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The Loya Lion in the Jungle

my Outlook op-ed published on Nov 19

Much has been said in media about the ‘Traditional Loya Jirga’ (TLJ) going on. I got to know two new things; that we were a nation of ‘lions’ living in a ‘jungle’, and that the ‘pimp number’ 39 has plagued the minds of our elders too. President Karzai started his speech with the controversy about the TLJ itself, given the serious questions raised by opposition groups as well as media regarding the ‘legitimacy’ of the Jirga. The President said Jirga was a “historic and desirable” tradition of Afghanistan. He mentioned a book titled ‘National Jirgas of Afghanistan‘ by Muhammad Alam Faizad, who represented Takhar Province in the Lower House of Parliament during Zahir Shah, and recommended the delegates to read it.

The history and tradition of the Loya Jirga is a broad topic to be discussed here. For my Afghan readers, you can check a latest article about it on BBC Persian’s Afghanistan page by an Afghan academic from Essex University in UK. What the Government has been doing is an obvious manipulation. Despite the fact that organizers of the TLJ says it has no legal authority, but just a ‘consultative/advisory’ Jirga, the question is, what is the legal base for calling a ‘consultative or traditional’ Jirga? The Constitution has one whole chapter (6) titled ‘the Loya Jirga’, in which, Article 110 says, “Loya Jirga is the highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan. It consists of the following:

  • Members of the National Assembly [Lower House and Senate]
  • Chairpersons of the Provincial and district councils
  • Cabinet members, Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court (without voting rights)

The decisions of this constitutional Loya Jirga become law. But the constitution does not mention any Jirga with ‘consultative’ ‘traditional’ and all other words invented in this regard. Even if the TDL is not a legal body, the Karzai Administration can call it an ‘advisory meeting with elders’, why to create confusions with Loya Jirga? Well, who cares about the political implications of such mess in future. There are other ambitions behind such deliberate manipulations. Even the term ‘traditional’ is very vague to use. But they are mixing it all even in the official documentations of the Jirgas called by President Karzai, probably more in the last 10 years than all Jirgas during the entire period from King Amanullah to Zahir Shah.

The President calls it a ‘consultative’ or ‘traditional’ Loya Jirga, but all of more than 2000 delegates did not know what they were supposed to ‘advice’ about, before Karzai’s inauguration speech saying it was to discuss the agreement of strategic partnership with the US and talks with Taliban. The incomplete draft of the agreement distributed among the delegates to discuss does not include specifics of the pact.

The President only mentioned ‘advice’ from the delegates regarding talks with insurgents following the assassination of Ustad Rabbani. He explained, what sounded like his ‘demands’ from Americans regarding the agreement, and did not mention whether any advice or suggestion from the Jirga delegates will be considered. He declared following demands:

  • The US and NATO should stop searching Afghan homes
  • We cannot tolerate night raids of our homes
  • We do not want foreign parallel structures to run alongside the Afghan Government institutions.
  • We want our national sovereignty recognized by all means and from today!

Then the President declared, “these are the conditions of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is ready to sign strategic agreement with the United States, which is to our benefit.” If you have decided the conditions, why to bother with the Jirga? It’s a show staged for political bargaining and setting the ground for future manipulations.

In some parts of his speech, President Karzai sounded defensive about what the Taliban call his administration a “puppet”, by counting the tales of success during the last 10 years, saying his government made relations with the world. He used the line “Afghanistan [his Administration] has acted independently” repeatedly.Rest of the speech was an amalgamation of emotions and confusion. He asked questions and replied himself,

Can we, ourselves, protect this land? We certainly can. Can we ourselves defend this country? Undoubtedly we can! With our own means? Surely, with our own means. Will we need more assistance? Absolutely!”

After praise and brotherly talk about Pakistan and Iran, he said the Afghan land will not be allowed to be used against any other country. Then in contradiction, but not clearly, he added, “the war on terror cannot be pursued in the villages of Afghanistan, but rather in its sanctuaries and safe havens.” Though not naming, President Karzai was obviously referring to Pakistan. Talking of Iran, he said Tehran was “more reasonable” than Washington in relations with us and understanding our needs.

The following statement was particularly confusing.

After 9/11 -2001, the West returned to Afghanistan since their interest was threatened. They (United States) will not remain without reason. They too have their interests, and nobody will stay here for our sake alone. Now that they are seeking to maintain relations with us, it is not for our sake. They have their own interests, which is reasonable.

If you don’t allow them to arrest “anyone”, conduct any operation, why would the US need to stay in Afghanistan? I have been skeptical of the peace process and still believe it will not make any breakthrough with the Taliban by 2014. If insurgents continue the attacks, not only on Afghan forces and government installations, but also the US troops after 2014, how would we expect them not to make arrests or conduct operations at night?

Then came his comments after which Kabulis are calling each other lion, and Afghan online forums are hit with jokes and cartoons about it. President Karzai compared Afghans with an old, sick and feeble lion. Following are his exact words:

“Even if old, sick and feeble, a lion is still a lion! Other animals in the jungle are afraid of even a sick lion and stay away from him. We are lions, the United States should treat us as lions, and we want nothing less than that. We therefore are prepared to enter into a strategic agreement between a lion and America. A lion hates a stranger entering his home; a lion dislikes a stranger trespassing its space, a lion does not want his off-springs taken away at night. The lion does not allow parallel structures to operate, the lion is the king of his territory and he governs his own territory. The lion has nothing to do with others in the jungle.”

After this ridiculous comment, President Karzai with his emotional flow spoke something which I cannot make any sense about. He said his concerns are “non-interference in our home and internal affairs; our traditions, religion, customs, marriages, joys and sorrows and the like are our own affairs.” Who has interfered with our traditions, religion, customs? Expecting your Jirga to approve the strategic agreement, and giving such remarks goes in line with the propaganda of Taliban who say of such ‘invasion’ on our culture, traditions and religion. The international community and the US in particular have brought us democracy and universal values, there has been no interference in our culture, traditions and religion.

Then he continued the lion analogy getting more ridiculous,

“They [US presence] bring us money; train our soldiers and police, and provide security for the home of the lion. The lion does not have leisure time to do all these things. They should protect his surroundings but should not touch the lion’s home. They should protect the four boundaries of the jungle.”

I won’t comment about the jungle and loins. Then he moved on to the talks with Taliban. The President pointed particular emphasis on this and repeatedly asked the delegates for advice, a word which he did not mention at all during his comments about the US-Afghan strategic partnership. He praised efforts by Turkey and Saudi Arabia regarding the peace process and asked for more “transparency and clarity” on the US part. Then the President ended his speech saying he would talk to the delegates in the last day of the Jirga. For ordinary Afghans who were making remarks about the two days of the Jirga so far, it was about the lion analogy by President Karzai on day one; and the pimp story on day second.

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New Political Alliances

My Outlook op-ed published on Nov 14

Months of active meetings and discussions among political heavyweights and mid-level players in the ‘opposition block’ of Afghan political scene has produced two new coalitions last week. Hizb Haq wa Edalat (Right and Justice Party) was launched declaring itself as a ‘reformist’ and ‘opposition’ party. Made up of politicians, former MPs and intellectuals from different backgrounds, mostly former leftists, and including a former Talib, Haq wa Adalat calls itself a ‘reformist’ party, which sounds very vague, considering the fact that despite 14 months of preparations, a 2-days conference of its 420 founders, their 4 spokesmen did not have any manifesto or clear policy guidelines to present to public during its launching ceremony.

It was quite confusing to see the lack of common understanding among its founders on the day of launching when many of them did not agree to what four spokesmen told while responding to different questions from journalists. After such intense preparations and meetings, I had expected a very clear agenda, policy guideline or rather a manifesto by Haq wa Adalat, which calls itself an ‘opposition’ party, but offers no debate or agenda different than those of the Karzai Administration.

The other addition in the political scene was announcement of a new ‘coalition’ National Front among three heavyweights, former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud, leader of Junbish Abdur Rashid Dostum, and head of Hizb-e-Wahdat Muhammad Muhaqiq. Meetings for a consensus and coalition among major opposition ‘figures’ of the former Northern Alliance were going on for several months. In my previous op-eds on this page, I had expressed doubts about the possibility of a grand alliance with the Hope and Change of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. With initial announcement, there was a rumor in media about former NDS Chief Amrullah Saleh to be part of the new coalition, but he was not in the press conference. It’s not confirmed whether he will be part of the coalition or not, however he had actively attended the meetings prior to the announcement, but has left the country for some conferences abroad. He might confirm or deny it later if he is part of the National Front or not.

The official launching of Right and Justice Party and the National Front coalition a week before the traditional Loya Jirga called by President Karzai is not a coincidence. The new political alignments before the coming Bonn Conference in December want to show their presence and have a say in the process. The traditional Loya Jirga this week is to ‘recommend’ about the strategic partnership agreement between the US and Afghanistan. Though Haq wa Adalat said they are not opposed to the Jirga, but National Front calls the gathering ‘illegal’ and in violation of the constitution.

While National Front is a coalition of politicians with ethnic vote-bank and clear previous electoral performances, Right and Justice Party is made up of former MPs and political activists with uncertain electoral popular support. National Front is a coalition made of three heavyweights of former Northern Alliance, without any major representation from Pashtuns. But Right and Justice is more of a multi-ethnic centrist party, without a known vote-bank and popular support.

Contrary to the lack of a clear policy guideline at the launching ceremony of Haq wa Adalat, National Front had a clear agenda announced. Following were the main points in the National Front declaration announced;

  • NF calls the national and international stakeholders in Afghanistan to reassess the current problems with an alternative administrative system.
  • NF calls for ‘radical change’, decentralization of power from a Presidential to parliamentary system
  • NF called the traditional Loya Jirga unconstitutional saying it will not attend the gathering, asking Afghans not to participate.
  • NF supports reconciliation with the Taliban.
  • NF emphasized on the “need” for “longer presence” of international community “within a mutually defined framework”.
  • NF called for a change in the electoral system from Single Non-Transferable Vote to Proportional Representation
  • NF calls for “radical reforms” in the judicial sector and its “independence from the Executive”.

Though its ethnic diversity gives a more positive perception about the Right and Justice Party, but I am doubtful if the newborn alliance of politicians and activists from varied backgrounds and opinions will emerge as a strong political group, or even exist for too long. During the last ten years, we have been witness to many new political parties and groups, but none has proved as a strong, influential and persistent political force on the national stage.

Haq wa Adalat calls itself an ‘opposition’ party, but does not offer a program very different from the policies of Karzai Administration. I am confused over their “reformist” self-description without offering any program or agenda of reforms. Haq wa Adalat clearly distinguished itself from the Hope and Change of Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and the new National Front of Massoud-Dostum-Muhaqiq alliance who are with a clearer agenda of ‘reform’ calling for a fundamental change in the administrative system.

Right and Justice Party said it supports the current system and that the traditional Loya Jirga is a “constitutional right” of the President, while in fact the Afghan Constitution has no such ‘constitutional’ right for the President. The only major demand/agenda of Haq wa Adalat common with Change and Hope and the National Front is a call for reforms in the electoral system. Also, all the three coalitions support the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement. However, the coming months will decide the fate of Rights and Justice Party during its campaign for mass support in provinces and districts.

Afghan political activist and former chief of staff of the Foreign Ministry, Wahid Monawar says the new parties lack clear agenda. He says,

“communicating one’s platform is a vital part of any political party or campaign in order to succeed. While, critique of Karzai administration is a departing point, it’s fundamentally important to communicate one’s platform. I was hoping to read some ideas on how to influence policies that are different than Karzai’s”.

Women rights activist Wazhma Frogh is hopeful of the new political parties. She says,

“seeing those who were once part of a civil war into a civil movement, is of a new hope for Afghanistan’s future”.

Similarly, National Front is also not a strong opposition block since it failed to make a grand alliance with Hope and Change of Dr. Abdullah and other smaller groups. Its early to say if their coalition is more of an alliance for the coming elections, or gathering of like-minded ‘figures’ to come with a united-stance on particular issues and events like the Bonn Conference and withdrawal of foreign troops.

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Istanbul Summit and the end-game in Afghanistan

My Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Nov 02

Leaders and top representatives from 14 regional countries and 13 western countries involved in Afghanistan are attending the Istanbul Summit today. The US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton cancelled her participation at the last minute due to her mother’s illness, who passed away on Monday night. Iran, which has not attended the previous such summits about Afghanistan, has sent their Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammad Fatullahi. India was excluded from previous Turkish-hosted summits due to Pakistan’s opposition, but this time Foreign Minister Krishna is also attending. Representatives from other ‘regional countries’ include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The Afghan delegation led by President Karzai left Kabul on Monday. Yesterday there was a trilateral meeting among Turkish President Abdullah Gul, President Karzai and President Zardari. General Kayani and Gen Karimi also met. It’s the first meeting between Afghan and Pakistani leaders after a new wave of allegations started following the death of former Peace Council Chief Burhanuddin Rabbani. President Karzai raised the issue of his assassination and cross- border rocket attacks with his Pakistani counterpart, which was also discussed by Gen Karimi.

The Afghan delegation which was supposed to visit Pakistan for investigation of Rabbani’s assassination has not gone yet due to cold behavior from Islamabad. Despite public statements from Pakistani Foreign Office and their Embassy in Kabul to support such an investigation, members of the delegation were denied visa in Kabul.

The issue of rocket-attacks might not have been what their Turk hosts wanted the leaders from both sides to discuss, and build confidence. Istanbul is also encouraging Afghanistan and Pakistan to sign new cooperation agreements during the sidelines of this summit, including proposals for joint military exercises. After the trilateral meeting on Monday, the only achievement seemed to be an agreement of ‘cooperation’ between Afghanistan and Pakistan about the investigation of Rabbani’s assassination.

Many hopes are tied to this important summit ahead of the decisive Bonn Conference on December 05. But what objectives the meeting in Istanbul can produce are uncertain. The US and NATO sponsors of the summit want a regional structure for security and economic cooperation to assure non-interference in Afghanistan and support for the transition process, reconciliation and development of Afghan economy. But Pakistan, China and Russia are against such a new forum.

The conference is being called “Security and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia”. The outcome intended by the US and NATO sponsors include a unanimous agreement on establishment of a regional cooperation structure. But it’s less likely to expect a joint declaration and decision on this agreed by the participants.

To summarize the purpose of range of meetings recently in Kabul and other capitals for a broad support on this proposal, the US wants to ensure greater involvement of regional countries with the end-game, where Pakistan is not going to have a monopolization of political solution and role in the process of reconciliation ahead of 2014 transition.

This process of establishing a mechanism to ensure regional support for Afghanistan is part of President Obama’s larger revision of his Afghan strategy, that includes mounting the military pressure on the Haqqani Network, but also offering them the option of talks.

Recently the CIA drone strikes targeted hideouts in Miran Shah, capital of the notorious terrorist hub in North Waziristan, which was avoided previously. Besides this, the US military has increased deployment along the border in Eastern Afghanistan to mount the military pressure against the Haqqanis. The drone attacks are not based on intelligence sharing between the US and Pakistani intelligence agencies, which is in a deadlock, but due to the arrest of a senior Haqqani Network commander, Mali Khan, who was arrested by NATO forces recently. The death of Jan Baz Zadran in Miran Shah in a recent drone strike has been a blow to the Haqqani Network

However, under the revised Obama strategy, Pakistan has been offered important role in ‘negotiations’ after curbing their support to insurgents. But the US military officials say drone strikes will continue aggressively. The hit at Miram Shah has been a message to Pakistan for what the the alternative is. A meeting of the US National Security Council a couple of weeks ago has also reportedly discussed a possible US raid in Waziristan to attack Haqqani Network elements. It seems the options have been put down for Rawalpindi very clearly; kill the Haqqani Network commanders, help the US to kill them, or persuade them for negotiations.

However, as a report on the New York Times yesterday said, it’s easy for Haqqani’s, who make frequent travels around Islamabad and Rawalpindi, to go to other cities, where CIA drones cannot reach them. And the game will continue.

The Istanbul Summit’s agenda of regional cooperation and support for the end-game in Afghanistan will only produce the desired objectives when the primary players, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban and the US make their terms and conditions clear. If the Obama Administration persuades Pakistan to play honest, end their support for the Afghan insurgents, pressurize militants to come on negotiation table, there won’t be the need of a regional structure and headaches such as the agenda of Istanbul Summit. Otherwise, if Rawalpindi, which has already opposed the proposals being discussed today in Istanbul, continues the same game they have been playing for the last ten years, no positive outcomes of such summits should be expected.

Another important factor that seems to be totally out of considerations is essence of the support of Afghan society for the so-called ‘political settlement’. No matter what unanimous support and cooperation of regional countries and international players are assured, ignoring the domestic stakeholders of the conflict in Afghanistan is no good. If the US and NATO fails to recognize and understand this, even the unanimous regional support cannot produce a desired ‘end-game’ in Afghanistan, but another era of crisis and chaos.

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What is needed for success in Afghanistan?

CNN.com asked five people — either Afghans or Afghanistan experts — to explain what they think is the most important thing needed for a successful Afghanistan, not only about the current war, but long-term stability and future of Afghanistan. Here is what i told them:

Afghanistan is a war-ravaged country that has gone through three decades of crisis and chaos.

For all those years, governance has been nonexistent. There has also been a lack of socioeconomic structures. So Afghanistan cannot become a model society overnight.

Of course, peace and security are the utmost requirement to Afghanistan’s future success, but there are other major factors to consider.

We have not had a stable political system for the entire history of Afghanistan. We have never had a peaceful transition to power, just bloody coups and assassinations. During our entire history, the strongest rulers in Kabul have never had control over all parts of Afghanistan.

We need a viable alternative, decentralized power and a continued movement toward a democratic system that assures long-term political stability in the country.

Only a stable and democratic system can ensure good governance and socioeconomic development, which is the remedy for most of Afghanistan’s problems. Religious fanaticism, a root cause of militant extremism, is a product of ignorance and illiteracy. It can be fought through education.

Read the full report here at CNN.com

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Al-Qaeda Reprisal Attack in Quetta

my Outlook op-ed published on September 08, 2011

Western media is doing extensive 9/11-week coverage. I have had several interviews in the past week, remembering personal memories and experience of that tragic day on September 11, 2001 when Al-Qaeda bombers destroyed the twin towers and the following events changed lives of people around the world, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although we have gone through war and crisis in Afghanistan for the last three decades, the post-9/11 has been very different for this region.

The war in Afghanistan has secured western countries with Al-Qaeda being dismantled and other terrorist networks with global Jihadi agenda to attack western countries weakened, but it has made the region in South Asia more violent and insecure. Bomb blasts and suicide attacks have become part of routine life in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we experience regular 9/11.

I am not to approve the general rhetoric of the religious-political circles making the argument against Afghanistan war and the presence of US troops in the region as sole reason behind the suicide attacks and blasts. Nor this column is about my personal experience and thoughts on 9/11. It’s just a coincidence that I am in Quetta nowadays, in the week of 9/11, as I was here on that tragic day 10 years ago.

Yesterday once again I saw this city in bloodshed. A group of suicide bombers, including Afghan nationals, attacked residence of the Director of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) killing 26, including his wife. Brigadier Farrukh Shehzad Commander of the FC got injuries, and 26 were killed, including a Colonel and several other personnel of the FC.

Around a hundred others were wounded. Quetta is the provincial capital of the Baloch separatist insurgency-hit Balochistan. Usually, after any attacks in the city, the initial suspicions are either about the Baloch separatist nationalist groups who target Pakistani security personnel, or the sectarian Al-Qaeda allied outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who target the Hazaras.

The latter is more common in Quetta, while Baloch insurgent-attacks are mostly in the Baloch-dominating districts of Balochistan. The latest such powerful suicide-car attack targeted the Eid prayers in a Hazara area of the city last week. As usual, it was claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian outfit allied with Al-Qaeda.

Despite being under regular attacks, it was not surprising that a car with more than 50Kgs of explosive material got to the gate of FC Commander, in a very sensitive area close to Balochistan Chief Minister and Governor houses, city court, Govt. secretariat and anti-terrorist court. The Afghan and Iranian consulates are also close by. Though Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik claims there are over 100 CCTV cameras installed in Quetta, yet again sectarian terrorists kill a person every other day in crowded parts in the center of the city.

According to security officials, there were six suicide bombers. An explosive-laden car struck to the wall of FC Commander’s house, and one of the bombers made it into the gate. Two of the attackers are reportedly Afghans, one named Ahmad Gul from Kunduz with a Refugee Card. Both are said to be of Uzbek ethnic.

There is a big number of Afghans living in Quetta. Most of them get the Refugee Registration Card from Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). Found with a card, the bombers might have been living in Pakistan, and certainly not going from Afghanistan for the attack.

Tehreek Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility. But there are different reports about it, some quoting TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan as saying this attack is to avenge arrest of the Al-Qaeda operatives two weeks ago from Quetta, and others reporting that it was to avenge death of five Chechen nationals killed by personnel of the FC in May in Quetta.

Frontier Corps is a Pakistani paramilitary force led by officers of Pakistan Army. FC personnel had taken part in the ISI-led operation against Younas Al-Mauritani who was arrested along with two other Al-Qaeda operatives days before Eid from Satellite Town of Quetta. It is very likely that yesterday’s attacks were an Al-Qaeda reprisal. Quetta is no doubt a very strategic hideout for members of Al-Qaeda and Taliban Shura. It is very likely that, as TTP spokesman threatens, more reprisal attacks are carried out by Al-Qaeda in Quetta.

Such attacks are also aimed at threatening security officials who lead investigations against arrested terrorists, or conduct search operations in those notorious areas. There have been several similar attacks on offices and homes of high officials of security forces in Quetta. One reason that Pakistani intelligence agencies and security officials avoid operation against the known Al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts in the city is the fear of deadly reprisal attacks. Though Quetta is the regional headquarters of ISI, but they are more focused on the Baloch nationalist groups and insurgents in the province, than Al-Qaeda operatives and Taliban leaders in the city.

Although the US and Pakistani media dubbed reports of Al Mauritani’s arrest as a sign of cooperation and ease of tensions between CIA and ISI, the US should ask General Kayani to launch an intelligence crackdown in Quetta. It is impossible to launch a military operation in a highly crowded small city, but Al-Mauritani is not the last Al-Qaeda leader hiding in Quetta. Despite being known as the home of Taliban’s Quetta Shura, the city has been less under radar for hideouts of Al-Qaeda operatives. It is a very strategic place for them. The city is close to Afghan and Iranian borders. There are notorious places in the city with Uzbek, Chechen and other foreign nationals living in large numbers, such as Ghaus Abad and Uzbek Bazar.

The religious parties, particularly Jamiat Ulema Islam (Ideological Faction) has huge support in the city and towns around Quetta. They are unashamed of their open-ideological support for Al-Qaeda and Taliban. One can read slogans in favor of Osama bin Laden by JUI Nazriyati (ideological) on walls of Quetta. When Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad by the US Special Forces, JUI-N had taken out protest rallies holding Bin Laden photos. Later I heard from my contacts that funeral-prayer events were held for Osama in several towns around Quetta by JUI-N supporters.

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A Gesture of Reconciliation…

My op-ed on Daily Outlook Afghanistan, August 21, 2011

“We attacked the buildings [of British Council] because we want to remind the British that we won our independence from them before and we will do it again…It was signal for the British and their allies on the Independence Day that invading forces are to be doomed to destruction as the British Empire had been destined to failure 92 years ago.”

The above lines are from the statement released by Taliban’s Al-emara propaganda cell online, after the early-morning attack on the compound of British Council in the heart of Kabul, in a street in Karte Parwan. It was Friday and the Independence Day of Afghanistan when a group of six paradise-seeking suicide bombers entered the gate of the compound after an explosion that killed two poor road-cleaners of Kabul Municipality. The terrorists besieged the building for about 9 hours, killing 12, mostlyAfghans.

They were trying to find out two panicked female teachers—one British and the other South African—inside the safe room of the building. These teachers teach English and help Afghan students get scholarships in UK. It’s not important to mention the nationalities of those killed, or being inside the compound, or the purpose and timing of Taliban attack. The fact is that militants continue terror and there is no sign of change in their brutal tactics.

The Taliban statement said,

“The enemy claims that the civilians, too, have been killed in the martyrdom operation aimed at the Brits as is usual for the invading forces and their puppet to do, can be fully denied due to the fact that the attack came at about 4:30 am, the timer there was no civilians within the facility and the surrounding areas.”

They are denying that any civilian was killed. If forces of evil have any concern at all, families of the two poor Municipality workers should be visited. They cleaned drains and roads of Kabul early in the morning, but this Friday proved their last duty. They were the first victims of this brutal act of cowardice. With the first explosion blast at the gate, there were two bodies of Municipality workers lying down on the road. No wonder Talibani logic says the greater cause of killing infidels is more important than taking lives of only bread-winners of poor families. Their children might have been waiting that morning for their fathers, but only to receive dead corpses.

A day before the attack on British Council, the UK Ambassador in Kabul Sir William Patey tweeted a photo with former Taliban Ambassador to Islamabad Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef at the Iftar dinner organized by the British Embassy. With the Flickr link of photo, he said, “at Iftar I hosted. Good to see former TalibZaeef leading prayers—a small gesture of reconciliation.” I was reading this when the statement of Taliban, which I have quoted in the beginning, appeared on my twitter timeline. I thought the international community, and more importantly our leading allies in this war the UK and US, are too much optimistic about the ‘reconciliation’. Earlier this week, Sir William Patey expressed support for Taliban participation in the Bonn conference. In a press conference he was saying the Afghan Government can invite Taliban in Bonn conference, it is up to them, not the world community.

It was indeed a welcoming stance, supporting Taliban participation in Bonn. But militants responded with a deadly attack on the British Council. It was not a gesture of reconciliation. The government, peace council and the international stakeholders were beating the drums of talks and reconciliation so loud, but do we know of any progress so far? Actually there is no progress at all! According to recent reports, SayedTayed Agha, the purported Taliban negotiator who is the secretary of Mullah Omar has gone missing for the past three months. With this, the proponents of talks about talks with Taliban are also mute.
What if this ‘process of reconciliation’ and talks with Taliban fail to mark a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan? What if Taliban continue terror, with deadlier tactics and increasing pace, until 2014 when a big number of the US and NATO troops will withdraw from Afghanistan? The problem is that the international community has put all efforts and focus on the ‘reconciliation’, without a Plan B for the post-withdrawal situation. What is the alternative?

Even if talks with Taliban make success and an eventual deal made with the Mullah Omar-led Quetta Shura, it will not bring ultimate peace in Afghanistan. There will be many militant groups that the Afghan national security forces will have to fight with, even if the internationals leave and forget Afghanistan. President Karzai has stopped calling Taliban ‘brothers’ after the death of his brother, but with his lack of will during all this period; it will be a difficult situation ahead, when he is gone from the Place but his ‘angry brothers’ still shedding blood. The Afghan security forces have to get prepared for a long fight.

After the transition and transfer of security to Afghan forces, there have been several attacks in Kabul, where Afghan Special Forces have failed to control the situation. From the similar attack on Intercontinental Hotel to the latest one on British Council, without help of ISAF troops, Afghan forces have not proved themselves, giving us little hope for post-2014.
The Administration of President Karzai label the problem as international community’s failure to defeat militants, but actually it is lack of competence, political will and honesty in the Afghan leadership to fight militants. What the international community has to be blamed for is their ignorance of real supporters and roots of terrorism.

Unless the militants are not effectively targeted in all their safe havens and roots in the Af-Pak border region and serious action taken against those who support terrorism as state-policy, there will be Jihadi militancy in Afghanistan and South Asia. No matter how many gestures of reconciliation be tried by the international community and Afghan Government, it is very obvious that militants are not going to stop terror.

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Irrationality at its Worst

The Afghanistan Regional Studies Centre's forum in Kabul to discuss the Bonn 2 conference. Photo Pajhwok

My Daily Outlook op-ed published on August 06

A roundtable discussion was organized by the Afghanistan Regional Studies Center this Tuesday in Kabul to talk about the Bonn Conference. Some political analysts, most of whom were pro-Karzai folks, made speeches about the coming conference. They were saying that only the Afghan government representatives should attend the second Bonn Conference, which will be held in Germany on December 5, 2011. Among them, Zubair Shafiqi, editor of the state-run Wesa newspaper was the most aggressive. He was saying only the official delegation of the Afghan Government should attend the Bonn Conference. His point was that if civil society organizations, political forces and other institutions are ‘allowed’ to join the gathering in Bonn, it will create further problems for Afghanistan.

Besides making rage against the media discussions about the possible agenda and objectives to be discussed at the Bonn Conference, Mr. Shafiqi made very irrational and unjust remarks about Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) and its director Thomas Ruttig. In a derogatory tone, he was saying a German civil society organization led by Thomas Ruttig with an office in Qala Fatahullah has started talks with civil society organizations. Zubair Shafiqi accused that this group [AAN and other civil society organizations] want to propose a federal system in Afghanistan at the Bonn conference.

Mr. Shafiqi has been writing editorials on the state-run Wesa accusing AAN with such comments since last two weeks. I have read more than three editorials in Pashto on Wesa in this regard just in the past week. In one editorial, he had accused Thomas Ruttig of promoting the idea of federalism and making it to be part of the agenda in Bonn conference. Shafiqi calls it a conspiracy with international support.
This gathering on Tuesday was a meeting of mostly pro-Karzai folks, while the state-media reported it as a conference of ‘Afghan experts and analysts’. It’s unfair when local and international press outlets report such events under a generalized dubbing.

I have read most pieces by Thomas Ruttig. AAN is one of the most respected research organizations on Afghanistan, not only in my personal view, but according to most Afghan and foreign journalists I interact with. They publish policy research papers and blog posts on different topics. From what I understand, the accusations of Zubair Shafiqi are irrational and against the facts. Recently there was a post on AAN by Thomas Ruttig discussing representation of Afghan civil society in the Bonn conference. His commentary was about an interview of German Special Envy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Michael Steiner on TOLO TV. I have not come across any post by Thomas discussing federalism for Afghanistan. Even if he does, what is wrong about it?

In the post published on June 08 on AAN, Thomas Ruttig discusses and suggests the very rational and right objectives for the coming conference. It contains nothing of a ‘conspiracy’ against the ‘interests’ of Afghanistan, as Wesa Editor Zubair Shafiqi accuses. One doesn’t understand what really has pissed off Zubair so much. Following are excerpts from Ruttig’s post:

“The ongoing preparations for Bonn 2, with multilateral working groups on the three Bonn agenda points (civilian aspects of transition; post-2014 international involvement and ‘political process’, i.e. ‘reconciliation’), are government-only. Civil society is not involved formally, although these preparations are much more important than the conference itself. Why is the process of (s)electing Afghan civil society reps not given to one or – better – a group of Afghan umbrella organizations the West knows and funds since years anyway? Why, again, are there attempts to hand this over to German or other organizations? The Berlin government has approached non-governmental organizations and foundations to organize a ‘civil society event’ – working title ‘At the bottom of the Petersberg’ – on its behalf. It is not known yet whether any of them will agree to do it. And why such top-down approach again? Don’t Kabul and Berlin want a real democratic and inclusive process, prefer to handpick their own favourites and banish the rest to side-‘events’?

Instead of hearing speeches of some dozen international delegations, the […] conference should devote a significant part of its time (or an additional day, both preferably before the government-level talks start) to listening to representatives of Afghan civil society. In contrast from previous conferences – from Bonn [1] to The Hague [2009] –, they should sit at the main table and not be confined to venues in a secure distance with minimal time allotted to present their ideas. And governments should make sure that high-ranking people listen to them, not just desk officers who, at most, can take notes [as it was the case in Berlin 2004]. Even if the remaining time is short, civil society representatives that do not only speak for themselves or their particular organizations can still be determined. The international community – in particular the UN and the European Union […] – should take urgent steps and allocate resources for it.

Possible implementers are umbrella groups like the Afghan Civil Society Forum, ANCB, ACBAR, the Afghan Women’s and the Human Rights Network with their country-wide networks […] – preferably in cooperation with each other. Their member groups as well as ‘traditional’ civil society (local shuras etc.) could be invited on the provincial or at least the regional level by the UNAMA offices there, to trigger the process. In these meetings, priority issues to be discussed in [Bonn] and delegates could be determined for a gathering in Kabul that, in turn, would send a delegation to [Bonn] that is not hand-picked by the host country. This staggered process would ensure that not only Kabul-based groups speak for the whole of Afghanistan.”

According to Zubair Shafiqi, all those who write or talk on topics like proposing or discussing a federal system for Afghanistan are agents of foreigners and promoting conspiracy. On this page of Daily Outlook Afghanistan, I have written several op-eds discussing and supporting the idea of a federal system as a viable solution for the political instability and crisis in Afghanistan. And the logic of Zubair Shafiqi makes me an agent of foreigners making conspiracy.

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Why a Breakthrough is Unlikely at Bonn II

On 5 December, on the tenth anniversary of the Bonn Agreement, Germany will host the Bonn II conference. A preparatory meeting was held in Kabul on 27 June 2011 with representatives from more than 50 countries, under the auspices of the International Contact Group (ICG). At the meetings it was decided that Afghanistan will chair the conference and that there will be one delegation from Kabul. This means that President Karzai will chair the conference. He will also decide about the composition of the Afghan delegation. All previous high-level conferences on Afghanistan have been chaired by the UN and/or the host country, with the Afghan government as a co-chair. Still, it is hard to believe that Karzai will really be setting the agenda.

Read more here my guest post for Afghanistan Analysts Network.

 

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Afghanistan’s Border is Indus River: Army Chief

Daily Outlook op-ed published on July 28.

Recently I was watching a TOLO TV talk show hosted by Dawood Sultanzoy. He was interviewing the Chief of Armed Forces General Shir Ahmad Kairimi about the capability of Afghan security forces and the transition of security from international troops to Afghans. During the questions, Sultanzoy asked General Karimi about the rocket firings from Pakistan into Afghanistan which made hot headlines in recent weeks when Chief of Border Police in Eastern provinces resigned asking President Karzai to allow him to strike back on Pakistani security forces in response to the rocket attacks.

General Karimi gave a shocking explanation, saying Afghanistan’s border is the Indus River in Pakistan. I am quoting a translation of General Karimi’s words.

 “Durand Line agreement was for hundred years, it’s over now and Afghanistan has the right to claim its territory in Pakistan. Durand Line agreement signed in 1893 for hundred years was imposed by the imperialist power of the time. It was a political game by the imperial power in the region, and divided our borders, and we lost our territory. Our border is known, it’s the Indus River. Even Chatral was part of Afghanistan, we have documents to prove, the ruler of Chatral was appointed by Afghanistan. Pakistan and its military know that we don’t recognize the Durand Line.

Since 60 years, we have been claiming it. The last time it was martyred Sardar Dawood, former President of Afghanistan, who claimed our Pashtunistan land officially. Pakistan after 66 years of its birth has now claimed some changes in the Durand Line saying that the real line was some kilometers inside Afghanistan. ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) have drawn their claim on map, it’s with me. It’s a political game by Pakistan to persuade the international community to come and see.

Both lines that they claim will be in favor of Pakistan, asking us to sign. Pakistan is trying to make us recognize the Durand Line that way. The purpose of the recent rocket attacks is to provoke us for a reaction. President Karzai announced that we won’t attack Pakistan. Because if we attack on the other side of the Line [Durand], it’s our own territory, we will attack our own brothers. We won’t react and undermine our future with their provocation, but I want to make it clear for the international community that our border is not the Durand Line, it’s the Indus River. We will even not talk on Durand Line, when you call us to come and resolve the issue of some kilometers on that line”.

That was the summary of what the Chief of Afghanistan’s Armed Forces said. The issue of Durand Line is an unspoken root cause of disputes between the states of Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past several decades. It reached peak during the rule of President Dawood, when the slogan of Pashtunistan and claims beyond Durand Line were the official mantra of the time. Both Islamabad and Kabul started proxy campaigns when President Dawood allowed the mass migration of Baloch separatists in Kabul who were fighting in the mountains of Balochistan against Pakistan Army.

In response, Islamabad for brief period raised the slogan of independent Hazarajat through some circles in central Afghanistan. A media war through Radio Kabul and Radio Pakistan became the channel of that proxy campaign. The Islamic fundamentalists who were fighting against President Dawood were supported by the then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. President Dawood made new claims extending the supposed Pashtunistan territory in parts of Balochistan province.

Most successive Afghan Governments have been taking up the issue of legitimacy of Durand Line not accepting it as international border. But strange is that, the state never officially condemns the brutal dictator of the time Abdul Rahman Khan who signed the Durand Line Agreement in 1893. It’s a bogus stand to keep mum on the deeds of this tyrant ruler, but denounce his agreement.
Previous Afghan Governments have questioned the legitimacy of Durand Line. In 1949, the Afghan parliament cancelled all previous treaties with Britain, including the Durand Line Agreement. But strangely, following governments kept requesting the British Government to intervene in the cold war between Afghanistan and Pakistan in that era.

The Afghan governments in the period from 1949 to 1973 have all failed to persuade the international community and forums to intervene on the issue of Pashtunistan. The international community considers the Durand Line as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even if the current crippled Government which cannot control our present territory and extend the write of Government, succeeds in bringing the issue of Durand Line on international level, it will be almost impossible to prove the stance our previous governments have been taking. When we cannot control the current territory and masses don’t trust our security forces to maintain their security, the Army Chief talks about a non-existent dispute which should have been resolved long ago.

The statement of General Karimi has come in the context of recent Pakistani attempts to make the Afghan state recognize the border officially. But our Army Chief makes claim all across the Sindh river. Its good he didn’t go too far across Indus inside India and claim the territory invaded by Ahmad Shah Abdali or even back in the era of Mehmood Ghaznavi.

We are going to get to nowhere with such foolhardiness. The Durand Line dispute has been a game of interest between rulers in Kabul and Islamabad. I conclude this piece with words of Daily Outlook’s former executive editor Musa Khan Jalalzai, “The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa across the Durand Line are not willing to join Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan must not allow the Durand Line to become a flashpoint. Most of the Asian frontiers have not been demarcated by Asians themselves, but by colonial powers, therefore nobody can insist on the inviolability of any frontier, including the Durand Line. The Great Game and military confrontations between Russia and Great Britain caused the fixing of the Durand Line, which brought the Khyber Pass and Quetta under British-Indian control”.

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Concerns on Impact of Transitional Withdrawal

Afghans Fear Economic Disaster, Political Instability

My Outlook op-ed published on June 13

Nowadays talks in political circles and among pundits in Afghanistan are about the post-withdrawal situation and transition process since the US and NATO troops are going to start pulling out from next month. President Obama is going to announce his withdrawal plan and the number of outgoing troops in coming weeks. In Afghanistan, concerns are regarding the ambiguity of transition and the impact of withdrawal on security, economy and stability. It’s not only the hot topic among political circles and policy-advocacy organizations, but also the evening chats of common Afghans, since the news reports have been focusing on these issues nowadays.

Media reports and policy makers have not reflected the public opinion on these issues. Talking to professional educated Afghans in Kabul, one can easily feel the sense of alarm and concern in their reaction. But people in countryside and volatile parts of the country are not aware of these issues and there is less reflection of their thoughts and reaction in local and international media.

However, the civil society, rights organizations, policy advocacy groups and professional educated Afghans in Kabul and other cities are very much concerned. For instance, when Afghan media reported the details of a report by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee predicting a financial disaster in Afghanistan after 2014, it was an alarming topic on every tongue in the capital, which is hugely flourishing on Western dollars and could face an ultimate collapse in the booming banking, housing and industrial production sectors. A friend of mine and sociopolitical commentator Hadi Zaher reacting to the reports of Afghan economic disaster in the US said

a giant bubble has been forming in the housing/land market in the major cities for the last decade. The question now is not about if but when it will burst. Even many Afghan investors are sticking around because of international military presence, once the shield is shaky, they are likely to flee. Up until a month ago, land prices in many suburbs in Kabul were almost equal to prices in suburbs in metropolitan cities in the West. Average investor has half a foot in Kabul and weight in Dubai or elsewhere. Fundamentals of the Afghan economy are notoriously weak, thus likely to plummet. Property prices in Kabul housing schemes are unsustainable and rising independently of booms elsewhere in the Afghan economy. Assume adjustment in aid changes wage structures and they fall, large share of skilled workforce or returned exiles are unlikely to stay. Over the last few years GDP growth has been very volatile – differing by up to 30 percent between two consecutive years, inflation running in the 30s. The US is Afghanistan’s largest export market, how’s that likely to change once ‘transition’ occurs?”

Though the predictions of economic disaster lack serious argument, reaction on these reports work as a thermometer to measure the alarming sense of concern among masses, which is not properly reflected in media.

Besides the economic disaster tale, serious concerns are expressed about the political and security situation in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan. It is common nowadays to hear ordinary Afghans in Kabul fearing a return of the 90s era while talking about the US/NATO withdrawal and the uncertain future. Civil society representatives and analysts are of the view that the transition process is very murky and ambiguous. A policy advocacy activist and civil society representative while talking about the transition process the other day told me

it is very ambiguous. The success of the transition seems to be all depending on certain conditions and outcome of the political settlement being talked about. There is no risk-management options considered! Suppose the planned transition in any of the targeted provinces results in complete failure and the Afghan security forces fail to maintain security, what will be the choice of the US and NATO? It’s not clear!

These concerns are going to get reflected more strongly. Already policy advocacy organizations and think-tanks in Kabul have started debates to reflect these concerns about the impact of the withdrawal of international troops. For instance, a policy advocacy organization and think-tank The Mass Movement Mobilization of Afghanistan is going to convene a high-level conference in Kabul in coming weeks inviting top security analysts, scholars, political experts, politicians and diplomats to discuss the impact assessment of withdrawal on political stability in Afghanistan and particular effect on the most vulnerable segments of Afghan society like women. The organizers of the conference think

the current superfluous debate portraying the positive impact of a political settlement with the Taliban and post-withdrawal transition does not reflect the concerns and anxieties of the majority of the Afghan people and civil society.”

One reason for such deep concerns is that the stakeholders do not bother to keep the public informed about the process. Things are unclear; therefore an alarming sense of concern is prevailing among masses.

According to a report on the Daily Beast yesterday, President Obama is likely to announce the withdrawal plan starting from next month on July 15. The report says the US troops—currently about 100,000—will be reduced by upward of 30,000 over the next 12-18 months. However these troops to the pulled out from next month constitute the number of troops—30,000—deployed in the surge of 2009. And there will still be about 70,000 US troops. But the decision announced earlier by NATO and Washington to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by 2015 remains firm.

The fact is that all stakeholders including the international community and the Afghan Government know these concerns of the masses, and the fact that once the process of withdrawal starts and it gets more coverage in local Afghan media with intense discussions generating awareness, public reaction will be more visible. The stakeholders should bother to listen and consider addressing these concerns; otherwise it will be the first factor for failure of the entire process.

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