[Afghan News] July 27, 2012 - 08-09-2012, 04:27 PM
BEIJING, July 27 (Xinhua) -- Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, on Friday called for enhanced military ties between China and Afghanistan while meeting with visiting Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Both countries have witnessed significant results in cooperation in recent years, Guo said, noting that bilateral military relations have also been boosted steadily.
Guo praised Afghanistan for its support for China on issues related to China's core interests, adding that China has consistently supported and actively participated in Afghanistan's reconstruction.
China has called on the international community to respect the Afghan people's will and will continue to provide support and assistance for the country on the basis of respect for its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, said Guo.
He called on the two militaries to further enhance strategic communication and strengthen pragmatic cooperation in order to contribute to bilateral strategic cooperation.
Wardak expressed gratitude for the help China has extended to his country, adding that maintaining healthy bilateral relations is conducive to safeguarding regional security and stability.
Afghan President Issues Reforms Aimed at Corruption
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN July 26, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan president released a sweeping set of proposed reforms late Thursday, including a number aimed at stemming the government’s endemic corruption; the proposals touched every ministry, the attorney general’s office and the Supreme Court.
The document, which the president’s spokesman Aimal Faizi described in a Twitter message as a “decree on administrative reforms,” is similar to an executive order and in theory must be complied with by all organs of government. However, Parliament can review it, and many of the provisions are vague, leaving unclear the timetable for compliance and how some of the measures would be financed.
One backdrop for the decree was the discontent of donor countries over the government’s failure to stem widespread corruption, nepotism and contract profiteering. At an international conference in Tokyo this month about funding for Afghanistan in the years to come, many countries said their continued financial support was contingent on progress on corruption.
“The first intent is to satisfy donors’ demands, which are multiple and not fully reflected in the Tokyo Conference document,” said Candace Rondeaux, the head of the Kabul office of the International Crisis Group, an independent nongovernmental organization aimed at preventing and resolving conflicts.
Different countries have long had varying levels of tolerance for corruption, and they have different laws governing foreign aid. Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, judiciary and attorney general’s office have been areas of concern for many donors here.
The 23-page list of provisions included a grab bag of policies. Some appeared to be serious gestures aimed at reducing nepotism and corruption, like ones ordering senior government officials to “avoid intervening in the recruitment for the civil service, judiciary and universities,” while others were more symbolic exhortations, including a call for the Women’s Ministry to undertake a public relations campaign about violence against women.
One of the more pointed corruption-related provisions called on the Supreme Court to complete all open investigations related to corruption, land grabs and serial assassinations within the next six months.
Given the breadth of the document, it seems that it has many purposes, depending on the provision. But one possible motivation is for the president, Hamid Karzai, to have a forum for presenting himself as taking a strong stand against corruption. He has long been in a difficult position because a number of his close allies in the government feel entitled to pressure ministries into giving jobs to their relatives and take kickbacks on contracts. Further, Mr. Karzai’s own relatives have been tarnished by corruption fiascos, including the huge Kabul Bank fraud scandal.
In the past, his approach has been to create commissions and offices with investigative power. This time his tone suggests he is issuing an order for action, but as in the past, the enforcement mechanism is vague.
Some of the provisions raise serious questions about their intent, like one directed toward the Supreme Court ordering it to “simplify the legal procedures for suspects and convicts within the given timetable.” It is unclear if Mr. Karzai is trying to clear the way for more detainees to be released — many people are held in Afghan jails for long periods without trial — or whether some other end was intended.
Habib Zahori contributed reporting.
Corruption A Cost Of Life For Ordinary Afghans
RFE/RL By Frud Bezhan July 26, 2012
KABUL - The heat is scorching, and the hours-long wait arduous, but it is a price worth paying for the long line of angry customers standing outside the headquarters of Afghanistan's national power company.
The bearded man who heads the line, Abdul Hadi, is there to complain about the "crazy" electricity bill he received this month.
Hadi knows what to expect -- he went through the same thing with the company, Breshna Sherkat, just weeks earlier and ended up paying a bribe. Now a veteran of the game, he is sure he is being deliberately overcharged by unscrupulous employees keen on making some money on the side.
Afghanistan's status of one of the world's most corrupt countries is well-documented and features prominently in high-level discussion about foreign investment in the country. Lost in the shuffle, however, is the extent to which corruption permeates all levels Afghan society.
Whether ensuring that they have a steady stream of electricity, acquiring identification, or dealing with judicial authorities, ordinary citizens have reluctantly come to accept bribery as an unavoidable cost of life.
Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a local nongovernmental organization, estimates that Afghans, who have consistently identified corruption as among their biggest concerns next to insecurity and unemployment, pay bribes amounting to $1 billion a year, about 5 percent of the country's entire annual gross domestic product (GDP).
Hadi sheds light on how every-day corruption is played out when he recalls how in May he received a 35,000 afghani (around $200) electric bill -- a sum that exceeds the monthly salary of many Afghan families.
Hadi had never received a monthly bill for more than 3,000 afghanis before, and had not added to his meager collection of electrical devices -- a TV, a refrigerator, some lamps, and a few other appliances.
Seeking to rectify the problem, he filed complaints with Breshna Sherkat, but that got him nowhere. Eventually, Hadi says, he bribed an employee of the electric company who in turn reduced his original bill to 2,000 afghanis ($40).
"[They] told us to pay them so they could change our electricity bill. When we went there, they said, 'Give us a 6,000 afghanis (about $120) bribe. I told them I didn't have 6,000 so he took 4,000 instead and changed the amount on the bill [from 35,000 to 2,000 afghanis]," Hadi says.
A month later, he received a bill for the same inflated amount -- 35,000 afghanis -- prompting his return to the complaint line.
Hadi and others waiting outside Breshna Sherkat believe the company's conversion to a new computerized billing system is the source of the problem. Since the transition, they say, their bills have varied wildly and there is no way to verify the actual amount of electricity they have used.
Mirwais Alami, chief commercial officer at Breshna Sherkat, admits that mistakes are sometime made due to technical errors, but denies staff are involved in any wrongdoing.
"I never say that customers are always wrong and making wrong accusations. Maybe one in 10,000 bills has a mistake in them. A very low percentage of mistakes are caused by us reading meters incorrectly and the others when entering wrong data into a computer system," Alami says.
Ajmal, who owns a music store in Kabul, says corruption in Afghanistan has become all but institutionalized.
"[Corruption] is a serious problem. There are kickbacks and bribery. Without them, nobody can get anything done," Ajmal says.
"The government must take this seriously because these small things are becoming a bigger [problem]. The corruption starts from the streets and ends with the ministries. It's a big problem."
Ajmal adds that while high-level corruption gets the most attention, malfeasance by middling officials in the security forces, judiciary, or education system is the most damaging to society.
He insists that if you want to get anything done in Afghanistan, it is going to require paying a bribe. He recalls paying dozens of bribes in the past year, including when he applied for new identification and a passport last month.
According to the National Passport Office, which issues the country's passports and identification cards, the processing time for getting a passport is two working days and for an ID card it is one day after all relevant paperwork is submitted.
Documents For Sale
But Ajmal says he and three of his friends endured obstructions and delays for a week when they followed official channels. Eventually, he says, he paid a middleman who promptly supplied the three with all of their official documents in just a day.
While the official price for a one-year passport is 700 afghanis ($15) and 200 afghanis ($4) for an ID card, Ajmal says that his final tally including bribes paid came to more than 4,000 afghanis ($80).
"Finally, someone informed us you have to pay a bribe. Three of us gave 500 afghanis each and they gave us our I.D. cards. We then went to the passport office, where hundreds of people were waiting in the queue," Ajmal says.
"We tried everything we could for a week. We then gave 3,000 afghanis each and got our passports. People who don't give bribes are left there for weeks, while those who do pay get theirs in one or two days."
Qadir, a restaurant owner in Kabul, says the reality is that in Afghanistan, money speaks loudest.
He was involved in a car accident in which two pedestrians were injured. But while the injured couple did not press charges, Qadir says the district prosecutor has delayed clearing him of wrongdoing in what he believes is a bid to get him a small "sherani" (sweetener), Afghan slang for a petty bribe.
"When you have money, the prosecutor, judge, court, and police are in your pocket. But when you don't have money you have nobody. Which [government] institution is not taking money?" Qadir says.
"The government is mired in corruption and they are aware of this. If the high-ranking officials are getting a bribe do you think lower-ranking officials are not? The government is involved, why are they making us suffer?
Congress pushes administration to slap terrorist label on Haqqani group
Associated Press Friday, July 27, 2012
WASHINGTON - Congress ratcheted up the pressure on the Obama administration to slap the terrorist label on the Haqqani network, the militant group responsible for plotting and launching attacks from Pakistan against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
By voice vote, the Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require the secretary of state to report to Congress on whether the Haqqani network meets the criteria to be designated a foreign terrorist organization and if not, to explain why. The report is due within 30 days of the president signing the measure.
The bill now goes to Obama.
The administration has sanctioned top individuals of the Haqqani network, but it is still reviewing whether to label the entire organization. That delay has frustrated members of Congress.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the Intelligence Committee, had added an amendment to the bill stating that it was the sense of Congress that the Haqqani network meets the definition of a terrorist organization and they should be designated as one.
The State Department has defended its effort, citing its sanctions of the network’s top individuals.
The Haqqani network, largely operating in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, is affiliated with both the Taliban and al-Qaida. U.S. officials say it represents one of the biggest threats to Afghanistan stability because it is believed to use Pakistan as a rear base for attacks on American and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The congressional votes come just weeks after the United States and Pakistan ended a rancorous seven-month standoff with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton apologizing to Pakistan for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops last fall and in return securing the reopening of critical NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. Throughout the uneasy relationship between the United States and Pakistan, American officials have pressed Islamabad to crack down on the extremist Haqqani network.
The bill states that “nothing in this act may be construed to infringe upon the sovereignty of Pakistan to combat militant or terrorist groups operating inside its boundaries.”
In May, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees wrote to Clinton asking her to act immediately in labeling the Haqqani network a terrorist group.
The four leaders — Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Md., and Rogers — said that based on meetings with U.S. and Afghan officials in Afghanistan, “it was clear that the Haqqani network continues to launch sensational and indiscriminate attacks against U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the group poses a continuing threat to innocent men, women and children in the region.”
The four noted that it had been six months since the State Department had undertaken its “final formal review” of the Haqqani network.
“The Haqqanis have continued to attack U.S. troops and the U.S. embassy in Kabul during that period,” the lawmakers said.
The letter also noted that the Obama administration may have been reluctant to act while Marc Grossman, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was trying to negotiate a reconciliation agreement with the Taliban that may have included or affected the Haqqani network.
Pakistan-U.S. MoU to allow arms cargo only for Afghan National Army
ISLAMABAD, July 26 (Xinhua) -- Transportation of military equipment through the territory of Pakistan is allowed exclusively for the Afghan National Army under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Pakistan and the United States regarding the Nato supply route, local media reported on Thursday.
The draft MoU says that two land routes will be used by lorries carrying supplies to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the MoU will be signed soon after Pakistani cabinet approved the agreement on Wednesday.
The draft says that there will be no tax or duty charged on the containers however commercial carriers will have to pay transit fees. New fees can also be introduced for the quick transfer of cargo.
The southern route extends to Afghanistan from southern port city of Karachi via Chaman in Balochistan province. The northern route ranges from Karachi via Torkham in northwest Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Pakistan will also provide facilities for the security and quick transfer of the cargo and will keep the U.S. government informed about the monitoring and transit points of the cargo.
Pakistan's Defense Ministry will act as a central coordination authority and review the daily operations and implementation of the supply route.
Officials from both countries will meet once every two months to evaluate the implementation of the MoU. According to the draft, any misunderstanding will be cleared through mutual understanding and not a third party.
It is clearly written in the draft that commercial carriers will be responsible for any damage to the goods.
Transport of non-lethal cargo including food and medicine will be allowed in containers, the draft says.
The MoU will take effect after it is signed by both countries and will be valid till 31 December 2015 and could be extended for one year after consultation.
In Afghanistan, Attacks Rise, Troop Deaths Fall
Wall Street Journal By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV July 26, 2012
KABUL - The number of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan in the three months through June was 11% higher than last year, the U.S.-led coalition here said, an increase that comes after almost a year of declines and provides fuel for the debate about whether the Taliban are regaining momentum as American forces withdraw.
Last month's average of roughly 110 attacks a day was the most in a June since the war began, according to coalition statistics released on Thursday. June had more "enemy-initiated attacks"—insurgent gunfire and rocket fire as well as detonated roadside bombs and mines—than any period since fighting peaked in August-September 2010.
A coalition spokesman in Kabul said the recent uptick in enemy attacks was caused by the deployment of more Afghan forces into contested areas and by an unusually short poppy harvest season that gave insurgents more time to prepare.
Some experts, however, see the increase in attacks as a sign the Taliban are gaining momentum. "The numbers indicate that the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani patrons are confident that they still have the upper hand. They certainly are far from defeated," said Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency executive who oversaw the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy review in 2009 and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
U.S. military officials say the number of attacks isn't necessarily a reliable indicator of the Taliban's strength, and point out that the coalition has been relatively successful in its mission to protect major population centers, such as the capital, Kabul, with much of the fighting taking place in more remote areas.
"By forcing insurgents out of the more heavily populated areaswhere violence has declined significantly, we can anticipate the insurgency will attempt to increase its attacks, primarily using improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire, in order to continue to retain influence and safe havens," the coalition spokesman said.
Most insurgent attacks in recent months were concentrated in Kandahar, Helmand and other southern provinces, the Taliban's historical cradle and the focus of President Barack Obama's 2010 troop surge. The 33,000 U.S. surge troops are supposed to be all withdrawn by September, with about half already gone, and U.S. presence in Kandahar and Helmand will be significantly reduced.
Virtually all foreign combat forces are slated to leave Afghanistan in 2014, a decision made by the U.S. and allies after military commanders reported the surge operations had reversed the Taliban's momentum and weakened the insurgency.
In Helmand, home to Afghanistan's most violent district, Nahr-e-Saraj, the recent rise in the number of enemy attacks was a direct result of "aggressive operations" carried out by the coalition troops, says U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Stu Upton, spokesman for the Helmand-based Regional Command Southwest.
"Right now we think the insurgency is off-balance," he said. "We plan to keep the pressure on the insurgency and will pursue the enemy relentlessly."
Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said it was too early to say whether the increased number of Taliban attacks meant the counterinsurgency strategy failed or merely indicated a Taliban decision to gamble and throw all they can at the coalition and Afghan forces at a potential turning point in the war.
"The more important question is whether Taliban attacks are succeeding," he said. "In recent years, they've shown lots of activity but not much success."
On one metric, killing coalition troops, the Taliban haven't been as effective as in the past. A total of 39 coalition troops were killed in June, down from 66 in June 2011 and 103 in June 2010, the only month in the war when coalition fatalities exceeded 100, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks allied casualties. The number of civilian casualties in June was also well below 2011 and 2010 levels, according to the coalition.
For now, the increase in Taliban activity is unlikely to alter the coalition's withdrawal plans or turn Afghanistan into a campaign issue in the U.S. presidential elections, says Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think-tank close to the Obama administration.
"The strong majority of Americans support removing troops from Afghanistan," Mr. Katulis said. "It would take very dramatic developments for Afghanistan to re-emerge as a political issue this election cycle," he said.
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at email@example.com
Is this al Qaeda's 'last chance' for a country?
CNN July 27, 2012
Islamic radicals linked to al Qaeda have seized the northern half of Mali, one of Africa's largest nations, and there are widespread concerns that the region could soon become a terrorist haven.
The militants have been able to capitalize on the instability of the country, which has seen a rebellion and a government coup within the past few months.
Now, about 500,000 Malians have fled their homes in fear of the violence and discrimination that come with the radicals' strict interpretation of sharia law.
CNN's Erin Burnett has been meeting with rebels and refugees this week and reporting on the growing crisis in Mali. She talked to CNN.com about the security concerns, the desperate humanitarian issue and how the United States might respond.
CNN.com: Why are some referring to Mali as "the next Afghanistan"?
Erin Burnett: We've talked to senior sources in the U.S. government and local rebels on the ground who say al Qaeda wants this to be their next haven. The people here in Mali really feel like this is al Qaeda's last chance of a country as their haven, just as Afghanistan was.
I was told by locals that extremists are giving people satellite phones and saying, "Call in when you see Westerners." They're paying people money in Timbuktu. One man told me that families he knows were given 10 times the amount of money they would earn from herding (their normal work) to join the cause.
But there are reasons it's not like Afghanistan. One of them is that the type of Islam practiced in northern Mali and the areas around northern Mali is much more relaxed. Locals are not receptive to extreme interpretations of Islam: For example, the extremists banned music, putting a DJ I spoke to out of a job. This is a country that is world famous for loving music!
CNN.com: How did we get to this point?
Burnett: In the northern part of Mali, the Tuareg tribe has always wanted independence. Since Mali became independent from France in 1968, they've staged several rebellions. But the catalyst for what is happening here now is what happened in Libya.
As Moammar Gadhafi was killed and Libya really fell into disarray, his weapons became available. The Tuareg -- many of whom fought for Gadhafi -- seized the weapons and went and fought against the Malian government and declared independence.
In the southern part of Mali, people were really frustrated at the government's inability to do anything about the rebellion, and they felt the government was corrupt and inept. So there was sort of what I understand to be an "accidental" coup. Some of the commanders went in to complain, and the president left. Mali ended up without a government.
Then, the Islamic radicals, who have always sought a bigger presence in that part of Africa, came in and fought the Tuareg. They overpowered them, and the north of Mali is now controlled by Islamists.
There are some Tuareg fighting within northern Mali, and I am aware of camps they operate in the country. But they tell me they don't have the weapons that the Islamic-linked militias have.
CNN.com: Who are these radicals, and where did they come from?
Burnett: People refer to them as al Qaeda, but they're also referred to by the names of their militias, such as Ganda Koy or Ansar Dine. Some are religiously motivated, and some are opportunists: They want control and money but aren't driven by religious beliefs.
On the ground, we discovered that they're coming from all over: specifically from Libya, Algeria, Afghanistan. And there is one major radical militia (Ansar Dine) that is also Tuareg. The leader of that group is a Malian Tuareg who spent time in Saudi Arabia.
CNN.com: A large majority of Malians are Muslim. How do they differ with the radicals?
Burnett: The brand of Islam is different, so there's not a receptiveness to some of the more dramatic and restrictive parts of what the Islamic radicals want to do: for example, the full covering of the women, and women and men being separated. When I called the military leader of the main extremist group linked to al Qaeda, the leader would not talk to me because I was a woman.
There's no question that the local population does not want this. But still, some people buy in and go along with it.
CNN.com: How serious is the outside threat posed by these extremists?
Burnett: I asked some Tuareg fighters what these Islamists say about America. They said that the Islamists tell people that Americans are like animals and like dogs.
Some of that is the kind of propaganda that you expect to hear from al Qaeda-linked groups at this point. And saying these things is very different than saying someone's going to be planning an attack on the United States.
But their leaders have said their intention would be to use this as a base. Tuareg rebels were adamant in telling me that the radicals plan attacks on the U.S. and Europe. The question is, at what point will they be at a level of organization and stability to do this?
CNN.com: How many refugees are there, and how are they faring?
Burnett: There are about 250,000 of them, and the number is growing. Those are people who have left the country. There is also another quarter-million people internally displaced within Mali.
When you look at just the people who have fled the country, it's about twice the number of people who have fled Syria. So it's a very serious humanitarian problem.
The World Food Program told me that they only have food for one more month. We saw people who are hungry. And there are diseases as well because of the conditions in the camps. What's it going to be like in a month when the food runs out? There are already people hungry now. It could become a really terrible thing if the world doesn't pay attention to it now.
CNN.com: Has there been any talk of outside intervention?
Burnett: The Economic Community of West African States is leading the effort to resolve this. They have tried to negotiate with the Islamic radicals, the Tuareg fighters and the Malian government.
The president of Burkina Faso is the chief of this group, and he told me there is no plan for military intervention at this time.
I think the problem is, no one's really sure what the next thing to do is. And as the African states and West debate this, the Islamic radicals can grow stronger.
CNN.com: How has the U.S. responded to this point, and how might they respond in the future?
Burnett: On the humanitarian side, the U.S. is the biggest donor to the efforts here.
The CIA headquarters for Africa is reportedly based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and U.S. government sources told me the Islamic radicals tried and failed to shoot down a U.S. surveillance drone over Mali. But the president of Burkina Faso told me that if the U.S. is operating drones from his country, that's not in the deal he has with the U.S., and he'd demand a new agreement.
So the situation is ambiguous. And it's also bad timing politically for President Obama.
This week at a fundraiser, Obama said he has al Qaeda "on the run." That's been the administration's message for the past year. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said it; CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus has said it.
As al Qaeda and its offshoots grow in northern Mali, that message may sound off.
And I think it's important to mention something we experienced: that the "state" borders are meaningless. The Islamists are also spilling over the border into neighboring countries, such as Burkina Faso. We went to that border, and the villagers were terrified of the Islamists, as they found out that one of the leaders was nearby that day.
This leads to another question that matters to the U.S.: Could these radical groups destabilize other governments in the region? It remains to be seen.
The once and future civil war in Afghanistan
Foreign Policy (blog) By Ryan Evans Thursday, July 26, 2012
There is talk of civil war in the mountains of Khost, the fields of the Helmand River Valley, and on the streets of Kabul. With 2014 looming, Afghans, journalists, diplomats, and military officers alike are wondering what the future holds for this troubled country straddling the Hindu Kush.
Will there be civil war or not? In a recent report I co-authored with Scott Bates for the Center for National Policy, we pointed to civil war and the related problem of security force fragmentation as two of the biggest risks Afghanistan faces. Dexter Filkins penned a persuasive essay in the New Yorker full of vivid details about the factional and ethnic rivalries within the Afghan National Army (ANA) and among its glut of militias. One of his interview subjects memorably remarked:
This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government. Mir Alam will take Kunduz. Atta will take Mazar-e-Sharif. Dostum will take Sheberghan. The Karzais will take Kandahar. The Haqqanis will take Paktika. If these things don't happen, you can burn my bones when I die.
Another journalist, Robert Dreyfuss, insists that such dire predictions are foolhardy. Citing Afghanistan's former Ambassador to France and Canada, Omar Samad, he argues that Afghans will look into the abyss, lean back, and compromise.
However, people on both sides of this debate are missing the forest for the trees. This misperception begins with our collective failure to take Afghanistan's history seriously.
We often act and talk as if Afghan history began on 9/11, but our reaction to al Qaeda's attacks was an intervention in a long-standing and still-unresolved civil war.
It began over thirty years ago, when the Khalq faction of the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the regime of President Mohammad Daud Khan in 1978 and instituted a series of far-reaching radical reforms that sparked rebellion across the country. Against their better judgment, the Soviets occupied the country in support of their beleaguered communist allies, inflaming conflict, which saw seven main mujahideen parties supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a host of Arab volunteers pitted against the Soviets and the PDPA, who were also divided into two factions.
The mujahideen parties fought each other almost as much as the infidels. The "national" character of these parties was always a screen for a myriad of local conflicts over water, land, tribe, sect, ethnicity, prestige and power.
The Afghan civil war can be divided into different phases. The first was the nascent period of unorganized rebellion that followed the overthrow of Daud Khan. The second phase witnessed the gradual organization of the rebels into the Peshawar Seven and the introduction of Soviet troops. These troops withdrew in 1989 and the mujahideen parties turned on each other along with various quasi-government militias, marking the third phase. The regime of President Najibullah held onto pockets of the country and Kabul. Then the Afghan security forces buckled as Soviet largess vanished into history. Kabul fell in 1992 and the mujahideen continued to fight each other for supremacy, beginning the fourth phase. The Afghans looked into the abyss and jumped straight in.
The fifth phase saw the Taliban - a movement led by mujahideen veterans - storm through the south, take Kabul, and come to a stalemate with the Northern Alliance, a coalition dominated by members of Jamiat-i-Islami. The sixth phase began with Western intervention and the toppling of the Taliban regime in Kabul in response to 9/11. And the current phase has witnessed a return to rebellion, with the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, and Jalaluddin Haqqani's network battling the American-supported regime. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has reprised its role in the Soviet-Afghan War, now sponsoring and directing rebellion against an American-led coalition.
The leaders of the current rebel movements are rooted in the Peshawar Seven. Taliban leader Mullah Omar fought the Soviets in the south as a part of Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami. Gulbuddin, an old rival of Ahmad Shah Massoud, has been causing trouble ever since he took to throwing acid at the faces of unveiled women and brawling with rival student activists at the University of Kabul in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Hizb-i-Islami fought Jamiat-i-Islami and others for control of Kabul in the early 1990s. Haqqani cut his teeth fighting Daud Khan in the 1970s and as a mujahideen commander under Mohammad Yunus Khalis in the 1980s.
And we see the same cast of characters elsewhere. The same mujahideen and government officials who were fighting for God and/or country, selling narcotics, and committing atrocities since the 1970s are some of our closest friends and allies in the war's current phase.
There are differences in scale between these phases in terms of ferocity of combat and destruction, flows of internally displaced persons and refugees, as well as the numbers of casualties. Estimates of casualty and, to a lesser extent, refugee figures in the last thirty years of war vary widely.
In 1978, an estimated 40,000 Afghans were killed, followed by 80,000 in 1979. By 1987, less than a decade after the Soviets entered the conflict directly between 1 and 1.5 million Afghans had been killed in the war. This represents about 9% of the entire Afghan population, which is higher proportionally than the deaths suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II. Losses were more than twice as high among refugees, who were often more vulnerable to attack, disease, infection, and starvation than those who remained in their villages. By the Soviet withdrawal, there were 6.2 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan.
During the 1990s, estimates of civilians killed range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands as the mujahideen fought over territory. Much of Kabul was reduced to rubble as various mujahideen commanders fought from neighborhood to neighborhood.
In 2001, different tallies claim somewhere between several thousand and 20,000 Afghans were killed as a result of the American-led intervention. Casualties dipped between 2002 and 2005. Since 2006, over 12,000 Afghan civilians have been killed due to the war. Most of these have been killed by the insurgency. These figures were increasing over the last few years, but have dropped in 2012. Regardless, they still pale in comparison to the 80s and likely the early and mid-1990s as well. More than 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, but 2.5 million Afghan refugees remain, mostly in neighboring countries.
But war is not only a balance sheet of death and destruction. It is a political activity in which force is assessed to be an appropriate means by which to pursue political interests.
The underlying political disagreements, factional rivalries, toxic personalities, and Pakistani interventions and proxies that have been driving war in Afghanistan remain unresolved. The modern bureaucratic system that Western technocrats have willed into existence has not sufficiently vested Afghans in non-violent politics. Afghanistan is already divided into fiefdoms. An ocean of money and the American-led occupation force are all that holds them all together. Both will soon get much smaller.
So the question of whether or not Afghanistan will devolve into civil war after 2014 is the wrong one. The civil war will, of course, only continue. The question is, what will the next phase look like and how can we shape it for the better?
The greatest risk and most likely outcome is the fragmentation of the Afghan National Security Forces. The biggest danger is posed by the divisions within the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan Local Police (ALP) destabilizing the larger security force institutions. Most of the personnel in both of these forces are deployed in or near their home districts.
And like politics, all civil war is local.
The Nahr-e-Saraj police force in Helmand, for example, is divided between competing narcotics thugs, former Hizb-i-Islami fighters, former communists, and their children all of whom share a history of rivalry, murder, war, and hatred that have barely been contained over the last several years. Different ALP militias in Central Helmand also hail from different factions. Once their special operations mentors withdraw, they may begin to clash with each other, the ANP, and the ANA.
As long as the United States and its allies stay abreast of these factional politics, they can mitigate -- but not avoid -- this fragmentation through proactive in-country diplomacy, firm mentoring, and appropriate mechanisms for the distribution of funding and supplies. ALP militias must be integrated into the Afghan National Police now rather than later. As the ALP force currently stands, it poses an unacceptable risk to the long-term integrity of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
The trouble is, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not been systemically mapping these factional conflicts down to the local level and incorporating this information into their planning. ISAF, the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, and the US Embassy in Kabul should create a large and mobile cell of officers, diplomats, aid officials, analysts. This cell would be tasked with traveling around Afghanistan and achieving a granular understanding of the local conflicts that are driving the war and threaten to tear the ANSF and the country apart.
What will the next phase of civil war hold? How many will die? Despite the thousands dead over the last decade, the current phase pales in comparison to the 80s and early 90s. Afghans may come to remember the last ten years as the orange slice in the middle of the soccer match. Some in Washington and London have vested hope in negotiations, but there is little evidence for optimism on that front.
Afghanistan is no longer a counterinsurgency problem. Most foreign troops will be heading for the exits over the next two years. Only by taking its politics and history seriously down to the local level will we be able to help ensure sufficient stability as the International Security Assistance Force itself becomes history.
Ryan Evans is a Research Fellow at the Center for National Policy.
Even the Taliban eat ice-cream – Afghan confectioner beats the odds
The biggest hurdle for Herat Ice-Cream company is not the Taliban or rife Afghan corruption but Iranian competitors
Guardian.co.uk By Emma Graham-Harrison Thursday 26 July 2012
Kabul - Ahmad Faizy's network reaches into the most restive corners of Afghanistan: lawless, Taliban-dominated areas where government officials and troops, if they are present at all, have to hunker down behind thick defensive walls.
His trucks travel the risky roads without problems, and his agents are welcomed almost everywhere in a country riven by ethnic divides and suspicion.
The secret of this success is not money or guns, but boxes of sweet, cold treats from his factory in the far west.
"Security is not a concern when selling ice-cream," Faizy says in a modest office near the plant where rows of vanilla ices are being dipped in chocolate, cones filled with strawberry swirls, and orange ice-lollies rapid-frozen and bagged.
Herat Ice-Cream factory was founded eight years ago, with money Faizy had made from the more prosaic business of imports from China and France.
He decided that his home town's reputation for making the best traditional ice-cream in Afghanistan, and very little domestic competition, made frozen desserts an ideal investment opportunity.
Demographics helped as well; around two-thirds of Afghans are under 25, a group Faizy considers his target market.
So with $500,000 (£320,000) he brought in machines and technicians from Pakistan, and started building up a company that he says is now worth $15m, and employs more than 200.
It churns out 30 tonnes of ice-creams, ice-lollies and other treats each day, all shipped off in a fleet of specially equipped trucks to distribution centres in major cities – along roads where trucks carrying more controversial products are sometimes robbed or torched.
"We have our own trucks with cooling systems and generators," says Faizy. "There are security problems along the way, but so far we haven't run into anything."
From the regional hubs the ices are sent on even to places like Khost – the home base and stronghold of the much-feared Haqqani network – and Nuristan, where the Taliban's vice and virtue police recently returned to the streets.
"Even the Taliban like ice-cream," Faizy adds with a grin. "We have agents in every province."
The ice-creams finally make it to most Afghan customers via street vendors who push insulated carts around town, announcing their arrival with loudspeakers playing tinny tunes that float over the high walls surrounding Afghan homes. Celine Dion's Titanic hit My Heart Will Go On and Beethoven's Für Elise are two of the most popular tunes – and two of the most annoying.
The best-selling of their 37 flavours is a Magnum-like vanilla ice-cream coated with chocolate and almonds. Others include a coffee-chocolate ice-cream, vanilla with sour cherry and pistachio, and a mango and pineapple ice-lolly.
Faizy has defied the odds to succeed in business in a country ranked the fourth most corrupt in the world, and in the bottom 20% of the World Bank's "Doing Business" index, which measures how easy or difficult it is to open and run a small or medium-sized business.
One of Afghanistan's worst ratings in the World Bank survey is with a particularly bad rating for trade across borders. Faizy says this is an area his biggest rivals – companies in Iran – use to steal a march onhim.
"The customs police at the border don't tax fairly, there may be 1,000 ice-creams but they will only tax 200 of them. Or they smuggle them in."
They are also dumping into the neighbouring market, he claims. A dramatic drop in the value of the Iranian currency following deeper and tighter sanctions has probably made Afghan ice-cream eaters an even more attractive market.
"The problem is if we are selling ice-cream for 10 Afghanis [about 20 US cents], an Iranian company will sell for 9 Afghanis just to discourage us and get market share, even if they are making no profit."
The company may also be suffering Afghanistan's reputation – it came last in the World Bank survey for the category "protecting investment".
Faizy has impressive expansion plans, and his company is backed by a US government team helping to develop small and medium-size enterprises in the area, but is struggling to find someone else with the confidence to put up even modest funds in business terms.
"People don't eat ice-cream here in winter, so we have to shut down the business and let the employees go for three months, which I really don't want to do," he says.
"We want to build a large cold storage, to keep the ice-creams for summer, so we can continue production for the winter. We estimate it will cost about $1m we would like a partner."
Review: high standard, low price
The ice-cream wrappers remind me of hours spent poring over the freezer at NK convenience store as a child. There is a chocolate and vanilla clown face, a chocolate fir-tree (no Christmas trees in the Islamic republic of Afghanistan), a plain orange ice-lolly and a chocolate-coated vanilla and strawberry twirl – as well as some luxurious choc ices for the grown-ups.
There are a few clues to the divide between the target audiences for Walls and Herat ice-creams, with saffron added to the vanilla wafer sandwich, and the coffee flavour labelled as "nescafe". But overall the packaging is surprisingly good for a country that hasn't been focused on marketing mass-produced food during the last 30 years of war, or indeed probably ever.
I decide to start with the "nescafe" because I've always loved coffee ice-cream and I am ashamed of my low expectations. It's a knockout. The ice-cream is smooth and soft. Whoever mixed the flavours was restrained enough with the sugar that it has kept a satisfyingly bitter edge. And the crisp milk-chocolate covering has plenty of crunchy chunks of almond embedded in it.
It would hold its own anywhere in the world, and my only regret is that I appear to have started with Herat Ice-Cream's pinnacle of frozen achievement, so the others suffer slightly by comparison.
Although the ice-cream is universally good, and – apart from the saffron – not sickly sweet, some of the coatings disappoint. The dark chocolate is a little floury, the mini-magnum almond bits so tiny they don't have any crunch, and the wafer on the vanilla sandwich is a little soggy.
Overall though, Herat Ice-Cream appears to have set themselves high standards in a country where you could possibly argue they don't need to bother, given the limited competition. Particularly as nothing they make costs more than about 30p.
Taliban's Grip Broken in Southern Afghanistan: Officials
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 26 July 2012
The Afghan Ministry of Interior (MOI) confirmed reports from US commanders that the Taliban is weaker in southern Afghanistan, pointing out that the Taliban rarely face Afghan security forces in the battlefield.
"The Taliban have lost their power in southern Afghanistan - they are unable to face Afghan security forces," MOI spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told TOLOnews Thursday.
"But they have caused serious problems by planting IEDs," he added, referring to the improvised explosive devices the insurgents use and set up along roads to target security forces. The indiscriminate bombs frequently kill and maim civilians.
Sediqqi's comments come as US commanders told TV network USA TODAY that the US "surge" Marines and other Nato forces in southwestern Afghanistan have broken the Taliban's grip on their former stronghold.
The Taliban's losses in Afghanistan's south has paved the way for a smooth security transition to the Afghan security forces, they said.
"It will be a rolling transition to more training and advising and assisting and less of the counterinsurgency operations," Gen. James Amos, commander of the Marine Corps told USA TODAY. "The Afghan security forces will be in the lead and we'll be in support."
The US is half-way through withdrawing 23,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of September, leaving about 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan before a full withdrawal by the end of 2014.
Obama ordered a troop surge of 33,000 more than two years ago to reverse gains made by the Taliban. Many of those were Marines sent to Helmand province - a former Taliban stronghold and once the most volatile province in Afghanistan.
Today, the Taliban has lost control of most population centers, operating in more remote and rural parts of the provinces. The number of attacks in northern Helmand has declined to 25 to 30 a day from 125 to 130 a year ago, according to commander of Regional Combat Team 6 in Helmand Marine Col. John Shafer in the USA TODAY report.
In terms of IED attacks, from March to July this year in the Helmand region, insurgents detonated 570 roadside bombs, down from 761 last year.
Wardak Security Transition was Irresponsible: Governor
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 26 July 2012
Afghanistan's governor of the central Maiden Wardak province claimed Thursday that the security transition in the province was irresponsible because the Afghan security forces are not ready.
Speaking in a advisory meeting to review the overall security situation in Wardak province, the provincial governor Mohammad Halim Fedae said that his province was not ready for the security transition which started in January.
He claimed that the handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces by the Nato soldiers was irresponsible because the Afghans were not fully trained and equipped for what the situation required. Fedae said the upcoming fourth transition is likely to face similar challenges.
"Unfortunately, the transition process was irresponsible. They say that security is not good in Wardak, Maidan and Logar province but they still want us to get ready for fourth phase of transition," Fedae told the attendees of the meeting.
Local security officials including, provincial police chief, commander of Police 303 Spinghar zone, commander of 203 Army Corps and other local security officials were present.
The security officials agreed that the situation is not good in Wardak, however intensive clearing operations are underway to clear insurgents from populated areas and more efforts to better train and equip Afghan security forces are underway.
Pakistan Cannot Take Unilateral Decisions on Refugees: Refugee Ministry
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 26 July 2012
The Afghan government will not allow Pakistan to take unilateral decisions on Afghan refugees who carry legal documents, amid fears that Afghanistan will not cope with their return, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriates said Thursday.
"Neither Afghanistan nor the [UN refugee agency] UNHCR will allow Pakistan to take a unilateral decision to expel Afghan refugees with legal documents," Refugee Ministry spokesman Islamuddin Jurat said.
He emphasised that Afghanistan is not ready to shelter and support the flow of refugees who are forced to leave the neighboring countries.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees Farhad Naderi said that Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has announced that Afghan refugees can return to their country voluntarily.
"Pakistan's Foreign Minister pointed this out even yesterday, that their policy on the Afghan refugees has not changed and the Afghans can return to their country voluntarily and with honor," Farhad told TOLOnews Thursday.
However, a recent report published by UK newspaper The Guardian said that Pakistan government has decided to cancel all refugee documents of the Afghan refugees and send them back to their country by the end of this year.
There are around 3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, many without any legal documents.
Afghan Olympic female athlete wants more than a medal
Tahmina Kohistani is the only female Afghan competing in this year's summer Olympics in London. She's not so interested in winning gold than in inspiring Afghan girls to take up sport.
Tahmina Kohistani strikes an unusual appearance in the stadium. As opposed to her fellow female runners, she is not wearing a sports bra or shorts. The 22-year-old is covered from head to toe, with a headscarf and a long-sleeved sweater. Although her chances of winning the 100-meter sprint are lower than those of her competitors, she is very glad to be in London. "What's important for me is to take part in the Olympic Games - for me, my people and my homeland."
Insulted for choosing sport
Tahmina is the only woman allowed to represent her country in London this year. She has been running and dreaming of taking part in the Olympic Games for eight years already. Her intensive training for the summer games started six months ago at Kabul's Ghazi stadium but technical restrictions have made it tough. Karim, her trainer, says that she could "win gold if she had better training conditions."
She has also not had an easy time of it because of the poor security situation and social restrictions. "Three cars have to protect me when I go to the stadium in the mornings," she told DW. "Many people have insulted me because of the path I've chosen to take."
Tahmina refuses to judge her fellow Afghans, however. She understands that the country is going through a phase of reconstruction and that people need time to get used to more modern conditions.
But she is glad she has been lucky with her family. "My father has always said I made the right decision and that I should prove to people I have done nothing wrong. Every woman should say 'I want to be like Tahmina,' he says."
Determined to support female athletes
Apart from training, Tahmina is also studying to be a sports teacher at Kabul University. In her spare time, she writes poems about injustice and other social issues, calling for more acceptance and tolerance but she usually tears them up.
"Before, my greatest desire was to take part in the Olympic Games. I worked eight years for this. Now, I want my country to accept and support women doing sport."
That's why she wants to open a sports academy for women when she goes back to Kabul. Not only so that women can win competitions but also for their health and general well-being.
Before this she has one task to fulfill in London - she wants to inspire young Afghan girls and women to take up sport. This would be worth much more than a gold medal for her and her country, she says.
Author: Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / act Editor: Shamil Shams
Afghan sprinter tries to beat the clock – and pollution
Tahmina Kohistani trains in a stadium where the Taliban once carried out executions, under some of the world's dirtiest skies.
Christian Science Monitor By Tom A. Peter, Correspondent July 26, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - During a warm-up run, what bothers Afghan sprinter Tahmina Kohistani is not the two men standing by the track to leer at her as she jogs ("You must tolerate that if you want to be an athlete here," she says). It is the perpetual smog that hangs over Kabul like a pot lid.
Deaths caused by air pollution in the Afghan capital alone rival the number of civilians killed nationwide every year due to war-related violence. Training outdoors in such heavy pollution, Ms. Kohistani has to worry as much about respiratory problems as her sprint times.
Kohistani has qualified to represent her country in the 100- and 200-meter races at the London Olympics, but she lacks something as fundamental as a training center in a location without lethal levels of air pollution. Her plight is a reminder that not all Olympians are created equally. While many competitors benefit from extensive state-sponsored programs, such as in China, or world-class facilities, such as in America, others train on threadbare tracks or in neglected pools.
The problem is particularly acute in Afghanistan. The war-racked country not only has few athletic facilities; it operates under something of a caste system when it comes to its Olympians.
While most Afghans like sport, they're often hesitant to support their athletes unless they bring home medals. The attitude has created a dilemma. Winners are lavished with lucrative sponsorships and unique training opportunities, but those who fail to fill the nation's trophy rack rarely get the resources needed to improve.
The Afghan Taekwondo team, for instance, has medaled in some international competitions, and now its athletes are training for the Olympics in Korea. Untested athletes like Kohistani are left to work out in Kabul with the aid of local trainers. They struggle to reach international competitive standards: Kohistani's times are comparable to those of high school athletes in the United States.
"When an Afghan athlete goes abroad, the nation expects a victory. They never think about the possibility of a loss," she says. "The athletes must think about the hopes of the Afghan people and try their best, but the nation must also see how we train and compare it to the facilities other people have."
Low-key but determined, Kohistani trains three hours a day, starting at 8 a.m., in Kabul's Ghazi Stadium. During the Taliban regime, the stadium was the scene of numerous public executions. But within the last several years it has undergone renovation, including the addition of an all-weather track. Though the surface already shows signs of wear, those who used to train on the old asphalt track say the improvements have helped them drop their times.
While Kabul's pollution and unwanted spectators prove a challenge for Kohistani, her trainer says that she and Massoud Azizi, the other Afghan track athlete who will compete in London, have about 80 percent of the equipment they need. Still, he complains that the government hasn't provided them with their $20 per day training allowance meant to help them eat healthily and get other resources.
"It discourages the athletes if no one pays attention to you unless you win a medal," says Karim Azizi, the Afghan Olympic track coach.
Kohistani grew up in a family of sports enthusiasts with a particular passion for soccer. It wasn't until middle school that she first learned about track when the school system was establishing an athletic program. Kohistani made the team; and eight years later, the 22-year-old managed to become the Afghan women's national champion in both the 100 and 200 meters.
While she's seen fellow female runners leave the sport in the face of family pressure from relatives who say it is inappropriate for women to be athletes, Kohistani says her family has always supported her. "My family is [politically] moderate, so they never opposed me playing any sports," says the young runner, who wears a hijab when she isn't practicing but during workouts opts for a more practical head covering, such as a baseball cap or bandanna.
Kohistani knows she likely won't be standing on a medal podium in London, but she remains undaunted. "Just attending the Olympics as the only Afghan female track athlete makes me feel like I've already won a medal," she says.
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