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

LDESP Afghanistan-Pakistan News Update – 6 December 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 Security Pact Without Complete Prison Handover, Karzai Tells Obama

President Hamid Karzai has told US President Barack Obama in a letter that until the matter of the Bagram prison is settled, Afghanistan will not sign the security agreement with the US. Karzai asked Obama to ensure that the US finalizes the handover of all prisons and prisoners to the Afghan government, according to a statement from the Presidential Office. “If it does not happen, Afghanistan will not sign the security agreement with US,” it said. Karzai recently ordered Afghan forces to take control of the American-built Bagram prison and accused American officials of violating the agreement to fully transfer the facility to the Afghans. The order came after what Karzai said was the expiration of a two-month grace period, agreed to by President Obama in September, to complete the transfer of the prison at Bagram Air Base. The Afghan government has repeatedly said that any failure to hand over the remaining 600 prisoners that were not transferred in September is a violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty. Tensions over detainee transfers have been on high since the agreement to handover prisoners was signed in March with a six-month deadline. (TOLOnews)

Afghan Foreign Minister Asks Pakistan For ‘Honest’ Cooperation

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul says he has asked Pakistan for “honest, results-oriented cooperation” to support Afghanistan’s peace process. Rasul made the remarks during a joint press conference with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar after the two met for talks in Islamabad on 30 November. “Peace in Afghanistan also is a prerequisite for peace and security in the region, including peace and security here in Pakistan. So we are asking countries in the region and beyond to support the Afghan peaceful process in an honest and concrete way,” Rasul said. Rasul welcomed the 15 November release of at least nine Taliban commanders in a bid to help build trust between the Taliban and Kabul. Earlier, Rasul’s spokesman said the Afghan foreign minister was urging Islamabad to release more detained Taliban. Rasul said that he hopes Islamabad will take other concrete measures to encourage peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. (RFE/RL)

Afghanistan Tops Most Corrupt Countries Index

Afghanistan is perceived to have one of the most corrupt public sectors in the world out of 176 countries surveyed, according to a report from Transparency International released on 5 December. Afghanistan tops the Corruption Perception Index along with North Korea in Asia and Somalia in Africa. The report said that one in seven Afghans has paid a bribe while the Kabul Bank scandal greatly increased perceptions of the vast corruption in the country. The report said that government efforts to eliminate corruption have been in vain and that corruption has only increased in the country. The Afghan government responded that major efforts are underway to bring the level of the corruption down. “As the government and anti-corruption bodies increase, it helps to have the transparency watchdogs showing the increased level of corruption,” Policy and Technical Deputy Director of the High Office of Oversight and Anti Corruption Mohammed Amin Khoramji told TOLOnews on 5 December. The average bribe paid by each Afghan amounts to one-third the normal salary of a government employee, or $150 month. The Coalition of Afghan Women to Fight Corruption protested on Wednesday to oppose the rising corruption in the country and demanded a stable and corruption free Afghanistan in the future. “We have started this effort and will continue it even if it costs us our lives,” Amina Mustaqim, a member of the coalition, told TOLOnews. “We want our children to live in a peaceful, secure and corruption free country.” The report said that weak governance, impunity, fraud in elections, government-dominated justice sector, unnecessary detentions, extortion, and illegal killing with impunity all contribute to the increase of corruption. The report also said that as much as $8 billion has been embezzled in the past decade from Afghanistan as a result of the high level of corruption in the country. (TOLOnews)

AWCAC hosts Shura with leading Kabul religious scholars, MPs, ISAF’s Shafafiyat

Leaders from the Afghan Women Coalition Against Corruption (AWCAC) hosted a shura on 19 November with Kabul’s leading religious scholars, members of parliament and members of International Security Assistance Force’s Shafafiyat to discuss ways of addressing women’s rights and corruption in Afghanistan. Shura attendees brought their concerns and ideas to the table resulting in an energetic dialogue, which all participants hope will lead to future and continued discussion in the future. Amina Mustaqim and Mohboba Saraj, co-founders of AWCAC, organized this Shura to begin a dialogue with the religious leaders of Afghanistan about the affects of corruption on Afghan women. More than 50 participants attended. Islam is an integral part of Afghan society. It is AWCAC’s belief that uniting with religious scholars to speak out about the dishonor of corruption and violence against women will advance women’s rights in Afghanistan. AWCAC came together as a way to ask Afghans if they would support us in this endeavor and as means to unite, Ms. Mustaqim and Ms. Saraj said. Ms. Saraj said, “If we as women of Afghanistan cannot control and stop corruption, the corruption will destroy us [women]. I have asked religious scholars to stand firm with us in countering religious corruption and speak out about what a bad action this is in Islam. We will find a way to work together and root out corruption for a better Afghanistan.” Brig. Gen. Flemming Agerskov, deputy director for the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force Shafafiyat spoke of ISAF’s continued support in countering corruption in Afghanistan. (ISAF)

HRW Slams Afghan Plan for Taliban Immunity

Afghanistan should reject any future deals that exchange immunity from prosecution for peace negotiations, an official with Human Rights Watch says. “Afghanistan’s civilians should not be forced to choose between justice and peace,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement released Sunday. Adams’ comments were in response to a 17 November statement by the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Salahuddin Rabbani, that Taliban officials who participate in peace talks with the Afghan government would be granted immunity from prosecution and be removed from a list of people under sanctions by the United Nations. “Future government talks with the Taliban should not hinge upon denying justice to victims of war crimes and other abuses,” Adams said. Nine Taliban officials were freed from a Pakistani prison last week at the request of the High Peace Council, and 50 more members of the Taliban are expected to be released in the future. HRW said providing immunity for genocide, war crimes and other human rights abuses violated international treaties such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which Afghanistan has signed. Afghan President Hamid Karzai allowed the National Stability and Reconciliation Law to go into effect in 2010, despite his promise that he would not sign it. The law prevents the prosecution of anyone involved in large-scale human rights abuses committed before December 2001. HRW has called the law “an invitation for future human rights abuses.” (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, UPI)

Afghanistan 2014 Election Planning

Council of Ministers Removes Election Complaints Commission

The Council of Ministers has approved the new election law without an Election Complaints Commission (ECC), assigning the powers that would belong to the ECC to the Supreme Court, according to the Independent Elections Commission (IEC). IEC chief Fazel Ahmad Manawe said at a press conference in Kabul that the draft of the law was approved after three meetings of the ministers, with amendments. “The draft was discussed in three sessions of the Council of Ministers and finally it was approved on 3 December. We expressed our technical visions but it was up to the cabinet to decide about it. It will be sent to parliament for approval by end of the week,” Manawe said on 4 December. Under the changes introduced by the Council, the Supreme Court will be the only authority to investigate and follow up the election issues that would normally be overseen by the ECC. “The Ministry of Finance had somehow changed our plans but after long discussion, the Supreme Court has been assigned to form a new election court to follow up any complaints,” he added. Afghan political parties and activists criticized the decision, warning of an unfair election. (TOLOnews)

Peace Talks

Women Vital for Afghan Peace Process: Spanta

There will be no peace and stability in the country unless women are involved in Afghan peace efforts, National Security Advisor to the President Rangin Dadfar Spanta said on 4 December. Without women, peace efforts are not a national step, Spanta told those gathered for a joint conference in Kabul hosted by the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security with the High Peace Council. “Without presence of women the peace efforts will not be a national process. If it happens without women in it, it will a failed effort,” he said. He emphasised that the Afghans should do anything they can to bring peace and stability to the country and have greatness in forgiving the faults of its enemies. “As a Muslim and Afghan we must have the greatness to forgive. If peace talks are held anywhere in the world, we should follow it,” Spanta said, adding that there is price to bringing peace in the country. Female members of parliament and women across the country will be in greater danger if women are not involved in the decisions, an MP said at the gathering. “If any decision was made in the absence of the Afghan women, then half of the country will be in great danger once again,” MP Shinkai Karokhil said at the gathering. The three-day conference was held in an effort to express the needs and demands of Afghan women from the High Peace Council. (TOLOnews)

U.S. pushes to restart talks with Taliban

The Obama administration has reportedly begun pushing for a restart of peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, despite resistance within the U.S. military to relying on Pakistan to play a pivotal role in such negotiations (Post). Pakistan recently released several Taliban militants from prison in an effort to encourage the Taliban to enter peace talks with the Afghan government, but the militant group has shown no interest in negotiating with the Americans since it cut off talks in March. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is also negotiating with the Afghan government over the terms of a bilateral security agreement that would lay out the U.S. role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat forces by the end of 2014 (Post). But while Afghan officials demand the nation’s complete sovereignty be respected, U.S. officials worry that fulfilling this demand could leave U.S. troops and trainers vulnerable to abuse by the Afghan court system. (Foreign Policy)

Trilateral meeting: China backs Pak-Afghan appeal for peace talks

China on 29 November threw its weight behind the recent joint appeal launched by Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Taliban to renounce violence and enter into peace talks. Beijing’s support for the initiative came during a trilateral meeting of senior officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China in Islamabad, officials said. It was the second meeting of what is called the ‘Pakistan-Afghanistan-China Trilateral Dialogue’ since the three countries decided last year to increase their contacts to discuss the Afghan endgame. The group’s first meeting took place in Beijing earlier this year. According to an official statement, the three-way talks were attended by Pakistan’s director general of the Afghan desk at the foreign office, Syed Abrar Hussain, Afghanistan’s director general at the foreign ministry, Azizuddin Ahmadzada, and China’s Counselor of the department of Asian Affairs at the foreign office, Huang Xilian. Sources said China also welcomed the recent move by Pakistan to release some Afghan Taliban prisoners from its custody in an attempt to help advance the Afghan reconciliation process in the war-torn country. A senior foreign ministry official said the three sides discussed the regional situation with special reference to Afghanistan, efforts for peace and reconciliation and trilateral cooperation in various fields. Pakistan and China reiterated their support to the ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace and reconciliation process, the official added. The statement further stated that the three countries agreed that an intra-Afghan inclusive dialogue would ensure durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. It also welcomed the Afghan High Peace Council’s visit to Islamabad and the joint press statement issued after the visit. The increased involvement of China in the Afghan endgame is attributed to efforts by certain regional countries opposing US attempts to impose its solution on Afghanistan. A statement issued by the foreign office also indicated that the Pakistan and China were seeking a regional solution to the Afghan war. “They (Pakistan, Afghanistan, China) agreed that the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) can play an important role in peace and stability in the region and that the SCO regional mechanism can provide better solutions to the emerging new security, political and economic challenges,” the joint statement said. The statement highlights the concerns of Pakistan and China over efforts by the US to establish a new regional mechanism involving countries in the Afghan endgame, which do not share any borders with Afghanistan. Pakistan and China believe that there is no need for any new regional mechanism as existing forums can be used to discuss challenges facing Afghanistan. (The Express Tribune)

Afghan Peace Negotiator Praises Pakistan’s Role In Taliban Prisoner Release

A top peace negotiator in Afghanistan has praised a decision by neighboring Pakistan to free nine Taliban militants who favor peace talks. Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, said the move was a sign that Islamabad is willing to involve the militant group in ending Afghanistan’s 11-year war. Rabbani was speaking following a four-day trip to Pakistan to oversee the release of the nine Taliban members and push for additional militants to be freed. In the past, Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of seeking to shelter insurgents, a charge Islamabad has denied. The Afghan Taliban on 17 November welcomed the release of their compatriots, who are reported to include several former regional governors, the former Taliban justice minister, and a special assistant to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. (RFE/RE)

Pakistan: Governance & Civil Society

Pak-Afghanistan Must Work Closely to Counter Terrorism: Pak PM

Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Afghan Foreign Minister called on Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf at Prime Minister House in Islamabad on Friday and discussed with him matters of important mutual interests. While talking to Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, the Prime Minister said that Pakistan believes that a peaceful, prosperous and stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s own national interest. Referring to the recent visit of Mr. Salahuddin Rabbani, Chairman High Peace Council to Islamabad, the Prime Minister termed it as successful. The Council, he added made important contributions and engaged positively with their Pakistani interlocutors. The Prime Minister said that both Afghanistan and Pakistan have a common challenge in terrorism and drug menace. Therefore, both the countries need to work closely to confront these challenges, he added. The Prime Minister expressed the hope that agreement between the two countries to hold an Ulema Conference would contribute positively towards consolidating the relations between the two countries. The Afghan Foreign Minister said that the visit of High Peace Council was successful and both the governments were now talking to find solutions. “Time has come that we should show results”, said the Afghan Foreign Minister. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Mr Jawed Ludin, Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Mr Mohammad Umer Daudzai, Minister for Foreign Affairs Mrs Hina Rabbani Khar, Minister for Defence Syed Naveed Qamar and other senior officials were also present in the meeting. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Agencies)

Rule of Law

Afghan Clerics Want Power To Issue Legally Binding Fatwas

Islamic clerics on Afghanistan’s Ulema Council are the country’s religious authorities, but their opinions on questions of Islamic law are treated as guideposts rather than legally binding decrees. The Ulema Council wants to change that. Clerics have asked President Hamid Karzai to establish a new Dar al-Ifta in Afghanistan — an institute of Islamic scholars with authority to issue Shari’a-based decrees. Unlike the nonbinding declarations from the Dar al-Ifta in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Afghan clerics want their fatwas to be enforced by the courts and national police. Mawlawi Abdul Rahim Shah Agha, one of the Ulema clerics asking Karzai for expanded powers, says the Dar al-Ifta must be independent from Afghanistan’s government and foreign influence. “Afghanistan’s clerics want to prevent Afghans from being forced to ask foreign [clerics questions about Islamic issues] so that foreign clerics won’t be issuing fatwas against Afghanistan’s interests in the future,” Agha says. It’s not yet clear if Karzai has the power to expand the council’s authority. Presidential spokesman Siamak Heravi told RFE/RL that Karzai must first consider the constitutional implications of the request. (RFE/RL)

British Government Halts Transfer Of Afghan Detainees

The British government has halted the transfer of detainees captured in Afghanistan to Afghan custody, citing the risk of torture. A Defense Ministry spokesman has confirmed that a moratorium on transfers went into effect on 28 November. On 29 November, a lawyer told a London court she had been informed of the temporary ban in a letter sent to her by Defense Secretary Philip Hammond. The lawyer is acting on behalf of an Afghan farmer who wants the court to declare there is a “real risk” that detainees are in danger of being abused and tortured in Afghan jails. The 24-year-old Afghan farmer says he was captured by British forces in Afghanistan in 2010 and transferred to Afghan custody, where he was tortured. (RFE/RL)

Report Claims Kabul Bank Fraud Sent Almost $900 Million Abroad

An independent report on the Kabul Bank scandal says that institution was involved in a fraud that sent nearly $900 million outside Afghanistan. A forensic audit financed by international donors offers details about how the money from fraudulent loans ended up in accounts in more than two dozen countries for the benefit of Kabul Bank managers, their friends, and relatives. The bank’s failure in 2010 and subsequent bailout represented more than 5 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. Drago Kos, the chairman the committee behind the report, spoke about the need for improvements in Afghanistan’s financial system. “What we want to achieve is to make the financial and all other important systems in this country better,” he told reporters on November 28. “And last but not least, we would like to do away with nepotism, impunity, and political interference, with a view to help [sic] ensure the future of Afghanistan as a functional, transparent, and accountable democracy.” Three Afghans and three foreigners sat on the Independent Joint Anticorruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, which conducted the investigation. Its report says the vast majority of Kabul Bank’s loans were made to just 19 people and companies. Those who are reported to have benefited from dealings with the bank include President Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmud, who denies any wrongdoing. The scandal has also implicated a brother of Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Neither of the two men, who were shareholders in the bank, is facing charges. (RFE/RL)

Survey on Political Institutions, Elections, and Democracy in Afghanistan

Democracy International’s (DI) nationwide survey in Afghanistan constitutes some of the most comprehensive public-opinion research to date on democracy, elections, and governance in the country. This research includes a nationally representative public opinion survey as well as extensive in-depth interviews and focus groups. To better understand how Afghans’ perceptions affect their participation, the survey focused in particular on the processes and institutions involved in the consolidation of democracy in Afghanistan. The survey reveals that while Afghans are civic-minded and participate in a range of political activities, especially within their communities, they are broadly dissatisfied with the way formal democracy works at the national and local levels. They express a lack of confidence in elected institutions, including the national assembly and the presidency. Only 40% of respondents say they will vote in the next presidential elections, and only 42% say they will participate in the national assembly elections. Afghans have more faith that informal or local institutions are representing their interests, as large percentages of citizens find religious leaders (96%), jirgas and shuras (69%), and community development councils (66%) accessible while only small numbers say the same about the national assembly (4%) and provincial councils (7%). In short, Afghans are supportive of representative institutions but skeptical of those associated with the formal state. As preparations continue for elections and the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014, there is increasing uncertainty among Afghans as to whether the recently established democratic political institutions will endure. The survey shows that Afghans are relatively pessimistic about the future of their country: 52% expect that serious fighting will continue, and 55% believe that there is little likelihood of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in the next few years. (Democracy International)



USACE builds road in Helmand province, cuts travel time in half

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constructing a road in Helmand province, from Nawa to Lashkar Gah, that already has cut travel time in half. “We are about 46 percent finished with construction on this 14.3 mile road,” said Robert Greco, the project manager. “But already travelers are saving about 30 minutes of time by using the portions we have completed.” Construction on the two-lane road began in April 2012 and is scheduled for completion by June 2013. In addition to the 23-foot-wide paved roadway, there will be five-foot-wide gravel shoulders on each side and about 18 culverts to reduce the risk of flooding. “This road will greatly benefit the people of Helmand province because travel times will be significantly reduced,” said Army Col. Vincent Quarles, the Afghanistan Engineer District-South commander. “Once we complete the road, in about eight months, travelers will have an even faster way to get from Nawa to Laskar Gah.” Quarles said that the district’s project team has been monitoring progress throughout the duration of the project to ensure the road meets established international standards. USACE is constructing the road in compliance with American Association of State Highway and Transportation Official Standards, said Greco who deployed to the Afghanistan Engineer District-South from the USACE New York District. AASHTO standards are used for road projects throughout the U.S. and in many countries around the world, Greco explained. (ISAF)


Proposed Budget Presented to Wolesi Jirga

Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal presented the draft budget for the next fiscal year to the Wolesi Jirga on Wednesday, a day after the proposed accounts were approved by the upper house. For the next financial year, the government had proposed development spending worth 170 billion afghanis (about $3.20 billion) and a general budget of 196 afghanis, the minister informed the assembly. He said 70 percent of the development budget was based on aid pledges while 30 percent would be financed with the government’s own revenue. Similarly, national revenue will account for 55 percent of the general budget, with the remaining 45 percent depending on foreign assistance. Zakhilwal added the security sector had been allocated 39.6 percent of the budget, with government departments and natural resources getting 15.6 percent. Similarly, 15.1 percent of the proposed funds will go to the education sector and 9.6 percent to agriculture and rural development. According to the draft budget, 3.8 percent will be spent on public health, 4.2 percent on good governance and rule of law, 2.8 percent on the economy and 1 percent on social security. The presidential discretionary fund has been projected at 8.3 percent. An amount of $ 30 million has been earmarked for the balanced development of Kunar, Nuristan, Daikundi, Paktia, Paktika, Zabul, Uruzgan and Badghis provinces, as well as the welfare of the nomadic Kochi tribe. Zakhilwal ticked off “some politicians and analysts” for painting a negative economic picture of post-Afghanistan. They were fuelling concerns among the people regarding the afghani’s free fall, the minister alleged, without naming anyone. As a result of the gloomy predictions, investors had lately been shy about coming to Afghanistan and import levels had fallen drastically, he acknowledged, saying the masses were worried about the situation. But he ruled out any economic crisis after the withdrawal of foreign forces, because the international community had pledged to assist Afghanistan over the longer haul. Zakhilwal urged lawmakers to pass the draft budget as early as possible. The next financial year begins on 21 December. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)

16 Ministries Fail to Spend 50pc of Uplift Funds

Sixteen ministries and 17 government departments failed to spend half of their developmental budgets during the outgoing financial year, the Wolesi Jirga Finance and Budget Commission said on 26 November. Under Article 98 of the constitution, the government has to present to the lower during the last quarter of each financial year the budget for the next year. A precise account of the previous year budget will be presented to the assembly during the next six months. In its report on last year’s budget, the Finance and Budget Commission said that Ministries Water and Energy, Education, Urban Development, Interior Affair, Economy, Higher Education, Mines, Commerce and Industries, Counter-Narcotics, Parliamentarian Affair, Defense and Information could not spend even 50 percent of their developmental budgets. Muhammad Azim Mohseni, deputy head of the commission, said Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, Afghanistan National Standards Authority, Central Statistics Office, the presidential office, Meshrano Jirga and the National Directorate of Local Governance failed to use their outlays. Similarly, the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, Canalization Department, Breshna Shirkat, High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, Department of Geology and Cartography, Afghanistan Atomic Energy Commission, Independent Human Right Commission and the Commission for the Implementation of Constitution also could not utilize half of their funds. Eng. Kamal, a member of the commission, said the Atomic Energy Commission, AIEC and Geology and Cartography Directorate failed to fund 161 of the 611 projects they planned to implement in 2011. The Ministries of Public Works failed to execute 11 projects, Water and Energy 17, Public Health 13, Agriculture nine and Higher Education 11. Likewise, the Ministry of Education could not implement five of its projects, Information and Technology three and Rural Rehabilitation and Development two. Fifteen of the 19 projects of Breshna Shirkat three of the Water Supply and Canalization Department could not be funded, Kamal said. The house decided all parliamentary panels would discuss the budgetary details and share their views with the Finance and Budget Commission. A detailed report would be presented after being compiled by the panel, said Speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi. “Lawmakers have taken a serious note of the failure of ministries and other government departments to utilize their budgetary allocations. Some ministers could be summoned,” Kamal warned. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)

New Kabul Bank Draws Five Possible Bids

Five possible bids have come in for New Kabul Bank, the remnant of the Afghan financial institution at the center of a storm over fraud allegations in the country. At a recent presentation in Dubai, potential buyers of the bank were given information about its current financial state of health, after the collapse of the old Kabul Bank in 2010. A source close to the new bank said one North American lender and four Afghan banks had expressed interest in New Kabul. There is a deadline of next month for possible bidders to come forward. If it remains unsold by the end of 2013, it will be liquidated. Despite the alleged fraud at the old bank and the disappearance of about US$900 million (Dh3.3 billion) of depositors’ cash, the new bank has clean assets, amounting to between $400m and $500m of deposits, as well as property and equipment assets. The bank has not been allowed to make loans since its collapse that led to the arrest of its former chairman, Sherkhan Farnood, and other executives. But it is regarded as a viable business, though currently a loss-making concern. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)


Iran pushes out Afghans as regional power-play heats up

Afghanistan’s oil-rich western neighbor has for years been a destination for Afghans seeking work or fleeing war. Afghanistan and Iran share a language, and cultural and historical links. But hostility to the U.S. role in Afghanistan, regional ambitions and an economy choked by Western sanctions have persuaded Iran to cast out Afghan migrants, to the dismay of those forced home and their government. In May, Iran threatened to expel Afghan refugees and migrant workers, in all about 2.4 million people, if Afghanistan signed a strategic security pact with the United States. The deal was struck. “Afghan refugees and migrants are becoming the victims of big political games played between the Iranian and U.S. powers,” said Abdul Samad Hami, Afghanistan’s deputy minister for refugees. Few of the migrants, who pay smugglers about $700 to get across the 1,000 km (620 miles) border into Iran, know they have been caught up in a geopolitical power play. (…) About 1.4 million migrant workers remain in Iran but hundreds of them are being expelled every day. There are also nearly a million Afghan refugees who are allowed to live there. Shuffling home through Herat’s Islam Qala border checkpoint, most of the returning migrants are young men dressed like Iranians in jeans and brightly colored bomber jackets, but with bulging suitcases and bed-rolls on their heads. Many migrants have called Iran home for decades, part of an exodus of nine million Afghans – a third of the population – who fled to neighbors Iran and Pakistan, beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1979, through to the austere Taliban rule of the 1990s. The expulsions represent not just a burden for Afghanistan but also a loss of income, and could even spell more instability ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of 2014. Afghan migrants in Iran send home about $500 million a year, a considerable sum for one of the world’s poorest countries. The funds will become more important as foreign aid shrinks with the departure of Western forces. (Reuters)

Nearly 83,000 Afghan Refugees Return Home From Pakistan This Year

The UN refugee agency said on 5 December that nearly 83,000 Afghan refugees have returned home this year through its assisted voluntary repatriation program, a 24 percent increase from 2011. In November this year, more than 8,200 refugees returned from Pakistan, compared with some 3,000 a year earlier. However, Pakistan is still hosting some 1.65 million Afghan refugees and another 1 million undocumented Afghans, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. Voluntary repatriation remains the UNHCR’s preferred solution globally for most refugees. Since 2002, around 5.7 million Afghan refugees have returned to their home country, constituting nearly a quarter of the country’s population. Nevertheless, Pakistan and Iran are still generously hosting some 2.7 million Afghan refugees after three decades, a UNHCR statement said. The Pakistani government is holding informal consultations to formulate the policy beyond 31 December 2012, a date set for the Afghan refugees to return homes. Pakistan has issued Proof of Registration Cards (PoRs) to Afghan refugees that will expire on 31 December and the government has not yet decided to extend its period. Pakistan said that it will treat all Afghan refugees as illegal immigrants after the expiry of PoRs. Pakistani Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Engineer Shaukatullah Khan, whose ministry also deals with the refugees affairs, concluded a three-day visit to Afghanistan on 4 December and has assured the Afghan leaders that Pakistan will not forcibly expel Afghans. The minister also called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and expressed his commitment to the voluntary return of Afghan refugees to their homeland, while also hoping that the Pakistani government will soon agree to a mechanism in this respect for voluntary and dignified return. During this meeting, emphasis was made on the voluntary nature of return by the president, the UNHCR said. The minister also saw first-hand the implementation of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Returnees (SSAR) in Afghanistan, and the conditions in which refugee returns are taking place. (Pakistan Today)

Culture & Society

As Complaints Grow, Afghanistan Promises School-System Review

In rural areas, a common corruption allegation is that the relatives or friends of powerful militia commanders are thrown into classrooms to collect a teacher’s salary — despite being unqualified to teach. Deputy Education Minister Mohammad Sediq Patman says the government in Kabul is aware of the growing complaints. “We can’t accept this criticism for the entire country — that there are students who can’t read or write after years in school,” he says. “But this problem does exist in many schools and districts.” (…) British media recently quoted senior officials there who acknowledged that London had spent millions of dollars to build schools in rural parts of Helmand Province during the past decade, only to find that the Afghan government may not be able to keep many of them open due to a lack of teachers and funds. Richard Stagg, Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, told “The Guardian” newspaper recently that it was wrong to focus on “the physical and visible rather than the human capital” needed in Afghanistan over the long term. Indeed, Afghan officials say that for many schools in volatile areas it is impossible to find qualified teachers willing or able to work for the normal teacher’s salary of about $100 per month. In districts where the Taliban holds sway, potential teachers also worry about death threats from militants. The Education Ministry this year offered a monthly salary of more than $1,000 for qualified teachers willing to work in the Taliban strongholds of Kandahar and Oruzgan provinces. Despite a chance to earn 10 times the normal salary, Patman says no qualified teachers stepped forward to accept the offers. The German government has spent tens of millions of dollars to fund basic education and vocational training in Afghanistan since 2002. In a 2010 report, Germany recognized that only a small fraction of active teachers in Afghanistan had gone through a solid education and teacher-training program. As a result, Germany is now focusing more on initiatives to train teachers in several provinces. In Kabul, construction also began in early November on a German-funded center to train teachers for professional and technical institutes. For its part, the Afghan government says it wants to recruit 11,000 new teachers this year and to train another 48,000 secondary-school graduates to become teachers. (RFE/RL)

10,500 People Die from Tuberculosis Every Year in Afghanistan

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 53,000 people contract tuberculosis (TB) every year in Afghanistan. The available figures indicate that 66 percent of new cases are women and 10 percent are children. WHO has said that more than 670 children younger than 15 were diagnosed with TB last year in Afghanistan and, of those, the majority of the cases, 465, were girls. The Afghan Ministry of Public Health has reported that nearly 10,500 people die from TB each year in the country and nearly 650 children succumbed to the disease last year. Experts believe that poor working and living conditions, poverty, traditional beliefs, lack of awareness about the disease, security, lack of access to proper medications and health facilities for an earlier diagnosis of the disease and intervention are among the reasons for the high incidence of tuberculosis. The internationally-recommended Directly Observed Treatment Short Course (DOTS), which is believed to be the most efficient and cost-effective tuberculosis control strategy, has been used in Afghanistan with some success. The implementation of DOTS requires sustained political and financial commitment to ensure that there can be: diagnosis by quality ensured sputum-smear microscopy; standardized short-course anti-TB treatment (SSC) given under direct and supportive observation (DOT); a regular, uninterrupted supply of high quality anti-TB drugs; and a standardized recording and reporting mechanism. According to available figures, the percentage of people with access to DOTS in Afghanistan has increased from 14 to 97 percent since 2002 and the number of health facilities which apply DOTS has increased from 10 in 2000 to nearly 1,200 in 2011. Based on the DOTS successes, the WHO developed a six-point ‘Stop TB Strategy’ to address the key challenges faced by TB worldwide. The main purpose of the strategy is to lessen the global TB burden by 2015 and ensure that all TB patients and those co-infected with HIV and drug-resistant TB take advantage of universal access to high-quality diagnosis and patient-centered treatment. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)


Afghan-Tajik Counter Narcotics Op Detain 13 Smugglers

Joint Afghanistan and Tajikistan counter-narcotics forces have captured more than 400 kg of drugs and 13 smugglers in a recent operation, the Counter Narcotics Deputy at the Afghan Ministry of Interior said on 5 December. “We launched the operation at the same time and in coordination with each other, based on the agreement which we signed with the counter narcotics forces of Tajikistan,” Baz Mohammed Ahmadi said. The operation is believed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) in Afghanistan to be one of the biggest achievements toward eradicating drugs in both countries, he added. Based on the agreement between the two countries, the operation was run both sides of the border in the Badakhshan areas and efforts to launch similar operations in cooperation with other countries are continuing, Ahmadi said. The detained smugglers had also been involved in people-smuggling, kidnapping children and women to be sold. Two Tajik women were released from their captors as a result of the recent operation, he added. “We are pleased the operation had a good result. Both countries will increase their efforts in this matter,” said Zainuddin Qurbanov, representative of Tajikistan’s Counter Narcotics Agency. (TOLOnews)

Khyber Pass security improved, road construction forthcoming, officials say

With security problems in the vital link between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the decline, the region can focus on trade, commerce and prosperity. Economic activity is returning to Khyber Pass after Pakistani troops expelled the terrorists who had been harassing the area. As a result, the Pakistani-Afghan border at Torkham has become a safer route between the two neighboring countries, officials told Central Asia Online during a visit. “Roughly 20,000-25,000 people cross the border every day … a majority coming to Pakistan,” Bismillah Khan, a local security officer, told Central Asia Online. “About 1,000 trucks are crossing from Pakistan while some 800 come from Afghanistan (daily),” Bismillah said of improved transport of goods across the border. As part of the effort to improve the situation, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari November 19 inaugurated construction on the highway through Khyber Pass after foreign governments earmarked Rs. 6.7 billion (US $70m) to repair and widen the road, according to a President House press release. Khyber Pass is a 42km-long road snaking through high mountains and deep valleys and a recent drive indicates that peace has been mostly restored along it. That assessment is shared by some officials. “The route from Peshawar to Torkham is relatively secure and peaceful,” Noor-ul-Haq Qadri told Central Asia Online. Successive military operations have driven the militants out to the mountain region in Tirah Valley, making the route safer for human and vehicular traffic, Qadri, a member of the Pakistani National Assembly from the Torkham area, said. Local tribal elder and senior leader of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Reforms Movement Iqbal Khyberwal echoed that sentiment. “No doubt one cannot say that security is 100% guaranteed,” he said, “however, for the last eight to nine months, not a single terrorism-related incident has occurred.” The bumper-to-bumper traffic along the road at peak times shows that drivers have fewer worries, too. “Now we feel the route is more secure,” driver Khan Muhammad said after stopping his long oil tanker on the side of the road near the Ali Masjid area in Khyber Agency. In the past these containers moved in convoys with a militia escort, he explained. “Now there is no need of forming the convoys and going with an escort,” Muhammad told Central Asia Online. However, the cautious political administration still doesn’t allow container traffic after sunset, he said. “The government wants to leave nothing to chance,” Qadri said. (Central Asia Online)

Pakistan takes steps to curb sectarian violence

City law enforcement agencies have arrested several suspects accused of belonging to banned militant outfits. Outlawed sectarian outfits, especially Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP), have become active in the walk-up to Muharram in Pakistan’s commercial capital, targeting religious sects they despise, senior police officials and security analysts say. Security analysts fear a surge in sectarian violence in Karachi during Muharram, which began on 16 November, and the Sindh provincial government has taken strict steps to avert any incidents during the holy days. The Sindh government declared Karachi, Hyderabad and Khairpur the province’s most sensitive cities during Muharram and police and Rangers are working to keep the law-and-order situation under control, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said on 13 November. Sindh Police Chief Fayyaz Leghari directed police officers to step up security at airports, railway stations, consulate offices and residences, important installations, government and semi-government buildings, mosques, imambargahs and public places during Muharram, a November 14 statement from Sindh police headquarters said. The provincial government has banned 50 religious leaders and orators from entering some of Karachi’s districts during Muharram and has ordered these individuals to skip all religious gatherings and to give no speeches during this period. Because motorcycle-riding gunmen carried out most of the Karachi killings, the Home Department also banned pillion-riding (shared motorcycle riding) in Karachi, Hyderabad and Khairpur during the first 10 days of Muharram. Meanwhile, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) police have declared Peshawar, Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan the most sensitive districts in their province. Tank, Bannu, Kohat and Mansehra are also areas of concern during Muharram. KP officials are conducting aerial surveillance during Muharram to ensure timely action in an emergency, Dawn reported on 15 November, citing a spokesperson of KP Police. Authorities there have prohibited brandishing and carrying weapons, pillion riding and the use of loudspeakers to broadcast inflammatory pronouncements. In Peshawar alone, 10,343 security forces personnel will be deployed for Muharram. Similarly, Punjab police have finalised a security plan for Muharram and law enforcement agencies have started the search and scanning operation in these areas and on the routes of the Muharram procession with the help of modern scanners, sniffer dogs and human intelligence, the Daily Times reported, citing police officials. More than 20,000 policemen and officers will protect against any untoward incidents in Lahore, the report added. (Central Asia Online)

IMU suffers casualties, loses Taliban trust

The heavy casualties the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has suffered in the past year have not only weakened the group considerably but also harmed the Taliban’s ability to acquire arms, analysts say. The IMU, whose main forces are deployed on Afghan and Pakistani soil, has suffered major casualties fighting coalition and local soldiers, Central Asia and Pakistan analyst Kamol Odylkhon said. “One of the IMU’s senior leaders, Makhdum Nusrat, was killed in spring, and another, Qari Hamza, in July,” he said. “Coalition troops have carried out several operations that wiped out also other IMU leaders directly engaged with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” Odylkhon noted the importance of recent arrests of IMU members involved in terrorist activity and arms supplies to the Taliban. (…) Frequent personnel reshuffles within the IMU in connection with the death or arrests of its members have notably weakened the group and may undermine the Taliban and al-Qaeda’s trust in it as their close associate, the SNB analyst said. “The news about the arrest of IMU arms trade co-ordinators will likely irritate the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, because they’ll need to urgently look for alternative arms suppliers,” Khotib said, adding that the IMU’s recent loss of some of its key figures shows the group “hasn’t seen its goals too well”. (Central Asia Online)

Taliban attacks on music dampens festive occasions

Despite the militants’ persistent attempts to muzzle musicians, the government is working to restore cultural activities in the region. Taliban threats against music have robbed cultural events in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of much of their festivity, with locals unable to invite singers and musicians to celebrate life’s important events, residents say. (…) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) also has violence-prone areas where residents avoid musical wedding celebrations. “Music and traditional performances have become like peeling onions for Pashtuns who had been in the habit of watching music programmes on festive occasions since time immemorial,” Mardan CD shop owner Muhammad Rafique told Central Asia Online. (…) The local atmosphere is extremely subdued now and holding concerts is just a past memory, he said. Musicians and other entertainers are facing the worst times since the reign of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal Party (MMA) from 2002-2007, Peshawar CD and Music Shops Association president Sher Dil Khan told Central Asia Online. (Central Asia Online)

Tajikistan announces police reform

The Interior Ministry has developed a strategy to improve the quality of law enforcement and its public image. After years of talking about the need for police reform, Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry (MVD) has posted on its website a draft reform strategy for 2012-2020 and invited the general public to participate in a dialogue on the subject. (…) The concept of police reform dates to at least 2009, when the government formed a working group, which worked with the OSCE to develop a general reform planning document meant to improve laws on maintaining public order and combating crime. In parallel, officials amended the criminal code, code of criminal procedure and other laws regulating police performance and established a unified state register of crimes and their perpetrators. The reform strategy calls for a establishing a new set of criteria for assessing police efforts to solve and prevent crime and for monitoring the number of victims who have received assistance and compensation for damages, said Zumrad Soliyeva, reform programme co-coordinator and deputy head of the MVD international relations department. (Central Asia Online)

Women in southern Kyrgyzstan work to reduce ethnic tension

The Women’s Peace Initiatives project is training groups to mediate, analyze conflicts and build peace by preventing and responding to conflict. Representatives of 11 territorial councils, NGO staff and government officials, on 23 November, met to discuss further strengthening co-ordination among women’s citizen action groups (WCAGs) in Osh. “Our groups are promoting women’s interests and expanding their participation in the peace movement,” Jamilya Kaparova, director of the NGO Ensan Diamond, said. With the help of the OSCE Field Office in Osh, she said they are implementing the Establishment of Gender Equality and of Women’s Potential to Prevent Conflicts in Kyrgyzstan project “to establish gender equality and empower women as individuals who can prevent conflicts in Kyrgyzstan,” which is aimed at conflict resolution, peace and tolerance. (Central Asia Online)

Editorial: Pakistan’s Endgame in Afghanistan?

As preparations for the American draw down from Afghanistan get underway, there appears to be another game in town: played by Pakistan’s leaders, strategists and for lack of a better word, sympathizers. The argument put forth is this: all problems would be solved if only India would stop playing a role in Afghanistan and if the world, especially the U.S., understood (read ‘supported’) Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan. In itself this sounds simple, however, in reality it is not. Old South Asia hands will agree this is nothing new. (…) While the United States gave Pakistan considerable aid American policymakers never stopped building ties with India and never viewed India as an enemy or a threat. Today India and the U.S. have close economic and strategic ties. The U.S. also views Indian influence in Afghanistan as beneficial both from a regional and a global prism. The argument put forth by some analysts that as long as Pakistan is worried about strategic encirclement it will keep supporting proxies is not pragmatic policy. The world has changed and one needs to look at what are the drivers of policy today: economic growth. India, as a regional and global player, seeks strategic and economic ties with all the countries in Asia and beyond, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. As Pakistan’s land-locked neighbor, Afghanistan depends on Pakistan and would benefit from close ties. Bordering two of the fastest growing economies of the world, China and India, Pakistan would benefit if it concentrated its resources on economic growth instead of the seemingly impossible task of achieving parity with India. (Huffington Post)


Afghanistan Security Forces

ANSF Takes Over 7 Eastern Provinces

Seven provinces have been officially transferred to the control of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in eastern Afghanistan, officials said on 5 December. Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar, Nuristan, Kapisa, Parwan, and Panjshir are now officially under the direction of Afghan National Army (ANA) Corps 201 Seilaab, ANA deputy chief Mohammed Akram said that although the Afghan forces do not have modern and heavy arms, they will fulfill their their duty to provide security for the seven provinces from now on. “Corps 201 Seilaab has taken the security responsibility in seven provinces of the country. We are certain that the national army forces have the ability to provide the security in the country,” he said, noting that this is in spite of the shortage of modern equipment such as helicopters, forensic tools, and explosive device disablers. Corps 201 Seliaab Commander Mohammed Zaman Wazir said the army has already proven itself in areas where foreign forces have withdrawn. “Since the withdrawal of foreign forces from some of the areas in eastern provinces, we have seen that the national army is capable of providing this security. For instance, now we have transportation over Nangarhar-Kunar highway. We are hopeful that the army will be able to secure other parts of the country as well,” he told TOLOnews. (TOLOnews)

250 ISAF Bases Handed Over to ANSF

More than half the remaining ISAF bases in Afghanistan have been handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as the NATO-led coalition reduces its troop numbers, according to an ISAF spokesperson. Around 250 bases out of 400 have been entrusted to the local forces with more expected to be transferred in the future, Gen. Gunter Katz said in a Kabul press conference on 26 November. The handover primarily refers to the physical structure of the base and not necessarily the weapons and equipment used to defend the bases. “Of handing over bases to the Afghans, I would be very cautious in saying [it includes] all the equipment. It’s basically just what’s been used to run the infrastructure – this doesn’t include weapons or stuff like this,” Katz said. Most of the ISAF military bases remaining will be destroyed or given to ANSF by the end of 2014, according to decisions made by the commission founded for this purpose under the Afghan Ministry of Finance. On the topic of the peace process, Katz said that to date more than 5,600 insurgents have joined the Afghan governments reconciliation program. “I can tell you today that we have more than 5,600 former Taliban who cut their links to the insurgency, who have given up violence, who acknowledged [they will] obey the laws and are willing to be reintegrated in their villages, in their homes, in their society,” Katz said. “Every Taliban has a choice: he can be reintegrated and come home in dignity or be captured or killed by the ANSF and international troops,” he added (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)

Pakistan Security Forces

Pakistan Test Fires Nuclear-Capable Ballistic Missile

Pakistan’s military says it has successfully test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. A military statement said the Hatf V Ghauri missile was launched on 28 November from an undisclosed location. It says the missile can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads over a distance of 1,300 kilometers. Pakistan became a declared nuclear power in 1998 when it carried out its first underground nuclear tests in response to nuclear tests carried out by its neighbor and rival, India. Since then the two countries have regularly carried out missile tests. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. (RFE/RL)

Karachi police continue crackdown on TTP

Law enforcement agencies have arrested several key suspected leaders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a crackdown on militants in and around the Manghopir area, police officials say. Rangers detained more than 70 people in a 1 December pre-dawn operation in the area, media reported. Ten of the detained are suspected of having links with the TTP and are wanted by Karachi Police for terrorist and criminal offences while the rest were released after interrogation, Dawn TV reported on 1 December. An explosives-manufacturing facility was found in the area, and a huge quantity of arms was recovered from the possession of the detained suspects. TTP militants have become active in Manghopir, Sultanabad, Kuwari Colony, Pashtun Abad and Qasba Colony, said Najam ul Hassan, a senior police official. He accused them of killing several police and political figures, collecting forced donations and extorting money from local traders and distributing threatening handbills warning devotees not to visit the Manghopir shrine. A number of Taliban militants have been arrested in the past few weeks in the crackdown, Chaudhry Aslam, chief of the Anti-Extremism Cell (AEC) of the Karachi Criminal Investigation Department, said. Four men belonging to the TTP Mohmand Agency chapter – a chapter led by Qari Shakeel – were arrested on 29 November on Manghopir Road. (…) The rugged hill range of Manghopir is home to one of the city’s oldest Sufi shrines. The Manghopir shrine boasts sulphur springs that reportedly have curative powers, and a lagoon housing sacred crocodiles. The shrine draws thousands of visitors daily. “Residents of Manghopir and adjacent areas have been warned through threatening pamphlets not to visit the Sufi shrine and also keep their women at home,” said Haji Jabbar, a social activist, adding that Taliban militants have created fear among the Sheedis, a community of African-descended Pakistanis. (Central Asia Online)

U.S. & Coalition Forces

ISAF improves Afghanistan’s judicial system

Coalition forces are working with Afghan forensic evidence collection teams to ensure criminal evidence stands up in court. One sign of the priority both parties place on the proper collection of evidence occurred when Afghan policemen and Afghan Criminal Investigation Division staff received evidence collection training from coalition force instructors at the Police Training Center at Multi National Base Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, 17-21 November. The five-day, evidence-based police operations course promises to strengthen the integrity of Afghanistan’s criminal justice system. Complete with a simulated murder scene, the final practical application was orchestrated by several agencies to test the newly-learned skills of the Afghan Criminal Investigation Division and Afghan police. Organizations that teamed to host the course included: law enforcement professionals, embedded police mentor representatives, Security Force Advisory Team 12, Australian Federal Police officials, the Australian Defence Force Weapons Intelligence Team’s forensic lab staff, a legal team and military police. “This coordinated joint training effort was a success and achieved positive results due to the class material, advanced-class participants and instructors,” said Davy Aguilera, a law enforcement professional. Thirteen Afghan criminal investigative detectives, prosecutors, judges and police officials from Uruzgan province attended the training and tested their skills during the practical exercise. According to Aguilera, the Afghan students hold positions within the Afghanistan Provincial Police Headquarters and judicial system and instructors had to re-adjust lesson plans to test the students’ advanced knowledge. “The students did an exceptional job of solving the robbery-homicide case and demonstrated a good use of the basic evidence collection principles and techniques,” Aguilera said. Coalition forces are helping strengthen Afghanistan’s criminal justice system with forensic evidence collection training because criminal cases are being lost in court due to lack of evidence, said Charles Matthews, a law enforcement professional. (U.S. Army)

New commander faces challenge of winding down Afghanistan war

Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who takes over as head of international forces in Afghanistan next year, faces the challenge of winding down a war in a country where he has little experience using a strategy he did not devise. Dunford, whose nomination was confirmed by the Senate on 3 December, will be the fifth commander of the International Security Assistance Force since President Barack Obama took office, a leadership churn that worries Afghan war analysts. Friends and colleagues describe Dunford, the Marine Corps assistant commandant, as a calm and thoughtful leader who earned the nickname “Fighting Joe” on the battlefields of Iraq by creating conditions for success with careful planning and harmonious execution. But analysts expressed mixed views on his selection to replace Marine Corps General John Allen. Some worry about the No. 2 Marine’s lack of experience in Afghanistan and his vocal support for President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw most U.S. forces by the end of 2014. That could make him reluctant to ask for more time and troops if conditions on the ground are not right for a stable transition, they say. But others contend that after a dozen years of war, Dunford’s job is to execute the strategy he has been given, not reinvent it. And while he may be able to suggest some adjustments to the plan, he has very little room for maneuver as members of the 46-nation coalition edge toward departure. “The problem is at this point nobody is going to fight it. It’s the strategy. It’s not his choice,” said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “For good or evil, the question is: How does he manage the shift towards an exit.” (Chicago Tribune, Reuters)


NATO Foreign Ministers Discuss Afghanistan, Georgia

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance’s foreign ministers have had a “productive” session with Afghanistan’s foreign minister in Brussels. The December 5 meeting focused on the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 and a new NATO mission to train more soldiers and police officers. Rasmussen told journalists that NATO will contribute to the funding of Afghan security forces after 2014. NATO foreign ministers also held a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission with Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze. Rasmussen described NATO’s commitment to Georgia as “solid.” On December 4, the ministers also met and approved NATO member Turkey’s request to have Patriot surface-to-air defense missiles deployed on its territory to protect the country from possible attacks from neighboring Syria. (RFE/RL)

NATO Reaffirms Chicago Commitments to Afghanistan

NATO Foreign Ministers on 5 December reaffirmed their Chicago summit commitments toward Afghanistan to contribute to the long-term support of the national security forces, NATO said. The ministers agreed at the Chicago summit in May to fund the Afghan forces with the Afghan government taking on more of the responsibility as its economy strengthens. “At the Chicago Summit in May, we committed to play our part in developing appropriate, coherent, and effective funding mechanisms for the Afghan forces. Today 52 nations reaffirmed those commitments. And we took a step forward by agreeing to develop further a funding mechanism which will complement the broader international efforts within a robust accountability framework”, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday at a press conference in Brussels. “For its part, the Afghan government is committed to taking on an increasingly large share of the funding as the Afghan economy and its own resources grow”, Rasmussen added. Afghan foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, ISAF representatives and major Afghan donors such as Japan, European Union and the United Nations also attended the conference. NATO has once again pledged funding of the Afghan security and launching a training mission after the combat role ends in 2014. (TOLOnews)


UN, Rights Watchdog Decry Wave Of Afghan Executions

The United Nations’ human rights body has decried Afghanistan’s decision to execute 14 prisoners over a two-day span. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on 22 November voiced “serious concern” over the execution of the 14 death row inmates at a prison outside Kabul on 20 and 21 November. She said that under Afghanistan’s international obligations, capital punishment “must be reserved for the most serious crimes and only applied after the most rigorous judicial process.” Pillay also noted that “shortcomings in the Afghan judicial procedure have raised serious questions about such cases.” On 21 November, London-based rights group Amnesty International also expressed regret over the executions, asking whether “the executions had more to do with political gain rather than justice.” Amnesty International questioned the timing, noting that the Afghan government had avoided executions in recent years. Amnesty said it understood that President Hamid Karzai is under pressure to prove he can maintain the rule of law and to advance peace efforts with the Taliban. The rights watchdog and anti-death-penalty group warned that it had news of more Afghan executions to come. The Taliban, which maintains an armed insurrection to undermine central government control, has warned of reprisals if any of its members are executed. Public executions, including by stoning, were a frequent event during Taliban rule of wide swaths of Afghanistan from the mid-90s until the U.S.-led coalition ousted that fundamentalist regime in late 2001. (RFE/RL)

UN Says Opium Poppy Growth Sends ‘Alarm Signal’

The United Nations says the increase in this year’s opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan sends a “serious alarm signal.” In its annual survey released on 20 November, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the area under cultivation has increased by 18 percent despite tough government eradication efforts. Yury Fedotov, the executive director of UNODC, says high opium prices have led to the increase. He called for “a sustained effort by the Afghan government and international stakeholders to address illicit cultivation with a balanced approach between development and law enforcement measures.” Despite the increased area of cultivation, the UNODC says estimated opium production in the country actually fell 36 percent because of a blight on the crop and bad weather. Afghanistan produces about 90 percent of the world’s opium. (RFE/RL)


Militants lure minors into committing suicide bombings

It’s no secret that militants often try to lure young boys into becoming suicide bombers, but now more anecdotal evidence is emerging that shows that the insurgents are drugging and paying off the youths. Pakistani officials have decided to test suicide bombers due to recent cases where the bombers detained seemed to be semi-conscious upon apprehension. (…) In a typical scenario, a suicide-bombing mission requires three key players: the amir (boss), the rahbar (handler) and the fidayee (suicide bomber), Mukarram Khurrasani, a TTP spokesman, told Central Asia Online. “But the rahbar is the key to success,” he said. “He is entrusted with identifying the target, providing the logistics and carrying the fidayee to the target.” The Taliban use drugs and resort to other such tactics to ensure that the bomber doesn’t back out of the mission. But the trend is adding more fuel to the fire in terms of resentment toward the militants and the tactics they use to commit their attacks. “The recruiters and people motivating kids for suicide attacks are perhaps the most hated and condemned; in our religion and social set-up, there is no justification to call them even human beings,” KP Governor Masud Kausar told Central Asia Online. “They deserve no mercy, but we can’t become barbarians as they have.” “What kind of people are they?” he asked of those who turn 13-year-olds into suicide bombers. “(They’re) bringing a bad name to Islam.” Police are interrogating a number of suspected handlers and recruiters in an effort to break up the network that is recruiting children to commit such inhuman acts, he said. (Central Asia Online)


Afghanistan Supports U.S. Efforts on Taliban Prisoner Swap

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin said his government fully supports U.S. efforts to secure the release of an American soldier believed to be held hostage by the Taliban-linked Haqqani insurgent network. “We have no problem in the U.S. government engaging the Taliban directly to secure that objective,” Ludin said in an interview on the sidelines of the 5 December NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. “But when it comes to direct negotiations with the Taliban in the context of the peace process, any direct negotiations will have to be and can only be between the Afghan government and the Taliban.” U.S. officials have engaged in behind-the-scenes exploratory contacts with the Taliban and the Haqqani insurgent networks. Negotiations with Taliban representatives in Qatar broke down in March. The sides had discussed a possible swap of five Taliban prisoners held in the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay for the 26-year-old American sergeant detained since June 2009. North Atlantic Treaty Organization members discussed the status of its deployment in Afghanistan today at a meeting of Foreign Ministers in Brussels. The U.S., which is planning to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan after the alliance withdraws by 2014, is negotiating a new security agreement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today at a NATO press briefing. (Bloomberg)

At NATO, Clinton tells US allies they must fulfill aid pledges for Afghan security after 2014

The Obama administration is pressing its European allies to follow through on their pledges to Afghanistan’s security after most international troops withdraw in 2014. Speaking at NATO headquarters, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told allies it is “crucial for every nation to follow through on their commitments, and for those who haven’t yet committed any funding to do so.” Donors pledged $4.1 billion a year to support Afghan forces from 2015 to 2017. The money is a key plank of the U.S. strategy to leave behind a secure Afghanistan after battling insurgents for more than a decade. Europe’s debt crisis has raised fears that some of the pledges won’t be fulfilled. And in an era of defense cutbacks, Washington doesn’t want to get stuck with the check. (Fox News)

U.S. Envoy To Pakistan And Afghanistan To Step Down

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, will be stepping down effective as of 14 December. His spokeswoman said Grossman will be returning to private life. The spokeswoman also quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as thanking Grossman for creating a “diplomatic surge” that has “put in place a network of regional and international support for Afghanistan post 2014 and into the next decade.” Grossman has traveled extensively in the region, and his efforts are credited with helping to persuade Pakistan to reopen its border crossings with Afghanistan to NATO convoys earlier this year. They had been closed amid a row over the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a U.S. air strike. (RFE/RL)

US Senate Approves $88Bn for Defence in Afghanistan

The US Senate unanimously approved a $631 billion defense bill on 4 December, voting 98-0 to authorize the defense forces budget including $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The bill was passed after five days of deliberation and the consideration of hundreds of amendments. But before it can be enacted into law it must be squared with the version passed earlier by the House of Representatives. The vote comes after last year’s agreement between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans to cut defense spending by $500 billion in the next 10 years. The bill gives a clear signal to Obama to not delay in withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported. The breakdown includes $526 billion for the base defense budget and $17 billion for defense programs in the Energy Department on top of the $88 billion for Afghanistan. There are around 66,000 US combat troops in Afghanistan fighting insurgents in the country. (TOLOnews)

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