[Afghan News] January 13, 2012 - 03-01-2012, 08:40 AM
Talking with government "does not mean a surrender from jihad," according to Taliban e-mail
January 12, 2012 Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban's political wing is ready to enter peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, but the insurgents will in the meantime continue their armed struggle, the group said Thursday.
The militant movement's emailed statement suggests that efforts to bring Afghan factions to the table are gathering momentum, but also highlights some of the roadblocks on the way to any settlement — in particular, the Taliban's insistence that the government of President Hamid Karzai is an illegitimate "stooge" of the West.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militants had been fighting for the past 15 years to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan "in accordance with the request of its people."
"It is for this purpose and for bringing about peace and stability in Afghanistan that we have increased our political efforts to come to mutual understanding with the world in order to solve the current ongoing situation," Mujahid said in an emailed statement.
"But this understanding does not mean a surrender from jihad and neither is it connected to an acceptance of the constitution of the stooge Kabul administration."
One of the international community's and Afghan government's conditions for reconciliation is that the Taliban must accept the Afghan constitution, meaning they must recognize Karzai's government. Mujahid's outright rejection of this is likely to be a key obstacle in the peace process.
For the past month, rumors have swirled about the possibility of peace talks between the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan and the Taliban in the Gulf nation of Qatar.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to acknowledge U.S. efforts to jump-start a peace process with the hard-line Islamist militants in order to help bring an end to the decade-long war. Washington has been mulling releasing several Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo as a confidence-building measure.
Clinton also indicated progress on the related effort to open a political representative office for the Taliban in Qatar, whose role as would-be host for peace talks gained reluctant approval from President Karzai last month.
But she said that any power-sharing deal would also have to involve insurgents renouncing violence, breaking with al-Qaida and respecting Afghanistan's constitution, including rights guaranteed to women and minorities.
[Check out our editorial cartoons on Afghanistan.]
The United States and its coalition allies are preparing to withdraw most of their forces and end their combat role in 2014, when responsibility for security will be in the hands of the greatly expanded Afghan army and police.
But despite a surge of foreign troops into Afghanistan in the past two years, and an overwhelming superiority in both numbers and firepower, the military effort has been unable to defeat the insurgency. Many now fear that a resurgent Taliban will be able to exploit the withdrawal of the 130,000-strong NATO-led force over the next three years by recapturing wide areas of the south and east.
The Obama administration and its allies appear to have gradually embraced talks as the best way to end the war, even if fighting continues beyond the deadline to withdraw foreign combat forces in 2014. Although the U.S. says those talks must be led by the Karzai government, it has made its own contacts with Taliban representatives over the last year.
Unlike those earlier exploratory discussions, any negotiations that might take place in Qatar will likely be aimed at drawing the Taliban movement formally into the political process.
In the latest violence, a suicide car bomber in the southern province of Kandahar rammed into the vehicle of the chief of Panjwayi district, killing the official, his two sons and two bodyguards, provincial spokesman Zalmai Ayubi said.
Fazluddin Agha is the latest in a long string of government officials assassinated by militants trying to undermine the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Kandahar provincial council member Agha Lalia said nine civilians also were wounded in the explosion, which occurred on a road between Panjwayi district and Kandahar city.
The NATO force in Afghanistan meanwhile said a service member died in eastern Afghanistan from a "non-battle-related" injury Wednesday. A statement from the coalition did not give details or provide the service member's nationality.
The death brought to 12 the number of international troops killed this month in the country.
Afghan opposition cautiously supports peace talks
By MASSIEH NESHAT | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Prominent Afghan opposition leaders said Friday that they support possible U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with Taliban militants, but want to be part of any talks.
Members of a coalition representing Afghanistan's ethnic minorities spoke as they returned from a conference in Berlin, where they met with U.S. congressional leaders. Most of the delegation fought in the Northern Alliance against the Taliban government in the 1990s.
Minority support for any peace process is crucial because many former Northern Alliance figures wield power and influence, raising the possibility of civil strife if they don't approve of any deal with their longtime enemy.
The Taliban recently said they will open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar and expressed interest in negotiations with the U.S., but it is so far unclear what other Afghan factions might be involved. The Taliban persist in referring to President Hamid Karzai's government as a puppet and stooge of foreign powers.
Prominent Tajik minority leader Ahmad Zia Masood said that he supports peace talks, but added that the government should be cautious of giving up too much in any future talks to end the decade-long war. Most international troops are scheduled to withdraw by 2014, making achieving a negotiated peace a more urgent priority.
"The achievements we have gained in the last 10 years, we shouldn't let go of them," Masood said, adding later, "If the peace process is not clear, then peace cannot be successful."
Masood is a prominent leader of the Afghan National Front opposition coalition and the brother of slain Northern Alliance chief Ahmad Shah Masood, considered a national hero by anti-Taliban forces.
Ethnic Hazara leader Mohammad Muhaqiq said minority leaders should participate in any future talks.
"If the government is going to start a peace process, then we should also be in this process because we also represent part of the nation," he said.
A spokesman for former Northern Alliance general Abdul Rashid Dostum said Friday that he also is in favor of peace talks despite earlier skeptical comments.
Dostum, a powerful Uzbek warlord accused of involvement in the deaths of 2,000 Taliban fighters shortly after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, was quoted in Berlin as saying it would be "naive" to exclude the possibility that the Taliban are using negotiations to assuage the U.S. government while troops are being withdrawn, while planning to "resurge" after they are gone at the end of 2014.
The spokesman, Faizullah Zaki, told reporters Dostum's earlier comments were overblown. "The general doesn't have any objection to peace and he is on the side of the peace process."
Peace Negotiation Does Not Mean Acceptance of Constitution, Taliban Says
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 12 January 2012
In a statement released on Thursday, the Taliban group has said that talking with the world does not mean that Taliban accepts the Afghan constitution.
In a statement emailed to media outlets, Zabihullah Mujahid a Taliban spokesman stresses that Taliban willingness to peace talks is only to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
"It is to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan that we have increased our political efforts to come to mutual understanding with the world in order to solve the current ongoing situation," the statement said.
This comes as previously one of the main conditions set by Afghan government and international community for peace negotiations with Taliban is acceptance of Afghan constitution, respect to women and human rights and considering the achievements earned in the past decade.
The statement stresses that the Taliban have been fighting for over a decade to establish a government in accordance with the will of Afghan people and Islamic law.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said that any kind of deal with armed opposition should not endanger the US redlines.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Qatar's Prime Minster, she stressed that Taliban and other armed opposition groups should accept conditions set by the Afghan government prior to negotiations and she expressed her country's support to an Afghan-led reconciliation process.
"We are prepared to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation and we will participate in that in support of the Afghans if we believe it holds a promise for an end to conflict," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, the United States will send it's special envoy to Kabul to follow up the reconciliation process closely.
In Afghanistan, Some Former Taliban Become Police
by Quil Lawrence January 13, 2012 NPR
NATO officials say they have reversed a disturbing trend in northern Afghanistan.
In 2009 and 2010, Taliban insurgents made inroads across the north of the country, which had been secure for years. NATO says that last year it brought the north back under control, but Afghan officials say it's thanks to one of the most controversial American tactics here: the use of ad hoc local militias.
American officials say they intend to triple the number of local "police" teams in the coming years and put all the groups under Afghan government control. But some residents complain that the militias are not much different from the insurgents they're supposed to be fighting.
Advantage Of An Insider
A hilltop police station in the northern province of Sari Pul would command a view of the town of Sayat, if the whole valley weren't cloaked in a dense cloud that threatens snow at any moment.
The approach road to the outpost is steep and thick with mud that clings to the flimsy boots and sneakers police wear. A few Afghan Local Police, or ALP, stand shivering at the gate.
They're not fully trained police officers or soldiers, but graduates of a cram-course in counteracting the Taliban. Despite the limited training, some do have one key advantage for performing the job: They were Taliban fighters until last year.
Inside the station, Col. Ghafur, head of police in Sayat, is feeding logs into what appears to be the only woodstove on the hill. Ghafur, who uses only one name, is with the national police, but he says it's the ALP that turned security around in Sari Pul.
One year ago, it was bad here, Ghafur says, but then the ALP was created and it defeated the Taliban. Ghafur says the men are from the communities, so they can tell much better than an outsider when a Taliban infiltrator arrives.
That's especially true for those who were previously with the Taliban, Ghafur says. He invites half a dozen former Taliban members into his office, where they eagerly crowd around the oil-drum woodstove.
Mir Ahmad has gray stubble covering his face; he says he's 46. A few years ago, he says, he was falsely accused of being with the insurgents. He fled his village and felt he had no where to turn but the Taliban. At the time, it was easy to join, since the insurgents controlled the district.
But Ahmad says he saw the Taliban abusing civilians, and he stopped believing in their claims of holy war.
As might be expected, all the men swear they were never really committed to the Taliban cause. That may be true, but it leaves some residents wondering how committed they are to any cause.
Residents of another northern community are asking the same thing. At the twice-weekly market in Char Bolak, in Balkh province, villagers come from miles around to sell everything from winter coats to livestock. Residents say the Taliban controlled this town a year ago.
Now it's guarded by another auxiliary police program called the Critical Infrastructure Police, or CIP. In fact, there have been at least half a dozen different programs like this set up in the past six years, mostly run directly by the American military.
Shop owners at the market say there are no more Taliban in town, but claim the CIP is almost as bad.
They know no one will arrest them, so they rob whomever they want, says Mir Alam, who is selling wheat in one stall. He says ethnic Pashtuns, who make up the majority of the Taliban, are often singled out by these police, and they have sometimes squeezed protection money out of entire villages. Last month, complaints reached President Hamid Karzai's office, and he called for the CIP to disband.
After The International Troops Leave
U.S. military commanders say they are in the process of vetting all of the different police militias and folding them into the ALP, which will be under direct Afghan control. They also plan to triple the number of ALP. That plan is worrying to monitors, like Rachel Reid, who researched the ALP for Human Rights Watch.
"You've got now a series of effectively rival militias lined up against each another. They may be calm now, but when we come to a situation where ... the Americans have left, the money's running out, what do those groups do then?" she says.
"Who are they loyal to? Do they stay calm then? Do they fight for their nation? Do they fight for their community? Do they fight for their commander? That's what Afghans are most concerned about," she says.
Unexpected Road Block to Afghanistan Peace: Gitmo
By Spencer Ackerman January 13, 2012
Negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban after 10 years of war in Afghanistan is hard enough. But the stalemated politics of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility risk effectively killing the negotiations before they even have the chance to end the war.
The Taliban leadership has evidently decided it wants to talk peace terms. Among the things it wants as a gesture of good faith from its U.S. adversaries: the release of five detainees from Guantanamo.
Provisions in the defense bill recently signed into law by President Obama make it difficult to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, the terrorism detention complex that turns 10 years old this week. But they’re a symptom of a greater obstacle to a peace deal: Congress’ broad, bipartisan allergy to releasing any detainees from Gitmo at all.
The calendar actually makes it worse than that. 2012 is an election year. Opening Guantanamo Bay’s doors as a gesture to the Taliban is a narrative practically begging for a political attack ad.
An administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss the super-sensitive proposition, tells Danger Room that Obama hasn’t actually made a decision — except to rule out a straight detainee release. “We would never consider an outright release,” the official says. “The only thing we’d consider is a transfer into third-party custody.” And that might actually provide the administration with a way to get the talks going, get the detainees out of Gitmo without freeing them, and keep Congress on board.
Outside analysts, however, aren’t convinced. “Politically,” says Karen Greenberg, who directs Fordham Law School’s Center for National Security, “it’s a nonstarter.”
The White House is furious at a story last week in the Guardian that incorrectly reported that the Obama team already reached a deal with the Taliban. “The United States has not decided to release any Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay in return for the Taliban’s agreement to open a political office for peace negotiations,” read a White House statement.
Too late. The story already bounced around the conservative blogosphere. “That move shows [Obama's] (short-sighted) willingness to deal with an enemy in order to pursue withdrawal from Afghanistan,” judged Blackfive. “While You Were Watching Iowa, Obama Was Springing Taliban Terrorists from Gitmo,” was National Review‘s headline.
That’s a warmup for what the Obama team can expect if it actually goes through with the gesture. The Senate Armed Services Committee recently received a briefing on the nascent peace talks, and Reuters reports that its major effect was to inspire opposition to the move in Congress even before Obama makes a decision. “It’s hard to envision that if they transfer really dangerous guys to a really dangerous place, there won’t be a fight,” a staffer told Reuters.
They’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick one. For two years, Congress has placed restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantanamo, the legislative result of furious congressional opposition to Obama’s ill-fated desire to close Gitmo. Any detainee transfers or releases not mandated by courts must be accompanied by written assurances from the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State that the detainee in question won’t commit any future acts of terrorism. It gets even harder if the administration might turn a detainee over to a country where a previous detainee has committed an act of terrorism after release. And Congress ensured it would have plenty of time to organize its opposition: The law requires the administration to notify Congress 30 days prior to an intended release.
The upshot is that no one has been released from Guantanamo since Jan. 6, 2011. Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo is stillborn. Rep. James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, argues that Obama never really pushed Congress to close the detention facility.
Add to that reluctance the additional complication that there probably won’t be any assurance that released Taliban detainees won’t return to terrorism. The Taliban is looking for a gesture to kickstart the talks, not forsaking violence from the start. And there are tons of ways negotiations between the two foes could derail: The Afghan or Pakistani governments could dissent, or the terms could merely be unbridgeable. U.S. spy agencies reportedly compiled an official analysis assessing the Taliban’s primary objective is to fight until the U.S. leaves. If they’re not serious about peace talks, then the Obama administration could find itself in a situation where it would have released detainees and gotten nothing in return.
But the scenario described to Danger Room by the anonymous U.S. official suggests a way the Obama team might — might — escape the dilemma.
One option, reported by the New York Times, is for Obama to turn the Taliban detainees over to the custody of Qatar, a U.S. ally that has allowed the Taliban to open a local office for the pursuit of a peace deal. No ex-detainee appears to have committed any act of terrorism after being transferred to Qatar; the only such detainee Qatar has taken is Jaralla Saleh Kahla al-Marri, whom the U.S. freed in 2008 after keeping him at Guantanamo for seven years.
It’s unclear if the Taliban would accept that half-measure. But the Taliban appear to be placing a premium on the peace talks. They decided not to make an issue out of a video of U.S. Marines evidently urinating on Afghan corpses, apparently out of concern that the negotiations would derail.
But it’s also unclear if Congress would accept that plan. Sen. Lindsey Graham, whom the White House considers its chief interlocutor amongst Republicans about terrorism detainees, would not comment to Danger Room. Neither would Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congress is already ambivalent on the idea of peace talks with the Taliban; letting detainees out of Guantanamo in the pursuit of peace will just make a peace deal a harder sell on the Hill.
That’s another tragedy of a decade-long war. A step that might be necessary to end the war could run aground based on politicians’ commitment to detaining militants — in part, so they won’t fight in that very conflict.
The Pentagon won’t comment on the peace talks. But Navy Capt. John Kirby, one of the department’s chief spokesman, reminded reporters on Thursday that “We’ve always said that a political process is the way to ultimate success in Afghanistan.” Congress may soon have to decide if it cares more about keeping Guantanamo stocked than about that process. And Obama may soon have to decide if that process is worth taking criticism as he runs for reelection.
Adam Rawnsley provided research assistance for this story.
U.S. acts quickly to tamp down Afghan video scandal
Washington Post By Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe Friday, January 13, 2012
The Obama administration on Thursday strongly condemned a viral video that apparently depicts Marines desecrating corpses as U.S. officials tried to prevent a popular backlash in Afghanistan and forestall damage to nascent peace talks with the Taliban.
As the images of Marines urinating on three bloodied bodies circulated around the globe, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta denounced the video as “utterly deplorable” and called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to assure him that the incident would be thoroughly investigated.
“I wanted him to know how grieved we were at what happened here,” Panetta said in an interview while traveling to Fort Bliss, Tex. “What I want is an investigation into what happened here, what laws were violated by what took place, who these individuals were.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed “total dismay” at the apparent behavior by Marines. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he was “deeply disturbed” and that the actions “erode the reputation of our joint force.”
The swift U.S. response was intended to stave off the kind of international outrage that followed the 2004 release of pictures depicting the humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Military officials said they feared the photographic evidence of apparent Marine misconduct could produce a severe setback at a critical time in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have stepped up their long-shot efforts to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban while struggling to maintain support from Karzai. The United States is also confronting an increasingly war-weary population in Afghanistan, where people often lend a sympathetic ear to Taliban propaganda about the presence and motives of foreign troops.
Before receiving Panetta’s call Thursday, Karzai reacted sharply to news of the video, describing it as “completely inhumane and condemnable in the strongest possible terms.” His administration called on the U.S. military to “apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime.”
Panetta said the phone call seemed to mollify the Afghan leader. “He appreciated what I was saying and appreciated the fact we understand how damaging this could be and that we are taking that kind of action.”
Video implicates Marines
The video, which runs for less than a minute, appears to show four Marines in combat gear laughing and joking as they urinate on three male bodies lined up on the ground next to a toppled wheelbarrow. The caption refers to the corpses as “dead Talibans,” but it was unclear whether they were civilians or fighters killed after a battle.
A caption that accompanies the video asserts that the Marines are part of a scout sniper team with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, an infantry unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Marines from the unit were deployed to Afghanistan last year but returned to the United States in September.
The NATO-led security force in Kabul said in a statement that the acts of desecration “appear to have been conducted by a small group of U.S. individuals, who apparently are no longer serving in Afghanistan.” The statement did not elaborate.
A Marine official said investigators were questioning two individuals whom they had preliminarily identified as being in the video. The Marine Corps is “fairly confident” that all four were members of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is underway.
It was unclear where or when the video was made. It was posted on the Internet on Wednesday and began to circulate quickly as news sites reported on its existence.
Pentagon officials said that they were still trying to confirm the video’s authenticity but that they had no reason to believe it was a fake. “It certainly appears to us to be what it appears to be to you guys,” Capt. John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters.
Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said he asked the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to “pull together a team of their very best agents and immediately assign them responsibility to thoroughly investigate every aspect of the filmed event.”
He also said he would assign a Marine general and a senior lawyer to conduct a parallel inquiry. Marine officials said that probe would be led by Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, head of the Marine Corps Forces Central Command.
“Rest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved,” Amos said.
U.S. military law and the Geneva Conventions prohibit the desecration, mishandling or exploitation of bodies of people killed in war.
Digital dilemma of war
Battlefield videos and photography have become a common hobby among deployed troops. Many amateur productions wind up on the Internet. On occasion, the trend has caused severe embarrassment for the U.S. military, or, in rare cases, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, triggered international controversy and legal action.
Some military analysts praised the Pentagon for its prompt condemnation of the Marines’ apparent behavior but said that such incidents are hardly new in the history of warfare.
“We shouldn’t be shocked that this kind of thing happens in a war,” said Andrew M. Exum, a retired Army captain who served in Afghanistan and is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “The difference today is now we have smartphones.”
The Taliban, which has a long-standing reputation for brutality and beheadings, sought to exploit¬¬ the Marines’ actions. “It was inhuman and despicable, an unforgivable act,” said Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi.
At the same time, the Taliban did not indicate that it would use the video as an immediate excuse to walk away from the negotiating table. In a statement Thursday, the group said it would continue to pursue a political solution to the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan.
Jaffe reported from Fort Bliss. Correspondent Kevin Sieff in Kabul contributed to this report.
US Identify Marines in Urination Video
VOA News January 13, 2012
U.S. investigators believe they have identified and questioned at least two of the four Marines seen on video urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters.
Senior Marine officials with knowledge of the investigation say the four were members of a 1,000-man battalion from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. The battalion recently completed a combat tour in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, where it lost seven of its members during clashes with the Taliban.
The officials also say the four men appear to be part of the battalion's sniper team, based on their gear and weapons that they are carrying in the video.
Top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have condemned the video, Panetta calling it "utterly deplorable."
On Friday, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan expressed his outrage over the video.
General John Allen, currently traveling in the United States, said such acts must be condemned in the "strongest manner possible." He also said those responsible would be held accountable.
Several officials say that if the incident is confirmed, the Marines involved could be charged with war crimes for not treating the bodies of those killed in war honorably.
The video appears to show Marines in combat uniforms urinating on three corpses. In the footage, one person suspected of committing the act says "have a nice day," referring to one of the dead.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke by phone Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and affirmed there will be a serious probe into the incident.
Karzai said his government is "deeply disturbed" by the video, calling the act "simply inhuman."
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, said while the video is "shocking," he did not think it would derail peace talks with the United States.
The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps General James Amos said he has requested the Marines and U.S. Navy conduct separate investigations into the video. He said the Marine Corps remains committed to upholding the Geneva Convention, the laws of war and its own core values.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.
Video of Marines urinating on bodies no surprise, Afghans say
McClatchy Newspapers By Nancy A. Youssef Thursday, January 12, 2012
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon scrambled Thursday to assure Afghans that it would aggressively investigate a video that shows U.S. Marines urinating on three corpses, while Afghans' reaction varied from outrage to resignation that the video merely reflected behavior that they think is typical of American troops.
Pentagon officials said the video appeared authentic and that they'd confirmed the identities of two of the four Marines shown in it.
In Afghanistan, while no major protests were reported the day after the video surfaced online — purporting to show four Marines standing in a semicircle and urinating on dead Afghans — one resident said he wasn't surprised.
"I know a lot of horrible things happen in the south and nobody but the locals know about it," said Jamal Karimi, 32, referring to southern Afghanistan, where American forces have maintained a large troop presence.
"Such things happen all the time, and people talk about it but media hardly report them," said Karimi, a shopkeeper from the southern city of Kandahar.
In Washington, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the video, calling it "utterly deplorable." The commandant of the Marine Corps and the secretary of the Navy used similar language to express disgust over what would be the latest example of U.S. troops treating those killed or captured on the battlefield as trophies.
Karzai said, "This act by American soldiers is completely inhumane and condemnable in the strongest possible terms. We expressly ask the U.S. government to urgently investigate the video and apply the most severe punishment to anyone found guilty in this crime."
Pentagon officials said the incident was being investigated but they confirmed that the troops were members of Team 4, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., which was deployed in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province from last March to August. The Marines' identities weren't immediately revealed.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the behavior the video apparently depicted was "deplorable, reprehensible and unacceptable." He said he didn't know whether President Barack Obama had seen the video, but that "he is certainly aware of it and shares in the sentiment expressed by Secretary Panetta."
The Taliban released a statement of condemnation but said they wouldn't impede U.S. efforts to begin peace talks with them because the video showed just a "small percentage of the invaders' atrocities."
Sermons after prayers Friday could ignite more impassioned and violent reactions, as many Afghans will gather in large numbers for the first time and religious leaders might discuss the video.
Afghans have been spurred by Friday sermons in the past to react to incidents days after they occurred. Last year, Afghans took to the streets nearly a week after a Florida pastor vowed to burn copies of the Quran. In a riot in the usually placid northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, seven foreigners working for the United Nations were killed.
In the United States, advocacy groups said Afghans' muted initial reaction was likely because they'd not only come to think that American troops commonly behaved this way, but also were largely skeptical about the United States' commitment to punishing such abuses. The words of high-level officials have little impact because, residents say, they've watched as egregious incidents over the last decade of war often have resulted in charges dropped against offending U.S. troops and commanders, or never filed.
"The lack of accountability suggests a culture of impunity, particularly the failure to charge high-level commanders and officials, both civilian and military," said Andrea Prasow, a senior counter-terrorism counselor at Human Rights Watch.
In the video, one Marine says, "Have a good day, buddy," as he urinates on an Afghan. Another says, "Golden like a shower."
In the past, there've been videos of U.S. helicopter pilots laughing as they shot at civilians who were carrying an injured man to a van in Baghdad. U.S. troops have photographed themselves smiling while posing next to dead Afghans and Iraqis.
Only recently has the military begun aggressively charging soldiers for such actions. The Army is investigating allegations of a "kill team" in Afghanistan composed of members of the 5th Stryker brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, that targeted unarmed Afghans and cut off their fingers as war trophies while deployed in southern Afghanistan in late 2009 and early 2010.
So far, 11 soldiers have been convicted in connection with the deaths of the Afghans.
But no high-level commander or civilian has been convicted of crimes against Afghans and Iraqis.
In the case of abuses of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, the brigadier general in charge of the prison was demoted by one rank to colonel. Two of the 11 soldiers charged were sentenced to 10 years in prison, while the others received lesser sentences.
After U.S. Marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha, the military eventually dropped charges against all but one of the troops involved. In a statement, Marine then-Lt. Gen. James Mattis cited the fog of war and the difficulties of fighting a counterinsurgency campaign to explain the Marines' decision, after explosives struck them, to enter several homes in the town and kill everyone inside.
The Marines were "fighting a shadowy enemy who hides among the innocent people, does not comply with any aspect of the law of war and routinely targets and intentionally draws fire toward civilians," Mattis wrote in 2007. He's now the commander of U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries.
Marine Corps officials said the service members involved in the latest incident could face charges. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said he'd ordered a probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to begin immediately.
Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, said in a statement that "anyone who is found responsible for these actions will be held appropriately and fully accountable." It was unclear how far up the chain of command charges might be filed. The Geneva Conventions outlaw desecrating bodies on the battlefield.
Advocates noted the coincidence of the video's release Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the controversial U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"I think it is ironic because Guantanamo represents lawlessness," Prasow said. "The response now (by the U.S. military) will be telling."
(Lesley Clark in Washington and McClatchy special correspondent Habib Zohori in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this article.)
Negotiating peace in Afghanistan without repeating Vietnam
By James Dobbins, The Washington Post
In 1968 I began my life in diplomacy as an aide to Averell Harriman and Cyrus Vance, who were heading peace talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris. Thirty-four years later, I ended that career as the George W. Bush administration’s first special envoy to Afghanistan, appointed weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Like Richard Holbrooke, my contemporary on the Paris delegation and my eventual successor as envoy to Afghanistan, I have been struck by parallels between the two wars and the two peace processes, the first of which ultimately ended in failure and the second of which is only now taking shape, the fruit of much effort by Holbrooke and his successor, Ambassador Marc Grossman.
A recent Post editorial [“Talking with the Taliban,” Jan. 5] was right to note that the Taliban’s preference for negotiating with Washington rather than with Kabul is similar to North Vietnam’s preference for negotiating with the United States rather than with the government in Saigon. And we all know how that process ended, with the total withdrawal of U.S. forces, a North Vietnamese invasion, the collapse of South Vietnamese resistance and the disappearance of South Vietnam. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have since been accused of seeking from those negotiations no more than “a decent interval” between the U.S. withdrawal and the South Vietnamese collapse. The Post expressed anxiety that the Obama administration may have a similar objective.
This is a reasonable enough fear, but President Obama has done nothing to substantiate it. The 1973 agreements that formally ended the Vietnam War were reneged upon by both North Vietnam and the United States, the former by invading the South and the latter by cutting off the military and economic assistance it had promised the South to induce Saigon to sign those agreements. Those promises even included a U.S. commitment to resume bombing North Vietnam should it not fulfill its end of the bargain.
In contrast, Obama administration officials have made clear that U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely after Afghan forces assume responsibility for the conduct of major combat operations in 2014. President Hamid Karzai has said the same. American and Afghan officials are currently negotiating a formal agreement to this effect.
Some may see negotiation as an easy or quick way out of Afghanistan, but the Vietnamese analogy suggests otherwise. The Paris talks lasted more than five years, whereas the Afghan process has not yet begun. Throughout those years the U.S. engagement in Vietnam was larger and more costly than the current U.S. engagement in Afghanistan in both blood and treasure. Throughout those years U.S. opposition to the war was much more intense than anything we have seen in the past decade. Yet the existence of negotiations served throughout most of that period as a rationale for continuing the fight, not for ending it. One cannot prove a counterfactual assumption, but I expect most historians would agree that, in the absence of the Paris peace talks, the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam would have come even earlier.
In one respect the two peace processes are quite distinct. The Vietnam negotiations arose from a U.S. initiative, in response to domestic political imperatives and over repeated objections from the Saigon regime. By contrast, the incipient Afghan process has its roots in that society, not ours. Repeated polling shows overwhelming support throughout Afghan society for peace talks with the Taliban. Responding to this, Karzai has championed the concept for years, only gradually overcoming skepticism from the Bush and Obama administrations.
It’s certainly true that Karzai would prefer to be at the center of the process than at the periphery, where the Taliban is trying to keep him. It’s also true that if Washington does not soon overcome the Taliban’s resistance to direct Afghan government participation, the talks will not go far. But U.S. officials surely recognize this as their proximate objective in these talks and will condition progress on substantive issues on so expanding the participation.
The U.S. failure in 1975 to enforce adherence to the peace accord North Vietnam signed two years earlier derived largely from the domestic political effects of Watergate, President Nixon’s resignation and the consequent, if short-lived, collapse of presidential authority. A similar failure might follow the conclusion of a peace agreement in Afghanistan. But if it does, failure will occur with or without such an accord.
In 2010 I joined several former officials in testing the waters for an Afghan peace process by talking to all the potential participants, including Taliban intermediaries. We concluded that the time was right and so advised the U.S. administration. Certainly the United States will need to be prepared to enforce any agreements it reaches in such talks. Whether Washington proves willing to do so will depend not on the presence or absence of a peace agreement but, rather, on the resilience of U.S. support for a commitment that will certainly require no more of it in the presence of an accord than in its absence.
Negotiations and great games in Afghanistan
By Brian M Downing Asia Times
Hopes for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan are beginning once more, but the problematic Byzantine geopolitics are not readily apparent. It is not the bipolar confrontation between Britain and Russia that it was in the 19th century. Nor is it simply the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) against the Taliban.
The war in Afghanistan involves Pakistan against India, China against India, the Pashtun Afghans against the northern peoples, Saudi Arabia against Iran, and Russia against China. So arcane and intricate are these conflicts that the US is allied with enemies and at odds with allies.
Pakistan against India
Afghanistan has long been a theater in the long conflict between Pakistan and India. The two states have been rivals since their inception and thus far India has been the political, economic, and military winner - a disturbing imbalance which decisively shapes the outlooks of the Pakistani army and parts of the population.
Following Pakistan's defeat in the 1971 war in which it lost East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) it embarked on infusing religion with nationalism, and the aspirations and animosities of the army became part of education in the country's madrassas (seminaries). In the absence of a significant national school system, this meant that army ideology became pervasive.
Afghanistan took on immense strategic value. The foreboding mountainous regions along the Af-Pak line offered a solid redoubt from which the army could continue the fight should India's demonstrably superior conventional forces conquer the Punjab, Sindh, and other low-lying areas. Behind the mountains dwell the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan - fellow Muslims and close cousins of the Pashtun in Northwest Pakistan.
The army spread its nationalist-Islam across the Af-Pak line via indigenous mullahs and students who came from Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan. It was hoped to solidify the potential Afghan redoubt and to counter Indian influence with non-Pashtun people in northern Afghanistan, but it soon became part of a more global contest.
United States and Pakistani intelligence urged Afghans to revolt against the Kabul government then aligned with the Soviet Union. The ensuing Soviet war and Pakistan's role in funding mujahideen groups are well known. Nonetheless, it bears noting that Pakistan allocated US and Saudi funds with an eye to bolstering its position against India and that reliable Pashtun forces were better funded than those closer to India.
In the chaotic aftermath of the 1989 Soviet departure, Pakistan threw its support behind the Taliban - a group that to some extent evolved from the Hizb-i-Islami (Khalis) mujahideen force. The Taliban served Pakistan well by subduing warlordism and banditry, which had hindered commerce between Pakistan and the Central Asian republics that came into being with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Taliban drove the India-backed forces into a remote corner of northern Afghanistan and the east was used for base camps of the various proxy groups Pakistan deploys against India, including Jaish-i-Mohammed, the Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-i-Taiba.
At present, these groups wage war on India by attacking its diplomats and aid programs in Afghanistan, by fighting an insurgency in India-administered Kashmir, and by striking inside India itself as with Lashkar-i-Taiba's 2008 attack on Mumbai.
India counters Pakistan by building support among the non-Pashtun peoples of the north. It supported them during the Soviet war and stayed with them during the civil war and the Taliban rule. Indian teams are building roads and other economic assets and are almost certainly keeping contact with the northern commanders it has backed over the past 30 years.
Pakistan is in a strong position to influence a negotiated settlement. It gives insurgent groups and key leaders safe haven; it has proven able to assassinate politicians involved in negotiations; and it controls a good deal of US and ISAF logistics, especially the lethal materiel thought banned by Russia from its routes.
Pakistan will likely insist that Afghan resources flow out to world markets through Pakistani ports and that Central Asian resources (especially gas from Turkmenistan) use the same routes. Pakistan will also insist that Indian influence be minimal and that any connections to Baloch separatist movements be terminated.
China against India
The decades-long conflict between the two largest Asian powers began with border disputes that flared into skirmishes and in 1962, into a brief war. Each side sees the other as supporting insurgencies and separatist movements inside its territory.
Across South Asia, India and China compete through building capital ships and acquiring port facilities. China has naval bases in Myanmar and Sri Lanka and may be seeking another in the Seychelles, between India and China's key trade partners in Africa. India is holding naval maneuvers with Vietnam, another country that has had border incidents with China; and in conjunction with the US, India is seeking to detach Myanmar from China's fold.
In Central Asia, India and China contend for local influence by developing economic opportunities and at least pondering military bases. China was a minor supporter of the mujahideen during the Soviet war but has skillfully remained above the fighting there today. It has nonetheless become the big winner in carving out mining and hydrocarbon enclaves in Afghanistan, with the world's largest copper mine already in operation and a potentially lucrative oil deal signed in late 2011.
India was a more prominent supporter of the mujahideen, especially the northerners who were given short shrift by the Pakistani army, which allocated US and Saudi funds to its Pashtun favorites. In this respect, India and China cooperated in opposing the Soviet Union.
After the USSR and US packed and left in the early 1990s, India continued to support the northern resistance to the Taliban. This has won India a measure of respect with northerners but it lags behind China in persuading President Hamid Karzai to grant business operations.
India's goals are geopolitical though and extend outside Afghanistan. It has gotten an airbase in Tajikistan only a few kilometers north of Afghanistan - and quite close to China's oil tracts in Afghanistan's Kunduz province. Its influence in Central Asia will be limited by Moscow's continued influence there and its reluctance to make its southern periphery a theater in the Sino-Indian contest.
China shares a small, odd border with Afghanistan, but it is of little economic use. Northern routes to China pass through volatile parts of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that are experiencing Islamist unrest and emerging insurgencies.
Pakistan, then, is vital to China's geopolitical and economic ambitions in Afghanistan. Copper and iron ore are trucked south to Pakistani ports; a railroad is being built connecting the oil tracts in Kunduz with the Khyber Pass and then to Pakistani ports.
China, however, is becoming wary of over-reliance on Pakistan. Its South Asian partner is wracked by political instability, sectarian conflict, horrific crime, and separatist movements. Baloch separatists have been known to target Chinese personnel. Pakistan's ties to various terrorist groups are becoming problematic, both internally as the groups occasionally turn against Pakistan itself and externally as they may be leading Pakistan into becoming a pariah state.
Pashtun against non-Pashtun
Conflict is simmering between the Pashtun and non-Pashtun peoples of Afghanistan. Though it to some extent overlaps with the ongoing insurgency and entails foreign intrigues, the conflict rests on ethnic mistrust that goes back decades.
It's well known that Afghanistan contains a number of different ethnic groups. A local witticism says that when the world was made, all the peoples who didn't fit anywhere else were placed in what became Afghanistan. State and society worked reasonably well as long as the former stayed weak and the latter stayed independent - "mutual indifference" as Olivier Roy described it.
The arrangement came apart in the late1970s when Kabul embarked on a modernization effort that called for a stronger state with a greater presence in the localities. Decades of insurgency, civil war, and warlordism ensued and recreating a new political arrangement has been elusive.
The non-Pashtun peoples of northern Afghanistan - Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen and others - have become wary of, if not hostile to, the Pashtuns of the south. Northerners contend that the Pashtun overstate their population to claim a majority and the right to govern. (In fact, they are probably about 42%.) Non-Pashtuns point to a long list of Pashtun emirs, kings, and presidents who have blundered, come under the influence of foreign powers, and otherwise misgoverned the country - some egregiously so.
Karzai, a Popalzai Pashtun, is, in the northerner perspective, only the most recent Pashtun on the list. Karzai's artlessness in selecting provincial and district officials and his openness to cash payments have undermined efforts to rebuild the state and greatly contributed to the disquiet that insurgent groups have built upon.
Northerners also see Karzai as too willing and too naive to negotiate with the Taliban - another Pashtun government whose return to power northerners dread. Karzai's political failures have put the country at risk of falling back into the hands of the Taliban and their army overlords in Pakistan.
Northern elders and politicians are searching for a way to reduce Pashtun political control and escape another round of Taliban rule. Publicly they call for a federal form of government that will give them regional autonomy. In private they discuss breaking away altogether with the help of the army, the rank and file of which are northerners who resent the haughty and inept Pashtun officer corps.
Tensions between Afghans are plain enough to regional powers. Pakistani intelligence is thought complicit in assassinating northern politicians who present obstacles to Taliban and Pakistani control in Afghanistan. India, fearful of Pakistani influence in Central Asia, is supportive of northern autonomy but is not in a position to bring it about. Events, however, may be leading something close to it.
The US wishes to keep Afghanistan intact, but the strength of the insurgency in the south and the political and logistical need to reduce its troop levels require withdrawal from many parts of the Pashtun south. The US effort, then, may have to concentrate in a handful of enclaves in the south and in the northern provinces - a move that will be most welcome in the north.
Saudi Arabia against Iran
The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the most dangerous one in the world today as ongoing events in the Persian Gulf attest. They vie in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and throughout the Gulf. Afghanistan is another theater of this contest.
Tensions between the two powers can of course be traced back to the Sunni-Shi'ite chasm but all was held in check when both played roles in the US's "twin pillars" strategy for Gulf security. With the fall of the shah (1979) and Ayatollah Ruhollah's Khomeini's call for uprisings throughout the Islamic world, however, antagonisms grew, even though Khomeini's calls were generally ignored.
The ouster of Saddam Hussein (2003) greatly destabilized the region. Saudi Arabia saw Saddam's military state as a strategic obstacle to Iranian-Shi'ite expansion. Riyadh counseled Washington not to oust him, as it would lead to a majority Shi'ite government that would ally with Iran and endanger the region. Events have shown Riyadh to be the wiser judge.
Iran has longstanding interests inside Afghanistan. The Hazara people are Farsi-speaking Shi'ites who constitute about 9% of the population and who suffered greatly under the Taliban which deemed them heretics. The Tajiks are about 25% of the population and though chiefly Sunni, have linguistic and cultural ties to Iran.
Hazaras and Tajiks along with other northern peoples enjoyed Iranian support during the Soviet war and the long internal fighting that ensued. Hazara clerics look to fellow Shi'ite authorities in Iran on religious matters, though not necessarily to the ayatollahs who rule the country. Indeed, the authority of Hazara clerics has prevented the warlordism that has plagued the rest of Afghanistan, which has helped to make Central Afghanistan relatively tranquil.
Saudi Arabia has sought to counter Iranian influence in Afghanistan. In 1990, in the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, the Saudis, in conjunction with Pakistani intelligence and a Pashtun mujahideen commander, attempted to oust the Iranian-backed northern government. It was thwarted, paradoxically enough, in part by US diplomatic pressure. Memory of the coup is not far from mind among concerned parties.
Iran sees the Taliban as another Saudi-Pakistani force - an aberrant, intolerant Sunni sect. Taliban zealotry stems from the Deobandi madrassas of Pakistan which enjoy lavish subsidies from the Saudi state and Wahhabi clerics. These schools put forth militants eager to join with anti-Shi'ite groups inside Pakistan such as Sipah-i-Sahaba, which the Pakistani army created to suppress Shi'ism following the Iranian revolution. During the Taliban's rule, they massacred tens of thousand of Hazaras, seized the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, and killed several diplomats.
Outside Pakistan, the Deobandi faithful serve in Saudi forces that repress Shi'ite movements calling for civil rights in the Gulf region. They also form key components of the Saudi army where they serve with Sunni veterans of the Iraqi army. They are soldiers in the Saudi campaign to surround and contain Iran - successors to Saddam Hussein's army that invaded and devastated Iran.
The Taliban nonetheless draw limited support from Iran as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) provides weaponry to Afghan insurgents and trains them on its Zahedan base just inside Iran. It does so in the hope of deflecting them from the anti-Iranian and anti-Shi'ite path that the Saudis promote, but perhaps more importantly as a warning to the US. Should the US or one of its allies attack Iran, the Afghan insurgents will enjoy far more assistance from the IRGC.
The effort against Iranian influence in Afghanistan may have developed a new dimension with the suicide bombings last December on the Shi'ite Hazaras as they observed Ashura. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a Pakistani militant group with a long history of attacking Shi'ites and anyone else deemed impure, has taken credit for it. The LeJ broke away from Sipah-e-Sahaba and has taken part in murders and assassination attempts on politicians and continued its intimidation of Shi'ites and Christians, primarily inside Pakistan.
The suicide team's training, weaponry, and long passage from sanctuaries in eastern Afghanistan to targets in the south and north imply considerable assistance. LeJ's robust anti-Shi'ite credentials may have caught the eye of Saudi intelligence. Striking at the Hazaras is an indirect attack on Iran and it may augur a direct attack from Iran's east.
China against Russia
Aside from the insurgency, ethnic mistrust, and intrigues of neighboring countries, Afghanistan is a place of contention between China and Russia Though there is Russian triangulation at work, the US is closer to Russia in this nettlesome situation.
A Russian geological survey found great mineralogical promise in Afghanistan, as did a recent US study. Metal ores and increasingly strategic rare earths abound, and preliminary studies suggest appreciable oil and gas reserves.
Further, Afghanistan is part of, and a gateway to, Central Asia. A vast region left largely undeveloped while under Soviet rule, it is now open to development. Corporations and states are scrambling for advantage.
China has a leg up in Afghanistan. It operates the largest copper mine in the world and is building sizable iron mines too. It recently obtained oil licenses in Kunduz province in the north-central part of the country and is well along in linking Kunduz by rail to the Khyber Pass. Curiously, Chinese operations proceed without incident, even in regions with insurgent activity, leading some to suspect that China has, through its Pakistan ally, arranged a modus vivendi with the Taliban.
To the north, in Central Asia, China is acquiring oil licenses in Kazakhstan's Tenghiz field - in at least one case after a peculiar termination of US rights. China has built a pipeline connecting these fields to northwest China - the center of domestic oil production. The pipeline rivals a Russian line to the Far East, which poses an economic and diplomatic threat too as Russian relations with Japan and South Korea are shaped by Russian oil.
China is expanding, economically and diplomatically at this point, into areas that Russia considers areas of profound national interest. Further, China's growing economic and military power and the ominous ambitiousness revealed in recent navalist ventures are causing concern in Russia, whose trans-Ural territories are vast, resource rich, and indefensible. Parts of Siberia, after all, were seized from China in centuries past - events not considered historical trivia in either capital.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Russia helped the US secure bases in former Soviet republics to support the Northern Alliance in ousting the Taliban and rebuild Afghanistan. Since then, as US relations with Pakistan deteriorate and supply lines from Karachi become more unreliable, Russia has been invaluable in US/ISAF logistics.
Russia has a decided ambivalence about the US presence in Afghanistan. It has profound misgivings about the proximity of troops of a recent mortal enemy and present-day adversary on many issues, but it has even graver misgivings about Islamist militancy along the Af-Pak frontier and in Central Asia.
Among the Pakistani army's client groups are a number of Chechens whose organizations strike inside Russia, even in Moscow. Remnants of the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan and a kindred group from Tajikistan operate with al Qaeda and seek to return to their countries one day. The Fergana Valley, which stretches from Kyrgyzstan through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, seethes with social and religious unrest and is of considerable concern in and out of the region.
Russia has a growing Muslim population and a stagnant Christian one. Its younger, educated people are emigrating in worrisome numbers. It looks warily at Islamic and Islamist tides near its former republics and the oil-bearing Caucasus region. Russia would prefer to see the US wear down the Taliban or consolidate in northern Afghanistan to continue the effort. If Russia did not want the US there, it could stop the supply trains and maroon an American army on the Afghan plains.
Russia also wishes to encourage the continuance of the US-backed containment around China's periphery, from South Korea to Vietnam and India. China is now the focus of US foreign policy and Russia wishes it to remain so, without its own participation in the arrangement.
Russia also encourages non-Chinese investment in Central Asia, which in the absence of sufficient Russian capital and expertise, is preferable to the region's becoming a Chinese sphere of influence or more - as is Afghanistan, or at least large parts of it. Basic commodities such as iron and copper and the increasingly valuable rare earths must not be so concentrated in Chinese hands as to allow Beijing to control prices and exert pressure on foreign states.
The US response to 9/11 plunged it into a bewildering geopolitical maze that it is only now appreciating. The US now finds itself sharing key strategic interests with an enemy, Iran, as both support the northern Afghans and oppose the Taliban. Saudi Arabia, US ally against Iran elsewhere, supports Pakistan and indirectly its Taliban proxy. Strange bedfellows.
The prospects for US and Taliban negotiators weighing and balancing the interests of various powers are not promising. Nor is the prospect of Pakistan acting as impartial mediator, attractive and inevitable as that will seem to the Pakistani army.
More promising, however, is the widespread hostility to the Taliban and its supporters in the Pakistani army. All the concerned powers see the Pakistani army as the institutional sponsor of an array of militant groups, including the Taliban, that enjoy safe have along the Af-Pak line and threaten Russia, Iran, China, India, and many Afghans as well.
In this respect, the prospects for a settlement are more likely if arrived at in conjunction with the various concerned powers, unattractive and unforeseen as that maybe to the Pakistani army.
Brian M Downing is a political/military analyst and author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at
Afghan opium profits up 133% in 2011, U.N. says
January 13, 2012 7:41 AM
(AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - Revenue from opium production in Afghanistan soared by 133 percent last year to about $1.4 billion, or about one-tenth of the country's GDP, according to a United Nations report received Friday.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said the price rise was due to a plant disease that wiped out much of the opium crop in 2010. Although yields returned to pre-blight levels in 2011, the prices have remained high, the survey said.
Definitive statistics are hard to obtain in Afghanistan, but the survey said the value of the crop may now be the equivalent of nine percent of the country's GDP.
"Opium is therefore a significant part of the Afghan economy and provides considerable funding to the insurgency and fuels corruption," said Yury Fedotov, director of the Vienna-based agency.
He called for a stronger commitment from Afghan and international partners "to turn this worrying trend around."
Income from opium finances weapons and equipment purchases for the Taliban.
"This year's U.N. focuses on the impact of the rise in prices on corruption and the growth of cartels in Afghanistan," says CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk. "It makes the point that, despite efforts to stop the drug trafficking, Afghanistan's future will be hindered by the trade unless more money and international collaboration is provided."
"Last year's report was also grim, and it was the first major U.N. recognition that the drug trade funds organized crime, terrorism and other security threats," says Falk.
Afghanistan provides about 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw ingredient for heroin. The U.N. and the Afghan government have long tried to wean the country off the lucrative crop.
The largest areas of opium poppy cultivation are in the violent south of Afghanistan, where it can be hard to make money on legal crops and where criminal networks exist to buy and sell the poppy crop.
Most farmers surveyed said they were primarily motivated by the high prices gained by opium poppy cultivation, particularly in comparison with wheat, which suffered a fall in price last year.
The survey showed that 6,400 tons of opium were produced last year, in comparison with 4,000 tons in 2010.
It said rising opium prices drove Afghan farmers to increase cultivation of the illicit opium poppy plants by 7 percent in 2011, despite a major push by the Afghan government and international allies.
Most of the opium from landlocked Afghanistan is shipped through Iran and Pakistan. Russia, which has around 2 million opium and heroin addicts, is also a principal route for drugs headed for Europe.
Moscow has repeatedly urged the U.S. military to take stronger action against Afghan drug labs. Russia has also trained several hundred Afghan counternarcotics agents.
"Counternarcotics is not the exclusive domain of specialized units alone, but the shared responsibility of everybody concerned with security, stability, governance and development in Afghanistan and the wider region," Fedotov said.
Afghanistan National Institute Of Music Hopes To Bring Comfort In Time Of War
By Amie Ferris-Rotman and Sayed Hassib 1/13/12
KABUL (Reuters) - A cacophony ranging from Asian string instruments to the delicate cadences of classical piano pours out of a two-storey building in central Kabul.
Here, at Afghanistan's sole music academy, students are taught music with the hope it will bring comfort in the face of war and poverty, bringing back cellos and violins to revive a rich musical legacy disrupted by decades of violence and suppression.
"We are committed to build ruined lives through music, given its healing power," Ahmad Sarmast, head of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, told Reuters.
The trumpet player turned musicologist set up the school two years ago on the site of the School of Fine Arts' music department, which was forced to shut in the early 1990s as civil war engulfed the country following a decade-long Soviet occupation.
The austere Taliban, who took over in 1996, then banned music outright, something unthinkable in today's Afghanistan, where cafes and cars blast Indian love songs and the tunes of 1970s Afghan crooner Ahmad Zahir.
But while the institute's 140 full-time pupils have little recollection of that time, they still face hardships in their musical pursuits.
Half the students are orphans or street children, with the rest selected after a music exam.
All are passionate about music, said voice and flute teacher Mashal Arman, daughter of famed Afghan musician Hossein, whose black-and-white photographs grace the school's hall.
"They are so thirsty for music and art, it is fabulous to see the country finally changing," said Arman, whose accent hints at her connection to Switzerland, where she fled with her family more than 20 years ago.
Sarmast said he had also set a quota that a third of students must be girls -- a gesture towards the plight of Afghan women, who still struggle for basic rights such as education after 30 years of war and harsh Taliban rule.
All students receive full scholarships to attend the school, which operates under the Ministry of Education with significant foreign funding, notably from Britain, Germany and Denmark. They are awarded internationally recognised music diplomas.
"The return of music is one of the most positive changes in post-Taliban Afghanistan," said Sarmast, who studied in Moscow and Australia before returning to Afghanistan in 2008 with a mission to establish the academy.
In one of the school's carpeted rehearsal rooms, recently soundproofed with Afghan timber, 14-year-old orphan Fatima strums a sitar, conjuring up sounds familiar to Afghan children, who adore Bollywood films and their music.
"I was encouraged to come here and I am happy for it. I love playing," Fatima said, adjusting the pink cap covering her hair that she uses instead of a headscarf.
Her Indian teacher, Irfan Khan, one of 16 foreign instructors at the school, watches approvingly but laments the poverty that prevents students from owning instruments, hindering their progress.
"We are reviving music for those who have been deprived," he said. "However, many of the students do not come from affluent families and are only able to practise here".
At $600, a new saxophone is more than $100 higher than an average worker's annual salary, according to Finance Ministry estimates.
For star classical piano pupil Sayed Elham, a jovial 13-year-old with a passion for Chopin, the $3,000 needed to trade his family's Casio keyboard for a full-size piano is nothing but a dream.
"I want our government to improve the state of Afghan music," he said after performing Chopin's Nocturne for some fellow students, who gathered to hear him rehearse.
Despite the school's success -- it takes on an extra 80 or so students for its two-month winter academy and is building a 300-seat auditorium and separate building for rehearsing -- the future for musicians in Afghanistan is bleak.
Rights taken for granted by musicians in the West, such as copyright and royalties, do not exist, and most recording and broadcasting fees must be paid out of the musician's pocket.
In addition, there are scant prospects of jobs.
"We have a long way to go to make sure that our graduates are getting just remuneration and their rights protected," Sarmast said.
But he now hopes his graduates will form Afghanistan's first national symphony orchestra, a vision already in the works. (Editing by Elaine Lies and Robert Birsel)
Nangalam: A symbol of the Afghan war's troubles
By Clarissa Ward January 12, 2012 7:14 PM
(CBS News) Most Americans in Afghanistan are doing their best in a war that's now in its 11th year. Why has it taken this long?
CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward found one reason in the Pech Valley. Americans lost their lives there building a base called Nangalam. When they tried to hand over their gains to the Afghan army, the base went to ruin.
This is one part of Afghanistan that America thought it could finally leave. But U.S. troops are back, trying once again to train their Afghan allies.
Army Major Guillermo Guillen, from Southern California, is frustrated.
"You're relying on us to do all your security for you. You need to be participating," Guillen told an Afghan counterpart.
On a recent patrol, some Afghan soldiers were not wearing helmets. One chatted on his cell phone.
"We're not going to be here forever, you need to take care of yourself," Guillen said.
The U.S. military left Nangalam base last February, handing over to Afghan forces. But within weeks, things went badly wrong.
Enemy forces returned to roam freely through the valley. The Afghan commander deserted. Hundreds of his soldiers followed.
"I believe there was some of (feeling of abandonment) amongst the (Afghan) soldiers. It's probably what led to some of their leadership leaving," Guillen said.
The Afghan forces that remained ransacked their own base.
All the electric wires have been pulled out. Anything of any value was taken. You can see the wiring hanging out of the light.
Just about everything else that could be moved was sold for cash.
Without American support, the Afghan army refused to resupply the base. The soldiers were living in filth.
For the U.S. military, it was an embarrassing example of what might happen when security is handed over to Afghan forces across the country, and so four months after leaving, a small group of U.S. troops was sent back in.
Today, American contractors are back on the base repairing the damage, with U.S. taxpayers footing the bill, again.
A new Afghan army unit has been brought in, with a new commander, Colonel Turab. U.S. officers have nicknamed him "Honest Abe."
And he was honest to a fault about the prospects for the Afghan army.
"It will take about 30 years" for the Afghan army to be ready, Turab said through a translator. "And if they are reformed and the corruption is removed, ten years."
"They understand what they're doing. They understand what's required. It's just getting them to do it without coalition support," Guillen said.
The U.S. exit strategy depends on them doing it without support. Not in 30 years, and not in ten. They have just two years before the vast majority of American forces are scheduled to leave the Pech Valley - and all of Afghanistan - for good.
Passports for Sale in Afghanistan
Shortage creates new illegal trade in travel documents.
IWPR By Abdol Wahed Faramarz 12 Jan 12
Afghanistan - A thriving black market has emerged in Afghan passports, after the authorities stopped issuing them three months ago.
The passport agency announced in late 2011 that it would no longer be issuing passports, telling parliament it had run out of blank documents.
However, IWPR has discovered that corrupt officials are illicitly selling passports via middlemen to anyone willing to pay a high price.
“We have seen that our friends, relatives and constituents have obtained passports for between 500 and 700 [US] dollars,” Mohammad Aref Rahmani, a member of parliament from the southern Ghazni province, said. “People are getting passports by paying substantial amounts of money.”
One of the brokers involved in the illegal trade took an IWPR reporter to a night-time meeting in Kabul where he acquired passports from staff of the issuing agency.
He said that after the moratorium was announced, passports appeared on the black market for 200 or 300 dollars, but that the cost had now risen to 500 or 700 dollars because officials were demanding a larger cut.
A passport officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the trade was taking place.
“A number of new passports are held by high-ranking officials, and they distribute them in return for money,” he said.
Both he and the broker insisted that applicants still had to supply the proper supporting documents, even though they were paying bribes.
The passport officer told IWPR that the initial shortage was partly caused by an inundation of people hoping to make the annual Hajj or pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. People had also rushed to buy passports when Iran moved to deport Afghans who lacked proper documents.
Mohammad Amin Khuramji, deputy head of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, a government watchdog, confirmed that some passport officers were issuing the documents in exchange for large sums. He said his office had contacted the security agencies about the problem, but had not received a response.
Ghazni resident Shafiqullah decided to buy a black-market document after being turned away 15 days in a row at the passport agency, where staff told him they had none left.
“I had to pay a broker 500 dollars and I got the passport in two days,” he said.
General Ayub, head of the Afghan passport agency, denied that any of his staff were involved in wrongdoing, and said the allegations were just false rumours spread by black marketeers.
“Under no circumstances are passports issued to anyone in return for money,” he said.
The general said passports were still being issued in special cases, for example to patients needing emergency treatment abroad, and to businessmen whose foreign trips were seen as important to the national economy. No illegal payments were involved, he said.
General Ayub said the passports now being sold on the black market were forgeries.
“Those who claim they have bought passports for money should complain either to me or to the security agencies so that the perpetrators can be arrested,” he said.
Parliamentarian Rahmani disputed this, insisting the passports on sale were genuine. He added that it made no sense to ask people who had bought them illegally to go to the passport agency to complain.
Afghanistan’s finance ministry has contracted a London-based company to produce 1.4 million passports, which should arrive this month, according to officials. General Ayub said passports would start being issued again once they arrived.
In the interim, dozens of people queued up outside the passport office in Kabul, in the hope of acquiring a passport despite the moratorium.
Mohammad Nazar, an elderly man wrapped in a blanket against the cold, said he had been queuing for ten days. Some of his friends had paid bribes and got passports, but he was too poor to do so.
“I have no money so they won’t give me a passport,” he said.
Abdul Wahed Faramarz is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul.
|2012, afghan, january, news|