Archive for the ‘Quetta Shura’ Category

“The Magician” draws eyes away from the ball in Afghanistan–again!

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Once again, on the eve of a major meeting of U.S. and NATO foreign and defense ministers on October 14, the “Magician” in his green cape with a wide-sweeping gesture says, “Look over there!” And everyone takes their eyes off the ball, to be entralled once again by the Magician’s magic.

This magic causes them to forget nine years of dealing with the Magician, the rational and analytical factors that are relevant to the situation on the ground, and strategic thinking on how to manage and overcome the obstacles those realities pose, including the goals to be pursued.

The latest gesture is really a series of actions, including the recent formation of a peace negotiation council and culminating in the well-timed news report, based on an interview with a NATO official, on background, announcing that ISAF is facilitating preliminary discussions–not negotiations–aimed at reconciliation of the Taliban and reintegration of their members into Afghan society.

The NATO official confirmed that “there has been outreach by very senior members of the Taliban to the highest levels of the Afghan government.” But the official cautioned that these have been only preliminary discussions about reintegrating insurgent fighters and reconciling with the militant movement’s leadership.

Even so, the official said, prospect of a cease-fire and peace pact as a path to ending the war, now nine years old, is deemed sufficiently tantalizing that personnel from NATO nations in Afghanistan “have indeed facilitated to various degrees the contacts (emphasis added).

The NATO official…spoke in advance of a NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday that will include alliance ministers of foreign affairs and of defense. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are scheduled to attend.

Thursday’s meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers comes a month before an alliance summit in Lisbon to discuss strategy in Afghanistan.

–Thom Shanker, “NATO Helping Afghan-Taliban Talks, Official Says,” New York Times, Oct. 13, 2010

In January, at the London Afghanistan International Donors Conference, Hamid Karzai used a similar ploy with great success. There, he moved attention to excitement about reconciliation with the Taliban, away from the massive electoral fraud in the August 2009 presidential elections which he had just overseen (the climactic moments of which came in early November, 2010), and away from the continuing and massive corruption in Afghanistan, from the top down.

The Allies fell for it, and ignored the electoral fraud for all intents and purposes. Now, as another massive electoral fraud is underway, the allies talk of the “magic” solution of negotiating a deal with the Taliban and exiting the country, which is, in the words of the NATO official quoted above, “sufficiently tantalizing” to lead NATO to facilitate safe passage of Taliban members to Kabul.

But there are hard fracts on the ground. The Taliban has the momentum, and according to most reprts is gaining ground. Good governance, according to U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is the sine qua non , i.e., absolute prerequisite, for any success against the Taliban.

So, here is the agenda which should form a central focus of discussions among leaders of the NATO countries and also among the more broadly-based donors conferences to be held in the future:

1. What is Hamid Karzai doing to build good governance–i.e., constitutional government and the rule of law–in Afghanistan?

2. Will he reverse the blocking of the two anti-corruption bodies that had been established, and allow prosecution of high-ranking officials in his government for graft or other corrupt activities?

3. What is he doing to ensure that the counting of votes in the September 18 national assembly elections is conducted fairly, and that all complaints of electoral fraud be fully investigated with their results being reflected in the vote totals?

4. What is he doing to establish good governmence and the provision of government services in the Kandahar region, as the U.S. moves to clear the Taliban from the area?

These are not, of course, the only questions that need to be taken up in allied discussions. However, they require a central, serious and sustained focus, both at meetings and in ongoing discussions between coalition officials.

If a central requirement for Taliban reconciliation and reintegration is that they accept the Afghan constitution, the allies should also insist that Hamid Karzai accept the Afghan constitution and the rule of law, even when it comes to the prosecution of his cronies.

Will it hapen? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Karzai has “rolled” President Obama on the corruption issue, and there now appears to be little inclination to hold him to account. In fact, with the dismissal of the deputy attorney general in charge of the anti-corrupion efforts, the whole allied anti-corruption policy is in a shambles.

Let the leaders of the allies and the donors group focus on that, not the Magician’s latest ploy. Without good governance, which by definition appears to be impossible in a lawless state, the U.S. and its allies are not likely to prevail in Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus is quoted by Bob Woodward in his new book, Obama’s Wars, as saying, I understand the government is a criminal syndicate.” (p. 220).

American, ISAF and other coalition soldiers should not be asked to risk their lives to maintain in power “a criminal syndicate” headed by Hamid Karzai. The central task for decisionmakers, in the U.S. as in allied countries, is to move the government of Afghanistan toward observing the rule of law. That appears to be the only path to establishing good governance.

The alternative, in theory but not really on the ground, is to fall for the Magician’s ploys about reconciliation and reintegration of the Taliban, and just hope the whole problem of Afghanistan and Pakistan will simply go away.

We should bear in mind that even the negotiated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam took five years of negotiations in Paris (1968-1973). In that case, the consequences for the U.S. of withdrawing from Vietnam and the ensuing defeat of the South Vietnamese government in 1975 were very minor, when compared to what would happen in South Asia if a negotiated peace with the Taliban led subsequently to the fall of the Afghan governmet to the Taliban.

The Magician’s ploy is “tantalizing”, particularly to those with no memory or who see no way out of the morass in Afghanistan.  But all concerned should keep their eyes on the ball, the realities on the ground, and discuss in earnest a strategy that can overcome them.

Since the U.S. strategy appears to be in disarray, perhaps NATO foreign and defense ministers can come up with some useful ideas, particularly with respect to the establishment of  “good governance” and the rule of law, including effective prosecution of individiuals at the top of the power structure in Afghanistan.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited.

U.S.-Pak Military Deal: Quetta Shura Arrests, Karzai’s Electoral Coup, and the Rule of Law

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

REVISED February 25, 2010

On February 24, the Crhristian Science Monitor reported from Kabul that Pakistani military sources say they have arrested seven of the 15 members of the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura.

See Anand Gopal, “Half of Afghanistan Taliban leadership arrested in Pakistan,” The Christian Science Monitor (Kabul, February 24, 2010 dispatch).

If true, the report suggests the U.S. has obtained big gains, at least in the short term, from its deal with the Pakistani military.

Viewed from the perspective of this bargain, even acquiescence by the U.S., NATO and the U.N. in Karzai’s blatant maneuver to take over the Independent Electoral Commission has a certain logic, and can be understood as providing assurance to the Pakistani military that Abdullah and the forces of the Northern Alliance, who they view as too close to India, will not be allowed to win significant power through the elections to the National Assembly in 2010.

The gains against the Afghan Taliban are certainly important, and to be applauded.

However, can anyone still say, with a straight face, that we are fighting for “the rule of law” in Afghanistan?

To win the longer-term struggle in Afghanistan, the United States needs to “roll back” Karzai’s electoral coup with the Independent Electoral Commission, and get behind the project of free and transparent elections to the National Assembly later this year.

Support of NATO and other U.S. allies for continuing troop commitments in Afghanistan may depend on perceptions that the U.S. is interested in broader goals in Afghanistan–including protection of international human rights (e.g., women’s rights), good governance, and the rule of law–and not just getting out as quickly as it can.

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Karzai’s Electoral Coup, 1000 U.S. Military Deaths and… “What Is It, Again, That We Are Fighting for in Afghanistan?”

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

“La guerre, c’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.”
–Georges Clemenceau

“Une dictature est un pays dans lequel on n’a pas besoin de passer toute une nuit devant son poste pour apprendre le résultat des élections.”
–Georges Clemenceau


As the number of U.S. military killed in Afghanistan passes the 1000 mark…

The Observer is wondering about the coordination of U.S. military and civilian policy in Afghanistan. On February 23, 2009, it became known that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had signed a law that gives him sole authority to appoint the five members of the “Independent Electoral Commission” which will be charged with overseeing the upcoming Congressional elections. Also on February 23, Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan, appeared by video on Afghan television to personally apologize to the people of Afghanistan for the 27 (or 33) civilian deaths caused by allied error in an air strike on February 21.

Is anyone in charge of U.S. policy in Afghanistan?

Has anyone given thought to what the impact might be on an Afghan audience of the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan apologizing to the Aghan nation on the very same day it was widely reported that Karzai had carried out an electoral coup, preparing the way for the next electoral fraud?

They should.

It would be useful also if they would review the record of Hamid Karzai, and the role of the Independent Electoral Commission in the run-up to, during, and after the first-round presidential elections on August 20, 2009.

The United States, NATO and the United Nations appear to be surrendering their greatest weapon in the struggle for Afghanistan, their last plausible ground on which to argue that their war and development efforts in Afghanistan are aimed at furthering democratic government and the protection of international human rights. In a mind-boggling statement, a UN spokesperson said the following:

“We hope that this decree is in line with the Constitution and with what Parliament and civil society has called for regarding reforms of the electoral system,” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters. –UN News Centre, “UN studying proposed Afghan electoral decree,” February 24, 2010

Are they destroying the foundations in Afghanistan for the only ideology, that of democracy and international human rights, that might effectively counter the ideology of jihad? Couldn’t this ideology be a real force in the struggle for the allegiance of the population of Afghanistan, and, in particular, the 44.5 % of the population that is 14 years old or younger?

Without this ideology to counter that of the jihadists and also Pashtun nationalism, the troops and the people are being called upon to fight to support Hamid Karzai and his colleagues in government, and “to diminish” the influence of the Taliban.

That is hardly a fair ideological match.

The question remains, “What will motivate the army and the police to put their lives on the line in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan?”

The Trenchant Observer

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

ADDENDUM: Elections for representatives at the district level will apparently not be held in 2010. Such elections would permit the formation of a genuine opposition in the Assembly, backed by popular support, a development promised in the electoral law but which Karzai appears to have been unwilling to accept.