Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Strategic Pact and Uncertainties

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 08

President Obama’s short stay in Kabul was more of a symbolic political visit on the eve of Osama bin Laden’s first death anniversary. Addressing Americans from Afghanistan before launching reelection campaign, President Obama reminded them that he sent the Navy SEALs to kill Osama.

He said the tide of insurgency has turned and the Taliban’s momentum has been broken. He spoke to Americans with a victorious tone, about a situation that is more of a quagmire of uncertainties for us in Afghanistan. It shows the sophisticated reach and strength of the Taliban who were successful to launch an attack in Kabul as soon as President Obama’s arrival was breaking news on Afghan media. Several, including some foreign security guards were killed when some insurgents breached the high-security zone of Kabul and attacked Green Village, a compound where foreign aid workers and diplomatic staff live.

Talking about the security transition and Afghan forces taking control, he mentioned the decrease in size of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2015, a plan proposed by the Obama Administration to reduce the burden of military costs on the US and its NATO allies. Details of the plan might be endorsed in the NATO Chicago Summit next week.

The size of ANSF is projected to reach 352,000 before October this year, of which 195,000 number of Afghan National Army has already been completed. The Obama Administration is considering a plan to downsize ANSF to 230,000, reducing a third of it starting gradually from 2015 to 2017. It is estimated that the current strength of ANSF will cost annually about $10billion. But the reduced size of ANSF has an estimated $4.2billion annual cost. The United States is urging its NATO allies to contribute about 1 billion Euros to this, while Washington would channel about $3 billion. But among NATO allies, only Britain has pledged $110million annually. It is expected that Afghanistan add about $500million to $1billion annually to the cost of its security forces.

However, Afghan security officials have been critical of the Obama Administration’s plan to heavily downsize the ANSF. Afghan officials say the plans are a conceptual model based on certain assumptions of improved security and a possible deal with insurgents for a political settlement.

Presidents Obama and Karzai also signed the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). After two years of contentious negotiations on Afghan-control of US-run prisons in Afghanistan and the limits of Special Forces’ night raids agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding on the Transfer of US Detention Facilities and the Memorandum of Understanding on Afghanization of the Special Operations, the announcement of SPA was expected to bring a sigh of relief.

But the SPA is a general framework short of specifics. It talks about the generals of US-Afghanistan relations after ISAF withdrawal in 2014. Details of the US military presence and commitment to Afghanistan will be part of another Bilateral Security Agreement to be finalized by next year.

Domestically, the SPA has been criticized. We could not expect more than this from the ruling circle who have made sure to secure their domestic narrow-interests in the SPA. President Karzai at the press conference next day was saying the SPA clearly rejects change of system in Afghanistan.

One instance is the intentional wrong translation of some terms in the English, Pashto and Dari versions of the SPA. At the end of the text, it is mentioned that all three translations are equally authenticated. The original SPA text in English says “Afghanistan shall strengthen the integrity and capacity of its democratic institutions and processes, including by taking tangible steps to further the efficiency and effectiveness of its three branches of state within its ‘unitary’ system of government, and supporting development of a vibrant civil society, including a free and open media.”

In Dari and Pashto versions, they have replaced ‘unitary’ with ‘central’ (markazi). All major political opposition blocks are calling for decentralization of power, with more administrative authorities to local governance bodies and parliamentary form of government. They are strongly criticizing this part of the SPA. But the fact is that our visionless rulers with narrow-interests are playing domestic politics with the strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US.

It must have been push by the Palace negotiators to avoid a single mention of the Taliban in the SPA. It glosses over by mentioning “Al-Qaeda and affiliates” avoiding the name of Taliban or other insurgents, keeping room for manipulations of Karzai and Co’s power-sharing designs to strike deal with elements of the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami after 2014.

But the question is, why should Afghanistan’s system of Government be mentioned in a strategic partnership agreement with any country? It is a matter of constitutional and internal affairs that can be changed on popular demand, not a concern for our strategic relations with the US.

Amrullah Saleh says by avoiding mention of Taliban, some Palace elements are furthering the agenda of their neighboring foreign patrons to ignore the safe havens of insurgents and their leadership across the border. He adds that after ten years of ruling, the Palace has no definition of national security for Afghanistan and a vision for enemy and friend.

Besides all these, the NATO summit in Chicago was supposed to come up with concrete security plans and commitments after its fundamentals were to be detailed in the US-Afghanistan SPA, but uncertainty seems to loom for another year.

The US and NATO are in rush with an exit formula, but without a concrete post-withdrawal strategy. It is not clear how many US troops will stay in Afghanistan. There are no clear US commitments on military and economic support to Afghanistan in the SPA, and it will not be any clear in the NATO Chicago Summit too. NATO countries should come up with clear pledges of continuation of aid to Afghanistan.

The decrease of ANSF strength should be based on ground realities and conditions of improved security. Long-term stability and security should take precedence over cutting costs in determining US support for ANSF. It cannot be based on assumptions of success in talks with Taliban and better cooperation from Pakistan. There is no Plan B for a scenario when insurgency will increase much deadlier after 2014 while Afghan forces will be reduced to half and the bulk of US and NATO troops will withdraw.

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The Kingdom of Kabul

Cartoon from Daily Afghanistan by Alizada.

Op-ed Outlook Afghanistan Jan 24

While inaugurating the new session of National Assembly after its winter break, President Karzai spoke in reference to the meeting of some Afghan politicians and US congressmen in Berlin. Leaders of National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud, Muhammad Muhaqiq, Rashid Dostum and former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh met a bipartisan group of US congressmen in a session organized by Aspen Institute in Berlin recently. They released a joint statement calling for decentralization of power and parliamentary system in Afghanistan.

President took the opportunity at parliament’s inauguration, the house of peoples’ representatives, to strongly condemn the increasing calls for reforms. He used very strange language, with the cover of his usual punching bag when talking to public—the foreigners.   He said, “Afghanistan is not the political laboratory of foreigners to test new systems”. And went on saying he will defend the current system with his life. Inappropriate as it is in public, such a language shows the violent mindset of our political elite in the new era of a democratic Afghanistan, where unfortunately the traditional dictatorial attitude still prevails. It will take us long to reach to a normal political arena of harmony where debate and dialogue would push the cycle of our political evolution, not violent thinking.

The entire current setup in Afghanistan is running by the grace of foreign support. When President Karzai was called on his Thuraya satellite phone ten years ago to tell that he has been chosen as the leader of interim Afghan authority, to all expenses of the Government until very this moment and for years to come, all has been possible only because of foreign support. Absolute domestic power has made President Karzai a victim of selective amnesia and ingratitude towards the international community. His criticisms of foreigners are always selective, when and where it fits his political interests.  Much of the anti-foreigner sentiments among ordinary Afghans other than sympathizers of Taliban are as a result of President Karzai’s calculated accusations all the time.

By using the reference of unpopular tag of “foreign intervention”, President Karzai wants to distort public opinion about the calls of decentralization of power before there is a real mass mobilization campaign on ground by the opposition factions. Aside from the fact that Western countries involved in Afghanistan have sacrificed blood and money for the last decade supporting the Afghan Government, Karzai’s tricks of playing with public sentiments for personal political agendas making foreigners a punching-bag is no good for our own fragile society and the whole current setup.

Apparently it is portrayed as if the hellfire erupted after the Berlin meeting of Afghan politicians and some US congressmen.  But these demands are as old the current setup. There were deep disagreements about Afghanistan’s future political system among Afghan participants in the Bonn process of December 2001. And since then, it has been discussed. Some prominent presidential candidates in the last two elections had manifestos promising federal and parliamentary systems. Neither National Front leaders are calling for decentralization of power and constitutional reforms for the first time, nor are they the only ones with such agenda. NF leader Ahmad Zia Massoud was calling for parliamentary system even when he was Vice President. Once he openly said in a public gathering that Vice President has no power. It is a symbolic role. Very simple notifications of office of vice presidents have to go through the office of President Karzai’s Chief of Staff and approved.

National Coalition, an important opposition faction led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former rival of President Karzai in election, calls for electoral, constitutional reforms and parliamentary system in their manifesto. Similarly, another important faction of opposition Right and Justice Party of intellectuals and former leftists also demands electoral reforms.

Are they all acting on behalf and pursuing agenda of “foreigners”?

President Karzai’s reaction saying “I will defend the current system with my life” is not only our example of what English historian John Dalberg-Acton said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, since we have that honor consecutively for the last several years as second most corrupt country in the world, but also, absolute power makes blind and self-destructive.

Our presidency enjoys absolute power. He controls appointment of governors, district chiefs, mayors, judges from supreme court to the lowest district level,  provincial and district police chiefs, one third of Senate, members of the Election Commission and even members of the ‘Independent’ Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan. The powers of parliament other than legislation are nonexistent in practice.

There is no respect for rule of law and constitution even in the current system. The list of violations of constitution just in last two years is long. In the parliament inauguration speech, President told MPs that cabinet nominees to replace acting-ministers will be sent for approval soon. It has been almost two years that six ministries are being run by acting-ministers. According to law, an acting minister cannot run office for more than a month, and a nominee rejected from parliament cannot serve as acting. The acting-ministers have been rejected thrice. In the Kingdom of Karzai, one could go to Supreme Court against such violation of law and mockery of the system, but the Chief Justice of Supreme Court himself is on acting-service, in violation of constitution, as his tenure has ended. This system has been made a mess undermining the very essence of the entire process of Afghanistan’s democratic journey. The over-centralized concentration of administrative powers has made the current setup more like a kingdom. Constitutional reform is inevitable.

But President Karzai with his remarks to defend the current system with his life is actually threatening the opposition parties calling for constitutional reforms. This is the self-destructive direction of absolute power when one thinks he is the king of jungle and can roar against political realities

The year 2012 is going to mark the start of a movement towards new political realities in Afghanistan. The increasing calls for reforms are reacted against with threats, which will result in opposition factions getting a united stance on their mutual demands, such as electoral reforms and rally mass mobilization and generate political awareness and activism to a new level among ordinary Afghans.

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Talks of Federal System

My op-ed Outlook Afghanistan Jan 16

After Taliban’s confirmation of opening an office in Qatar, the domestic Afghan debate on talks with the Taliban has intensified among the political circles of Kabul, media, civil society organizations and ordinary Afghans. It is optimistic to see the efforts of talks for a political settlement with the insurgents to end the conflict in Afghanistan has opened up a broad and realistic debate among Afghans. Taliban have more problems of acceptability within Afghan society than with the international community. The direct US-Taliban talks are a significant improvement towards hopes of an end to violence. Whatever the result of negotiations and whether it can lead to a breakthrough by 2014 is early to say. However, the intra-Afghan reconciliation is more important for the end of conflict in Afghanistan. The Government has been emphasizing and attempting to control the current process of negotiations with the Taliban. The Islamic Emirate says only parties in talks are the United States and Taliban. They also renounce the Afghan constitution and have made it clear that opening of a formal office in Doha will not mean an end to suicide attacks and bomb blasts against Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF.

Even if the Karzai Government joins the negotiations process with the Taliban later, the Administration does not represent the real anti-Taliban constituency, as former Chief of NDS Amrullah Saleh says. And this has to be seriously considered by the international community, if a genuine reconciliation and end of the conflict in Afghanistan is to be achieved.

Nowadays the Government has launched a storm of criticism campaign against those who met some Republican and Democrat US congressmen in Berlin last week. The state-owned media outlets and analysts affiliated with Government supported think-tanks are all propagating in a malign campaign of distorting the agenda of meeting in Berlin. Four US congressmen, including Republicans and Democrat held a session with some Afghan politicians including prominent opposition figures and leaders of the National Front, Ahmad Zia Massoud, Muhammad Muhaqiq, Rashid Dostum and former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh.

The session discussed the recent Bonn Conference and stability in Afghanistan beyond 2014. In a joint press release, the US congressmen criticized Obama and Karzai administrations for ignoring a huge segment of the Afghan society in the current process towards negotiations with the Taliban. They said forces that helped the US topple Taliban regime in 2001 are being sidelined. Such an approach without participation of all segments of the Afghan society will not result in stability beyond 2014. With the US and NATO withdrawal plan of 2014, Afghanistan needs a broad-based inclusive peace and genuine reconciliation process for stability.

Their joint statement pointed out the roots of governance and nation-building failure in Afghanistan. They said:

our concern is that the present political system is dysfunctional because all the power is centralized in a way that no American would tolerate in the United States… This centralized power has led to massive corruption, disenfranchisement of a large segment of the Afghan people, obstacles to economic development, massive abuse of power, political instability, poor governance, and a vast undermining of law and order.”

The Afghan leaders called for “a national dialogue on a revised Constitution to correct the inherent flaws in the present power structure by decentralizing the political system, making it more compatible with the diverse political, social and cultural nature of Afghanistan.”  They further said that the current process of talks with the Taliban is flawed because it excludes the anti-Taliban Afghans. They also called for change in the electoral system, from Single Non-Transferable Vote to Proportional Representation.

All of the above demands have been discussed in media in Kabul, and often expressed by the mentioned politicians. But it seems the Karzai Administration wants to shut everyone up. There is an increasing domestic dictatorial attitude and approach from the Government. The President can dismiss the decisions of Election Commission and force them to change election results, bypass parliament by calling a Traditional Loya Jirga on national issues, and manage to go away with his acting-ministers for more than one year now. The Supreme Court Chief Justice is an acting-judge.  The President fires the most prominent human rights activists of this country, from what is an ‘Independent” Human Rights Commission.  All but some dictatorial and clear violations of the Constitution by the President that nobody should dare to question, otherwise they will be accused to be plotting “disintegration” of Afghanistan.

Participants of the Berlin meeting called for decentralization of power and a parliamentary form of government. I quoted most of their points in the joint statement released to media. There was no talk of federal system, or anything against constitution. The Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Ludin knows it, but he needs some experience with diplomatic behavior and manner to talk with media. Some ethnocentric elements around President Karzai are advising him with the increasing dictatorial behavior.

Foreign Ministry slammed the meeting of Afghan National Front leaders and former NDS Chief with the US congressmen in Berlin, saying it was “against the Afghan Constitution”. Can it get more ridiculous than this? The Ministry has “warned” against repetition of such meetings in future, calling it an inference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. One wants to laugh out loud at such idiocy. Taliban, who are sworn enemies of the National Security Forces of Afghanistan and slaughter innocent civilians, do not forgive women and children and blow up in mosques, are “brothers” for the Government, but when one talks about a national dialogue for change in constitution, which is allowed in the Constitution itself, you are accused of plotting partition of the country. And the Taliban who loudly say they don’t give a damn about the Constitution, the Government welcome decision of their office in Qatar with diplomatic privileges.

Soon after the Berlin discussion, Government media outlets and their “analysts” started planting distorted lies in media. The Government-supported Afghanistan Regional Studies Center held a session to denounce the calls of National Front leaders. The Center’s Chief Abdul Ghafor Lewal said the Berlin meeting was “a plot to disintegrate Afghanistan”. He believes federal system will lead to partition of the country.

There is nothing unconstitutional about such a discussion or demand for national dialogue and debate about any changes in constitution. Whenever one dares to discuss decentralization of power in Afghanistan, proponents of the Government react very strongly with propaganda. One wonders why? Even if the National Front leaders or any Afghan call for federal system, what’s wrong in it? Calling for a federal system is not an agenda to disintegrate the country, rather it strengthens our multi-ethnic and pluralistic society with political stability.  Many successful, pluralistic countries around the world have federal system including the United States or another perfect example is of our neighbor and biggest democracy of the world India.

A central system is against the nature of Afghanistan’s multi-ethnic pluralistic society. American academic Dr. Thomas Barfield in his book Afghanistan: a Cultural and Political History says the successive failures of monarchs, republicans and communist governments for the last century in Afghanistan have been because of the attempts of centralization of power. A strong central government has never had control over all parts of the country in history. A federal system would also be the only solution for reconciliation with insurgents and long-term political stability in Afghanistan.

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Taliban’s Domestic Fantasy

Media punditry after Taliban confirmation of opening a “political office” in Qatar paints the future of a political settlement for the end of conflict in Afghanistan very optimistically. After years of denial and doubts when the idea of negotiations with the Taliban were proposed seriously for the first time, it is indeed a major development that two parties to the conflict: the United States and Taliban militants have put aside their preconditions of talks such as complete disassociation from Al-Qaeda and acceptance of the Afghan constitution and on the Taliban part, full withdrawal of all foreign troops. However, there are many problems which, if not dealt properly, can end all the excitement of a political settlement into the last abyss of uncertainty and eventual descent into chaos for Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says it loud in his media statements that militants do not consider the Afghan Government as a party to the talks, let alone the current political opposition who are mainly the prominent and fiercest rivals of the Taliban. Optimists might say that these are initial game of words and will change when militants have a proper “address” in Doha, and responsible figures sitting there to talk to. As I have always said on these pages, the biggest problem of the conflict in Afghanistan when it comes to a political settlement will not be external, but rather internal factors and domestic stakeholders.

Whatever reasons have caused the positive change in thinking of the Taliban leadership to agree on direct talks with the US, it shows their extreme political immaturity still persistent to ignore the fact that Taliban have more serious problems of acceptability within Afghan society than with the international community.

Long before there were any foreign troops in Afghanistan, Taliban could not reach to an understanding with any faction of the forces resisting them, among whom the former Northern Alliance was prominent. Were they politically mature enough, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar could avoid the bloodshed at the peak of their victory in Afghanistan, when they controlled over 80 percent of the country, and the forces resisting them either retreated outside or fought to their last bullet and drop of blood, but could not, despite attempts, come to an understanding of the sort of political deal.

Today Taliban have the same mentality. In his statement, Taliban spokesman say Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban shadow government and the United States are only parties to the talks. The biggest problem is this mindset of the Taliban leadership with the fantasy that most people of Afghanistan support their brand of Sharia and extremist political ideology. They might enjoy some grassroots support in some insurgent-controlled parts of the country in South, but they will always be unacceptable for majority of the population in Afghanistan with their brutal ideology and Islamo-fascist mindset. If they are not naïve, and the change of mind for talks with Americans is an honest move, the Taliban leadership have to be open and transparent about the process. They have to consider the fact that they have been resisted in the past and will be fiercely resisted in future, if a political settlement of the US and NATO withdrawal narrative is imposed on us with current mindset of the Taliban.

The strategy of Obama Administration towards a political settlement has cracks in its very fundamental approach to ignore the fact that Taliban have more internal problems in Afghanistan than with international community.

Media leaks in Washington suggest that the White House has decided, on the Taliban demand, to release five notorious former Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay. In the first detailed media report about how western diplomats contacted with Taliban, the German Der Spiegel says Tayeb Agha, the secretary of Mullah Omar was taken to Munich from Qatar on a Falcon 900EX aircraft of German Foreign Intelligence BND in November 2010. The report further says the first deal towards opening of a Taliban office in Qatar include release of Bergdahl, an American soldier kidnapped by the Taliban in June 2009 from Paktika, to be exchanged for those five commanders from Guantanamo.

The release might take time in a long process of approval from the US Congress, but the reports suggest Obama Administration’s approach has no red lines or any principles of accountability and transparency. They will be releasing those notorious Taliban commanders who are wanted by the UN for war crimes.

All of the five commanders were in contact and cooperation with Al-Qaeda. One of them is Mullah Fazl, former Taliban Chief of Army and Deputy Defense Minister who is responsible for massacres of thousands of civilians in Mazar, Bamyan and Yakawlang from 1998 to 2001.

According to the Guantanamo files of detainees released by Wikileaks, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Taliban deputy minister of intelligence, “utilized his office to support Al-Qaeda…and arranged for Al-Qaeda personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff.” Another prisoner is Mullah Noorullah Noori, former Taliban Governor-General of Northern Zone. He is wanted by the UN for war crimes. The Wikileaks file says, he is “associated with members of al-Qaida.”

When these commanders will be released in a murky process, the exclusive approach of the Obama Administration will provoke the Afghan groups who fiercely resisted Taliban and oppose their extremist ideology today, to start preparing for worst days to come. Last week three prominent figures of former Northern Alliance in a meeting with some US congressmen in Berlin expressed these concerns openly to the international community.

On the other hand, President Karzai also needs to avoid overreaction. His order to transfer control of the Bagram Prison from international troops to Afghan officials is an attempt to create influence cards in the process of talks with Taliban. Many Taliban prisoners are in Bagram, and believing to have been left out, President Karzai has ordered transfer of the control of Bagram prison to be in position of influence against the Taliban. If the Taliban are honest about negotiations, President Karzai should avoid muddying the waters with reactionary moves. However, at the end of the day, most important is that Taliban realize and admit the fact that they have more internal problems than with external actors.

Meanwhile, there has been a mysterious silence from Pakistan. Analysts speculate ISI’s approval of the talks saying that there have not been any attempts to stop Tayeb Agha from meeting American officials in Germany and Qatar. The best that Afghans can expect of Pakistan is that Islamabad does not interfere in this process. Their support for the Taliban and prior interference during the civil war and Jihad against Soviet Union in Afghanistan has doomed us to the current situation for the last three decades. Now it’s time they keep away and let us resolve our conflicts.

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Blunders to be Undone

my Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Dec 13

Five months ago when the first preparatory meeting for Bonn II was held in Kabul under the auspicious of International Contact Group, I wrote on this page that there were no expectations of a breakthrough in the peace and reconciliation process. It was what organizers of the conference initially aimed all about to achieve on the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Conference of 2001 that established the Transitional Authority in Afghanistan and the set up later.

There was one big mistake at the time—absence of the Taliban on the table. The international community and the Karzai Administration tried to undo this mistake after 10 years again in Bonn, but despite all-out efforts, they could not make the least of progress on it.

Rather serious blunders were made, once again. For instance, the Afghan delegation was a Government delegation, completely bypassing the political opposition forces—none from the three strong opposition blocks Hope & Change, National Front and Right & Justice Party were invited.

They invited former Taliban figures such as Mutawakel and Hakim Mujahid for the sideline meetings. Whom the international community want to satisfy with such moves? Their media? These former Taliban are now Government’s Taliban of name. They no more represent or have any contact with the insurgency’s leadership based in Quetta and Karachi. It’s waste of time to engage with them. Militants say they will not talk to and through the Afghan Government, but Karzai Administration has been ineffectively trying with the mantra of “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process. This was even added as primary principle for peace talks and reconciliation process in the final communiqué of the Bonn Conference.

Seeing the result of three years of efforts so far, it is unlikely that the Afghan Government will succeed in the reconciliation process prior to NATO withdrawal in 2014. They are yet confused what to call it, “peace talks”, “reconciliation” or “political settlement”?

Since his second term in Arg, President Karzai—whose administration faces serious lack of political mandate and credibility compared to the political popularity after the first Bonn Conference in 2001—has made all-out efforts in this confused process of peacemaking with insurgents under different official programs of reconciliation and reintegration.

We have witnessed that so far nothing has come out of the efforts of Karzai Administration other than a shameful incident when a Taliban imposter and shopkeeper from Quetta deceived the entire intelligence apparatus of the Government taking handsome amount of money back to Quetta. The second blow was recently when a suicide bomber assassinated Ustad Rabbani . President Karzai has only read Fatihas for the martyred Ustad Rabbani on each official political occasions, no initial progress is made in the investigation. The delegation, who were denied visas for Pakistan, could finally go to Islamabad after Turkey persuaded Pakistan to cooperate on this in the Istanbul Summit.

After the tragic assassination of Professor Rabbani, President Karzai announced to halt the “process of talks” with the Taliban. Karzai admitted for the first time that all his efforts had failed and that Taliban had no address. But he changed mind quickly, without any clear vision of direction. The Traditional Loya Jirga of his hand-picked “elders” was staged and asked for “advice” on talks with the Taliban.

The Government has not the capacity and political mandate to be able to succeed in the peace process. The last three years have been ultimate failure. But unfortunately the international community has decided to ignore this. The Bonn Conference should have discussed a UN-led peace process involving regional countries and international stake holders which could be effective, transparent and dynamic.

The Bonn communiqué included nothing significant to undo the mistakes of last 10 years. It once again reiterated the uncertain assurances of the international community to continue supporting Afghanistan from a period of Transition to Transformation Decade of 2015-2025, but not discussed the reasons of slow progress and failure in many areas.

There is an increasing perception in the western media that the military operations have been complete failure. Analysts such as Ahmed Rashid advocate for talks. That has been what the Karzai Administration has desperately tried to do in the last three years, but failed.

The political system and civilian government is a measuring parallel for the success of military operations in Afghanistan. The Administration in Kabul has not only disappointed Afghans, but failed the entire efforts of the international community. The root cause is in the system which was imposed by the international community in Afghanistan focusing on individuals rather than institutions. The Bonn communiqué mentioned the following;

Afghanistan reaffirms that the future of its political system will continue to reflect its pluralistic society and remain firmly founded on the Afghan Constitution.

It was enforced by President Karzai in retaliation to the increasing demand for change in the system. A strongly centralized system of Government has been against the nature of Afghanistan’s political and social order.

During the last 70-80 unstable years of Afghanistan’s history, all regimes and ideologies that tried to impose a highly centralized system, contributed to instability. For turning the international efforts into quantum success before the withdrawal, it is important to bring fundamental changes in the whole system in Afghanistan.

Even analysts like Ahmed Rashid have started realizing this. In his latest article on the Financial Times mentioning the increasing demands for change in the system from a presidential to parliamentary form of government, he says, “these demands come from important segments of all ethnic groups and need to be addressed by the government and the foreign powers before they leave. Failure to do so could lead to civil war.”

I believe unless there are radical changes in our constitution before the international community leaves, Afghanistan will not be on path of stability. We need rapid institutional decentralization of power and change of system from highly centralized presidential to a federal parliamentary government. We need reforms in electoral system, judicial sector and much more. This could be the only recipe for the Taliban peace process, reconciliation or political settlement whatever you name.

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Ally or not Ally

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Dec 01

The US-Pakistan relations seem to be well on its way of eventual demise after an ISAF airstrike across the border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last week. In reaction, Pakistan has blocked the NATO supply from Torkham and Chaman, asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan and announced to boycott the Bonn Conference next week.

Earlier in May when the SEALs killed Osama bin Ladin in military town of Abottabad, Pakistani officials demanded the US to vacate Shamsi, but this time with the deadline of December 11, the US is reportedly preparing to leave the base. CIA ran the drone operations from there targeting militants in the tribal areas. However, the base is no longer in use as it ceased in April, and the closure will not affect militarily.

Blockade of the NATO supply route might continue for weeks given the extreme Pakistani reaction. Currently, only 48 percent of NATO supplies come through Pakistan, and 52 percent through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The US plan is to transit 75 percent of all non-lethal supplies through the NDN. And 30 percent of the supplies, mostly lethal weapons, come by air through Pakistani airspace. They have not placed restrictions of overflights.

Prime Minister Gilani rejected a personal request by President Karzai in a phone call on Tuesday, saying if Afghanistan officially condemned the ISAF airstrike, Islamabad might reconsider the boycott decision on the Bonn II. There is a fuss about this boycott in the international media, calling it a blow to the entire process. The question is what if the ISAF strike had not happened and Pakistan was in Bonn? Would it make the chances of a breakthrough in the peace process with Taliban more plausible? Of course not! The fact that Pakistan has significant influence over the Taliban leaders makes it an important player in the process, but there was no progress in the US efforts to persuade Pakistani military in this regard. Both countries have contrary objectives for the endgame in Afghanistan. Pakistani military is against long-term presence of US troops beyond 2014, which will be approved in a US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, supported by a Traditional Loya Jirga recently.

Though reconciliation with the Taliban was high on the agenda of Bonn Conference, no breakthrough was expected. Pakistan’s support and cooperation is indeed vital, as the Afghan Government or the US cannot approach militant leaders who are hiding in Pakistan. Rawalpindi has significant influence on the Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura. But they have not indicated to cooperate on this, and mere participation in Bonn will not ensure that.

The conference is not a debate forum to last for days. Agenda and decisions are taken behind the scenes following the Istanbul Summit. Pakistan gains nothing by boycotting a German-hosted and Afghan-chaired conference attended by representatives of about 90 countries to make pledges on the arrangements of post-2014 Afghanistan. Pakistan would rather isolate itself further with this boycott. Instead they could use the forum to raise their concerns.

Let me come back to the airstrike that caused the final blow to a relations based on lies and deceit between two so-called allies. There are conflicting and disputed reports based on claims from both sides. Pakistani military say the airstrike was unprovoked. While ISAF and Afghan officials say they received fire from the Pakistani side first. If there was no firing from the Pakistani side of the border, either insurgents or from the check posts, it would be beyond understanding why Afghan and ISAF commandos would ask for air support. Pentagon has appointed an Air Force Brigadier to investigate the incident. ISAF has said all future engagements on Durand Line have to be approved from their Headquarters in Kabul.

But such incidents are inevitable in future if militant incursions continued from across the border. Militants come to fight in Afghanistan and when the US troops chase, they retreat on the other side. It’s a daily business for them to move back and forth on the border.

Top Pakistani military officials have said they have “no expectation” from the ISAF inquiry. And it is expected that Islamabad will make further blowing decisions to reduce cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan after a joint session of parliament.

Now what?

The closure of Shamsi airbase does not debilitate overall drone operations, as it is based in Afghanistan. It’s likely that the supply routes will be restored. But the US should now increase focus on the Northern Distribution Network.

It is time for the US and Pakistan to put the game of distrust and deceit aside, get honest to each other and put their options clear on the table. There are two scenarios. Pakistan might continue the supply blockade and cease the limited intelligence and military cooperation with NATO. And eventually reduce ties with the US. In this case, we should expect increased suicide bombings in Kabul, and mass incursions of militants from across the border. In scenario two, if the US does not get tough on Rawalpindi, it will be business as usual after more concessions to tone down their overreaction. Pakistani Defense Minister said yesterday the supply routes will be restored if NATO apologizes.

If Pakistan decides to officially uncover the reality of this relation and cease their limited cooperation in the war on terror, the US should stop the military aid—$20 billion since 2001–and strengthen civilian supremacy in Pakistan. A small part of the military aid that the US gives to Pakistan Army could raise a Special Border Force in Afghanistan enough to be deployed all over the Durand Line to fight militant incursions. If insurgents have no Jihadi recruits, and weapon supply from across the border, it will not take long to wipe out the terrorists.

The ‘peace plan’ suggested by Pakistani military for the endgame in Afghanistan is simply not acceptable for Afghans and the international community. They want a big share in power for Haqqanis and Quetta Shura saying militants represent Pashtuns. Pakistan’s main objective is full withdrawal of US troops. They are against the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership agreement that allows presence of US troops long beyond 2014. Pakistani military has its reasons. They fear US military intervention from Afghanistan against their nuclear capabilities.

It’s time for both countries to stop lies and deceit and decide they are allies or not. The US should ensure Pakistani military that their presence in Afghanistan is not a threat. Washington should offer Rawalpindi a vital role in the peace process with Taliban exclusive among the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan should persuade the Taliban to come to table talks and give up violence and help the US and Afghanistan to eliminate those who continue terror. Similarly, the US and Afghanistan should assure Pakistan about their legitimate security and strategic concerns on the endgame in Afghanistan. But for this, General Kayani would have to compromise his current ‘peace plan’.

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Violence Against Women in Afghanistan

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed

25th Nov is marked as the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women. The day was designated by a UN General Assembly resolution on December 17, 1999. It urged governments, international organizations to generate awareness among public and organize events. The day marks brutal assassination of three female political activists in the Dominican Republic in 1960.

UNIFEM says at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime — with the abuser usually someone known to her. It says violence against women and girls is a universal problem of epidemic proportions.

Human rights organizations mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence from 25th November to 10th December. Activists run campaign and events to fight violence and generate awareness among public in this regard. First day of the 16 Days starts on 25th Nov, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on 10th December, International Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World” highlighting the key roles women play in the family and as peacemakers and peacekeepers in war zones.

Afghan women rights activists are also campaigning through public awareness events. In solidarity, those who join are wearing a purple ribbon, which symbolizes the fight against gender-based violence worldwide. Different organizations are airing public awareness messages through electronic and print media.

Afghanistan has worst records of violence against women. It is the worst place on earth to be women. Our extremely conservative male dominated society with radical socio-religious mindset still think of woman as the so-called symbol of honor for men. Domestic violence is so common that it is considered not only legitimate ‘right’ of men, but normal part of the harsh and corrupt culture.

Among the large part of our illiterate population, husbands consider it their natural right to harshly beat their wives over tiny disputes. Women face violence at every stage of their life, in every relation—as a daughter, as a sister, as a wife and even as a mother in some cases that I have personally documented.

The horrible state of affairs is not limited to the generally considered “normal” domestic violence which is part of life of many Afghan women across the country, but much more. Honor killings are illegal under the Elimination of Violence against Women law enacted by the Government in 2009. But its rarely implemented despite dozens of reported cases of ‘honor killing’. The law criminalizes child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, giving away women/girls to settle a dispute and 17 other acts of violence against women. The very word of “honor killing” shows the collective psychology of our sick society, where killing a woman for “honor” is part of a corrupt medieval cultural practice common today.

According to a report by UNAMA and UNHCR last week, the Government of Afghanistan has failed to succeed in applying the law to the vast majority of cases of violence against women. The report says “there is a very long way to go before Afghan women are fully protected from violence and their equality is properly supported through this important law.”

According to the report, about 290 cases were filed under the law. But the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan has documented 2299 cases of violence against women that are defined as crimes under the EVAW law from March 2010 to March 2011.

During a research study conducted for ActionAid the past summer in Northern and Central Afghanistan, I documented dozens of cases of violence against women such as murder (honor killing) and rape, that had not only gone unreported, but deliberately ignored by local prosecutors. During the interviews and visits in Balkh and Jawzjan provinces, I documented dozens of cases of extreme violence against women which had been “resolved” through the “informal justice” mechanisms of traditional dispute resolution. Such mechanisms do not give a damn to the law of Elimination of Violence against Women. Part of my research will be published under the theme of women rights with documented cases in a book form soon by ActionAid, an anti-poverty and human rights organization working in about 50 countries.

According to the UN report, many cases of serious crimes under the EVAW law were being prosecuted under the Penal Code or Sharia law. Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA says,

“ensuring rights for Afghan women – such as their participation in public life, including in the peace and reconciliation process and equal opportunities in education and employment – requires not only legal safeguards on paper, but speedy and full enforcement of the EVAW law.”

UNAMA and UNHCR have recommended necessary efforts to raise awareness about the law among Afghan women and men, and that all relevant authorities must apply the law.

We have to admit that violence against women and abuse of their basic human rights is part of our corrupt culture and social behavior. It needs a very effective public awareness campaign and strict implementation of EVAW law by the Government, and intensive media discussions. Every year there are dozens of cases of honor killing documented by human rights groups. But hundreds of such cases never make its news out of the village. In my recent research, I heard stories from women rights activists in districts of Jawzjan and its capital Shiberghan city, where local officials and warlords who are involved in crimes such as rape and forced marriages suppress the cases to get out of the village. I met people who were afraid to talk because of the threats by the very people who are assigned from Kabul to protect rights of those villagers and provide them justice.

In our sick society, women are considered the property of men in their family.  Women are considered as sex tool or bearing machine created for serving their man. I was told about horrible cases and documented some, where young girls were sold or picked up on gun points by warlords. Women are considered as a commodity that can be exchanged, bought and sold in our society.

According to Government statistics, more than 50 percent of Afghan girls are married in early age, 99 percent of family violence cases go unreported. The Government has done nothing in reducing violence against women and improving their rights. Nowadays some friends on internet are campaigning through an online petition for the release of Gulnaz and her daughter from Badambagh prison. As the story has been reported in media, in 2009, 18-year old Gulnaz was raped by her cousin’s husband and impregnated. Later she was charged for adultery. She along with her baby daughter, who was born in prison, have been imprisoned for almost two years. The petitioners call for immediate release of Gulnaz and her daughter from prison. Hope President Karzai will take notice.

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