[Afghan News] July 30, 2012 - 08-09-2012, 03:47 PM
Wall Street Journal By NATHAN HODGE July 29, 2012
WASHINGTON - Inspectors from a U.S. government watchdog agency discovered that several American-funded border police bases in Afghanistan have been largely abandoned or left unoccupied, raising questions about the coming hand-over of security duties to local forces.
Among other findings, inspectors found that one base, Lal Por 2, wasn't being used by Afghan border forces because it had no water supply, a report due out Monday states. A second, Nazyan, "may soon be uninhabitable" because of shoddy construction that caused sewage overflow.
All told, the new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found most of the facilities on three of the four bases that it inspected—each built to house 93 border police personnel—"were either unoccupied or weren't used for the intended purposes."
The disclosures shed new light on the U.S. investment in Afghanistan's security ahead of the planned withdrawal of most foreign troops by 2014. Creating capable and self-sufficient Afghan security forces is a cornerstone of the U.S. exit strategy. But the report points to questions about whether the U.S. is leaving behind working infrastructure that the Afghan government can sustain.
At issue is the construction of four Afghan border-police bases in eastern Nangarhar province, a key region that borders Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The region is home to a highway that forms a crucial military supply line and trade link to the Afghan capital.
The bases are among the many security facilities the Afghan government will inherit from U.S. and international donors after a decade of reconstruction work.
The U.S. inspection work, carried out between January and July, found extensive evidence of shoddy construction. Leaking fuel lines on generators created fire hazards; drainpipes weren't installed, causing water damage; and poorly installed doors wouldn't close. In one case, a well house at the Lal Por 1 base was being used as a chicken coop, "increasing the risk of sanitation and health issues," the report states.
The inspectors didn't examine whether the Afghan police units which were supposed to occupy the facilities were performing their jobs elsewhere.
All told, the value of the construction contract for the four bases was nearly $19 million. In a written response to a draft of the inspection report, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which awarded the base contract to Road & Roof Construction Co., an Afghan contractor, said it was working to fix the problems uncovered by inspectors.
But the Corps also said the precarious security in the country made it difficult for it to undertake spot checks on construction projects. The report says the bases are "located in extremely remote and predominately inaccessible sites."
Ahmad Jawaid Abdullah, an executive with Road & Roof Construction Co., said the firm was aware of reports of "minor deficiencies" at sites, but added that most of the problems were "not due to construction," but rather poor facility maintenance.
The Corps, Mr. Abdullah added, was aware of water supply problems on one of the bases, but said that alternatives—such as drilling a well at a separate location and pumping water to the site—had been identified. Mr. Abdullah said the wastewater system at the Nazyan site was functional.
Since the end of 2001, Congress has appropriated just under $90 billion for Afghanistan's reconstruction, of which about $52 billion has been allocated toward bankrolling and building up Afghan security forces.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, was created in 2008 to track the billions of taxpayer dollars the U.S. has poured into Afghanistan for reconstruction projects. The organization got off to a rocky start, with the watchdog agency's original head forced to step down in early 2011 amid congressional questions about its effectiveness.
The White House recently named veteran prosecutor and congressional investigator John Sopko to lead the agency after the top post there was filled by acting heads for over a year.
Write to Nathan Hodge at firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Fund to Rebuild Afghanistan Is Criticized
New York Times By MATTHEW ROSENBERG July 30, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Two years ago, as the final pieces of the Obama administration’s troop surge were moving into place in southern Afghanistan, American officials identified a handful of infrastructure projects that they hoped would build popular support for the Afghan government in the Taliban’s heartland.
The Pentagon and State Department secured $400 million from Congress for what was christened the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund and drew up plans for seven projects, five of them aimed at increasing the electricity supply in southern Afghanistan to light shops and power factories. The projects were to be completed by mid-2013, just as the NATO combat mission was to wind down.
Yet as the remaining surge forces prepare to leave Afghanistan, significant work on five of the seven projects has not yet begun and is unlikely to be completed until well after the NATO mission ends in 2014, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the government agency charged with documenting how billions of dollars in American reconstruction funds are being spent.
As a result, a program that was intended to bring soldiers and civilians together to buttress the Obama administration’s counterinsurgency strategy could end up undercutting it, according to the report, which is to be released Monday.
The difficulties the report describes provide insight into why the results of the surge have appeared ambiguous and the broader American-led reconstruction effort in Afghanistan has often foundered, despite the nearly $90 billion that Congress has appropriated for it over the past decade.
The American Embassy and military command in Kabul, in a joint statement, rebutted the report’s findings, saying that officials had engaged in a “rigorous process” of reviewing and refining the infrastructure projects.
The projects “have signaled to the Afghan population the U.S. government’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan,” the statement said.
The inspector general reached a starkly different conclusion: the potential help for counterinsurgency efforts envisioned by officials is “based on completed projects that are years away from completion.”
“If goals are set and not achieved, both the U.S. and the Afghan governments can lose the populace’s support,” the report added, echoing a concern that some senior American officials have expressed privately.
An American official in Kabul urged patience, saying that the Afghan government, with Western help, was learning how to maintain and operate what was being built, and that it would pick up where the United States left off in the coming years.
“Given the nature of what we’re trying to do here, we don’t expect to be going in one single, linear positive direction,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It’s more like going up and down and backward a few steps and then forward a few more.”
Some of the difficulties with the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund were to be expected in a war zone, but officials did not properly prepare for contingencies like the challenge and expense of running power lines through remote areas of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban is strong, the report said.
Other problems were the result of bureaucratic holdups in Washington. A separate power line project in eastern Afghanistan, for instance, had not been put up for bids as of February because the Pentagon was working out how to transfer the money to the State Department, which is to carry out the project through the United States Agency for International Development, the report said.
The Afghan government had little role in designing the projects or seeing the work through, the report said, though American officials in Kabul disputed this assertion.
Four of the five delayed projects involve building power lines; the fifth aims to construct provincial justice centers across the country.
As for the two projects that are roughly on schedule, both were begun under a different program, months before the infrastructure fund was created. They were then incorporated into the fund, which won Congressional financing in 2011.
One of them, the installation of diesel generators in Kandahar, was meant only to improve the city’s energy supply until the power line projects were finished.
The generator project was initially budgeted at $40 million. But because the power lines are so far behind schedule, it “is expected to cost $80 million in fiscal year 2012 and increase to $100 million in fiscal year 2013,” the report said.
Even then, the power lines might not be completed until September 2015, although some American officials say they could be ready by the summer of 2014, a year after the original completion date.
Once completed, it is unclear who will maintain the projects or pay for them — a problem that highlights how each part of the reconstruction mission affects the other.
“If you build a road, you also need to build a government that can keep the road passable,” another American official said, adding: “We’re not building good roads, and we’re not building a good government.”
Report Questions Afghanistan Reconstruction Projects
Fern Robinson VOA News July 30, 2012
A U.S. government report says major reconstruction projects in Afghanistan that were originally pitched as a vital tool in the campaign against the Taliban are so far behind schedule that they will not yield any benefits until most U.S. combat forces have left the country.
The report by the special inspector-general for Afghanistan reconstruction concludes the Afghan government will not have the money or skill to maintain many of the projects.
The Washington Post and The New York Times published stories on the report early Monday ahead of its official release planned for later in the day.
The newspapers say the report states the U.S. military and the U.S. Agency for International Development believe four electricity projects, costing more than $300 million dollars, will have counterinsurgency benefits, yet the projects have still not been awarded to contractors.
The U.S. Congress has poured $800 million into the Afghan reconstruction fund, while the State Department has committed about $1 billion.
In a written response to the report, the U.S. embassy in Kabul said it was "speculative," and the top Defense Department official responsible for Afghanistan called the report "premature."
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
U.S. construction projects in Afghanistan challenged by inspector general’s report
Washington Post By Rajiv Chandrasekaran Monday, July 30, 2012
A U.S. initiative to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction projects in Afghanistan, originally pitched as a vital tool in the military campaign against the Taliban, is running so far behind schedule that it will not yield benefits until most U.S. combat forces have departed the country, according to a government inspection report to be released Monday.
The report, by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, also concludes that the Afghan government will not have the money or skill to maintain many of the projects, creating an “expectations gap” among the population that could harm overall stabilization efforts.
“Implementing projects that the Afghan government is unable to sustain may be counter¬productive” to the U.S. counterinsurgency mission, the inspector general wrote. “If goals are set and not achieved, both the U.S. and Afghan governments can lose the populace’s support.”
The study calls into question a fundamental premise of the U.S. strategy to counter the Taliban insurgency — that expensive new roads and power plants can be funded and constructed quickly enough to help turn the tide of war — and it poses a sobering, counterintuitive question for policymakers in Washington: whether the massive influx of American spending in Afghanistan is actually making problems worse.
Many U.S. military commanders, diplomats and reconstruction experts have long believed that large infrastructure projects were essential to fixing Iraq and Afghanistan. Now-retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former top commander in both wars who is now director of the CIA, used to say that cash was one of his most important weapons.
But the latest report adds new weight to the argument — voiced by independent development specialists and even a few government officials — that the United States attempted to build too much in a country with limited means to assume responsibility for those projects. All U.S. combat forces are expected to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Until now, most critiques have asserted only that the massive U.S. foreign assistance program has led to waste and fueled corruption. The new report goes further by suggesting that some projects may ultimately prove detrimental.
In a written response to the report, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it was “speculative” for the inspector general to conclude that some of the projects would have adverse effects. The top Pentagon official responsible for Afghanistan called the report premature and insisted that the announcement of the projects, even though they have not been completed, has generated goodwill and excitement among the Afghan people.
The inspector general’s examination focuses on the Afghan Infrastructure Fund, which was authorized by Congress in 2010 in part to prevent the Defense Department from dipping into a discretionary account for military commanders to bankroll large projects. The infrastructure fund was supposed to allow the Defense and State departments to collaboratively plan and pool money for large infrastructure improvements aimed at supporting the U.S. counter¬insurgency campaign.
Since then, Congress has poured $800 million into the fund and the State Department has committed about $1 billion of its funds to related infrastructure programs.
Among the projects criticized by the inspector general is a plan to use costly diesel generators to provide electricity to residents of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city, until the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers install a new hydropower turbine at a dam in the violence-plagued hills of neighboring Helmand province. Purchasing diesel to run the generators, which produce about 25 megawatts of electricity each — enough to power about 2,500 Afghan homes or small businesses — is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers about $220 million through 2013.
Senior U.S. commanders argued that increasing electricity through the “Kandahar Bridging Solution” would be an important part of the overall American military effort to beat back the Taliban in Kandahar province. Those commanders asserted that more power to operate lights, television sets and fans would please residents and lead many of them to throw their support behind the Afghan government.
But other civilian and military officials have questioned that logic. When U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl was the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Kandahar last year, he said he could not find any evidence that the additional electricity was yielding greater employment, stability or support for the government. “This is a bridge to nowhere,” he declared to his staff in 2011.
Back then, Dahl also noticed a disturbing disparity: The installation of the turbine at the dam, which will not occur for at least two more years, will produce significantly less power than the city receives from the generators. Since the Afghan government will not have the financial ability to buy diesel for the generators, that means the city’s power supply will inevitably ebb once the turbine is operational and U.S. funding for diesel ends.
That gap was seized upon by the inspector general. “While the Kandahar Bridging Solution may achieve some immediate [counter¬insurgency] benefits because — as stated by USAID officials — ‘people like having their lights on,’ the U.S. government may be building an expectations gap that cannot be met in a timely manner,” the report states.
The inspector general’s report also questions whether a new $23 million road in Helmand province will have adverse effects because the Afghan government has not compensated landowners for the destruction of their property. In addition, the report reveals that four electricity projects — costing a total of more than $300 million from the infrastructure fund — have not yet been awarded to contractors, despite claims from the military and USAID that they will have important counterinsurgency benefits.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a frequent critic of Afghan reconstruction efforts, said the report raises fundamental questions about the strategic rationale of U.S. development programs in the war-torn nation. “There’s no data that shows these major projects have changed the security environment in the country,” she said. “We cannot just throw money at a country like this and expect it to have a good ending.”
In its response to the report, the U.S. Embassy defended the importance of large-scale development initiatives. “These critical infrastructure projects have signaled to Afghan populations the U.S. government’s long term commitment to Afghanistan.”
Although the United States has spent almost $90 billion on Afghan reconstruction and development over the past decade, such examinations traditionally had not been conducted by the special inspector general’s office, which was more interested in contracting waste and fraud. This report was approved by a new inspector, former federal prosecutor John F. Sopko, who took charge of the office this month. He has vowed to scrutinize how projects are conceptualized and designed, not just how they are implemented.
ISAF Calls Criticism From Pakistan 'Incorrect'
By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan July 30, 2012
The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) has denied a claim by Pakistan's military that ISAF is failing to help stop militants from crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Pakistan's military says it has notified the NATO-led force in Afghanistan 52 times about crossborder movement from Pakistan into Afghanistan by militants, without any response from the ISAF.
In a statement, ISAF said that claim is "incorrect."
The NATO-led force says it immediately dispatches troops to deal with crossborder militants whenever Pakistan's military requests assistance.
The statement says ISAF has a mutual interest to coordinate action with Pakistan against crossborder attacks from North Waziristan by members of the Haqqani network.
It says ISAF is "committed to working together with Pakistan" for security, stability and efforts toward reconciliation.
Afghan police kill 17 Taliban militants
KABUL, July 30 (Xinhua) -- Afghan police have killed 17 Taliban militants and wounded five others across the country over the past 24 hours, Interior Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
"Afghan National Police backed by army and the NATO-led coalition forces launched seven operations in Nangarhar, Kandahar, Logar, Khost and Helmand provinces over the past 24 hours during which 17 Taliban were killed, five wounded and two others were arrested," the statement said.
However, it did not say if there were any casualties on security forces.
Allies Rebuke Pakistan on Cross-Border Attacks
New York Times By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and ERIC SCHMITT July 29, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - The American-led coalition on Sunday bluntly rebutted an assertion made last week by a senior Pakistani official that American forces had on 52 occasions done little over all to stop Pakistan Taliban militants from using Afghan territory as a springboard for attacks on Pakistani forces in the mountains along the poorly marked frontier.
The coalition statement was unusual in its directness. Even at the lowest points in relations between Pakistan and the United States, American officials in Afghanistan have usually left direct public criticism of Pakistan to more senior officials in Washington.
But with Pakistan increasingly trying to draw equivalence between Afghan Taliban havens in their own country and the presence of Pakistan Taliban factions in Kunar and Nuristan Provinces in northeastern Afghanistan, the coalition pushed back unequivocally on Sunday, offering a reminder of the fraught relationship that the United States and Pakistan are struggling to improve.
“Recent allegations that the Pakistani military has notified the International Security Assistance Force 52 times that insurgent elements were crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border are incorrect,” it said in a statement, using the coalition’s formal name.
“Whenever the Pakistani military has requested assistance, ISAF immediately dispatched the appropriate force to deal with the issue,” it added.
The coalition did not say how many times Pakistan had requested and received assistance, but American officials said the number was far fewer than 52.
Even in language that was phrased as conciliatory, the coalition statement managed to sneak in what Pakistani officials were likely to see as barbs. It noted that the two sides “shared interests” and then cited the need to move against the Haqqani network as an example.
The Haqqanis, a violent Taliban affiliate, are a shared interest only in the sense that they are a major irritant in relations. American officials have long accused Pakistan of supporting the group.
The Pakistani military’s unwillingness to move against the Haqqanis is one of the main reasons that American officials have been so rankled by Pakistan’s newfound eagerness to say it suffers equally from cross-border attacks.
The coalition’s statement on Sunday was the latest in a tit for tat that has pitted Afghanistan and the United States against Pakistan over how best to address what all three consider to be an intensifying threat: the use of northeastern Afghanistan’s remote valleys and cedar-studded mountains as a haven by competing Taliban factions, Al Qaeda operatives and other militants from South and Central Asia.
Responding to the coalition statement, Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said, “There is no question of doubting the commitment on fighting terrorists from both sides.”
But Ms. Rehman, the official who first raised the 52 occasions at a conference on Friday in Aspen, Colo., added: “We have a critical problem of anti-Pakistan terrorist sanctuaries in Kunar and Nuristan. And we have communicated this at every level and at every opportunity.”
A second Pakistani official said that cross-border attacks from Afghanistan had become increasingly brazen and that Pakistan had, on numerous occasions in the past 18 months, passed along geographic coordinates from where it believed the attacks originated.
The Americans had also been given names of Pakistan Taliban commanders at the locations, including Maulana Fazlullah from the Swat Valley, the official said. He fled Pakistani military offensives and crossed the border as American forces pulled back from northeastern Afghanistan.
The official said the coalition had responded to most, if not all, of Pakistan’s reports of incursions.
The coalition responses, however, were fleeting and ineffective. “It’s not rocket science in how ISAF can assist us,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about security issues. “We have not seen anything go down that’s diminishing these attacks.”
Until recently, all three countries had largely kept the problems in northeastern Afghanistan out of the public debate. But a week ago Afghan officials loudly protested what appeared to be an unusually heavy rocket barrage on villages in Kunar, which has suffered sporadic cross-border bombardment in recent years.
The coalition joined in a few days later. Like the Afghans, it was careful to avoid directly blaming Pakistan for firing the rockets, though it implied that was the case.
Pakistan, for its part, denied firing on Afghan territory.
Then, on Friday, Ms. Rehman raised the 52 episodes during a tart exchange in Aspen with Douglas E. Lute, President Obama’s top adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, over what each of their countries was — or was not — doing to eliminate Taliban sanctuaries.
Matthew Rosenberg reported from Kabul, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
Over 10,000 Afghan policemen receive training to boost capacity
KABUL, July 30 (Xinhua) -- As part of capacity building efforts, more than 10,000 personnel with the Afghan National Police (ANP) have completed necessary training and joined the ANP over the past four months, the country's Interior Ministry spokesman said Monday.
"A total of 10,500 police constables and police officers have completed their training across the country within the past four month," spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told a joint press conference with the NATO-led coalition or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokesman Brigadier General Gunter Katz.
He also added that 300 policemen had concluded their training in Egypt and commissioned to the national police.
The spokesman further said over the next couple of months 800 more police personnel would go to Egypt to attend training programs there while another 500 officers will go to Turkey for the same purpose.
"The quality of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) continues to improve every day. You can see this by how well the transition process is proceeding, and by the increasing number of ISAF's Security Force Advising Teams that are moving from assisting ANSF units to primary advising your brave soldiers and policemen as they move forward independent operations," the ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Gunter Katz said at the same briefing.
Afghan government and the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) have stepped up efforts to train and equip Afghan police and army as NATO-led ISAF forces have handed over the security responsibilities of areas where more than 50 percent of the country's population live, to Afghan security forces, parts of a process which will run through 2014 when Afghanistan takes over the full leadership of its own security duties from U.S. and NATO forces.
Taking tea with Afghanistan's most fearsome warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostum
In a rare interview, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the powerful northern warlord who was a key US ally against the Taliban and threw his support behind President Karzai at the last election, gives an interview at his Kabul home.
Telegraph.co.uk By Magsie Hamilton-Little in Kabul 29 Jul 2012
It is Friday – holy day – in Kabul. Near the checkpoint barrier a woman begs, her burka hiding her shame, but the only thing she receives is a spattering of dirt cast up by the passing trucks. The barrier lifts. Soldiers in dark green uniforms, rifles slung over their shoulders, wave me through. As I climb out of the car a thousand eyes burn into me, but I am careful not to return anyone’s gaze. Such brazen conduct from a foreign woman would be sure to get me into trouble.
Inside the house, in a marble room with a shiny new lift that wouldn’t look out of place in a Manhattan hotel, a man in a long gown greets me like a long-lost daughter. At six feet tall, he towers a good seven inches above me. I feel my legs wobble – his reputation is nearly as fearsome as his bushy moustache. He is General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan’s most powerful warlord, head of the Uzbek tribe, unofficial ruler of the north, and, as the government’s chief of staff, commander of an army of over 25,000 men.
It is only when I tell myself I have nothing to fear that I remember the allegations that make your stomach turn and heart pound, such as the one about how, at Dostum’s command, women had been raped and their breasts cut off before they were killed during the siege of Kabul in 1991. Or the one that told how Dostum ordered two thousand Taliban prisoners to be asphyxiated in metal shipping containers and left to rot in the desert in 2001. Or how he is said to have treated his prisoners – tying them to the muzzles of cannons before firing them into the air. The General has always denied such widely made claims.
I know from experience how genial a host he is, having encountered him on my many previous visits to Afghanistan. A donation of books from my charity to his children’s foundation is a wonderful excuse for a get together to talk politics.
As we sit down to tea in his home, the General is unequivocal about the problems facing Afghanistan in the light of the withdrawal of foreign troops; David Cameron has said he wants to withdraw all combat troops by 2014.
What does the General think of the timing? “Most Afghans believe it is too soon,” he says fearing the country might disintegrate into chaos. I put it to him the comments I have heard from his own soldiers making up part of the Afghan army who complain that their equipment is inadequate. A common complaint is that the foreign armies are kitted out well (although some back home may beg to differ) whereas the Afghan army has their cast-offs. Their boots are falling apart, their helmets have holes.
Dostum is nodding gravely. “We are not ungrateful,” he insists, “but if you commit to any form of assistance, you must do it properly. You have a duty to do a good job.”
It is not just the poor equipment that leaves the Afghan army feeling despondent for the future security of their country. Many talk of a general lack of respect fuelled by events, however accidental or isolated, such as the Qur’an burnings this February – when US soldiers set alight religious texts – or tales of soldiers urinating on dead bodies. Such occurrences have turned many Afghans against those same foreign forces trying to help them.
“Why come here and insult our culture?” says Dostum. “Such events have only served to create an atmosphere of mistrust and anger. New recruits to the Afghan army have to be watched closely in case they are Taliban spies. Acts of disrespect from US troops only serve to strengthen the position of the Taliban and will have made it harder to work out a peaceful solution.”
I first came to Afghanistan after witnessing the bus bombing in London’s Tavistock Square on 7 July 2005. Having studied Islamic history at university, my rose-tinted world of Persian miniatures and Sufi poetry had been shattered by the first-hand experience of Islamic terrorism. To my mind, there were now big questions to be asked – and I wanted answers. Against the advice of friends and family, I packed my bags and bought a plane ticket to Kabul.
Luckily, the Afghans I met took pity on me. I was, of course, a woman; I was an infidel; and I was alone. My first time I stayed among the locals, venturing into the bazaars unchallenged, often donning a burka. Having expected the worst, I found the Afghans proud and strong, as kind as they were canny, and with a nobility that seemed to me to have been all too often lost in our own society. The generosity I had received from those who owned little more than the clothes they stood up in had moved me beyond words.
I had subsequently returned to Britain armed with an entirely new set of questions about the nature of terrorism, the war, and the cultural and religious divisions between our societies, along with a sense of responsibility. I wanted to do something that would help the Afghans that was peaceful and positive. Education was at the heart of what was needed for the long-term regeneration of Afghanistan. However, over 50 percent of the country’s children didn’t go to school at all and reading materials were a scarcity. So I set up a small charity printing books in Kabul for children with little or no access to schooling.
During that initial visit – and in my subsequent trips to the country – I have encountered drug dealers, feudal chiefs and Taliban sympathisers, men of influence whose track records are as murky as the toxic waters of Lake Quargha. In a country where corruption is so endemic it is said to be part of the constitution, I never once batted an eyelid. After all, no one else did.
So does the General believe the Taliban can ever be defeated? “Tell your government,” he roars, letting out a great belly laugh, moustache bristling, “that the Taliban amount to no more than around 9,000 individuals. We know who they are and where to find them. Given the order, I estimate it would take less than a year to destroy their ringleaders. I have said this on many occasions.”
Dostum’s despondency at the current leadership is surprising given that he helped bring President Karzai to power in the first place, backing him in the last elections. “After the troops withdraw, his days will be numbered,” he shrugs. “In Afghanistan we say he is half-Afghan, half-American because he spends so much time in that country and even owns businesses there.”
I hesitate to ask the General his view of what he thinks will happen to the rights of Afghan women in the future, especially given his own alleged track record.
Many women have told me how scared they are of the return to a Taliban-styled government, I say. Women are concerned Karzai will seek peace at any price, and if that means kowtowing to the Taliban on women’s rights, they will do so. “To ensure progress is made on all fronts, Afghan and US leaders must ensure women are actively involved in a settlement that protects the rights accorded to them in recent years.”
His reassurances offer some comfort, but the fact is that Afghanistan remains a very hard place to live as a woman. Despite incremental improvements following the US invasion that brought in new laws protecting women’s rights, oppression is still rife, particularly in the south. It is estimated that 87% of women suffer violence at home, and medical care is so poor that one woman dies every half hour in childbirth.
On the way down in the lift, the sense of apprehension I might previously have felt has all but evaporated as I realise I have survived the meeting unscathed. I ask the General if he has any ideas for a future leader, a Jeffersonian figure who could build the brave new Afghanistan so many of us have been praying for. Is there such a person? Maybe he even plans to stand for office himself, I suggest almost playfully.
He shakes his head firmly. He does not want the job, but it comes as no surprise that he has someone else in mind.
It is no less than I would expect from Afghanistan’s greatest deal-maker. Let’s hope it will be his best deal yet.
Magsie Hamilton-Little is author of Dancing with Darkness: Life Death and Hope in Afghanistan, £8.99. All profits go to Little Books Afghanistan; www.littlebooksafghanistan.org
U.S. unlikely to declare Haqqani Network 'terror outfit', claims Pak diplomat
Islamabad, July 30 (ANI): The United States will not slap the 'terror' label on the Haqqani Network for the safe exit of its troops from Afghanistan, a senior Pakistan diplomat has said.
Background discussions with diplomats and security analysts suggest that the U.S. is currently in contact with the Haqqani Network to secure guarantees that they would stop targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, reports The Nation.
"Pakistan would not react even if the U.S. declares the Haqqani Network a terrorist organisation but would want that all the Afghan resistance groups including the Haqqanis are pushed into the peace process," the diplomat said.
He said the Haqqanis, being Afghan citizens, operate from within Afghanistan and they have no presence in Pakistan. Pakistan supports an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process and is committed to facilitate it to make it fruitful process, he added.
Foreign policy experts and security analysts believe that Pakistan does not have much leverage when it comes to Haqqanis as they operate independently. But they said "like other resistance groups, including Afghan Taliban, Haqqanis are equally key stakeholders in Afghanistan".
They believe that it is a complex situation where besides the Al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and other resistance groups like Haqqanis were operating in Afghanistan. They questioned the intention and combat capacity of Afghan and U.S.-led forces in sorting out non-state entities like these and their continued accusations against Pakistan, which itself is victim of terrorism. (ANI)
Afghans in Pakistan face a perilous future
Living in Pakistan has become increasingly difficult for refugees from the war-torn state.
Aljazeera 29 Jul 2012
By Sanaa Alimia, Sanaa Alimia is a Teaching Fellow and PhD Candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since 2010 she has been collecting oral testimonies of Afghans living in
Karachi, Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas of Pakistan.
Millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan fear attempts to force them from homes in which some have lived for more than 30 years. They say they have dealt with discrimination and harassment at the hand of Pakistani authorities, who no longer "find them useful", and are anxious for them to face mass deportations before official residency permits expire at the end of this year.
Mass arrests and deportations already took place three years ago. Now individual arrests and deportations, as well as daily humiliations - seen through stop and searches, verbal and physical abuse, and requests for bribes - continue unabated, in what can only appear to be efforts to "encourage" continued repatriation - a policy that is in line with broader US-led aims of winning "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan through "reconstruction" efforts.
Many Afghans in Pakistan cannot return to Afghanistan and are in fact an integral part of Pakistan. However, once revered as the heroic "mujahid", Afghans in Pakistan are now constructed as the destructive "talib" - a complete 180-degree turn from the 1970s-90s, when Afghan migration was actively encouraged by Pakistan, the US and other international actors to defeat the Soviet "menace". Having a sizeable Afghan population in Pakistan, including militarised resistance groups, was strategically beneficial. One former engineer and mujahideen fighter from Kunar province, now a daily wage labourer, told me how Pakistani-sponsored announcements on local Afghan radio promised "free land in Pakistan for Afghans to settle on", and that "at that point, it was a big deal to be an Afghan refugee. We had recognition - we had the attention of the world on us".
Now the situation is starkly different. "[Why is] there is no legitimacy to our status? [Is it] because the war [in Afghanistan] is directed by the US?" the former fighter wondered. "Now these people say that our land is free so we should return [to Afghanistan] ...but we have been here for over 30 years!" As state relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have deteriorated, so too has the status of Afghans in Pakistan.
Mass arrests and deportations
Surprisingly, little is reported about the shift of Afghan experiences in Pakistan. All too often commentators assume the hospitality that the Pakistani state engendered throughout the 1970s-90s has continued, albeit grudgingly because of the protracted burden on Pakistani state resources. However, the reality is more startling.
In 2009 and 2010 mass arrests and deportations took place, amid discussions of renewing identity cards. That experience has left many Afghans worried this could happen again in the coming months. One Afghan community elder in Karachi who works in the transport industry told me how "many of us were arrested in 2009. I went to a prison to try to bail people out and there were 210 people there, including women. They [the police] would look at our cards and say we had no right to be here. They would either be satisfied with a bribe or, for those of us that could not pay, we were arrested."
In another discussion with a man who has been living and working in Pakistan since 1982 with his family, he said: "There was a time last year  when people were constantly being arrested, one elder had to go and get 150 people released who were arrested at one time. At another point, 40 people were taken! The police said, 'Pay us Rs 10,000, Rs 20,000 [approximately $100-$200] and you can go'. Who had this money?" For those who were deported to Afghanistan, many had no option but to return to Pakistan because of violence, lost land, and poor opportunities in Afghanistan. "I was deported," a trader living in Peshawar said, "but I had to come back. My brother and family are still here. It is difficult here, but it was worse for me there."
Legally speaking, Pakistan has become more stringent against Afghans. Only registered Afghans with a valid computerised Afghan Citizen Proof of Registration Card (PoR) are considered legal persons in Pakistan, of which there are 1.7 million, according to the UNHCR. The remaining 450,000 to 2.2 million, by a 2009 study's estimate, are unregistered and considered illegal immigrants. Even the PoR card, which was introduced in 2006-2007 and designed to last until December 31, 2009 before it was agreed to renew to 2012, will in fact not be renewed, according to Pakistani officials.
While education campaigns and government initiatives have stopped police from conducting mass arrests, discrimination and harassment continues. The "Global War on Terror" has itself transformed Pakistani cities into fortress towns, which affects all people living in Pakistan. For Afghans, it's much worse. At security checkpoints, now a permanent feature of the Pakistani landscape, identity cards are a must.
Perversely, this means that the PoR card, initially designed to ease "refugee management", has combined with increasing hostility towards Afghans to facilitate targeted humiliation. For those Afghans without a PoR card, usually the poorest of the poor, life is even tougher. In an interview with one such family, Abdul Qader, the main breadwinner, says he only moves within his neighbourhood for fear of being arrested. Often, even buying food is difficult. "Sometimes we eat the potato skins from local waste," he told me, sitting in his informally constructed house. For him and his family, return to Afghanistan is not an option, and now remaining in Pakistan is also problematic.
"The police say things like 'this is your tax'. It is a problem for us; without a card it [is] even more of an issue. We are fed up. If you have no card they hassle you. If you have a card they hassle you. If you need to go anywhere they hassle you. They harass you on your [daily] routes," said Abdul Qader.
Deteriorating Afghan-Pakistani state relations
One cannot help but suspect this targeted harassment is a side-effect of deteriorating Afghan-Pakistani state relations and an effective way of humiliating and disciplining the remaining Afghans in Pakistan - or even a tactic to "encourage" repatriation. Whatever the case may be, Afghans in Pakistan sure don't feel welcome anymore.
These experiences should not continue - nor should they remain ignored, silenced and forgotten by history. For Afghans who wish to return to Afghanistan, as many do, this national right and choice must be supported. However, the reality of a continued Afghan presence in Pakistan and of emerging transnational realities in the region cannot be ignored. The majority of Afghans who continue to live in Pakistan are an integral part of the fabric of the state. Many Afghans teach, research, are artists, run successful businesses, trade and work as labourers (which has shaped urban growth in the country).
Through solidarities of friendships and hospitality between Afghans and Pakistanis, the Afghan position in Pakistan has, on the whole, been without inter-community conflict. Many live in shared neighbourhoods, trade, work, marry and study together. One Afghan father in Peshawar notes how when his 15-year-old son was arrested by the police when playing cricket, simply by virtue of being Afghan, it was his son's friends, Afghan and Pakistani, who pooled money together to bail him out: "They all put together whatever they had and got him out of the police station. I did not even know until they told me afterwards".
These realities, and the importance of Afghans in Pakistan, must be acknowledged in practice and law. Afghan rights in Pakistan must be protected and improved.
Pakistan itself faces numerous challenges. It has a huge number of internally displaced persons, is facing crippling issues of power shortages and continues to be engaged in a cancerous alliance with the US in the ill-informed war in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also shouldered the weight of the refugee crisis, while the developed world has only ever tightened its own borders and immigration policies.
Yet this is no justification for the current attitude towards Afghans in Pakistan. The discrimination and humiliation that has played out on the bodies of Afghans to suit changing foreign policies and state-level rivalry between Afghanistan and Pakistan must end. And as discussions regarding the fate of Afghans in Pakistan continue, a repeat of 2009 must not be allowed to occur. This reality must now translate to Pakistani state practice and law.
Note: Names have been changed to protect individual identities.
Sanaa Alimia is a Teaching Fellow and PhD Candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Since 2010 she has been collecting oral testimonies of Afghans living in Karachi, Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas of Pakistan.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
CEO says Ariana Facing Major Challenges
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 29 July 2012
President Hamid Karzai has issued a pardon of the state-owned Ariana Afghan Airline's loans, its Chief Executive Officer, Nasir Ahmad Hakimi, said on Sunday.
Speaking at the Economic Committee of Parliament, Mr Hakimi said that the Defense, Transport and Aviation and the Hajj Ministries borrowed the loans under Ariana Afghan Airlines.
Hakimi said that, "several high-ranking government officials and competing companies are trying to harm the airlines."
In spite of the pardoned loans and trouble from competitors such as Safi Airways and KamAir, the airline intends to purchase planes from Pamir Airways, which costs over $23m.
The CEO expects the current challenges to be tackled within six months.
Afghan Media Watchdog Criticizes Karzai's Media Decree
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 29 July 2012
The Afghan Media Watchdog Nai criticized the recent decree issued by President Karzai regulating and limiting state-owned and private media, calling it another step to undermine freedom of speech in the country.
Speaking at a press conference in Kabul, the head of the media watchdog organization, Sediqullah Tawhidi, said that government is no longer interested in supporting free media and freedom of speech in the country
The decree has ordered the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture to control the quality and impose standards and limitations on state-owned and privately owned media.
"Once again, they [the Afghan government] have shown that free media and freedom of speech is intolerable for many government officials." Tawhidi said.
The Nai CEO, Abdul Mujib Khelwatgar, believes that no authority should impose restrictions on freedom of speech.
"The Afghan constitution protects freedom of speech. How can the president order the Ministry of Information and Culture to control the words of the people?" Khelwagar said to TOLOnews.
Freedom of speech is considered to be one of the major achievements of the Afghan government in the past decade.
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