The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Taliban

Pakistan Army accused of extrajudicial killings in Swat. Again.

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This video, which has been doing the rounds on the internet for over a week, allegedly depicts the Pakistani Army engaging in an extrajudicial execution of six unidentified men, purportedly in the Swat region. It was reported on blogs and Twitter, but the mainstream media was slow to pick it up, and most interestingly, so was Human Rights Watch.

Since then, it has been picked up by several agencies, and while it was also briefly linked to the Indian Army in Kashmir, most of the discussion seems in favour of declaring it the real Pakistani deal.

The New York Times report:

But American officials, who did not want to be identified because of the explosive nature of the video, said it appeared to be credible, as did retired American military officers and intelligence analysts who have viewed it.

After viewing the graphic video on Wednesday, an administration official said: “There are things you can fake, and things you can’t fake. You can’t fake this.”

Al Jazeera English has a better report that delves deeper into the video and its authenticity:

An organisation called the International Pashtuns’ Association posted the video on Facebook and says that the incident took place during the military’s crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley the summer of 2009.

The uniforms and rifles appear to be consistent with Pakistan’s standard military equipment, and a former Pakistani general told Al Jazeera that while the video could not be verified, the images should be taken seriously.

“We have to take it at face value at the moment, and take it seriously,” said Talat Masood. “My view is that the CIA and ISI are in a much better position to authenticate this.”

“It looks as though they are Pakistani troops, but there are several other aspects that need to be re-checked  before we can say that it is authentic.”

Human rights groups say the video fits in with “credible allegations” they have received about the conduct of Pakistani troops. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in June that 282 extra-judicial killings by the army had taken place in the Swat region in the past year.

The AJE report also includes responses from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who also say that the video is consistent with numerous reports in the past of the Pakistani Army engaging in such executions. Indeed, both HRW and the NYT have reported it in the past.

The Pakistani Army has, predictably, denied reports and declared the video fake.

The real question is over what fallout this will cause.

Reuters says that it could threaten US aid to Pakistan and includes a quote from State Department spokesman PJ Crowley: “Human rights and the issue of extra-judicial killings has been a part of our ongoing conversation … with Pakistan.” I’d say that quote pretty much sums up the US response, an “ongoing conversation” is vague enough to indicate some sort of action, but nothing concrete or real.

Scarecrow at Fire Dog Lake sums up the inconsistency in relation to drone attacks:

But then one must ask whether there is some moral or legal distinction between what the Pakistan forces are alleged to be doing, which if true would be an egregious crime and warrant protests from all civilized nations, and what our own military teams are doing when they observe a Pakistani village or group of individuals via drone cameras and then, from targeting rooms that may be located in the US, direct the drones to bomb and kill those individuals. Because I’m having a hard time seeing a meaningful difference.

Indeed, it is difficult to find a meaningful difference. Moreover, there’s the much publicised case of Anwar al-Awlaki, and reportedly three other US citizens, all of which are in line to be assassinated by the US Army. Legal challenges to these assassinations have been blocked by the Obama Administration by invoking the State Secrets doctrine to shield it form judicial review. And, of course, there’s the ongoing protection of those involved in Bush-era torture allegations.

So is the US going to withhold aid from Pakistan or take any real action over these killings? Hell no, there won’t even be a statement of condemnation. Why? Because obviously, the Obama Administration doesn’t care. It will put sanctions on Iranian diplomats for torture, but it’s not going to censure a key strategic ally for the war in Afghanistan. In this case, American exceptionalism must, to some extent, be extended to strategic allies.

So anyone looking for something concrete to come out of this, don’t hold your breath. Instead, just wait for it to blow over, as undoubtedly it will.

Written by alexlobov

October 1, 2010 at 5:37 pm

A quick take on today’s Afghanistan elections

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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.

Written by alexlobov

September 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Afghanistan: The Burden of Democracy

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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.

Written by alexlobov

September 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Wikileaks: Friend or Foe in Afghanistan?

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The most famous guy from Townsville since Keith Urban.

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 GuardianThe 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.

Written by alexlobov

July 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm

‘The cultural situation’

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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’

Discussion Items:
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.

PRT Assessment:

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.

‘Infuriated’

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.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

July 29, 2010 at 5:11 am

Signs of desperation

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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.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

July 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Can Afghanistan have both Peace and Women’s Rights?

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TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

This piece was originally published on Foreign Policy’s Afpak Channel, titled “Reconciliation and Women’s Rights: Easier Said Than Done”.

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.

Written by alexlobov

July 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

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