[Afghan News] August 9, 2012 - 08-12-2012, 11:59 AM
9 August 2012 BBC News
Afghanistan taekwondo hero Rohullah Nikpai matched his achievement at the Beijing Olympics winning bronze in the men's -68kg category at London 2012.
Nikpai overcame Britain's Martin Stamper 5-3 in the bronze medal match.
The 25-year-old became a national hero after winning Afghanistan's first ever Olympic medal four years ago.
"Of course, getting a medal is very important to all the countries in the world but especially for Afghanistan," Nikpai said.
"I'm very happy because this medal is very important for my country."
He lost out to Iran's Mohammad Bagheri Motamed in the quarter-finals in London but took advantage of a second chance through the repechage.
He beat David Boui of the Central African Republic 14-2 before beating Stamper in the semi-final.
Nikpai was greeted by thousands at Kabul's Ghazi stadium when he returned from Beijing four years ago.
Afghan Soldier Killed After Firing on NATO Troops
VOA News August 9, 2012
NATO troops have killed an Afghan soldier who tried to gun down coalition service members at a military base in eastern Afghanistan.
A NATO spokesman says no coalition troops were killed in the attack Thursday in Laghman province, but declined to say if any were wounded.
The shooting is the second apparent attack by Afghan forces on their foreign counterparts this week. NATO said Tuesday two gunmen wearing Afghan National Army uniforms killed a coalition soldier.
So far this year, there have been at least 25 so-called "green-on-blue" (reference to uniforms) attacks in which foreign troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers or insurgents disguised in their uniforms.
Thursday's attack comes a day after suicide bombers detonated their explosives near a NATO patrol in the capital of Kunar province, killing three coalition soldiers, an Afghan civilian and a USAID Foreign Service officer.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement Thursday, identifying the officer as Ragaei Abdelfattah and expressing condolences to his family. Clinton said over the last 15 months, Abdelfattah partnered with local officials in eastern Afghanistan to help establish new schools and health clinics, and deliver electricity to the residents of Kunar and Nangarhar province.
A State Department Foreign Service officer was also wounded in Wednesday's suicide blast.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.
Afghan conflicts kill 36 Taliban, 3 NATO soldiers in two days
KABUL, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- Taliban-linked insurgency and security forces-led counter operations have left over three dozen people dead from both sides over the past two days in conflict- ridden Afghanistan.
According to Interior Ministry, the units of Afghan national police in conjunction with the army and NATO-led coalition forces have eliminated 36 Taliban militants since Wednesday.
"The units of national police backed by the army and the Coalition Forces launched seven joint clean-up operations in Kabul, Kunar, Balkh, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Ghazni and Helmand provinces over the past 24 hours during which 36 armed Taliban militants have been killed, 19 wounded and 34 arrested," the statement of Interior Ministry released here Thursday said.
The police also discovered and confiscated 3,480 kg opium, seven machine guns, 560 kg chemical materials used in making explosive devices, 14 different types of anti-personnel and anti- vehicle mines, three radio handsets, 68 kg explosives materials, five motorcycles and two vehicles, the statement added.
However, it did not say if there were any casualties on the security forces.
Meantime, anti-government militants' activities claimed the lives of three soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan's eastern region on Wednesday, a statement of the alliance released here said.
"Three International Security Assistance Force service members died following an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan today ( Wednesday)," the statement confirmed.
However, it did not identify the nationalities of the victims and the exact place of the incident.
Meanwhile, Taliban militants have claimed of responsibility for the attack. A statement posted on the armed outfit's website stated that two suicide bombers targeted foreign troops in Assadabad, the capital of eastern Kunar province, on Wednesday killing over a dozen soldiers, a claim rejected by local officials as groundless.
Nonetheless, two suicide attackers blew themselves up next to foreign soldiers in Assadabad, 185 km east of capital city Kabul, on Wednesday, leaving themselves and some others dead and injured, a local official said on the condition of anonymity, saying authorized officials would brief the media after investigation.
In Afghanistan, it is difficult to verify the exact figure of casualties on warring sides as both sides exaggerate the casualties inflicted on rival groups.
According to Taliban claims, scores of troopers with Afghan and the NATO-led forces have been killed over the past two days. Only on Thursday, according to Taliban statements posted on their website, more than three dozen security personnel have been killed; while there in no mention of the outfit's suffering.
Claim and counterclaim by warring sides in Afghanistan has made it difficult to verify the exact number of casualties in the war- wrecked country.
Senior Army NCO Killed in Afghanistan Suicide Blast, Brigade Commander Is Wounded
By Luis Martinez | ABC OTUS News
A suicide bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan has killed or wounded the senior leaders of the Army's 4th Brigade, 4thInfantry Division.
The attack Wednesday killed four Americans, three U.S. service members and a USAID foreign service officer. Among the dead was the brigade's command sergeant major, the brigade's senior enlisted non-commissioned officer.
In addition, defense officials told ABC News, the colonel in charge of the 4,000 man brigade was seriously wounded in the attack.
The deadly attack took place Wednesday when two suicide bombers detonated suicide vests as a team of American military and civilian officials approached the provincial council's office in Sarkowi in Kunar Province.
Killed in the attack was Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 45, of Laramie, Wyo., the brigade's senior enlisted soldier.
Defense officials told ABC News that Col. James Mingus, the 4th Brigade's commander, was also seriously wounded in the blast.
The attack was a significant strike at the leadership of the brigade tasked with providing security in three provinces that border Pakistan. Based in Fort Carson, Colo., the brigade arrived in Afghanistan this past April.
Also killed in the blast were Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35 of West Point, N.Y., and Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38, of Conyers, Ga.
Maj. Kennedy was serving on Col. Mingus' staff and Maj. Gray was an air liaison officer and flight commander attached to the brigade.
The explosion also killed American USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah. Another American foreign service officer and an Afghan civilian were also injured in the attack.
In a statement released Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Abdelfattah's work in eastern Afghanistan over the last year as "critical to our efforts to support Afghanistan's political, economic and security transitions, and [it] was an example of the highest standards of service."
She said he was so committed to his mission that he had volunteered to serve a second year-long tour in Afghanistan.
Fatal Attack Shows Plan to Unsettle Afghanistan
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN August 8, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Three NATO soldiers and an Afghan civilian were killed Wednesday in a suicide attack in the middle of the provincial capital of Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan.
The attack, in which two bombers detonated suicide vests as soldiers were patrolling near the provincial council’s office, occurred just a few days after the Taliban made a show of force in Kunar, a rugged border province that has been one of the most hard-fought regions for the American military. In those attacks, insurgents assaulted outposts and government buildings in eight districts, although few casualties were reported.
The transition of Kunar’s security to Afghan control is happening more gradually than in some other provinces, and the nature of the recent attacks shows why, in part: despite years of intensive coalition military offensives in some parts of the region, militants pose a perpetual threat, even in the provincial capital, Asadabad. The tenor and pace of attacks speak to the Taliban’s long-range strategy, in which civilians are regularly reminded of the militants’ resilience in a place where government control has always seemed tenuous.
Bolstering the sense of a tenacious insurgency was a report on civilian casualties released by the United Nations office here in Kabul. Despite a 15 percent drop in those casualties between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year compared with the year before, officials emphasized that the improvements were being eroded.
The reduction, which was most pronounced from January to April, appears to have partly reflected the harshness of a winter that was colder, snowier and longer than the past several years were and that discouraged insurgent attacks.
Even so, over that six-month period, 1,145 Afghan women, children and civilian men were killed, and nearly 2,000 were wounded.
“These gains are fragile; they do not reflect a move toward a peaceful society,” said Nicholas Haysom, the United Nations deputy special representative for Afghanistan. “This report does not suggest that Afghans are safer or better protected in their communities, nor does it suggest any greater effort by antigovernment elements” to avoid harm to civilians, he said.
The Taliban and other armed antigovernment groups were responsible for the vast majority of the casualties. This year, 80 percent of the casualties were caused by the antigovernment fighters, while pro-government forces, including the Americans and NATO, could be blamed for just 10 percent, according to the report. The casualties caused by the Americans and NATO dropped 25 percent from the same period last year, a figure that reflected in part a recent focus on avoiding airstrikes and reducing casualties in night raids.
The remaining casualties, 10 percent, could not be attributed to either side, said James Rodehaver, the acting human rights director for the United Nations office here.
Among the most worrisome findings was an increase in targeted killings, which was all the more alarming because the increase occurred despite an overall decrease in casualties. From January through June, there 255 such targeted killings, a 53 percent increase over the same period in 2011, Mr. Rodehaver said.
Then, in the five weeks since July 1, there was a 240 percent increase in assassinations over the same period last year. And overall civilian casualties for July were 5 percent above last year in the same period, suggesting that the positive trend of the last six months is being reversed.
The report also looked deeply into the behavior of the Afghan local police, who patrol in villages where there is no regular police presence. The United Nations described complaints about recruitment, vetting, lack of accountability and infiltration by insurgents.
An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
'Afghanistan's future lies in strengthening democracy, checking corruption'
Thursday, August 9th 2012, 07:32 AM New York Daily News
New Delhi, Aug 9 — The future of Afghanistan depends upon how it strengthens its fledgling democratic institutions and arrests corruption, says Sujeet Sarkar, the author of a new book on the war-ravaged country.
"Things can become terribly ugly if there is a sudden vacuum in federal governance. Hence every focus from now on has to be to fix governance in Afghanistan," Sarkar said while referring to the planned drawdown of the US-led coalition forces from 2013 that many fear could lead to the resurgence of the Taliban.
At the same time, Sarkar, author of the just-released "In Search of a New Afghanistan (Niyogi Books)", admitted there had been progress in some areas.
"Significant progress has been made in some sectors of development in Afghanistan. One such area is girls' education. In the last one decade, nearly three million children have been brought under the fold of education," Sarkar told IANS.
"All the women's medical colleges and engineering colleges (which were closed during the Taliban times) are running with their full capacity. A considerable number of women have taken up jobs in the urban areas," he added.
As for corruption, Sarkar said: "Afghanistan has been graded as the second most corrupt country in the world after Somalia by (Berlin-based) Transparency International. Afghanistan shares a berth with Myanmar with a Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of 1.4."
According to a survey by anti-corruption Charity Integrity Watch, corruption in Afghanistan had doubled since 2007 - six years after the coalition forces moved in.
"Afghans paid nearly $1 billion in bribes in 2008 with nearly one-third of those surveyed saying they had to pay up to obtain public services. Corruption emanates largely from lack of accountability and weak machinery which is almost defunct in Afghanistan. Whatever little is left is largely influenced by Kabul's power corridors. The rapid proliferation of corruption is hurting Afghanistan badly," Sarkar said.
All the more reason to strengthen governance, he added.
Sarkar's book looks at the reconstruction of the country post 9/11 and describes the challenges.
"The country has to eliminate poppy cultivation as it is the root cause behind all evils to attract more foreign investment. There are larger issues at the international level like peace... The nation has to advance the peace process," said the writer.
Sarkar has worked in Afghanistan from May 2005 to March 2012, as an high-level international governance advisor.
During his professional stint, the author had the opportunity to witness the development processes across echelons of society.
"The idea to write 'In Search of a New Afghanistan' came during this phase of my active stay in Afghanistan," Sarkar said. His papers on development- and governance- related work had been considered a frontline model in Afghanistan by international media," the writer said.
"I have tried to make the common reader understand the role of Afghanistan and India in stopping Pakistan from muscling in the peace process and running away with the module for the peace process," he said.
Sarkar throws light on the last decade of military, reconstruction and development process in Afghanistan.
"After 9/11 NATO forces arrived in Afghanistan to irreversibly degrade the capacity of the Taliban to strike and, more importantly, exercise greater control over Afghanistan in future," said Sarkar, who has worked for several years in Afghanistan for an international aid organisation.
The writer said: "There was no denying that the Taliban had grown in number as well as influence over the past decade.
"From their stronghold of southern provinces, they have spread their tentacles to the once-peaceful northern provinces like Baglan, Takhar Kunduz and Badakshan. They are even worming their way into Kabul."
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lawmakers Praise Wardak's Decision to Resign
TOLOnews.com By Saleha Soadat Wednesday, 08 August 2012
Afghan lawmakers today praised Abdul Rahim Wardak's decision to step down as the country's defense minister after losing a no-confidence vote in Parliament at the weekend.
MPs on Saturday voted to remove General Wardak and his counterpart at the interior ministry, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, because of their concerns over cross-border rocket attacks blamed on Pakistan and the deterioration of security across the country. President Hamid Karzai attempted to keep the ministers in place by putting them in an acting role.
"I respected the Parliament's decision to twice appoint me as defense minister, and now I accept the Parliament decision to remove me. I resign my position," General Wardak told journalists on Tuesday.
Lawmakers said that General Wardak's decision showed respect for the Afghan constitution and democracy, and they urged Mr Mohammadi to do the same.
"I appreciate the brave and historic decision made by the former defense minister," Mohammad Sarwar Osmani, an MP for Farah, said. "I hope it can be a lesson for others."
Another MP, from Logar, also praised the move said that General Wardak proved he was a "real Afghan" who accepted that continuing in his ministerial job would be in vain.
Afghanistan's National Security Council on Sunday ordered the two officials to retain their positions until new candidates could be found to replace them.
Enayatullah Nazari, deputy defense minister, has been appointed a acting defense minister, TOLOnews has learned.
5,000 Afghan 'militants' have surrendered - but are they real?
Officials say the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program has brought stability to several areas. But critics say the real anti-government fighters aren't participating.
Christian Science Monitor By Tom A. Peter, Correspondent August 8, 2012
Puli Khumri, Afghanistan - As part of an effort to end the Afghan war peacefully, the Afghan government developed a program to get low- and mid-level fighters to lay down their weapons and reintegrate with society.
With more than 5,000 individuals reintegrated so far, many Afghan and international officials say the program has helped bring stability to several areas.
Still, the program, which is almost two years old, may possess a fatal flaw: It’s unclear if everyone who reintegrates is actually an insurgent. Many Afghans say they worry that a number of locals are pretending to be insurgents to take advantage of the reintegration program’s incentives.
“This process has failed. It is not successful. There’s been no clear definition of who the enemy is and that’s why things are not clear,” says Mehdi, a member of parliament from Baghlan, who like many Afghans only has one name. “It’s a shame to admit that this is a problem, but unfortunately it’s a really bad thing that is happening all over Afghanistan.”
Those who reintegrate agree to renounce violence, cut ties with insurgent and terrorist groups, and support the Afghan constitution. In exchange, they receive a transitional stipend of $120 per month for three months. Communities who then agree to accept re-integrees are eligible for development grants.
The program is Afghan-run, but financially supported by international donors. In 2012 it received $123.7 million from 12 international donors, with Japan and the US shouldering the lion’s share of the cost, $52 million and $50 million respectively.
The example of 'insurgent' Wali
Earlier this month in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan Province, Commander Abdul Wali and about 40 of his fighters became some of the nation’s most recent re-integrees. Mr. Wali, however, admits he was never much of an insurgent.
During Afghanistan’s civil war, he battled the Taliban, fighting under the storied Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. An ethnic Tajik, he is an opponent of the extremist group, which draws about 95 percent of its fighters from Afghanistan’s Pashtun community.
After the US invasion, he became a district police commander in Baghlan’s remote Firing district, a position he enjoyed until about two years ago when he was involved in a shooting that left a civilian dead. Mr. Wali says he was innocent, and a police investigation confirmed his side of the story – that the victim died fighting in a local feud.
The case never went to trial and Wali says that he stepped down as police commander and broke ties with the government amid mounting accusations. In protest, about 40 men from his community joined with him to form an opposition group. Unlike most insurgents, Wali and his men say they never fired a shot, nor did they plan to. Most people in the community agree they were never a threat to locals or international forces.
“We just cut relations with the government. We didn’t try to help the government, but we didn’t try to kill Muslims, send suicide bombers, or place IEDs. We did nothing,” says Wali.
Wali did act as the government in his area, settling local disputes and addressing any other community problems. Though villagers could have turned to district government officials, it’s common throughout Afghanistan for locals to seek out tribal elders like Wali rather than the government, especially in remote areas.
But Wali’s men lacked a clear agenda. “We didn’t have any goals,” says Tahrir Hamidi, who was unemployed when he joined Wali. “When we left the government, I didn’t think that we’d be away from the government for too long, and I believed that we would not fight against the government.”
Fresh-faced and recently showered, Mr. Hamidi, like most of Wali’s followers, does not look like the normal, weathered opposition fighter who has spent years living in the mountains. He says that when he was supporting Wali, he continued to do what he’d done most of the time he was unemployed, spending most of his time at home.
“We were solving people’s problems, but we could not build anything,” he says. “We were not able to asphalt roads for the people. We were not able to build a school or a clinic for them. There was no rebuilding in my area. That’s why I decided to come back to the government.”
At Wali’s reintegration ceremony, local reporter Obaidullah Jahesh says he was taken aback by the amount of ordinary people who were among the supposed insurgents. As reporter covering only Baghlan Province, he knows a number of people in the community and he immediately spotted a teacher and several students among those “militants” reintegrating.
8‘It’s completely fake’
“It’s completely a fake process,” he says. He and his fellow reporters have had many similar experiences at other reintegration ceremonies, he says, adding that he thinks it actually hurts the peace process, “the insurgents see this sort of corruption and it strengthens their resolve not to join the government,” he says.
Now not only will Wali and his fighters receive a check for three months, the local government has also promised to try to find jobs for them. And the possibility of a development grant has inspired hopes that reconstruction projects will finally reach their area.
Given that many in Baghlan still question Wali’s involvement in the shooting, his case strikes a particular chord among Afghans who accuse the program of offering criminals a way to escape justice.
The reintegration program does offer amnesty to insurgents for actions they committed while opposing the government, however, it is not designed to offer forgiveness to common criminals.
Stories of people with questionable insurgent ties like Wali are common, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine who is telling the truth.
Nearly two years ago, a Pakistani man now believed to be an ordinary shopkeeper managed to dupe international forces into believing he was one of the top Taliban leaders, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, and he was ready to begin peace talks.
Optimistic international forces
Still, British Maj. Gen. David Hook, director of the Force Reintegration Cell for the International Security Assistance Force, says he is confident in the program and its vetting process.
Prior to reintegrating, applicants are screened at the local level and then passed along to officials in Kabul for final approval. General Hook says Afghans turn away a number of applicants, which he says is the result of a robust and effective vetting process.
“I think it would be slightly inappropriate to think that every single individual who has entered the program is actually a bona fide insurgent, but, from my view, the Afghans own the vetting process, it’s the Afghans who make the decisions, and the Afghans are comfortable that those they have in are insurgents,” says Hook. “There are occasions when individuals want to reconcile where they don’t want to admit the things that they’ve done against the government.”
The program only became nationwide in the last six or seven months, he points out. He says he expects results to improve, especially as Afghan forces take control of more areas and foreign troops withdraw, giving insurgents opposed to international forces a reason to reintegrate.
Officials say that Wali, and others like him are an important part of the peace process.
“We know that we didn’t have any threat from them. It was clear. They were ruling their area We didn’t want that, we wanted the government to do that. This is why we wanted them to reintegrate,” says Maj. Gen. Mel Alhaj Asadullah Sherzad, the chief of police in Baghlan Province. If they didn’t get Afghans like Wali who oppose the government to reintegrate, they could be used by insurgents, he says.
The race for influence
General Sherzad adds that while Baghlan has few insurgents, in the past year he managed to use the reconciliation process to regain control of an area that had fallen under militant control.
And although officials recognize that many of the hard-line Taliban and insurgents are unlikely to reintegrate with the government, they say the reintegration of even inactive insurgents like Wali is critical because they could be used by insurgents.
“If the government doesn’t go to an area, then definitely the enemy will come to that area and use it for their own purposes,” says Maulvi Sarjuddin Seerat, the head of the High Peace Council in Baghlan.
Is the Taliban ready for a role in Afghan government?
ABC Online By Tim Palmer Wednesday, August 8, 2012
TIM PALMER: After a decade at war the Taliban could now be ready to accept a role in governing a future Afghanistan, renouncing Al Qaeda, recognising the national army and constitution, and even accepting a limited American military presence.
That's the remarkable possibility raised by Professor Anatol Lieven from King's College London, after he met with former Taliban leaders, who were sounding out the West on a negotiated peace.
For anything to work the Taliban would almost certainly insist on Hamid Karzai's expulsion, and the West might also have to accept the unwinding of any social progress, in areas like women's rights.
But Professor Lieven, who joined me in the studio earlier, warns that radicals in the Haqqani Network could blow any peace process apart.
ANATOL LIEVEN: They gave a much more positive impression than we've previously had of a Taliban willingness.
Now I wouldn't say to sue for peace because the one thing they all said was the Taliban will not get engaged in anything that looks like surrender and they won't give anything up in advance.
That's why actually a Taliban spokesman has come out and denied what my colleagues and I reported from that meeting, which didn't surprise us, because we'd been told they're not going to commit themselves either to breaking with al Qaeda, or to accepting other American conditions, except as part of a comprehensive settlement in which they also get a lot of what they want.
TIM PALMER: Yes well let's look at the shape of a future peace that these ex-Taliban leaders with some insight into the current leadership suggested to you.
Essentially it seems that Mullah Omar if he would agree to some key issues the Taliban will be in it; amongst those as you say the Taliban appears to be ready to walk entirely away from Al Qaeda and also even to accept the constitution.
How clear did they make this and how surprised were you?
ANATOL LIEVEN: I wasn't surprised with their willingness to break with Al Qaeda, because we'd heard that in private before. What was quite surprising was two things; one is their willingness to accept the existing Afghan constitution, as long of course as there is some sort of national consultative process in which they're involved to formalise it; they won't accept it as it stands, because they see it as having been imposed by the Americans. Equally, they don't have a problem with the constitution.
What was even more surprising was, we were told that they would accept continued American bases, at least for a while. The agreement is til 2024 and military advisers for the Afghan army. Now I think what that brings out, on top of the acceptance of a constitution, is that the Taliban want an effective, centralised Afghan state.
TIM PALMER: Why would they want that? Having fought to break down a centralised Afghan army over the past years; why would they suddenly want that?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well two things: one is of course they want a centralised Afghan state, over which they have a large measure of control; they want a power-sharing arrangement in which they will not have exclusive power, but of course a very large measure of power.
And what they're scared of is that Afghanistan will go back to the mid-1990s; the army will break up, you'll have regional warlords, ethnic groups and a future of permanent civil war. And they actually, it seems, believe that America could help them in effect hold Afghanistan together and avoid that scenario of complete collapse and disintegration.
TIM PALMER: Of course there seems to be one element that the Taliban don't seem ready to tolerate in any future coalition and that is the leadership of the current Afghan government?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Yep. They're dead against that. They won't negotiate with Karzai, they won't recognise his legitimacy and perhaps above all, they won't participate in elections or in a constitutional assembly as long as Karzai is president, because they're afraid - with it has to be said pretty good reason, given his record - that he would rig any of those processes.
TIM PALMER: Let's look at the other threat to any potential negotiations and that of course comes from the Haqqani Network in particular, who are described at times as a Taliban affiliate. But can you chart very briefly for me the evolution of the Haqqani Network and their relation to the Taliban and to Pakistan?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well that's a key point because I have to say our interlocutors became very evasive when we asked about the Haqqanis and whether the Haqqanis would accept any peace deal that excluded Al Qaeda and involved the banishment of Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, because they Haqqanis have been much closer to Al Qaeda.
They've been for a long time now even more ideologically committed to a sort of a wahhabi line coming out of Saudi Arabia, a sort of Islamist ideological line. And getting them to accept such a deal would be difficult, equally it's difficult to see the Taliban agreeing to the Americans going on bombing the Haqqanis in order to get rid of Al Qaeda.
The Haqqanis are a cross-border clan, it's very important to note that ever since the war against the Soviets, they've had major support and major power on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, which reflects of course the fact the tribes in that area straddle the border and tribal loyalties and religious loyalties are far more important than whether you're on paper an Afghan or a Pakistani citizen.
And partly for that reason the Haqqanis now for 35 years have been sponsored by Pakistan's intelligence services. The Pakistanis are also afraid now that if they were to crackdown on the Haqqanis it would increase the rebellions against themselves amongst their
TIM PALMER: But why have the Pakistanis patronised the Haqqanis? What is the use for them of having a proxy in Afghanistan?
ANATOL LIEVEN: They're afraid that in a future civil war in Afghanistan, which they see as overwhelmingly probable, non-Pashtun groups will look to India for support and India of course is still Pakistan's great perceived enemy; and to some extent in reality as well.
The Pakistanis are terrified of an Afghanistan under an Indian influence that will essentially surround Pakistan and they feel they need the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban to a lesser extent as allies in that civil war. But it's also a way of trying to keep some of their own Pashtun tribes quiet through Haqqani influence. So those are the two reasons why they're still so closely tied.
TIM PALMER: That was Professor Anatol Lieven from King's College London. The author of "Pakistan: A Hard Country". And you can hear a longer version of that interview on this week's edition of Friday Late.
Taliban Gun Locker: The Frankengun of Wardak Province
New York Times By C. J. CHIVERS At War August 8, 2012
Almost no matter the place or the year, whenever analysts and arms researchers scrutinize infantry weapons circulating through a conflict, they encounter predictable finds. Time and again, the same items turn up: AK assault rifles, PK machine guns, RPG-7 shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons, and, depending on the region, a smattering of M-16 variants, Fabrique Nationale and Heckler & Koch weapons, and bolt-action or lever-action rifles from yesteryear. There are oddities, including homemade jobs. Often there are also stray vestigial arms from previous wars in the same region or from particular arms transfers to a government on the same soil. But most of these are outliers. Usually a researcher can write up a list of likely candidates, then check them off while working the beat.
And then there are the surprises, like the weapon in the photograph above.
What are you looking at?
This weapon, formerly in local Afghan hands, is held by Task Force Bobcat, an infantry unit in the First Armored Division at Combat Outpost Sayed Abad in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province. A previous unit confiscated it some time ago, and it has been passed to successive American military tenants rotating through. It caught the eye of the task force’s assistant intelligence officer, First Lt. Corey Young, who e-mailed photographs of it to us this summer with a note indicating that this weapon is chambered for 7.62×39-millimeter cartridges – the standard ammunition of the Kalashnikov assault-rifle line. Lieutenant Young wanted to know what it is.
He knew one thing for sure: It’s not a Kalashnikov.
So what is it?
Let’s look past that question for a moment, as a precise identification will require substantial explanation. Instead, take note of a few practical and stylistic points, as these are clues to this weapon’s lineage and say something about its previous owner’s choices, as well as about the nature and the effects of the seemingly perennial demand in Afghanistan for infantry arms – the final point of this post.
So, then, a deconstruction.
As for this weapon’s practical points for a guerrilla fighter in the Afghan war, its minimal barrel length and short sliding stock make it very concealable, in the manner of the weapon at the bottom of this post. (Concealment has been an important consideration for an Afghan carrying a weapon in recent years, as the Western forces’ rules of engagement typically require restraint against suspected foes unless a weapon is clearly seen.)
Lieutenant Young’s e-mail also noted that this weapon’s magazine well accepts the familiar magazines of the original Kalashnikov, also making this firearm a practical choice in Afghanistan, where such magazines and the associated cartridges are abundant. Because of its compatibility with the available supply, this is a weapon that could readily be kept fed.
Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that whatever this weapon is, it has been touched up and was apparently looked after by its previous owner. The hand guard has been painted in olive drab, a gesture toward camouflage. And the makeshift sling is a brighter green, a shade commonly associated with Islam and a bit of dressing up often seen in weapons confiscated from the Taliban.
But back to the question: What is it? To get closer to the answer, let’s look within. Lieutenant Young sent a photograph of the weapons’ guts, seen below, which tell us much.
The operating system is based on a gas piston and bolt assembly strongly resembling that of a Kalashnikov (though naturally shorter) and a return spring of the same clear parentage. But the weapon is otherwise not a match. Its external features borrow from other arms. Lieutenant Young noted that the selector switch (the device that lets a shooter put the weapon in its safe, semi-automatic or automatic fire modes) resembles a Czech vz. 58, another weapon that fires Kalashnikov ammunition but is not a Kalashnikov at all.
At War had its suspicions about what these indicators might mean, so we sent the images around for confirmation. Some of this blog’s sources prefer to remain off the record, but one of the blog’s most reliable friends, Jonathan Ferguson, a curator at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England, came through with an answer that can be reproduced here.
The quick version is that this weapon, a cross between an assault rifle and a submachine gun, appears to be a product of the gun shops of western Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, where gunsmiths have a long tradition of churning out idiosyncratic firearms that appropriate design elements from mainstream infantry arms.
For those who don’t know about this regional industry, one old but instructive post here includes a reprint of a 1962 article in Guns Magazine by William B. Edwards, a prominent firearms writer of his time. A BBC update from 2006 is here, with a telling opening quote: “There is nothing we cannot copy.”
Mr. Ferguson’s fuller explanation of Task Force Bobcat’s unusual weapon is below. (Those not interested in the finer points of origin may skip a few paragraphs. You’ll come to the arms-trade point.)
Your mystery piece (which reminds me of the post-apocalyptic video game Fallout) is a Pakistani “Khyber Pass” design. Whilst there are several short-barreled Russian and Chinese AK variants of this basic form factor, none resemble this in detail, and all (save the iconic AKS-74U and subvariants) are chambered for pistol cartridges. This would be a bit of a handful.
Instead, this is clearly inspired by the 5.56mm HK53 (essentially an MP5 in an assault rifle calibre) – they’ve copied the sliding stock, barrel length, pistol grip, even the basic style of flash-hider.
For comparison’s sake, the video of an HK53 below shows many of the features that Mr. Ferguson described.
Mr. Ferguson added:
As an aside, I note that the AK is of course gas-operated, the HK53 is roller-delayed blowback. The channels for the sliding stock are the rails that the rollers run on inside the gun – so with this Frankenstein’s monster “AK53,” they’ve had to mill/file solid metal channels and attach them to the outside. Far simpler would have been to utilise an existing AKS under-folder or AKS-74 side-folder stock, or to replicate either of those as we know they do. What I’m getting at is that they are aping the HK53 for style points, basically! I can’t speak to how effective the finished product might be – if they’ve spent time on getting the gas system right, there’s every chance it’s functional.
And that leads to a question: Will this weapon work? And if so, how well? Because of its barrel length and relatively small mass over all, this weapon would certainly be expected to be inaccurate beyond a very short range, and would be difficult to handle. (The weight of its apparently solid-steel receiver might offset some of its kick, to a degree.) Nonetheless, it could be a menacing enough hybrid for many insurgent uses, though not of much value in the longer-range firefights common in Afghanistan. Showing up with this for that kind of fight, against a well-trained conventional unit, would be a very good way to get dead.
But in a discussion about the arms trade, this weapon serves as a means for making a point about the intensity of the arms demand in Afghanistan, and the multiple sources for satisfying it.
Firearms are like any other product of the industrial age. With the right machines, the right work force and the right raw materials, they can be manufactured locally. These days, most people imagine military small arms as the output of specialized factories and modern bureaucracies. That is certainly true – in most cases. But before the cold war divided the planet into a pair of militarized blocs, East and West, with small arms organized around standardized cartridges and standardized firearms to fire them, arms production often rested on the work of local gunsmiths and local gun works. Pick your nation of yesteryear, and this was often how it kitted out soldiers for war. The tradition has endured here and there, though its output is less recognized and less often remarked upon than the output of the sprawling gun works and the bureaucracies that support them, right down to the brochures. (There are many curious examples of the coexistence of these two very different manufacturing processes. Even East German
y, under Communist rule and Soviet occupation, allowed some of its formerly private gunsmiths to make components for standard arms made in the centralized factory in Wiesa.)
Pakistan’s tribal frontier has retained this once international tradition, and continues to produce an array of sometimes cannily reconsidered weapons to satisfy regional demand, even as other nations import firearms in conventional patterns by the tens of thousands for distribution throughout Afghanistan.
And so Task Force Bobcat’s weapon is a reminder. Even if the arms trade into Afghanistan was more closely regulated, and excess arms were gathered up, and the inventories of state arms were more controlled, there would still be weapons moving through Afghanistan. Demand is that high. Local ingenuity is that persistent. Thus, this Frankengun.
An endnote: Task Force Bobcat’s holdings include other interesting arms as well, returning the conversation to the predictable and the familiar. Below is a solid-steel receiver Kalashnikov – an original AK-47, or a convincing reproduction – with a date stamp of 1951. If this arm is authentic (and this blog and Mr. Ferguson both thought it looked legit), it is the oldest verified Kalashnikov At War has seen in the Afghan war. Given that mass production of AK-47s did not begin until 1949, they don’t get much older or more rare than this.
Below is another staple of Afghan wars, a reworked British infantry arm from a few eras back. In this case, Mr. Ferguson said, it appears to be a Martini-Metford cavalry carbine, which would make it, if authentic, a product manufactured before World War I.
The weapon is missing its forward stock, rendering it difficult to fire, much less to fire repeatedly. But perhaps it was once wrapped in leather or cloth, which was removed before mounting. Note the makeshift sling, another testament to local scrounging and ingenuity. “The bicycle chain,” Mr. Ferguson wrote, “is a nice touch!”
The makeshift front sight? Less so. As persistent as weapons are in Afghanistan, there are still behaviors, and decisions, that are grounds for shaking your head. Not that that matters. This rifle was captured, Lieutenant Young said, from an Afghan who applied it to the task of trying to waylay a convoy. Some things do not change.
Obama and Romney are ignoring the Afghanistan war
By Jackson Diehl, The Washington Post
Here’s some news that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would like you to ignore: Tens of thousands of American soldiers are at war this summer in Afghanistan.
Though you’d never know it from listening to the candidates, U.S. Marine and Army units have been fighting hard against the Afghan Taliban across the south and east of the country. They are taking considerable casualties. In July, according to the Web site icasualties.org, 46 American and coalition troops were killed — the highest total since last September. Six more died in the first few days of August.
U.S. forces are taking hits from ambushes and roadside bombs as they struggle to secure the main highway link through Ghazni province between Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar. Others are battling the Taliban’s attempt to regain ground in and around Kandahar.
Contrary to Obama’s campaign rhetoric, the “tide of war” in Afghanistan is not “receding.” The number of insurgent attacks for the three months ending June 30 was up 11 percent over last year; in June, when 39 coalition troops died, there was an average of 110 attacks per day. Though both troop and civilian casualties are down compared to 2011, the summer fighting season is showing that, far from being defeated, the Taliban may be gaining some momentum.
Yet this may be the first presidential campaign in U.S. history in which an ongoing war fails to produce a significant debate. Explicitly or implicitly, the candidates have successfully encouraged much of the media to accept the following conventional wisdom: The war is a failure but is winding down; U.S. combat troops will be out by the end of 2014; and Obama and Romney agree on the strategy.
Yet Americans are still dying — and the strategy that the presidential candidates supposedly agree upon is far from firm. In fact, the U.S. president has a series of crucial decisions to make about the future of Afghanistan, most within 12 months of the election. And, for now at least, there’s no knowing whether Obama and Romney differ over them — because neither has given much hint of what he would do.
The first choice may come within weeks after Nov. 7: Whether reelected or not, Obama will have to consider his commanders’ recommendations on the pace of the next U.S. troop drawdown. By September, the 30,000 surge troops Obama dispatched to Afghanistan will be gone, leaving some 68,000. The question will be whether to leave those forces there through next summer’s fighting season, as favored by the generals, or order quicker withdrawals.
Obama’s history suggests that he would order more troops out before next fall: After all, he has rejected the commanders’ favored option on Afghan troop deployments twice before. Romney, for his part, has faulted Obama for not listening to his generals. But does that mean he would forgo any withdrawals next year? He’s offered no indication.
The next big presidential decision may come sometime during 2013: how many and what quality of U.S. forces to leave in Afghanistan after 2014. In principle, it’s already agreed that U.S. and NATO special forces, trainers and “enablers” will help the Afghan army secure the country. But a detailed agreement must still be worked out with the Afghan government. The Pentagon will likely seek a force in the tens of thousands, including a robust special-forces contingent. But the plan for a similar force in Iraq was shredded by the Obama White House, which first drastically reduced its size, then failed to sell it to the Iraqi government.
Would Obama do the same to the follow-on Afghan force? Would Romney decide differently? Voters are in the dark.
There will be more critical decisions: whether to fully fund Afghan security forces after 2014, and for how long; whether to support a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, and if so, whether to offer concessions to Taliban leaders to jump-start the talks; whether to overtly or covertly support a candidate in Afghanistan’s scheduled 2014 presidential election.
Perhaps most critically, the president must choose whether finally to strike against the Taliban’s enclaves in Pakistan or to allow them to remain while most Western troops pull out. That choice may determine whether the democratic regime the United States has labored to build in Kabul will survive.
No doubt Obama and Romney would find it both uncomfortable and politically unprofitable to address these questions between now and November. This is why they would like you to forget that America is at war.
Afghan Anti-Graft Chief Lodin Denies Vendetta Against Finance Minister
TOLOnews.com By Shairf Amiry Wednesday, 08 August 2012
High Office of Oversight and Anti Corruption (HOO) chief Azizullah Lodin said on Wednesday that he does not hold any kind of personal animosity towards Finance Minister Hazarat Omar Zakhilwal.
Mr Zakhilwal on Tuesday accused Dr Lodin and the HOO of conspiring against him.
"I don't have personal animosity with him," Dr Lodin told TOLOnews, refering to Mr Zakhilwal. "I haven't even talked with him for an hour. Whatever I said is according to documents."
Mr Zakhilwal is struggling to explain his finances after a TOLOnews investigation discovered that payments totalling $1.5 million had been made into his bank accounts over the past five years. He claims the money came from consultancies at the World Bank and teaching at Carlton University in Canada. However, the World Bank has denied paying the money to Mr Zakhiwal and Carlton University said his salary was only $1,000 per month - not $1,500 per day as Mr Zakhiwal claims.
Mr Zakhilwal has sent a letter to the Attorney General's Office asking for an investigation into matter. He also wants those who gave his bank account details to the media to be prosecuted. In the letter, he said that Dr Lodin has misused his position and asked that the results of investigation be published publicly.
A TOLOnews reporter was denied entry into a press conference held by Mr Zakhilwal on Tuesday, raising concerns about media freedom in the country.
Citing Taliban strife, Afghan Sikhs and Hindus ask UN for asylum
Stars and Stripes By Heath Druzin Stars and Stripes August 8, 2012
KABUL - Living in a deeply religious, overwhelmingly Muslim nation, Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have suffered their share of hardships: taunts, attacks, desecration of cremation sites, marginalization and poverty. Many possess a bottomless collection of grim tales.
Few of their stories, however, are from the five years of fundamentalist Islamic theocracy imposed by the Taliban, who made Hindus and Sikhs wear yellow badges, or even the brutal wars of the 1980s and ’90s.
It is the 11 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan that has left the community decimated by emigration and remaining members desperately trying to find a way out.
With echoes of the mass migration of Iraqi Christians, who faced violence and threats during the Iraq War, Afghan Sikhs and Hindus with the means rushed to find asylum elsewhere as the still-wobbly government in Kabul has struggled to protect one of the few religious minorities left in the country.
Now, much of the dwindling population is trying to leave en masse. On Tuesday, their leader submitted letters to the United Nations and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, asking for help finding asylum for the remaining members of the Afghan community.
“To tell you the truth, we are not as happy under [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai as we were under the Taliban,” said Awtar Singh Khalsa, leader of the All Afghan Hindu and Sikh Community Council. “In Afghanistan, killing a chicken is very hard, but killing a human is very easy. We know that if we go abroad there is respect for life, respect for our beliefs.”
Khalsa, who, like many Sikhs and Hindus here can trace his Afghan lineage back for generations, might be disappointed.
In general, those seeking refugee status must leave their country and apply for asylum in a second country, at which point that country’s government decides whether to grant their request or return them to their country of origin. Afghanistan is one of the world’s largest sources of refugees.
“Any Afghan when they have any fear of harassment and when they fear violence, they have to cross international borders,” said Mohammed Nader Farhad, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Kabul office. “In Afghanistan, legally speaking, they cannot seek asylum.”
Sikhs and Hindus have a long history of being traders and businessmen in Afghanistan. The community is far-flung, with enclaves from Helmand province in the south to Kunduz province in the far north. They are well known for selling herbal medicines for which there is a high demand among Afghan Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.
While Sikhs and Hindus have divergent religious beliefs — Sikhs believe in one god, while Hindus are polytheists — they are often lumped together by Afghans due to the common Indian origins of their faiths, and the two groups have formed a loosely knit single community, even praying together, despite their differences.
Recently, they have also been leaving together. Now, a community that numbered as many as 20,000 in the early 1990s has dwindled to roughly 3,000, many of whom stay simply because they can’t afford to leave. Many have gone to India, where the majority of the world’s Sikhs live, some of the wealthier ones have made it to Western Europe and the United States.
“The situation is better for others, but not for us,” said Tarlock Singh Jawaherzada, a Sikh who runs an herbal medicine shop in Kabul and, like most interviewed for this story, wants to leave Afghanistan. “We face discrimination, and we face threats, so life is worse for us” than before the U.S. invasion.
On a recent Friday night, there was plenty of space on the vast expanse of red carpet in the high-ceilinged prayer room of Kabul’s Dharamsal temple. Rougly 40 worshippers dotted the floor, where hundreds used to gather, as Sikh holy men led them in prayer. Netting now covers the second story windows after they were repeatedly smashed with bricks and rocks. Passers-by often yell “infidel” and other insults.
After the services, few worshippers left — knife-wielding robbers often lurk near the temple waiting for adherents to leave nighttime services, according to congregation members — preferring to sleep instead within the temple compound.
While 30 years of war have taken a toll on the community, the last decade has brought a change in Afghan attitudes, from respectful indifference to outright hostility, Khalsa said. That came to a head in the struggle to find a place in Kabul to burn their dead, the traditional funeral rites for both Sikhs and Hindus.
For more than a century, they had cremated bodies in the same area on the outskirts of town, but several years ago residents began complaining about the smell. That led to a protracted struggle to find a new place. Each time the city of Kabul would agree to a new spot, municipal officials would accompany Sikh and Hindu representatives to the area and, inevitably, residents would come out to protest, sometimes with threats of violence, Khalsa said. Then the municipal workers would flee.
One confrontation about two years ago turned violent and a Sikh was killed. Then, last year, visiting yet another prospective cremation spot, residents again confronted Khalsa’s group.
“They asked, ‘Are you Hindus from India?’ I said, ‘No, we are sons of Afghanistan,’ ” Khalsa said. “They said, ‘If you want us to serve you tea or bread, we can; if you want us to bring out our guns and bombs, we will, unless you go away.’ ”
The latest incident happened in the wake of a suicide bombing at a wedding in Samangan province, which killed more than 20 people, including a prominent Sikh. With nowhere to burn the body, community members went to their original burning place to cremate the body. When they came to collect the ashes the next day, they found that villagers had thrown stones and bricks into the ashes.
“After this I don’t feel Afghan,” Khalsa said. “It makes you give up on the country.”
Afghanistan’s deputy minister of Tribal Affairs, Yaqoob Ahmadzai, defended the government’s treatment of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. He acknowledged there have been problems with finding a cremation spot, but downplayed complaints of discrimination and threats.
“They should not feel discouraged. They should not feel they are discriminated against, because the Hindus and Sikhs are free to practice their religion,” Ahmadzai said. “Afghans are running businesses with them, living side by side and there is no problem.”
One Sikh who is encouraging her community to stay is Anar Kali Hunaryar, a senator appointed to her post one year ago by Karzai.
“I don’t agree that if you face problems and you can’t get your rights you should leave the country,” she said. “You have to struggle for your rights.”
She also downplayed the level of hostility between Sikhs and Hindus and their Muslim neighbors and cited a plan to build a township for the community, complete with schools, clinics and a market.
The project hasn’t been started, however, nor is there a timeline for it, and many Sikhs and Hindus seem fed up with too many promises unfulfilled by the government. For many, there’s no going back. Despite being sons of Afghanistan the only hopeful future they see is abroad.
“We’ve complained to the police and the government,” Khalsa said. “No one cares.”
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