Posts Tagged ‘Richard Holbrooke’

Assassination of Syed Saleem Shahzad: Pakistan is the problem

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online, was assassinated in Pakistan at the time of or shortly after his disappearance on May 29, reportedly on the orders of top-level officials of the Pakistan intelligence agency.

See Editorial, “A Pakistani Journalist’s Murder,” The New York Times, July 7, 2011

Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt, “Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist,” New York Times, July 4, 2011

“Pakistan ‘sanctioned’ killing of journalist, says US commander: Islamabad hits back at claim by Admiral Mike Mullen over murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, The Guardian, July 8, 2011

The Observer has previously referred to Shahzad’s reports on alleged behind-the-scenes deals between the Obama administration and the Pakistan military. The first was for the U.S. to withdraw its support of Abdullah Abdullah in negotiations for a unity government or at least the holding of a second-round election, in the stand-off that resulted from the massive fraud in the Afghanistan presidential elections held on August 20, 2009. The U.S. basically cast Abdullah aside, and backed Karzai as the legitimate winner in the elections, reportedly in exchange for Pakistani support in facilitating negotiations with the Taliban.

The second and related move by Hamid Karzai, believed to be at the insistence of Pakistan, was to fire the intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, and the interior minister, Hanif Atmar, who were viewed as too close to India and therefore hostile to Pakistan. Both were fomer members of the Northern Alliance, the force which with the United States toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Intelligence Matters: In Afghanistan, Karzai Ousts Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh,” June 6, 2010

Now, perhaps partly as an unintended consequence of the humiliation of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies by President Obama, who loudly touted the fact that the United States took out Bin Laden without the foreknowledge or participation of Pakistani officials, a leading reporter on the inner workings of the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies has been murdered. According to American officials, the assassination was approved at very high levels of the Pakistan military and security agencies.

The Observer must observe, in passing, that Obama’s public humiliation of Pakistani military and intelligence officials was utterly unnecessary, and represented a novice’s mistake for a practitioner of foreign policy. In international affairs, it is important to allow your enemies, as well as your (questionable) allies and friends, to save face, and not to push them too hard into a corner. Doing so subjects them to intense internal political and other pressures and sharply limits their freedom of action in adopting policies that you may want them to follow.

Obama, in effect, stressed that the operation against Bin Laden violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, when he might easily have left that issue shrouded in ambiguity. His mistake was to publicly declaim that the Bin Laden operation was carried out without Pakistani knowldge. That wasn’t necessary. On the other hand, it was entirely appropriate to raise the issue of how Bin Laden had lived near Islamabad in Abbottabad, the very same town where the Pakistani “West Point” is located, without being detected. These were legitimate questions. The public humiliation was a grave mistake.

Since the Bin Laden killing, U.S.-Pakistan military and intelligence relations have taken a sharp turn for the worse.

We are left with a situation where we are faced with a nuclear-weapons state, which continues to support Taliban and other insurgent forces operating in Afghanistan, while our own ability to conduct anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations from within and against targets in Pakistan territory has been greatly curtailed.

The assassination of Shazad closed one of the few windows open to the world to follow and understand the machinations underway within Pakistani military and intelligence circles.

It also serves as a useful reminder that the United States has gained very little from its apparent deal with Pakistan by withdrawing its support for Abdullah in 2009, and acquiescing in the firing of Saleh and Atmar.

The much-touted negotiations with the Taliban have come to nothing, and hold very little promoise of ever producing tangible results. We are no further along in this regard, in fact, than we were two years ago. The illusions fed by the flawed assumption of the possibility of a political settlement with the Taliban remain as far from the reality on the ground and the realm of real-world possibilities as they were then. The difference is that now President Obama, with his recent speech on the the path forward in Afghanistan, has adopted a posture of publicly relying on those illusions.

The consequences in Afghanistan are likely to be harsh. Moreover, we now face a much larger problem in Pakistan than even that faced in Afghanistan itself, which we have yet to devise a successful strategy to address.

The effects of the loss of Special Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, who died suddenly in December, 2010, have been devastating.

On July 9, 2011, the United States faces a one-time ally in Pakistan which looks much more like a hostile state that 1) will block a peaceful resolution of the war in Afghanistan on terms acceptable to the West and the international community; 2) itself has become a great center of Islamic radicalism and the spawning of terrorist behavior; and 3) poses an ultiimate risk to the United States and other nations due to its possession of nuclear weapons.

If a country like Pakistan can decide, at the highest military and intelligence levels, to assassinate a journalist whose reports reveal messy facts they would prefer to remain hidden, how can the United States continue to proceed as if it were an ally?

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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Links to some of the Observer’s articles dealing with Syed Saleem Shahzad and the issues he raised, and excerpts from these articles, are reporduced below.

NEWS TO NOTE: Pakistani sources report progress in back-channel talks with Taliban, September 18, 2010

See Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Taliban soften as talks gain speed,” Asia Times On-Line (www.atimes.com), September 15, 2010.

“Pakistan Desire to “Mediate” with Taliban Consistent with Earlier Reports of Deal to Support Karzai in Election Settlement,”
February 10th, 2010

NEWS TO NOTE Deal by U.S. with Pakistan Military to Undercut Abdullah in Final Discussions?
November 11th, 2009

“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

www.trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments are invited.

Strategic disarray in Afghanistan

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

“The current near-term strategy appears to be to try to kill enough of the Taliban’s leaders to force them to negotiate a settlement on terms acceptable to Hamid Karzai.”

“This war will not be won, or defeat avoided, by fine intellectual distinctions.”

“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.”

Current U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

The bad news from Afghanistan, and about U.S. policy making in Washington, is coming in at a dizzying pace.

Hardly had we recovered from the Wikileaks disclosures, when Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars threw a sharp spotlight on the nature and quality of deicision making in the White House.

At such a juncture, it is useful to reflect for a moment on our strategy in Afghanistan.

The United States developed during the course of the war in Iraq the ability to combine real-time intelligence with targeted killings and special operations. Some military and civilian leaders appear to have concluded that this capability turned the war in Iraq around. They underestimate or forget the significance of other factors such as genuine elections and a real government partner in achieving the turnaround there.

In Afghanistan, U.S. military and civilian policymakers have bought into the seductive allure of this extraordinary targeted killing capability, falling into the trap of rejecting the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine (embodied in David Petraeus’ COIN army manual).

The leitmotif of the Army’s COIN doctrine is that such conflicts are won by protecting the people and gaining their support as a result of providing them with security. This takes a long time.

As now revealed in Bob Woodward’s description of Obama’s drawn-out policy review of last summer and fall, the president has wanted desperately to get out of Afghanistan.

However, he has not come up with a strategy to do so. Somewhat disastrously, he has partially rejected the military’s advice, giving them a deadline of July, 2011 to start handing control over to he Afghans and withdrawing troops. This sent the wrong signal to everyone in the region.

It was, and is, an impossible assignment. The deadline does not allow for even a limited COIN strategy that could show results by the announced December policy review deadline.

Whether because of the strategy review and deadline, or because McChrystal with his background in special operations was a firm believer in that form of counterinsurgency warfare, U.S. strategy in Aghanistan shifted radically away from trying to secure and hold territory and population centers, particularly after the failure of the Marja campaign earlier this year.

The current near-term strategy appears to be to try to kill enough of the Taliban’s leaders to force them to negotiate a settlement on terms acceptable to Hamid Karzai.

What happens in the long-delayed Kandahar campaign, and whether it is possible to hold the region while leaving Ahmed Karzai in place, will reveal whether there may still be a COIN component of an evolving strategy now that David Petraeus is in command.

The War-Fighting Role of the CIA

Now we learn that the military is providing drones and other equipment to the CIA, which has assumed a war-fighting role, presumably because of their ability to locate human targets for drone and special operations attacks.

It should not come as a surprise that with the CIA and special ops forces directing the assault on the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuaries, considerations of international law have been jettisoned almost entirely.

The Washington Post reports that the CIA (through employees and contractors, we know from other sources), has taken a lead role in the drone attacks. As non-military personnel, these individuals do not appear to be protected by the provisions of the law of war or humanitarian law that might otherwise apply, even under the Bush and Obama Administrations’ extraordinarily broad interpretations of those provisions.

Karzai’s Peace Council

Earlier this week Carlotta Gall of the New York Times reported that President Hamid Karzai had created (out of thin air) a large body to negotiate peace and reconciliation with the Taliban, in total diregard of the Afghan Constitution. She communicated this plan to her readers without so much as mentioning the September 18 elections and the massive fraud that is currently underway.

Keeping our Eyes on the Ball

So, we are trying to kill and intimidate the Taliban to the conference table, at a time when many if not most reports indicate they are gaining momentum against the fatally corrupt government of Hamid Karzai. We are ignoring the impact on the population of Pakistan, and even its military, of repeatedly taking direct military action within the territory of that sovereign state–regardless of whatever “consent” may have been given by the military or even the civilian government.

With a short-sighted focus on exiting Afghanistan as soon as possible, we seem oblivious to the very great risks that our drone attacks may have an impact in Pakistan which, together with the impact of the recent floods, could cause politics in that country to spin out of control.

The president appears to have his eyes on the wrong ball, which is Afghanistan. It is simply not realistic to assume that we can withdraw from that country in the short term, without producing disastrous consequences.

We need to keep our eyes on the nuclear ball, which is in Pakistan. Aghanistan will not achieve stability if efforts to achieve it destablize Pakistan, which is the real ball game in this part of the world.

It is also time to take the war-fighting role away from the CIA, and to leave conduct of this war to the military, under the direction of the commander-in-chief.

On questions of stategy, Obama quite properly will and should have the final word. He would be well-advised, however, to listen most carefully to the civilian and military experts with direct responsibilities and/or experience on the ground, and to ignore the fine intellectual distinctions others around him throw out–such as finding a “more spphisticated” way of fighting corruption in the country.

This war will not be won, or defeat avoided, by fine intellectual distinctions.

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.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments are invited.

REPRISE (from March 26, 2010): Afghanistan U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Originally Published March 26, 2010

In his first press conference, Staffan de Mistura, the new Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), described what he and the United Nations are doing to facilitate “credible and inclusive” National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010.

“Let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, so the elections are still likely to be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans’ feelings that they are really part of it,” de Mistura told reporters.

Translation: We are going to try to make the National Assembly elections appear “credible”, although Hamid Karzai will control the outcome through his majority of three appointed Afghan members on the Electoral Complaints Commission. We are not going to raise a stink over his blatant rewriting of the electoral law in violation of the Constitution.

Before Karzai’s electoral coup, that law provided for a majority of three “internationals” on the ECC, in order to guarantee elections that were free and fair by internatiional standards. Such elections were in fact held in 2004 and 2005.

The idea behind this provision was that there would be at least a majority of international members who would be free from the influence and intimidation that Aghan members were likely to be subjected to.

The Afghan parliament approved this law. Karzai, in a sleight of hand, overrode the law with a decree issued in February while the National Assembly was in recess, which with twisted legal logic he now maintains cannot be overturned by the Assembly due to another constitutional provision that states the electoral law cannot be changed within a year before elections.

In other words, Karzai can change the law by decree but the National Assembly cannot overturn his decree-law by their own law because the Constitution forbids changes to the electoral law within a year prior to elections.

That defies constitutional logic.

A critical question is whether the goal of “credible” elections, as ultimately determined by an Electoral Complaints Commission appointed by Karzai, is good enough.

Is it good enough for the men and women from U.S. and allied forces, as well as Afghans, who have given their lives in the battle for a democratic state governed by law in Afghanistan? Is it good enough for those who fight today, including the Afghan army and police?

Such a state would protect the rights of women, among other things. The idea of negotiating a withdrawal in which the country is handed back to the control of the warlords is, after eight years of war, appalling.

What is going on here is that the United Nations and its representatives are speaking as if their task were simply to assist in the development of Afghan electoral institutions, without regard to the corruption of those institutions by Afghan officials at the very top of the power structure. They view their task as a technical one. The questions of fraud and the validity of the results are for the Afghans to decide.

Meanwhile, Allied soldiers fight and die, if not for a democratic future for the people of Afghanistan, then for what? To return the country, and the women of Afghanistan, to the power of the warlords throughout the country? To men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar?

If free elections have been critical to the success to date in Iraq, why are they not critical in Afghanistan?

These are some of the questions the Observer can not get out of his head.

What do you think?

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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

“The Magician” enthralls donors once again, in Kabul

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Once again the Magician has waived his green cape and dazzled the international donors who are paying for the war they are waging in Afghanistan to keep him in power. A donors conference was held in Kabul on July 20, 2010, launching “the Kabul process”.

See Nipa Banerjee, “Too many conferences, too few results in Afghanistan,” The Ottowa Citizen, July 22, 2010; and
Editorial, The Salt Lake Tribune, July 22, 2010

The last time the donors met was at the London conference in January, where after committing massive corruption in the first round presidential elections in August 2009, and refusing to replace the members of the Independent Electoral Commission who were directly responsible for certifying that fraud, the Magician dazzled the internationals with his talk of re-integration of the Taliban.

Exactly nothing, or at least nothing desirable, has come of that talk of re-integration. But because the U.S. and its allies can see no way out of Afghanistan, they long for a magical ending.

In London, the Magician succeeded in changing the subject, with the question of free and fair elections receding to something like the 25th goal in the final communiqué of the conference.

One has to marvel at such legerdemain, even if the objects of manipulation are incredibly easy targets. Among them all there does not seem to be more than six months of collective memory. None of them seem to recall the nine years of empty promises the Magician has plied them with, telling each of them exactly what they wanted to hear at exactly the right moment.

While the Magician promised to clean up the corruption in his government, the level of corruption doubled between 2007 and 2010.

While the Magician promised to build up good governance and the national police, he recently replaced Hamid Atmar, the Minister of the Interior in charge of the national police, one of a handful of Afghan ministers the U.S. and its allies believed to be highly competent. Another, Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghan intelligence, was fired at the same time. Both were former officials of the Northern Alliance, and were apparently fired to satisfy Pakistani demands.

Nonetheless, year in, year out, the internationals are enthralled by the latest spell cast upon them by the Magician, for it contains exactly what they want to hear.

The magic is powerful. Its spell enables the internationals to believe that they can negotiate a victory with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, precisely when the latter have the momentum, and believe they must only wait for the Americans and their allies to withdraw to claim victory.

The Magician’s powers of persuasion are so great that he even convinced the donors to channel 50% of their financial support directly to him and the central government. Given his government’s record of corruption, that was a magical achievement in and of itself, of stupendous proportions.

Let us hope there is a magical ending in Afghanistan that allows NATO troops to withdraw. For otherwise, with more waves of the Magician’s green cape and whatever promises the allies may wish or need to hear, it looks like a long, hard slog, with neither good governance nor victory in sight.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments are invited. Please add to the discussion and tell the Observer why he is wrong. Or right. Or some of one and some of the other.

General Petraeus, the Haqqani network, and moral clarity in Afghanistan

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Updated

To find our way in Afghanistan, we need to find our compass.

Our moral compass.

General David Petraeus, according to reports, is pushing for the Obama administration to add the Haqqani network to the terrorist organizations list.  They are one of the principal groups who are blowing up everyone in suicide attacks in Afghanistan. Senator Carl Levin (D.-Michigan) made a similar suggestion upon returning to Washington from a trip to Afghanistan last week.

See Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, “U.S. May Label Pakistan Militants as Terrorists,” New York Times, July 13, 2010 (July 14 print edition).

Petraeus’ inclination, as reported, provides a ray of light, a ray of hope.  A hint of moral clarity.

With that clarity, perhaps there is another road in Afghanistan other than turning its people over to warlords and terrorists like the Haqqani network. Perhaps there is another path other than striking deals with Pakistani generals and shady Pakistani intelligence elements who have been backing the Taliban. Perhaps we can find another way to leave the country without abandoning its women, or surrendering hegemony over the South to Pakistan acting through its ties to Afghan insurgent groups, planting the seeds for future civil war between the North and the South.

The huge question is, of course, “Why wasn’t the Haqqani network already on the terrorist organizations list?

Not only was it not on the list, but we have gone aong with Karzai’s efforts to remove a large number of names of Taliban leaders from the U.N. sanctions list.

What are the reasons for omitting the Haqqani network from the terrorist organizations list, for seeking removal of Taliban leaders from the U.N. sanctions list, and for negotiating with Pakistan to get them to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table?

The administration needs to be candid with the American people about the kind of Afghanistan it is prepared to negotiate with Karzai, the Haqqani network, and the Taliban.

What we get out of Washington are platitudes about these groups accepting the Afghan constitution, and laying down their arms. What does this mean, what does this look like when you flesh it out?

The reasons we have heard so far to justify these actions, which appear to be based both on dubious assumptions and on dubious moral propositions, need to be subjected to intense and continuing scrutiny–in the full light of day.

What President Obama has apparently failed to grasp is that without a moral compass, the U.S. and NATO can neither achieve their essential goals in Afghanistan nor exit on terms short of catastrophic defeat.

Viewed from afar, at the present the White House’s only goal seems to be to help Karzai solidify his grip on power so we can beat a hasty retreat.  This is a harsh judgment but one, it is submitted, that is supported by the facts.

It is a view, moreover, that is shared by many in the region, who look more to American actions than to the finely-tuned policy pronouncements that emanate from Washington.

Hopefully, Petraeus can bring moral clarity to his job and to the president’s thinking about Afghanistan.

The moral compass Obama must find and use is an American one. The American people will not support a war without moral purpose for an indefinite period of time.

A democratic path?

It is time for President Obama, with Petraeus’ assistance and experience building the institutions of democracy in Iraq, to reconsider the now-jettisoned democratic project in Afghanistan.

That project foundered on the rock of U.S. passivity in the face of Karzai’s massive fraud in the presidential elections last August, and its unwillingness to open up the political process by forcing Karzai to fix the electoral machinery so a fair second round election for president could be held.

Karzai may be the obstacle on the democratic path.

See Chibli Mallat, “Law, war and the Petraeus doctrine: How to take democracy seriously in Iraq and the AfPak theater,” The Daily Star (Beirut), June 24, 2010. Interestingly, Mallat suggests Karzai be persuaded to leave or removed from office, with arresting him for the election fraud being one option.

Yet the democratic path may be the only alternative that gives Afghan soldiers and police a vision of the future that is worth fighting for.

As President Obama noted at his West Point commencement speech on May 22, 2010,

(P)reparing for today, I turned to…the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes. And reflecting on his Civil War experience, he said, and I quote, “To fight out a war you must believe in something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching.” Holmes went on, “More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out.”

Our challenge in Afghanistan, also in a civil war setting, is quite similar. We must help the Afghan soldier and policeman find and have something to believe in and something to want with all of his or her might. Only then will an Afghan army and an Afghan police force be able to take over from the ISAF forces and defend their country against the Taliban.

The Taliban have such a belief, anchored in part in their religious faith.

What can the United States and NATO offer an Afghan soldier or policeman that can counter that?

This is perhaps the most critical question in Afghanistan, and one whose answer will largely determine the success of our counterinsurgency strategy there.

Free and fair elections and representative government, however crude? The rule of law, at least as a roadmap to be followed? Some form of democracy?

This was the path we followed in Iraq. It is time to reconsider the democratic project in Afghanistan. With all options open for consideration.

The democratic road may be the only one by which we can get to where we want to go, period. Moreover, it may be the only road that can maintain the support of the American people, and the support of the peoples of the other democracies with whom we are allied, for a war that will surely continue for quite some time.

Let us consider a central fact. America’s greatest weapon in the world is not its drone aircraft or its special operations forces, however useful these may be at the right moment and in the right place.

America’s greatest weapon is its story and the vision it has pursued for over two centuries. This vision is a vision of democracy, of respect for law and individual rights, and of the security and prosperity that are possible in a democratic society governed by law.

It is parochial to assume that our vision and our values have no appeal to the people of Afghanistan, or that our vision and values are weaker than and cannot triumph over the those of the Taliban.

To ask America to fight in Afghanistan without this vision and without these values, is to ask the country to fight with one arm tied behind its back, in a long and grinding struggle which ultimately it cannot win.

To engage the people of Afghanistan in a common struggle, not for warlordism or a coalition with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, but for the achievement of commonly shared values, and for the security that can be achieved through a government based on the consent of the governed and the rule of law, would be to commit to the democratic road.

As suggested above, the democratic road in Afghanistan may be the only one that gets us where we want to go. Petraeus, with his intellectual grasp of the critical importance of governance in counterinsurgency doctrine and his direct experience in Iraq, must already sense this.

Where would Iraq be today if it were not for steadfast U.S. support for the development of democratic institutions, and for adherence to the rule of law? It’s worth thinking about.

It’s worth thinking about now. The September 18 National Assembly elections are barely two months away. Yet instead of focusing on building a democratic process starting with those elections, Secretary of State Clinton is off to Pakistan to see what kind of a deal we can make with the Pakistanis on Afghanistan.

It was on just such a trip in November, it will be recalled, that we reportedly struck a deal with the Pakistanis the outlines of which we seem to be following. It resulted in our abandoning negotiations in Kabul to form a national unity government with Abdullah and Karzai, or to proceed to replace those in the electoral commission behind Karzai’s fraud so that a fair second round election could be held.

Why we are playing Karzai’s game, instead of the democratic game in Kabul, is a question which calls out for a full and complete answer to the American people from the President of the United States.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
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Urgent Note to Obama and Petraeus: Reread the Eikenberry Cables, Avoid Reasoning from Conclusions, and Adjust Course

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The replacement of General Stanley McChrystal by General David Petraeus signals an important change in the military leadership in Afghanistan. However, with commentators suggesting that Petraeus will be the new American “proconsul” in Afghanistan, it is far from clear that President Obama is moving to redress the serious imbalance in his team’s combined civilian and military approach and strategy in Afghanistan.

To date, undue weight has been given to military solutions and military considerations. Comments from White House officials on background suggest problems on the civilian side of the equation, with thought being given to replacing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

It is a disservice to President Obama and to these men, who have given years of distinguished service to the nation, to paint them as clinging to their jobs.

That aside, why Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has not defended the State Department, and her own perogative to choose State’s team for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is an open question.

She appears to be out of the White House loop on Afghanistan policy. Whenever she does become visibly involved, as she did during last year’s reexamination of our Afghanistan strategy, she seems to agree not with her ambassadors but with the Pentagon, every step of the way.

It is a serious miskake for White House officials, themselves lacking deep foreign policy expertise or experience on the ground in Afghanistan, to personalize differences of policy by referring to “Eikenberry” or “Holbrooke”. The latter represent the expertise of the State Department, including the views of senior diplomats stationed in or with experience in the region.

It is their views, the views of the professional diplomats in the State Department, which require a new and fresh hearing.

In particular, Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables last November laid out the stark realities in Afghanistan. These realities have been forcefully confirmed since then by developments on the ground.

With the confirmation of Petraeus, it is more urgent than ever that the policies that have failed in the last nine months be reexamined with a fresh eye. In particular, the military’s current penchant for reasoning from conclusions (e.g., because a competent government, military and national police force must come into existence for our strategy to succeed, they will…) must be corrected and avoided.

Eikenberry’s cables are worth rereading now. The following article contains links to them.

***

“Eikenberry Memos Place Spotlight on U.S. Dilemmas in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, March 27, 2010

On January 25 in a story by Eric Schmitt, the New York Times reported on and published the full text of memos written by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on November 6 and November 9, 2009, detailing his reasons for opposing the counterinsurgency strategy and “surge” proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the latter’s boss, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petreus.

The cables strongly suggest that President Obama’s much-touted and drawn-out Afghanistan policy review in the fall did not fully address the validity of key assumptions upon which the McChrystal proposals were based, including 1) the assumption that Karzai and his government could become the kind of government partner needed for the strategy to succeed; and 2) the assumption that the Afghan army and police could be trained and built up quickly to take over and hold areas cleared by U.S. and NATO forces (including the additional 40,000 troops requested by McChrystal).

The fact that the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, himself a former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, felt the policy review had been too narrowly focused on counterinsurgency doctrine and strategy, is in itself quite amazing.

Perhaps sensing that his views were on the verge of being eclipsed by the recommendations of Mr. Obama’s military advisors, Eikenberry in the second cable urged further study by a broader group to fully weigh considerations such as those raised in his cables–which he obviously felt were not being given due weight in the current review.

The memos confirm that the U.S. has a capable ambassador and diplomatic team in Kabul, who understand the broader picture of what is going on in Afghanistan.

But in the end, Mr. Obama did not follow the main thrust of Eikenberry’s arguments and advice. The President has gained time, perhaps, in domestic political terms, and perhaps also to see if the new strategy of protecting populations can reverse the momentum of the Taliban.

Reading these cables, however, and Eikenberry’s cogent descriptions of what sound like insuperable obstacles to be overcome, it is difficult to discern grounds for optimism regarding the success of the current strategy.

See also The Trenchant Observer, “Commentary on Eikenberry Cables, Intelligence on Afghanistan,”
January 28th, 2010

The Trenchant Observer

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Afghanistan: U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In his first press conference, Staffan de Mistura, the new Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), described what he and the United Nations are doing to facilitate “credible and inclusive” National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010.

“Let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, so the elections are still likely to be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans’ feelings that they are really part of it,” de Mistura told reporters.

Translation: We are going to try to make the National Assembly elections appear “credible”, although Hamid Karzai will control the outcome through his majority of three appointed Afghan members on the Electoral Complaints Commission. We are not going to raise a stink over his blatant rewriting of the electoral law in violation of the Constitution.

Before Karzai’s electoral coup, that law provided for a majority of three “internationals” on the ECC, in order to guarantee elections that were free and fair by internatiional standards. Such elections were in fact held in 2004 and 2005.

The idea behind this provision was that there would be at least a majority of international members who would be free from the influence and intimidation that Aghan members were likely to be subjected to.

The Afghan parliament approved this law. Karzai, in a sleight of hand, overrode the law with a decree issued in February while the National Assembly was in recess, which with twisted legal logic he now maintains cannot be overturned by the Assembly due to another constitutional provision that states the electoral law cannot be changed within a year before elections.

In other words, Karzai can change the law by decree but the National Assembly cannot overturn his decree-law by their own law because the Constitution forbids changes to the electoral law within a year prior to elections.

That defies constitutional logic.

A critical question is whether the goal of “credible” elections, as ultimately determined by an Electoral Complaints Commission appointed by Karzai, is good enough.

Is it good enough for the men and women from U.S. and allied forces, as well as Afghans, who have given their lives in the battle for a democratic state governed by law in Afghanistan? Is it good enough for those who fight today, including the Afghan army and police?

Such a state would protect the rights of women, among other things. The idea of negotiating a withdrawal in which the country is handed back to the control of the warlords is, after eight years of war, appalling.

What is going on here is that the United Nations and its representatives are speaking as if their task were simply to assist in the development of Afghan electoral institutions, without regard to the corruption of those institutions by Afghan officials at the very top of the power structure. They view their task as a technical one. The questions of fraud and the validity of the results are for the Afghans to decide.

Meanwhile, Allied soldiers fight and die, if not for a democratic future for the people of Afghanistan, then for what? To return the country, and the women of Afghanistan, to the power of the warlords throughout the country? To men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar?

If free elections have been critical to the success to date in Iraq, why are they not critical in Afghanistan?

These are some of the questions the Observer can not get out of his head.

What do you think?

The Trenchant Observer

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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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Pakistan Desire to “Mediate” with Taliban Consistent with Earlier Reports of Deal to Support Karzai in Election Settlement

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

The New York Times reported on February 10 the following:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan has told the United States it wants a central role in resolving the Afghan war and has offered to mediate with Taliban factions who use its territory and have long served as its allies, American and Pakistani officials said.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, made clear Pakistan’s willingness to mediate at a meeting late last month at NATO headquarters with top American military officials,… (including) the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen; the head of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus; and the commander of American and allied troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the official said….The national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, visits Islamabad, this week.

What the Pakistanis can offer is their influence over the Taliban network of Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani…

In return for trying to rein in the Haqqanis, Pakistan will be looking for a friendly Afghanistan and for ways to stem the growing Indian presence there, Pakistani and American officials said.

Jane Perlez, “Pakistan Is Said to Pursue Role in U.S.-Afghan Talks,” The New York Times, February 10, 2010

This report is consistent with the news report quoted here on November 11, 2009, describing a deal between Secretary of State Clinton and the Pakistani military in which the latter would “mediate” with the Taliban in exchange for the U.S. ending its negotiations with Abdullah aimed at forming a unity government, in order to avoid the need for a second-round presidential election in Afghanistan. As we reported,

NEWS TO NOTE Deal by U.S. with Pakistan Military to Undercut Abdullah in Final Discussions?
Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online, reported in the Asia Times Online on November 6, 2009 that, during her recent trip to Pakistan and prior to the cancellation of the second round elections in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had reached a deal with the Pakistan military to withdraw support for negotiations with Abdullah in exchange for active mediation by the Pakistan military in approaches to the Taliban.

Despite its obvious significance, the story seems to have received little coverage in the U.S. media.

The Trenchant Observer, November 11, 2009

The Pakistani military reportedly viewed Abdullah as too friendly to India. The Obama administration appears to have concluded that it could not disentangle itself from the Karzai government by upholding the principle of free presidential elections, and that Pakistani mediation with the Taliban offered a more hopful way for the United States to exit Afghanistan than the alternative of insisting on a second round of elections or forging a unity government.

The Trenchant Observer

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