Posts Tagged ‘Alissa J. Rubin’

The real problem with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai and the CIA

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

It is sometimes stunning to observe how journalists at leading U.S. newspapers can write about some recent action Hamid Karzai has taken against U.S. interests in Afghanistan, without at the same time recalling for the reader Karzai’s near-certain deep ties to the CIA and the latter’s funding the corruption of his government.

Karzai’s latest outrage is his attempt to introduce new conditions for his signing of the status of foces agreement with the United States that Secretary John Kerry and everyone else thought had just been agreed to last week.

But Karzai decided to raise the ante in his perennial game of high-stakes poker with U.S. military and civilian leaders–saying he wouldn’t sign the (agreed-upon) agreement until after the April 5 elections, which incidentally would give him enormous leverage over the U.S. and other Western countries to ensure that they do not push too hard for really democratic presidential elections in April, or denounce the electoral fraud that will surely take place again, as it did in 2009 when Karzai through the most curious of circumstances was “elected” to be president of Afghanistan.

Without U.S. support, Karzai’s fate might very well be sealed in short order, with the collapse of his government.

We have to ask, “What gives Karzai such brazen assurance that he can defy the U.S. with impunity, without consequences?

For one thing, he has done it for many years and always gotten away with it.

The reason for his impunity from any consequences from the U.S. for repeatedly outrageous and perfidious behavior results, in all likelihood, from the close ties he and his deceased brother have had with the CIA over the years.

See

Matthew Rosenberg, “With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan.” New York Times, April 28, 2013.

Rosenberg reported,

KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”

The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

See also

Alissa J. Rubin, “Departing French Envoy Has Frank Words on Afghanistan,” New York Times, April 27, 2013.

Michael Kelly, “The CIA Has Paid Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To The Afghan President’s Office Over The Last Decade,” Business INsider, April 29, 2013 (12:34 AM).

Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A.,”New York Times, October 27, 2009.

On CIA payments to other high Afghan government officials, see

“CIA Payments Undercut U.S. Efforts to Strengthen Governance in Afghanistan, The Trenchant Observer, September 2, 2010.

Karzai’s most recent act of perfidy is one he could only be emboldened to undertake as a result of the close relationship he and his family have had with the CIA, and his unbroken string of successes in forcing the U.S. to back down or to accept his outrageous comments and behavior.

Instead of a democratic project in Afghanistan, what we have seen at least since 2004 or 2005 is a cynical policy in which the CIA paid high government officials, even if corrupt or involved in the drug trade, in a policy based on the assumption that good governance would somehow just automatically spring into existence as U.S. and ISAF forces fulfilled their missions and trained the Afghan army and security forces.

We saw how that works with the abject failure of the “government in a box” concept in the Marja campaign in 2010.

See the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan, June 23, 2010; and

“REPRISE: Reasoning from Conclusions in Afghanistan,” August 19, 2012.

What we are seeing now with Karzai is only the logical consequence of that cynical policy, where U.S. money was used to block the development of truly democratic forces and institutions in Afghanistan, through bags of money delivered to President Karzai and other government officials, off the books, and by other means.

The last exit ramp from the Karzai carrousel was in 2009 when a second round of presidential elections was called, and the U.S. had the power to ensure that it actually be held. But they couldn’t break with Karzai, who undoubtedly has a lot of dirty linen on the CIA, and without whose help and that of Ahmed Wali Karzai, his brother in Kandahar (until his death in 2011), the CIA and the U.S. military probably couldn’t even have operated effectively in the south.

So the endgame is in McLean, and not in Kabul. For the United States to ever have a stable status of forces agreement upon which it can rely, and a chance to ever build a state in Afghanistan that can stand on its own, it will have to be prepared to cut the cord with Hamid Karzai, and to support genuinely free presidential elections in Afghanistan in April, 2014.

Karzai is now acting to forestall that possibility. But the U.S. urgently needs to push back, to change its strategy, and to stop relying on Karzai, if there is to be any point to keeping a residual force in Afghanistan after 2014. To achieve that, Obama will have to negotiate with John Brennan at the CIA in McLean, not with Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

The great risk here is that Karzai is overplaying his hand, and domestic politics in the United States may produce a result which leads to a complete withdrawal of U.S. and international forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, if not before, and a withdrawal of the financial assistance which keeps the Afghan state afloat.

In sum, any of a number of events, such as a miscalculation, events on the ground, or political reactions in the United States, could lead to an abrupt American withdrawal, resulting in the same kind of fiasco as has occurred in Iraq, with one difference: the Afghan state would be likely to collapse.

The Trenchant Observer

Corrupt-istan Update: Karzai’s Brazen Defiance

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Karzai blocks anti-corruption efforts

After Hamid Karzai intervened to thwart the investigation and arrest of some of his top officials, including Mohammed Zia Salehi, a top security adviser, President Obama held several meetings with his top National Security staff.  Karzai had blocked the work of two special anti-corruption units that had been established with the support and close assistance of U.S. officials, and fired Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar, who had overseen their activities.

At the close of one meeting on September 14, at the peak of the crisis caused by Karzai’s actions, Obama gave instructions to the relevant agencies to go back and come up with “more sophisticated options”.  See Mark Mazzetti and Rod Norland, “U.S. Debates Karzai’s Place in Fighting Corruption,” New York Times, September 14, 2010.

These reportedly included a strategy to go after small-scale corruption by Afghan officials, while ignoring the massive corruption led by Karzai and his associates at the top levels of the Afghan government. See The Trenchant Observer, “Fighting corruption and other challenges in Dexter Filkins’ Corrupt-istan,” September 18, 2010.

Bags of cash from Iran

Since that time, it has been reported that Iran has for several years routinely shipped millions of dollars in cash to high officials in the Afghan government. See Dexter Filkins, “Iran Is Said to Give Top Karzai Aide Cash by the Bagful,” New York Times, October 23, 2010.

At a news conference on October 25, Karzai confirmed these cash payments from Iran, stating,

“They do give us bags of money — yes, yes, it is done,” Mr. Karzai said, responding to questions about a report in The New York Times on Sunday that Iran sends regular cash payments to his chief of staff, Umar Daudzai. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this.”

“Patriotism has a price,” he said.

To be sure, earlier reports revealed that the C.I.A. had been making payments to a large number of Afghan officials for years.

Lies and Insults: The Security Contractors Issue

What was perhaps more shocking were other statements made by Karzai at the October 25 news conference. Again, without evidence, he charged American security contractors with being behind a large number of attacks on the Afghan population, insisting on a December deadline for the withdrawal of foreign security contractors–with important exceptions. The latter include, presumably, his own security detail.

During an often hostile news conference, Mr. Karzai also accused the United States of financing the “killing” of Afghans by paying private security contractors to guard construction projects and convoys in Afghanistan. He has declined to postpone a December deadline he set for ending the use of private security forces despite urgent pleas from Western organizations, including development organizations, that need protection here.

The private security companies, many of which are paid for by the United States, are spreading chaos and unjustly killing Afghan civilians, Mr. Karzai said.

“The money dealing with the private security companies starts in the hallways of the U.S. government,” he said. “Then they send the money for killing here.”

Under a decree he issued in August, all private security firms must stop operations by Dec. 17. The United States and other Western governments here say they accept the ban, and they are trying to switch to the use of the Afghan police and soldiers to protect their military convoys…

They have asked for additional time to make the change, especially for civilian development organizations (which) say they will not be able to continue work without security for employees…

The Afghan president said security companies were responsible for a litany of bloody crimes against the country’s people. “When this money comes to Afghanistan, it causes insecurity in Afghan homes and causes the killing of Afghan children and causes explosions and terrorism in Afghanistan,” Mr. Karzai said.

He leveled several accusations against Western interests in Afghanistan and the news media, even going so far as to say that the security companies were interchangeable with the Taliban.

“In fact we don’t know how many of the explosions are the fault of the Taliban and how much by them,” said Mr. Karzai, referring to the security companies.

–Dexter Filkins and Alissa J. Rubin, “Afghan Leader Admits His Office Gets Cash from Iran,” New York Times, October 25, 2010.

Several days later, the ban on private security contractors was pushed back at least two months, allowing time for further consultations.

Three additional aspects of the security contractors issue are important, but have received relatively little attention in the press. First, if the ban on private security contractors stands, the billions of U.S. dollars now spent on providing personal security for U.S. civilian workers and contractors would presumably be funneled through the Afghan government. This would provide enormous and new sources of revenue to Afghan officials through graft and corruption, while enabling Karzai to strengthen his hold on power through his patronage networks.

Second, and more critical in terms of the U.S. military campaign and strategy, transferring this security function to Afghans would draw police and army personnel away from the urgent task of holding territory that has been cleared of the Taliban.

A final point is that Afghan army and police officials, many of whom are illiterate, are hardly likely to be able to provide the sophisticated security protection they would be replacing. As a result, the civilian side of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan could collapse.

“Sophisticated Options”: Charges Against Salehi Dropped; “Radio Silence” on New and Ongoing Electoral Fraud

Four Republican senators visited Kabul on November 10, concerned about corruption in the Karzai government.  The New York Times reports,

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former presidential candidate, said the members of the delegation planned to forcefully raise the issue of corruption with Mr. Karzai. “We will bring up a couple of recent events that are very disturbing,” Mr. McCain said. He did not elaborate, but on Monday, Afghan officials said that corruption charges had been dropped against a Karzai aide, Mohammed Zia Salehi.

Mr. Karzai had intervened to have Mr. Salehi released from prison after he was arrested by an antigraft unit in late July. The case was embarrassing to the Americans, however, as it emerged that Mr. Salehi had been on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The contours of the more “sophisticated options” adopted by the Obama administration now appear clear. These “more sophisticated options” seem to consist of not undertaking any anti-corruption activities that might get Karzai upset.

They also appear to include maintaining a “radio silence” regarding the massive fraud in the National Assembly elections held on September 18. One of Karzai’s ministers, Ismail Khan, was allegedly caught on tape directing part of the fraud. The tape has been played on Afghan television.

Nonetheless, the U.S. and its allies have been unwilling to question the election results.

A protracted political fight over the legitimacy of the elections is something U.S. and NATO officials are trying to avoid. As they prepare to make their case for progress in the Afghan war at a summit in Lisbon and a December review in the United States, they have said the allegations lack evidence.
–Joshua Partlow, Audio files raise new questions about Afghan elections,”Washington Post, November 11, 2010.

A Primary Obstacle to “Good Governance” in Afghanistan

It is apparent that a primary obstacle to providing the “good governance” required to avoid a collapse of the government in Afghanistan is Hamid Karzai. Bearing in mind that he assumed the office of president only as the result of massive fraud which he himself apparently orchestrated, he cannot properly be viewed as the elected and legitimate president of Afghanistan.

It is time for the U.S. to start developing a Plan B, which would involve the early departure of Hamid Karzai from Afghanistan. As noted earlier,

What Obama needs to do is to take the bull by the horns, and start exploring options for the early departure of Hamid Karzai. This will be a monumentally challenging task. So was D-Day in World War II.

A starting point might be for the U.S. Congress to pass a law providing that no U.S. funds or personnel could be used to fund Hamid Karzai’s security detail. This prohibition could be lifted only when restrictions by the Afghan government on the use of private security contractors in Afghanistan had been revoked.

When someone like Karzai persistently directs lies and insults against you, while you are funding the very security that enables him to stay in power, you must either stand up and burst the bonds of a dependent and abusive relationship, or suffer the consequences of being a wimp.

In this case, the consequences of being a wimp are likely to be the continued loss of American and Allied lives and treasure, to no avail, and eventually the collapse of the Afghan government.

See, e.g.,

Dexter Filkins and Sharifullah Sahak, “Afghan Police Unit Defects to Taliban, Leaving Burning Station Behind,” The New York Times, November 1, 2010.

Greg Miller, “U.S. military campaign to topple resilient Taliban hasn’t succeeded, The Washington Post, October 27, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer

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Fighting corruption and other challenges in Dexter Filkins’ Corrupt-istan

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Some time is likely to pass before the results of Saturday’s National Assembly elections in Afghanistan become known, and are officially announced.

In the meantime, it is useful to reflect on the more fundamental issues facing the United States, NATO and other allied countries engaged in the effort to secure the country from the Taliban–or at least arrange a departure that does not lead to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government.

As we get caught up in the details provided to our reporters by U.S. military and civilian officials in Afghanistan and Washington, and also those of allied nations, we tend to forget several fundamental facts about the country.

First, Afghanistan is a narco-state, where drug money and drug lords hold inordinate sway.

Second, the country is the second most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International which ranks it 179th, with only the anarchic state of Somalia ranking lower at 180th.

Third, while the United States has supported the development of institutions necessary for good governance over the course of the nine-year war, as have the United Nations and other allied nations, its Central Intelligence Agency has at the same time been paying many high-ranking Afghan officials either as assets or to provide specific information and services, on a long-term and continuing basis. Many of these officials have been known to be corrupt.

Fourth, the United States has been unable to break free from its support of president Hamid Karzai, even when the presidential elections held in August 2009 gave it an opportunity to do so through adherence to the Afghan constitution and the electoral machinery that had been set up in accordance with Afghan legislation. Despite a massive vote against Karzai and for Abdullah that, even after a portion of the votes produced by corruption had been discounted, required that a second-round runoff election be held, the U.S. stood by Karzai.

The massive corruption of the electoral process, apparently orchestrated by Karzai, was corrected in part only by the Electoral Complaints Commission that at that time had a majority of three international members. Lost in the news reporting was the critical fact that the ECC had only examined the results of the voting stations where the most egregious fraud had occurred. The actual extent of the fraud was in all likelihood far greater than that examined and found by the ECC, and it is quite possible that Abdulllah Abdullah, who came in second, could have won a free and fair second round election.

The U.S., instead of facing down Karzai, turned to Pakistan and apparently struck a deal to gain the cooperation of the Pakistani military in negotiating with the Taliban, in exchange for ceasing its pressure on Karzai to either actually hold a second-round election or form a national unity government with Abdullah. In the face of Karzai’s refusal to meet Abdullah’s demand that the members of the Independent Electoral Commission who had orchestrated the fraud be replaced, the latter withdrew from the race.

As Thomas Friedman observed in the New York Times in his March 31 op-ed column,

When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?

See also The Trenchant Observer, “Thomas L. Friedman on Karzai; Hard Options,” March 31, 2010.

Fifth, when U.S. anti-corruption efforts collide with the pervasive corruption at the top of the Afghan government, which reportedly has many high-ranking officials on the CIA payroll, those efforts seem to always be sacrificed as the intelligence agencies weigh in to protect their assets.

See, e.g., Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti, “Karzai Aide in Corruption Inquiry Is Tied to C.I.A.,” New York Times, August 25, 2010

Recently, Karzai blocked the efforts of two U.S. supported Afghan anti-corruption bodies when they sought to arrest officials close to Karzai widely reputed to be corrupt. Karzai then fired Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar, who had been in charge of these anti-corruption efforts. The New York Times, in an editorial on August 25, 2010, noted,

A report in Thursday’s Times that the aide, Mohammed Zia Salehi, is a paid agent of the C.I.A. shows, once again, the seamy complications of this war.

In late July, Mr. Salehi, a top national security adviser to Mr. Karzai, was arrested after being accused of soliciting bribes to help block an investigation of the New Ansari Exchange. New Ansari, a financial firm based in Kabul, is suspected of helping move billions of dollars out of Afghanistan.

The two anticorruption agencies, the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigations Unit, were established by the Afghan government last year with encouragement from the United States. They are independent, with broad powers to arrest, detain and try suspects, and they receive technical and other help from the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

–Editorial, “Mr. Karzai’s Promises,” New York Times, August 25, 2010

The Central Dilemma Facing the U.S. in Afghanistan

The central dilemma facing the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan is that good governance is required for the Taliban to be checked, both according to U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine (as enunciated in the Army manual drafted by Petraeus), and under the specific conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. Yet good governance cannot be built, or governance strengthened, without law and the framework of law that such governance requires.

In a word, the U.S. and its allies are not likely to succeed in stabilizing Afghanistan, or in reducing the likelihood of destabilization of Pakistan as a result of failure in Afghanistan, without clearly setting out as its objective the establishment and consolidation of a constitutional or rule-of-law state.

That does not mean that the United States must maintain large military forces in Afghanistan until such a state is firmly in place, but it does mean that U.S. and allied efforts in the country must be oriented toward that goal, and not undermine it.

A long-term commitment from the U.S. and its allies on the civilian side, to assist in building and strengthening such a rule-of-law state, may be required. Such a commitment, however, would reassure Afghan partners dedicated to such an enterprise, and potential adherents, that the Umited States will not simply withdraw its troops and leave the country to warlords, drug lords, and the Taliban.

Two must-read articles lay out the depths of the pervasive corruption that exists in Afghanistan, and the inherent contradictions–as well as the strange if not delusional thinking–involved in current U.S. policymaking discussions on the subject of how to fight this corruption. See

Dexter Filkins, “Inside Corrupt-istan, a Loss of Faith in Leaders,” The New York Times, September 4, 2010; and

Mark Mazzetti and Rod Norland, “U.S. Debates Karzai’s Place in Fighting Corruption,” New York Times, September 14, 2010

Filkins writes,

It’s not as if the Americans and their NATO partners don’t know who the corrupt Afghans are. American officers and anti-corruption teams have drawn up intricate charts outlining the criminal syndicates that entwine the Afghan business and political elites. They’ve even given the charts a name: “Malign Actor Networks.” A k a MAN.

Looking at some of these charts—with their crisscrossed lines connecting politicians, drug traffickers and insurgents — it’s easy to conclude that this country is ruled neither by the government, nor NATO, nor the Taliban, but by the MAN.

It turns out, of course, that some of the same “malign actors” the diplomats and officers are railing against are on the payroll of the C.I.A. At least until recently, American officials say, one of them was Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother. Mr. Karzai has long been suspected of facilitating the country’s booming drug trade.

President Obama’s Response

How has president Obama reacted to Karzai’s interventions to block anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan and his firing of Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar?

On Monday, September 14, Mazzetti and Norland report, the president met with his senior advisors to address the problem:

The Obama administration is debating whether to make Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, a more central player in efforts to root out corruption in his own government, including giving him more oversight of graft investigators and notifying him before any arrests, according to senior American officials.

The corruption issue was at the center of a two-hour White House meeting on Monday, with President Obama and senior aides agreeing that efforts to tackle corruption should be balanced against the need to maintain ties with the Afghan government.

“The discussion on corruption, in essence, is really a discussion about our relationship with Karzai,” said one senior Obama administration official, who like several others interviewed for this article spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Officials cautioned that no firm decisions had been made about whether President Karzai should have any veto power over anticorruption efforts. They said that Mr. Obama told his advisers on Monday to come up with a more “sophisticated” policy toward Afghan corruption.

Mr. Obama, the officials said, directed government agencies — including the Pentagon, the State Department, the Justice Department and the C.I.A. — to develop guidelines that could isolate the corruption that fuels anger among Afghans and drives many into the ranks of the insurgency, as opposed to the more routine kickbacks and bribes that grease the Afghan political system.

“The corruption we need to combat is the corruption that undermines the fight against the Taliban,” said a second American official. “That means going after officials who abuse ordinary Afghans and drive them to the other side — a plundering landlord or a brutal, thieving cop.”

In other words, the idea is to pursue some corruption, but not the corruption at the top of the Afghan government. In the president’s words, the challenge is to come up with a more “sophisticated” policy toward fighting Afghan corruption.

Perhaps more importantly, Obama’s call for more “sophisticated” options for fighting corruption in Afghanistan reflects Karzai’s continued ability to “roll” the president, who every time he hits a brick wall seems to call for more analysis.

There is room for some doubt as to whether these “sophisticated” intellectual distinctions and options, if found and implemented, will ever gain traction in the second most corrupt country in the world, Corrupt-istan.

To the Observer, the idea of trying to make Karzai a more central player in efforts to root out corruption in his own government sounds like giving Al Capone a more central role in cleaning up Chicago.

In the meantime, anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan are “paused”. See Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin, “New Afghan Corruption Inquiries Frozen,” New York Times, September 14, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer

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Intelligence Matters: In Afghanistan, Karzai Ousts Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

DEVELOPING STORY

Hamid Karzai has ousted the two top intelligence officials in his government, on the stated ground that they failed to prevent the Taliban attack on the peace jirga in Kabul last week. See Alissa J.Rubin, “Afghan Leader Forces Out Top 2 Security Officials,” New York Times,  June 6, 2010.

U.S. officials expressed surprise, she reported, as they said they had good working relationships with Hanif Atmar, the Interior minister, and Amrullah Saleh, the intelligence chief.

How this development may affect the coming U.S. offensive in Kandahar is not clear. 

AP reported the reaction of Karzai’s opponent in the August 20, 2009 first-round presidential elections as follows:

“I would say it’s a hasty and irrational decision by a president of Afghanistan who has deprived his own government of professional capacity to combat the insurgency,” Abdullah, a key Northern Alliance leader and former foreign minister, told The Associated Press. “The only party that will benefit is the Taliban.”
–Rahim Faiez and Matthew Pennington, “Karzai defends removal of Afghan security chiefs,” Associated Press, June 7, 2010.

See also the following articles:

Amanda Hodge, “Afghan security chiefs resign,” The Australian,
June 8, 2010

Abubakar Siddique, “Resignations Of Top Afghan Security Officials Have Broad Implications,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL),
June 8, 2010

June 6, 2010

Jon Boone, “Afghan interior minister and spy chief resign over jirga security breaches: Double resignation seen as ‘disaster’ for international efforts to improve country’s security and reform police force, ” The Guardian (guardian.co.uk),
June 6, 2010

Jonathan Burch “INTERVIEW-Afghan ex-intel chief says opposed Karzai peace plan,” Reuters, June 7, 2010

Karim Talibi (AFP), “Afghan resignations threaten US-led security drive,”
AFP / Google, June 7, 2010

The Trenchant Observer

Afghanistan: Controversy Over Live TV Coverage of Attacks, Deafening Silence on Karzai’s Electoral Coup

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

The government of Hamid Karzai has proposed a ban on live television coverage of militant attacks and active security operations in response. In the meantime, Karzai’s takeover of the Electoral Complaints Commission stands, and is unlikely to be reversed.

Live Television Coverage of Militant Attacks, Human Rights, and Freedom of the Press

Alissa Rubin of the New York Times reports

Minute-by-minute news coverage by Afghan television stations of two recent suicide attacks proved an embarrassment for the government, showing that it could not stop militants from penetrating even heavily guarded areas of the capital.

The stated reason for the ban is that live coverage presents a security risk because it lets the attackers see how the security forces are responding and allows them to send guidance to militant operatives. Officials also said they were trying to protect journalists from gunfire and bombs.

“While there is an operation going on, the journalists’ lives are always in danger; it doesn’t mean we are censoring the media,” said Waheed Omar, the spokesman for President Karzai. “We will find a way to protect journalists’ lives and to prevent enemies from using those live broadcasts for their benefit.”

–Alissa J. Rubin and Abdul Waheed Wafa, “Afghanistan Aims to Ban Live Coverage of Attacks,” New York Times, March 2, 2010

The Taliban has objected on the ground that the ban would violate human rights including the right to freedom of the press:

“We the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemn this proclamation of the Kabul authorities and this is actually a violation of the international law of media, civil society and human rights,” said Zabibullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman in a telephone interview.

“Banning the free media actually indicates that they are violating freedom of speech. This is unacceptable and a violation of worldwide media freedom,” he said.

–Alissa J. Rubin, “Taliban: Bomb the Ban,” New York Times (At War blog), March 3, 2010

Meanwhile, FOX News quoted Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as follows:

The State Department will voice its concerns to President Karzai about a proposed ban on live media during Taliban attacks, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Tuesday.

“It’s pretty obvious we support free press”, Holbrooke told reporters at a State Department briefing. “We don’t support restrictions on press. My whole career has been devoted to supporting that and PJ [Crowley, State Department spokesman] and I and the Secretary of State are concerned and we’ll make our support of free access by the press clear to the government.”
-Justin Fishel, “Afghans Propose Media Ban, U.S. Reacts,” FOX NEWS Live Shots, March 2, 2010

Since this appears to be a difficult issue for Western officials, the Observer suggests they consult with their respective millitary leaders and ask them for their views on the question of live television broadcasts of ongoing military operations.

Played for Fools?

As this human rights controversy raged, there was a deafening silence from the United States, NATO countries and the U.N. regarding Karzai’s blatant coup and takeover of the Electoral Complaints Commission, in flagrant violation of the Electoral Law and the Constitution.

In short, we are debating whether there should be live TV coverage of police and military operations in Afghanistan, while the U.S. media, with few but notable exceptions, ignores the takeover of the electoral machinery by Karzai and what is being done to reverse that decision. Meanwhile, he engages in ploys that would circumvent legal requirements that women serve in the National Assembly, as he appears to prepare the stage for more electoral fraud in the national assembly elections expected to be held in September of this year.

The details of the electoral coup are important to understand. On February 22, 2010, Karzai published a decree giving himself the power to appoint the five members of the ECC, under his authority to issue decree laws when the National Assembly is not in session. By twisted logic, it is believed that a constitutional provision establishing that the electoral law cannot be changed within a year of an election would prevent the National Assembly from reversing his decree. This is a question of Afghan constitutional law, which in an ideal world an independent constitutional court or Supreme Court with constitutional review authority would throw out as a preposterous interpretation of the law. But Western governments seem baffled as to what to do, and are likely to accept a face-saving solution that leaves Karzai with the power to appoint the ECC with a majority of at least three Afghan members.

Former U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan Kai Eide has stated that Karzai promised him that two of the five members of the ECC would be international members (as opposed to the majority of three required in the previous legislation), and diplomatic efforts may lead to that result. But the bottom line is that Karzai will still control the ECC and therefore the outcome of election disputes and elections.

The U.S., NATO countries and the U.N. are all likely to be quite satisfied with that outcome, demonstrating once again that Karzai is a master strategist and tactician in the game of protecting the power of Karzai.

The burning question is how many more U.S. and allied lives should be sacrificed for that cause.

The Trenchant Observer

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