plan (PRJAP) – widely known as transitional justice – was endorsed by the Afghan government and international community in 2005 as a roadmap for addressing past human rights violations.
Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants
(NYT) A Defense Department official set up a private network of spies in Pakistan and Afghanistan to gather intelligence on insurgents, according to officials.
An Afghan Politician Pushes for a Comeback
The people who want to silence Malalai Joya, the youngest elected politician in Afghanistan, are doing a pretty good job of it in her own country. She has been expelled from Parliament. She has been barred from appearing in the Afghan media after denouncing the role of the warlords in politics.
But Ms. Joya, 31, is speaking out nonetheless, hoping to engineer a political comeback in legislative elections scheduled for September.