Permissible Arms

Pressure Drop (Upcoming Afghan Elections)

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 7 September 2010

Hope the Americans enjoyed their Labor Day as much as I did–with family, friends, and a barbecue in the backyard. Posting has been spotty as I’ve been working on some projects behind the curtain, but I hope to bear the fruits of those labors soon.

Stories of interest:

Afghans to handle most security for Sept. 18 election.

Afghan soldiers and police will take the lead securing provincial elections later this month with international forces backing them up, according to the International Security Assistance Force.

“These elections are Afghan-led, Afghan-run and the Afghan National Security Forces have the lead in providing election security throughout the nation,” Air Force Capt. Will Powell, an ISAF public affairs officer, said in an e-mail this week.

Afghan National Police will be responsible for protecting voters at polling centers while the Afghan National Army secures nearby neighborhoods and roads, he said.

“It’s a critical step in the development of both the Afghan Security Forces, but also the country as a whole, for the people to see and develop trust and confidence in their own security agencies,” he said.

This is good news and good press, especially in light of the failed ANSF mission last month. Putting an Afghan face on Afghan security operations is exactly what ISAF has been working towards, and what ANSF are beginning to claim. Speaking of, this parliamentary election has the greatest number of women running for an elected position in the short history of Afghanistan’s democracy. To my utter lack of surprise, however, those female candidates and those that support them are finding their experience to be a very dangerous one. Women running for Afghanistan parliament now have tougher time:

But not since the five-year reign of the Taliban, which ended in 2001, have female candidates faced such intense political intimidation, the women say. Less than two weeks before the balloting, many are deeply frustrated by their inability to get out and connect with voters, particularly in rural areas.

Even in Kabul, the capital, where campaign posters showing women’s faces are tolerated, the electoral placards are sometimes defaced with marks and slashes. But in villages where the Taliban is active, campaign workers are often too frightened to put them up.

Female candidates and their supporters receive a stream of threatening phone calls. Large campaign rallies are almost unheard of, because voters and office-seekers alike fear suicide bombings. Terrified family members sometimes plead with would-be lawmakers to drop out of the race, and some have heeded the call.

The respect I have for those candidates–both male and female–who are pursuing this election at risk to themselves, their families, and their colleagues is unparalleled. Not to be too starry-eyed, but this is pioneerism in action. I hope election day comes quickly and with fewer casualties.

Also on the election, Scott Worden’s piece on Afghan election fraud provides some good context:

The main question, then, is not whether the parliamentary election will be clean, but what the consequences of another highly flawed election will be.

To assess the potential damage that significant irregularities in the parliamentary elections could cause, it is useful to consider the fraud that occurred in the provincial council vote in 2009. While the dispute over the presidential race dominated international headlines and absorbed most of the diplomatic energy devoted to rescuing the legitimacy of the process, the provincial council elections involved the same constituencies as this year’s elections and were equally if not more flawed. Both ballot stuffing and counterfeit tally sheets skewed the results in many of the provinces. But because the provincial councils, like the parliament, involve dozens of candidates running for multiple seats in the same constituency, the patterns of fraud are more difficult for outsiders to detect.

Voters and candidates within a province know, however, when a vote has been stolen when the list of winners is announced. Does one family or tribe dominate the list? Are certain ethnic groups left out? Did the winning margin for a controversial candidate come from only one polling center where there was violence on election day and no-one showed up to vote? This puts a premium on having a fair and transparent dispute resolution process that has both domestic and international support.

This election has the potential to right some wrongs (and should a strong parliament emerge, also act as a needed check on Karzai’s rather unilateral power–shall we take bets on parliament strength? No? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too) and do some image scrubbing internationally for the Afghan political process; but it also has the very real potential to go horribly, heinously wrong.

Finally, Sharifullah Sahak’s piece in the NYT At War blog, A Pashtun Writes, provides some heady insight into the Afghan electorate going into this month’s elections. He’s writing on the execution of the pregnant window by the Taliban early last month.

I felt anger that the authorities weren’t able to protect her. The Taliban have no right to judge her. The government should protect her, but cannot in such areas.

And I felt confused, as all Afghans do, at how many different laws our people have to live under – the laws of their tribe, or of the Taliban, or of the government. The laws should protect her, but we have so many different laws.

A lot of people probably read about that story and thought, No wonder, they’re just Afghans, or They’re just Pashtuns, what do you expect of such savages?

Well I’m an Afghan, and I am also a Pashtun, and I think what they did, whether it was in the name of religion or tribal custom or whatever, was wrong and horrible.

And I am neither the only Afghan who feels that way, nor the only Pashtun who finds the Taliban’s actions to be extreme. There are many savages in our country, it’s true, because war makes life safe for savages and unsafe for educated people.

It is very easy for those of us in the west to discuss and analyze the political implications of the upcoming elections–myself included–but I have found time and time again that the most pertinent voices are from Afghans themselves who have access to a public voice.

Not so conventional

Posted in afghanistan, japan, united states by Karaka on 4 November 2009

Nightwatch fronts Japan’s new aid package:

A draft of a foreign aid package indicates that Japan might give Afghanistan about $4 billion in civilian aid over five years beginning in 2010, Kyodo reported 3 November. The aid package, which would be implemented through the Japan International Cooperation Agency and international organizations such as the U.N. Development Program, would include assistance in vocational training for former Taliban fighters, development of Afghanistan’s farmland and a project to construct a new city north of Kabul. Japan would also help build schools, train teachers and pay for police officers.

Japanese Cabinet members are expected to decide on the outline of the aid package soon, perhaps by 5 November, according to Yomiuri Shimbun. The Democratic Party coalition government is willing to provide non-lethal assistance to Afghanistan, but will not extend the naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean when it expires on 15 January 2010.

During this Watch, Kyodo reported Defense Minister Kitazawa said the government is considering sending Self Defense Force liaison officers to Kabul to work with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The new government is comfortable with this arrangement because (ISAF) was approved by a UN resolution. The Self Defense Force officers also will have an opportunity to work with NATO which leads the ISAF.

It’s a shift within the nation consonant with the party-politic shift earlier this year, and acts as a soft-power way to assert separation from the previous administration’s policies while still providing support and ally with NATO in Afghanistan. Actually, despite not being a military or military support action, this could prove to be generally more beneficial to Afghanistan (if not necessarily NATO & the ANA) given the gaping need for international civilian assistance in development projects. Interesting, will keep watching.

I’ll admit I was surprised that Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the runoff election set for this month. It seemed somewhat abrupt after the eight-week long deliberation that lead to the announcement of the runoff. There’s a lot of commentary flying about Abdullah being Tajik, Karzai being Pushtun, calls of corruption and questions about international credibility (not to mention a couple pointed asides at the Obama administration for taking too much time to deliberate).

TNR has probably my pick for best analysis of what the f*ck just happened, saying:

Abdullah’s candidacy was always a long shot. The prospect of an Abdullah presidency may have seemed attractive to some Western observers, impressed by his soft Italian leather jackets, sharp suits, fluent English, and polished manners. But to many Afghans, he is anathema, still the face and the voice of the Northern Alliance. Even during the recent election campaign, Abdullah traded heavily on his mujaheddin past: Election posters showed a young Abdullah side-by-side with Massoud in the Panjshir Valley, brave soldiers repelling the Soviet invader. An Abdullah victory would very likely have provoked a major backlash in the Pashtun south, where Massoud and his cohorts are almost universally reviled.

Karzai was the overwhelming favorite from the beginning. Given the ethnic and political realities of Afghanistan, Karzai the Pashtun was destined to triumph over Abdullah the Panjsheri Tajik, regardless of the latter’s claim to a Pashtun father with roots in Kandahar. But by depriving Karzai of a chance to redeem himself with a strong showing in a second round, Abdullah has ensured that the stigma of the August elections will shadow Karzai for the length of his presidency.

Steve Coll also offers insight:

Many lesser politicians would have handled themselves less responsibly than Abdullah in such circumstances. He has ample reason to resent Karzai; he was forced from Karzai’s cabinet a few years back in less than happy circumstances, only to have Karzai or his team try to steal the presidential election—unnecessarily, and thuggishly. No doubt this personal history had some influence on Abdullah’s decision to foil the satisfaction of an outright Karzai election victory by employing complaints about fraud to withdraw from participation. But a better explanation lies in an analysis of Abdullah’s interests and current negotiating position. He has long sought constitutional reforms to strengthen parliament over the presidency. He is almost certainly interested in rejoining the government, with some of his allies, if the deal is attractive enough. He retains ambitions and wishes to remain a viable national figure in a post-Karzai Afghanistan. He will be in a stronger position to negotiate toward all of these goals by adopting the posture he announced yesterday than he would have been if he had participated in the runoff and been defeated.

As the sense of a decision made starts to settle in Afghanistan, it seems imperative that Obama must announce the conclusions of his month-long tactical review. If he offers a deviation from the strategy he laid out in March, that too changes the game, at least on the ISAF side. Whether he announces his conclusions before his trip to Japan is still up in the air, but it is not some taunt of “dithering” that concerns me. It is that the result of his review will have an immediate effect, on our goals, on our morale, and on quelling this level of uncertainty inherent in our presence in Afghanistan right now.

Also, I am very impatient, and I want to know already.

Thursday Collection

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, united states, us military by Karaka on 22 October 2009

Even the most adorable kitten in the world can’t defeat my grump today, so here’s the stuff I’ve been reading when I haven’t been shuffling through meetings.

Ackerman covers the QDDR:

Clinton put Slaughter, senior USAID official James Michael and Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew in charge of creating the document — a process of managing five working groups chaired by top-level agency heads to produce an interim report in January and a final document by next September. Last week, in an address to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Lew defined the nascent QDDR process as an attempt to redress “a serious imbalance” in funding over decades that has left the “military but not civilian agencies resources to support expanding international roles.”

Rajiv Chandrasekaran has reportage out of Helmand:

In the three months since the Marines arrived, the school has reopened, the district governor is on the job and the market is bustling. The insurgents have demonstrated far less resistance than U.S. commanders expected. Many of the residents who left are returning home, their possessions piled onto rickety trailers, and the Marines deem the central part of the town so secure that they routinely walk around without body armor and helmets.

“Nawa has returned from the dead,” said the district administrator, Mohammed Khan.

Diplopundit covers more on S.Amdt. 2588, which is now known as the “Anti-Rape Amendment.”

PRT-Kunar is building a bridge.

AAN has some remarkable quotes from Afghans about the run-off:

“A second round is difficult, because there are so many places you cannot vote. And if we use the same voter cards, the vote will be as fraudulent as the first time… A coalition government is also not a solution. It will have no legitimacy and it is not the people’s fault that there was so much fraud. You cannot just give them a government they don’t want… The authorities should announce the results and address the fraud. They should prosecute the people who are responsible for the fraud. But it will not happen: the people who did the fraud are also the people who were in the campaign teams. They will instead be rewarded for their work… Karzai and his people are saying that it is normal to have fraud, but it is not true. If it is normal, then why do we have laws?” – former PC candidate from Nangarhar

Britain is sending members of its Navy back to Iraq to continue training the Iraqi navy:

Mr Rammell said: “Training of the Iraqi Navy has been paused since June and it is important to resume this activity as soon as possible to ensure that they quickly develop the capacity to protect their own territorial waters and the offshore oil platforms which are so vital to Iraq’s economic revival.

And General Sir David Richards has indicated that British troop reduction would likely not occur in Afghanistan until 2014:

He called for a bridging force, to contain the Taliban, while we “much more aggressively” grow the Afghan army and police. Gen Richards said: “If we get it right, our estimation is that by about 2011, 2012 we’ll see an appreciable improvement, and by about 2014 we will ramp down our numbers as they ramp up and you’ll start to reduce the overall risks of the operation.

“It is an ambitious target, which is why… I caveated slightly by saying I’m expecting Nato to ask us to put more into the training pot to allow that force to grow more aggressively. “But if I’m half-right we’ve got five years of declining violence as we get that formula right and then we’ll go into what might be called a supporting role.”

Interesting to hear a non-US general’s perspective.

The DOD is starting a program to compensate stop-loss troops:

The Defense Department will implement a new program this week to compensate former and current servicemembers for each month they involuntarily served from Sept. 11, 2001 to Sept. 30, 2009, a defense official said. Congress approved an appropriation bill last summer, giving the department $534 million over the next year for an estimated 185,000 servicemembers affected by the “Stop Loss” authority since 9/11, said Sam Retherford, director for the department’s officer and enlisted personnel management office.

In an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Retherford explained that qualified servicemembers will receive $500 for each month served past their contracted end-of-service, resignation or retirement date.

Fred Kaplan does additional research into his recruitment article which kind of walks back his point, but his point was based on the released information, so this is more accurate but still kinda funny looking:

Finally, just today, I got a phone call from a lieutenant colonel who works with the raw numbers every day. (He phoned me at the request of his higher-ups; this was not a hush-hush leak.) He told me that I had good reason to be confused by the numbers in the Pentagon’s original report and in the chart I was sent later. Those numbers, he said, oversimplify the situation; they don’t really tell what’s going on.

For instance, the numbers in the Pentagon’s report and the officers’ chart indicate that the Army recruited 70,049 new soldiers in FY 2009. That’s right, as far as it goes. But this figure, he said, accounts only for enlisted personnel. It does not include 11,003 soldiers who entered active duty as officers. Nor does it include 2,212 enlisted soldiers who either entered active duty through the Army National Guard or returned to the military after a brief absence (usually for disciplinary reasons).

If you include these categories (and a few others of this sort), you find that 98,877 people joined the Army in FY 2009, while 89,478 people left. Do the math, and you find that the Army grew by 9,399 soldiers.

Tom Schaller at Five Thirty Eight turns a cynical eye to a correlative action given lack of heath care reform:

Military service is noble. But let’s be clear: It comes with housing, health care and a very generous pension earned after just 20 years of service. And that’s true whether you are on the front line dodging sniper fire and tip-toeing around land mines in Afghanistan every day, or driving a desk at a recruitment center in Albany. Wherever the Wisconsin father ends up, there is something seriously wrong with our system of government when a guy pushing 40 with three kids has to sign up for a four-year enlistment in order to save his wife’s life. At that point ours ceases to be a fully volunteer army.

Refraining from commenting, but it stuck out to me this morning, so there it is. And finally, Af/Pak had an earthquake today. 6.2 on the Richter. Buildings shook in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and the capital Islamabad, and the quake was felt as far east as Lahore near the Indian border, Pakistani television stations reported.

Wednesday Errata

Posted in afghanistan, american media, iraq, pakistan, united nations, united states, us politics by Karaka on 21 October 2009

H/t Dawn Patrol, Obama’s press conference with Maliki:

From the Times of London, Violence threatens Barack Obama’s pledge to pull troops out of Iraq:

General Ray Odierno said that militant groups were likely to conduct a bloody campaign in the months ahead, as Iraqis prepare for national elections at the beginning of next year.

“It’s clear that al-Qaeda and other groups do not want the elections to occur,” he said in an interview. “What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the Government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process.”

As the fourth of five parts of David Rohde’s account is published, Noah Schachtman at Danger Room draws this criticism from it about the use of drones in Pakistan: But, in the next breath, Rohde also validates some of the criticisms of the robotic assaults — that the drones are handing the Taliban a propaganda win, and driving fresh jihadists to their ranks. Interesting. Also, on Pakistan, Ahsan Butt makes four good points about what we don’t know about Pakistan’s offense against the Taliban in Waziristan.

Starbuck collects a couple thoughts on terrain and the Battle of Wanat; I read Hershel Smith’s post at The Captain’s Journal this morning and think he has a point, though I remember reading somewhere that the placement of those bases had as much to do with usable MSRs as anything else. Though I can’t remember where I read that, so I might be misremembering.

The UN says Afghan opium fuels ‘global chaos’, which seems to be a surprise to squarely no one:

Afghanistan produces 92% of the world’s opium, with the equivalent of 3,500 tonnes leaving the country each year.

Most of the opium that leaves Afghanistan makes its way through Pakistan, Central Asia and Iran, leaving a trail of addiction, criminality and death in its wake, according to the report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

It says more people die globally from Afghan opium than any other drug but just a tiny percentage of what is produced is seized on route.

From Afghanistan–My Last Tour, I found the account of Drinking Tea with the Sgt. Major to be illuminating:

As we sipped our tea, the conversation switched to the HA drops in the villages. The CSM gave me some insight about how people steal these items and who to trust and who not to trust. I was totally dumbfounded when he said, “Please don’t give me any of those items, because I would be tempted to steal them too.” I explained our process on how we hand out items. We do not give them to select families, instead we provide to an entire village or school. He nodded in agreement.

Our conversation continued to revolve about the corrupt government and how millions if not billions of dollars of foreign aid have been siphoned off by corrupt government officials. But he put it into perspective and compared it to the United States. Afghanistan doesn’t have the lobbyist organizations like the US. Instead it utilizes tribal connections and nepotism. Enterprising businessmen and government officials who receive the money subcontract out using inferior quality and then pocket the rest. As a result, individuals who are illiterate become millionaires over night. We also discussed about US contractors working in Afghanistan. Most of them get paid over $100,000 and then the parent company charges the US government double or triple this rate, but nobody in the US seems to complain about this. It’s just a different way of doing business.

Well, not nobody.

Stratfor’s account of the US Challenge in Afghanistan is well worth the read, as is Tom Ricks’ article at the Daily Beast. See also Gilles Dorronsoro’s op-ed and Diplopundit’s following of the Department of State’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

I’m going home to the dog and chicken alfredo over homemade pasta. Take it easy, blogosphere.

Rights, civil and federal

Posted in afghanistan, kuwait, us military by Karaka on 21 October 2009

In all the fuss about Senator Kerry’s work to get Karzai to accept a runoff, it’s been interesting to note that Special Rep. Holbrooke hasn’t really been present:

Mr. Holbrooke’s absence on the world stage in recent weeks has raised questions about his role going forward.

His staff offers a simple answer: The famed 68-year-old diplomat who helped broker the Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian conflict in 1995 has been in Washington helping to preside over the president’s monthlong Afghanistan strategy review.

He has provided the White House with much of the information reviewed at a series of war council meetings, according to those involved.

“His job is [in Washington] right now,” said Ashley Bommer, Mr. Holbrooke’s spokeswoman at the State Department.

The article is a little hyperbolic, but it’s one of the few I’ve seen mentioning Holbrooke on this issue at all. With all five of President Obama’s internal war-room reviews concluded (enough to send Secdef Gates off in search of other assurances), one wonders if Holbrooke is going to make in back in time for the 7 November runoff, and when the White House will announce the results of this policy confab.

Elsewhere, Paula Broadwell’s op-ed in the NYT yesterday (crossposted to KOW, h/t akinoluna for the link, who also has a practical, clear-eyed assessment of Broadwell’s suggestions) is predictably making…no waves, as far as I can tell. Which is a shame, because I think she makes some well-thought points:

However, the persistent threat of counterinsurgencies combined with evidence of women’s proven effectiveness in such situations serve as powerful reasons for updating the law.

The U.S. military’s Central Command recently published a “Memorandum of Law Concerning Women in Combat Support Operations.” It explicitly condones the use of the F.E.T.’s. The Defense Department’s general counsel is scheduled to consider the matter in the near future.

For now, these F.E.T. initiatives are confined to the Marines and there are relatively few women available for these jobs — only 6 percent of Marine Corps personnel are women. Moreover, given the ad hoc nature of the teams — F.E.T. members have “day jobs,” serving as logisticians or intelligence officers or in other vital positions — their commanders are often understandably reticent to give up an individual for an additional duty.

To quote akinoluna:

She never actually says it, but all the talk about how female Marines in FETs have “day jobs” and have to “find time” for the extra training and how their commanders are reluctant to release them to join a FET, it seems like she could be implying that it’s time to train female Marines specifically for FET-like jobs.

It makes sense. It’s not good to pull Marines from one important job to work at another important job: you might be causing them to work abnormally long hours and you’re definitely forcing someone else to pick up the slack at their original job when they aren’t around.

There’s also no reason why the Marine Corps can’t do it.

Indeed.

In Afghanistan, thirty-one certified midwives graduated from an 18-month programme [Pajhwok]:

One midwife named Fahima said she would use her knowledge in serving mothers and children in rural areas. “I have a huge responsibility on my shoulders, because most of the treatment in rural areas is traditional and unhygienic.”

There is no way to understate the difference modern medical knowledge can make to rural ob/gyn needs. Even rudimentary knowledge can be the difference between a successful pregnancy/birth and an unsuccessful one.

And in Kuwait, women were granted the right to pursue a passport of their own volition [BBC]:

The country’s first female MPs were elected in May 2009.

The article abolished by the court dated back to Kuwait’s 1962 passport law which required a husband’s signature on a woman’s passport application.

Aseel al-Awadhi, one of the new MPs, welcomed the passport law ruling as a “victory for constitutional principles that puts an end to this injustice against Kuwaiti women”.

Meanwhile, it looks like the pope might have a place for me if I ever give up my lapsed Anglican ways and wish to return to the fold. Unlikely, but it’s nice to have options.

Monday Reading

Posted in afghanistan, american media, iran, united nations, united states, us politics by Karaka on 19 October 2009

Things I’m reading this morning:

Steve Coll’s piece in this week’s New Yorker:

A second round of voting now looks probable; it could help calm the country, or it could make things worse. In any event, the election is not yet an utter catastrophe. Two years ago, in Kenya, Mwai Kibaki allegedly stole his reëlection to the Presidency, and the country erupted in mass riots and militia killings. In June, Iran’s fraud-riddled vote ignited a protest movement with revolutionary ambitions. In Afghanistan, despite possibly decisive fraud, the opposition has barely thrown a rock. Abdullah Abdullah, the aggrieved second-place finisher, just holds press conferences in his garden.

It goes without saying that Afghans have had enough of violence. Abdullah’s restraint signals a broader, resilient desire among many political and tribal leaders to avoid having their country descend into chaos again. This is the opening that American policy has repeatedly failed to grasp since the Taliban’s fall in late 2001: an opportunity to reject the false expediency of warlords and indispensable men, in favor of deepening participatory, Afghan-led political reform and national reconciliation.

Christopher Hitchens on Iran:

So backward has the theocracy made its wretched country that it is even vulnerable to sanctions on refined petroleum, for heaven’s sake. Unlike neighboring secular Turkey, which has almost no oil but is almost qualified—at least economically—to join the European Union, Iran is as much a pistachio-and-rug-exporting country as it was when the sadistic medievalists first seized power. So it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if a regime that has no genuine respect for science and no internal self-critical feedback had screwed up its rogue acquisition of modern weaponry. A system in which nothing really works except the military and the police will, like North Korea, end up producing somewhat spastic missiles and low-yield nukes, as well.

But spastic missiles and low-yield nukes can still ruin the whole day of a neighboring state, as well as make a travesty of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and such international laws and treaties as are left to us. Thus, if it is true that Iran is not as close to “break-out” as we have sometimes feared, should that not make our deliberations more urgent rather than less? Might it not mean, in effect, that now is a better time to disarm the mullahs than later?

Juan Cole on Pakistan:

In other words, this military campaign is not just a matter of troops versus guerrillas. It is becoming a rallying point for Muslim radicals, with volunteers coming in from Afghanistan and others from madrasahs from all over Pakistan — and with Pakistan’s own security hanging in the balance.

Tariq took responsibility for the recent horrific bombings in the Punjabi city of Lahore, which targeted Pakistani security forces, thus claiming that South Waziristan had a very long reach into the rest of the country.

Pakistani security forces also arrested some 300 Afghans on Sunday.

David Rohde’s account of being held by the Afghan Taliban:

Eight days earlier, a Taliban faction had kidnapped me along with an Afghan journalist, Tahir Luddin, and our driver, Asad Mangal, during a reporting trip just outside Kabul. The faction’s commander, a man who called himself Atiqullah, had lied to us. He had said we were being moved to southern Afghanistan and would be freed.

Instead, on Nov. 18, we arrived in Pakistan’s tribal areas, an isolated belt of Taliban-controlled territory. We were now in “the Islamic emirate” — the fundamentalist state that existed in Afghanistan before the 2001 American-led invasion. The loss of thousands of Afghan, Pakistani and American lives and billions in American aid had merely moved it a few miles east, not eliminated it.

Through seven years of reporting in the region, I had pitied captives imprisoned here. It was arguably the worst place on earth to be an American hostage. The United States government had virtually no influence and was utterly despised.

Since 2004, dozens of missiles fired by American drones had killed hundreds of militants and civilians. The Taliban had held Afghan, Pakistani and foreign hostages in the area for years, trading lives for ransom and executions for publicity.

“We’re in Pakistan,” I said out loud in the car, venting my anger.

Elisabeth Bumiller’s presentation/reporting on Afghanistan, thirty years ago:

Afghans and Americans alike describe the country in those days as a poor nation, but one that built national roads, stood up an army and defended its borders. As a monarchy and then a constitutional monarchy, there was relative stability and by the 1960s a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts. Visitors — tourists, hippies, Indians, Pakistanis, adventurers — were stunned by the beauty of the city’s gardens and the snow-capped mountains that surround the capital.

“I lived in Afghanistan when it was very governable, from 1964 to 1974,” said Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, who met recently in Kabul with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. Mr. Gouttierre, who spent his decade in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer, a Fulbright scholar and the national basketball team’s coach, said, “I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Kabul, 1977 (William Borders/NYT)

Kabul, 1977 (William Borders/NYT)

Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn’s report of living in Kandahar from Foreign Policy:

This is our life, and as the only two Westerners living permanently in Kandahar without blast walls and intrusive security restrictions to protect us, it has been a mix of isolation, boredom, disarmingly potent realizations, and outright depression in the face of what is happening. In our 18 months here, we have witnessed up close the ruinous consequences of a conflict in which no party has clean hands. We have spent countless hours talking with people of all persuasions in Kandahar, from mujahedeen who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, to guerrillas who fought alongside the Taliban in the 1990s, to Afghans who fight against the Kabul government and foreign forces today. And we have learned that Kandahar defies simple categorization; far more understanding is necessary before we can appreciate how (and how many) mistakes have been made by the Western countries waging war here, let alone begin crafting a vision for the future.

Our Kandahar has many faces, though, not all branded by conflict. Life here is also about swimming in the nearby Arghandab River, enjoying the cool caramel taste of sheer yakh, and sitting among the branches of a friend’s pomegranate orchard. It’s listening to tales of the past 30 years told by those who directly influenced the course of history, and it’s watching the traditional atan dance at wedding celebrations.

Humility and Candor

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 18 October 2009

You know, I have philosophical arguments that support the security of human rights, bar none, regardless of nation-state. My thesis was in part a development of the hybrid relationship of the duties and rights of individuals across national borders. But there are times that primary sources supercede my academic arguments, and I suspect this is one of those times.

In today’s Washington Post, Wazhma Frogh offers a first-hand perspective of the future Afghan women face should political reconciliation with the Taliban and/or the abandonment of Afghanistan to its own devices be sought. (I grant that, after the word from the White House this week, no one is seriously talking about withdrawal, but I think this editorial was probably conceived during such talk.) Even if the human rights of Afghan people, Afghan women, is on the bottom of your contemplative ranking of the US involvement in Afghanistan, hearing the account come from someone who was and will be affected is worth your time.

Handing over Afghanistan to those who intend to keep the country centuries behind most of the world — to men who do not view women as human beings — would not only call into doubt the global commitment to human rights, it would also raise questions about the commitment of Western democracies to such rights and to democratic values. Bearing in mind how fragile the Afghan government is at this moment, it will not take long for the country’s women to come under attack again. The consequences will be even more bitter this time because no matter how limited our success, we have at least managed to act in the forefront of public life in Afghanistan. We have had a taste of what it’s like to have rights.

and also:

We see some of NATO’s allies rapidly losing interest in Afghanistan, even though they admit that if the country is left to the insurgents, the consequence will be many more incidents like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They are being persuaded by a propaganda war on the part of insurgents who seem to have convinced much of the world that they are winning the war. But in fact the enemy will win only if the international community allows itself to be influenced by this propaganda campaign.

The question to keep in mind for all parties involved is, what motivated them to come to Afghanistan in the first place? The answer: global security and the protection of human rights in Afghanistan. Are these two purposes no longer valid?

I think it is very easy to write off this effect of decreased American involvement in Afghanistan. But we should not discount it. Again, even if this is the least of reasons to stay, do we not risk undermining our own most precious views of individual freedoms by allowing such human rights violations to freely occur? Hundreds of schools–for both male and female children–have been created in Afghanistan in the eight years ISAF has established its presence. It is a near certainty that they would disappear under political reconciliation with the Taliban, most especially the ones which educate female children.

As a country who only acknowledged women as citizen voters in 1920, I sincerely believe that we cannot abandon an effort that grants women in Afghanistan that same right when that right, and further ones, are threatened by the continued existence of the Afghan Taliban.

If you want to dismiss this argument as that of a bleeding heart, fine. I acknowledge that I find this of greater import than the political-martial ramifications of ISAF’s force increase. But allow me to provide some other pieces of relevant information. In the awarding of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, Kofi Annan spoke:

Today, in Afghanistan, a girl will be born. Her mother will hold her and feed her, comfort her and care for her – just as any mother would anywhere in the world. In these most basic acts of human nature, humanity knows no divisions. But to be born a girl in today’s Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. It is to live under conditions that many of us in this hall would consider inhuman.

I speak of a girl in Afghanistan, but I might equally well have mentioned a baby boy or girl in Sierra Leone. No one today is unaware of this divide between the world’s rich and poor. No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us. The cost, however, is not borne by them alone. Ultimately, it is borne by all of us – North and South, rich and poor, men and women of all races and religions.

Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.

That, not unlike our martial involvement in Afghanistan, was made eight years ago, and we wrestle with the question even now. From Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, allow me to make the comparison of the potential strength of Afghan women to that nascent strength of African women:

One implication is that donor countries should nudge poor countries to adjust their laws to give more economic power to women. For example, it should be routine for a widow to inherit her husband’s property, rather than for it to go to his brothers. It should be easy for women to hold property and bank accounts, and countries should make it much easier for microfinance institutions to start banks. Women now own just 1 percent of the world’s titled land, according to the UN. That has to change.

To its credit, the U.S. government has pushed for these kinds of legal changes. One of the best American foreign aid programs is the Millennium Challenge effort, and it has nudged recipients to amend legal codes to protect women. For example, Lesotho wanted Millennium Challenge money but did not allow women to buy land or borrow money without a husband’s permission. So the United States pushed Lesotho to change the law, and in its eagerness to get the funding it did so.

It may be politically incorrect to note these kinds of gender differences, but they are obvious to aid workers and national leaders alike. Botswana has been one of the fastest-growing countries in the world for decades, and its former president, Festus Mogae, was widely regarded as one of Africa’s most able leaders. He laughed when we suggested delicately that women in Africa typically work harder and handled money more wisely than men, and he responded:

You couldn’t be more right. Women do work better. Banks were the first to see that and hired more women, and now everybody does. In homes, too, women manage affairs better than men. In the Botswanan civil service, women are taking over. Half of the government sector is now women. The governor of the central bank, the attorney general, the chief of protocol, the director of public prosecution—they are all women. … Women perform better in Africa, much better. We see that in Botswana. And their profiles are different. Deferred consumption is higher among girls, and they buy durables and have higher savings rates. Men are more consumption oriented.

And in the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, the organization made the fostering of women a primary concern:

At each stage of a girl’s life there is something we can do to safeguard her future. Each individual investment – to build her self esteem, protect her property rights, feed her properly, make sure she goes to school, provide appropriate skills training – will transform her life, lift her family out of poverty and give her the money and status to contribute to her community and the global economy as a whole.

The 500 million adolescent girls and young women in developing countries are potentially a major force in driving economic progress but, the world over, a continued lack of investment in girls results in increased poverty. If we turn our backs on this generation at this time, if we fail to invest in these communities and the individuals in them, we do irreparable damage to a whole generation of girls, and to their children. This must change: Poverty may have a woman’s face, but sustainable economic prosperity has the face of a girl.

Finally, in terms of straight facts, the United Nations Foundation offers “Why Invest in Adolescent Girls:”

Every year of schooling increases a girl’s individual earning power by 10 to 20 percent, while the return on secondary education is even higher, in the 15 to 25 percent range.

Girls’ education is proven to increase not only wage earners but also productivity for employers, yielding benefits for the community and society.

Women who have control of their own income tend to have fewer children, and fertility rates have shown to be inversely related to national income growth. Girls and young women delaying marriage and having fewer children means a bigger change of increasing per capita income, higher savings, and more rapid growth.

When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families.

The impact of investing in girls is intergenerational. A mother with a few years of formal education is considerably more likely to send her children to school, breaking the intergenerational chain of poverty. In many countries each additional year of formal education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining in school for up to an additional one-half year.

Put simply, investing the education and livelihood of the women of Afghanistan is an investment in the economic stability and security of Afghanistan. We abandon them at our own peril.

Tuesday Errata

Relevant interesting links:

Judah Grunstein over at the WPR blog tackles the lack of response from NATO in regard to the tactical review going on in the White House. Michael Cohen also takes an angle on the McChrystal drama, and Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post does an op-ed comparing McChrystal to Petraeus.

These similarities were a big selling point for the Obama administration, which this summer decided it wanted its own Petraeus — a creative wartime commander and gifted manager who could push the military in Afghanistan into unfamiliar realms, such as economic development and tribal politics…These days, the last thing that the White House and the Pentagon brass want is a general who can bypass the chain of command; a general who speaks directly to the president; a general who emerges as the dominant American voice on the war. The last thing they want, in other words, is another Petraeus.

You know, I always find the USNI blog very interesting and educational, and today it and I wish the US Navy a happy birthday!

H/t Diplopundit for this article on the State Department’s conflict over aid to Pakistan, which continues my media watch on USAID.

Also regarding Pakistan, the Pakistani army launched its offensive today, in response to the significant array of attacks last week.

George Packer has a really interesting post about Rufus Phillps, Vietnam, and the Obama administration:

About to turn eighty, Phillips was contemplating a trip halfway around the world to Kabul. He was worried about the war in Afghanistan and thought that the presidential election, set for August 20th, would be a critical event. An independent Afghan group, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, had invited him to come over as an unpaid adviser. Having seen America try and fail to win a war without a political strategy once before, he thought he had something to contribute in Afghanistan. He asked me for advice on what to wear, what kind of cell phone to bring, how to get into the city from the airport. I asked him why he was going to put himself through it, and he replied that he believed in putting your money where your mouth is. “I’ve still got the fire,” he said as he walked me to the elevator.

Well worth your time, that.

Via S&S, AP covers the continuing conflict over the Afghan election, including the resignation of Afghan election commissioner Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai and the acknowledgment–finally–by the UN of the problems with the election process.

U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique called the resignation “regrettable” but said the U.N. continues to trust that the group will produce a fair outcome. “We have full confidence in the ECC as the important work continues,” Siddique said, adding that the U.N. “stands by the work that they are doing on behalf of the Afghan people.”

Barakzai’s resignation was the latest in a series of problems that have confounded the electoral process since the election, the first run by the Afghans since the war began in 2001.

The NYT reports that Secstate Clinton and Secdef Gates are working on the same side of the tactical review, which seems to have surprised everyone but me. I guess I was the only one who listened to that panel from GWU last week; they seemed pretty similar-spirited then.

Khaleej Times printed an op-ed by Ehsan Ahrari today (h/t SWJ) which doesn’t necessarily offer anything new to the debate, but does summarize a couple things nicely:

What most Western observers are missing when they offer their expert advice regarding Afghanistan is an absence of a strong sense of history and an understanding of the culture of that country. Stewart is an exception to 
that observation.

The decision to add more troops in Afghanistan cannot be made purely by couching it in the requirements of American domestic politics, and by viewing it from the perspective of what is appropriate and acceptable inside the United States. I say that because, as more troops are inserted in Afghanistan, that will be seen as an evidence of commitment by outsiders, but not necessarily by the Afghans. They need more persuading than mere escalation troops for now.

The abruptness by which the United States left Afghanistan after the redeployment of the Soviet troops in 1989 leaves them no reason to believe that we are likely to stay there. This time there is no much difference. All they have to do is to watch the current debate regarding Afghanistan inside the United States.

Mind you, I am not questioning the legitimacy of these debates. They are quite genuine in the sense that, before more US young men and women are sent there and before more money is invested, we need to debate the nature of our commitment. However, that is precisely why the Afghans are skeptical that we mean to stay there for a long while this time.

And there went my Tuesday morning.

A little democracy with your coffee?

Posted in afghanistan by Karaka on 9 October 2009

I’m still sorting out my morning coffee and nosing through my daily feeds, but this assessment from McCreary from yesterday’s NightWatch was pretty astute:

On National Public Radio, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Said Jawad, affirmed that the Afghanistan government’s assessment of today’s bombing in Kabul finds that “a nation” is behind the bombing and named Pakistan.

His comment indirectly called Pakistan a state sponsor of terror. It was a good comment because of the facts the Ambassador produced which showed its similarity to the July 2008 bombing.

Ambassador Jawad said his government supported an increase in US troops to fight a counterinsurgency campaign, instead of a counter-terror campaign. However, his most poignant comments concerned the Afghan elections.

Jawad made a point that no other commentator has made. He said the debate over election fraud undermines and misses the enormous significance of the elections. Millions of Afghans, he said, braved bombs and bullets to vote, risking Taliban reprisals in cutting off fingers or ears or murder. Women and men both voted under conditions that no one in the West would tolerate.

The dispute over fraud misses the point and disrespects the bravery of those who came out, including those who stuffed ballot boxes. Imagine, Readers, Afghan political thugs thinking that elections were worth manipulating. That in itself is a form of progress.

Afghans, he indicated, think the US does not respect and minimizes the risks Afghans took just to vote. The Afghans are proud they held an election. The American official obsession with voter fraud blinds the US to the enormity of the Afghan achievement in a war zone. The people defied the Taliban and voted by the millions.

A lot more profitable attention might be paid to that fact, in this kinder gentler counterinsurgency climate, if the US had an information strategy.

Now, the one note I had is that part of the McChrystal assessment included a bolstering of strategic communication, but I think McCreary is right in that it isn’t terribly effective right now:

The United States and its allies in Afghanistan must “wrest the information initiative” from the Taliban and other insurgent groups that have undermined the credibility of the Kabul government and its international backers, according to the top U.S. and NATO commander in the country.

“The information domain is a battlespace,” Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal wrote in an assessment made public on Monday, adding that the allies need to “take aggressive actions to win the important battle of perception.”

More importantly, Jawad is spot-on in the importance of the elections qua elections; and secondarily, elections despite wartime, despite the threat of grave harm. And this image always stood out for me:

20afghan2sub-600

From the NYT coverage of the election in August.

The applicability of the martial.

Posted in afghanistan, us politics by Karaka on 2 October 2009

Rory Stewart is an interesting guy–former officer in the British Army, officer in the Foreign Office, author of several books and now the Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School; not to mention the Executive Director of the Afghan arts non-profit Turquoise Mountain. I mentioned his August essay in the London Review of Books, The Irresistible Illusion, several weeks ago and recently caught his interview on the Bill Moyers Journal. You can watch the video here or download the audio of the interview through iTunes. I’ll embed the video tomorrow; I have trouble with getting WP to play nicely with things other than youtube.

Aside from the fact that Stewart is in some ways a personal role model for me, I find that his assessment of Afghanistan is quite astute. As a man who has served in Iraq as a soldier and walked Afghanistan as a civilian, he has what appears to be an incisive view into the situation as it stands; namely, what Obama will choose to do with the information he has asked for and been giving. Entonces:

I think it would be a political catastrophe for the President to refuse to accede to a request from the man on the ground. Broadly speaking, this is a civilian President. He’s said that he believes in defeating the Taliban. He believes in building a legitimate effective state. There’s a highly respected General on the ground — who’s backed up by Admiral Mullen, who’s backed by General Petraeus — saying we need 40,000 more troops. It would be almost inconceivable, at this stage, for the President to refuse that request.

I’ve mentioned my view that the president shouldn’t have asked for a document he wasn’t prepared to take into full account, and I think that should the administration’s internal review counter McChrystal’s already implemented tactics, it’s going to be pretty rough seas for troops, for US politics, and for the Afghan people.

They may be possible over the long term for Afghans themselves to build a stable state. But it’s probably a project of decades. It needs indigenous leadership, a sort of Afghan Thomas Jefferson, to rebuild its state. It’s not something that foreigners can come in and do from outside. The United States, its allies, are quite good at certain kinds of things — building roads, providing some training to the military, helping to build hospitals and schools. But building a state is a project for a founding father. The same with fighting the Taliban. Again, they have quite a lot of support from villages in the south of Afghanistan. And the Kabul government, as we saw in the last election, just doesn’t have much credibility or support.

A rather depressingly accurate assessment. You can’t nation build from the outside; at most you can offer the tools for a nation to build itself. But perversely, that’s why Karzai is so attractive to NATO governments and the US government in particular–he’s an Afghan figure one can point to as being instrumental in the initial NATO incursion, and secured himself a position of great political power parlayed from that relationship he secured with NATO forces. So he has the thin veneer of being not only legitimate as an Afghan-for-Afghans, but also as a founding member of this new government. Of course, that is shadowplay, and not very good shadowplay; his corruption is widely known, most evidenced in the election. But in terms of keeping up experiences, NATO could do a lot worse than have Karzai running things. And it seems in this the Western world is willing to accept less in hopes of achieving more. To wit, the dismissal of Peter Galbraith when politic was against him.

But most of all, Afghans I think day to day are not actually obsessed with the Taliban. What they’re obsessed with is normal security. By which they mean crime, looting, kidnapping, gangsterism. Most of my colleagues in Afghanistan would be scared to get in a car to go down to Kandahar, not because of the Taliban, but because of the criminal gangs. They’re horrified by their police, which is perceived as very predatory, very corrupt. They’re very skeptical about their government. They’re impatient with how slowly the aid development has come.

I suppose this, then, is where I wonder at the corollary between these clear needs Stewart is describing for the Afghans, and what can be done about it. To some extent, with a presence already in the nation and General McChrystal implementing a change in methodology that will work in serious ways to address those needs, and already has in some cases, I wonder whether Stewart thinks there are other ways to implement the fulfilling of these needs?

I haven’t been shy about advocating my belief that the civilian presence in Afghanistan should be much greater than it is, nor have I ignored the very real security challenges that would accompany such a civilian presence. But while I find it generally heartening from the perspective of Afghan human rights to see the tide of our military turn towards counterinsurgency, I do have real concerns about its effectiveness long term. And not to step off-topic, but Tom Ricks had an anecdote in his blog today that’s germane to this topic.

She nodded and said, “That’s good, because I’m going for three to five years. That’s what McChrystal is asking for.”

Well, I nearly spilled my Trader Joe’s merlot. “Three to five years?” I said. What a far cry, I thought, from 2003, when Bremer’s little GOP beavers would come out to the Green Zone for three to five months, or even a few weeks.

“Yeah,” she said. “That’s what made me interested in taking the job. When I heard that, I said to myself, ‘Hey, this guy is serious.'”

A) I wish I had her job; and B) while I agree with Stewart that realistically the United States can’t make a commitment to remain in Afghanistan for forty years, I think it’s not at all outside the purview of McChrystal’s assessment or the review of Secdef Gates to commit to five-eight years of work and progression, as the reblog illustrates. Claiming withdrawal is a straw man (as too many politians have done, and a position Stewart is not taking); opposing troop increase does not address the real issue, which is strategy in Afghanistan; and while a troop increase is one tool in a larger toolbox that can be used to achieve the needs Stewart outlines and the martial goals McChrystal articulated in his brief, it is not the only thing that must be done to truly achieve stability in Afghanistan.

And stability, in a pragmatic sense, seems that it would look something like this:

And that you can invest 20-30 years in Afghanistan. And if you were lucky, you would make it look a bit like Pakistan. I mean, unless you understand that Pakistan is 20-30 years ahead of Afghanistan, you don’t understand where we’re starting from. And Pakistan is still not an ideal state. But the Pakistan army, the police, the civil service, the financial administration, the education are whole decades ahead of the Afghan. So, our whole model is broken from the beginning. Because you could put all this investment in, you would make Afghanistan look a bit more like Pakistan, but that wouldn’t achieve whatever your national security objectives seem to be.

Stewart is spot on here. But I think the point where Stewart and McChrystal overlap is more or less my own position: that in order to address the basic needs of a starved population, and in order to achieve the security needs of both US national interest and those of Afghan civilians, there must be a greater increase in civilian agencies working to provide the Afghan people themselves with tools to construct their own nation. Not a nation that is de facto controlled by the Taliban; not a nation that is led by a corrupt President buoyed by foreign diplomacy; but a nation that is by the [Afghan] people, for the [Afghan] people that addresses first, hunger, and second, a vote.

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