Posts Tagged ‘Syed Saleem Shahzad’

The stakes in the presidential election dispute — whether Hamid Karzai will continue to call the shots in Afghanistan

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Developing

An old adage is, “Don’t change horses when you are crossing a stream.”

There is an important gloss on that adage, however. The fuller version is as follows:

“Don’t change horses when you are crossing a stream, unless your horse is drowning.”

OPINION

For background, see “Karzai reportedly involved in massive fraud favoring Ghani in Afghan presidential run-off,” The Trenchant Observer, August 23, 2014, and the articles cited there.

Sometimes we need to pull pack from a mere analysis of the events of the day, and look for significance in the broader pattern of events which form the context for today’s developments.

At the moment, a dramatic showdown is taking place in Afghanistan over who the country’s next leader will be.

Hamid Karzai and his government are reliably reported as having been deeply involved in a massive electoral fraud favoring Ashraf Ghani, whose vote total in the June 14 presidential run-off election, was inflated by as much as two million votes (out of a reported eight million votes cast).

Following the 2009 presidential elections, Karzai retained his hold on the presidency through massive fraud which he himself reportedly orchestrated.

It seems quite evident that Karzai intends to continue making the big decisions for the government even after leaving office, with Ashraf Ghani emerging as president from the current second round elections.

Karzai has built a new mansion right next to the Presidential Palace to help ensure he is involved in critical decisions.

If Ghani emerges as president, Karzai and the “Kabul Cabal” which for the last 12 years has been running Afghanistan, a country famously labeled “Corrupt-stan” by long-time war correspondent Dexter Filkins, will continue in power.

Karzai will continue to exercise his influence behind the scenes, as the brilliant master of warlord and tribal and other alliances he has been up until now.

Looking at Afghanistan’s recent history since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, it is clear that the United States—intentionally or unintentionally—has enabled the “Kabul Cabal” to grow and thrive.

For example, the CIA has been an active supporter of Karzai over the years, with many high-level officials on the Company’s payroll, and bags of cash with millions of dollars being delivered directly to the Presidential Palace for Karzai’s unrestricted use.

If Abdullah emerges as the victor, there will be a changing of the guard, a handover of power from the “Kabul Cabal” to something new, potentially marking a milepost on the path to a return to the democratic project in Afghanistan.

In 2009, the U.S. pressured Abdullah into withdrawing from the second round election that was to occur, following a “recount” of the votes in the first round which reduced Karzai’s share to less than 50%. At the time there were negotiations over some kind of a power-sharing arrangement similar to that under discussion now.

In the end, the U.S. withdrew its support for the negotiations.

An interesting report at time by a reporter with close ties to Pakistan’s army and intelligence services, Syed Saleem Shahzad, asserted that support for Abdullah was withdrawn as part of a U.S. deal reached by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Islamabad with Pakistani military leaders, under which the U.S. would withdraw its support for Abdullah and the negotiations in exchange for Pakistani assistance in setting up and carrying out peace negotiations with the Taliban.

The reporter was subsequently assassinated in an operation that was reportedly orchestrated by Pakistani military and intelligence officials.

Pakistan has traditionally opposed Abdullah and the Northern Alliance which he once helped lead, because of india’s ties with and support for the Alliance.

While all of this is very complicated, and requires some historical memory or research to fully understand, the drama undeway at the moment is fairly clearcut:

If the current “audit” of the second-round vote is allowed to proceed to completion, it is quite likely that Abdullah will emerge as the winner and have an irresistible claim on the presidency.

Karzai is now pushing hard to cut short that process, and to inaugurate a new president within a week or two. That president could only be selected as a result of the current negotiating process.

A pretext for a quick inauguration of the new president is that it would enable him to go to the NATO Summit which is to be held in Wales on September 4-5, in order to secure continued NATO assistance going forward after December 31, 2014.

However, prospects for stability in Afganistan will turn much more on the perceived legitimacy and nature of the new government than on whether a new president can go to Wales in early September.

For any new government to be able to withstand the challenge from the Taliban after most U.S. and ISAF Forces have been withdrawn, and foreign economic assistance greatly reduced, it will need to have legitimacy and be viewed by the Afghan people as the true product of the elections held on June 14.

It is highly doubtful that without large-scale military and financial support, the “Kabul Cabal” can continue to hold the country together and resist the advances of the Taliban, unless Ghani emerges as the true winner of the run-off after all of the votes in the “audit” have been fully accounted for.

At the same time, it is hard to see the “Kabul Cabal” ceding power in the absence of a mighty push from the U.S. and NATO requiring the real results of the second-round presidential election to be observed.

The composition of the next government in Afghanistan will have a decisive impact on whether or not the country can be held together, and whether or not the Taliban can be denied the victories for which they have been waiting and preparing.

NATO can agree to provide further aid to Afghanistan after the Wales summit in early September. Conference deadlines should not be allowed to drive policy on Afghanistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama needs to get it right this time, even if it means overriding the recommendations of CIA Director John Brennan.

This is likely to be Obama’s — and America’s — last chance to save the Afghan project.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The Observer has been trying to get inside President Obama’s head for over two years. Recently, he may have succeeded, or had a very strange dream, in which the following was revealed:

Obama’s 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Foreign Policy in 2012

1. Ok, I will finally try to read through the impenetrable legalese of Philip Alston’s Report to the Human Rights Council on the legality under international law of U.S. drone attacks.

2. Admitting that public international law was not my favorite course in law school—in fact I can’t remember if I even took it—I will accept State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh’s longstanding offer to lead me in a weekly tutorial on the subject for, as Koh puts it, “as long as it takes for (me) to get it.”

3. I accept the challenge to deliver a speech based on a rewrite of my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo which includes the themes of “a vision of peace” and “how to get there”.

4. To make my rewrite of the Oslo speech easy for everyone to understand, I will even stop avoiding the use of the words “international law”, which should be easier after (2), if not (1).

5. I will ask Ambassador Koh to explain to me in plain English what some of these European and European-influenced international lawyers keep referring to as “dédoublement fontionnel”, which I think has something to do with the idea that nations should try to build and strengthen international law, instead of just trying to see what they can get away with. I don’t really get the point, but maybe I’ll understand better if it is spelled out in English.

6. I agree that we don’t really want to be giving a lot of money to governments who murder outspoken journalists like Syed Saleem Shahzad. I think Admiral Mullen said something about this. Dexter Filkins made a pretty compelling case that the murder was ordered by the highest officials in the Pakistani military in his New Yorker article on September 19. (Letter From Islamabad: The Journalist and the Spies–The murder of a reporter who exposed Pakistan’s secrets. The New Yorker, September 19, 2011.)

There are even reports that the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, until recently, fears for his life in Pakistan as a result of “memogate”. But, as Richard Holbrooke used to stress, we have to deal with the Pakistanis, unsavory as that may be. I will agree to cutting U.S. aid to the military there by one half—from $1.3 billion to $650 million. Once they’ve arrested and tried the general(s) allegedly responsible for the order to murder Syed Saleem Shahzad, the other half of the aid will be restored.

7. I will enlist the CIA, with Leon Paneta’s help if necessary, in a secret program aimed at persuading the top civilian and military officials involved in Bush’s torture program to retire. Attorney General Eric Holder has concluded that none of them except a few low-level types should be prosecuted for torture, but if he has new evidence and wants to take up the issue again, I’ll let him. If other parties to the Torture Convention arrest some of these officials while they are traveling abroad, and ask us if it is OK for them to try them themselves, I’ll let the Attorney General make the call.

8. Ok, guys, I will finally issue an executive order that confirms my interpretation of U.S. laws banning torture as banning all kinds of torture, as that term is defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

9. After completing (2) and (1), I will reconsider the position that U.S. citizens may be executed by drones or special commando operations without trial if they have been placed on a special targets list. I don’t really get the point about the fifth amendment language that “no citizen will be deprived of …life..without due process of law” and I don’t see how these guys can be given the right to an attorney, but I will commit to not invoking the “state secrets” doctrine to block further consideration of these issues by the courts.

10. Ok, while I think we already examined our strategy in Afghanistan in 2009, ad nauseum, I promise I will reread Ambassador Karl Eikenberry’s memos from November, 2009, for whatever that’s worth.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
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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

*******

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

NEWS TO NOTE: Pakistani sources report progress in back-channel talks with Taliban

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online, reports that back-channel conversations with the Taliban during Ramadan, orchestrated by the Pakistani military, have led to a softening of the Taliban’s positions. Shahzad writes,

Asia Times Online has learned that the backchannel talks have to date resulted in the Taliban agreeing to issue a policy statement on their relationship with al-Qaeda. They will clarify that they provided protection to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in line with Afghan traditions of being hospitable.

It was the presence of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan that led the US to invade the country in late 2001 in retaliation for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
The Taliban will spell out their position of decrying international terrorism and of not supporting violence in Muslim countries. Above all, they will clearly state that the Taliban are an indigenous movement struggling against foreign occupation forces with no agenda outside Afghan boundaries.

“This is the first time the situation has reached this level and this is the result of several months of unannounced but untiring efforts by the Pakistan army, with the consent of US military leaders who have very patiently and diligently allowed the Pakistan army to create this environment in which the Taliban feel comfortable, and they are now showing flexibility in their attitude,” a senior Pakistani security official familiar with the talks told Asia Times Online.

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

Shazad has provided reports on Pakistani military efforts to mediate with the Taliban and other parties to the conflict in Afghanistan. See, e.g., the following articles by The Observer:

“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

Interestingly, he reports in the current article, “Neither the Afghan government nor the Pakistani government is officially aware of the backchannel initiative with the Taliban.”

The Trenchant Observer

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Comments are invited.

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

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