[Afghan News] October 5, 2011 - 02-14-2012, 02:11 PM
By AMIR SHAH - Associated Press Wed, Oct 5, 2011.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan intelligence officials said Wednesday that they had broken up a cell that plotted to kill President Hamid Karzai, arresting six people in Kabul whom they claimed were affiliated with al-Qaida and the Haqqani militant group.
Intelligence service spokesman Latifullah Mashal said that that the cell included one of Karzai's bodyguards, as well as a professor at Kabul university and three college students.
Mashal described the cell as the "most sophisticated and educated group in Kabul," and said that it had assisted Pakistani militants sent to the Afghan capital to carry out terror attacks. He did not say when they were arrested.
He said the group, which also allegedly planned attacks in Kabul, the United States and Europe, was recruited by an Egyptian and a Bangladeshi based in Pakistan.
Afghan officials have been increasingly vocal in publicly accusing Pakistan and its ISI intelligence agency of maintaining ties with militants, including the Haqqani group. On Tuesday, they claimed that Pakistani officials had advance knowledge of the Sept. 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Pakistan has denied the charges, but the accusations have further strained relations between the two nations that share a long border.
The Haqqani militant group, a lethal threat to U.S.-led coalition forces, has been blamed by U.S. intelligence officials and others for a number of high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent years, including hotel bombings and the assault last month on the U.S. Embassy.
Mashal identified the two recruiters as an Egyptian named Sayifullah and a man from Bangladesh named Abdullah, who were based in Miram Shah, the capital of Pakistan's North Waziristan region, where the Haqqani group and other militants operate with relative freedom.
Mashal said the six Afghans were recruited "to carry out suicide attacks in Kabul, plan and coordinate bigger international attacks in the U.S. and parts of Europe and a luxury hotel in Kabul."
"They also were responsible for recruiting one of the key security guards of President Karzai's protective services. They had a plan to assassinate President Karzai maybe during his travels or trips to the provinces," the Afghan intelligence spokesman said.
He did not disclose details about attacks the cell reportedly planned in the United States or Europe.
Those arrested were:
—Dr. Emal Habib Asadullah, a medical professor and director of microbiology at Kabul University.
—Mubullah Ahmadi, who is from Karzai's hometown of Karz in southern Afghanistan. Ahmadi worked as a guard at the presidential palace.
—Rahmatullah Ramin, a fourth year medical student at Kabul University.
—Parwez, identified by only one name, who was studying at a private university in Kabul.
—Abdul Hamid Mashal, a university student.
—Abdul Bashir, a man from Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan, who was living in Kabul.
Several of the individuals received explosives and weapons training in Peshawar, Pakistan, Mashal said.
The group had access to $150,000 in a bank account in Kabul, he said, as well as access to computers and high-tech equipment. With its university ties, the cell was also well positioned to win more recruits, he said.
"The main purpose of the group was to kill high-ranking Afghan figures and identify guest houses used by foreigners or other potential targets in Kabul," he said.
Karzai has escaped at least four attempts on his life since he took power in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
In April 2008, militants opened fire with automatic weapons and rockets on a ceremony in Kabul. Karzai, ministers and ambassadors scrambled for cover and escaped unharmed, although three people were killed, including a lawmaker.
In June 2007, Taliban militants fired six rockets that landed near a school yard where Karzai was meeting with local leaders and residents in Ghazni province. No one was hurt.
In September 2004, militants fired rockets at an American helicopter taking Karzai to the eastern city of Gardez in Paktia province. The rockets missed the helicopter as it approached a landing zone.
Another attempt on Karzai's life took place in September 2002, when a former Taliban fighter dressed in an Afghan army uniform fired at him as he traveled in a motorcade in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Karzai was not hurt, but the provincial governor was wounded. The attacker was killed by Karzai's bodyguards.
Separately, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said Wednesday that a senior leader of the Haqqani network had been killed in an airstrike in the eastern part of the country.
The coalition said the militant leader, identified only as Dilawar, was killed on Tuesday in the Musa Khel district of Khost province.
Dilawar operated along the border between Khost and Paktika provinces, running weapons, moving foreign fighters and coordinating attacks on Afghan forces, the coalition said.
Afghan and NATO forces have conducted more than 530 operations this year to try to disrupt the Haqqani network, which has ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaida.
So far this year, more than 20 Haqqani leaders have been killed and more than 1,400 suspected Haqqani insurgents have been captured, the coalition said.
Karzai reassures Pakistan over India alliance
By Adam Plowright | AFP – Wed, 5 Oct, 2011
Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought Wednesday to reassure Pakistan about his country's new strategic partnership with India, which risks raising fears in Islamabad of encirclement.
The alliance sealed between Afghanistan and India on Tuesday -- the first such pact between Kabul and another country -- deepens already friendly ties and aims to boost trade, security and cultural links.
It will see India, which has given more than $2 billion in aid to the war-torn country, take a bigger role in training Afghan troops and security forces.
"Pakistan is a twin brother, India is a great friend. The agreement that we signed yesterday with our friend will not affect our brother," Karzai told an audience in New Delhi.
Indian involvement in Afghanistan is extremely sensitive because of the delicate and often deadly power games in South Asia, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch-foe meddling in what it considers its backyard.
Some observers worry that greater involvement by India will lead to a "proxy war" on Afghan soil between it and nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is accused of using militant groups to attack Indian targets.
C. Raja Mohan, senior analyst at the Centre For Policy Research think-tank in New Delhi, said Karzai's speech was clear in its message that Pakistan would need to be brought on board for peace to prevail.
It "highlights one point very clearly: that India and Afghanistan will have to find ways to deal with Pakistan," he told AFP. "Both countries are facing enormous difficulties in dealing with Pakistan."
Afghanistan and India both suspect Pakistan of supporting militant groups such as the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban, which is thought to plan attacks from across the border.
But Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Wednesday called for joint regional peace efforts.
"We all are in the same region and we want to work together for peace and prosperity in the region and I think we should work together," he said in Islamabad when asked about the India-Afghanistan alliance.
Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said Wednesday that his country's commitment to Afghanistan remained steadfast "despite persistent attacks on Indian interests engineered by forces inimical to the India-Afghan friendship."
The Afghan-Indian deal is part of Karzai's strategy of building up alliances to help stabilise his country ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces after more than a decade of fighting.
He is also in talks with the European Union, the United States and Russia.
"The signing of the strategic partnership with India is not directed against any country. It is not directed against any other entity. This is for Afghanistan to benefit from the strength of India," Karzai added.
Karzai stressed that the focus of his efforts in bringing peace to his country would now be on talking to the government in Islamabad, which he said had "unfortunately not yet received the result that we want".
The assassination of Kabul's peace envoy to the Taliban last month forced Karzai to re-examine his long-running strategy of trying to broker contacts with the Islamist militant group to open negotiations.
But relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are severely strained after Karzai accused his neighbour of playing a "double-game" because of its links to militant groups.
"We have now decided not to talk to the Taliban because we don't know their address. When we find them, we will talk to them. Therefore we have decided to talk to our brothers, our neighbours, in Pakistan," Karzai said.
Pakistan appears more isolated after India-Afghan pact
Reuters By Qasim Nauman October 5, 2011
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan, its ties with powerful ally the United States heavily strained, is looking increasingly isolated after rival India signed a wide-ranging agreement with neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan wants a major say in shaping any peace settlement in Afghanistan, where India is taking an active but low-profile approach to building influence through aid and investment.But Islamabad has alienated both the Washington and Kabul governments -- who will play a central role in any reconciliation -- because of its suspected links with militant groups fighting Western and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
On a two-day visit to New Delhi, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sealed a strategic partnership on Tuesday that spanned closer political ties to fighting terrorism.
It signals a formal tightening of links that may spark Pakistani concerns India is increasingly competing for leverage in Afghanistan.
"Suspicion will increase, but that's a negative approach," said independent Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi, referring to the Pakistani reaction to the agreement.
"Unfortunately, there is so much Indian obsession in Pakistan that with every minor Indian move, there is panic," he said.
Government spokesmen in Pakistan, which has long feared a hostile India over its eastern border and a pro-India Afghanistan on its western border, were not immediately available for comment.
The agreement with India is one of several being negotiated by Kabul, including one with the United States, that are part of an Afghan bid for greater security as NATO troops head home.
Karzai's visit comes during rising Afghan frustrations with Pakistan.
Senior Afghan officials accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of masterminding the assassination last month of Kabul's chief peace negotiator with the Taliban.
Karzai himself has said there is a Pakistani link to the killing, and investigators he appointed believe the assassin was Pakistani, and that the suicide bombing was plotted in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
India is one of Afghanistan's biggest bilateral donors, having pledged about $2 billion since the 2001 U.S. led-invasion for projects from the construction of highways to the building of the Afghan parliament.
India, which has trained a small number of officers from the Afghan National Army, is offering more security training to Afghanistan.
Even though nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have been trying to improve relations, analysts say Pakistan is desperate to minimize any Indian role in Afghanistan.
To do that, analysts say, Pakistan is looking to the Haqqani Afghan insurgent network to counter Indian sway, a strategy that infuriates Washington.
The top U.S. military officer has accused Pakistani intelligence of supporting an attack allegedly carried out by the Haqqani group, which is close to al Qaeda, on the U.S. embassy in Kabul on Sept 13.
Pakistan, which denies ties with the group, says it is committed to helping all parties secure peace in Afghanistan.
India wants to ensure that a withdrawal of U.S. troops does not lead to a civil war that spreads Islamist militancy across borders. At the same time it is closely watching Pakistan's own efforts to secure its interests in Afghanistan.
Pakistan's long ties to militant groups in Afghanistan are a constant source of concern for India.
It suspects Pakistan of involvement in several major attacks, including two bombings of its embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009, seen as warnings from Islamabad to stay away from its traditional "backyard."
Karzai and Singh also agreed to closer cooperation in the strategically key sectors of oil and gas exploration, mining and infrastructure development.
Afghanistan Favors India and Denigrates Pakistan
New York Times By JACK HEALY and ALISSA J. RUBIN October 4, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan - Fuming over what they have called the Pakistani role in exporting terrorism across the border, Afghan officials signaled on Tuesday that they had little interest, for now, in healing a rift with Pakistan, their eastern neighbor.
Two developments set the tone: In New Delhi, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan signed a wide-ranging strategic partnership with India, which Pakistan regards as its principal adversary. Mr. Karzai’s visit also underscored the growing economic and security ties between India and Afghanistan.
And here in Kabul, intelligence officials investigating the assassination of the head of Afghanistan’s peace process said that Pakistan was refusing to cooperate with their inquiry and that it had failed to crack down on Taliban leaders who, the Afghans say, planned the killing from inside Pakistan.
The moves were all but certain to draw further ire from Pakistan.
The strategic agreement signed Tuesday by Mr. Karzai and the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had been in the making for more than five months.
Perhaps most provocatively for the Pakistanis, it paves the way for India to train and equip Afghan security forces to fill what the Afghanistan government fears will be critical gaps as NATO troops leave in the years ahead. Pakistan and India, nuclear-armed neighbors, have long suspected each other’s motives in Afghanistan.
There is evidence that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, has used militant groups as proxy fighters in Afghanistan, and may have been behind the bombing of the Indian Embassy here in 2009. Pakistan has denied such accusations. But it has questioned why India opened consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Jalalabad in addition to its embassy in Kabul, suggesting that they are surveillance posts.
Over the past 10 years India has spent nearly $2 billion in aid to Afghanistan, mainly on reconstruction, road building, health clinics and an array of small development projects. India also runs a scholarship program for Afghan students, not unlike the American Fulbright program.
Wealthy Afghans often travel to India for medical treatment. The number of flights weekly from Kabul, the Afghan capital, to New Delhi has risen steadily over the past several years as young professionals journey there for training programs and trade.
Although Mr. Karzai’s trip had long been scheduled in advance, it fell at a particularly strained moment for relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, coming two weeks after a suicide bomber assassinated the head of the Afghan High Peace Council, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
His killing threw the peace process into disarray and stirred tirades against Pakistan, as officials in Parliament and Afghans in the streets of the capital accused their neighbor of fostering insurgent groups suspected of orchestrating the assassination.
Just a week before Mr. Rabbani was killed, militants from the Pakistan-based Haqqani network conducted a brazen attack against the American Embassy in Kabul, transforming the capital into a battle zone for 20 hours. Adm. Mike Mullen, the just-departed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pakistan’s spy agency had supported the attack.
Afghan investigators say the plot to kill Mr. Rabbani was hatched in the Pakistani border town of Quetta, a stronghold of the Taliban leadership. Some Afghan officials have publicly accused Pakistan’s spy agency of complicity in the killing — charges that Pakistan has rejected as baseless. On Tuesday, intelligence officials in Kabul jabbed yet another accusatory finger toward Pakistan. They said Pakistani officials had scuttled a meeting to discuss Mr. Rabbani’s assassination and would not cooperate in the investigation.
At a news conference, intelligence officials showed satellite images of Quetta, highlighting three houses with yellow circles. Those, officials said, were the homes of so-called shadow governors of the Taliban and other officials whom Pakistani security forces had not arrested.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to the latest complaints, but in a statement released a day earlier, the ministry cast doubt on “the so-called evidence” tying Pakistan’s spy agency to Mr. Rabbani’s killing.
“Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani was a great friend of Pakistan and widely respected in this country,” the statement said.
Australia's Afghan plan on track, says Smith
Karen Kissane October 5, 2011 - 10:57AM Sydney Morning Herald
Morale is high among Australian troops in Afghanistan and plans are on track for pull-out of the main military presence there in 2014, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said in London overnight.
Mr Smith had just finished a visit to the main Australian base at Tarin Kowt and was on his way to Brussels for talks with NATO and with the International Security Assistance Force. He will meet with leaders including UK defence secretary Liam Fox, Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Mr Smith said the talks would canvass the kind of presence the international community should have in Afghanistan after the responsibility for security has been handed to the Afghan army and examine the progress of the first seven provinces that have moved into that phase.
In Afghanistan he had found that “everyone on the ground in our contingent believes we have made substantial progress over the last 12 to 14 to 18 months”. The Australian military was also pleased with progress in the training and mentoring of Afghan battalions (kandaks).
Violence had fallen, he said: “The number of Taliban-instigated attacks over the last 12-month period has declined… in Afghanistan generally.”
Mr Smith said the danger from improvised explosive devices “remains real”, but that the trip confirmed his analysis “that the Taliban using the high-profile, propaganda-seeking suicide-bomb attacks reflects the fact that they haven’t been able to make up ground on the ground, literally, so they have resorted to the high-profile attacks which are obviously aimed at sapping political will in Europe and the United States”.
But he warned that the recent assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani was “a very serious blow and a setback to the very early stages of political reconciliation or rapprochement… It is no surprise that President Karzai would say that he’s now going to pursue a conversation with Pakistan rather than a conversation with the Taliban in the face of [that] assassination.
“There can’t be a successful resolution in Afghanistan without having a political settlement as well as a military or a combat or security settlement and that…has got to be supported by countries in the region, including Pakistan.”
In London, Mr Smith was briefed by the British expert heading a review into the trouble-plagued Collins submarine fleet. He said he expected an initial phase of the report to be given to him by November.
Mr Smith also spoke to the parent company of the Melbourne firm building new air warfare destroyers, a project which is running 12 months behind schedule.
US thinking post-2014 in Afghan bases talks
AFP By Katherine Haddon 04/10/2011
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Boasting everything from a Pizza Hut to a massage parlour, Bagram Airfield is one of the giant military bases in Afghanistan at the centre of a fierce debate over the US presence after troops withdraw.
A decade after the war started on October 7, 2001, Washington has vowed to pull all combat forces out by the end of 2014 but is locked in tricky negotiations with Kabul over a strategic partnership beyond this date.
While the US insists it does not want permanent bases in Afghanistan, some Afghans are suspicious of its motives and believe it is putting down long-term roots at bases like Bagram, home to 30,000 troops and contractors.
Others, though, say a strong US presence beyond 2014 is vital to support the fragile, war-torn country in years to come.
"If they want to have military bases, it will do nothing for us," said Abdul Jamil Tanha, a 20-year-old student in Kabul.
"Instead, attacks will increase in our country. As a result, innocent Afghans get killed and they will suffer, not the foreigners."
Speaking to a private meeting in Kabul recently, President Hamid Karzai said the talks were now at a very sensitive stage.
He said the US was currently rejecting five key Afghan demands -- US troops operating within Afghanistan's legal framework; the suspension of all unilateral foreign military operations; the suspension of foreign forces taking prisoners and the closure of all foreign-run prisons; what he deemed sufficient funding for the Afghan security forces and channelling all foreign funding through the Afghan government.
Asked if there was a risk that the US would lose interest in his country, Karzai said: "No, don't you worry about that. They won't leave Afghanistan."
Comment from the US side has been more measured.
US ambassador to Kabul Ryan Crocker said last month that the two sides were "in a negotiation and in a negotiation, each side asks for the world and then we compromise somewhere in the middle."
A US defence official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue said arrangements post-2014 would probably involve "shared facilities."
He added that the US would likely look to help Afghan security forces with intelligence sharing, air power and logistics beyond 2014.
Another US administration official said that the US and Afghanistan had a "shared understanding of the broad outlines of this proposal" but stumbling blocks remained, including the extent of US support for Afghan security forces.
Afghanistan's army and police are rapidly increasing in size ahead of the 2014 drawdown, when they will take control of security across the country.
They are due to total 352,000 by November next year, from 190,000 in late 2009, as part of a training mission whose budget is $11.6 billion this year alone.
One point of comparison for the future of US troops in Afghanistan could be Iraq, where US combat operations ended last year but 43,500 troops remain in training and advisory roles.
The agreements governing the US-Iraqi relationship, which also stress that the US does not seek permanent bases, were part brokered by Crocker.
Despite the hitches, many Afghans want a long-term partnership with the US, partly as a bulwark against Afghanistan's historically problematic relationship with neighbours such as Pakistan, accused by Karzai and others of supporting the Taliban-led insurgency.
"Having a longer-term strategic partnership with the United States and with the world will help Afghanistan because we have not a good experience with being influenced by our neighbouring countries," said Fawzia Kufi, a prominent female Afghan lawmaker.
"The people of Afghanistan are fed up with those influences so we want to have a stronger partnership with the world."
Afghanistan's neighbours are wary of a deal, most importantly Pakistan, which is split on the prospect of a longer-term US presence.
"They're here to stay. It's sort of a Catch-22," a Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
While there would be no peace until the US left Afghanistan, "we feel if they up and leave now, Afghanistan will erupt into civil war so we don't want them to leave" until Afghanistan has a government acceptable to all ethnicities, he added. Pakistan believes this would bring greater stability.
Although Afghan efforts to make peace with the Taliban are now up in the air after the assassination of peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani, a deal on the long-term US presence in Afghanistan will also have implications for any future negotiations.
"Without the prospect of... an enduring American presence, the Taliban would have little incentive to negotiate rather than just wait the United States and NATO out," a recent study from US think-tank the RAND Corporation said.
"On the other hand, American and Afghan officials should also be making clear... that any such accord between Kabul and Washington is subject to amendment, depending on the outcome of a peace process."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force says the fate of Bagram plus the handful of other foreign bases in Afghanistan the size of an American town is not clear.
But Bagram's extensive facilities plus construction of new roads and accommodation suggest it is unlikely to be closed down anytime soon.
What has 10 years in Afghanistan accomplished?
Associated Press BY KATHY GANNON Wednesday, October 5, 2011
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Asif Khan sits on a dirty, once-white blanket in an abandoned cinema and fights back tears of desperation.
He can't find a job for his eldest son, who "even knows computers," without paying a bribe. He can't afford uniforms, books or pencils for his nine daughters to go to school. And so they all live with him in the old cinema, where mangled rebar dangle like tentacles from the ceiling and a cold wind whips through windows with no glass.
It's a long way from the optimism Khan felt when he returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan after the U.S. defeated the Taliban in 2001. Now, he says, "I have no hope."
As the U.S. and NATO mark 10 years of war in Afghanistan on Friday, a grim picture emerges from scores of interviews over six months across the country with ordinary Afghans, government officials, soldiers, and former and current Taliban, along with recent data. The difference between the often optimistic assessment of U.S. generals and the reality on the ground for Afghans is stark.
There are signs of progress -- an important one is that schools are open. More than 6 million children are in school today, according to the United Nations. During the Taliban, girls were denied schooling, and before that most schools were closed because of fighting. The media also is flourishing, with several newspapers, weekly magazines and 10 television channels in operation.
But for Afghans, it has been a decade of one step forward and two steps back.
Afghanistan is failing in two major areas in particular: Security and good government. Violence has gone up this year with increasingly brazen attacks, and has spread to the once-peaceful north of the country. And widespread corruption is bedeviling attempts to create a viable Afghan government and institutions to take over when the U.S. and NATO leave in 2014.
"You know right now we have no idea who to be afraid of. We are afraid of everyone. Every street has its own ruler, own thugs," said Rangina Hamidi, the daughter of Kandahar mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi. "I don't feel safe going out of my house. To be honest I have no idea what will happen."
Just months after Hamidi spoke with the AP, her father was killed in a suicide bombing.
Recent portrayals of the Afghan war by U.S. generals have been cautiously positive. International forces released data last month saying violent attacks are down. The generals claim they have gained back land in the south, and that the morale of the Taliban is sinking.
"We ... have wrested the momentum from the enemies. ... It is clear that you (international forces) and our Afghan partners are putting unprecedented pressure on the enemies of a free and peaceful Afghanistan," CIA Director David Petraeus said in a July speech, while he was still commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
But other reports challenged Petraeus' assessments. The International Crisis Group, based in Brussels, reported in August that more districts are in fact coming under Taliban control, as the insurgency spreads to areas seen until recently as safe.
Poll after poll shows that the biggest issue for Afghans is the lack of security. Even in southern Kandahar, the former Taliban headquarters where the U.S. generals claim to have made progress, violence is a part of life.
Ehsanullah Khan, who has run an education center for girls and boys in southern Kandahar for the last six years, says his life is constantly in danger. It's not just the Taliban, but ultraconservative government officials, tribal elders, even his neighbors who object to girls going to school. Khan says he will be killed if he leaves Kandahar, and is unsafe even within the city. "I play hide and seek," he said. "Where is the security in this country? Where is freedom?"
There were 2,108 clashes and other violent incidents per month for the latest quarter, up 39 percent from the same period last year, according to the United Nations. And last year was the deadliest of the war for international troops, with more than 700 killed.
As U.S. marks war milestone, Taliban may be lying low
McClatchy Newspapers By Jonathan S. Landay Tuesday, October 4, 2011
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - When the muezzins' calls summon the faithful of Afghanistan's second largest city to morning prayers, the senior cleric remains inside the crumbling walls of an old army base, sitting at the microphone of a low-power radio station that's become his pulpit.
"I am so much under threat that I can't walk on the street," said Maulawi Ubaidullah Hikmat, the head of Kandahar Province's official Islamic council, who beams daily sermons over a 1,000-watt transmitter, protected by a solitary bodyguard. "I can't even preach in my own mosque."
Hikmat's fear — driven by a Taliban murder campaign that's killed hundreds of Afghan officials, clerics, tribal elders and others affiliated with the U.S.-backed government — contrasts sharply with the Obama administration's assertion of "great progress" 10 years after the Oct. 7, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
As he tries to wind down the longest war in U.S. history, President Barack Obama says his strategy has turned the tables on the Taliban and allowed U.S. combat forces to begin withdrawing. But many Afghan officials and ordinary people counter that the insurgents are merely lying low, waiting out the U.S. drawdown, and worry that U.S. policy is turning the clock back to the civil war that was convulsing their country at the time of the invasion.
"How can they say there is security here?" asked Zmari Khan, a Kandahar city police chief and a survivor of four assassination attempts by Taliban suicide bombings. The attacks scarred his body, blew off fingers and toes and rendered his left arm useless.
"There is no option for me," he said. "I am killing them (the Taliban) or they will kill me. We have been betrayed by everybody."
U.S. officials and commanders argue that last year's surge of 33,000 U.S. soldiers, intensified U.S. and Afghan night raids and larger, better-trained Afghan security forces have turned the tide against the Taliban in their southern heartland and brought relative stability to areas long under their sway.
"We have reversed the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan," Obama declared to Congress in a Sept. 30 letter accompanying his latest status report on the war.
After 1,800 U.S. soldiers dead, some 13,000 wounded and more than $444 billion in costs — not to mention an economically battered electorate at home that's increasingly opposed to the war — Obama on June 22 announced the start of the U.S. combat troop pullout. The surge troops are to be gone by next summer, and Afghan forces are to assume full responsibility for security by the end of 2014.
"The insurgents' ability to control territory has diminished" and they are "losing ground," Assistant Defense Secretary Michele Flournoy assured a Sept. 23 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
On the surface, that assessment seemed accurate during a recent visit to Kandahar city and surrounding areas — where the hard-line Islamic movement began in 1994 — by a McClatchy correspondent wearing Afghan garb and accompanied by a translator and a driver.
Districts where it once was too dangerous to drive were thick with traffic. Local bazaars appeared to be thriving. Schools were open. Gaggles of young men splashed in irrigation canals to escape the broiling heat. Fields brimmed with eggplants, melons and other crops.
"Now, it's totally different," said Shah Mohammad Ahmadi, the governor of Arghandab, a district of 150,000 people, rich with orchards and vineyards, that for several years saw some of the war's bloodiest fighting. "Now we have access to all of the villages and the villages have access to us."
But Ahmadi works inside a fortress-like combat outpost manned by U.S. and Afghan troops. He echoed warnings by other officials and ordinary Afghans that the security gains in Kandahar and neighboring Helmand Province, another Taliban stronghold, were superficial.
"I've told the Americans many times that they need to stay longer," Ahmadi said. "If they leave, we will lose all of our gains for the last 10 years."
Afghans say that the Taliban — unable to prevail in conventional battles against the stronger, high-tech U.S. forces — have resorted to guerrilla tactics of roadside and suicide bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. The attacks have eroded public trust in the government of President Hamid Karzai and fueled U.S. opposition to the war.
"Where is the weakness of the Taliban? Even with two men, they can shake the province. Why are the Americans saying the Taliban is weak?" asked Haji Toorjan, a former low-level insurgent commander. "Look how the Russians were defeated here. They were defeated by guerrilla warfare."
Toorjan is among only about 150 militants in the south who have surrendered this year under a U.S.-backed amnesty program, according to a U.S. military document obtained by McClatchy. The insurgents maintain shadow local and provincial governments across the country, and when members are killed or captured in night raids, they're quickly replaced, often by younger, more radical militants, according to some Afghan officials and independent experts.
The insurgency's top leaders, meanwhile, are biding their time in sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, supported by Pakistan's army-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, waiting for the U.S. troops to leave, according to Afghan and U.S. officials. Pakistan denies the allegations.
"The Pakistani goal is that they don't want Afghanistan developed or peaceful," said Maulvi Noor ul Aziz, a veteran mid-level Taliban commander who surrendered earlier this year because of what he charged was a growing Pakistani role in the insurgency.
"A peaceful Afghanistan is not in the interests of Pakistan, because there would be no more aid money from the United States sent to Pakistan," he said.
Some Afghans expressed little confidence that their forces could replace the U.S. surge troops.
"The ANA (Afghan National Army) just sit in their posts and don't come out," complained Sardar Mohammad, 24, as he sat with other villagers in a field next to piles of purple eggplants they'd just harvested. "They won't bother with what is going on in the villages."
The men complained that village guard units known as "arbaki" — recruited, trained and armed under a U.S.-funded program extolled as a success by American military commanders — are resorting to extortion and robbery, creating new recruits for the insurgents or forcing victims to flee.
One man, Shah Wali, recounted how an arbaki threatened to plant explosives near his house and tell U.S. forces that he was an insurgent unless Wali paid him 50,000 afghanis — about $1,150. Worried that if he bowed to the blackmail the arbaki would double the sum, Wali fled his village and came to Kandahar.
Many local officials and Afghans are deeply afraid that the U.S. troop drawdown will reignite the devastating civil war between the Taliban, who are dominated by the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, and the Northern Alliance, a coalition of mainly ethnic minorities whose leaders now control key government posts.
They worry that Pakistan — obsessed with preventing Afghanistan from falling under the influence of its foe and regional superpower, India — will step up support for the Taliban. India, determined to stop Pakistan from turning Afghanistan into a sanctuary for Islamic militants who've killed hundreds of its citizens, could respond by backing the minorities as it did before the U.S. invasion, raising the danger of a direct clash between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Senior U.S. officials seldom discuss it, but they also see the threat of renewed civil war. On Sept. 22, in his final testimony to a congressional committee before retiring as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen warned: "If we continue to draw down forces at pace while ... public and systemic corruption is left unchecked, I believe we risk leaving behind a government in which we cannot reasonably expect the Afghans to have faith.
"At best, this would lead to localized conflicts inside the country. At worst, it could lead to government collapse and civil war."
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, insisted in an Aug. 13 interview that "we are not going to repeat 1990," when the United States disengaged from Afghanistan at the end of the 1979-89 Soviet occupation. That policy contributed to the Taliban takeover in 1996, which paved the way for al Qaida's arrival.
Crocker said that the United States envisions "a strategic relationship" with Afghanistan "as far as the eye can see." But that's hardly comforting to Haji Khallar Khan, one of many tribal elders from around the province who have fled to Kandahar city to escape assassination by the Taliban.
"In my district, only the district office and a U.S. base are safe, yet they are still fired on," said Khan, a local council member from Maiwand, a district bordering Helmand Province. "You can't go anywhere else without security. In the bazaar, in the shops, the Taliban just sit there. The Americans don't recognize them."
U.S. Secretly Met Afghan Militants
Outreach to Vilified Haqqani Network, Blamed for Recent Upsurge in Violence, Signals New Approach in Effort to End War
Wall Street Journal By MATTHEW ROSENBERG OCTOBER 5, 2011
WASHINGTON - U.S. officials this summer secretly met with leaders of the deadly Haqqani network, the Afghan militant group closely tied to al Qaeda, in an effort to draw them into talks on winding down the war.
Washington has publicly scorned the group, which is blamed with bringing a new level of violence to the Afghan insurgency and is at the center of the deteriorating U.S. relationship with Pakistan.
Pakistan and U.S. officials said the push to draw the Haqqanis into talks has yielded little. The U.S. says Haqqani fighters were responsible for a 20-hour assault last month on the U.S. Embassy and the nearby North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Kabul.
The Haqqani network is regarded by American officials as an irredeemably violent militant and criminal network tied to al Qaeda and supported by the Pakistani intelligence service. Haqqani fighters are regularly targeted by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. U.S. officials have long said they were beyond reconciliation.
But the behind-the-scenes American effort reflects the growing realization that a military campaign alone won't bring the Haqqanis to heel—and that compromises are needed to wind down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials had already reached that conclusion about the Taliban—saying that losses on the battlefield would drive Taliban leaders to the negotiating table.
"We've got no illusions about what the Haqqanis ultimately are," said a senior U.S. official said. But the "war is going to end with a deal. That's what we're trying to make inevitable. The more parties involved in talking, that's probably going to make for a better deal."
The official declined to discuss the talks with the Haqqanis, describing them as "early and not very well defined."
That also describes the wider peace effort, which has moved in fits and starts over the past two years, making little overall progress. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given up on negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan officials said Sunday, after the assassination of his top peace envoy, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
The senior U.S. official said there had been at least one meeting over the summer between U.S. officials and Haqqani representatives. The meeting was set up by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, a fact that the Americans said confirmed thier suspicions of Pakistani ties to the Haqqanis.
The meeting took place as the Haqqanis were stepping up attacks in and around Kabul, but before their most high-profile strike to date, the assault on the U.S. Embassy, which began on Sept. 13. The assault made the effort to talk to the Haqqanis more difficult, but the effort to get a peace process going hasn't been abandoned, officials said.
The State Department wouldn't comment directly on outreach to the Haqqanis. Spokesman Mark Toner, citing previous comments by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said: "We have a broad range of contacts across Afghanistan and the regionthese contacts are preliminary in nature."
A Pakistani official said Islamabad began facilitating contacts with the Haqqanis late last year and set up the meeting this summer in a Persian Gulf country. The Afghan government didn't take part.
The U.S. wouldn't identify the participants; the Pakistani official said the insurgents were represented by one of the brothers of the main leader of the network, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Mr. Haqqani told the BBC in an interview published on Monday that "not only Pakistan, but other Islamic countries, and other non-Islamic countries, including America, contacted us and they are still doing so."
Mr. Haqqani said the U.S. asked him to break with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and join Mr. Karzai's government, but the overtures were rebuffed, according to the report.
The Haqqanis are one of the most potent forces in the Afghan war. One U.S. defense official called them "world-class fighters, whether we like it or not."
The U.S. diplomacy diverges from the drone strikes and special-forces raids the Americans have used against the Haqqanis for much of the past three years.
U.S. officials have berated Pakistan for not attacking the faction's sanctuaries in the tribal areas on the Afghan border. Pakistan argues it lacks the resources to do so.
Pakistan for years denied U.S. accusations it aids or abets the Haqqanis, and the increasingly public dispute is now straining ties, with U.S. lawmakers threatening to cut aid and military officials in both countries pointing fingers.
The American outreach is the latest chapter in a relationship between Washington and the Haqqanis that stretches back to the Afghan Mujahedeen's fight against the 1979 Soviet invasion of their country.
The network's founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was one of the main mujahedeen commanders backed by the U.S. and Pakistan.
He went on to join the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from the mid-1990s until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. He then took refuge in Pakistan's tribal areas and, after an aborted American attempt to lure him to their side, took up arms against his old backers.
Officials are now trying to discern just what shape stalled peace efforts will take, the senior U.S. official said.
Options include talks between Afghans and the Taliban, with the U.S. observing; Pakistan playing a direct role; or the Haqqanis having a seat separate from the Taliban. "Anyone who tells you they know what shape the process is taking doesn't know what they're talking about," another U.S. official said.
Top Pakistani officials have alluded to the U.S. contacts with the Haqqanis in recent statements responding to American accusations they support the group.
In one tart statement last month, military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the U.S. "knows fully well which countries are in contact with the Haqqanis. Singling out Pakistan is neither fair nor productive."
A senior Pakistani military officer said Gen. Kayani was referring to the U.S. —Zahid Hussain in Washington and Tom Wright in New Delhi contributed to this article.
Pakistan to cooperate in Rabbani's murder probe: spokesperson
ISLAMABAD, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan has rejected claims that it had refused to help Afghan investigators looking into the assassination of Afghan peace council head Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Speaking to Express TV late last night, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that Pakistan remained committed to the offers made by the prime minister while on a brief visit to the Afghanistan following the murder of Pakistan's "dearest friend".
She said that there was no truth in the reports circulating in mainstream media that Pakistan had refused to cooperate with Afghan investigators in Pakistan. Afghan intelligence officers who are investigating the assassination of Rabbani had said that they had documentary evidence which linked the murderers to the Quetta Shura based in Balochistan's capital, which is the largest province of the country.
On Tuesday, Afghan National Security head Mohammad Yasin Zia said that Pakistan had communicated its regret over not being able to extend further cooperation over the subject of Rabbani's assassination in the media. "Today we received a message from the embassy of Pakistan saying that since this issue has arisen in media, we cannot cooperate and we apologise for that," said Zia, deputy head of the National Directorate of Security.
Senior Haqqani Network Leader Killed in Afghan Airstrike
VOA News October 5, 2011
The NATO-led force in Afghanistan says a senior leader from the al-Qaida linked Haqqani network was killed in an airstrike in southeastern Khost province near the border with Pakistan.
The militant, known only as Dilawar, was killed Tuesday during the strike in the Musa Khel district. A statement says two of his associates were also killed in the strike.
NATO says Dilawar was a "principal subordinate' to Haji Mali Khan, the main leader of the Haqqani network in Afghanistan. It says he died exactly one week following Khan's capture.
The alliance accuses Dilawar of working with Khan to plan attacks against Afghan and coalition forces along the border area. The statement adds that he was also responsible for facilitating the movement of foreign fighters and weapons in the area.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP.
5 insurgents killed, 41 wounded in Afghanistan
KABUL, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) -- Afghan security forces, backed by NATO-led Coalition forces, have eliminated five insurgents and injured 41 others during military operations in different parts of the country over the past 24 hours, Afghan Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.
"Afghan National Police (ANP) in collaboration with Afghan National Army (ANA) and Coalition Forces launched 12 joint and independent operations in surrounding areas of the Laghman, Parwan, Kunduz, Sar-e-Pul, Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul, Wardak and Ghazni province killing five armed insurgents and injuring 41 other armed insurgents over the last 24 hours," the ministry said in a statement, providing daily operational updates.
A total of 27 other suspected insurgents were arrested by joint forces in the same period of time, it said.
ANP also discovered and confiscated five AK-47 assault rifles, one BM-1 bullet, four different types of weapons, five heavy weapons, 11 anti-vehicle mines, one hand grenade, 16kg Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), two pistols and two motorbikes, during the mentioned operations, the statement added.
Separately, Afghan National Police arrested four insurgents who were involved in terrorist and destructive attacks in surrounding areas of the Panjwaie District of southern Kandahar province on Tuesday, according to statement.
Afghan officials often use the word "insurgents" referring to the Taliban militants.
However, the militant group, who launched in May this year spring offensive against Afghan and NATO forces, has yet to make comments.
Pakistan: With Friends Like These…
By Peter Tomsen World Policy Journal
It was 4 a.m. on June 23, 2001, and a few distant stars punctured the darkness above the Uzbek city of Samarkand. I stepped out into the night, leaving the lobby of a concrete, Stalinist-era hotel, accompanied by Abdul Haq, an Afghan Pashtun leader in the anti-Taliban resistance. At his invitation, I was accompanying Haq to his meeting with northern Tajik Commander Ahmed Shah Masood to discuss a strategy to end the long Afghan war.
We climbed into a waiting SUV, along with Haq’s bodyguard and American businessman James Ritchie, a friend of Haq. The driver headed east, toward Dushanbe, the capital of neighboring Tajikistan, a 12-hour drive away. We were scheduled to hold two days of meetings in Dushanbe with Masood, known as “the Lion of the Panjshir,” after the valley from which he hailed in northern Afghanistan. Haq looked forward to enlisting Masood’s cooperation in his plan to overthrow the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime in Kabul. He hoped Masood would help rally the anti-Taliban centers around the country to replace the Taliban regime with an inter-ethnic Afghan coalition under the political leadership of Zahir Shah, the one-time Afghan king who lived in exile in Rome. Haq’s plan was sound. No ethnic group in Afghanistan comprised a majority of the population. All demanded a seat at the table and were well armed. Haq said he wanted me along to reinforce his effort to bring Afghans together. Moderate pluralism, he said, not Taliban totalitarianism, was the Afghan way.
Masood greeted us warmly in his living room at his Dushanbe home. Nine years had elapsed since we last met in his sprawling Ministry of Defense office in Kabul, before the Taliban came to power. The crevices in his face were now longer and deeper.
Masood had arrived only an hour before us, flying by helicopter directly from a battlefield in Afghanistan. He described how his forces beat back a 10-day Taliban offensive against his northern redoubt near the Tajikistan border. The battle had just ended that morning. His spies in Pakistan and at the Pakistani army’s headquarters in Konduz, west of the battle lines, had briefed him on the offensive beforehand. Pakistani military officers, he said, directed the Taliban attack. Masood told us the name of a Pakistani general commanding the offensive and identified some of the specific Pakistani army units participating in the operation. He claimed a force comprised of 25,000 Pakistani army soldiers and Pakistani religious students were fighting alongside a horde of Taliban fighters, Osama bin Laden’s two Arab brigades, and 300 Uzbek militants. The Pakistani officers, not the Taliban, planned and implemented the annual offensives launched under the Taliban’s name. Masood complained that, first, the Afghan people had been subjected to the 1979 Soviet invasion from the north. Now they faced a second invasion, this one by Pakistan from the south.
The following day, Haq and Masood agreed to coordinate their anti-Taliban activities and support the creation of an Afghan government-in-exile headed by Zahir Shah. It would include all the principal groups who opposed Taliban rule. Back at the American embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, I prepared three classified cables on the meeting. I acknowledged the obstacles the two moderate-nationalist Afghan commanders would face, but wrote that their strategy had a better chance of driving the Taliban and al-Qaida from Afghanistan than any American strategy I had seen. The plan was to be Afghan-led and implemented by Afghans.
The plan encountered a cool if not hostile reception in Washington. Like the Clinton administration before it, the George W. Bush administration had been deluded into believing that Pakistan remained a reliable ally in fighting terrorism and stabilizing Afghanistan—even while Pakistan’s army and its military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), were coordinating with international Muslim terrorists like al-Qaida, Pakistani religious parties, and Pakistani Islamic militant groups to turn Afghanistan into a springboard for radical Islam.
From 1993 to September 11, 2001—in perhaps one of the greatest blunders in American diplomatic history—the United States government outsourced America’s Afghan policy to Pakistan, which meant to the Pakistani military and the powerful ISI. American policy was, in practice, giving free rein to the fox in the chicken coup. The unholy alliance of the ISI, al-Qaida, and Taliban radicals burrowed into Afghanistan. While bin Laden launched global terrorist attacks against the United States, Pakistan’s military and the ISI organized, armed, and supplied the annual military offensives besieging Masood’s northern enclave. American ignorance of Pakistan’s radical Islamist course in Afghanistan reinforced the isolation of the most successful Afghan commander fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Less than three months after the Dushanbe meeting, in the quiet, early morning hours of September 9, 2001, in northern Afghanistan, Masood and an Afghan friend were reading aloud poems written by the popular 14th century Persian poet Hafez. His friend grew uncomfortable when the poems referred to premonitions of imminent death. One poem ended, “You must value this night sitting and talking, because in the days to come this night will not be repeated.”
Later that afternoon, two al-Qaida assassins, posing as journalists, detonated explosives hidden inside a munitions belt and a camera, killing Masood and his press spokesman. On October 26, 2001, the ISI-linked Taliban Interior Minister, Abdul Razak, brutally murdered Abdul Haq as he attempted to reach his tribal village in Afghanistan to lead a rebellion against the Taliban. Within six months of their Dushanbe meeting, the two most formidable Afghan enemies of al-Qaida and the Taliban were dead.
The pernicious alliance of the ISI, the Taliban mullahs, al-Qaida, and Pakistani religio-terrorist organizations viewed moderate-nationalist Afghans like Haq and Masood as the main obstacles to transforming tribal Afghanistan into a radical Islamic state. They schemed to transform the war wracked country into a platform to carry their radical Sunni ideology into Muslim Central Asia, the Middle East, and beyond. Then as now, targeted assassinations of real and potential Afghan moderate leaders were key elements in their strategy. In the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s, scores of anti-Taliban Afghan tribal leaders, commanders, and politicians, including President Hamid Karzai’s father, were gunned down in broad daylight on Pakistani streets. Not one assassin was ever arrested, much less tried and convicted. The assassinations advanced their goal of establishing Islamabad’s hegemony in Afghanistan.
The army’s massive covert support for radical Sunni Islamist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan had three primary goals. The first was to maintain the military’s domination of the Pakistani state by suppressing the nation’s two secular democratic parties. The second sought to forge a broader Islamist bloc of Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and eventually Central Asia to balance India, Pakistan’s traditional rival. Finally, Pakistan’s generals hoped to secure a leading position for Pakistan in the Muslim world.
Until 9/11, Washington at best misunderstood, and at worst turned a blind eye to, Pakistan’s covert military role in the ascendency of radical Islam in Afghanistan. American support of anti-Taliban Afghans and pressure on Pakistan could have encouraged the mobilization of moderate Afghan groups to overthrow the Taliban and restore the pluralistic, modernizing Afghan state that existed before the 1978 communist coup. Instead, American intelligence agencies and diplomats failed to uncover the depth of ISI’s clandestine support of the Taliban and al-Qaida’s expansion into Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan.
Washington’s policy during the 1990s, in effect, buttressed Pakistan’s destructive strategy in Afghanistan and on global terrorism. Washington’s acceptance of Pakistan’s claim that it was working with the United States added up to an “if we win, we lose” strategy. “Not one bullet” was going to the Taliban from Pakistan, ISI Director Nasim Rana told U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in February 1996. This was a blatant lie. Later, Presidents Clinton and Bush naively pressed Pakistan to help bring bin Laden to justice after al-Qaida bombed two American embassies in Africa in 1998 and the destroyer USS Cole in the Port of Aden in Yemen in 2000. At the time, the ISI was cooperating with bin Laden to train thousands of international jihadists in Afghanistan. According to the 9/11 Commission, the United States learned that retired ISI chief General Hamid Gul leaked to the Taliban and al-Qaida when to expect (or not to expect) American cruise missile strikes. Gul was a “private sector” ISI cutout—a middle-man implementing the ISI agenda through Taliban leaders and bin Laden, whom he knew well.
Washington’s Pakistan policy remained on automatic pilot as coalition forces moved into Afghanistan after 9/11. The Taliban and al-Qaida suffered numerous casualties but their top leaders and most of their foot soldiers merely retreated back across the border to their old sanctuaries inside Pakistan. It took about three and a half years for the ISI to rebuild the Taliban and other radical units and send them back into Afghanistan. That strategy exactly mirrored the ISI strategy from 1994 to 1998, when the ISI organized, armed, and sent thousands of Taliban, Pakistani, and other extremists into Afghanistan to overthrow the Mujahidin government in Kabul.
When major Taliban counterattacks resumed in 2005, there was no Afghan army to oppose them, only unreliable warlords paid by the U.S. military and CIA. The United States had shifted its attention and forces to Iraq. A March 2002 report by an inter-agency team led by U.S. army Major General Charles Campbell recommended the immediate resuscitation of the Afghan army, starting with an 18-month crash program to train 26 battalions. The report was pigeon-holed. In the absence of an Afghan army, the Pentagon responded to the Taliban resurgence by deploying more and more coalition troops, a trend that peaked at around 140,000, including 98,000 Americans, by the end of 2010. The troop buildup went against Haq and Masood’s views that Afghan, and not foreign soldiers, should do the fighting and dying to defend Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s recent advances in Afghanistan look distressingly like the 1990s, when the ISI’s Taliban allies had infiltrated Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt, pushing into the west and north, threatening the Kabul region. Since 9/11, assassins operating from protected safe havens in Pakistan have systematically killed most of the moderate Afghan commanders who fought with Masood and Haq in the Soviet-Afghan war. The victims have included Haq’s brother, Afghan Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir, and northern police chief General Mohammed Daoud Daoud. In July 2011, Taliban assassins killed President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother Ahmed Wali and Commander Jan Mohammad, who had helped Karzai capture Kandahar from the Taliban in December, 2001.
So far, there have been three Taliban-led attempts to assassinate Karzai, one which I personally witnessed in Kandahar in September 2002. A Taliban agent inside the governor’s security force walked up to Karzai’s vehicle and fired at him through the rear window. Pandemonium ensued. Roadside crowds scattered in all directions. The U.S. Navy Seals protecting the president fired back, killing the assassin in a hail of bullets.
Pakistan’s military strategists have been able to use their Taliban proxies to regain, a decade later, much of the foothold in Afghanistan they lost during the first October to December 2001 American military intervention. Even after the spectacular May 2011 raid that killed bin Laden in an army garrison town (without alerting Pakistan’s military about the operation), Pakistan’s leaders, civilian as well as military, are still fielding shop-worn tactics to preempt a tougher American response to Islamabad’s proxy war strategy. Their often not terribly subtle tactics include plausible denial, cultivation of friendly CIA and U.S. military constituencies in Washington, sham promises that a major shift in Pakistan’s policies is finally coming, warnings that Pakistan may play the China card against Washington, and bogus claims that the United States needs to make up for past “betrayals” of Pakistan. Each of these ruses, and a few more, are little changed from the time I was American special envoy to the Afghan resistance 20 years ago. The Pakistani army’s preposterous claim that it did not know the world’s most wanted terrorist was hiding inside a large residential compound near Pakistan’s national military academy is just the latest example.
The impressive handling of the successful bin Laden raid in May 2011 and the withholding of $800 million of aid for Pakistan in July signal a more transparent, candid, and tougher American approach to Pakistan, shorn of past pretenses that Islamabad was a reliable ally in Afghanistan and in the struggle against terrorism. The current downward spiral in U.S.-Pakistani relations is partly driven by the exposure of this myth.
The silver lining in the current downturn of U.S.-Pakistani relations is that the cold realities dividing Washington and Islamabad for over two decades are now emerging publicly. Some American commentators are referring to Pakistan as a “frenemy.” Public opinion polls in Pakistan cast America in an even worse light. But, the unpleasant realities propelling the downturn should no longer be pretended away but addressed frankly, as Washington has long done with China. Conditions as they actually exist should form the foundation for dialogue between the two countries. The new direction in U.S.-Pakistan relations must pragmatically attempt to reduce differences and enlarge areas of agreement, to build up the “friend” side and minimize the “enemy” dimension of the equation.
For its part, the United States should not be timid about publicly discussing the ISI’s record of sponsoring terrorist networks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan networks that the ISI created in the late 1980s and the 1990s and have fostered inside Pakistan are the main source of the Islamist terrorism ripping apart Afghanistan and threatening the United States and its allies. Three ISI connected Pakistani religio-terrorist organizations—Lashkar-i Taiba, Jaish-i Mohammad and Harakat ul Mujahidin—are on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The three ISI-supported Afghan terrorist groups keeping Afghanistan in a state of continuous war are the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar plus the Haqqani and Hekmatyar fronts. They are lined up shoulder-to-shoulder on the Afghan-Pakistani border with the Afghan Taliban in northwest Pakistan, the Haqqani network in the central sector, and the Hekmatyar group in far northeastern Pakistan. Despite the killing of thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops, foreign aid workers attempting to reconstruct Afghanistan, as well as Afghan security personnel and civilians, Washington has still not designated these three Afghan terrorist groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Long overdue and mandated by U.S. law, this action should be taken immediately.
ISI’s backing of Pakistan-based terrorist groups active in India in the early 1990s led then-Secretary of State James Baker to write a letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on January 9, 1993. That letter delivered a warning from the George H.W. Bush administration to Pakistan that it could be named a state sponsor of terrorism. Six months later, the Clinton administration informed Pakistan that it was no longer under consideration for placement on the list. Neither the George W. Bush nor the Obama administration to date has re-activated that warning. It should. Naming Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism would trigger an across the board cut-off of American aid, while steps to restrict foreign assistance to Pakistan from international organizations and U.S. allies would likely follow.
Since 1993, the ISI-linked Pakistani terrorist groups have become much more—not less—active in international terrorism. Meanwhile, ISI-assisted Afghan terrorist organizations continue to carry out Pakistan’s war in Afghanistan. Last year was the bloodiest since 9/11. And it is likely that coalition and Afghan casualties in 2011 will exceed those suffered in 2010.
THE WAY AHEAD
Continuing the failed approach of mixing praise and rhetorical concern about Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorism coupled with high-level visits and communications will not convince Islamabad’s generals to cease assisting the Afghan Taliban, close down militant sanctuaries in Pakistan, or actively hunt down terrorists within their country. As long as Pakistan’s army sustains safe havens for terrorists, war will continue to tear apart Afghanistan, no matter how many troops NATO deploys or how many Afghan troops it trains.
A more realistic and tougher American policy towards Pakistan should take into account a number of regional geopolitical trends driven by opposition to Pakistan’s covert promotion of violent Islamism. Indo-American relations continue to improve, largely driven by shared economic interests but also by anti-terrorist concerns. Duplicating a geopolitical pattern in the 1990s, the closer the predominately Pashtun Taliban get to the Amu Darya River, dividing Afghanistan from the former Soviet Stans, the more Russia, Central Asian states, India, and Iran will coordinate to assist Afghan Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara anti-Taliban resistance groups. China, too, will worry about Taliban and al-Qaida penetration of its westernmost province, Xinjiang, where Muslim separatists are active. Counterproductive results of Pakistan’s proxy wars in Afghanistan will also be felt at home as Pakistan surrenders the extensive regional economic benefits an Afghan peace accord could deliver to Pakistan.
WEIGHING THE RISKS
The risks of pressuring Pakistan to move away from its support for terrorist groups must be weighed against the risks of exposing the United States and its allies to future terrorist attacks launched from bases in Pakistan. If the United States again flinches from strong action because it fears Pakistani retaliation, Pakistani leaders will see no need to change their policies.
Washington should not underestimate the leverage it can command to pressure Islamabad to help end the war in Afghanistan and dismantle the terrorist organizations and sanctuaries operating inside Pakistan. If Pakistan’s army does not respond to American diplomatic insistence to end its two-decade-old proxy war, the United States should increase bilateral and multilateral pressure on Islamabad. Pakistan would have a difficult time finding foreign support. Today, all the world’s leading Muslim governments oppose the terrorism emanating from Pakistani safe havens. China, as well as Shiite-dominated Iran, have much to lose from the radical Sunni violence that the Afghan Taliban would bring back to Afghanistan. Pakistan’s further ramping up the insurgency would likely backfire by strengthening the growing regional and global correlation of forces against the protected terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, symbolized by bin Laden’s Abbottabad safe haven.
While the United States must take into account Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal, the West has successfully dealt with far more powerful nuclear regimes for over half a century. Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities should not deter Washington from taking a tougher approach to Islamabad for fostering terrorist networks and providing them sanctuaries. Any nuclear threat would weaken Pakistan’s strategic position, driving the United States and the rest of the international community toward India.
If Pakistan does not address American concerns, the Obama administration must defend its national interests and those of its allies. This would mean a more assertive policy, including public insistence that Pakistan eliminate its terrorist sanctuaries, threatening to place and then placing Pakistan on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, and working with others to end Pakistan’s sabotage of the intra-Afghan peace dialogue. The U.S. and its coalition must reject Pakistani attempts to compel the Kabul regime and the international community to accept Mullah Omar and other top Taliban leaders, the Haqqani network, or Hekmatyar as part of an Afghan coalition government. They are poison pills that have destroyed past Afghan peace efforts. Pakistan has legitimate security interests in Afghanistan, but they do not extend to choosing who rules in Kabul.
The United States and its allies should also prepare U.N. Security Council resolutions to apply sanctions on Pakistan similar to those used against other state sponsors of terrorism. The resolutions could call on member-states to impose an arms embargo on Pakistan and restrict foreign travel of Pakistani military and intelligence officials known to support terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan.
There can be no assurance that this firmer approach with Islamabad will succeed. But changing Pakistan’s policy is the only course that holds out hope to eliminate its terrorist sanctuaries, deal a major blow to international terrorism, and end the long Afghan war. In the end, only the Pakistani people and their leaders can make the decision to suppress the violent jihadist forces in their country, returning it to a path of democracy, modernization, and religious tolerance. This is a prerequisite for a peaceful Afghanistan and a new era of economic growth in Central Eurasia not witnessed since the Silk Road’s heyday over a millennium ago.
Taliban Using Modern Means to Add to Sway
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN October 4, 2011
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan - Punctually, at 8 o’clock every evening, the cellphone signals disappear in this provincial capital. Under pressure from the Taliban, the major carriers turn off their signal towers, effectively severing most of the connections to the rest of the world.
This now occurs in some portion of more than half the provinces in Afghanistan, and exemplifies the Taliban’s new and more subtle ways of asserting themselves, even as NATO generals portray the insurgents as a diminished force less able to hold ground. The question is whether the Taliban need to hold territory as they once did in order to influence the population. Increasingly, it seems, the answer is no.
Tactics like the cellphone offensive have allowed the Taliban to project their presence in far more insidious and sophisticated ways, using the instruments of modernity that they once shunned. The shutoff sends a daily reminder to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Afghans that the Taliban still hold substantial sway over their future.
It is just one part of a broader shift in Taliban strategy that has focused on intimidation, carefully chosen assassinations and limited but spectacular assaults. While often avoiding large-scale combat with NATO forces, the Taliban and their allies in the Haqqani network have effectively undermined peace talks with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and sought to pave the way for a gradual return to power as the American-led forces begin scaling back military operations in the country.
Assaults like the rocket attack on the American Embassy in Kabul on Sept. 13, for which American officials blamed the Haqqanis, effectively shift the fight to cities, where it is harder for NATO to respond with air power for fear of harming civilians. They also allow the Taliban to capture the airwaves for hours, especially in media-saturated cities, and fuel an aura of crisis.
Likewise, the assassination on Sept. 20 in Kabul of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s peace council, dominated the news and reopened dangerous fissures between the country’s Dari-speaking north and the Pashtun south, in a single calculated blow. The new Taliban do not aspire to kill a lot of people, it seems, just a few in the right places and in positions of power.
The Rabbani assassination not only demonstrated the insurgents’ rejection of the peace process, but it also reminded people of their ability to shape the next chapter in the country’s history as the Americans prepare to leave. Similarly, the Taliban have sought to remake their image this year as a way of positioning themselves to play a prominent role in Afghanistan’s future. It is a two-track strategy.
Interviews with dozens of Afghans suggest that throughout the country the Taliban have married locally tailored terrorist campaigns with new flexibility on issues like education and business development.
The combination plays on the uncertainty gnawing at Afghans about the looming American withdrawal, while making the most of the insurgency’s limited resources. The aim is to undermine the Afghan government by making people question whether it can protect them, while trying to project the image of a group that is more open to the world than when the Taliban ruled the country in the 1990s.
For now, especially in ethnic Pashtun areas of the country, the Taliban, who are also ethnic Pashtuns, appear to be achieving their goal of making the future seems up for grabs.
“The morale in Kandahar, in Oruzgan, in Helmand and in Kabul of the ordinary civilian was at the lowest level we’ve seen throughout July,” said Ahmad Nader Nadery, the deputy director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. “I’ve never seen that much anxiety, fear and concern in ordinary Afghans and in some of the government officials.
“People say, first, the ability of the Afghan government to reach out and to build on the already existing security arrangements is minimal, and they point to the bigger crisis the government is in, and in addition they see that the international community withdrawal has started,” he said.
Certainly, while NATO troops are in Afghanistan the Taliban cannot enforce their ideas — but with the transition under way, no one doubts that the Western forces are leaving. So while NATO insists that the Taliban are losing physical ground, insurgents may be gaining psychological space.
“Their 2011 spring-summer military campaign has not materialized the way they predicted, because they are under unprecedented pressure,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings Jr., a spokesman for the NATO headquarters. The Taliban have been “prevented from regaining the momentum” they had before the troop increase, he said.
NATO also sees less support from the civilian population for the Taliban. “We saw that after the fighters had left for their sanctuaries in the winter, they returned back to communities who no longer supported them,” Colonel Cummings said. “They lost their safe houses, I.E.D. factories, weapons caches and freedom of movement.” I.E.D. stands for improvised explosive device, usually a roadside bomb.
NATO commanders concede that spectacular attacks, like the one on the American Embassy, are “I.O. victories” — meaning information operation — said Gen. John R. Allen, commanding general for NATO forces in Afghanistan. They resist equating that with any larger gains, though privately some officers concede that the Taliban’s ability to switch cellphones off and on is another such victory.
Diplomats are hoping that the Taliban’s turn to more psychological methods could be a precursor to peace talks, but they also admit it could be a clever strategy to conserve their forces until the West withdraws more troops.
“We have hurt them, but I am not sure how much we’ve hurt them,” Ryan C. Crocker, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan, said in August. “And I’m not sure we’re going to know for a while how much we’ve hurt them.” This could “ultimately be positive,” Mr. Crocker said, citing the reasoning of Mr. Karzai. “This is what Karzai would describe as the Afghan Taliban: recognizing that their previous form of government did not win hearts and minds and they are shifting to deal with the population again, and actually that would bring them closer to a dialogue with the government.”
Others view it more as the Taliban’s positioning themselves to become the chief power in a number of areas of the country, once the bulk of NATO forces leave. A longtime Western observer of Taliban tactics said the insurgents “are moving into their own hold-and-build phase; they are prepositioning for 2014.”
Just about all NATO combat forces are scheduled for withdrawal by the end of 2014, leaving Afghan security forces in control. So far, the Afghans have demonstrated a limited ability to fight on their own. With that in mind, many Afghans are hedging their bets and keeping avenues open to the Taliban because they believe that the government may not protect them once NATO leaves.
Wardak Province, which borders Kabul, is one place that seems up for grabs. It is also where in much of the province the cellphones go down for 13 hours daily. The Taliban view the cutoffs as a line of defense, according to Taliban commanders and spokesmen. When the phones are off, informants cannot call in Taliban locations to American forces who might carry out raids, and the Americans cannot use listening devices to track the location of insurgents.
“Our main goal is to degrade the enemy’s capability in tracking down our mujahedeen,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman for eastern and northern Afghanistan.
But a broader effect is to remind the population that the Taliban, not the government, are in control.
Hajji Mohammad Hazrat Janan, head of the provincial council in Wardak, summed up the situation: “In those areas where Taliban have their direct or indirect control, they demand that the telephone towers be turned off at night from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. So we know they are here.
“There are several reasons for attacking the cellphone towers, but here the locals are hopeless,” he said. “Where should they go and complain? Who should they go to and complain? The government? Innocent people get arrested and get killed by the government, and no one cares about them, so the cellphone towers are very small problems here.”
The Taliban turn off the phones by threatening to bomb or burn down the towers. It costs the phone companies $200,000 to $250,000 to repair a tower. The Taliban often threaten any workman who comes to restore one.
In some cases, most of a province’s phones may be turned off from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.; in others, the signal may be off 20 hours a day. In some provinces, like Zabul, there is no phone service outside the provincial capital, Qalat, and there it is limited to five hours a day. A handful of provinces, generally those that are more stable, may have only one or two districts where the phones are off in the evening, and the rest have 24-hour service.
NATO has been helping in the construction of cell towers by the Afghan wireless network, on military bases where they would be protected ultimately by the Afghan security forces. So far the number of these towers that are working is relatively small.
“In the last 12 months we had some incidents such as destruction of telephone towers by bombing them,” said Asadullah Hamidi, the governor’s spokesman in Kapisa Province, northeast of Kabul, where he said three cell towers were destroyed in the two districts where the Taliban were active.
“The government is trying to resolve this issue, but still we have many problems that we cannot overcome very quickly,” he said, adding that it was not safe for repair teams to enter the areas to rebuild the towers.
A manager for Etisalat, one of the four major cellphone providers in Afghanistan, who asked that his name not be used because he feared retribution, said the company was under pressure from the Taliban to turn off the signal in Kandahar, one of the three largest urban areas of the country.
“The Taliban strongly threaten us if we don’t turn off signal in Kandahar city,” the manager said. “They said: ‘You are equal to the Americans. The actions we take against Americans, we will take against you. Your employees will be abducted, killed, and the towers will be burned.’ ”
“Meanwhile, the government says you should not turn off the signal in Kandahar city,” he added. “They said, ‘We can protect the sites in the city,’ but we don’t believe the government will protect the towers.”
Another benefit of the cellphone campaign for the Taliban is that it does not risk civilians’ lives, which fits with the Taliban’s new push to recast their image.
Apparently in an effort to appear more open, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader, promised in a message in August, at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, that when the Taliban regained power they would be inclusive to Afghans of all ethnicities, friendly to all countries and eager to develop the economy.
Afghanistan has “rich mines and high potential for energy resources,” he said. Then he added in an faintly utopian vein, “We can make investments in these sectors in conditions of peace and stability and wrangle ourselves from the tentacles of poverty, unemployment and ignorance.”
Professionals and businessmen will be “encouraged,” Mullah Omar said. There was no mention of women in the lengthy message, which was translated by the Maryland-based SITE monitoring service, which tracks jihadist communications.
Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said education should be opened to both boys and girls, as long as it is imbued with Islamic values, reversing the Taliban’s pre-2001 policies that barred girls from school and encouraged boys to study only the Koran.
The newfound support for education is hardly uniform. In a number of areas the Taliban still intimidate teachers and even execute them, but elsewhere they seem to be trying to find a curriculum they can support.
A prominent former Taliban leader who lives in Kabul, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who has maintained contact with the Taliban, has, along with several other former Taliban members and others, started a school in Kabul for boys and girls — in separate buildings — that teaches the basics: reading, math, English, computer science and religion.
Mullah Zaeef describes it as an “Islamic education” with Islamic values and modern knowledge. “The Taliban now are more interested in Islamic education; they are using technology,” he said, alluding to the movement’s adept use of the Internet, including Web sites, Twitter accounts and Facebook.
“We want to provide a symbol of Islamic education,” he said. “But modern — but totally, 100 percent Islamic.”
Pakistan's Tiny Hazara Minority Struggles To Survive
October 4, 2011 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty By Abubakar Siddique, Khudainoor Nasar
QUETTA, Pakistan -- A deadly attack in southwest Pakistan has added to the heavy toll suffered by a small Shi'ite minority amid a broad sectarian conflict.
The October 4 attack, carried out against a bus carrying mostly Hazaras on the outskirts of Quetta, claimed the lives of 12 people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but similar attacks against the community have previously been claimed by Sunnis affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Thousands have died in the ongoing conflict between rival hard-line Shi'a and Sunni sects in Pakistan, but the Hazaras have particularly suffered. The minority has been left reeling from a sharp increase in attacks in recent years, prompting some members to call on the government to provide more land to accommodate fresh graves.
Obtaining justice in the Sunni-majority state has proved elusive for some Hazaras like Rukhsana Ahmed Ali, a prominent political activist and social worker whose husband, Ahmed Ali Najafi, was killed at his workplace two years ago.
She says two eyewitnesses, young students of a religious seminary, said they heard the killers order her husband out of his car and asking them how he had wronged them.
"The killers then told him, 'You have not done anything wrong, but we have been told that killing one Shi'a will open five doors of heaven for us,'" Ahmed Ali says. "He was then forced out of his car and killed by a whole burst of Kalashnikov fire."
'Are We Humans Or Insects?'
Najafi's September 2009 killing marked the beginning of bloodshed against Hazaras centered in Balochistan Province that has continued to this day. Hazara leaders claim that nearly 600 members of their community have been killed since 1999.
Lashkar-e Jhangvi, a banned extremist Sunni organization now seen as allied with Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks.
Middle-aged coal-mine owner Sayed Nasir Ali Shah represents Quetta's Hazara's in the Pakistani parliament. He was elected on the ticket of the governing Pakistan People's Party in 2008, but has since turned into one of its most outspoken critics. These days, his only mission is to try to save Hazara lives by calling for government protection.
Shah was undeterred even when he was targeted in a suicide attack last year, which left one of his young sons paralyzed. He says that protests and petitions with senior leaders have so far fallen on deaf ears.
"The government is only watching, and I am now tired after constantly shouting to grab their attention," Shah says. "I have been pleading to them to [do something to protect us] for God's sake. Are we humans or insects? We have no confrontation with our [neighboring] Balochi and Pashtun communities. We are targeted because our tormentors believe that we are infidels."
A century ago, Shah's Hazara ancestors fled the poverty and oppression of their Afghan homeland to the safety offered by Quetta, a British garrison town. Compared to their Afghan cousins, the Hazaras in Quetta prospered in British India and later on in Pakistan. But the tiny minority turned into a target for radical Sunnis.
Quetta once led the rest of Pakistan as an example of interfaith harmony. But Sunni extremism gradually gained traction in Balochistan's secular political culture and changed the landscape of its capital. This transformation was aided by Pakistan's alliance with radical Islamists who have fought its proxy wars in neighboring Afghanistan since the 1980s.
Abdul Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, says the government has abdicated its responsibility of protecting his community. The small political party he leads hopes to provide protection to Quetta's 400,000 Hazaras by relentlessly advocating their rights.
He now sees no light at the end of the tunnel, and laments that many youths in the community are opting to seek asylum abroad.
"Nobody is listening to us -- the parliament, Islamabad, the government in Balochistan, and our powerful [security] institutions," Khaliz Hazara says. "We feel that it's the government's policy to promote sectarian terrorism here. So that people keep on fighting each other because of sectarian tensions."
Balochistan, Pakistan's largest and least populated province, is the scene of complex regional rivalries and home to many insurgent movements. The province has been destabilized by a separatist ethnic Balochi insurgency since 2004 that Islamabad is trying to crush militarily.
Afghan and Western officials, however, are more concerned about the presence of Afghan insurgents in Balochistan. They blame Pakistan for sheltering the leadership of Afghan Taliban movement in Quetta.
Police officials claim that the security environment in Balochistan is stretching their small force. Hamid Shakeel, a senior police officer in Quetta, says they always urge Hazaras traveling from Quetta to request police protection before embarking outside the provincial capital, often en route to Iran.
But there is only so much they can do, Shakeel says. "We only have 1,100 police officers for Quetta and their responsibility is not only to prevent target assassinations but they have to provide protection to senior officials," he says.
The situation prompted the Hazaras of Quetta to call for international protests this month. The Hazara Democratic Party is counting on Hazara diaspora communities to demonstrate in major cities across Europe, Australia, and North America throughout October. A protest in Vienna on October 1 attracted hundreds of supporters, and the October 4 bloodshed prompted hundreds more to condemn the killings during a rally in London.
Back in Quetta, fear and uncertainty remain high. Muhammad Ismail, a Harzara trader, says that living a normal life in his once peaceful hometown is now impossible.
"When we leave our houses [in the morning] we are not sure about returning in the evening," Ismail says. "When our children go out into the bazaar, we are worried about something happening to them. These are the kind of problems we live with."
|2011, afghan, news, october|