The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Afpak

Can Afghanistan have both Peace and Women’s Rights?

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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

The need for accurate civilian casualty figures in Afghanistan

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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.

Written by alexlobov

July 13, 2010 at 9:46 pm

General McChrystal prefers Bud Light to Biden

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Obama & McChrystal | GETTY Images

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.

Written by alexlobov

June 23, 2010 at 12:53 am

AfPak brings all the boys to the yard

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Surprise! (PHOTO: REUTERS)

From The Beatles to US President Barack Obama, they’ve all hopped across to AfPak. US President Barack Obama arrived on a ‘surprise’ visit to Afghanistan last night, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and addressed troops. I watched Obama’s speech and I wasn’t impressed at all.

This has all been done and said before. Its all well and good to say things like ‘we did not choose this war’ and ‘we’re here to get the job done’, but it doesn’t seem to be headed that way. If you’re propping a government that is wildly corrupt, it really isn’t going to end well.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

March 29, 2010 at 6:16 am

Posted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, US

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Pizza, please! American suspects in Pakistani jail want pizza

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Stop the press! Do you remember those five Americans who were caught in Pakistan on terrorism charges? There’s a high chance you don’t. Its only January 1o but this has been a busy time for AfPak news and you’ve probably forgotten about them. After all, Americans in Pakistan have been in the news a lot lately – the saga of passport checks and license plates and Blackwater theories – but no one seems to care about these 5 boys.

Aged 19-25, they were arrested in Sargodha and reportedly planned to “cross the border into Afghanistan to wage jihad against Western forces but denied any links to al-Qaida or plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.” (AP)

They’ve had a string of bad luck, really. The five were turned down because they didn’t have the right reference

Five young American Muslims arrested in Pakistan met representatives of a group linked to al-Qaida and asked for training, but were turned down because they lacked references from trusted militants, according to a Pakistani police official.

Their social networking habits didn’t help either.

Pakistani police accuse the men of using the social networking site Facebook and the Internet video site YouTube while they were in the U.S. to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan.

While they’re still in custody and have been questioned by the FBI, they’re not particularly enjoying their stay in Pakistan. From the Online news agency:

Five US terror suspects languishing in District Jail Sargodha on 14 days Judicial remand have requested Pizza but their request could not be fulfilled.

Talking to Online here on Saturday, Deputy Superintendent District Jail Sargodha Chaudhry Aftab Hanif said that the detained American are satisfied with meal which is being supplied to them in Jail but they had requested for Pizza.

The Jail administration, he said, made it clear on arrested US terror suspects that Pizza is not included in Jail menu therefore it can not be given to them. On return, he said, the detainees told the Jail administration that they would eat Jail food by considering it as Pizza.

Really, Pakistani hospitality just isn’t what it used to be.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

January 10, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Pakistan, US

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The OBL watch

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A man holds a box of Pakistan-made "Super Osama Bin Laden, Kulfa Balls" milk and coconut flavour hard candies bought at a bazaar in Kandahar city (REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

In the days following 9/11, there was barely a minute where one didn’t hear the name Osama Bin Laden uttered. Fast forward eight years, and one barely heard of him, unless it was a brief mention in a journal piece. There was a brief flurry of excitement in September when a new recording surfaced but that was it.

Until a few weeks ago, when a plethora of statements about OBL emerged. Where is he? Where was he? Is he dead? Is he alive? Pakistan really should have captured him by now, don’t you think?

I spent a few months reading several books about Pakistan and the war on terror, the narratives were so similar that at some point I felt I could rattle off OBL’s entire history. But there were still nuggets of information that have popped up this year:

From Vanity Fair, an excerpt of son Omar bin Laden’s book (Angry Arab on the book here):

Many people found my father to be a genius, particularly when it came to mathematical skills. It was said that his own father was a numerical genius who could add up large columns of numbers in his head.

My father was so well known for the skill that there were times that men would come to our home and ask him to match his wits against a calculator. Sometimes he would agree, and other times not. When he would good-naturedly accept the challenge, I would grow so nervous that I would forget to breathe.

And then there’s the report that has been doing the rounds this month of OBL’s escape from Tora Bora:

Most of the Tora Bora complex was abandoned and many of the caves and tunnels were buried in debris. Only about 20 stragglers were taken prisoner. The consensus was that al Qaeda fighters who had survived the fierce bombing had escaped into Pakistan or melted into the local population. Bin Laden was nowhere to be found. Two days later, Fury and his Delta Force colleagues left Tora Bora, hoping that someone would eventually find bin Laden buried in one of the caves.

There was no body because bin Laden did not die at Tora Bora. Later U.S. intelligence reports and accounts by journalists and others said that he and a contingent of bodyguards departed Tora Bora on Dec. 16. With help from Afghans and Pakistanis who had been paid in advance, the group made its way on foot and horseback across the mountain passes and into Pakistan without encountering any resistance.

I actually didn’t find anything shocking about it altogether – the ‘missed chances’ described in books on Al Qaeda and OBL are numerous – and telling of how the world’s most wanted man has become a sidebar of sorts in this epic AfPak saga.  There seems to be – at least on the record – no credible intelligence of where OBL has been recently, though this report of OBL having been in Afghanistan this year was interesting.

That said..

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan blogged about why finding OBL is key:

If Osama is captured or killed, the Taliban will still be a force to be reckoned with. Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan will become secure. But if you are the US government right now and you need something to that suggests your new AfPak strategy is working, then Bin Laden’s head on a platter is looking like a good idea right about now.

Sadly, say many in Pakistan, Bin Laden’s head will not make a difference for long term peace in the region.

And on another tangent: Iran seems to be holding OBL’s relatives in custody.

Everyone wants a piece of OBL in this part of the world!

On a side note: For anyone interested in Jordanian politics, this post up at The Black Iris – and the comments – should be your read of the week.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

December 22, 2009 at 3:53 am

Jalaluddin Haqqani rails against the US and Bush-era “fires”

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Have just finished reading the Jalaluddin Haqqani interview that was linked to on Jihadica. (Urdu readers can find the whole interview here. ) While it doesn’t offer anything new – there’s lots of railing and ranting against the US’ highhandedness and dominance over the world, and praise of mujahideen – there are some interesting questions that were posed to him.

My translation is rather rough so please excuse any errors. Also, these are Haqqani’s terms – these would not be the terms I would use.

On the comparison b/w the Soviet and US invasions, Haqqani says that during the Soviet war the credit was mostly given to American Stinger missiles and weapons, but in the US invasion its been the fighters who have managed to do it on their own.

On the US plans to send more troops to Afghanistan: “I have said this before and am saying it again, that in the Afghanistan problem the US rulers are comparable to a gambler, who at the gambling table ends up losing everything after getting all warmed up.”

On the plan to negotiate with the Taliban: “Yes! After eight years Americans have realized that their current policy for Afghanistan is not favourable, and it needs to be changed. There will be different stages to this:

  1. An increase in troops
  2. Spreading discord between different tribes/groups
  3. Talking to the mujahideen in Afghanistan

Haqqani says the first two have already been acted on and that the US will use the talks as a cover for the following

  • Spreading distrust among the mujahideen. By distrust he says that the talks will be a propaganda tool that will be given extensive media coverage and every element of the discussions will be disclosed to give a feeling that talks are happening
  • Starting talks would give Karzai’s puppet government a legal standing.
  • If the talks fail, the US would hold the Taliban responsible and say they want to continue the war.
  • The Taliban wanted to talk to the US eight years ago, but they didn’t want to and chose to invade instead. Now after a war that has killed thousands, destroyed villages, and further destroyed an already destroyed Afghanistan, and spending billions of dollars, they still don’t understand that military force is not the solution to everything.

On AfPak

Q: South Afghanistan borders Pakistan. The Karzai government spreads propoganda that the planning for jihad activities in this area is actually done in Pakistan and that you are in control of foreign fighters?

A: The Karzai government’s basis is of 27 occupying countries. They baselessly propagandize, in response to which I only say this that if in reality the planning of activities in southern Afghanistan are being done in a neighbouring country, then where is the planning of activities in the northern and main regions being done? In the central zone of the country there have been country-level military operations. That is where the most occupiers are killed, but those are not affiliated to a certain country. In the same way in the country’s northern zone Qunduz, Baghlan, Balkh, Badakshan and Jozjan are very far away from the country’s south, so where are the activities on foreign occupiers and their allies being planned on there?

In reality, if support from neighbouring country to Afghanistan can be called a victory, then the Karzai government – which has the military and political support of 37 countries, including neighbouring ones – would rule over Afghanistan. Yes! In the bordering areas, some religious youngsters have a spirit for jihad, whose fathers and grandfathers fought side by side with their Afghan brothers to fight against British and Russian occupiers. Some were martyred here while others were victors. That same spirit is still prevalent today against American occupation amongst brave people. We appreciate their support in the jihad and expect them to fulfill their jihad duties.

On Obama

Q: In America, the Democrats have come to power under Obama. What effect will this have on the war in Afghanistan?

A: “….The American public trusted Obama, and voted him into power. Hence Obama should save his country from the fire that Bush had shoved it in.”

Written by Saba Imtiaz

November 21, 2009 at 6:50 am