Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

LDESP Afghanistan-Pakistan News Update – 2 November 2012


Disclaimer: Articles are taken from established and diverse professional periodicals, news articles, and editorial commentaries from different countries, reflecting a range of political views/biases, that are intended to provide readers with a better understanding of various interests and perspectives regarding the situation in the region. External links may expire at any time depending on the archiving policy of the particular news agency. News summaries may highlight only a portion of an article that is relevant to the readers and may not necessarily be the focus of the entire article or the headline. Opinions expressed in the articles, commentaries and features do not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or the LDESP staff.


Afghanistan: Governance & Civil Society

No Obstacles Can Prevent Punctual 2014 Election: IEC

No obstacles ahead of Afghanistan’s presidential election will be able to prevent it from being held on time, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said on 31 October as it confirmed the dates for the 2014 poll. IEC chief Fazel Ahmad Manawe released the election timetable saying he was optimistic that the election would go ahead with no delays because the possible obstacles were taken into consideration when dates were decided. “There are obstacles ahead of the election time estimated in the constitution, but they should not prevent its implementation,” Mawane said, adding that the voter registration process will begin soon. The election commissioner confirmed the election date will be 5 April 2014 and urged armed opposition groups to renounce violence and participate in the nationwide election, even becoming candidates for the presidency. “I urge the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami and other armed groups to choose the right path and renounce violence because war is not a solution for peace,” Manawe said at a press briefing in Kabul. “We are even prepared to pave the ground for the armed opposition, be it the Taliban or Hezb-i-Islami, to participate in the election, either as voters or candidates.” Initial results of the election will be announced after the election on 24 April and final results on 14 May, with 28 May set aside for any potential run-off vote. Hopeful presidential candidates, who are voted in as individuals not as leaders of a party, must submit their nominations by next 6 October. Afghanistan will also vote for the provincial council on 5 April with the final results announced on 7 June. Manawe stressed that the transparency of the vote depended a great deal on the security situation as security officials said efforts are underway to prevent foreign infiltration in Afghanistan and provide full security for elections in 2014. (…) This comes as Taliban have consistently called on their followers to avoid the peace negotiations and continue fighting Karzai’s government. The Taliban did not take part in the 2009 election, widely regarded as being rife with fraud; instead they attacked polling stations and tried to prevent people from voting. (TOLOnews)

Taliban could run for Afghan president: poll chief

The Taliban could stand in Afghanistan’s next presidential election in 2014, the country’s top poll official said on 31 October, as a series of suspected insurgent bombings killed 17 civilians. President Hamid Karzai, who is serving his second term as leader of the war-torn nation, is constitutionally barred from running in the election and no clear candidate to succeed him has yet emerged. The vote is seen as crucial to stability after the withdrawal of NATO troops and Fazil Ahmad Manawi, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), insisted his body would act impartially. “We are even prepared to pave the ground for the armed opposition, be it the Taliban or Hezb-i-Islami, to participate in the election, either as voters or candidates,” Manawi told a news conference. “There will be no discrimination,” the IEC chief added, defending the body in response to a question about its impartiality. Hezb-i-Islami is the faction of former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar which wages an insurgency along with the Taliban against Karzai’s Western-backed government. (Bangkok Post, AFP)

Formation of Mujahedeen Military Unit is Underway: Ismail Khan

Afghanistan’s Minister of Energy and Water Mohammad Ismail Khan on 1 November said that the process of creating a military unit made up of the former mujahedeen fighters is underway to protect and secure Afghanistan because NATO had failed to do so. Ismail Khan said in a gathering with former regional Jihadi commanders in west and southwest Afghanistan that the Mujahedeen should also be given more roles in the government as the foreign armies – the NATO-led international security assistance force ISAF – had failed to ensure stability in the country. He emphasized that just as the Mujahedeen had previously driven out the foreign invaders, the Soviets, so too there was now a need for the Mujahedeen to again rescue the country from “foreign conspiracies”. “The foreigners sidelined those who had fought for ages and brought German, French and US girls and white soldiers from Europe and black soldiers from Africa to secure Afghanistan, but they have failed to do so,” Ismail Khan said in western Herat province. Khan claimed that President Hamid Karzai is aware of the plans to re-form the mujahedeen armed forces. “We have had detailed discussions with President Hamid Karzai, who is a Mujahed himself. We are planning on this strategy and the registration of people is underway,” he said. He added that the future Afghan president to be introduced at the next election in 2014 should be elected in close collaboration with the Mujahedeen council. The Council is understood to have been formed by Ismail Khan, himself a former Jihadi commander in Herat. (TOLOnews)

No Sign Pakistan is Combating Insurgency: Sediqqi

There are no clear signs that Pakistan is honestly trying to combat insurgency on its soil because it is not changing a failing strategy, Afghan Ministry of Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on 30 October. Speaking to TOLOnews, Sediqqi said that Pakistan’s tactics in fighting the insurgency in its country show no sign of success and so need to be revised; however, it has not done so. “Pakistan is still holding onto its previous strategy in fighting insurgency which needs a definite change,” Sediqqi told TOLOnews. “There are no clear signs of honesty in Pakistan’s fight against insurgency. We have not witnessed any great effort from Pakistan,” he added. He made the statements after Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said recently that fighting against the country’s militants should be in close collaboration with the citizens and in keeping with their demands. “We should act based on their demands, we should consider the demands of local residents in fight against insurgency. The military cannot be a solution for every problem,” Malik said, calling for an immediate termination of the US drone strikes in tribal areas. The international community and the Afghan government has frequently urged the Pakistan authorities to do more to control the insurgents within its border, particularly the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Afghan military analyst Gen. Amrullah Aman believes that Pakistan is intending to challenge the international community by focusing on the matter of US drone strikes. (TOLOnews)

Pakistan: Governance & Civil Society

Pakistan adjusts laws to confiscate assets of terror financiers

To stop terror financing in Pakistan, the government plans to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 so that it would allow confiscation of property and assets owned by convicted terror financiers, a senior Finance Ministry official told Central Asia Online on 18 October. “We have recently sent the draft of the ATA 1997 to the parliament for approval,” Finance Ministry advisor Rana Assad Amin said. Parliament is expected to approve the amendment, which would empower the government to seize property, cash in bank accounts, and other assets such as vehicles and jewelry, he said. Strict enforcement of such a law would deter anybody in Pakistan from donating to militancy domestically or abroad, said Rana, one of the key government officials involved in making policies and monitoring enforcement of laws to pre-empt terror financing and money laundering. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which was established in 1989 to fight terror financing and money laundering, recently advised the Pakistan government to amend the ATA as part of an effort to stem the flow of money to terrorists, he said. “The Special Investigation Unit, Federal Investigation Agency, Anti-Money Laundering/Terror-Financing Cell of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) frequently co-ordinate with the FATF officials to tighten the laws and keep an eye on the financing transactions,” Rana said. In recent years, the Pakistani government has enacted various measures to seal off the banking system, stock markets and currency exchange firms from terror financing. The planned asset seizure amendment could be the last nail in the coffin of terror financing from within Pakistan, he said. (Central Asia Online)

Taliban’s attacks on children jeopardize Pakistan’s future

“Who shot Malala?” “Why was she targeted?” “What if somebody attacks our van?” Parents around Pakistan were bombarded with such questions after a Taliban gunman shot Malala Yousafzai – a 15-year-old girl who gained fame for speaking out against the militants’ repressive view of education – and two of her schoolmates on 9 October in Mingora, Swat. All three survived. While Malala’s case has put the Taliban’s attacks on youth in the international spotlight, it is only one of the latest examples of the threat the militants pose to future generations of Pakistanis. (…) In the ensuing years, militants have bombed thousands of schools across Pakistan, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), in an effort to discourage education and to keep girls in their homes. More recently, though, the Taliban have resorted to schemes like devising improvised explosive devices (IEDs) out of candy boxes and toys, all in an effort to harm the next generation of Pakistanis. The trend of killing innocent children is a serious concern, Ajmal Wazir, commentator and senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, told Central Asia Online. (…) Pakistan has worked diligently not to let the Taliban’s assault on schools keep today’s children from obtaining an education. Militants have bombed more than 2,000 educational facilities – mostly girls’ schools – in KP, according to Sardar Hussain Babak, provincial education minister, but about 90% have been repaired and officials plan more reconstruction. Babak also pointed to a telling indicator that the militant efforts to dissuade parents from sending their children to school are in vain. (…) In Afghanistan, the situation is similar, especially in areas adjacent to the Pakistani Pashtun belt, where hundreds of schools have either been destroyed or students and teachers don’t attend for fear of the Taliban. Afghanistan also has unique problems, such as poisonings of food or water on school premises. The problems once dampened enthusiasm about sending children to school, but that trend is slowly changing, one Education Ministry official, who gave his name as Kamawal for security reasons, said. (Central Asia Online)


Reconstruction & Development

US Working on Afghan Economic Transition: Official

The US is not only focused on the security transition out of Afghanistan, but it is also driving an economic and trade transition in order to ensure the health of the country’s financial system, US Deputy Foreign Secretary Robert Blake said on 1 November. Blake said in a meeting with local officials in northern Balkh province that the US is actively trying to connect Afghanistan to central Asia through building infrastructure such as a railway and implementing electricity projects. “I am particularly focused on the economic side. We are trying to do everything we can to help develop a private-sector led and a trade-led transition here as the [security transition] proceeds,” Blake told the attendees at the gathering in Mazar-e-Sharif. Afghan traders reiterated their complaints over the problems posed by the lack of electricity and standard rail wagons to carry their materials and produce inside the country. “A railway has been constructed from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif but unfortunately we do not have the standard wagons to bring the trade materials from Hairatan to Mazar,” Ahmad Nawid Barat, Deputy head of Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries in Balkh said. The US officials also revealed plans to invest $300m in a power plant and Sheberghan gas sources in the northern Jawzjan province. (TOLOnews)

Shrinking military-led aid sparks concern among Afghans

Military-led teams set up to deliver aid projects in Afghanistan are winding down their operations, sparking concern among some local officials that the government is not ready to take over their development role. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were a key part of U.S.-led forces’ strategy “to win hearts and minds” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, building schools, hospitals and roads. But now the teams, led by different countries in the coalition, are scaling back in Afghanistan as NATO-led forces hand over security responsibility to local commanders before most foreign combat troops pull out by the end of 2014. Of the 22 existing today — down from 26 last month — three are expected to close by the middle of next year, NATO military officials have said. The PRT in Paktia, a poor, mountainous province in eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan and used as a transit route by insurgents, was the first to open in Afghanistan in 2003. The PRT was slated to close in December 2014, but the unit’s U.S. commander said he was proposing to shut it earlier, in June 2013, on grounds that Afghans were ready to take on the work. Naiz Mohammad Khalil, governor of the Sayid Karam district of Paktia, which borders Gardez and benefits from the PRT, said he would be “upset” when it closed. “We need more mentors, we need them to stay for longer to train us more,” he said in the provincial capital Gardez. The PRT’s commander, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John Morse, said that when the PRT was established, “We were the only ones that were delivering the basic services to the people. “That’s important at the time when there was no one doing that, but now as the Afghan government stands up and starts to deliver basic services, the PRT can be looked (at) negatively, so we can’t do that any longer,” he told reporters during a media visit organized by NATO. (Reuters)

International Airport to Open Soon in Mazar: Officials

Northern Balkh province will inaugurate a number of large infrastructure projects in the near future including an international airport, local officials said this week [28 October]. The building of an international airport, a railway, and a 400-bed hospital in the provincial capital Mazar-e-Sharif are underway alongside a number of infrastructure projects funded mostly with money from international donors, the officials said. The development of the current provincial airport into an international airport is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the north of Afghanistan with it almost 90 percent complete, deputy governor Muhammad Zahir Wahdat said. The airport, being overseen by a Turkish company, is being funded with 40 million euros from Germany and 7 million euros from the United Arabic Emirates, he added. Wahdat said that the projects could not be done without the international donations. (TOLOnews)

Canadian Firm Discovers Oil Field In North Afghanistan

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s Mining Ministry, Jawad Omer, has told RFE/RL that the Canadian company Terraseis has located a large oil field in the northwestern part of the country. “This area is situated between the Khan Charbagh and Aqeena border districts, where technical research has been conducted,” Omer said. The site is in Faryab Province, near the border with Turkmenistan. Omer said more exploration would be done to get an accurate assessment of the size of the oil field. The news comes as the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) started commercial production at an oil field in the neighboring Sar-e Pol Province on 22 October. Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani called it a “historic” day for his country, “that for the first time the process of commercial production of crude oil has started in Afghanistan.” (RFE/RL)


Karzai Hosts First High Economics Council Meeting

President Hamid Karzai held the first meeting of the newly-formed special economics committee on 24 October with the group approving a raft of aims and practices it will seek to implement to strengthen the country’s economic situation. The High Economics Council, which is chaired by Karzai, is made up of 15 senior government, academic and private sector representatives, according to a statement from Karzai’s office. Members include the Ministers of Finance, Economy, Commerce and Industries, Energy and Water, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor, the Head of Afghanistan’s Central Bank, three university-level economics professors, two members of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries and two members of the Afghan Industrialist Union. Points agreed upon in the 24 October meeting include a move to ensure that no bank accounts of citizens or businessmen are monitored without prior approval of the courts, that the government should fund the construction of more cement factories to increase production, that industrial parks should be attached to the framework of Afghanistan’s Investment Support Agency (AISA) and separated from the Ministry of Commerce, that transferring old metals outside the country will be prohibited and instead sold to the Afghan Iron Fusion companies to improve the industry, and that government organisations be obliged to local products to support Afghan industry. Other points of agreement were that the national army uniform contract should be awarded to an Afghan company, which produces the goods inside the country, and the Finance, Commerce and Economy Ministries will be responsible to determine the number of vehicles imported to the country which has been produced in the last ten years. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) welcomed the first meeting and said the implementation of these decisions were of vital importance. “Undoubtedly the issues discussed and approved by the president are vital – we hope [the committee] fulfills its promises,” ACCI chief Mohammad Qurban Haqjo told TOLOnews on 25 October. The special council was recently set up through the lobbying of the ACCI. (TOLOnews)

Karzai Holds Special Kabul Bank Tribunal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 31 October chaired a meeting to discuss and assess the progress made in recovering Kabul Bank’s loans. He ordered the relevant authorities to sell all the assets of Kabul Bank both in Afghanistan and abroad and transfer its money to government. According to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) nearly 60 percent of Kabul Bank’s assets and loans have been retrieved, however several assets have been handed over to UAE government to be sold out under the UAE’s rules. (…) Karzai ordered Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal and DAB to make sure that the British forensics audit firm Kroll Associates identifies in a formal report how much money was sent to foreign Banks in Kabul Bank transactions. Delawari believes around US$400 million was transferred abroad to unknown people and banks. (…) Karzai also ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General’s Office to follow up the extradition of foreign DAB governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat who stands accused in the Kabul Bank scandal and is currently in US. Kabul Bank Special Tribunal also ordered action to follow up the cases of those guilty of Kabul Bank statement. (…) According to a presidential statement released on 31 October, around $138 million has been recovered in cash and $185 million worth of property both in and outside Afghanistan have been taken over. Another $218 million acknowledged as debt by the borrowers is yet to be returned. The statement concluded that the remaining amount of $529 million is still disputed. (TOLOnews)

Foreign Direct Investment Increases in Herat: Spokesman

Foreign direct investment is rising in western Herat province with more than $100 million coming in through the province industrial park this year, said the governor spokesman Mahudin Noori on 30 October. Noori attributes the improving security situation and the geographical location of Herat close to the Iranian border as the reasons behind the increase. “We have seen an extra $100 million in investment in the industrial park in less than a year, with the addition of global companies like IBM investing in the province,” he told TOLOnews. “It is a sample of the investment capacity in the province.” Despite concerns of an economic crisis after 2014, the scores of production facilities in the western province are increasing, he said. The Afghanistan Industrialists Association (AIA) called on the government to take this opportunity to ensure the investments remain in the country. “The investors are investing and they will invest more, but they the need support of the government,” AIA head Sher Baz Kamin Zada said. “The government should facilitate for more ease of investment, and it is hopeful.” (TOLOnews)

Rule of Law

HRW Renews Call for Release of War Crimes Report

International watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) renewed its call for the release of the war atrocities report compiled by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) as the presidential election draws closer. HRW researcher in Afghanistan Heather Barr said that Afghans will want justice over the past crimes committed against them and those responsible identified. (…) The AIHRC reiterated its past response to calls for the report’s release saying that it was up to the government to disclose the findings. (…) The report, commissioned by Karzai in 2005, interviewed nearly 60,000 Afghans and covers the war crimes committed from the Soviet era until 2001. Its release has been suppressed by senior officials in the government with most analysts agreeing that the report held sensitive information linking people still in power to the crimes documented. (TOLOnews)

Culture & Society

PovertyMattersBlog: Treatment of Afghanistan’s women is the real test of UK aid’s success

The shooting of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban in Pakistan shed renewed attention on the plight of women in this corner of the world. Malala survived, thankfully, and is now in the UK receiving treatment. But across the border in Afghanistan, many women are beaten, raped and executed. Even a decade after the fall of the Taliban – during which £30bn has been spent on aid to Afghanistan – the freedom and rights of Afghan women are under grave threat. UK aid has achieved much in Afghanistan. Millions of children are now in school, markets are bustling, and the government has shown some important improvements in their ability to deliver services. But the UK parliament’s international development committee, which I chair, published a report on 25 October identifying the status of women as the key determinant of how much has changed in Afghanistan and what the UK government could and should do to maintain the gains that have been made. Afghanistan remains one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Although great progress has been made in improving the rights of women – notably bringing down maternal mortality and getting girls into school in the early years – these gains are under threat. While some have argued that the Taliban have softened their stance on women, recent developments suggest otherwise. The Taliban are a divided force, with some wanting to be part of change while others maintain a hardline stance forcing school closures and worse. Students in Kandahar were forced to watch as their teacher and headteacher were executed for ignoring Taliban orders to stop educating girls. (…) Elections for the next president in 2014, and for parliament in 2015, will be critical to securing Afghanistan’s future. Karzai cannot stand again and it is unclear who will succeed him. Women comprise more than a quarter of elected politicians – more than in many of the world’s most developed democracies – but how many will be willing to risk their lives to run for office the next time around? Women have been all but excluded from fledgling political talks, and many fear their freedom will be traded away in a deal with the Taliban. (Guardian UK)

The Siren Call Of Central Asia

When Afghan entrepreneur Sardar Ali comes here for business, he tells his relatives he is going to India. “Tajikistan’s reputation is not so good in our country,” Mr. Ali says sheepishly. “Everyone thinks you are only going to Dushanbe for girls.” Capital of the poorest former Soviet republic, Dushanbe is no fleshpot like Bangkok or Las Vegas. Once called Stalinabad, this predominantly Muslim city of crumbling neoclassical buildings has just a handful of discreet nightclubs and bars. But to residents of next-door Afghanistan, one of the most conservative Islamic societies where sexes rarely mix and alcohol is illegal, Dushanbe’s limited attractions loom larger than life–more a reflection of Afghanistan’s repressed mores, perhaps, than of Dushanbe’s actual vices. In Kabul conversations, mention of Dushanbe elicits rolled eyes and knowing smirks. It has become a byword for sin city. “When people get bored in Kabul, they say, ‘Let’s go to Tajikistan,’ ” says Mohammad Younus Weyar, director of a construction company in Kabul and an occasional visitor to Dushanbe. “Tajikistan is very green and very clean. But they are not going there for the green grass and clean air. Most people are only going there for the bad things.” (…) Whether Dushanbe’s reputation is earned or not, Tajik officials are eager to capitalize on it. Afghan tourists–numbering some 10,000 last year–are the most numerous visitors from beyond the former Soviet Union, says Davlat A. Khabibov, chairman of Tajikistan’s Association for the Development of Tourist Industry and until last year head of the government’s Department of Tourism. That is even though Afghans typically pay some $500 to receive a Tajik visa, most of that paid to intermediaries. “The Russian tourists come here for climbing, the Westerners for hiking in the mountains,” Mr. Khabibov says. “The Afghans, they come for entertainment.” Attractions include a new restaurant complex called Kabul One, as well as Ninth Wave, which Dushanbe taxi drivers describe as a strip joint favored by Afghan visitors. On a recent night in its hall, built to resemble a clipper ship, a few dozen customers rhythmically clapped as an Iranian singer, wearing an ankle-length dress and a tall hairdo, primly delivered 1970s Persian love songs. Dushanbe is one of the few places where Afghans—especially government officials–can feel rich. At outdoor beer gardens, stout waitresses ferry foamy glasses of beer that cost the equivalent of a few cents per pint. (…) Afghans who don’t speak a foreign word can get by: Tajik and Afghanistan’s Dari language are closely related. “We are the same as the Tajiks,” says Abdulla Baryalai, an Afghan native who runs a grocery store in Dushanbe. “Same language and same culture.” Regarding culture, many Tajiks demur. There are no burqas in sight on Dushanbe streets. Young couples hold hands in a park just off the city’s main boulevard–something unthinkable in Afghanistan, where honor killings are common for the suspicion of illicit romance. Dushanbe remained quiet even as Muslim countries around the world were rocked by last month’s wave of violent protests against a video mocking Prophet Muhammad. Even Tajikistan’s Islamists are eager to distance themselves from their Afghanistan counterparts. (WSJ)

At Afghanistan university, disputed name turns into fighting word

In early October, Chancellor Amanullah Hamidzai strolled his campus alone as protests led by student Mohammed Yar and his peers brought the university to its knees. Hamidzai, a harmless-looking figure with his thinning gray hair and wide girth, pondered how to keep the peace. “If a student is hurt, I don’t want to be chancellor of this university,” he said. “Before that, I will resign.” As students like Yar called him weak and political leaders ignored his views, he wondered whether he was stupid to come back here from his comfortable life in Maryland. “It was my emotion,” Hamidzai said, shaking his head. “I am stuck now. I can’t live without this university.” The chancellor’s crisis of confidence was unleashed by a surprise decision by President Hamid Karzai to name the university after ethnic Tajik warlord and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was assassinated a year ago by a Taliban suicide bomber when Rabbani tried to broker peace talks. Ever the diplomat, the chancellor is careful — he refers to Rabbani as “a controversial figure” — but he understands why his students dislike the late mujahedin leader whose men once shelled Kabul: He is one of the powerful people who helped plunge the country into endless war. Even though many Tajik students expressed no love for Rabbani, the fact that mostly ethnic Pashtun and Hazara groups were demanding his name be taken down and boycotting classes sparked fights on campus. In the second week of October, Hamidzai stood in the university courtyard as student activists blocked the campus entrance, Pashtun and Tajik students traded punches, and police hauled off protesters. Hamidzai then accompanied a group of activists to the Ministry of Higher Education, where a compromise was put forward: Rabbani’s name would not be put on diplomas for current four-year students. But the school would be referred to as the Kabul Education University of Rabbani. … (LA Times)


Iranians Build Up Afghan Clout

Iran is funding aid projects and expanding intelligence networks across Afghanistan, moving to fill the void to be left by the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. While Iran’s spending here is nowhere near the billions the U.S. spends, Tehran’s ability to run grass-roots programs and work directly with Afghans is giving its efforts disproportionate clout—something it could wield against American interests should the U.S. military strike Iran’s nuclear program. “Iran is the real influence here. With one snap of their fingers, they can mobilize 20,000 Afghans,” said a high-ranking official in Afghanistan’s presidential palace. “This is much more dangerous than the suicide bombers coming from Pakistan. At least you can see them and fight them. But you can’t as easily see and fight Iran’s political and cultural influence.” Many leading Afghan government officials have received Iranian support for years. President Hamid Karzai two years ago admitted that his office has regularly received suitcases of cash from Tehran, with as much as $1 million in euros stuffed inside, in exchange for “good relations.” Afghanistan is important to Tehran’s efforts to break out of its international isolation as Iran’s main regional ally, Syria, battles an insurgency. A pro-Iranian militant group in Lebanon, Hezbollah, has also been put on the defensive by the civil war in Syria, a Hezbollah benefactor. Iran shares a language with many Afghans, about half of whom speak a dialect of Persian. Millions of Afghans work in Iran, and Iran is the main supplier of electricity to western Afghan cities like Herat, an hour’s drive from the border. While Afghanistan is mainly Sunni Muslim, it has a large minority that shares Iran’s Shiite branch of Islam. Iran’s main vehicle for spreading its influence across its eastern border is the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, or IKRC, a secretive aid organization that operates around the world. The U.S. blacklisted IKRC’s branch in Lebanon two years ago for aiding Hezbollah. Unlike the U.S. Agency for International Development, which disburses its aid through private contractors and sometimes even hides the aid’s American origin, the IKRC works directly with Afghan applicants, combining economic help with seeding efforts to gather intelligence, Western and Afghan officials say. (WSJ)

When Afghans Look to Border With Pakistan, They Don’t See a Fixed Line

It is perhaps a measure of the growing anxiety in Afghanistan that an American envoy’s seemingly innocuous comments about a border first laid down in the 19th century could provoke a week of defiant missives from Afghan officials and fearful murmurings about conspiracies being hatched in Washington and Islamabad. Ahmed Barakzai, a Kabul jeweler, summed it up well: With America’s departure looming, Afghans “know they are entering a dangerous time,” he said between bites of fish at a crowded restaurant. The men around him all nodded. The “issue of the line,” as he called the border, may be minor to the rest of the world. But it “shows us we have friends who we cannot trust,” said Mr. Barakzai, 43. Everyone listening knew he meant America, and they kept nodding. The border, of course, is no simple boundary: It is the Durand Line, named for the British colonial official who drew it up to separate Imperial Britain’s Indian possessions from Afghanistan — dividing traditionally Pashtun lands between Afghanistan and what would later become Pakistan. To the world at large today, the line, however contentious, is official. Just don’t say as much to Afghans. Ambassador Marc Grossman, America’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, learned this the hard way last week when asked by an Afghan television reporter whether the United States agreed that “the lands beyond this border, the Durand Line, are the lands of Afghanistan.” Mr. Grossman’s answer — “the border is the international border” — has been American policy for decades. Afghanistan’s claim to a large chunk of northwestern Pakistan, which it believes the British stole, is taken seriously only in Afghanistan. Mr. Grossman moved on, segueing into the need for more regional cooperation — diplomat-speak for better ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan. If only it were that easy. Mr. Grossman’s comments quickly became headline news in Afghanistan, and remained so for days. The Foreign Ministry, which knew Mr. Grossman had said nothing new, nonetheless jumped on the comments, calling Washington’s position “irrelevant.” “The status of the Durand Line is a matter of historic importance for the Afghan people,” it said in a statement. (…)  Mr. Grossman’s comments, delivered at a time when Afghans are particularly apprehensive about their country’s future, hit a tender nerve. … (NY Times)

Russia wants answers on NATO post-2014 Afghan mission

Russia wants to know more about the scale and scope of NATO’s post-2014 mission in Afghanistan before deciding whether to keep cooperating with the Western alliance, an envoy for President Vladimir Putin said on 25 October. Moscow, NATO’s Cold War-era foe and still a frequent critic, fears instability in Afghanistan after the pullout of most foreign troops by the end of 2014 may spill over into ex-Soviet Central Asia and threaten Russia’s own southern borders. The former Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979 and withdrew its forces by early 1989 after a disastrous war. Moscow supported the U.S.-led invasion after the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks and has allowed transit of supplies for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), including through a new hub in the city of Ulyanovsk. But Zamir Kabulov, Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, told Reuters that Russia wanted “full clarity” on the combat capabilities of the post-2014 mission and reiterated a threat to withdraw cooperation unless the alliance receives approval from the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow holds veto power. (…) NATO aims to hand security responsibility to Afghans in 2014 and revamp its mission into a training and advisory one. Russia’s acting ambassador to NATO said this month that Russia would stop cooperating over Afghanistan post-2014 if no Security Council resolution authorizing the new mission is secured. A NATO official said it would be helpful but stopped short of saying it was essential. Kabulov, a former ambassador to Kabul, said Moscow wanted more information about foreign forces in Afghanistan after 2014. (Reuters)

India, US, Japan Discuss Afghanistan

Taking forward their congruence on a range of global issues, India, the US and Japan have decided to ramp up cooperation in areas ranging from the Asia-Pacific to Afghanistan, Africa and Myanmar. Senior officials of India, the US and Japan on 29 October held their third trilateral dialogue here that focused on firming up strategies to combat piracy, bolstering maritime security and shared their perspectives on the evolving Asia-Pacific architecture. The officials of the three countries held talks for five to six hours, indicating intense discussions to find more areas of commonality between the three leading democracies. They had discussions on a strategic overview of the Asia-Pacific region, Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, told reporters a day after the talks on 30 October. They discussed issues relating to the ASEAN summit and the 18-nation East Asia Summit, he said. They also decided to intensify their development cooperation in Myanmar, Afghanistan and Africa, he said. India is engaged with both the US and Japan on bilateral tracks in developmental projects in Africa. The decision by the three influential countries to cooperate closely in Afghanistan acquires an added importance in view of the withdrawal of international combat troops from that country. The focus, the spokesperson stressed, was on expanding cooperation in maritime security and anti-piracy operations. During the talks, the Indian delegation was led by Gautam Bambawale, joint secretary in charge of East Asia in the external affairs ministry. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake and Deputy Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Kenji Hiramatsu led the US and Japanese delegations, respectively. India sought clarifications from the US about its so-called Asia pivot strategy which envisages roping in New Delhi as the lynchpin of security in the region. Informed sources said Beijing was not discussed explicitly, but the discussions on maritime security took note of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and its forays into the Indian Ocean. The three sides also discussed how they could cooperate more closely to shape the East Asia architecture and issues that would figure in the forthcoming East Asia Summit in Cambodia. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, AINS)

Australia Unveils Plan to Focus on Asia for Wealth

An ambitious plan aimed at maximizing links with booming China and other soaring Asian economies will power Australia into the world’s top 10 wealthiest nations by 2025, the government said on 28 October. The sweeping policy blueprint, titled “Australia in the Asian Century”, sets a series of goals for the next 13 years to seize upon Asia’s rapid ascent as a global economic powerhouse led by the modernization of China and India. “The scale and pace of Asia’s rise is staggering, and there are significant opportunities and challenges,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. Gillard said Australians had long seen Asia as a threat “racially, militarily and economically” but the region had changed dramatically in the past 30 years, demanding “new changes of us today”. “It is not enough to rely on luck — our future will be determined by the choices we make and how we engage with the region we live in.” By 2025, Gillard said Australia’s GDP per person — a measure of personal wealth — would jump into the world’s top 10, joining the likes of Qatar, Singapore, Hong Kong, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)


Afghanistan Security Forces

Afghan Called Ill-Prepared to Maintain Bases on Their Own

The Afghan government probably will prove incapable of operating and maintaining U.S.-funded army and police facilities when coalition combat troops leave in 2014, a U.S. government watchdog said. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction also found that the U.S. contractor currently keeping up the properties, ITT Exelis Inc. (XLS), is likely to run out of funding for one of its two contracts in March 2014, 16 months before it is set to expire. The inspector general’s report issued adds to evidence of the difficulties that may confront Afghanistan’s government, which is struggling to fight the Taliban and is plagued by corruption, when most of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s forces depart. “The Afghan government continues to face challenges that will likely prevent it from fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the 2014 transition,” wrote John Sopko, the special inspector general, referring to the Afghan National Security Forces. The U.S. has spent $52.15 billion since fiscal 2002 to equip and train Afghan forces, including $11.7 billion for construction of facilities from military bases and hospitals to police stations, the report said. The Afghan government may not be able to sustain those installations on its own, “thus risking that U.S. investment will not be sustained after an expected significant decrease in international support after 2014,” the report said. The Afghan government filled less than 40 percent of authorized operations and maintenance positions, mostly because of “salary discrepancies” between those and private-sector jobs, the report said. The Afghan security forces lack “personnel with the technical skills required to operate and maintain critical facilities, such as water supply, waste water treatment, and power generation,” the report said. Since 2010, that work has been handled by ITT Exelis, which was awarded two multi-year contracts, covering the north and south of the country. The agreements are valued at a combined $800 million and may cover more than 800 facilities, according to the report. While the McLean, Virginia-based company has met the terms of its contract, “Exelis had difficulty mobilizing during the initial phase of the contract, slowing contract implementation,” the report found. Much of the initial slow pace was due to matters beyond the contractor’s control, such as harassment of personnel, poor construction quality and irregular fuel delivers, the report said. David Albritton, an ITT Exelis spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed message requesting comment. The inspector general recommended that the Army Corps of Engineers adopt standardized procedures for overseeing the contracts and direct ITT Exelis to fully implement its quality- control program in the southern part of the country, where the report said oversight is lacking. The Army Corps, in written comments accompanying the report, said it agreed with the recommendations and is taking steps to address them. The service will have to award a new contract when funding on the existing one for the northern part of the country runs out, according to the report. (Bloomberg)

U.S. & Coalition Forces

‘Green-on-blue’ attacks are difficult to deal with, UK commander tells MPs

“Green-on-blue” attacks by Afghan forces on British and other foreign troops are an insurgent tactic that is difficult to deal with, a senior British commander has admitted to MPs. Lieutenant General David Capewell, the UK’s joint forces commander, was giving evidence to the Commons cross-party defense committee, which also heard that British and other NATO forces would remain in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 deadline ending ground combat operations, though it is unclear in what form. “It is difficult to deal with, but we are all determined to get to grips with this,” Capewell said of the attacks on Nato troops by Afghan security forces. Better training, force protection and vetting – including psychological tests and biometric screening – were among the measures being introduced to try to prevent such attacks, he said. “But you can never have a perfect system.” Brigadier Doug Chalmers, who has just returned from commanding Britain’s 9,500-strong force in Helmand province, told the MPs that Afghan commanders were “equally shocked” by the attacks. He said that after talking to British soldiers engaged in advising and training Afghan forces on the ground, he was sure the attacks had not dented their morale. Asked whether he seriously believed that Afghan forces would be sustainable once NATO-led troops gave up their ground combat role by 1 January 2015, Capewell replied that it was “an assumption we have to make”. Asked who they would be loyal to, the general answered: “I rather hope to the Afghan government.” David Cameron has announced that the number of British troops in Afghanistan will be cut by 500 by the end of this year. Dame Mariot Leslie, Britain’s ambassador to Nato, told the MPs that there may be an opportunity next year “to make further withdrawals”, though she emphasised that no decision had yet been taken. However, she made clear that NATO had agreed in principle to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 in addition to any bilateral arrangements made between individual countries and Kabul. NATO countries had recently agreed to an “initiating directive” paving the way for long-term help for Afghan forces from both NATO and non-NATOcountries, including Sweden, Ukraine, Georgia, Australia and New Zealand, she said. (Guardian UK)

Australia May Need to Bulk Up for Afghan Drawdown, PM Says

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that planning is underway for the withdrawal from Afghanistan but difficult days are ahead and more troops and resources may be needed for the transition to Afghan forces. “As we begin detailed planning for its final phases, which of course remain some time off, it is likely that we will identify the need for some additional personnel and resources to complete these final phases of practical extraction and repatriation,” she said in Australian Parliament on Wednesday in the annual update on the Afghan war. Gillard emphasised that the transition of the southern Uruzgan province – where most Australian troops are based – to Afghan security forces does not mean the troops will leave completely, but rather Australia will take on a more advisory role. (…) The Prime Minister said that the transition remains on track to be completed by the end of next year. “We will apply the lessons of previous operational draw-downs, to ensure stability and security through the whole period.” Australia has around 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, most of them based in Uruzgan. It has seen 39 soldiers killed since the start of its mission in the country in 2001. (TOLOnews)


NATO Stresses Transparent, Inclusive Polls

Free and fair elections in 2014, when most NATO-led combat troops are to withdraw, would be an important milestone for Afghanistan, an official of the western alliance said on 23 October. Addressing a news conference in Kabul, NATO senior civilian representative’s spokesman said the Afghan people expected their leadership to hold transparent and inclusive polls on schedule. “Yes, the elections will be important. Their transparency, their credibility, their inclusivity will be of paramount importance. We know, the Afghan authorities have committed to uphold democracy and the constitution,” he remarked. Dominic Medley expressed his confidence that Afghan forces would be capable of securing their country by the end of 2014, including security for the presidential ballot. NATO and the whole international community stood ready to support the election process, he said, referring to paragraph five of the Chicago Summit declaration, which laid out clearly Afghanistan’s and NATO’s commitment to the elections. The summit agreed on a training, advising and assistance mission in the agreement with the Afghan government, he explained, recalling NATO/ISAF defense ministers started the planning for the new mission in Brussels two weeks ago. In his opening remarks, the spokesman touched on last week’s visit to Kabul by the secretary general and the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest decision-making body. The trip sent a clear message that the alliance and the international community would stay committed to Afghanistan, he said. During their three-day visit to Afghanistan, Anders Fogh Rasmussen and several ambassadors met President Karzai, senior ministers, members of the government, parliamentarians and regional leaders. They had briefings in Kabul, Herat, Mazar and Bagram. Medley said one goal — shared by NATO and Afghanistan — was to see the Afghan forces fully responsible for security by the end of 2014. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)


Taliban Hit Region Seen as ‘Safest’ for Afghans

The war has finally found Bamian, a remote corner of Afghanistan that for a decade had enjoyed near immunity to Taliban violence. As the American troop surge peaked over the past two years, Taliban insurgents began contesting parts of this central province, flowing in from more embattled areas of the country. And now, a series of deadly strikes in recent months has intimidated residents and served notice that roads are unsafe and government officials are targets. That it has happened in Bamian — known for its rugged beauty, nascent skiing industry and the ancient Buddha statues that once kept vigil here — has added to the sense that nowhere in Afghanistan can be considered safe. And that, Afghan and Western analysts say, is a crucial part of the Taliban’s strategy in coming here. “Bamian was the safest province in the country,” said Mohammed Natiqi, a Kabul-based military analyst. “The insurgents are trying to find a toehold there by destabilizing it to show their presence all over the country.” Despite years of international military efforts, the Taliban have continued to show that they can drift away from Western forces and carry out attacks elsewhere. And now that the surge is over, and the force of 68,000 American troops is scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2014, the Taliban’s resilience has raised stark fears about what will happen next. By contesting the roads into Bamian, the insurgents have added to the sense of encirclement of the Afghan capital, Kabul. These barren valleys and high passes are just a few hours from Kabul by car, but now the roads are nearly impassable for foreigners and dangerous for most Afghans. On the roads into Bamian, the Taliban now regularly descend from the hills at night in shows of strength, setting up their own checkpoints after local police officers have left. They take those opportunities to rob, or kill, travelers, local officials say. And they regularly carry out deadly incursions into Bamian itself, particularly in a section of its northeast. Such attacks, including the abduction and killing of the provincial council chief last year on the main road to Kabul and the deaths of 14 coalition and Afghan soldiers over a few weeks this summer, are collectively the worst spasm of violence in the region’s rocky valleys since the Taliban’s fall in 2001. Few suffered as much at the Taliban’s hands as the Hazara, the moderate Shiite ethnic minority that makes up most of the population in Bamian Province. They were massacred by the thousands during the civil war and the ensuing reign of the Taliban, who are mostly ethnic Pashtuns. … (NY Times)

Taliban leader claims insider attacks, ‘most effective stratagem,’ will increase

Taliban insurgents will increase the number of insider attacks against coalition and Afghan forces, which have resulted in the deaths of at least 52 foreign troops so far this year, the movement’s reclusive leader said on 24 October. In an emailed statement congratulating Muslims as they prepare to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday, Mullah Mohammad Omar urged “every brave Afghan in the ranks of the foreign forces and their Afghan hirelings … to strike them.” “Jihadist activities inside the circle of the state militias are the most effective stratagem. Its dimension will see further expansion, organization and efficiency,” he said. “Increase your efforts to expand the area of infiltration in the ranks of the enemy.” Also, NATO said in a statement that two of its soldiers died following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. It did not provide further details about the attack or the nationality of the victims. The surge in insider attacks is throwing doubt on the capability of the Afghan security forces to take over from international troops ahead of a planned handover to the Afghans in 2014. It has further undermined public support for the 11-year war in NATO countries. The attacks have not been limited to members of the NATO-led international coalition. More than 50 Afghan members of the government’s security forces also have died this in attacks by their own colleagues. The Taliban leader also claimed his fighters were winning the war and vowed to continue the struggle “against the invaders who have invaded our country until the occupation ends completely.” (Washington Post)


Festering Balkan Tension a Warning on Afghan Withdrawal

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Balkans this week [30 October], she’s seeing how hard it is to build durable peace, democracy and prosperity where ethnic and religious rivalries still fester. 21 November will be the 17th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian War and the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, and its aftermath may hold lessons for the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the peace deal midwifed by American, European and Russian officials halted the ethnic and religious slaughter that claimed almost 100,000 lives, it also helped entrench the region’s ethnic and religious divisions. Postwar Bosnia is a reminder to U.S. officials that a peace deal alone can’t produce stability and effective governance, according to former diplomats and Balkans specialists. After U.S. and allied forces withdraw, former warring parties may continue to seek by other means what they failed to achieve in open warfare. Power-sharing deals intended to satisfy rival ethnic groups also can lead to political paralysis. (…) The stakes may be higher for the U.S. in Iraq, where… the local al-Qaeda affiliate is rebuilding and Iranian influence is growing. In Afghanistan, where… the central government remains weak and the Taliban and other extremist groups remain strong, while militants have a safe haven in neighboring Pakistan. One lesson for the U.S. as it withdraws from these other conflicts is that any peace agreement in Afghanistan would have to be supported by its neighbors, said Dobbins, who also served as a special envoy to Afghanistan and is now director of the security and defense policy center at the Washington office of the Santa Monica, California-based RAND Corp., a policy institute. Bosnia’s peace deal worked, Dobbins said, because U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and other negotiators were able to strong-arm the leaders of neighboring Serbia and Croatia to compel local warring parties to make peace. Pakistan, Iran, Russia and India all have clients and influence in Afghanistan, and would have to support a peace deal, Dobbins said. “It may be too late already,” for America’s efforts at nation-building in Iraq, said Hitchner at Tufts University. “But for Afghanistan, it means pursuing in tandem with Kabul and our allies a clear strategy for neutralizing the Taliban politically that will be achieved within, say, the next five years, not 17 years and counting.” (Bloomberg)

US Ready to Support Afghan-Led Peace Process

The United States on 25 October said it supports an Afghan-led peace process and it is now up to the Taliban to take advantage of this offer. “We have made clear that we are supportive of an Afghan-led reconciliation process. We have worked, as have the Afghans, to make that possible, but the Taliban have to make their own decision whether they want to take advantage of that,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. She was responding to questions on the latest statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who commented that the Taliban would only negotiate with the US-led coalition in Afghanistan through its recently-created “political office.” He said the Taliban has set up the political office in order to continue their political struggle. “This is an Afghan-led process, of Afghans talking to Afghans that we support. So if we get to a point where there are conversations that the Afghans consider might be helpful, we will consider that. But we are so far from that right now,” added Nuland. According to the US official, the Taliban themselves broke off talks in March. “So we continue to talk among ourselves in the Core Group to try to make it possible if they change their minds about that and talks are restarted to facilitate those, but it’s Taliban’s choice,” Nuland said. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)

Outcome of US Election Will Not Impact Afghanistan: Analysts

Days out from the US Presidential election, American analysts say the result of the November 6 poll is not likely to have an impact on the outcome of the war in Afghanistan. The economic crisis in the US has caused incumbent President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney to focus more on the matters at home rather than Washington’s mission in Afghanistan. The analysts told TOLOnews that fighting terrorists is important for the US in terms of security, but neither candidate will change the timetable of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan by the end of year 2014. “I think that both of the candidates recognise that the American public has a lot of fatigue about the effort in Afghanistan and many doubts about the eventual success of it. So my guess is that, barring some unforeseen event, this will play out the same whether Romney is elected or the president is reelected,” director of survey research at PEW Scott Keeter told TOLOnews in Washington DC. Coupled with the unpopularity of the war arising from the climbing death toll of American troops, there is the concern of the massive expense involved in continuing to fight while the US struggles economically, making it more unpopular still. (…) Obama and Romney have returned to the campaign trail after a brief hiatus when the crushing superstorm “Sandy” hit the east coast, killing as many as 50 people and destroying billions of dollars of infrastructure. (TOLOnews)

U.S. Questions Islamabad’s Balochistan Crackdown

The U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council has expressed “serious concern” over Pakistan’s violent response to separatists in southwestern Balochistan Province. Ambassador Eileen Donahoe told the council in Geneva on 30 October that Washington has serious reservations about human rights situation in Balochistan. She said Pakistan Army operations there are “aimed at silencing dissent.” She said Pakistan should ensure that those guilty of torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings must be prosecuted. Donahoe made the remarks during Pakistan’s Universal Periodic Review. All UN members are expect to undergo such a review of their human rights record every four years. Thousands of civilians, soldiers, and guerillas have been killed in eight years of unrest in the vast desert region where numerous ethnic Balochi factions are fighting for independence from Pakistan. (RFE/RL)

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