Tag Archives: Afghanistan Government

The Egypt Uprising Lesson for Afghans

My op-ed column on Outlook Feb 10.

Nowadays there are talks of Egypt-like public anger against the government in Afghanistan in the blogosphere and Afghan news websites. Popular Afghan Dari and Pashto news and commentary websites have run editorials with titles such as “Karzai should learn from the uprising in Egypt”. An editorial of a famous Dari website comments, “Karzai and his infamous team with failures know that their political survival has not many days. Today, tomorrow or day after tomorrow they will be replaced by a just rule of law.” Another commentary on a much-read website says that a country like Afghanistan where unemployment rate is over 50%, and the residents of palaces take it as granted right of inheritance to rule, the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia should alert them.”

It’s not only on famous Afghan news commentary websites and blogs, but also there have been such comments by foreign analysts. A commentary on the GlobalPost titled “Afghans can only watch and envy as Egypt revolts” talks about the constitutional manipulation by President Karzai to bring his allies in Parliament and links the Egypt uprising with Afghanistan as a “hypocrisy of American foreign policy”. The author has quoted an Afghan democracy activist saying that Karzai is becoming an autocrat adding that “when an autocrat sweeps the problems under rug for too long, the situation becomes volatile. We can see the evidence of that now in Egypt.” Some other Afghans quoted in the report also say the same stuff that the corrupt rulers of Kabul should learn from Egypt and avoid becoming a dictator.

However, the editorials on Afghan websites calling the people to stand up for their rights are dead wrong on the Egypt uprising and a similar public anger against the failure of governance in Afghanistan. It is impossible to happen in this country. The uprisings in Egypt and some other neighboring countries following the ouster of a dictator in Tunisia are firstly against authoritarian rulers who have been in power for decades. Secondly, the populations in those countries have been repressed of all their basic rights of speech and expression, with huge unemployment, poverty and other issues. These problems exist in Afghanistan, but people know that the solution to poverty and unemployment is not all due to Government failure. If such an uprising or public reaction would have been possible in Afghanistan, people should have stood against the rigging in Presidential elections or the huge corruption, bribery and favoritism. In a previous op-ed about the Kabul Bank corruption story, I had written “If this was a country like Tunisia, the latest report about corruption details should have caused a revolt against the great looters and robbers of Kabul and kick them out of the country to their villas in Dubai, like Tunisians did with Ben Ali.” The mass illiterate population in Afghanistan has not the political awareness, even to the level the people of Tunisia or Egypt living under repression for decades have. We have free media where dozens of news channels and hundreds of newspapers criticize the Government for corruption and governance failure every other day. Documents of corruption are published online. Every single Afghan goes through the deep rooted culture of bribery in the machinery of state. People even commit suicide because of unemployment and poverty. Insecurity should have been the biggest reason to bring people with a strong mass reaction against the Government or insurgents. But have you ever heard of any public reaction? NO. Why is it like that? The answer is that the Afghan society is much divided on social, political, religious, ethnic and tribal lines that such a unified civil movement against corrupt rulers is almost unimaginable. During the last nine years, there has not been a single huge public demonstration against the very common problems like poverty, unemployment, insecurity, favoritism and corruption. All the public demonstrations or show of anger against the Government have been based on political conflicts and those protests have been led by political tribal or religious figures. Remember any big mass protest rally in any corner of the country including capital Kabul in the last nine years? Yeah there has been, but not one about social problems, poverty, corruption, unemployment, favoritism or bribery in every institution of the Government. It doesn’t mean that the people are not tired of the present corrupt ruling elite who have allied for looting. Watch TV programs or news hours in the evenings, every citizen interviewed complains about the smallest problems to the bigger and most common ones like bribery and corruption. But there is not a sense of civic activism to raise voice against these problems in a more effective way of public demonstrations threatening the rule of the looters forcing them compelled to take steps in resolving those problems. If there is such a sense, it is limited to some editorials online, which is read by a small number of middle class urban citizens who are educated and have access to the internet while majority of the population in Kabul have no electricity.

The uprisings in Egypt and its neighboring countries are by the urban middle class who have burst out of reaction after enough of suppression. In Afghanistan, the middle class is not a big part of the urban population in cities like Kabul, Mazar, Kandahar, Herat and the rest. There are the small ruling elite who live in a lifestyle like that of Hosni Mubarak and his family or Ben Ali and his tribe. Like those dictators, our “democratic” corrupt ruling elite apply the same tactics to control masses. You wonder why public demonstrations have never been on social issues; rather it has always been either in support of Palestinians and against Israel or countrywide violent rallies against a crazy Christian pastor living in a far away corner of the US who had warned to burn Qur’an. Because public sentiments are controlled by the religious fanatics and the state won’t bother with them, as long as they don’t threaten or challenge the corruption of rulers.

The huge majority of people in Afghanistan are living below the poverty line. Their political awareness has been controlled by the right-wing extremist fanatic Mullahs with political agendas, provoking the most reactionary public sentiments through religious slogans and taking out rallies either to say “Marg Bar Amrika” (Death to America) or “Down with Zionism”. These right-wing led public demonstrations have never been about social issues, unemployment, poverty, insecurity, corruption or bribery. When they have to score a political agenda, public sentiments are provoked with religious slogans. Such a trend has always controlled and habituated the public reaction and protest in a particular way with only specific issues of religious sentiments, while the greater problems like corruption have never been a matter of mass demonstrations.

In Egypt and Tunisia the uprisings were without a leader. In Afghanistan, public movements have always been led by individuals, mostly ethnic and tribal figures with their self-interested political agendas.  Afghan TV channels nowadays have extensive news coverage of the uprising in Cairo. I wish the people here learn the lessons that their greater issues are insecurity, unemployment, corruption, bribery and favoritism of the rulers. They should also learn the facts about the uprisings on Tahrir Sqaure of Cairo, where Christian and Muslim Egyptians are hand-in-hand standing in front of the rubber bullets and police torture against a dictator who has the political and financial support of a superpower. In Afghanistan, religious unity among followers of different beliefs is beyond imagination; here people from same religion have never been unified on ethnic and tribal lines for their collective issues and rights. And that’s the reason I believe an Egypt or Tunisia-like uprising will never happen in Afghanistan. It will be great if only people learned that demonstrations can also be against corruption and rulers, not only about Palestine and Israel. That’s the lesson from Egypt uprising for Afghans.

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The Year in Review

"Happy New Year" says NATO to Taliban. Cartoon by Alizada

I know i am too late for this post and there are already too many commentaries on blogs about Afghanistan regarding the year in review. I am trying to review the year from an Afghan perspective, which might be a bit different from the ones you have read on western media outlets and blogs by foreign journalists.

For the U.S and NATO, 2010 was another bloody year of failure to speed up transition in Afghanistan. We remained on downward spiral, not only from security perspective, but also governance, nation-building and the socio-economic change. The year ended with stories of corruption at its worst, such as the bags of cash coming from Tehran to the Presidential Palace. The uniqueness and peculiarity of this corruption story was that both Karzai and Tehran confirmed the reports. The promises of a holy war  against corruption made by the President while taking oath for his second term in office was not in action in 2010. Favoritism and tribal political centralism was still a phenomenon at a time when Afghanistan needs promotion of merit and nationhood the most. But alas we are the unluckiest of nations on earth, faced up with the most corrupt and inefficient leaders, who rather than leading us towards a hopeful future, are becoming crisis mongers buried in their personal interests and tribal mindset.

In 2010, many more provinces in North and South East went to militants. The major military operations in Helmand and Kandahar have not proved the expected results. Nor the insurgents are on a position of hide-and-run to be compelled for negotiations. While the efforts of our President who had made the fight against corruption and efforts to persuade Taliban for talks as his prime tasks of the year, brought no success. The story of talks about talks with the Taliban culminated with a beautiful imposter fooling the entire Government of Afghanistan and NATO which exposed the whole episode of talks about talks with insurgents.

It started with hope, but all those London to Kabul conferences, the Jirga and then finally producing the Peace Council has not shown a positive outcome so far.  Besides the civilian casualties, increasing insurgency, rampant corruption and talks about talks with Taliban, below are some other important incidents of 2010 for Afghanistan.

Salang Pass Catastrophe

Over 160 people died in the catastrophic avalanches of the 12,700-feet-high Salang Tunnel on Feb 08. That was a deadly catastrophe, but the Government has learnt nothing from it. Salang Pass is the only road connecting capital Kabul to Northern parts of the country. It goes through heavy snowfall every year and dozens of people die during January and February. The tunnel built by the Soviet Union is now in a deplorable condition, and can bring any tragic catastrophe again, if the Government does not pay attention for repair and reconstruction work. There should be an Emergency Committee ready for any unexpected incident, and the Government should have learnt from the tragic incident of last year.

The Acting-Ministers

The cabinet nominees of President Karzai were rejected for three times from the Parliament, but still after one year, many ministries are run by acting ministers. It seems these acting ministers will complete the whole tenure of five years. The previous parliament, that rejected them could not compel the President to respect their mandate and the Constitution.

First Parliament

The very ineffective first parliament of the democratic history of Afghanistan completed its tenure in 2010. They could not even implement their own resolutions, while the Presidency could easily and completely bypass them. They will be remembered as the first parliament of Afghanistan, who were most disorganized, divided, rubber-stamp and weak house of ragtags. Quorum was not complete for many of the important sessions of the house. Members were not seen once during the entire year in any session of the parliament. The story of bribery to MPs for buying up their votes was the story of every town after nominations, impeachment of ministers of some important voting session. It was this first infamous and ineffective parliament that approved the shameful drafts like the “Rape Law”—the so-called “Shiite Personal Status Law”—which allowed marital rape of women. The hottest discussions of our first parliament was all about banning TV serials, talking about ban on jeans and paint for boys and girls.

Now the new parliament is again with a similar fate. We don’t know what will happen with the constitutional crisis. The rulers are taking the country toward a crisis by their efforts to alter the election results.

The Kuchi-Hazara Dispute

Do you remember that blood Friday in Kabul in the holy month of Ramazan when an armed clash between the Kuchis and Hazara claimed several lives? Every year there is a bloody episode of Kuchi-Hazara conflict in Behsud, but 2010 brought it to the edge of catastrophe when the conflict reached in capital Kabul. That Friday the firing of Police and civilians pelting stones was terrifying for Kabulities. Police failed to control the situation that day, as angry mob burnt down a police station. Half a dozen people died that Friday. The Karzai Government has not been serious about the resolution of the Kuchi-Hazara conflict. Every year dozens die in the dispute between the two groups in Behsud, which reached Kabul in 2010. It can still become a burning fire this summer, the time every year conflict starts. The Govt. and all parties need to get serious for a permanent resolution of the issue.

The Kabul Bank Saga

The Kabul Bank crisis had panicked masses, as well as the Government and international community, but now it seems nothing had happened. I am not sure to credit the Central Bank for its success to manage the crisis, at a time when thousands of people were lining up in front of branches of the bank across the country to withdraw their deposits, but actually it was the Government that created the panic and mayhem with the sudden takeover of Kabul Bank and public announcement of it.

And those responsible in the crisis went unpunished. The shareholders of the bank were bigwigs and allies of President Karzai including one of his brothers. Their corruption and luxurious villas in Dubai caused the crisis that almost brought a financial crisis in the economy and banking meltdown.

Conscript Military Service

There was an intense debate on electronic and print media, as well as among people about the idea of conscript military  service proposed. President Karzai talked about it first time in Munich Security Conference. Afghanistan had conscript army service mandatory prior to 1992. After the fall of the central government and eruption of civil war, the military structure was destroyed. In the wake of difficulties for recruitment for army, the idea of conscript service was proposed. But the history of forced military service is not very positive in Afghanistan. People used dozens of tricks to escape their service, while the influential tribal people and those having ‘good-relations’ with officials were always let go without service. However, the discussion did not come up with something, nor the Government pursued the idea.

Hope for 2011?

I don’t see prospects of any improvement this year too. President Obama announced his last year’s review and there was no change in the policy, nor he indicated any strong support for the talks with Taliban that is being pursued by the Peace Council nowadays. I hope the surge strategy under the leadership of General Petraeus will weaken the insurgency and help the process of talks. But the US and NATO should not close their eyes in hope of talks, while the Northern provinces become the next Helmand and Kandahar. I am also very skeptical of any success regarding the talks with Taliban. Unless the leadership of Kandahari Taliban, mainly the so-called Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani Network under any divine miracle change their Jihadi agenda and thinking, things won’t work. I am skeptical that even if Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment try to support the talks and attempt to persuade these elements, its hard to make a political compromise with them. The Obama Administration should press hard Pakistan, giving the military establishment its wishing ‘role’ in talks with Taliban on some conditions, for the last chance. If even then, such a strategy does not work, the only way  is ultimate defeat of Taliban leadership, which is possible through more successful ground operations, drone attacks on the leadership hideouts of Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and increase of intelligence on ground to chase and track the insurgent leadership.

Websites of the Year!

At the conclusion, i am also telling the readers of this blog the two best websites of year about Afghanistan for me. The Afghanistan Analysts Network is my website of 2010, with the best analysis about Afghanistan. Though not as known as the mainstream media reporting on Afghanistan, but their writers are most accurate and unmistakable, even compared to those breaking reports of NYTimes or Washington Post and BBC. My second best is the AfPak Channel, not only for the great AfPak news links they share on twitter, and daily briefs, but also the quality of commentary on Afghanistan by their contributors.

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Filed under Insurgency, Karzai-Obama, Parliament, Parliamentary Elections 2010, Taliban, US Troops in Afghanistan

Federal System Only Option for Taliban, U.S.

My CNN blog post.

Why is it that every policy change is doomed to failure in Afghanistan? From the community-security and reach-out policy to the fight against drugs, all have shown little success so far.

Gen. Petraeus has come to Afghanistan with the latest commitment of success. After fierce opposition from the Afghan government, his proposed Public Protection Force has been approved by the Afghan cabinet. This approach is based on the successful model of Iraq, where Sunni militia groups were armed to fight against al-Qaeda. In the Afghan government, there was intense opposition to the program of arming locals as a Public Protection Force to avoid Taliban insurgency spreading. President Karzai’s ambitions are more of setting a ground for the post-American Afghanistan, regardless of whatever results. There are no signs of success so far that his proposed reintegration of Taliban will work out.

Coming to Arg (the Afghan Presidential Palace) for a second term in a controversial election, Karzai has been moving close to Iran and Pakistan. In June, when the interior minister and intelligence chief were asked by the president to resign, the most common commentary in Kabul newspapers were that the move is to placate Pakistan regarding the Taliban reconciliation, as NDS (National Directorate of Security) Chief, Amrullah Saleh was the fiercest Pakistan-critic voice in the Karzai Administration. Some politicians in Kabul even fear Karzai will attempt to grab power for long after NATO withdrawal, by calling a National Jirga and bringing some amendments in the constitution. And it’s quite possible!

Again the fundamental question is: why after billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives sacrificed, is Afghanistan becoming a quagmire for the U.S. and NATO? Why is it that Iraq is gradually getting stability while Afghanistan is deteriorating with a new story each day of failure? Recently there have been talks about a de facto division of Afghanistan. The U.S. policy thinkers are now discovering the options suggested nine years ago by many in Afghanistan. And it comes at a time when the situation is at its worst. If there was such serious thinking in Washington in 2001, things would have not been at its worst.

Renowned Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid in an article on the Financial Times website has mocked former U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill’s suggestion of de facto partition of Afghanistan in volatile Taliban-influenced South and peaceful North and Hazarajat. Ahmad writes “Not a single Afghan will ever support such a demand.” Really? Ahmad Rashid analyses from his world of knowledge about post-Taliban Afghanistan, which he has not visited for the last couple of years. He should know that the slogan of Latif Pedram, a presidential candidate rival of Karzai in last year’s election, was for a federal system in Afghanistan demanding division of regions in the country. And there are ethnocentric “nationalist” groups even advocating for a full partition.

Today Gen. Petraeus is applying the Iraq model of Sunni Awakening under the label of Public Protect Force in Afghanistan after years of growing insurgency. Pentagon and Washington know now that the insurgency is of the same nature in Iraq and Afghanistan, ideologically and operationally. But the strategy will only work when other parallels are successful, too.

The political system and civilian government is a measuring parallel for the success of military operations in Afghanistan. The administration in Kabul is a fragile and corrupt one, and fundamentally very different from the system successfully working in Iraq. The key of success in Iraq in fighting insurgency was Sunni Awakening in addition to a stable federal parliamentary political system. Amidst the discussions of alternatives in Afghanistan, federal parliamentary system would be the best way to avoid a bloody partition. As Mr. Blackmill says, “there is no quick, easy and cost-free ways to escape the current deadly quagmire.” Leaders from Afghanistan had suggested it long ago in 2002 during the Bonn Conference and later. And recently, it has not only been Latif Pedram calling for a federal system, but the strongest rival of Karzai in the election – former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah was calling for a parliamentary system. And allies of Karzai in election, who left Karzai’s side recently, Muhaqiq and Dostum, have been calling for a fundamental change in the system. Recently in a TV talk in Kabul, Muhaqiq was saying “we demand decentralization of power, you name it federal system, parliamentary or whatever…”

A central system is against the nature of Afghanistan for centuries. A strong central government has never had control over all parts of the country in history. Even today, under a strong presidency and central government, Karzai due to his political weaknesses cannot remove a rival Governor of Balkh, Mr. Ata, who often talks against Karzai in public.

Such a system would be the only solution for the so-called reconciliation and reintegration program with insurgents. Taliban want a share in power, and they fight under the slogan of Sharia and religion. Some ministries and offices in Kabul would not bring them for a settlement. If local people of an area want to be ruled by Taliban, billions of U.S. dollars and the least-corrupt official appointed from Kabul would never win the hearts and minds of people. It’s impossible for Taliban to burn down girls’ schools, if the majority of local people are against it. Simply, let people be ruled by Taliban in the areas the people want them. And the little population who don’t want to live under Taliban can move to other provinces. Some of the southern provinces could go under Taliban if they take part in elections in a federal system with provincial autonomy. And this can be the only possible deal for workable negotiations.

Taliban insurgency is now spreading to the peaceful parts of country. Most peaceful provinces like Bamyan, Badakhshan and Daikundi were in headlines the past week for casualties. The Iraq model of Gen. Petraeus is incomplete unless the political system in Afghanistan is like that of Iraq. For saving Afghanistan and the efforts made in the last nine years, it’s extremely important to bring fundamental changes in the whole strategy and system in Afghanistan.

Already there is a rise of ethnic sentiments in Afghanistan after the calls of reconciliation by Karzai. Political leaders in North and Hazarajat are saying to launch a mass campaign. The best way to avoid a bloody partition like that of Ahmad Rashid’s country (partition of Bangladesh from Pakistan) in 1971 is to change the system in Afghanistan. The attempts of negotiations with Taliban will not work unless they receive an attractive offer of rule in some provinces of South under a federal parliamentary democratic system. It’s an honorable roadmap for the U.S. withdrawal from a stable Afghanistan.

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Filed under Insurgency, Karzai-Obama, Taliban