Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category
It was bound to create controversy and outrage in a country fixated with Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The sentencing of the Pakistani neuroscientist — dubbed the ‘Grey Lady of Bagram,’ the ‘daughter of Pakistan’ and ‘Prisoner 650′ by her supporters — in a New York court on Thursday has riled many in Pakistan, including the government that had campaigned for her release.
But other than the typical and expected anti-U.S. comments made by Aafia Siddiqui’s supporters, anger was directed at the Pakistani government. On Thursday night, Siddiqui’s sister Fauzia addressed a press conference minutes after the ruling (86 years imprisonment on seven counts) and said it was a “slap on the face of our rulers and every leader of the Muslim world” and that she had been reassured by government officials that Aafia would be repatriated. She accused the Pakistani government of “selling Aafia out repeatedly.”
It is an ironic state of affairs. The Pakistani government, which had reportedly paid $2 million for Siddiqui’s legal defense, made her into a folk hero of sorts and regularly communicated with her family, is now taking the heat. Politicians appeared instantly on television channels to denounce the government for not acting in time to ‘save the daughter of Pakistan.’ Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told Pakistan’s upper house of parliament that the government was trying to initiate an extradition treaty for Aafia Siddiqui’s release. “We did not spare any effort,” Gilani claimed, and said “Dr. Aafia is the daughter of the nation. We fought for her and we will fight politically to bring her back.”
Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said in an e-mail interview, “We have made sincere efforts to help her legally and diplomatically and will continue to do so. We understand Fauzia Siddiqui’s grief but it is sheer fantasy to believe that Aafia’s imprisonment is because of the Pakistani government’s inaction or that the Pakistani government could somehow spring her from prison in the U.S. In over two years since her reported arrest in Ghazni, the government of Pakistan has sought but not received evidence from those issuing statements on her behalf that could disprove the U.S. government’s version of events.”
Fauzia Siddiqui said in an interview with Dawn News that she had been fooled by Amb. Haqqani and alleged that he had told her he privately met with the judge presiding over the case.
Aafia’s comments before her sentencing were a mix of confusion and conspiracies. According to Al Jazeera English, “She disputed her lawyer’s claim that she is mentally unfit to stay on trial, then went on to talk about her dreams and the symbolism of her dreams, genetic testing, her belief that Israel is behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that Israel was plotting with her prison warden to attack the United States.” She claimed she was not being mistreated and appealed to her supporters to not turn to violence. Fauzia repeated Aafia’s call for calm, but also said that she had been forced to make a statement saying she was not mistreated and invoked gory visions. “Have you forgotten the hearings when she would appear covered in blood, her face would be swollen and (her body) would bear marks of being hit by rifles?”
And so the sentencing was used — as most volatile incidents are — to stage public protests countrywide.
Members of civil society and the religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Jamiat Talaba clashed with the police in Karachi and Islamabad. Their aim was to protest outside the U.S. consulate and embassy in the respective cities. On Thursday night, protestors in Peshawar burned tires and stomped on posters of former U.S. President George W. Bush.
Political parties rarely call for protests after suicide bombings, but the Jamaat-e-Islami called for countrywide protests shortly after Aafia’s sentencing. Breathless condemnations of the sentencing came in almost instantly from political parties. A high-level meeting was chaired by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday evening to form a committee on Aafia’s repatriation.
While Pakistani leaders have often been accused of dragging their feet on the issues that matter — be it condemning terrorist acts, clamping down on militant activities or ensuring transparent flood relief efforts — Aafia Siddiqui’s sentencing has kick started everyone into action.
The millions displaced by the floods in Pakistan, thousands languishing in jail awaiting trial and the countless women who are victims of honor killings, mistreatment in jails and discrimination will not see anyone rallying for their cause. Not acting swiftly to help them — who should also be dubbed daughters of Pakistan and supported by politicians — is the real injustice. Instead, the focus continues to be on the woman with the explosive purse, an illustrious past, a dubious story and now, an 86-year sentence.
This post was originally published on Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel blog here.
Other stories I’ve done on Aafia Siddiqui’s case:
WikiLeaks: Aafia Siddiqui’s incriminating purse – The Express Tribune
Not a daughter of Pakistan – AfPak Channel
This piece was originally published at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, as part of a collection of quick takes by experts, titled “Perspectives on Afghanistan’s Parliamentary Elections”
With Afghanistan’s September 18th parliamentary vote fast approaching, the media has been overflowing with stories about how the poll will once again be compromised by a deteriorating security situation and widespread electoral fraud. This is rightly a cause for concern, but it also isn’t surprising, nor is it likely to have a great deal of impact on the near future of Hamid Karzai’s government or the ISAF campaign.
The flaws in last year’s ballot were widely reported, are considered to be deep rooted, and if the Obama administration’s current discussions on how best to manage corruption in Afghanistan are any indicator, these pervasive problems are not likely to go away any time soon. Also, with the Taliban and other insurgent groups emboldened by an increasingly nervy domestic polity in the U.S. and a strategic focus on reconciliation, any hopes that the ballot would not face interference from insurgents would be dreadfully misguided.
The real question is, what does this mean for reality on the ground? The answer is: not much. While corruption, particularly in the electoral process, could very well be damaging to Afghanistan’s democratic future, for now it is something that both the Afghan people and the international community have to live with. Also, while security is of course paramount to the success of any public ballot, there is no indicator that insurgent groups are capable of derailing the entire process. As long as attacks and security fears are limited, although regrettable, they will not cause the electoral project to be abandoned, even if they mean that voter turnout will also be limited.
At this point, hopes aren’t high and all parties are concerned with maintaining the status quo. As long as both corruption and violence are kept in relative check, the elections will still serve as a moderate PR victory and the country will continue on its present course.
Note: for a lengthier analysis, read Negah Rahmani’s guest post from yesterday.
This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.
The run-up to Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, held this Saturday 18th of September, has been reported internationally and has highlighted widespread inadequacies in the country’s government and its electoral system. When compared to the media frenzy that surrounded the country’s presidential elections last August, reporting this year has been diminished and focused on the many problems facing the ballot. Last year’s coverage of the elections, their importance to the reconstruction of the country, the significance of the act of voting to the population (especially women) and all such niceties were replaced by reporting of fraud allegations and corruption charges – systemic failures at every level – much the same as last year.
So why have the parliamentary elections not received the same level and type of attention? Is it a case of what FP’s Haring-Smith calls Afghanistan’s groundhog day or an overwhelming sense and realisation that maybe Afghanistan is a lost cause? And in the face of this systemic corruption can the international community be forgiven for perhaps not caring as much?
Firstly, A recent report by The Centre for American Progress conducted an in-depth analysis of the governance issues facing Afghanistan. The report concluded, that above all else, the country’s extremely centralised governing structure is in need of the most urgent reform. Karzai’s legal and constitutional powers make Afghanistan, “in theory, fiscally and administratively one of the most centralised countries in the world.” This amount of power has created a patronage system where Karzai flexes his influence through appointment of more than 1000 government officials at all levels of government with little public input. The paper reports, “Karzai appoints all national line ministry heads, the attorney general, Supreme Court members, the National Security Directorate Intelligence Head, provincial police chiefs and the national Bank chief.” Alongside this, Karzai appoints all members of the Upper House of parliament. In this system, all roads lead to Karzai, personal loyalties and patronage dictate electoral results and policy reform. This has set the tone for the corrupt system not only to be born but also to evolve, ensuring that those in power stay in power.
While the CAP report calls for more public input, some observers think that might just be the problem. Afghanistan’s constitution calls for several separate rounds of elections. Presidential elections (held last August), parliamentary elections to elect 249 members to the Lower House of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) as well as provincial and council level elections. However, in the case of Afghanistan the elections are out of sync. As Haring-Smith writes, “there is an election nominally scheduled every year between now and 2027, except 2012.” In this cycle Afghans will be going to the polls every year for more than a decade. The Economist reported last year that over the next 17 years there will be 11 elections held in Afghanistan. And this is without the district-council elections being held on a separate cycle, as is proposed. In a country where the concept of democracy and voting are new to most people, this system can very quickly create voter fatigue. Reports from the ground already reflect this sentiment. The financial and security burden that these elections create is yet another concern with an estimated cost of $150 million for each election to take place. Afghans, officials and candidates face harsh conditions, in some cases risk their lives to cast their vote. They might not think it worthwhile the 12th year in a row.
These aspects are but a few that form part of a deeply flawed system which has helped create the corrupt environment in which these elections will be held. A retrospective report on the extent of the fraud and poll manipulation of the 2009 presidential elections warns that although fraud will still be as rampant as last time, it will be less blatant. The report by Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) states that those responsible for the electoral fraud in 2009 have learnt from their experiences and will be more sophisticated in manipulating results. The report points out key systemic flaws which allow such rampant fraud to take place. In particular, the absence of a coherent voter registration list means that people register multiple times. Provinces such as Khost and Paktika recorded registration equalling 140% of the population last time. The report further adds that the problem of multiple registrations is well-known yet little has been done to create an alternative system. Perhaps more disheartening is policy reforms which further engrain and enforce corrupt and centralised processes. Since the last elections, new laws have brought the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the UN’s election watchdog, under Karzai’s control. The new laws enable Karzai to appoint all five commission members while the UN can select two representatives. The new measures will curtail the role that the ECC plays in monitoring and investigating fraud allegations.
Under these circumstances the international community’s disinterest with the elections is understandable and not just restricted to the media. The international agencies and organisations involved in Afghanistan have scaled down their election monitoring activities considerably. According to reports by The Guardian, the UN has evacuated one third of its international workforce in Afghanistan out of fear of violence and attacks by the Taliban. The EU has cut its previous 120-strong observation team down to just seven and the Asian Network for Fair Elections down from 74 to 30. Although the results of the elections won’t be announced for a while, fraud allegations have already started pouring out. In these circumstances international observers can be of little relevance where they cannot effectively prevent or monitor fraud. If the forecasts are anything to go by these elections will not only be a further blow to the country’s aspirations for reconstructing a functioning democratic state but will also further affirm international sentiment that little has been achieved in Afghanistan.
Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.
This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.
The August 9th cover of Time Magazine with the portrait of 18-year-old Aisha has ruffled a few feathers, and rightly so. The magazine’s subtext “what happens if we leave Afghanistan” leaves little guessing room as to where they stand in regards to the war efforts.
I can’t imagine anyone who will not be touched and outraged by Aisha’s plight. However, the story of Aisha is neither unique nor recent. Horrendous experiences like that of Aisha’s are reported on a regular basis where Afghanistan is constantly being ranked as one of the worst places to be a woman.
The use of the burqa-clad Afghan woman as part of the war propaganda has been much contested. It’s hard to believe that nine years later and the images like that of Aisha are still being used to persuade public opinion and justify the U.S occupation. The current cover asks no questions and instead states boldly that atrocities like this will happen if WE, the West, leave Afghanistan. This forms part of a much larger and outrageously orientalist media discourse on the topic. The point that the cover is making in short is this: we, the white man need to rescue these Afghan women from the cruelty of Afghan men. The image of Afghan women have been used, and overused, for far too long as a propaganda tool to justify the ‘liberation’ of Afghans by the coalition forces and it is sad and frustrating to see that Time has continued the trend. And I guess the simplest analysis is that this DID happen while WE were there.
As Michael Scheuer states in a recent article for the Diplomat, winning in Afghanistan was never more than finding Osama Bin Laden and stamping out the Al Qaeda stronghold in the country. In fact U.S’s initial attempts to bargain with Taliban to handover Bin Laden and their consequent partnership with the Northern Alliance and Pakistan, all with deplorable record of women’s rights abuses, sums up how much of a priority women’s rights was and has been in the war effort.
Besides the image on the cover, the article itself has some inherent flaws. The article uses photographs of women like Fawzia Koofi, the former Deputy speaker for parliament and Mozhadah Jamalzadah a young Afghan-Canadian woman who has returned to start an Oprah-style talk show in Kabul. Aryn Baker tries to paint a picture of Kabul as a city of opportunities and possibilities for women like Jamalzadah. The only problem is that these women form a minority within a minority. The elites from Kabul are a world away from their counterparts in the provinces. Jamalzadah with her bright blonde hair and western attire will seem foreign to women in Badakhshan, Helmand and Herat. This is the mistake that has been repeated in Afghanistan time and time again. Kabul is not Afghanistan. The ideology and experiences of Kabul’s elites are not shared with the rest of the country. It is not indicative of what Afghanistan is as a country and who the Afghans are as a people. This was the issue when Queen Soraya and King Aminullah tried to modernise the country in the 1920’s and has been repeated in the 60’s, 80’s and again now. Afghanistan needs to be understood for the diverse mishmash of cultures, tribes, traditions, histories, identities and mentalities that it is. The lives of women in Kabul, especially the urban elite, are dictated by different circumstances and social codes than what women face all over the country. Examples such as Koofi are not relevant and rarely do the changes made in Kabul have an impact in the provinces.
This is also true of the concepts and standards Baker uses to measure progress. Concepts of the constitution safeguarding women’s rights, mandating a minimum 25% female representation in the parliament and opportunities to join the police force and army are shallow shells and empty promises. Although the constitution of Afghanistan gives men and women equal rights it also gives Sharia Law supreme power. Sharia can be applied to overrule constitutional laws and are deemed more appropriate in instances where the law is not clear. The reality of the situation is that women do not have equal rights, violence against women is as WomanKind WorldWide put it in their 2009 report ‘exponential’ (and they were only considering the things that get reported). These changes, insisted on by the Western allies, have little to no bearing to the lives of Afghan women, especially outside of Kabul. Time magazine’s claim that WE (ie the West) are what stand between hell for women and equality is laughable at best.
What’s worse is that articles like these fail to recognise that perhaps the presence of U.S and its allies has had a detrimental effect on women’s rights and have set the feminist movement at least a decade back. Povey, one of the most cited academics in the field of Afghanistan concluded in her 2004 paper that the Western ‘pre-packaged’ idea of improved women’s rights have failed to recongnise what Afghan women had achieved throughout the Taliban regime. She writes of an underground feminist movement that was spread throughout the country where women were putting their lives at risk to defy some of the Taliban’s harshest rules. Every single woman interviewed by her admitted to have partaken in income-generating activities. Most were teaching girls or were sending their daughters to make-shift schools. Women formed a large network and despite the circumstances had created, in essence, a social movement that had incredible potential and affected real, grassroots change for the women by the women.*
The biggest defeat of the war has not been the regress of the policies and politics of the country but rather this fact. Women have been set back. The networks that they had created that were sustaining them have been broken. And they have been denied the recognition for their efforts in the struggle for better rights and living standards. They have been denied their voice as much after the U.S occupation as they were before. This image of them as helpless and in need of rescue by white men in shining armour is not only grossly inaccurate, overly simplified and misused but an offense to the identity, struggle and history that they have lived.
* Povey’s paper can be found: Povey R, 2004, ‘Women in Afghanistan: Passive Victims of the Borga or Active Social Participants’, in Women and War: Feminist Perspectives, Oxfam GB, UK
Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.
This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “Getting A Grip on WikiLeaks“
By now, most readers are aware of what The Guardian calls “a huge cache of secret U.S. military files” that was leaked online by WikiLeaks on Sunday. There are more than 90,000 records and it will take journalists, pundits, and researchers a very long time to pore over all of them, but The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel, which received the leaked records several weeks ahead of time, carried out the initial analysis.
You can find the dedicated pages set up by the newspapers by clicking the links above, or if you have a lot of free time on your hands, browse the entire set so far released on the WikiLeaks website. For those with less time, Gregg Carlstrom has a solid selection of the key points to have been reported thus far up at Al Jazeera English.
Many of the responses from commentators, particularly from experts on the conflict, have been unimpressed. CNAS fellow Andrew Exum called the records “merely additional examples of what we already knew” in the New York Times, and was even more dismissive in his initial responseon his blog. Afghanistan analyst Joshua Foust called the bulk of the newspaper reports from the three above “low-hanging fruit” and wrote at length about the possible danger this leak has created for sources that were carelessly not redacted by WikiLeaks. Steve Schippert of Threats Watch finds this “latest episode amusing at best and reckless at minimum.” And so on.
Much of the discourse in the wake of this leak has also been about Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Some have asserted that Assange is “a master of making it about himself,” that he has “a flair for public relations” and that he’s more of an “activist” than a journalist. These assertions are another failure of perspective. The media landscape is full of journalists with opinions and entire publications that blur the line between activism and journalism. This is not new. It also is not at all uncommon for journalists to use stories to bolster their careers and publications routinely build readership by getting “scoops” published. Journalism is a competitive industry and being good at public relations shouldn’t be viewed as something insidious.
Firstly, I agree that the failure by WikiLeaks to make more effort at redactions to protect individuals from reprisals is contemptible. I also agree that those that have been watching Afghanistan closely, even over just the past few years, may not find it at all surprising that Pakisan’s ISI is heavily involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan, or that there are many instances of seemingly recklessfriendly fire incidents and IEDs causing civilian casualties. Many may not even by surprised by reported Iranian involvement in maintaining the Afghan insurgency or rumors of Osama bin Laden’s death. These things have been talked about for a while now and, some (like the ISI business) more credible than others (like OBL’s death), but WikiLeaks has not, thus far, been able to present hard evidence of any of them, leaving many of us exactly where we started off before the leak.
What I disagree with is the lack of perspective shown by so many writers and analysts in their failure to see the forest for the trees. Assange may be sketchy and WikiLeaks may be anti-war but the narrative constructed from this raw data is being funnelled through three respectable publications that have long reported on the war. The reason why the “War Logs,” as they are called by the Guardian, are important is not that they provide groundbreaking new information or even explosive evidence to back up old information. They are important because of the sheer scale of documentation and because of the overall picture they paint of the war, considering that this is a war that is steadily approaching the nine year mark and has cost taxpayers in the U.S. alone almost $200b. And the public, particularly in coalition countries and the many countries in the region that this war has a direct impact on, still needs to think about this war.
Of the government statements in response to this leak, my favorite so far has been Senator John Kerry’s initial take:
However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.
So yes, there is little that’s new (so far) in these “War Logs” and, yes, we know little about Julian Assange and his motivations and, sure, if you don’t trust the man and are an expert on the conflict, then feel free to disregard this story completely. Whether you believe that this war should end or not, it’s safe to say that it isn’t going very well and, at the very least, we should welcome an opportunity for the public to reassess and rethink whether, to them, this is a war that is still worth it. For that purpose, then, the “War Logs” can’t do any harm.
All excerpts from reports published on wikileaks:
‘Refusal of treatment’
TF Devil reported a local national woman was struck by a US convoy 26 kilometers southwest of Kabul. At 1127Z, Task Force Devil reported that a local national female stepped into oncoming traffic and was struck by an up-armor HMMWV (M1114) traveling 30 miles per hour. A medic on-scene attempted to render aid, but the local males refused to allow treatment of the woman. The woman was treated at a local national hospital. She was later scheduled for transfer from the local hospital to a medical facility on Bagram Airfield.
‘The cultural situation’
3. Traffic accident south of Abad, Nurang District. Woman taken to FST Abad and injuries resulted in amputating both feet. She was medevacd to BAF. Family member was unable to accompany PT in helo. FST provided a note to get him to the hospital at BAF and money for transportation.
1. Briefed the Governor on the traffic accident and steps taken to ensure family member was with her at the hospital in BAF. Anticipate meeting with the family members/Elders in the near future. Radio message will be that it was a unfortunate accident, her immediate medical treatment by CF and follow on movement to the hospital in BAF, and family member provided assistance to ensure he was given the necessary paperwork to get access to the base hospital to be with her. Three things will have to happen before the radio address 1) update the Governor on her condition and 2) that the family member is with her, and finally 3)identify the family member, first reports he was either the son or nephew. (This is to ensure a more sincere message to the people)
2. The villagers in Sirkani met with the Governor and he relayed that the people feel the CFs dont care. PRT CMDR and the Governor will go to Sirkani, meet with Elders from the Tribes, state facts of the incident and get from the Elders what is needed to rebuild from the damage. This meeting will take place within the next few days once we can sync up the PRT and Gov’s schedule.
3. Per Chosin, they spoke to the ANP chief today and he said that the people in Dag had come to the police station and were actually happy about the operation. The operation got rid of some bad people, including Pakistanis. The only thing concern was two women were wounded, who will be alright. PRT discussion with ODA regarding the operation revealed that the women were medically treated by ODA with ANP present with complete respect to the women. This will be covered in the Governor’s radio address, emphasizing the success of the mission, removing ACM from this village and regret for the injury to the women, and assurance to the people that the women were treated by CF onsite with all due respect to the women and the culture. The mood seems very good with respect to the locals so far. Chosin plans a meeting with the village Elders in the next 48 hours.
‘The Nangarhar lessson’
Conducted a meeting with Gov Sherzai to discuss results and lessons learned from an operation conducted to arrest LN individuals involved in SVIED activity in the Boti Kot District of Nangarhar.
Attending the meeting were VANGUARD, PRT Jalalabad, Nangarhar Chief of Police and NDS Chief. One of the major complaints of the Afghans was the taking of the injured woman, child and female escort to first JAF hospital, then BAF hospital without a LN male escort from the house or local village. This was widely viewed by the Afghans in attendance in the meeting as a major cultural mistake, which they assessed was the impetus of the 500-person demonstration and near riot that occurred in Boti Kot this morning. PRT Jalalabad requested two male elders from the Boti Kot area to come to the PRT where we could find a solution to the situation. We eventually flew the elders from the PRT to BAF via H-60 to accompany the LN females. The plan is to return all LNs to JBAD via helicopter support on 30 Apr, regardless of the female’s medical condition, due to the cultural situation.
Ambassador and Minister Shahrani discussed the recent incident in Jalalabad in which a young Afghan woman seriously injured during a coalition operation against the Taliban was transported without a male relative or local elder by Coalition forces for medical treatment at Bagram (Ref). Local elders were infuriated by this action and deemed it contrary both to Islam and to Afghan customs. Given that the woman’s life was in danger, Minister Shahrani said her transport was not inconsistent with the principles of Islam. He said only local tradition and interpretation created the tension and public outcry. He told the Ambassador that he is doing all he can to calm and educate people regarding the issue. In addition, Ambassador and Minister Shahrani discussed the Islamic themes that might have resonance in the counternarcotics campaign in Afghanistan.
While the world collects its thoughts on Wikileaks, here’s an excerpt from one of the reports that pinpoints so many things that have gone wrong with the wars waged in Afghanistan:
Men speaking on behalf of the crowd stated that they are a very poor people. They hate the Taliban because the Taliban come into their village and steal money from them and tell them to feed their troops. They hate the Americans because they bomb our homes. (The villagers were not aware that Polish troops were now working the area.) The villagers felt the Americans acted the same as the Soviets, coming to Afghanistan under the pretense of helping the country but then proceeding to kill villagers. The crowd was flabbergasted at how the CF could fire on a village with women, children and old men without cause (i.e. no fire coming from the village) using mortars in an attempt to hit Taliban insurgents instead of coming up to the village and questioning the owners on the presence of insurgents.
The villagers knew the Taliban intruders were planting IEDs and had asked them to stop conducting operations in their area. As a sign of the desperation of the villagers, they recently sent their women with a Koran to ask the Taliban intruders in the name of Allah to leave and stop operations in their area. Their efforts were met with threats of death if they interfered.
This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “Reconciliation and Women’s Rights: Easier Said Than Done”.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch calls on the government of Afghanistan to “ensure that all those who agree to the reconciliation process have made explicit their acceptance of the constitutional guarantees of equality for men and women.”
This is in reference to the planned dual processes of reconciliation, negotiations with high-level insurgent commanders, and reintegration, encouragement of lower level fighters to give up their arms.
However, how the government of Afghanistan is expected to achieve this is unclear. The weaknesses of the Karzai government and its many failures to adhere to the constitution in the past are mentioned several times in the report (specifically, pages 6, 34, and 43), as are the inherent contradictions in pursuing reconciliation with insurgent groups that are clearly ideologically opposed to any law that contradicts their version of Islamic law.
As activist Wazhma Frogh tells HRW, “President Karzai himself has done many things against the Afghan constitution. There have been hundreds of things — including illegal things — that were against the constitution. What was the result? Nothing happened.” If the government itself does not have a strong record of upholding the constitution, how can it be expected to do so after bringing the Taliban into the fold?
The HRW report is important because it brings attention to the ongoing human rights abuses in Afghanistan, particularly the disproportionate targeting of women by the Taliban and other insurgent organizations. A vivid and terrifying picture is painted of the fear these women must go through in just trying to live a normal life. A number of recommendations are made for what the major players in Afghanistan should do (on pages 59 to 64). Apart from the unwavering adherence to the constitution mentioned above, there are also recommendations for greater female representation in decision-making processes and a repealing of the Amnesty Law, which grants amnesty to individuals who committed war crimes before the war began in 2001.
However, it is difficult to read this report without coming to the conclusion that HRW’s recommendations are near impossible to implement. Great pains are taken to highlight the Taliban’s commitment to the brutal oppression of women and disdain for the constitution, and presumably they wouldn’t be so hot on a repeal of the Amnesty Law either. This is further coupled with a widely held belief that the main insurgent groups are not that interested in reconciliation in the first place.
Concerning women’s involvement in decision-making, the report argues that there is a prevailing culture of indifference among male Afghan decision makers, when it comes to upholding women’s rights, thus requiring adequate representation for women in the process itself. However, this is also a clear barrier to that representation, in the face of reconciliation efforts with insurgent groups even more violently misogynistic than any member of the government, it is unlikely that women’s representation in decision-making will be treated as a priority.
I applaud HRW’s work in drawing attention to the plight of Afghanistan’s women but when its recommendations for improving the situation are compared with the reality the NGO itself presents, it’s hard to envisage a situation where reconciliation is achieved and women’s rights, as well as general respect for the constitution, are upheld simultaneously.
Thus, we are left with another very important takeaway from this report. The reality is that these much needed recommendations may well be deal-breakers when it comes to reconciliation. Sadly, the emerging scenario is that something will have to give, and HRW is right to fear that it will probably be women who will suffer once again.
This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “NATO’s responsibility to Afghan civilians”.
June was the deadliest month for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan since the start of the conflict. As fighting intensifies and as British troops pull out of Sangin, proponents and detractors are still squabbling over the relative success of the counterinsurgency strategy (COIN), spearheaded under the Obama administration, and the GOP is arguing over whether chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele’s recent ill-advised comments about the war should be a cause for his resignation.
While domestic discussion over whether various countries should remain in Afghanistan gathers steam, a key metric that should be strongly related to the ‘success’ narrative is not getting enough airtime. Much has been made of whether NATO is ‘winning’ the war in Afghanistan or what it really means ‘to win’ such a war in the first place, but civilian casualties have rarely been discussed in any precise context.
According to a UNAMA survey released in January, 2009 was the deadliest year to date for Afghan civilians and a striking amount were killed by increased Taliban activity. But whether it’s the Taliban, suicide attacks, or U.S. forces killing civilians, the pain for the families of those killed is on the rise — and they may not care who is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. The lack of attention from coalition governments to the details of how many civilians are killed is not encouraging.
According to James Denselow, neither the U.S. Defense Department nor the British Ministry of Defense “maintain records that would enable a definitive number of civilian fatalities to be recorded.” This is in stark contrast to scrupulously maintained numbers of military casualties. Denselow thinks that this is part of the propaganda war and that it’s aimed at maintaining control over the ‘win’ narrative. NATO governments need to take more responsibility for the accurate recording and reporting of information related to civilian casualties, much as they do for military casualties. This should not be left solely to UNAMA.
Military casualties are an understandable cause for concern for those at home, but we must also care about civilian casualties and the increasing humanitarian crisis in the country. While far from a perfect measurement, Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index has rated Afghanistan as 6th in 2010, a position that has deteriorated every year since the Index began in 2005 (when Afghanistan was 11th).
It is notable that under General McChrystal’s rules of engagement, more protection was supposed to be provided for civilians. Equally notable is the news that General Petraeus might change the rules of engagement again due to concerns that they are putting coalition forces in greater danger. The UNAMA survey mentioned above indicates that during 2009, with McChrystal’s changed rules of engagement in place for half the year, the number of civilian casualties killed by coalition forces had indeed decreased, but statistics are not yet available for 2010.
So far the debate over rules of engagement has focused greatly on the balancing act between protecting civilians and endangering coalition forces; however, I struggle to see how this debate can be properly carried out when reliable metrics are not available for half of the balance.
Apart from policy wonks and military types engaged in the debate over rules of engagement, the tax payers who are bankrolling this war need to start thinking independently about what it means to ‘win’ and whether three Australian soldiers killed is so momentous that Afghan civilian casualties pale in comparison. In the war over numbers, we need to stop looking after our people only and look deeper into what the ‘win’ narrative means. While the U.S. and its allies have a lot at stake in this war, the people of Afghanistan have immeasurably more. Whether history judges NATO or the Taliban to be the ‘winners’ in Afghanistan, the Afghan people could end up being the losers.
The upcoming issue of Rolling Stone is carrying a piece of hellfire for Obama. General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan is profiled, in all of his brash arrogance and his comments to reporter, Michael Hastings will make for some chilling reading in the White House. Although the piece cannot yet be found online, Politico has put it up and so has TIME, check it out while it’s still up. Update: Piece is now up on RS in full.
The piece doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know. However, having these comments by McChrystal out in the open is something else. Namely, it’s open insubordination.
McChrystal has already issued a public apology, reportedly apologised to Biden personally, and been called into what promises to be a fairly fiery meeting with President Obama.
In the RS piece, McChrystal openly trashes Vice President Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry and his distaste for Obama himself is veiled pretty thinly. I’m not going to fill this post with quotes from the article, you can read it yourselves via the links above or check out some of the choice bits here.
But such revelations! Who knew about the General’s preference for Bud Light Lime and his set of custom nunchucks, engraved with his name? How is the US going to win the respect & fear of the enemy if it gets out that top Generals are drinking Bud Light for fun? And custom “McChrystal”-engraved nunchucks? What is he, the karate kid? But I digress…
As I said, not much of the controversial stuff is new. McChrystal’s disdain for Biden & Eikenberry have been doing the rounds among pundits for quite some time now and I don’t think anyone really thought that all was well between him and Obama.
The real question of course is: what now? Will Obama dismiss him for insubordination?
The political implications of this for Obama are also a challenge. One one hand, it’s clear insubordination and to not fire the General will make Obama look terribly weak, as well as setting a negative precedent for future disgruntled men in uniform. On the other hand, Obama does not need another high-profile fracas for the GOP to exploit, given that they are likely to back McChrystal and his hawkish plans for COIN and Afghanistan. With the mid-terms looming and Obama already looking politically fragile, he doesn’t need more pain by looking soft on Afghanistan and National Security. It seems Obama is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Here’s what I think Obama will do. I predict that Obama will let things slide with McChrystal but muzzle him for the rest of his tenure. Whether the damage has already been done is another question. It’s no secret that McChrystal opposes the drawdown in 2011 and wants another surge in Afghanistan, will he force this issue back to center stage and successfully avoid a drawdown or is the war’s supposed growing unpopularity among Americans enough to ensure that Obama’s drawdown remains unchallenged?
Here’s what I think Obama should do. Obama should fire General McChrystal. The political reasons for why he should remain are important, sure, but what’s more important is surely preserving the Constitution of the United States, the authority of the President and the moral fabric of the world’s supposedly leading democracy. Regardless of how arrogant a General is, he has no right to openly mock his democratically elected leaders. Allowing him to do so would set a nasty precedent and would forever enshrine Obama as a toothless President.
What’s really appalling about all this is how things got this far. How could McChrystal and his staff possibly be so stupid? How could they deliver such brazenly unconstitutional remarks to a reporter (and one who writes for Rolling Stone no less)?
More answers will come after the results of Obama’s meeting but one thing’s for certain, the President takes another hit.