[Afghan News] April 3, 2012 - 04-05-2012, 07:43 AM
Afghanistan: A Bleak Report from the Front
TIME.com By Mark Thompson April 2, 2012
Marine General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was here in Washington two weeks ago saying the U.S. and the Afghan government are making progress in their decade-long battle with the Taliban. “We remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for al-Qaida and will no longer be terrorized by the Taliban,” he said. “Our troops know the difference that they’re making every day, and the enemy feels that difference every day.”
Now comes a decidedly contrary point of view. It’s from Douglas A. Wissing, author of the just-published Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban. After spending time with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he’s come to the conclusion that the U.S.-led effort there is flagging, if not already doomed. Battleland conducted this email chat with Wissing last week:
What share of the Taliban’s money do you estimate comes from illicit drugs? From the U.S. government?
I spent time in Afghanistan and in Washington trying to track that number down. One day at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, an American official serving in the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC) talked to me. The ATFC is comprised of about 30 specialists on loan from the Department of Drug Enforcement, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense’s CENTCOM, the CIA, and the FBI, who try to identify and disrupt sources Taliban funding. They are the experts.
The official told me that U.S. government officials estimated the insurgents’ annual budget to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Is it $1 billion? $500 million? The total amount is a tail people are going to chase until the end of time,” he told me. “We know they are raising substantial amounts of money; they can finance their operations. If you take away the Gulf money, they can make it up. If you take away the narco money, they can make it up. It’s like punching Jello.”
The official confirmed the U.S. and civilian reports that the insurgents used extortion of U.S. development and logistics contracts for their funding. He cited logistics-convoy security shakedowns, construction-protection rackets, Taliban “taxes” on corrupt officials, payoffs from international NGOs and major Afghan businesses—such as cell phones, utilities, and banks—as well as skims from poorly overseen Afghan government projects of the National Solidarity Program.
Citing the flood of American development and logistics money pouring into Afghanistan, the official said, “The more money that comes in here, the more opportunities, and then there’s a lot more exploitation, more corruption. And there’s a lot more money coming in here.”
Why do you believe the Taliban is getting so much money from U.S. taxpayers? Is this just the way things work – or don’t – in a counter-insurgency?
The Taliban is getting so much money from U.S. taxpayers because there is a toxic, opportunistic system that developed in Afghanistan in the years after the U.S. invasion. The system connects distracted American careerists, private U.S. corporations, corrupt Afghan kleptocrats—and the Taliban. U.S. soldiers compare it to the Mafia: everyone’s in on the take. The soldiers tell me, “We are funding our own enemy.”
Because of the corrupt Afghan government leadership, this particular counterinsurgency is particularly rife with skims and scams of U.S. logistics and development contracts, which ultimately help finance the Taliban—what the military calls “threat funding.”
The U.S. military leaders have to know that counterinsurgency won’t work with a corrupt Afghan government. FM 3-24, the famous counterinsurgency manual authored by General David Petraeus that guides the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, states that partnering with a legitimate host government is an indispensable “north star” to a successful war. Instead, the U.S. is allied with an Afghan government that is largely ineffective and systemically corrupt.
Why did you write Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban?
When I was embedded with U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan, the soldiers started telling me that the U.S. government is wasting tens of billions of American taxpayer dollars on scandalously mismanaged aid and logistics contracts that end up financing the Taliban.
We’d be trundling through Taliban-controlled areas in armored vehicles, dodging ambushes and hitting IEDs, and the soldiers would be saying, “We’re funding both sides of this war.” It seemed preposterous at first. But as I dug into the story, officers, diplomats, and aid officials confirmed the rough outlines of the pernicious system. One sardonic US intelligence officer told me, “It’s the perfect war. Everyone is making money.”
I was trained as a historian, so wanted to understand the origins of this system. As a journalist, I wanted to see how the patterns played out on a day-to-day level. And I wanted Americans to know the reality of the war in Afghanistan.
What background do you have to reach the conclusions you did? Why should we listen to you?
As an independent journalist who has contributed to outlets that include the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, BBC, and VOA News, I’ve devoted considerable amounts of time and resources to objectively research development and logistics funding in Afghanistan.
I have a fair amount of experience in Central Asia, including time in the Pashtun tribal regions pre-9/11 and long stints among the famous Khampa Buddhist warriors of eastern Tibet in the process of researching my book, Pioneer in Tibet: The Life and Perils of Dr. Albert Shelton. Through the Khampa tribesmen, I learned about warrior cultures—knowledge that stood me in good stead in Afghanistan, where I encountered the intersecting worlds of fundamentalist Islamic mujahideen and devout American Baptist soldiers.
I’ve read a mountain of documents, reports, and books on the war in Afghanistan, conducted hundreds of interviews with people on all stripes and persuasions, embarked on two embeds in the war-zones of eastern Afghanistan. I’ve been in combat zones and Kabul embassy offices; in a little white taxi winding through way through a bomb-blasted landscape to Bagram Air Field; slogged with U.S. patrols through the Taliban-held mountains in 50 pounds of body armor; billeted in front-line bases where the blare of big-screen TVs and the hiss of espresso machines is punctuated with the boom of incoming rockets and the stutter of Kalashnikovs; shared the poignant front-line ceremonies honoring fallen soldiers returning homeward.
I’m an honest broker; I’m not beholden to the system. Based on my research and analysis, I’ve determined that grotesquely mismanaged U.S. taxpayers’ money is making its way to the Taliban. We are fighting a war while funding our enemy—hence, the title of my book.
Tell us what you saw on the ground in Afghanistan.
I saw a dysfunctional, often uncoordinated development system that placed an emphasis on spending money fast, but had little interest in measuring the impacts of billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars on reducing the insurgency.
I saw that messages that sound so good from podiums in Washington have little correlation with the on-the-ground reality in Afghanistan.
I saw an ADD-afflicted U.S. military and civilian leadership embark on a merry-go-round of sequential, sometimes contradictory strategies that has eventually cost us the war.
I have seen courageous American soldiers get increasingly frustrated and cynical about the war. Last summer a Marine colonel in southern Afghanistan told me there was low morale among the troops. He said, “On an operational level, the soldiers are saying, ‘I’m going to go over there and try to not get my legs blown off. My nation will shut this bull**** down.’ That’s the feeling of my fellow soldiers.” The marine officer said, “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”
What do you think the U.S. should do now in Afghanistan?
We’re now spending $2 billion dollars a week in Afghanistan. We spent $120 billion there last year. It is not doing much good. Most of the $60 billion the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan on aid and development is wasted. After investing $30 billion on standing up the Afghan national security forces, their performance is still abysmal.
By most accounts, the insurgency is rapidly growing. Afghans don’t want us there. Increasing numbers of Americans want the U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Most of the soldiers I talk to want to get out.
I think the U.S. officials need to accelerate the withdrawal of the troops, and prepare to assist with the inevitable humanitarian crisis that is bound to overwhelm Afghanistan when we leave. We broke it. We need to help pick up the pieces.
NATO: Stress, Not Taliban, Drive Afghan Insider Attacks
VOA News April 2, 2012 Brian Padden
Islamabad - The NATO force in Afghanistan said Monday that attacks by Afghan security personnel on their Western counterparts, while few in a number, have had a disproportionately large effect on troop morale.
NATO says 17 members of the international coalition have been killed in 10 attacks by their Afghan counterparts since January 1. A similar number of Afghan forces have also been killed by fellow Afghan soldiers or police.
The coalition also disputes Taliban claims of responsibility for the attacks.
Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, coalition spokesman, says the number of attacks is actually quite low given that there are 130,000 NATO troops and 350,000 Afghan forces often training together in close quarters. But he says each incident has a disproportional effect, increasing mistrust between Afghan and international forces.
"Although the incidents are small in number we are aware on the gravity they have as an effect on morale," he said. "So therefore we are very carefully looking at every single incident."
Last week three coalition troops -- two British and one American -- were killed by Afghan security forces in different parts of the country. Also in Paktika province last week, Afghan officials said a member of an Afghan militia drugged his colleagues and killed at least nine of them as they slept.
The Afghan Taliban often takes credit for attacks by members of the Afghan security forces, but General Jacobson says in almost every insider attack, the perpetrator was not affiliated with the insurgency.
"Our findings are that the vast majority lie in the individual," he said. "Personal grievances are one of the major causes, plus a number of other cause including stress syndromes on soldiers who are living in a country that has been [enduring] 30 years of war."
NATO is putting a new emphasis on established procedures such as background checks for Afghan recruits, while implementing new security measures such as placing intelligence agents among troops during basic training, and assigning soldiers to guard their colleagues while they sleep.
Security has also been stepped up following the recent killing of 17 Afghan civilians, purportedly by a U.S. soldier, and the inadvertent burning of Qurans at an American military base. The incidents have increased tensions between Afghan officials and the international coalition at a time when cooperation is vital as foreign troops begin withdrawing ahead of a 2014 deadline.
Weaker Taliban 'will increase bombings in Afghanistan'
Sydney Morning Herald By Dylan Welch April 3, 2012
THE Taliban will mount a campaign this year that is increasingly reliant on suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan's south and east, says one of International Security Assistance Force's most senior officers.
It would also continue to attempt mass casualty attacks in Kabul - both campaigns being responses to the Taliban's weakening grip across the country.
''The insurgency has not given up. We know they're going to remount their attacks,'' the ISAF's deputy operations officer, Australian Brigadier Roger Noble, told the Herald.
Regarding Oruzgan, where Australia has about 1000 soldiers serving at four patrol bases and its capital, Tarin Kowt, he said: ''It's an important province in [Afghanistan's] layout, and you're going to see attempts by the insurgents to reinsert and to influence it.''
His comments come after one of the most disheartening periods in the decade-long war, with the Afghan winter seeing a series of Coalition soldiers killed by the Afghan National Army soldiers they were working with; the burning by US forces at Bagram air base of copies of the Koran; images of soldiers urinating on Taliban corpses shown around the world; and the massacre of civilians in Kandahar by an unhinged US marine.
With the deadline for the end of Coalition combat operations - December 2014 - drawing closer, the incidents have obscured what the ISAF generals would say is a steadily improving security situation as a result of a push by an increased number of Coalition troops in 2011.
''For the first time, we saw the momentum of the insurgency reversed,'' the deputy commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan, the British Lieutenant-General Adrian Bradshaw, said.
And while the incidents such as the Koran burning had caused much angst, they had not affected the underlying strength of the relationship between the Coalition and Afghan forces.
''[The incidents] come as much of a surprise to us as they have the Afghans, and clearly those that are within our gift to do anything about, we've worked extremely hard to make sure they can't be repeated,'' General Bradshaw said.
''But the Afghans are being equally pragmatic about this. They know that [the Koran burning] was not intentionally directed at insulting their religion or culture. They take it to be a grievous error of ignorance, and they've accepted that.''
The situation in Afghanistan is particularly precipitous at the moment, as the days tick down to next month's NATO conference in Chicago, where the size of the international community's 10 year post-2014 commitment to the war-torn nation will be decided.
Brigadier Noble also discussed the so-called ''green on blue'' attacks - Afghan soldiers or police targeting Coalition troops.
Three Australian Diggers were killed during an incident in Kandahar province in November, and a further three were wounded in a similar attack on 11 days later at a base in Oruzgan's Mirabad Valley.
ISAF had assessed that only a small percentage, less than 10 per cent, could be definitively attributed to Taliban ''infiltration'' attacks, Brigadier Noble said.
Other senior ISAF officers echo his assessment, and say about 30 per cent are believed to be attributed to combat stress and individual reasons.
The remaining half saw the attacker killed, and the reasons could not be established.
Will Afghanistan become a U.S. campaign issue?
Xinhua By Matthew Rusling April 3, 2012
WASHINGTON - As Republican presidential candidates gear up for Tuesday's primaries, they remain mute on the U.S. war in Afghanistan despite recent blunders including the slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a rogue U.S. soldier.
But given those events, as well as other recent U.S. missteps including the burning of Korans, U.S. President Barack Obama's handling of the war could amount to a savory chunk of political beef to bite down on for whoever runs on the Republican Party's ticket in November elections.
"Republicans will complain that our foreign policy lacks vision and focus," Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.
Many pundits and political prognosticators have blasted Obama's handling of the war. They charge that the president's strategy for winning is ill-defined; that the counterinsurgency program is doomed to failure; and that the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, upon which the U.S. relies as a strategic partner, will fail to become a national government the United States is hoping for.
A key part of the U.S. strategy also rests on Afghan forces' ability to provide security for the embattled country, but that remains in question.
"Republicans might argue that the president wanted it both ways in calling for the Afghanistan surge, but also calling for a withdrawal," John Fortier, director of the democracy project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Xinhua, referring to the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to the war-ravaged country in December 2009.
"They might argue that he is moving out too soon. They might argue that he is not managing the conflict on the ground successfully," Fortier said.
Still, eyeing the issue too closely could backfire for Republican candidates if they steer too far away from the issue du jour -- a U.S. economy that is still clawing its way toward recovery from the worst recession in decades.
While the economy has shown improvement in recent months, there are still millions of unemployed and the jobless rate remains at 8.3 percent, making the recovery one of the slowest in recent memory.
"Republicans have to be careful not to go off message on the economy," said West, pointing out that high unemployment is Republicans' strongest issue.
Republican candidates have here and there taken short-lived detours during the course of the primaries, debating issues from birth control to former House speaker Newt Gingrich's comment about putting a U.S. colony on the moon.
Going off message to talk foreign policy could backfire for Republicans, as it would allow Obama to remind Americans that he was the one who got al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden, said West, pointing to the U.S. raid last May on the terror kingpin's Pakistan compound that ended with his death in a firefight.
Recent polls also indicate that Americans are tired of the war. A CBS News/New York Times poll released in late March found American support for the war is at an all-time low, with 69 percent of Americans saying the U.S. should not be involved -- the highest figure since the poll began asking that question in 2009.
But while some analysts predict a degree of attention to Afghanistan, others said the issue is likely to remain muted compared with the U.S. economic issues, which are more pressing for Americans.
"Even with important developments around the world, the American domestic economy, its performance, the debt and deficit, are much more likely to be the chief issues of the campaign," Fortier said.h Moreover, Republicans have been somewhat supportive of President Obama on foreign affairs and Afghanistan. Republicans in Congress were the president's supporters on the surge when Democrats were more circumspect, he noted.
"The president's job approval numbers on economics are very low, but they are significantly higher on foreign affairs, in part because he has some Republican support," Fortier noted.
Indeed, Republican voters are not pushing to get out of Afghanistan quickly, so they may be more agreeable toward the president's Afghanistan policy than Democratic voters, he added.
Afghanistan's first female Olympic boxer eyes London dream
April 03, 2012|By Nick Paton Walsh and Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
An arena where the Taliban used to execute women provides a chilling and incongruous setting for one teen girl's unlikely Olympic dream.
But the dusty floors, broken mirrors, and poorly-lit hallways inside Kabul's Ghazni stadium have been the training base for 17-year-old Sadaf Rahimi.
Dressed in a track suit, red lace up boots and a blue bandana, she is on course to become Afghanistan's first female Olympic boxer and only the third Afghan sportswoman to compete at an Olympic Games.
Building Bridges by Breaking Bread in Afghanistan
The Huffington Post By David R. Kuhn Filmmaker, photographer and writer 02/04/2012
The war in Iraq is over, as signified by the casing of the U.S. forces flag in Baghdad. One war's end focuses attention on another. Is there a sensible path home for American troops in Afghanistan?
The 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan was recently observed here by the Taliban through increased fire on several American bases along the Pakistan border. The intensity was not only another example of the nostalgia the Taliban seem to have for anniversaries, but perhaps an attempt to divert attention for another attack. The tactics continue.
Deployed here in August, for the 172d Infantry Brigade, or "Blackhawks," it's not all about the firefight. In the volatile eastern province of Paktika, there's a balanced approach, measured not only by counter-fire, but also by the regular breaking of bread with the Afghan National Army.
"In this global war on terrorism, one way or the other, Muslims are going to win this war. If it's the guys we need to win, or if it's the bad guys, that's really what we're determining," said Captain Nathan Moore from Forward Operating Base Sharana, in Paktika. "We're trying to build them up, along with the (ANA) partnership. They're going to take over for us at some time, and we want them to be the best they can be," he continued.
Partnering with the ANA means opposing extremism. The Taliban lost their iron grip on the population through too harsh a brand of Islamic rule in the late 1990s. While the Afghans are varied in their appearance, tribal loyalties and dialect, people generally want to pursue their lives without overt interference. Sharia law made that impossible. This new ANA developed since 2002, with the support of NATO. Along the way came the opportunity to forge a better alliance, based on growing trust and a shared goal.
In speaking of the deployment, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Cardoni (1st battalion 77th field artillery regiment) offered, "It's an overwhelming responsibility. We position ourselves to have some effect on the enemy, so the border isn't really their entry in Afghanistan, particularly in Paktika. We've had some effect in accomplishing that so far." He added, "I am very proud. Every time I go out, I see soldiers mature."
Maturity helps build the ANA alliance. Capt. Moore summed up the dynamic, "In the end it's about trust. You are counterparts. These guys are from here, and Afghanistan is home. If I don't trust somebody I'm not going to fight with them. In the end their goal is the same as mine -- to get a professional fighting force to be able to sustain itself and be here when we leave. It's sowing the seeds that we hope will last a long time."
Moore's attitude was reflected out on the front lines, too. Near the Pakistan border, Captain Brian Jenson is the ranking officer in charge at Combat Outpost Boris. He said, "Our goal is a partnership with the Afghan army, to help them prepare to take over the reigns."
Capt. Jenson, who practices mixed martial arts, thinks like an athlete. He attended West Point to play football as a strong safety, and proudly holds the distinction of playing on the last Army team to beat Navy. "Any sport you play, you learn that team mentality of trying to achieve the same goal, so if you apply that to the military it's the same thing. Everybody's got a role on the football team, everybody's got a role in the fight over here," Jenson shared. His role is to provide protection in the firefight, and build vital bridges with the ANA along the way.
According to Capt. Jenson's second in command at COP Boris, that means working together. First Sergeant Rickey Jackson says, "Basically I tell you if it wasn't a team concept here it'd be tough. But we've made that. Making it work here is partnering with the ANA on a daily basis. I am very confident that by the time I leave here, they will be able to stand up and operate on their own."
Jenson and Jackson are born leaders. "Guiding the men is all I know," said 1st Sgt. Jackson. Now this outpost is in tip-top shape as "Team Boris," where everyone is important to long-term success. That means treating Afghan soldiers with respect, and using "brother" or "sir" in conversation. Of his own men, Jackson pushes them to be their best. "Remove those gloves flapping at your side," he bellows, when a soldier has them out of place. He requires excellence from everyone, in everything, right down to organizing the old VHS movie tapes in the recreation room into perfect rows. Today, COP Boris is a place of pride and respect.
Danger persists, however. One stark reminder is the enemy mortar round that hit squarely inside of COP Boris recently. The insurgents can get lucky with indirect fire (IDF), as Jackson recalled, "We were lucky too though, as no one was injured, and there was only minor damage to the Hesco" where the shrapnel tore into the protective barriers. Jackson added, "We are also prepared."
It's a good thing, as the recently instituted "Sunday brunch" was interrupted by more incoming rounds. When the "Take cover!" alarm is sounded, the battle stations are manned immediately. Jackson sprang into action, soldiers scrambled, and in seconds the howitzers were dialed in and returning fire. Rickey Jackson turned on a dime from Sunday brunch-goer to 1st Sergeant in charge of his men. The incoming was ineffective, but the men were prepared. Afterwards, some of them returned to brunch to try to reclaim the Sunday solace it was meant to provide.
Being prepared also means a willingness to evolve, such as building bridges beyond the firefight. Said Capt. Jenson out at "the tip of the sword," as COP Boris is sometimes called, "I measure progress one dinner at a time." That night, a meal was planned with the local ANA leaders. Jackson noted, "This is vital to our success. It's as important as being precise on the guns when our men need support in a firefight. We want to do both very well. When you break bread together, and have chai, you see things differently. There's more conciliation. It brings you together."
At 1730 hours, Capt. Jenson and 1st Sgt. Jackson made the short stroll to dinner. The local ANA leadership was seated cross-legged on the floor in the small windowless space, and they all shared jokes and laughter. Between the dal lentil, red rice, lamb curry and kebab, and freshly fired naan bread, the meal was plentiful. Capt. Jenson reflected, "To build relationships and forge progress toward a goal of transition, this is one way we do that. It's a long process but it's worth it, and the only real way to get it done. You build the trust, and become like brothers."
Jenson was quick to point out it's a trial-and-error process. "There's no manual that tells us how to do this part, or even to do it at all," the Captain said, "but we know it's working. Seeing the improvements around here, it really does give you hope."
Back at FOB Sharana, Capt. Moore echoed, "The reaching the hand out, it starts small. Evening chai and dominoes are 90 percent of it. Being as connected as you can be is the difference." Moore recalled, "This started back in Iraq, where we had to do the same thing. We had to build bridges in order to have any hope of changing the battle into something else. If we want the fighting to stop, we have to take another approach."
In Afghanistan, partnering has become part of the strategy. Moore continued, "I'm a true believer, I know this is effective, I witness the results here. Unless we want our children fighting this same exact war ten years from now, we'd better find another way. That doesn't mean letting up in the fight, it just means adding another dimension."
Moore talked about why he joined the military, recalling 9/11. "When I saw the towers fall, I wanted to do something about it," he said. Ten years later, his approach has evolved to include building the bridges that last into the future. He knows, "It's a long effort, but we have to persist if we want to alter the dynamic, and the outcome."
Encouragement over lamb and bread makes a difference. As dinner was ending, Capt. Jenson told ANA Commander Omar Gull, "You did a great job with your men this week. Keep going, you're making progress." Commander Gull replied, "Inshallah god-willing I can be effective." Being at the table both literally and figuratively is a step in the direction of self-reliance.
Undoubtedly, there's a cultural element, and different resources too. The U.S. has funding, skills, and experience. The ANA has local knowledge and language. But it's the hearts and minds that must be won. Without the efforts of good men like Moore, Jenson, Jackson, and Cardoni, the costs may continue to outweigh the gains. Real progress is intangible. Break bread. Encourage. Share a kebab. Hold the line in battle. Build bridges, and truly believe that it leads us to more security. One day, U.S. soldiers may be able to come home for good, leaving a more stable Afghanistan behind. First Sgt. Jackson said, "I miss home [in Philadelphia] very much so. Out here I talk to the soldiers about old stories. That brings us closer to home. But this is a far place away from home. The only thing we can do to make home come here is stick together, continue to talk, continue to help each other. That's how we're going to make it through."
Pass the chai.
'I Am Also An Afghan' -- Iranians Condemn Racism On Facebook
RFE/RL April 02, 2012
Afghans living in Isfahan were banned from a mountainous park in the city on April 1, the 13th day of Nowruz festivities, which Iranian tradition says should be spent outdoors.
The decision was announced on March 30 by Isfahan’s Committee to Facilitate Travel, which said Afghans were banned from Sofeh Park in order "to ensure citizens' welfare."
Ahmad Reza Shafiei, an official with Travel Committee's police department, was quoted as saying that the reason for the move was "the extensive presence of Afghans" at the park in previous years and "the creation of insecurities for families." By that, he meant Iranian families.
But it was Iranians who quickly condemned the decision on Facebook and other social media.
"I am also an Afghan," some wrote as their Facebook status update. Others slammed the decision as "racist" and an "insult" to Afghans living in Iran.
There was also a report of a symbolic protest on April 1 at Sofeh Park.
A picture widely shared on Facebook shows three young men holding signs decrying racism, including one that says, "I am also an Afghan".
This isn't the first time Afghans in Iran have faced discrimination. There are reportedly more than a million Afghan refugees and thousands of illegal Afghan migrants in the Islamic republic.
Many of them moved to Iran following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. Others sought refuge in Iran after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.
In recent years, reports of mistreatment of Afghans -- particularly against those who enter Iran illegally -- have increased.
A YouTube video making the rounds shows a group of Afghans being mistreated, apparently by Iranian soldiers, who tell the Afghans to hit themselves on the head, perform sit-ups, and say aloud, “We will never come to Iran anymore.”
Iranian officials are quick to remind critics that the Islamic republic has been a generous host for more than two million Afghan refugees for two decades, with little help from the international community.
But in recent years, Afghans who have entered Iran illegally have been forcefully deported. Some who still live in Iran say they face legal discrimination and restrictions on their right to study and access public places.
Some Iranians blame Afghans for the spread of crime and drugs while others accuse them of stealing jobs at a time of soaring unemployment.
Despite the difficulties, there are still reports of many Afghans returning to Iran in search of menial jobs that usually hold little appeal to Iranians.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari
The U.S. and Pakistan: Can This Marriage Be Saved?
Bin Laden’s widow’s testimony raises troubling questions – but the relationship had already hit a new low. Ron Moreau reports.
The Daily Beast By Ron Moreau Apr 2, 2012
In my 10-plus years in Pakistan, I’ve always been nonplussed by Washington’s patience with – indeed, its indulgence of – the Pakistani government. America has spent tens of billions of dollars in a basically futile effort to coax Islamabad into clamping down on the Taliban. The sanctuaries that Pakistan provides to them are largely responsible for the insurgency’s resilience and ability to continue killing U.S. and Coalition soldiers. Without the cross-border havens where the guerrillas plan their attacks, recruit, train, raise funds, rest, reequip and receive medical attention, the Taliban would be a far less lethal, perhaps even containable, force.
The latest evidence of Pakistan’s untrustworthiness was given by Osama bin Laden’s youngest wife. According to the official summary of her interrogation by Pakistani military and civilian investigators, the terrorist kingpin and his growing family lived a cushy, middle-class existence in a series of well-appointed houses from 2002 until his death last May. How could an Arab stranger, standing roughly 6-foot-5 and speaking neither Urdu or Pashtu, have moved undetected through the country’s ubiquitous police and military checkpoints? How were he and his wives able to escape the notice of their neighbors for so many years? And with a $25 million price on his head, no less. “People generally know who is living next door,” says retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood. “Neighbors must have asked questions. The local police as well.”
From the moment of bin Laden’s death last May, the Pakistani Army’s top brass and the ISI have said loudly and repeatedly that they had no knowledge of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad or anywhere else in Pakistan. Personally, I still find it hard to believe that the military and its intelligence services could be so incompetent. Nevertheless, some of my best sources accept Pakistan’s claim of ignorance. “The leadership was badly embarrassed and swears to me that they didn’t know,” says Masood. “They say that since there were no foreigners living [openly] in Abbottabad, a quiet military town with no insurgency, they didn’t pay much attention to the place and only had a small detachment of six or so [intelligence operatives] stationed there.”
Whether or not you buy that argument, it’s even harder for the men in charge to explain away their blatant support for the Taliban. Not that they’re solely to blame for America’s failures in Afghanistan. In fact, U.S. strategy was flawed from the beginning. A decade ago, Afghans were exhausted by years of war and misrule. After the Taliban’s fall, the people were wishing desperately for peace, reconstruction, and economic growth. And they would have stood a good chance of getting their wish if only Washington had deployed enough troops to take charge, disarm the country’s warlords, and begin training a credible new Afghan security force. In that case, it’s very likely that the Americans could have stabilized the place and gone home long ago.
Instead, there were far too few U.S. troops for the job – and worse, security had to be outsourced to Northern Alliance militia leaders. Many of those commanders were the very same warlords whose brutality, corruption, and abuse of power had led the Taliban to take up arms against them in the first place, back in the 1990s. That uprising had been enthusiastically supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence chiefs, who believed that the northern warlords had help from Pakistan’s mortal enemy, India. Seeing the warlords’ return to power, the routed Taliban began to regroup against them in 2005. And then rather than suppressing the insurgency, America actually fed it by propping up an ineffective, corrupt, and unpopular government in Kabul, according to Maleeha Lohdi, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington at the time of 9/11. “U.S. strategy was flawed and led to Pashtun alienation, which then turned into a Taliban resurgence,” she says. By the time America sent in a full contingent of troops, the Taliban wer
e back in business. The U.S. surge had come seven or eight years too late.
“You have to take these revelations seriously,” he says. “I don’t think she’s making it up . Women’s testimony in Pakistan is usually very credible. The authorities may torture men, but not women.”
Still, America has won a victory of sorts: bin Laden and his forces have effectively been eradicated from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s security forces may have turned a blind eye to the Taliban’s cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but in joint operations with the CIA and FBI, they cracked down hard on foreign jihadists in Pakistan. In fact, most of the big fish who have been captured alive were nabbed in Pakistani population centers. The avowed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, was arrested in 2003 in the Pakistani Army’s garrison town of Rawalpindi. Abu Zubaydah, the first senior al Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan, was picked up in 2002 in the city of Faisalabad. Another accused 9/11 plotter, Ramzi bin al-Shibh was arrested in Karachi that same year. Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the group’s alleged director of operations, was arrested in 2005 in the northwestern town of Mardan as he tried to flee, disguised as a woman.
Nevertheless, ugly suspicions persist about possible Pakistani collusion with al Qaeda. The terse report of Amal Ahmed Abdul Fateh’s interrogation -- nine short paragraphs – doesn’t answer the big question: how deep did her husband’s support network go? There’s hardly a word about who facilitated bin Laden’s travel, protection, the setting up of his residences, and his care and feeding. His widow mentioned that she was assisted in Karachi by her stepson Saad bin Laden and by “some Pakistani family.” Later she said the whole family was aided by two brothers, Ibrahim and Abrar, presumably a pair of Pashtuns from Swat who were bin Laden’s prime fixers. The brothers’ families “were actually the hosts of OBL family and everything was arranged by them,” according to the report’s paraphrase of Fateh’s account.
Bin Laden’s support network must have gone far beyond those two brothers, but defense analyst Rifaat Hussain says he has no reason to doubt Fateh’s account, as far as it goes. “You have to take these revelations seriously,” he says. “I don’t think she’s making it up . Women’s testimony in Pakistan is usually very credible. The authorities may torture men, but not women.” Nevertheless, Hussain says he doesn’t expect more details to be made public from Fateh’s testimony – or from that of bin Laden’s other two wives, if they ever agree to talk -- about who was guarding and sustaining bin Laden. “That’s something that no one will reveal,” he says. “It’s too sensitive, perhaps too explosive. The government will have to be careful as to how much they are going to reveal.”
Relations between Islamabad and Washington have turned downright nasty. They were bad even before the bin Laden raid, which Pakistanis regarded as an assault on their sovereignty, and they got even worse after last November’s U.S. air strikes that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts. “U.S.-Pakistani relations have always been like a yo-yo, going up and down, but this time it’s the lowest it has ever gone, and I don’t see it moving in a more positive direction in the near future,” says retired Maj. Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former ambassador to Washington. “The mistrust is equally deep on both sides. After Abbottabad, the mistrust in Washington skyrocketed. The U.S. is saying, ‘We can’t trust these Pakis, they are playing games’.”
All game-playing aside, the two countries have different objectives. Pakistan sees the Taliban as its only protection against India’s growing influence in Kabul. The Americans, having lost nearly 2,000 soldiers and spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan, are looking for an honorable exit, one that won’t set off another all-out civil war. The Afghans themselves both want and fear a U.S. pullout. They’re angry about recent incidents like the recent nighttime rampage for which an American staff sergeant now stands accused of 17 counts of murder. And yet they also worry that civil war could be looming.
Pakistani leaders complain that the Americans are demanding the impossible. They can’t just shut down the Taliban’s sanctuaries, they say. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have been killed or wounded in action against the militants on their side of the border. “We can’t just bring a steamroller through FATA,” says Durrani. He’s talking about Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area along the Afghan frontier. “The U.S. with all its might can’t even do that inside Afghanistan. So how do you expect Pakistan, a Third World country with only a fraction of your resources, to take on all these militants together? We don’t have the capability.” In any case, Lohdi says, the Americans shouldn’t blame Pakistan: “Sanctuaries don’t create insurgencies. The problem lies in Afghanistan.”
America may now be more dependent than ever on Pakistan’s cooperation. “We both want to wind down the war into a controlled political solution,” says Lohdi. “So there is greater potential convergence between our two countries than there has been in the past 10 years.” They just need to change their attitudes, she says: “Maybe we can now morph the relationship into a more minimalistic and realistic one, with neither side having expectations that the other cannot fulfill.” That sounds good. But don’t hold your breath.
Ron Moreau is Newsweek’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and has been covering the region for the magazine the past 10 years. Since he first joined Newsweek during the Vietnam War, he has reported extensively from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
|2012, afghan, april, news|