Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kabul: A City at Work | Who is the Graffiti Artist?

Check out Kabul: A City At Work page.

Who is the Graffiti Artist?

I was born and raised in Iran and in the last 3 years of school I wanted to chose art as my major subject but I was told that as an Afghan I wasn’t allowed. So I studied accounting which was okay but a million miles away from painting.

When my family came back to Afghanistan I tried again and passed into the Faculty of Fine Arts at Kabul University. Art is such a part of my life that I don’t know what would happen if was not able to continue. It would be like having a piece cut out of me.

At present I work with a team of 10 Afghan artists called Roshd, meaning ‘growth’. I do Modern Art. It is something new and so Afghans are against it on principal. They say it’s a western imposition. I don’t see that it has anything to do with the West if the artist and artistic concept are Afghan. My interpretation of art is founded on the classical techniques and styles I was taught.

In December 2010 there was a graffiti workshop that was organized by Combat Communications. Until then, I didn’t know what graffiti was; I had seen some things on the walls in the city but it was advertising not art.I was used to working with paints on canvasses but when I used a spray can for the first time and worked on a big wall it was exciting and cool and such an achievement.

At first I didn’t know what to graffiti as the wall was so big and the spray cans took time to get used to but Chu was a really good teacher. I wanted to do something about women’s rights in Afghanistan and the burqa, but in an ironic way and take the idea of the burqa away from how we are used to seeing it.

But when I was working I had images of all the problems in Afghanistan and all the problems women have here. It was all in front of me, and I felt I wasn’t doing them justice. I worked on an image of a woman in burqa sitting on the ground and had made up a poem about her life. I did few others like her as I wanted to mix the modern style of my painting with their past life to show what kind of life women have in this age.

When I paint, I often paint fish covered with bubbles over their bodies it’s a conceptual idea I have created about not being free to express yourself.

I mean, if a fish opens its mouth, bubbles come out, right? And if its mouth is closed, there are no bubbles. So the bubbles I paint are the bubbles of things it wants to say but can’t. All the bubbles get stuck in its body like artistic ideas with no avenue for expression.

I haven’t been to many places to graffiti. One was the workshop and the other was at the Goethe Institute which is a secure and means I don’t get hassle on the streets, which as a girl, happens almost daily. Sadly It means I don’t get to practice that much so people are like, ‘How can you call yourself a graffiti artist if you can’t graffiti on buildings?’ But it’s just too dangerous to walk around on the streets. Once I went to the Russian Cultural Centre to graffiti and was so scared. It was dark and damp and I was afraid of stepping on a landmine or something.

I graffiti in my own way at home. I have photographs of old alleyways and the walls of Kabul and I graffiti the photograph. It is a comment on the restrictions of women in its own way.

In any case, I don’t think Afghan society is ready to accept graffiti as a form of art. The country has been in war for so long that most people are still pre-occupied with politics or just trying to stay alive.

But generally I only have one wish. I want to see Afghanistan vying with other countries in the art world. In Iran, if you mentioned Afghanistan people would think negative things. In the West, people say there is no art in Afghanistan but if only they came here, they could see what is developing, albeit very slowly. I personally think that art can be so useful for changing the situation of a society, it is part of the culture and culture has a role in representing a country. Everyone has to try as much as possible to rebuild the country, not just artists.

Assassinations | CIA Drone Strikes | US Policy

At an open public briefing yesterday, President Obama admitted that the United States has been directing the CIA to carry out targeted killings, or assassinations, in Pakistan.

The drone program, extensively discussed among activists and legal scholars, has been Washington's worst-kept secret. Last night CIA drones killed 12 in Yemen.

Here is the big question. At what point does official acknowledgment of an on-going 'covert' action that is killing thousands of people demand accountability? And, how do you stop it?

Jonathan Master writing with the Council on Foreign Relations lays out the post 9/11 strategy and rationale for CIA and special forces targeted killings.
The United States adopted targeted killing as an essential tactic to pursue those responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have employed the controversial practice with more frequency in recent years, both as part of ongoing combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.”

The domestic rational rest on the expansive language of a statute passed by the US Congress just days after the 9/11 attack.
As a matter of domestic law, the legal underpinning for U.S. counterterrorism operations and the targeted killing of members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and its affiliates across the globe is the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which the U.S. Congress passed just days after 9/11. The statute empowers the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" in pursuit of those responsible for the terrorist attacks.”

The New American Foundation estimates that drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed between 1,700 and 2,700 people in the last eight years. The government of Pakistan has consistently condemned the bombing attacks as a violation of its sovereignty.

Additional Resources: How the CIA Became a Killing Machine

Monday, January 30, 2012

Out of the Loop: The Future of Drones | Shane Harris

Shane Harris reveals the dangers of relying on robotic/computer technology for modern weapons systems. He does not neglect the threats to international law and morality as well.
“In 1988, the U.S.S. Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser on patrol in the Persian Gulf, shot down an Iranian passenger jet, after the ship’s Aegis targeting system mistook it for a military fighter. The crew of the Vincennes could tell from the plane’s course, speed, and radio signal that it was a civilian aircraft. But Aegis, which had been programmed to identify large Soviet bombers, said otherwise.

“Even though the hard data was telling the crew that the plane wasn’t a fighter jet, they trusted what the computer was telling them more,” Singer writes in Wired for War. “Aegis was on semiautomatic mode, but not one of the eighteen sailors and officers on the command crew was willing to challenge the computer’s wisdom. They authorized it to fire.”

Singer notes that the Navy had such faith in Aegis’s abilities to identify a true enemy that the Vincennes was the only ship in the area allowed to fire on its own volition, without the crew seeking permission from more senior officers in the fleet. All 299 passengers and crew aboard the Iranian jet died, among them sixty-six children.”

Here is the introduction...

"In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature,I suspect, is on the side of the machines."

—George Dyson in Darwin Among the Machines
"If you want to understand how human beings stack up next to machines in the conduct of modern warfare, consider this:

In World War II, it took a fleet of 1,000 B-17 bombers—flown, navigated, and manned by a crew of 10,000 men—to destroy one Axis ground target. American bombs were so imprecise that, on average, only one in five fell within 1,000 feet of where they were aimed. Aerial bombing was a clumsy affair, utterly dependent on the extraordinary labor of human beings.

Just one generation later, that was no longer true. In the Vietnam War, it took thirty F-4 fighter-bombers, each flown and navigated by only two men, to destroy a target. That was a 99.4 percent reduction in manpower. The precision of attack was also greatly enhanced by the first widespread use of laser-guided munitions.

After Vietnam, humans’ connection to air war became more attenuated, and less relevant. In the Gulf War, one pilot flying one plane could hit two targets. The effectiveness of the human-machine pairing was breathtaking. A single “smart bomb” could do the work of 1,000 planes dropping more than 9,000 bombs in World War II. By the time the United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, one pilot in one plane could destroy six targets. Their weapons were guided by global positioning satellites orbiting thousands of miles above the surface of the earth. And increasingly, the pilots weren’t actually inside their planes anymore.

The historical trend is sobering. As aircraft and weapons have become more precise, human beings have become less essential to the conduct of war. And that may suit the military just fine."

Do Drones Undermine Democracy?
P.W. Singer | 21 January 2012 | New York Times
"I do not condemn these strikes; I support most of them. What troubles me, though, is how a new technology is short-circuiting the decision-making process for what used to be the most important choice a democracy could make. Something that would have previously been viewed as a war is simply not being treated like a war.

THE change is not limited to covert action. Last spring, America launched airstrikes on Libya as part of a NATO operation to prevent Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government from massacring civilians. In late March, the White House announced that the American military was handing over combat operations to its European partners and would thereafter play only a supporting role."

US Drones Patrolling Its Skies Provokes Outrage in Iraq
Eric Schmitt and Michael Schmidt | 30 January 2012 | New York Times
"A senior American official said that negotiations were under way to obtain authorization for the current drone operations, but Ali al-Mosawi, a top adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki; Iraq’s national security adviser, Falih al-Fayadh; and the acting minister of interior, Adnan al-Asadi, all said in interviews that they had not been consulted by the Americans.

Mr. Asadi said that he opposed the drone program: “Our sky is our sky, not the U.S.A.’s sky.”

Additional articles on Drones.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

NATO Purchases Leave Afghans Short of Fuel

NATO Purchases Leave Afghans Short of Fuel
By Khan Mohammad Danishju - Afghanistan

As fuel becomes scarcer and pricier in the Afghan capital Kabul, many are pointing the finger at NATO for buying up oil products domestically to make up for blocked supplies from Pakistan.

NATO has been unable to bring in fuel across the Pakistan border since late November, when Islamabad imposed a blockade and choked off a major supply artery for the 130,000-strong American-led force.

Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been deteriorating fast, and Pakistan closed the route in protest at a NATO airstrike on its border that killed 24 of its soldiers on November 26.

Since then, the United States has had to pay six times as much to import supplies via alternative routes, according to an Associated Press report on January 20.

While most of NATO’s supplies are now coming in via Uzbekistan along a route known as the Northern Distribution Network, NDN. Even before Pakistan closed down the supply route, NATO was switching over to the NDN because of frequent attacks on convoys on the roads south. US officials say 85 per cent of the fuel for the military now come from the north.

Afghan businessmen say the international force is topping this up with purchases inside the country. This is affecting the market, forcing up prices and making petrol and public transport more expensive for the locals.

Farid Alokozay, head of the government agency responsible for petroleum products, said NATO was increasingly buying in fuel from domestic firms.

Mohammad Qorban Haqjo, chief executive of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, confirmed that 20 local firms had signed a lucrative fuel supply deal with NATO.

“The contract was signed recently and is worth one billion dollars,” he said, adding that some of the firms belonged to relatives of senior Afghan officials.

NATO insists it has sufficient supplies of fuel and that the Pakistani blockade will not affect Afghans.

“The people of Afghanistan will not be challenged by NATO buying their fuel and their food. NATO’s stockpiles are more than sufficient,” NATO spokesman Brigadier-General Carsten Jacobsen said on January 2, according to the AFP news agency.

However, Kabul residents insisted they were being affected.

“Since NATO forces started buying on the domestic market, not only have prices increased, but fuel is no longer available consistently,” Hajji Sayed Ahmad, who owns a petrol station in the city’s Deh Mazang district.

The shortage has prompted him to raise his prices, much to the annoyance of his customers.

“We have fights with dozens of people every day,” Ahmad said. “They think it’s our choice to increase fuel prices.... The general public don’t realise that fuel isn’t widely available and that the foreigners are buying it up.”

Kabul taxi drivers have increased their fares, leaving people queuing in the freezing cold for hours as they wait for cheaper but more erratic bus services. Once on the buses, they find that ticket prices have also increased.

“First you can’t find a bus, and then when you do find one, you get charged double the price,” said Mohammad Afzal, a resident of the city’s District 15.

While his bus trip to work previously cost the equivalent of 60 cents, Afzal now pays one dollar.

Taxi driver Mohammad Amin said inflation was driving him out of business. He has regular rows with customers because he has raised his fares, but even then he is taking home virtually nothing, he said. He said that when he asked petrol station owners why fuel prices had gone up, they blamed NATO.

Kabul University economist Hamidullah Faruqi said the capital’s transport system was in danger of collapsing unless the government intervened in the fuel crisis.

Separately from the clampdown on NATO supplies, Afghans say hundreds of their trucks are held up in Pakistan, further affecting the price of goods.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Afghan Divide | Sarah Chayes

Is the United States succeeding in Afghanistan?

It may seem like an absurd question, but in policy circles, analyzing that question means a great deal. Sarah Chayes explores the contradictions between the assessments and recommendations of the U.S. intelligence agencies and the U.S. military/political agencies. The article in full is below.

She also brings in the even greater divide that is the Afghan experience.
Humanitarian groups, by contrast, were tabulating all violence suffered by civilians, no matter who the perpetrator, including kidnappings and shootings at the hands of the militias that the U.S. military has armed to fight the Taliban.

Afghans themselves are attuned to something less tangible: the likelihood of danger. Take last September's attack by a few militants shooting rocket-launched grenades from a tower in central Kabul, which shut down the U.S. Embassy and nearby NATO headquarters for 20 hours.

Foreign officials might record such an incident as a single attack. But to Kabul residents, it sent an overpowering message that their city was unsafe, that the terrorists could do what they wanted.”

She ends with an appeal.
“Though I doubt the nation's intelligence community can be easily cowed, even by three generals and an ambassador, the impulse to interfere is wrong. Writing problems out of documents won't make them go away. Obama deserves a clear exposition of competing assessments of national security issues. Then it's for him to hash out the differences in internal debate.”

The Afghan Divide | Sarah Chayes

How should we measure success in Afghanistan? It's a crucial question, but there isn't much agreement on an answer.

In mid-January, this newspaper ran a story on the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, a classified assessment drafted by analysts at more than a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies. According to The Times, the report "warns that security gains from an increase in troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan."

Those with direct responsibility for the war — top military commanders and the U.S. ambassador to Kabul — reportedly contested the report's findings in a written dissent. The dispute highlights an ongoing struggle to shape U.S. perceptions on Afghanistan.

Analysts like using numbers to bolster their arguments because numbers seem hard and fast. But they don't always agree. Last summer, for example, the NATO command in Kabul announced that for the first time since 2006, insurgent attacks were down compared with the previous year. But United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations were reporting large upticks in violence and its effect on civilians.

Numbers draw their significance from what they count. In this case, the military tallied attacks that insurgents initiated where international troops were present, including improvised bombs that exploded but not ones that had been defused.

Humanitarian groups, by contrast, were tabulating all violence suffered by civilians, no matter who the perpetrator, including kidnappings and shootings at the hands of the militias that the U.S. military has armed to fight the Taliban.

Afghans themselves are attuned to something less tangible: the likelihood of danger. Take last September's attack by a few militants shooting rocket-launched grenades from a tower in central Kabul, which shut down the U.S. Embassy and nearby NATO headquarters for 20 hours.

Foreign officials might record such an incident as a single attack. But to Kabul residents, it sent an overpowering message that their city was unsafe, that the terrorists could do what they wanted.

Underlying the current dispute over the intelligence estimate is another, deeper divide. The assessment reportedly acknowledges the hard work by Afghan and foreign troops in driving the Taliban out of many of its strongholds. That success is clearly visible in Kandahar, where I have lived for most of the last decade. But its significance is less clear.

"Yes, we've made gains against the Taliban around Kandahar," a minister and former Kandahar governor told me recently. "But it takes 18,000 men for a single district. We can't sustain that."

And there have been other costs. As troops moved into rural districts the Taliban had held, they built dirt roads right through farmers' vineyards and orchards. I saw the results when I went to visit a friend's family land. Debris had been shoved into an irrigation channel that once watered the whole village, razor wire had been looped across a road, and buildings where families dry their grapes to make prized raisins had been destroyed.

There were good tactical reasons for inflicting such damage. Many of the buildings had been booby-trapped by the retreating Taliban, or they obstructed the troops' lines of sight. But the local economy, already one of the most threadbare on Earth, has been badly hurt. Compensation money was paid out, but still, success against the Taliban came at great cost to residents.

They are left with the question: What now? If their grapevines or fruit trees dry out, what should they plant? If insurgents offer poppy seeds, should they accept? And what about the Afghan soldiers who stole the furniture out of the blown-up buildings? Villagers can't take them to court because the judicial system is deeply corrupt. So who can give them recourse? A sense of justice? Maybe the Taliban.

If, on the other hand, the Taliban does move back in, or if it is given power in some deal negotiated by the United States and an Afghan government most of its citizens don't view as legitimate, how will the many Afghans who don't wish to be subjected to Taliban rule react?

The Afghan security forces the United States has been working so hard to build up are largely commanded by viscerally anti-Taliban groups. Is U.S. policy driving Afghanistan back toward civil war?

It is this potential for systemic collapse that the intelligence estimate reportedly highlights, to the dismay of the dissenting officials.

But even if withdrawing on the current schedule brings about Afghanistan's implosion, that might still be the right thing to do. If the U.S. government chooses not to address the two fundamental political and diplomatic challenges its intelligence estimate is said to highlight — corrupt government and Pakistan's support for extremist violence — then why waste more blood and treasure? But President Obama must make that decision in full cognizance of the dangers, so he can plan for them and try to mitigate some of them. He needs more divergent views, not fewer.

The aggressive efforts by some to spin perceptions of Afghanistan have grown unseemly as well as dangerous. I've seen dissent disappear from interagency documents. I've heard officials tell public affairs officers to pressure reporters about their stories.

Though I doubt the nation's intelligence community can be easily cowed, even by three generals and an ambassador, the impulse to interfere is wrong. Writing problems out of documents won't make them go away. Obama deserves a clear exposition of competing assessments of national security issues. Then it's for him to hash out the differences in internal debate.

Sarah Chayes lived and worked in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2010. She advised the NATO command in Kabul and the U.S. Joint Staff, wrote "The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban," and is a contributing writer to Opinion.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Best Way to Peace | Anatol Lieven

A political/military overview of Afghanistan’s recent history with foreign intervention and war. Using the Soviet experience – and a variety of books – Lieven offers valuable analysis and suggestions. The failure to design and implement inclusive peace processes along the way have led to more violence and increased tension in the region.

The insights into US-Pakistan relations, the impact of a long-term US presence and the need to acknowledged a post-Karzai Afghanistan are all discussed.

The book list is below.

Afghanistan: The Best Way to Peace
“The United States and its allies today find themselves in a position in Afghanistan similar to that of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, after Mikhail Gorbachev decided on military withdrawal by a fixed deadline. They are in a race against the clock to build up a regime and army that will survive their withdrawal, while either seeking a peace agreement with the leaders of the insurgent forces or splitting off their more moderate, pragmatic, and mercenary elements and making an agreement with them. The Soviets succeeded at least partially in some of these objectives, while failing utterly to achieve a peace settlement.”

Negotiations with the Taliban
“On the basis of my conversations in recent years with former leading figures in the Taliban and Pakistanis close to Mullah Omar and his colleagues, my own judgment is that a peace settlement between the US, the administration in Kabul, and the Afghan Taliban would probably have to be based on some variant of the following elements:

(1) complete withdrawal of all US troops according to a fixed timetable;
(2) exclusion of al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups from areas controlled by the Taliban;
(3) a government in Kabul headed—at least nominally—by men the Taliban would see as good Muslims and Afghan patriots;
(4) negotiations on a new Afghan constitution involving the Taliban and leading to the transfer of most powers from the center to the regions;
(5) de facto—though not formal—Taliban control of the region of Greater Kandahar, and by the Haqqanis of Greater Paktika;
(6) a return to the Taliban offer of 1999–2001 of a complete ban on opium poppy cultivation and heroin production in the areas under their control, in return for international aid.

On the last point, it should be remembered that the Taliban are the only force to have achieved such a degree of control of the drug trade during the past thirty years. Certainly, based on their record to date, the idea that our own Afghan allies will do so after the US withdraws is pure fantasy.”

Pakistan, the impact of a long-term US military presence, preparing for a post-Karzai Afghanistan.
"For the Pakistani military as a whole, however, a peace settlement along the lines I have sketched above would fulfill its essential needs. It would keep the influence of India in Afghanistan at a distance from Pakistan’s borders. It would ensure adequate Pashtun representation in Afghan government, limiting the power of forces linked to India. It would remove the catastrophic threat of Indian-backed Tajik forces fighting an ethnic civil war in Afghanistan’s Pashtun territories, sending fresh millions of refugees fleeing into Pakistan. And it would end the US drone strikes and raids that are infuriating the lower ranks of the Pakistani military and leading to catastrophic clashes between Pakistani and US forces along the Afghan border.

Such an outcome would serve a vital interest of the United States. For it is no exaggeration to say that the tension between the Pakistani military and the United States now poses a threat to US security that dwarfs either the Taliban or the battered remnants of the old al-Qaeda. As I have found from speaking with Pakistani soldiers, and from visiting military families in the chief areas of recruitment in northern Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the fury of the junior ranks against the US is reaching a dangerous pitch. These soldiers share both the sympathy for the Afghan Taliban of the population at large and that population’s deep distrust of US intentions. They are increasingly angry with their own commanders, whom they view as cowardly and corrupt; and they are profoundly humiliated when they return to their towns and villages and are asked by neighbors—and even their own women—why as slaves of the US they are killing fellow Muslims.

There seems, as a result, a strong likelihood that if Pakistani soldiers encounter US soldiers on what is or what they believe to be Pakistani soil, they will fight. This is apparently what happened in the incident on November 26 in which twenty-four Pakistani soldiers were killed by US forces, leading to a drastic further deterioration in relations (including retaliatory closing of the border to NATO). That encounter was bad enough; but if such clashes continue then at some point things will go the other way, and Americans will be killed—possibly a lot of Americans, if for example the Pakistanis shoot down a helicopter. If on the other hand the Pakistani generals order their men not to fight, the resulting outrage could undermine discipline to the point where the unity of the army could be in question—and if the army breaks apart, not only will immense munitions and expertise flow to terrorists, but the Pakistani state will collapse. This would be a historic triumph for al-Qaeda and its allies—and like the invasion of Iraq, one made possible for them by the United States.

To my astonishment, I find that some US officials are now arguing that a principal reason why the US must retain bases in Afghanistan—even at the price of making a settlement with the Taliban impossible—is in order to continue striking at al-Qaeda and other extremist targets in Pakistan’s border areas. More than ten years after September 11, it is simply appalling that supposedly well-informed people are still treating the terrorist threat in such a crude and mechanistic fashion. Have they not realized that the membership of al-Qaeda and its allies is not fixed, but depends on al-Qaeda’s ability to recruit among Muslims infuriated by US actions? Or that a terrorist attack on the US is as likely—more likely—to be planned in Karachi, Lahore, the English town of Bradford, or New York as in Pakistan’s frontier areas? An essential US motive for a peace settlement in Afghanistan, one allowing complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, is precisely that it would allow America to pull back from the existing confrontation with Pakistan—not continue it into the indefinite future, with all the gains that this would create for resentment by extremists.

Even if the advantages of a settlement are recognized by Washington, how can the US sell it to its allies in Afghanistan, to President Karzai and his followers, and to the leaders of the non-Pashtun ethnic groups? The answer lies partly in assuring all the other parties that the US will continue to guarantee military support against any future Taliban move to attack Kabul or invade the north; and partly in the approaching train wreck that the simultaneous departure of both US troops and Karzai may cause.

The pursuit of a peace settlement should be combined with the discussion of a post-Karzai political order in Kabul, and with an Afghan national debate on reform of the constitution, which is now widely recognized to be deeply flawed and far too centralized, and which was never truly approved by the Afghan people. The first step to peace with the Taliban therefore should be to acknowledge their right to participate in a genuine national debate on a new Afghan constitution.

Finally, what of the fate of the social progress made since 2001, especially with respect to women’s rights? Jonathan Steele gives a powerful answer to the question. The melancholy truth is that the Taliban are no more reactionary in this regard than most of Afghan rural society. As the briefest glance at media coverage of Afghanistan in recent years makes clear, the limited gains for women’s rights have been made only under intense Western pressure and in the face of apparent strong resistance from our own Afghan political and military allies.

Where the Taliban were different—and attracted international opprobrium—was not in their basic culture, but in the way they codified the suppression of women in state law rather than leaving it to local and family custom. Moreover, they extended this suppression to the cities where women had made real though precarious progress over the course of the twentieth century. The task of the US and its allies therefore must be to preserve the cities at least as areas where women can continue to enjoy more rights and opportunities in the hope that a new culture will gradually spread from them to the countryside.

This is a depressing prospect when compared with the hopes that followed the overthrow of the Taliban ten years ago. But let us face facts. Our societies and official establishments have demonstrated beyond any possible doubt that they lack the stamina and capacity for sacrifice necessary to remain in Afghanistan for the decades that would be necessary to transform the position of Afghan women as a whole; and there is nothing ethical or responsible about setting goals from the safety of London or Washington that informed people know cannot in fact be reached. We do have a chance to try to do better than the Soviets and to try to save Afghanistan from an endless future of civil war, and to establish a peace in which future progress may be possible. It is our duty to take that chance."

The books

Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979–89
by Rodric Braithwaite

A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

by Artemy M. Kalinovsky

Killing the Cranes: A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan
by Edward Girardet

Ghosts of Afghanistan: Hard Truths and Foreign Myths
by Jonathan Steele

The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers
by Peter Tomsen

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity
by Riaz Mohammad Khan

Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan
US Department of Defense

Decoding the New Taliban: Insights from the Afghan Field
edited by Antonio Giustozzi

An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970–2010. by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Warlords and the liberal peace: state-building in Afghanistan

This article by Roger Mac Ginty is pretty heavy on theory but insightful and important. It is part of the ‘war of ideas’ that are inspiring so many Afghans today. Movements for accountability and transitional justice, calls for de-centralized power-sharing, negotiations with the Taliban, and the need to rewrite the constitution are all being discussed.

The article helps to explain where the international community is coming from. Liberal peace in contemporary peacebuilding is the promotion of democracy, market-based economic reforms and a rage of other institutions associated with dominant states.

By examining these concepts Mac Ginty offers a critique of a framework that has guided virtually every post Cold-War intervention conducted in the name of the ‘international community’. That means leading states, leading international organizations and the international financial institutions.

This is about Afghanistan, an exploration of the systems that produce and maintain warlordism, and a discussion on the implications of incorporating warlords into government for the liberal peace. The pro's and con's excerpted.


"This article draws out the contradictions in the liberal peace that have become apparent in post-Taliban state-building in Afghanistan. In particular, it focuses on how warlords have been incorporated into the government. The government has been unable to achieve a monopoly of violence and has relied on the support of some powerful militia commanders to secure itself. This raises a number of practical and ethical questions for the liberal peace. The focus of the article is on warlordism, rather than in providing detailed narrative accounts of particular warlords. The case illustrates the difficulty of extending the liberal peace in the context of an ongoing insurgency."

"Criticisms of the liberal peace are extensive, and conform to the critical traditional in peace studies that is skeptical of ‘problem-solving’ approaches to conflict that seem to minister to manifestations but avoid structural factors. The criticisms can be listed in abbreviated form:

. Ethnocentric (conforming to the cultural and policy mores of the global North);
. Elitist (power is restricted to national and international elites);
. Security-centric (privileges order and security over emancipation and diversity);
. Superficial (disinterested in the underlying causes of conflict and inequality);
. Technocratic and rigid (it reduces peace-building to a series of technocratic,
. Privileges neo-liberal economic policies (it is insufficiently aware of the human costs of shock therapy);
. Conservative (despite emancipatory liberal language, it rarely heralds significant social change).

Notwithstanding the lengthy list of criticisms, and case study evidence to back them up, the liberal peace is not short of defenders. The most prominent defense stems from the international organizations, states, INGOs and policy think-tanks actively engaged in liberal peace projects. They point to the lives saved and improved by liberal interventionism, and note how it is often only leading states in the global North that have the logistical capability and political will to make stabilizing interventions into societies emerging from violent conflict. Moreover, they often stress the paucity of viable alternatives to the liberal peace. Quinn and Cox argue that narratives of neo-imperialism or US hegemony miss the point. Instead, the US and other liberal powers operate benignly: ‘whatever its shortcomings, the settlements produced by American driven interventions are often, at least arguably, equal or superior in quality to the social circumstances they have been imposed to address’."

Reconciliation, Justice and Mobilization of War Victims

Sari Kouvo and Dallas Mazoori have an accounting of steps being taken in Afghanistan to embrace the concepts of transitional justice. The article was published in the November issue of the International Journal of Transitional Justice.
"Victims are the first people who want peace but peace should come with justice. We do not want revenge or to wash blood with blood but at least these criminals should come and publicly apologize to the people of Afghanistan.

– Man whose brother was arbitrarily detained, tortured and murdered by the Taliban, speaking at the Victims’ Jirga for Justice, Kabul, 9 May 2010"

Mural Image: The Women See Through a Different Lens
Janet Braun-Reinitz, Brooklyn, NY
Part of Windows and Mirrors

"I lost two of my children during the civil war. They imprisoned my husband, a medical doctor, for 10 months under the Taliban and he lost his mind under their torture. Under the present government, a judge who had been bribed deprived me of the ruins I had converted to a house, and gave it to somebody who had arrived from Canada.

– Woman who stated she had been a victim of all periods of the conflict, speaking at the Victims’ Jirga for Justice, Kabul, 9 May 2010"

“This article traces the early stages of civil society mobilization for transitional justice and recent efforts to establish a network of war victims in Afghanistan. Specifically, it focuses on the development of the Transitional Justice Coordination Group and its victim-centered activities, such as organizing a Victims’ Jirga for Justice in 2010 and a National Victims’ Conference in 2011. It also situates these developments in the context of the broader transitional justice and reconciliation processes occurring in Afghanistan.”

“Afghanistan has faced over three decades of conflict, beginning with a Communist coup in 1978, followed by a decade of Soviet occupation, a civil war, the emergence of the Taliban regime and, after the US-led international military intervention, ethnic and political tensions within the internationally supported government led by President Hamid Karzai and now a military conflict between a resurgent Taliban and the Afghan government and international forces. The civilian population has suffered during all phases of the conflict. Which region, ethnicity or segment of society has been most targeted has depended on who was in power at different times, but illegal detention, torture, disappearances, killings and indiscriminate bombings have been an Afghan reality for decades.

The UN-sponsored power-sharing conference organized after the US-led military intervention gave little attention to justice and accountability. However, the resulting Bonn Agreement did call for the establishment of the AIHRC, which has become one of the staunchest promoters of transitional justice in Afghanistan. National consultations undertaken by the AIHRC, the findings of which were released in 2005, show that the overwhelming majority of Afghans or their families are victims of human rights violations or war crimes and that they expect perpetrators to be prosecuted or removed from power. Moreover, Afghans are clear that, for them, reconciliation and justice are interconnected. They are equally clear that justice is integral to peace, with 76 percent of respondents believing that bringing war criminals to justice would increase stability and bring security. Only 10 percent felt that stability and security would decrease as a result.”

The strength and independence of the Afghanistan Independent Human Right Commission (AIHRC) has been challenged since all of its directors were not offered contract extensions at the end of December.

Additional posts on transitional justice are here. For a detailed accounting of the Afghan experience with war, go here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

There’s More to Peace Than the Taliban

Two arguments highlighting the need to have all parties involved in negotiations for a political settlement to succeed. This is part of a series that will highlight different perspectives on the US strategy of negotiations with the Taliban. So far we have looked at armed groups, next week we will highlight the responses of civil society. The picture above is from the press conference described below.

There's more to peace than Taliban | M K Bhadrakumar
“On Monday, the alliance stalwarts came out against the Barack Obama administration's secret discussions with the Taliban. These leaders - Ahmed Zia Massoud, brother of late Ahmad Shah Massoud and formerly vice president under Karzai; General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek leader who leads the Jumbish in northern Afghanistan; Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, the Hazara Shi'ite leader from Mazar-i-Sharif who heads the Hezb-e-Wahdat; Amrullah Saleh, former head of Afghan intelligence - held talks with a group of four US congressmen - Dona Rohrabacher, Loretta Sanchez, Louie Gohmert and Steve King (all except Sanchez are Republicans) - in Berlin over the weekend and issued a joint statement on Monday.

This is the first time that the leadership of the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities has come to a common line of thinking to oppose the US's peace strategy and to present an alternate blueprint of pan-Afghan settlement. In essence, the Northern Alliance is being resuscitated as a political entity.

Their statement attacked the power structure headed by Karzai as dysfunctional, far too centralized and rampantly corrupt and demanded that in the first instance what Afghanistan needed was an inclusive parliamentary form of government "instead of a personality-oriented presidential system", which could optimally represent all ethnic and regional interests.

They also sought a thorough revamping of the country's electoral system from the present single non-transferrable voting system to a "national-accepted variant of the proportional representative system" and the direct election of governors and provincial council leaderships with delegation of powers to create budgets, collect revenue and oversee local policing and administer social sectors.

But, most important, they frontally questioned the US's locus standi to initiate peace talks with the Taliban. Their statement said:

We firmly believe that any negotiation with the Taliban can be acceptable, and therefore effective, [only] if all parties to the conflict are involved in the process. The present form of discussions with the Taliban is flawed, as it excludes anti-Taliban Afghans. It must be recalled that the Taliban extremists and their al-Qaeda supporters were defeated [in 2011] by Afghans resisting extremism with minimal human-embedded support from the United States and international community. The present negotiations with the Taliban fail to take into account the risks, sacrifices and legitimate interests of the Afghans who ended the brutal oppression of all Afghans.

In order to speed the withdrawal of international forces, the participants believe it is essential to strengthen regional and national institutions that are inclusive and represent the concerns of all the communities of Afghanistan. [Emphasis added.]

A challenge to Obama

The Northern Alliance statement challenges the US's monopoly of conflict resolution and Washington's unilateralist estimation that the Taliban are the only group that matters as protagonists on the Afghan chessboard in a peace process.

Its entire approach is to take the "Afghan settlement" from the narrow path of a secretive US-Taliban-Pakistan compromise formula to a transparent, inclusive, broadly-participatory inclusive approach that would not ignore any Afghan interest group, which has genuine mass support, from participation, with strong, elected local leaderships that enjoy delegated powers of local governance.

In sum, it offers a vision for returning Afghanistan to its historical character of a federated system of government that allows a plural society to thrive, but with a representative form of government as a modern-day democracy. Indeed, the Northern Alliance statement implies readiness to reconcile politically with the Taliban, provided they "seize" power through the ballot box rather than the guns supplied from the Pakistani military inventory, among other places.


Their challenge to Barack Obama is to concede for the Afghan people the very minimum privilege of an Arab Spring so that Islamism can reconcile with democracy - quintessentially, expecting the US to be on the "right side of history". It is not too much to ask for, really.”

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

About Talks With The Taliban
| Abbas Daiyar

“After years of denial and doubts when the idea of negotiations with the Taliban were proposed seriously for the first time, it is indeed a major development that two parties to the conflict: the United States and Taliban militants have put aside their preconditions of talks such as complete disassociation from Al-Qaeda and acceptance of the Afghan constitution and on the Taliban part, full withdrawal of all foreign troops. However, there are many problems which, if not dealt properly, can end all the excitement of a political settlement into the last abyss of uncertainty and eventual descent into chaos for Afghanistan.


Whatever reasons have caused the positive change in thinking of the Taliban leadership to agree on direct talks with the US, it shows their extreme political immaturity still persisting to ignore the fact that the Taliban have more serious problems of acceptability within Afghan society than with the international community.”

Abbas Daiyar is a journalist from Kabul who has worked for newspapers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Daily Outlook Afghanistan, and writes a biweekly op-ed.

Talking to the Taliban | Michael Semple

Critical insights into the hopes, demands, and challenges of dialogue with the Taliban. This is the first of a series that will highlight different perspectives.

Michael Semple worked as Oxfam’s aid program representatives for both Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980’s. During the Taliban period he served with the UN as a humanitarian coordinator traveling widely across the country. He then worked as a political officer with the UN during the immediate post-2001 efforts to support the establishment of a new political order.

From 2004 to 2007 he served as Deputy to the European Union Special Representative for Afghanistan. In 2007 he was expelled from Afghanistan by President Karzai for reconciliation efforts that involved discussions with people linked to the Taliban.

How to Talk to the Taliban, Michael Semple, Foreign Affairs

“Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid's announcement last week that the group will open a political office in Qatar is part of a process that could bring a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. To be sure, naysayers abound both in the region and in Washington. But, conditions in 2012, unlike those in years past, offer a realistic, if difficult, opening for a way forward.”

“With the olive branch from the Taliban, of course, comes a demand. Zabiullah made it clear that the Taliban expects the United States to release some of its members who are currently being held in the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Washington's granting the request would be a classic confidence-building measure. Taliban rank and file are obsessively fascinated with the fate of detainees in American custody. If the Taliban leadership gets some of them back, it will be in a better position to justify engagement with the West to its followers and commanders."

“As soon as you dare consider the optimistic scenario and imagine a speedy end to the war, however, you confront very real obstacles. Here are but a few. First, token prisoner releases have to be on the table as first-order confidence-building measures. In a U.S. election year, that is unlikely. Second, in Afghanistan there is little sign of anyone having prepared the Taliban base for the idea that it will have to compromise with the old Northern Alliance and with Karzai's government in Kabul. There is little doubt that many Taliban will go into this process holding their fallback option close: wait for NATO to draw down troops in 2014, then fight for control of Kabul. Worse, the Qatar office could turn out to be little more than a Taliban ploy for tactical advantage, especially if it uses the office deal to seek international recognition without making any compromises with fellow Afghans.”

Additional resources here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Second CIA Drone Strike in 48 hours Kills 6 | Pakistan

A second CIA drone strike has killed 6 people in North Waziristan. The targeted assassinations took place in the same region as yesterday’s strike. An attack that formally recommitted the US to the deadly drone war in Pakistan.

The resumption of the strikes coincide with Pakistan’s firing of the defense secretary over a memo sent to the Unites States offering new security guidelines. It is a dangerous political moment for the Government of Pakistan.

AP reports:
“Pakistan’s prime minister fired the defense secretary Wednesday in a dispute over a memo sent to Washington that has enraged the army, escalating a crisis pitting the civilian government against the powerful military leadership.”


“The unsigned memo sent to Washington asks for its help in reining in the power of the military in exchange for favorable security policies. It was allegedly masterminded by Pakistan’ envoy to Washington, who resigned in a failed attempt to stem the fallout.”

The resumption also comes on the heels of the new US defense strategy announced by President Obama last week.

That strategy calls for fewer wars like Iraq, and more wars like Afghanistan where war-fighting coordination between the Pentagon, now run by former CIA chief Leon Panetta and the CIA now run by the former US commander in Afghanistan General Petraeus is the model.

As C.I.A. director Mr. Panetta transformed the spy agency into a paramilitary organization, with its drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as secret bases and covert operations. General Petraeus increased the use of Special Forces and private security contractors to conduct secret intelligence missions and armed and financed militia forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guidance envisions more of this in the future.

Additional Resources:
How the CIA became a Killing Machine

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CIA Drone War Resumes in Pakistan | 4 Killed

Six weeks after twenty-four Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross border attack the CIA has resumed the drone war in Pakistan. Yesterday, four people were killed near Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region by CIA drone strikes.

Spencer Ackerman writing in Danger Room makes this point.
“The drone strikes are not a supplement to a war; they’re the centerpiece of how the Obama administration confronts terrorists. The White House’s plan for counter-terrorism makes that clear, as does the Pentagon’s new strategy blueprint. Anonymous administration officials, evidently itching to get back to the strikes, floated the (evidence-free) proposition in the New York Times that terrorists were regrouping during the six-week pause.”

The LA Times reports that
"Current and former U.S. officials recently told The Times that the CIA had suspended drone missile strikes on gatherings of low-ranking militants suspected in attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The move, they said, was an attempt to patch up steadily eroding ties between the two countries."

Voice of America reports that "American officials have denied that the recent drop-off in drone strikes was deliberate."

Radio Free Europe ran an update last week on Pakistan’s decision to seal the border with Afghanistan – blocking NATO supply trucks – after the killing of its soldiers.

Action Step: No More of the Same in Pentagon Spending

What would Gandhi say to Afghan youth today?

Ali, Faiz and Abdulai at the Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi, India

Too often the ’story’ about Afghan men is centered on violence. The $10 dollar Talib, warlord armies, government militias, armed private contractors, joining the foreign forces. It is an incomplete picture.

The steps being taken by young men - and women - to resist these forms of violence is one of the great stories of Afghanistan.

One group among many practicing nonviolent resistance to transform their society, is the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

Click here to follow their visit to India and efforts to learn more about the practice and power of nonviolence. Here is the first entry, a teaser.

Indian, Afghan and Human Poverty
"Faiz, Abdulai, Ali and I are traveling in India to learn from Gandhian practitioners in Ekta Parishad. We wish to learn how to mobilize people from the villages to protest non-violently.

Immediately, we’re encountering our own poverty.

Thanks and love,
Hakim, Faiz, Abdulai, Ali and all"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Postcards from Kabul | Nathalie Handal

I’m not that weak willow twisted by every breeze.
I’m an Afghan girl known to the world.

- Nadia Anjuman

In May 2011, poet Nathalie Handal was invited by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and the State Department to travel to Kabul, Afghanistan to participate in a literary tour, which also included National Book Award Finalist Joshua Ferris and essayist Christopher Merrill. While in Afghanistan, she taught a poetry workshop to young Afghan women students at Kabul University and participated in many literary dialogues with other poets from the country. The short film captures this unique poetic journey. Nathalie currently lives in New York City. From Bomblog.

Here is one of her poems she read…


The Arab Revolt 2011

The story begins
with a song—
it’s stubborn,
breaks air
into history;
for a minute
it’s quiet
to allow everyone in,
and then it raises
to celebrate voices,
clears its throat,
We will bury the smoke that blinds us,
plant our soul on every page,
we will divide our pain into towers
and fill our hands with rain,
we will arrive on time every day
to chase you away,
we will no longer be afraid
of what makes us shiver under the sun,
we will leave our names in every teahouse,
our messages at the bottom of every cup.

Light will no longer be illegal
nor will hope—
even the guards will count
the scars on their tongue
and prepare to heal,
even the children will keep
homeland in the mirror
and prepare to see,
even the women will turn
the fire inside the door
off, and prepare to live.

We will never whisper again.
There is evidence, there is evidence,
that now we can hear
the sounds that lift freedom
across a continent,
and say, Salaam to you,
welcome to my country.

by Nathalie Handal

From Guernica, A Magazine of Art and Politics

Monday, January 9, 2012

Community Voices for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation

This newest report in the on-going series by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit focuses on the provinces of Ghazni, Bamiyan and Kabul. It explores the failure of the Afghan government and its international partners to implement a comprehensive program to provide justice or compensation for past and present war crimes. Its strength comes from a reliance on Afghan testimonies.

Accountability starts at the top, not just with Afghan actors, but with the immunity that has been a feature of foreign interventions in Afghanistan for the last 30 years.

Healing the Legacies of Conflict in Afghanistan
Emily Winterbotham | AREU | January 2012
“Ten years after the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan is an environment of escalating conflict and prevailing impunity. In this context, the narrative of the Afghan government and its international partners has increasingly focused on ending the violence through negotiating with insurgent leaders and reintegrating their fighters into Afghan society. In their attempt to secure peace, policymakers have largely failed to include justice as a component of reconciliation and reintegration processes. This has continued the predominant approach since 2001 (and before) with the need for immediate stability outweighing the need for wartime accountability. The fact that the Afghan government and its international partners have failed to implement a comprehensive program to provide justice or compensation for past and present wartime crimes has inhibited people’s ability to deal with the legacies of conflict. Subsequently, the majority of people participating in AREU’s research said they were struggling to cope emotionally, psychologically and practically, and the desire for some form of “closure” remains strong.”

The author explores in details some of the options available to afghans. Including different models to address conflict that include a retribution model, a restorative model, a reparative model and finally, a forgive and forget model. She also explores the peace and reconciliation options from community-level to national level.

Different Models to Address Afghanistan’s Past and Present Conflicts
"To date, there have been no concerted efforts to deal with this complex legacy of wartime atrocities. At best, this has meant that wartime events have been largely ignored in Afghanistan. At worst, revisionist historical interpretations promoted by the perpetrators of crimes have dominated at the political level. In this environment, the experiences and suffering of ordinary people, who make up the bulk of Afghanistan’s victims, have been largely ignored…."

The Retributive model
“The demand for retribution was strong across all research sites. People widely argued that perpetrators of gross human rights violations should face punishment. While respondents suggested a number of different punitive measures, this paper concentrates on the mechanisms that received the most attention and only includes those in accordance with domestic and international law: criminal trials, including state-led prosecutions (administering capital punishment or imprisonment) and international trials; removing individuals from power; and punishing perpetrators through financial or material means. It is possible to broadly compare the provinces, although there was of course variation and fluctuation within communities. Respondents in Bamiyan and Ghazni widely rejected forgiving those guilty of wartime violations and came out strongly in favour of retributive actions. In Kabul Province, the urban community was most in favour of holding people to account. The rural site was more divided over how to deal with the perpetrators of wartime violations, especially between the men and women interviewed. Male respondents were the least in favour while a majority of women supported punishment.”

The restorative model
“Restorative processes are designed to uncover the truth about past events. Establishing a full, official accounting of the past is increasingly seen as an important element to a successful democratic transition. An accurate record of past crimes can make it embarrassing and difficult for official actors to deny them, apply pressure to remove perpetrators from power, and raise awareness toward preventing future abuse. However, in Afghanistan no official enquiry into either specific violations or the general consequences of Afghanistan’s wars has been published to date. Consequently, wartime actors have sought to fill this vacuum by promoting self-serving visions of the past. Most notably, the amnesty law glorified mujahiddin achievements during jihad against the Soviets, which as discussed also led to numerous atrocities. Others, including some who have occupied high-level positions in the Afghan government, deny any direct responsibility for past war crimes despite evidence to the contrary.”

Reparative policies
“International law recognises that a reparatory approach is an important way of acknowledging the collective societal responsibility that is owed to victims. Reparations can take many forms to compensate for harm and to rehabilitate the mind, body and status. These can include measures such property restitutions, monetary payments, education vouchers, memorials, apologies, or even the return of a loved one’s body for burial.153 While it may be impossible to fully repair the damage done to victims or make individual assessments of the harm suffered by each, a reparations programme can provide solutions to some of the problems derived from the harm suffered. There is growing consensus in international law that the state is obligated to provide compensation to victims of egregious human rights abuses perpetrated by the government and if the regime which committed the acts in question does not provide compensation, the obligation carries over to the successor government. Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in its final report, recognised that reparations are a primary tool for rebuilding national trust and encouraging reconciliation. This section concentrates on two broad compensation policies that received the most attention from respondents—symbolic reparation in the form of memorialisation and financial or material compensation.”

Financial reparations
“While it may be impossible to fully repair the damage done to victims or make assessments of the harm suffered by individuals, a reparations programme can still offer certain solutions. The idea that the people of Afghanistan should be materially or financially compensated for the wide-scale damage caused by war was strongly supported by people in all research sites. There was a widespread perception that if people’s living conditions were improved and assistance was provided to help them manage the material aspects of their losses then they would be able to handle their wartime grief better. Compensation was identified to have several impacts of varying significance for different groups interviewed: firstly, people felt it would help repair the physical and material damages caused by war; secondly, it could assist healing processes; finally, in some cases, it was presented as an alternative to a retributive approach.”

Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan
"The overwhelming majority of people in all research sites stated that they did not currently feel “at peace.” Achieving durable security and long-lasting calm for all of the country was therefore one of the most basic demands shared by all respondents. While in Ghazni people most frequently linked this with ongoing violence in their province and presented a narrow interpretation of peace as the attainment of security, in Kabul and Bamiyan provinces people generally argued that security had largely been reached in their areas, but that they still did not feel they had achieved peace. Instead, they felt that peace in Afghanistan rested on the fulfilment of certain key conditions: security, legitimate government, justice and reconciliation. Even in Ghazni, while immediate responses to questions about peace concentrated on the lack of security, on further expansion peace also clearly encompassed these components. Moreover, reconciliation was identified as a component of both justice and peace. Consequently, processes of justice, peace and reconciliation were seen as intrinsically linked, overlapping and mutually beneficial.

Afghanistan has experienced decades of conflict, which has fractured the bonds between different groups, qawms and ethnicities in the country. Moreover, there is a clear lack of trust between the population and Afghanistan’s leaders. This social context influences prospects for peace and reconciliation. Having addressed the concept of justice for Afghanistan’s conflicts, this chapter explores how people felt peace and reconciliation could be developed at the community level between Afghan people and what is required at the high level to reconcile the different parties to Afghanistan’s conflicts. Finally, it explores people’s perceptions of what a legitimate Afghan government looks like."

Additional Resources:

The Afghan Experience With War | ICRC | 6 October 2011

Documenting the Kill/Capture Missions | AAN | 13 October 2011

Violence Increases 21% | UNSG | 20 December 2011

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sher Mohammad | A Refugee Profile

The UN refugee agency has been asking refugees and others all around the world to tell us their stories on camera. They are stories of escape, survival, and triumph after being forced to flee their homes.

"It really disturbs me when you don't have the right to defend yourself."

Sher Mohammad was born and raised in Afghanistan and trained as a pharmacist. Following the Soviet occupation of his country in the 1980s, he fled to Pakistan. His home village was bombed, he says, and his mother and nephew killed. In Pakistan, he continued to work as a pharmacist before starting a gemstone trading business in the mid-1990s in Peshawar. He has two sons and seven daughters and many grandchildren.

Here is the full play list.

Storytelling: Through the Eyes of Refugees.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Aid and Security in Afghanistan | Feinstein Int'l Center

Winning Hearts and Minds?
Examining the Relationship between Aid and Security in Afghanistan
Paul Fishstein and Andrew Wilder | January 2012

Another detailed study on the impact of linking aid and assistance to the military strategy in Afghanistan.
"This paper by Paul Fishstein and Andrew Wilder presents findings from research conducted by FIC in five provinces of Afghanistan between July 2008 and January 2010 on the relationship between aid projects and security.

Afghanistan has been a testing ground for a key aspect of counterinsurgency doctrine, namely that humanitarian and development projects can help to bring or maintain security in strategically important environments, and by "winning hearts and minds" undermine support for radical, insurgent, or terrorist groups. The assumption that aid projects improve security has lead to a sharp increase in overall development funding, an increased percentage of activities programmed based on strategic security considerations, and a shift of development activities to the military. Given what is at stake, it is essential that policy makers understand whether and how aid projects can actually contribute to security.

The paper highlights the challenges inherent in using aid as an instrument of security policy. While in some areas aid projects may have had some short-term positive security effects at a tactical level (e.g., intelligence gathering and limited force protection benefits for international forces), and may have helped to facilitate creating relationships by providing a “platform” or context to legitimize interaction between international and local actors, there was little concrete evidence in any of the five provinces that aid projects were having more strategic level stabilization or security benefits such as winning populations away from insurgents, legitimizing the government, or reducing levels of violent conflict.


The findings have implications for the effectiveness of aid as a stabilization tool, suggesting the need to understand the complex, intertwined, and overlapping drivers of conflict, especially political and governance-related ones; to create incentives that value quality over quantity, and thereby reduce the counterproductive pressure to spend too much money too fast; to reverse current policy and instead focus on areas where investment can yield better results than in insecure ones; to reinforce a culture of evaluation and accountability; and, to value development as a worthwhile end in and of itself. Many of the study’s findings, which were documented in the previously published case studies, have been acknowledged by the U.S. and its NATO allies, but many of the institutional incentives for why aid funds are spent in ways that can be ineffective or destabilizing remain unchanged."

Related Material:

Afghan Refugee Strategy a Big Mistake | UNHCR | 3 January 2012

Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan | ICG | 4 August 2011

3 Cents on the Dollar | Senate Foreign Relations Report | 9 June 2011

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Talking to the Taliban | Bhadrakumar, Schirch, Habib

Three insights to help make sense of the long road ahead.

M K Bhadrakumar, a former diplomat from India, offers a regional analysis of the challenges that lie ahead. He highlights the urgent need of a breakthrough by the Obama administration before the NATO summit in Chicago and speculates on the ramification of releasing Taliban detainees held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

“…Fazl's possible release from Guantanamo comes as a masterstroke by Washington aimed at scattering the growing regional bonhomie over the Afghan situation. The Obama administration hopes to release a fox into the chicken pen. Fazl is one of the most experienced Taliban commanders who has been with Taliban leader Mullah Omar almost from day one and he held key positions commanding the Taliban army.

He would have been a favorite of both Mullah Omar and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and his "homecoming" ought to bring joy to both. On the other hand, he was also culpable for the massacre of thousands of Hazara Shi'ites during 1998-2001 and was possibly accountable for the execution of eight Iranian diplomats in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Fazl inspires visceral hatred in the Iranian mind and could create misunderstandings in Pakistan-Iran relations (which have been on an upswing in recent years) and put Islamabad on the horns of a dilemma vis-a-vis Mullah Omar.”

It is precisely this path – and a potential disregard for accountability - that has many in Afghan civil society so worried. Concerned that some of the gains achieved in recent years might be negotiated away.

Lisa Schirch commenting on the civil society forum at the Bonn gathering in early December articulates the Afghan call for a just peace. That any negotiation with the Taliban must included the participation of civil society if it is to be successful.
“What does justice mean in Afghanistan? A decade earlier, the 2001 Bonn Conference on Afghanistan excluded the Taleban while simultaneously including equally atrocity-prone warlords who had fought against the Taleban. The international community allowed the Afghan government to reward these warlords with government positions. This rush for a quick peace in 2001 laid an unstable foundation for peace and contributed to a decade of corruption, further violence and injustice. A just peace requires negotiations between all stakeholders, including armed groups like the Taleban as well as unarmed civil society groups. It also means accountability mechanisms to ensure all are held to account for past crimes. But a just peace will not bargain away the Afghan constitution’s protections of human rights and women’s rights. And a just peace requires a process including the Afghan public.”

Mina Habib, writing for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting offers this on-the-ground-reaction from 23 December 2011.
“Political analyst Abdol Ghafur Lewal expressed suspicions about the Americans’ intentions in pursuing peace talks along a separate track.

“Afghans do not want the gains they have made to be sacrificed for deals between the Americans and the Taleban. It is possible they [the Americans] might trade away those achievements,” he said. “They are trying to clinch a deal with the Taleban to secure peace and get America out of the war.”

Lewal said that if talks were to be held, it was essential that the Afghan government was at the centre of them.

“Every negotiation and contact is a positive step towards ensuring peace, and the Afghan people prefer the logic of talks over war,” he said, “but if such talks take place without the Afghan government being aware of them, they could do irreversible damage.”

Mohammad Ismail Qasemyar is a member of the High Peace Council, which Karzai has tasked with negotiating with insurgent groups, and insists this body should manage all talks.

“It has been accepted that the process is an Afghan process, owned by the Afghans…, not foreigners. We will be seriously concerned if this principle is violated,” he said.

In September, the High Peace Council’s chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated by a suicide bomber.

Those with long memories recall the last days of the Soviet-backed regime in the late 1980s, arguing that attempts to reach a settlement with mujahedin groups failed because the talks were led by the Russians, rather than the then government of President Najibullah.

“The results of that mistake, that calamity still cause us pain,” Lewal said.

Addition posts of interest.

What the Taliban Want | Ahmed Rashid | 30 August 2011

Gilles Dorronsoro | Impossible Transition | 27 June 2011

Talking to the Taliban | A Roundtable | 27 April 2011

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Collateral Damage | WAM Review Bob Sommer

Mural art tends toward bluntness. Its images are large, its imagery thick with meaning. The nature of the medium—walls!—lends itself best to simplicity, directness. The audience for walls is, after all, everyone passing by. Walls with murals ask us to stop and look and think. They tell stories about people we know, about our communities. Mural art is surely the best medium for “Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan,” an exhibit assembled by the American Friends Service Committee and now touring the country. The exhibit brings together more than forty-five mural paintings in what the AFSC catalogue describes as “a traveling memorial to Afghan civilians who have died in the war.”

Mural Image: Eternal Scream
Michael Schwartz, Tucson, AZ.

America’s longest war has also been its most invisible. After visiting the exhibit in Kansas City, my wife and I pondered a hypothetical question: What if the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had only been covered by the news media with Vietnam-era communications technology? In other words, what if there were no social media now, no internet, no 24/7 cable, no embedded cheerleaders in Kevlar vests and oversized helmets clamoring like underage groupies on a rock tour and posing as journalists; what if we only had the evening news, the local paper, and maybe the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, to cover these wars—what would we know about them?

After Walter Cronkite took his glasses off on camera and gave the lie to the notion that America was “winning” in Vietnam, and after Life Magazine published a large black-and-white photo of a terrified naked child running from the nightmare of napalm, America began to get it. That war was no longer about whose military casualty count was worse, but about the millions of innocent civilians suffering and dying as bombs fell and war crashed into their lives. And it was also about the tragic waste of sending young men to die for reasons that defied any moral explanation, and throwing billions of dollars at the effort.

Yet now, despite all the information we have at our fingertips and even in our pockets, a medium that traces its beginnings to some ancient and remote caves in France may offer the best way for those of us who will never visit Afghanistan to understand these wars and their consequences.

“Windows and Mirrors” is a tour through the civilian cost of the war in Afghanistan. It is a gallery of windows into an Afghanistan we rarely see, a place whose people we don’t tend to think of with empathy. In turn the exhibit becomes a gallery mirrors reflecting who we Americans are in the bitter reality of what we are doing there. An untitled panel by Jessica Munguia illustrates the evolution of ever-changing rationales for waging this war in a collage of texts in military-speak, images of weaponry and flowers, and the faces of a woman and child weeping in despair and grief.

The question of our purpose in Afghanistan pervades the exhibit, as does the issue of complicity. The invisibility of this war is the result of a willingness, even an eagerness, on the part of Americans to choose shopping as the prime strategy for fighting the so-called “war on terror”—the bizarre and weirdly ironic notion (brilliantly marketed by the Bush administration) that pretending there were no wars was how we’d win them: Rationing and Victory Gardens turned inside out. And it worked! Such patriotism was easily sold to a nationalistic public that confused the reality of war with video games like “Call of Duty” and patriotism with shedding tears as “God Bless America” rang out in every sports stadium in the country and bone-rattling flyovers filled us with wonder and awe. Meanwhile, actual war continues even now in places we choose not to see, or are prevented from seeing by a corporate media complex that fills the airwaves with pablum.

Michael Schwartz’s painting, “Eternal Scream,” goes straight to the theme of complicity. It depicts a grief-stricken man crying out as he clutches the body of his dead child. The unusual descriptive text that accompanies the painting takes the form of a letter from the artist to the anonymous taxi driver who inspired the work: “Dear Taxi Driver: Thank you for sharing your story. I asked. Nothing I can say to you will bring back your brother’s children, your cousins’ store, your sister. I can weep with you, get angry, try to organize, but nothing will bring back the people who you loved, killed by bombs, made with dollars that should have gone to teach kids about empathy, compassion, science, history, art, math, and yes, poetry….”

Children are the most vulnerable victims of this war and figure in many of the paintings. “Learning to Walk Again,” by John Pitman Weber, depicts the disturbing image of a child wearing a prosthetic leg and pushing a walker past a rack of prosthetic limbs. “Unknown Loss” by Christine Moss positions a madonna and child against the black-and-white backdrop of a refugee camp. Ann Northrup’s “Mountain Kites” portrays children flying kites in an open field. Her accompanying text describes the painting best: “I wanted to show the beautiful Afghanistan that still survives the violent incursions of war, and show ordinary Americans that here is life and value that must be respected and loved. I wanted an image that people could identify with, a child that they could fall in love with and that they would want to cherish and protect.”

Ashley Scribner’s untitled work points out that three children died every day in Afghanistan in 2009 as a result of war-related incidents. A set of textual panels catalogues the weddings bombed during the course of the war and cites reports from international press coverage of innocents killed: In one incident, five women, three children, and an elderly man were killed in their mud hut when a 2,000 pound bomb was dropped on their village. In another, a man who could neither hear nor speak did not know CIA paramilitaries were shouting at him to stop running, so they shot him. In yet another, a man was shot dead by occupation forces as he drove to the hospital to inquire about his ailing sister.

The texts give substance to the paintings. They remove the temptation to find subjectivity in the stark imagery and unsettling themes that surround viewers. They reinforce the vastness of these tragedies across time—this is our longest war—and place. This exhibit is both visceral and evocative, a submersion in human tragedy and the responsibility Americans share for creating it.

“Windows and Mirrors” closes this week in Kansas City and moves on to Pittsburgh. The full schedule and more information is available here.

This article appeared in the weekend edition of counterpunch.

BOB SOMMER’s novel, Where the Wind Blew, which tells the story how the past eventually caught up with one former member of a 60s radical group, was released in June 2008 by The Wessex Collective. He blogs at Uncommon Hours.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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