LDESP AFPAK NEWS UPDATE: 3 January 2013
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GOVERNANCE: DEMOCRACY & RULE OF LAW
Afghanistan: Governance & Civil Society
Karzai to Meet Obama and Talk Security, Aid
President Hamid Karzai will fly during the second week of January to United State to meet US President Barack Obama and other US officials, the presidential spokesman said. President Karzai’s agenda will focus on five major topics, according to Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul, who was summoned to parliament on 2 January. The bilateral security agreement, currently being negotiated by Afghan and US diplomats; the number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan post-2014, the number of their bases and locations; peace talks; aid mechanisms in the so-called Decade of Transformation between 2014 and 2024; and equipping the Afghan army and air force will be the five main items on his agenda, Rasoul said. President Karzai is expected to press the US to put Afghanistan in the lead for all peace negotiations with insurgents. The Taliban have only held preliminary talks with US diplomats but have steadfastly refused to speak with the Afghan government. The trip comes as President Obama and his team are trying to determine the number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of all combat forces by the end of 2014. They are reportedly looking at a number between 6,000 and 10,000; there are currently about 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan. While in the US, Karzai will also meet his intelligence chief, Assadullah Khalid, who was flown to Virginia for specialist treatment after being wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber last December. Mr Khalid, who survived the attack at a National Directorate of Security guesthouse in Kabul on 6 December 2012, received substantial injuries to the lower part of his body. He was taken to the United States for treatment on 15 December. Karzai’s Washington trip was announced during US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s December visit to Kabul. (Tolo News)
Afghan-US Pact Ensures Future Security: Sediqi
The Afghan-US bilateral security agreement is vital for the future of Afghanistan and can help protect the country from insurgency and terrorism, Afghan Ministry of Interior (MoI) said on 1 January. Speaking to TOLOnews, MoI spokesman Sediq Sediqi said that the pact would be effective in training and equipping the Afghan security forces and helping enhance security in the country. “International support will be effective in capacity building in the Afghan security forces and in [safeguarding] the future of the country, particularly in the war against insurgency in the region,” Sediqi said. Even Senator Fazel Hadi Muslimyar, who is among the handful of lawmakers critical of the bilateral security agreement, still believes that it will be important in helping Afghanistan counter the neighbors’ influence. “I have a negative opinion about this pact, but it’s important for the current situation of the country and for preventing the intervention of Iran and Pakistan,” Muslimyar said. Afghan analysts are also generally positive about the pact. Political analyst Jawid Kohistani believes that the pact could help enhance intelligence cooperation between Afghan and US forces. “The security pact will provide better opportunities for training and equipping of the Afghan security forces and will be effective in intelligence sharing,” Kohistani said. Legal immunity for US soldiers is the main point of conflict between Afghan and US officials who are currently negotiating the pact. President Karzai, who will travel to Washington next week, is expected to discuss the matter with President Obama. (Tolo News)
Government Violates Constitution: Helmand Elders
At a gathering to mark the ninth anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution, a group of Helmand elders on 3 January blamed the executive, judiciary and legislature for violating the Constitution and other laws of the land. “The government is not implementing the laws equally. Those with power always violate the law,” one of the gathering’s attendees said. Helmand’s provincial governor, Mohammad Naim, who was also present at the gathering, urged the people to cooperate in the full implementation of the Constitution and enforcement of laws. “We should get together to fully and equally implement the Constitution. Yes, there are people who violate the Constitution to get personal benefit,” Governor Naim admitted. The Afghan Lawyers Network released a report on the same day that accuses President Karzai of more than 60 violations of the Constitution. (Tolo News)
MoF Amending Budget after Parliament Rejection
Ministry of Finance (MoF) on 29 December said that its budget committee is reworking the draft budget that was rejected by parliament last week and will send it for approval again. “We are working on the budget and will see if we can make more precise the already precise allocations,” Spokesman Wahid Tawhidi said. “And in keeping with our national interests, we will try to enhance it and see where we can improve allocations for development and administrative budgets,” Spokesman Wahid Tawhidi said. The Wolesi Jirga rejected an earlier version of the budget last week, citing uneven allocations for provinces and a large allocation for the Presidential Palace. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Tolo News)
Afghanistan 2014 Election Planning
Parliament to Review Draft Election Law
The Ministry of Justice on 29 December presented the draft of the Afghan elections law to the lawmakers. Speaking before the MPs, Justice Minister Habibullah Ghalib urged the lawmakers to consider national interests and the interests of the Afghan people in reviewing the law. The controversial election law draft was recently approved by the Council of Ministers after several weeks of delay and discussions. The new draft removes the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and charges the Supreme Court with its responsibilities. The Parliament is expected to argue in favor of reinstating the ECC and keeping the two foreign observers on the seven-member body. The Independent Election Commission is worried that the draft law might not be ratified early enough to allow time for voter registration and other processes to be completed before election day. It has stated that unless the new law is approved soon, the 2014 elections might have to take place under the existing laws, whose flaws have led to widespread abuse in previous elections. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Tolo News)
Rights Violators Should Be Kept Out of Elections: Activists
A group of more than 20 Afghan civil society organizations on 26 December urged the Afghan government not to allow human rights violators to participate in the upcoming elections. “We are concerned that insurgents and those who committed crimes against humanity may have a role in the elections. The government should have a specific strategy to identify them,” said Ajmal Ballochzada, a civil society activist. The activists also urged presidential candidates to select a woman as one of their two deputies. “In previous governments, the role of women was not so bold, but we urge the upcoming presidential candidates to choose a woman as one of their two vice presidents,” activist Humaira Aqeel said. The activists also called for a stronger presence of women in the Independent Election Commission, which could improve election transparency. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Tolo News)
Karzai Meets French Defence Minister
President Karzai met the visiting French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on 31 December in Kabul and discussed the security situation in Afghanistan. The officials also discussed the peace process and relations between the two countries after 2014, the President’s Office said in a statement late 31 December. The French defence minister is also scheduled to meet the non-combat French troops in Afghanistan for New Year’s. Le Drian’s visit comes as the last batch of 200 French combat forces left Afghanistan last month, a full two years before ISAF’s combat mission is scheduled to end. France has around 1,500 soldiers left in Afghanistan, the vast majority in Kabul. They are due to stay into 2013 to take responsibility for repatriating equipment and training the Afghan army. (Tolo News)
Afghanistan Sets Preconditions for Accepting Taliban’s Qatar Office
Afghanistan will oppose Taliban’s Qatar political office if the insurgents refuse to talk to the government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on 2 January. A new draft plan by the Afghan government sets three preconditions for agreeing to the office. The plan asks the Taliban to accept that they will negotiate with the government, clearly identify their representatives and give the Afghan government the right to close down the office when it deems necessary. “Unless the Taliban accept they’ll negotiate with the government, there will be no office for them. It is dangerous to open an office when it is not clear whom we are negotiating with,” Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul said. He added that the draft plan aims to pave the way for peace negotiations and is not a recognition of the Taliban. The political opposition has been generally receptive to peace talks with the Taliban. Several of the main political parties participated in the face-to-face talks in Paris last December. But civil society is sounding a note of caution about any hasty settlement arising from the talks, asking for justice for victims of Taliban’s crimes to be a prominent component in the talks. “The important thing in peace negotiations is a mechanism for justice. Otherwise, a just peace cannot be attained,” said Mousa Mahmoudi, Executive Director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. (Tolo News)
Pakistani Taliban Says Open To Talks With Islamabad, But With Conditions
Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has said his organization could be open to talks with Islamabad but that his movement would not disarm. He made the statements in a video released on 28 December. “We have never refused negotiations. We believe in negotiations that are serious and we can take part in serious negotiations,” Mehsud said. “But if the dialogue is frivolous and they ask us to lay down our arms, then it is not a serious dialogue.” Mehsud also put conditions on any peace talks with the Pakistani government, saying that they could only come if Islamabad abandoned its ties with Washington. The U.S. government includes Mehsud on a global list of terrorists and offers a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture. The Pakistani Taliban’s key stronghold is in North Waziristan, one of the tribal areas along the Afghan border and the site of most of the hundreds of drone strikes by the United States. (RFE/RL)
Taliban Representatives Went to Paris Using Afghan Documents: Faizi
The Taliban representatives who went to Paris for a peace meeting in December used Afghan passports, Presidential Spokesman Aimal Faizi said on 2 January. He pushed back against reports that the Taliban are unwilling to speak with the Afghan government and said the Taliban representatives’ use of Afghan documents is an indication of their inclination otherwise. “To those media [outlets] saying that Taliban are not eager to negotiate with the Afghan government, I have to assure you that Taliban travelled to Paris with Afghan passports,” Faizi said. He declined to provide more details, but the Taliban representatives at the Paris meeting made it clear that they were representing the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, their erstwhile regime ousted in 2001. Faizi also said the Taliban had reassured them that they had not sent suicide bombers in the guise of peace negotiators. He added that “other countries” had used them to assassinate high-ranking government officials. “Some other countries are misusing Taliban’s identity and attending peace meetings. When we asked the Taliban why they were sending suicide bombers as peace envoys, they denied this,”Faizi said. His comments come as Pakistan released eight Taliban leaders in an effort to show its commitment to help bring the Taliban to the negotiations. Taliban’s justice minister, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, and Mullah Omar’s former bodyguard, Mullah Azam, are among those released. The High Peace Council welcomed the action and said it will be beneficial to peace efforts. “The release of Taliban prisoners is a good and effective move for peace negotiations, and we expect the released prisoners not to join the insurgents again,” Peace Council member Shir Mohammad Akhundzada said. Former Taliban commander Sayed Akbar Agha believes that the release of Mullah Bradar, Mullah Omar’s deputy, would have a more positive effect in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. “Release of Taliban prisoners is a good move, but Mullah Ghani Bradar has not yet been released,” Agha said. According to reports, as many as 27 Taliban officials out of 100 held by Pakistan have been released so far. (Tolo News)
20 Released From Bagram in Peace Process: Sherzai
At least 20 prisoners from the eastern provinces of Laghman, Kunar and Nangarhar were released from Bagram Prison on 3 January as part of the reconciliation process, Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai said. The prisoners were released as a result of involvement from local tribal elders and the High Peace Council. The men have promised to cooperate with the peace process, Governor Sherzai added. “The release of this group helps us in the peace process and we ask all the involved groups to join the government in order to strengthen the peace process,” he said. Those released are thought to be former insurgent fighters, but it is unclear what precise role, if any, they could play in the peace process. But the High Peace Council said it will monitor the activities of those released. “The prisoners who joined the peace process are our colleagues in this process, and we will supervise their cooperation to see how they could help us,” Head of Nangarhar Peace Council Malik Nazir said. The former inmates asked the government to help them in reintegrating into society. “We ask the government to pave the way for us to find work,” one former inmate said. (Tolo News)
Afghanistan Ready to Negotiate with the Haqqanis: HPC
The High Peace Council (HPC) expressed readiness to negotiate with any opposition group, including the notorious Haqqani Network, which was recently put on a UN blacklist. The High Peace Council Foreign Relations Advisor Mohammad Ismail Qasemyar told TOLOnews that any opposition group that accepts the Constitution and cuts their ties with Al-Qaeda is welcome in the peace process. “Peace is a national process, and any group that quits fighting with the Afghan government, cuts ties with Al-Qaeda network and accepts the Afghan Constitution are welcome for peace negotiations…including Haqqani network,” Qasemyar said. Afghan Lawmakers, however, slammed the peace overture. “If they [Haqqani network] have called for peace talks, it’s a good move. But if it’s a government call, it’s nonsense,” Herat MP Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi said. Afghan analysts believe that negotiating with the Haqqanis could be beneficial if they are honest. “If they really want to end the Afghan war, then peace talks with the Haqqani Network are also beneficial,” Afghan political analyst Ahmad Idrees Rahmani said. The Haqqani Network, among the most lethal terrorist groups involved in the insurgency, launches attacks on US and Afghan targets from their sanctuary in Pakistan. Outgoing American General Mike Mullen recently called them the “veritable arm of the ISI” for their allegedly close association. The Haqqanis claim they will defer to the decision of Mullah Omar regarding the peace process and have stressed they will continue fighting until a settlement. The Haqqani network is involved in most of the deadly and coordinated attacks in Afghanistan, including the attacks on the US embassy in Kabul and ISAF headquarters earlier this year. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Tolo News)
Pakistan: Governance & Civil Society
Afghan pullout: Pakistan disallows transit of uranium ammo, deadly waste
Pakistan has linked transit of United States military cargo at the time of withdrawal from Afghanistan with certification that Washington would not transit any hazardous waste material and uranium ammunition through its land. The decision reinforces Islamabad’s policy of barring transportation of lethal goods by the US forces through land route at the time of withdrawal from Afghanistan, expected to start from next year. The federal government took the decision on the basis of recommendations given by Inter-Ministerial Commission having representation of Nuclear Regulatory Authority as well. The government has notified changes in Customs General Order (CGO) of 2012 that governs the supplies to the Nato and the US forces fighting in Afghanistan. According to the Customs General Order, Pakistan has allowed the US military cargo and non-containerised equipment to enter its territory at Torkham and Chaman borders. It adds, at the time of entry the US will produce a certificate that the equipment is “free of hazardous waste material, including depleted uranium ammunition as defined and classified in Basel Convention on the control of Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal”. While talking to The Express Tribune, an official of the Federal Board of Revenue – the issuing authority of the CGO – said that the border officials were equipped to verify the claims of hazardous free materials. He said in this regard Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has given training to the officials concerned besides PNRA will also be involved in the exercise. (The Express Tribune PK)
Gen. Kayani Makes Afghan Peace ‘Top Priority’
Pakistan’s powerful army chief has made reconciling warring factions in Afghanistan a top priority, military officials and Western diplomats say, the newest and clearest sign yet that Islamabad means business in promoting peace with the Taliban. General Ashfaq Kayani is backing dialogue partly due to fears that the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 could energize a resilient insurgency straddling the shared frontier, according to commanders deployed in the region. “There was a time when we used to think we were the masters of Afghanistan. Now we just want them to be masters of themselves so we can concentrate on our own problems,” said a senior Pakistani military officer stationed in South Waziristan, part of the tribal belt that hugs the Afghan border. “Pakistan has the power to create the environment in which a grand reconciliation in Afghanistan can take place,” he said, speaking in the gritty town of Wana, about 30 km (20 miles) from Afghanistan. “We have to rise to the challenge. And we are doing it, at the highest level possible.” On 7 December, Kayani hammered home his determination to support a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan at a meeting of top commanders at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi. “He (Kayani) said Afghan reconciliation is our top priority,” said a Pakistani intelligence official, who was briefed about the meeting. Major progress with Kayani’s help could enable U.S. President Barack Obama to say his administration managed to sway Pakistan – often seen as an unreliable ally – to help achieve a top U.S. foreign policy goal. Afghan officials, who have long suspected Pakistan of funding and arming the Taliban, question whether Kayani genuinely supports dialogue or is merely making token moves to deflect Western criticism of Pakistan’s record in Afghanistan. Pakistan backed the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and is seen as a crucial gatekeeper in attempts by the U.S. and Afghan governments to reach out to insurgent leaders who fled to Pakistan after their 2001 ouster. Relations between Taliban commanders and Pakistan’s security establishment have increasingly been poisoned by mistrust, however, raising questions over whether Kayani’s spymasters wield enough influence to nudge them towards the table. Nevertheless, diplomats in Islamabad argue that Pakistan has begun to show markedly greater enthusiasm for Western-backed attempts to engage with Taliban leaders. Western diplomats, who for years were skeptical about Pakistani promises, say Islamabad is serious about promoting stability in Afghanistan.”They seem to genuinely want to move towards a political solution,” said an official from an EU country. “We’ve seen a real shift in their game-plan at every level. Everyone involved seems to want to get something going.” (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Reuters)
Secular Pashtun Leaders Call For Decisive Pakistani Action Against Terror
Two prominent secular ethnic Pashtun politicians in Pakistan have called on Islamabad to take decisive action to end extremist sanctuaries in the country’s northwestern tribal areas. Asfandyar Wali Khan, leader of the secular Awami National Party (ANP), said on 31 December that Pakistan has to look for ways to end the “scourge of terrorism” in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and adjoining tribal areas. “The central government has to decide on how to move forward in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas],” Khan said. “We forcefully demand from the federal government to end the scourge of terrorism by whatever means it can. I will raise this issue [with the President Asif Ali Zardari] when I meet him. This is something a state can end. Political parties cannot end it.” The ANP has aggressively opposed the Taliban and its extremist allies during its five-year rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In retribution, the Taliban have killed hundreds party members since 2007. Bilour Ahmad Bilour, a senior provincial minister, was the Taliban’s latest victim. He was killed along with eight others on 22 December when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest during a political gathering in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Mahmood Khan Achakzai, the leader of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), said Pashtuns have become the main victims of terrorism in their own land. He said some international extremists were provided sanctuary and given training in FATA after the September 11 attacks against the United States in 2001. And it is those same terrorists, he said, who are now responsible for the bloodshed in the region. Addressing a gathering in Peshawar, Achakzai called on the Pakistani government to push out the “foreign” terrorists from their sanctuaries to restore peace and security across Pakistan. “These so-called foreign guests should be forced to leave FATA,” Achakzai said. “The Pakistani military should then leave FATA. The people of FATA need to be masters of FATA. Much like the ANP, the PMAP has also strongly opposed the Taliban, who are active in the Pashtun populated regions of northwestern and southwestern Pakistan. Islamabad says terrorist attacks in the country have killed more than 30,000 civilians and soldiers since 2001. (RFE/RL, Dawn, Geo.tv)
Rule of Law
MPs Seek Prosecution of War Criminals
Wolesi Jirga — or the lower house of parliament — on 26 December strongly denounced the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and called for the prosecution of the war criminals for killing thousands of Afghans. In December 1979, the Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan. They were forced to withdraw from the country in 1988, but not before the killing of 1.5 million Afghans, forcing millions into exodus and maiming tens of thousands. During their occupation of Afghanistan, 14,453 Russian troops were killed, 49,983 injured and 330 others have been missing. Many of the missing are presumed dead. During Wednesday’s session of the assembly, lawmakers passed a resolution denouncing the Russian invasion. “We ask the government to try the individuals who were involved in mass killings.” “The move will lead to the discovery of the graves of people whose families are still awaiting their return,” the lawmakers said in the unanimously-passed resolution. Ustad Mohammad Akbari, an MP from central Bamyan, called 26 December a national tragedy. He claimed the Afghans were still suffering problems due to the Russia invasion. Deputy Speaker Mohammad Zahir Qadir also described Dec. 26 a dark day in the country’s history. He said condemnation of the attack and holding sessions on this day was the responsibility of all Afghans, including political parties and civil society. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)
Government Should Name Land Grabbers: Lawmakers
Afghan lawmakers on 1 January asked the government to reveal the names of those involved in land-grabbing and take necessary steps to prevent future cases. Land-grabbing is a major issue for the Afghan government as a large number of the high-ranking officials and lawmakers are involved in illegally or forcibly occupying land that otherwise belongs to the public. “The names of the land-grabbers should be revealed. Their political positions should not prevent this,” Daikundi MP Mohammad Noor Akbari said. Lawmakers also criticized the government for failing to prevent the phenomenon. “The Afghan government has not taken the necessary steps in this regard. It should be taken seriously,” Kabul MP Sayed Ali Kazimi said. Meanwhile, Senator Hedayatullah Rehahi accused some lawmakers themselves of being involved in the crime. “Some of the lawmakers are also involved in land-grabbing, but the government is not taking it seriously,” Rahahi said. The Attorney General has accused high-ranking government officials, Jihadi leaders and members of parliament of land-grabbing. It has refused to name those accused and is yet to make a high-level prosecution in connection with the crime. (Tolo News)
ECONOMY, RECONSTRUCTION & DEVELOPMENT
Out With The Troops, In With The Afghan Investment?
Foreign forces are preparing to leave the country, capital is fleeing, and it’s the Afghan government’s job to stop it. To meet its objective, the Afghan Finance Ministry has drafted a package of incentives to assure companies and individual that their investments in Afghanistan will be safe after the expected withdrawal of Western troops in 2014. Outlined in a bill facing a parliamentary vote in February, the incentives would reward those who invest in the country over the next two years with significant tax breaks and the right to purchase land for a symbolic price. Najibullah Manalai, an adviser to Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, says the manufacturing, mining, and agricultural sectors would be the most likely areas of investment. According to the Afghan National Bank, at least $4.6 billion has been taken out of Afghanistan in the past year, a development that has been attributed to fears over increased insecurity and corruption after the 2014 pullout. Manalai downplays the impact the NATO withdrawal will have on the Afghan economy, but he acknowledges the incentive package is intended to “minimize such economic effects.” “We don’t think there would be a major economic impact, but we are concerned about such speculation in the mass media,” he says. “Such speculation could easily lead to economic downturn. So our aim is to counter such speculation and also to attract investors to Afghanistan over the next two years, which is a sensitive period.” (RFE/RL)
Afghanistan Offers Investment Incentives for 2013
Companies that invest $1 million or more in 2013 will enjoy tax exemptions for 10 years and will receive free land to establish their businesses, according to a new Ministry of Finance draft policy. “The land will be given free to them to build factories or business centers. We will not charge them tax for 10 years and will offer other incentives,” Finance Ministry Spokesman Wahid Tawhidi said. Tawhidi added that investors could also borrow from Afghan government banks. These incentives are part of a draft plan the Ministry of Finance is developing following a presidential order. The ministry said that about 80% of the draft plan has been completed. (Tolo News)
$10m Agricultural Facility Opens in Nangarhar
A poultry farm and cold room worth $10 million were opened in Kama and Behsood districts of Nangarhar province on 2 January as part of a program to help reduce opium poppy cultivation and encourage farmers to adopt alternative crops. The ministry of counter narcotics, which has spearheaded the inter-ministerial project involving ministries of agriculture, finance and rural rehabilitation and development, said that these facilities are part of a program to support rural and agriculture development in the fight against opium poppy. “For reducing the cultivation of opium, we will implement programs for rural and agricultural development worth $56 million in three provinces,” said Zarrar Ahmad Moqbel, minister of counter narcotics. Balk and Badakhshan will be the other two provinces, Moqbel added. The Nangarhar governor welcomed the new projects and asked the ministry of agriculture to continue supporting the province’s farmers to help fight poppy cultivation. “The implementation of this programme could encourage people to abandon cultivating opium and get involved in other agricultural activities. We call the ministry of counter narcotics to support the farmers of Nangarhar province,” said Gul Agha Shirzai, governor of Nangarhar. Afghanistan has struggled in the fight against the cultivation of opium poppy. Despite the millions of dollars of aid from international community and efforts by the United States, Afghanistan is still the top producer of opium in the world. The UN Office on Drug and Crimes says Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium. Opium cultivation is a source of livelihood for many farmers. Insurgents are also involved in the protection of farms and smuggling of opium. One of the insurgents’ main sources of income is from opium. Efforts by the government to introduce alternative crops such as saffron have had limited success. (Tolo News)
Afghan-US Company to Build Oil Refinery
An oil refinery with an investment of $700 million will be constructed in northern Afghanistan by a joint US-Afghan company, Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) said Sunday. The American company, AFM Co., will help establish the facility capable of refining 60,000 barrels of oil a day when the plant opens in 2016, AISA officials said. “Following the commencement of this company’s work in Afghanistan, there will be no need to ship crude oil abroad,” said Wafiullah Eftekhar, head of AISA. The oil refinery news comes as Afghanistan Industries Union officials welcomed a 40 percent increase in tariffs on imported fruit juice to help domestic producers. “We are optimistic towards these commitments of the government. This act will encourage [domestic] investments in the country,” Shirbaz Kaminzada, Head of Afghanistan Industries Union. The Union also asked the government to follow through on its promise to support all industrial sectors across the country. AISA said that more industrial parks will be established in different provinces of country. But they also demanded that the government move the military bases from the vicinity of the Pul-e-Charkhi industrial park because they pose security risks to factories. An Afghan juice company suffered a $10 million loss after a suicide attack on a foreign military contractor located nearby. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Tolo News)
Exports of Dried Fruits Decline: Officials
Exports of Afghan dried fruits have decreased by about 200 tons since last year, Afghan Raisins, Fruits and Vegetables Export Promotion Agency said on 1 January. The Agency said that some businesses export locally grown low-quality fruit or foreign-produced dried fruits, damaging the Afghan brand. Membership of the Agency is optional, so many exporters do not abide by export-quality product standards. “Optional membership has a negative effect on Afghanistan’s exports because lots of low-quality and foreign fruits have been exported as products of Afghanistan,” said Agency head Sayed Azim Mostafa. Mostafa asked the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the Afghan Customs Department to enforce quality standards so that sub-standard products are not exported. Afghan dried fruits are exported to 43 countries in Asia, Europe and America, according to the Agency. (Tolo News)
Afghan Carpets Selected for International Carpet Awards
Two Afghan carpets, woven in Bamiyan and Kabul, have been selected for the international Carpet Design Awards at the DOMOTEX Flooring Trade Fair 2013 in Germany, the Afghan Carpet Producers and Exporters Union said on 2 January. The Union has said that the selected carpets are unique and high-quality, woven with natural dyes. The design of the carpet produced in Kabul is inspired by a Mamluk Sultan carpet woven around 500 years ago in Egypt, while the carpet produced in Bamyan reflects an abstract image. “This carpet of ours is designed from a Mamluk Sultan carpet woven in Egypt in the 16th century. We are sure that this year again Afghan carpets will win first place,” said Haji Nabi, a Union official. A Bamiyan carpet won the award in 2008. Held in Hannover, Germany, DOMOTEX is an international fair of flooring trade, with 1,400 exhibitors from more than 60 countries for 2013, among which a number compete for the Carpet Design Awards. Union officials asked the government to offer greater support to the carpet industry, one of Afghanistan’s main traditional crafts that offers jobs to a large number of people. (Tolo News)
Khalili Laments Lack of Government Capacity
Second vice president on 29 December expressed concerns that despite progress in workforce development, acute shortages of skilled workers remain in the government. “Capacity development in our workforce has been good over the last decade, but considering our challenges, this is not sufficient to meet our needs in all sectors,” Khalili said. Speaking in a three-day workshop by the Ministry of Public Health, Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili said that poor human capital is the biggest challenge for the government after security. Khalili urged that all government organs must work to create sustainable capacity and improve human capital in the country. He also criticized the uneven provision of health services in various areas of the country. But Minister of Public Health Dr. Soraya Dalil blamed the difference in provision of health services on security problems and political intervention in personnel recruitment. “Security challenges cause hindrances in providing vaccines to children in many parts of the country. And intervention in recruiting health officials is also a challenge in the Ministry of Public Health,” Dr. Dalil said. Ministry of Public Health statistics show that four out of five children — around 80% — receive vaccinations for eight different illnesses. Thirty-four cases of polio have been recorded in 2012. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Tolo News)
Efforts to Bring Standards in Production Sectors
The technical committee of the National Norms and Standards Agency has approved 150 standards in 13 production sectors to improve the quality of the Afghan products. Officials have linked the lack of standards in the production sector so far to the widespread corruption. Some lawmakers expressed their concerns that corruption may prevent the full implementation of standards. There are rising concerns about substandard quality products entering Afghanistan. MujibRahmanKhatir, deputy director of the committee, said the standards will also prevent low-quality material from entering the country. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Agencies)
UN appeals for Afghan refugee aid as harsh winter proves deadly
The deadly struggle with Afghanistan’s bitter winter is only likely to get worse in the coming years, a top UN official warned, as he called for more aid money to be dedicated to emergency relief. At least two children are already reported to have died from the cold this year in Kabul’s makeshift refugee camps, crammed with tens of thousands of Afghans who have fled violence or desperate poverty, despite a drive by aid groups to prepare for sub-zero temperatures. “Each family already has two or three people who are sick,” said 77-year-old Shah Ghasi, who has squatted in the Bagh Dawood camp on the outskirts of Kabul for nearly a decade. “We only have hot water to try and keep warm – no stoves, no fuel.” Last year the bitterest winter in decades caught the country by surprise, and more than 100 children died in the cramped and squalid camps around Kabul. This year there has been a more organized effort to get food, blankets, fuel and medicine to people who sometimes have little more than a sheet of plastic to shelter them from snow and ice. (…) The scale of the problem is growing as violence worsens across Afghanistan. Nearly half a million people have now left their homes but remain inside Afghan borders, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the main organizations working with the “internally displaced people” as the settlers are known. About a third of them – some 166,000 – have fled in the last year alone, and the problem of sprawling settlements is only likely to grow in a country that is struggling simultaneously with war, urbanization, harsh weather exacerbated by climate change, and a population boom. Mark Bowden, the UN’s deputy envoy and humanitarian co-coordinator in Afghanistan, said: “The real message is that displacement isn’t going away, but we haven’t yet found the right ways of addressing it because of the complexity of the problem.” Land ownership is one of the most complicated and explosive issues in Afghanistan, and the government is wary of giving the camp inhabitants land rights that might encourage them to improve their homes, for fear it could encourage others to flood into the capital or other cities. But without better homes it will always be hard to protect families from the winter. (The Guardian)
Media Will Face Curbs, Pressures Post-2014: Afghan Watchdog
The media’s activities will be affected by curbs and pressures after the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, Afghan media watchdog Nai said on 3 January. Speaking at a press conference in Kabul, head of Nai, Wahidullah Tawhidi, said that Afghan journalists faced threats, financial problems and a lack of access to necessary information in 2012. These problems will become more acute in 2014, he said. “As everybody is concerned about the situation after 2014, I don’t believe that the regime will change or that the situation will worsen [significantly]. But the [powerful] individuals and entities implicated by the media for wrongdoing will try to limit the activities of media outlets,” Tawhidi said. Freedom of expression and a flourishing media are considered to be among Afghanistan’s major achievements in the past decade. But Afghanistan still remains a hostile environment for journalists. According to Nai statistics, more than 60 threats and incidents of violence aimed at journalists were recorded in 2012. Several were killed or beaten. (Tolo News)
Afghan census dodges questions of ethnicity and language
There are two questions Hajera Bashir does not ask as she goes door to door gathering census data in Ghor province in Afghanistan’s freezing central highlands: which ethnic group residents belong to, and what language they speak at home. With these taboo topics set aside, she quizzes families about everything else: their income and how many wives each man has, whether they can read and if their sons and daughters are in school, domestic details such as how they heat their homes, whether they have a toilet and if they keep chickens. The shy 18-year-old is part of a critical but controversial effort to count the Afghan population for the first time since 1979. Expected to take at least six years on a slow, province-by-province basis, it is possible only because it sidesteps tangled questions about the country’s ethnic balance. Asking about language is avoided because it can be used as a proxy marker for ethnicity. “We don’t ask for ethnicity or language spoken, this is on purpose,” said Laurent Zessler, head in Afghanistan of the UN Population Fund, which is supporting the project. “This country has so many issues to address between the political process, the economy and security, why complicate it?” Still, the complexity of Afghanistan’s ethnic politics means any kind of counting is controversial. The first results, from normally calm central Bamiyan province, showed an actual population barely half official estimates. The area is mostly home to Hazaras, a Shia minority who have often been persecuted in Sunni-dominated Afghanistan, and many took the findings as another form of attack. “Death to the enemies of Bamiyan! The statistics are wrong!” shouted more than 1,000 demonstrators as they marched on UN offices in the small town this summer, the Pajhwok news agency reported. A previous attempt to end the decades-long wait for a count of the Afghan people, in 2008, was scrapped, with the government citing security problems. In December, officials even dropped plans to unveil a new estimate of the population. Although war has often put swaths of the country off-limits to statisticians, bitter ethnic politics have also played a role in slow progress, because of the risks that a population count might reduce the official size of some constituencies or expand those of rivals. (…) It is hard to overstate how few reliable numbers there are about population or anything else in Afghanistan, or what a problem this is for those trying to bolster the economy, distribute aid, decide where clinics should be built or how many teachers recruited, or do any other kind of long-term planning. “The first step is to admit just how bad and conflicting many of the data now being used really are,” wrote Anthony Cordesman, in a recent paper for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (pdf) on the economic impact of the departure of western troops. The lack of reliable figures create “real world uncertainty levels that can easily reach 20-30%”, he said, citing population figures from sources including the World Bank and Afghan and US governments that vary from 26 million to 32 million. The estimates are muddied by years of violence, death and exodus, to Pakistan, Iran or further afield; there are only educated guesses about how many people survived, how many returned and how many have since been born (The Guardian)
CENTRAL & SOUTH ASIA
UN Envoy Hails Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan Cooperation in Fighting Narcotics
Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have had good cooperation and gained important results in their joint combat against drug trafficking and disbanding major drug trafficking organizations as well as destruction of drug production labs, a senior UN envoy said on 16 December. Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Iran Antonio De Leo made the remarks at the ninth trilateral anti-narcotics conference. (…) He noted that the UNODC pursues the two main objectives of facilitating the cooperation among Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as easing exchange of information and conducting joint operations against drug trafficking. “Many achievements have been gained through joint cooperation (among the three countries) to such a level that a total number of 17 joint operations have been conducted and growing talks at the level of anti-narcotics chiefs can be seen by three countries,” UNODC envoy added. Earlier this year, De Leo said that the international community recognizes Iran’s high capabilities in anti-narcotic efforts. (FARS)
Tajikistan To Block 131 Websites
Tajikistan’s communications service has ordered providers to block access to 131 websites, including social network sites. The service gave instructions late on December 21 to block the sites, mainly those posting music and videos but also Russian social network sites such as Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki. The Twitter website was also ordered blocked, as was topvideo.tj, the Tajik version of YouTube. Reports said Facebook, which was blocked at the end of November, was not on the list of sites to be blocked. Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a “representative of [Internet] providers as saying the sites would probably not be blocked until 24 December. (RFE/RL)
11 Killed Along Pakistan-Iran Border
Eleven people described as illegal immigrants were reportedly shot in Pakistan’s Pothar area, near the Iranian border. Local officials told RFE/RL the incident occurred on December 21 when unknown gunmen fired on three cars carrying the illegal immigrants to Iran. The illegal immigrants were reportedly Pakistanis, Tajiks, and Uzbeks. It was at least the second time this year that illegal immigrants headed to Iran were killed by unknown assailants in the Pothar area. (RFE/RL)
BUILDING SECURITY CAPACITY & SECURITY ASSESSMENT
Afghanistan Security Forces
Afghan police adopt new human resource tool to help ease transition
Fifty policemen representing the various law enforcement branches within the Afghan National Security Forces traveled throughout the country to the Capital Training Center (CTC) in Kabul to learn the ins and outs of the Afghanistan Human Resources Information System (AHRIMS). AHRIMS, an efficient, sustainable and complete human resource tool, is the medium that Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior will use to shape the ANSF as they maneuver through personnel management, support and towards self-sustainment. For 21 days, the students learned how to link the electronic pay system to AHRIMS, provide accountability to identify exactly who needs to receive pay, enable data verifications, register all police through in/out processing, monitor the issuance of new identification cards and provide end-of-the-month reports for leadership. One of the main advantages of the system, as Afghanistan and its forces move forward with technology, is a more modern, productive workflow that is automated and paperless. “Before this system we all had paper files, and we had to search through book after book … just for one document. It was stressful,” said Major Zabiullah, a policeman who serves in the Kapisa Province and like many Afghans uses one name. “Files would get lost all the time. Every process will be a lot easier now that we have [AHRIMS].” The lack of a legitimate filing system weakened the police force. Personnel records were lost. Eleven years of documents that kept account of education levels, work experience, awards, punishments, etc., were mismanaged or missing altogether. AHRIMS gives the ANP as well as all Afghan forces better control over personnel management, which will ultimately help bolster security. (NTM-A)
Can Afghan troops hold off the Taliban after NATO withdraws?
The umbilical connection between the US marines at Camp Leatherneck and the new model Afghan army in Camp Shorabak is a sandy chicane known as Friendship Gate, where Helmand’s Afghan garrison draws sustenance from its departing foreign advisers. Its dominant feature is a fortified American-manned heavy machine gun, pointing towards the Afghans. The formidable weapon permanently aimed at a supposed ally is silent testimony to a relationship that is crucial to Helmand’s future but remains a volatile mix of dependence, mutual admiration and deep distrust. The Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps is now 17,000-strong, gaining in confidence and competence and, according to local polling, generally well respected. It has managed to hold on to the main population areas in Helmand in the face of a Taliban attempt to retake lost territory and as a result the province’s towns are much safer than they were a year ago. But the ANA still cannot fight on its own. Only one of the 215th Corps’ four brigades is anywhere near full battle readiness. In fact, a Pentagon report in early December revealed that only one of the ANA’s 23 brigades across the country had reached that point. The Taliban’s success in infiltrating its ranks has contributed to the number of “green-on-blue”, or insider attacks, in which Afghan troops turn their guns on their foreign mentors. There were 12 such attacks in Helmand in 2012, all fatal, sawing away at the bonds of trust on which the NATOexit strategy is based. Even more importantly, there are early signs that the ANA may be struggling to hold the line on a critical front in the war: the ability to protect Afghan civilians from the Taliban. The latest UN figures show that the Taliban are now responsible for 84% of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, while the government and its foreign allies are responsible for only 6% (10% are unattributable). And the data for the August-October period shows a dramatic spike in those killings, up 28% from the same period last year, suggesting that ordinary Afghans are becoming more vulnerable as the Afghan army takes responsibility for protecting them. Brigadier General Ghulam Farouq Parwani, deputy commander of the 215th Corps and a 30-year veteran of Afghanistan’s many wars, insists his men can handle the Taliban threat on their own after US and British combat troops leave Helmand by the end of 2014. But only if they are given the tools for the job. (The Guardian)
Taliban Leaders Arrested, Insurgents Killed in Joint Raids
A Taliban leader was captured in a joint Afghan-Nato operation in the Andar district of eastern Ghazni province on 31 December, ISAF said. “As one of the most senior Taliban leaders in the district, the insurgent executed tactical planning, kidnapping operations, detainee operations and strategic planning to support the Taliban insurgency. He was directly involved in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces and in contact with local Taliban leadership,” ISAF said in a statement. Two other suspected insurgents were also captured during the raid, the statement said. It added that a Taliban leader and suspected insurgents were captured in a joint operation in Nad-e-Ali district of the southern Helmand province on 31 December. “The leader commanded a direct action cell operating in the district. He also planned and coordinated multiple improvised explosive device and ambush attacks against Afghan and coalition forces,” ISAF said. Meanwhile, a Haqqani leader was captured in a joint operation in Pul-e-Alam district of Logar province. The leader coordinated and prepared improvised explosive device attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He also facilitated the distribution of weapons, IEDs and suicide vests to insurgents throughout the district, according to ISAF. In a joint operation in Kunar, several armed insurgents were killed on Sunday. The operation was launched in Ghaziabad district of the province. (Tolo News)
U.S. & Coalition Forces
Afghan War Commander Gives Options for After ’14
Gen. John R. Allen, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, has submitted military options to the Pentagon that would keep 6,000 to 20,000 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014, defense officials said on 2 January. General Allen offered Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta three plans with different troop levels: 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000, each with a risk factor probably attached to it, a senior military official said. An option of 6,000 troops would probably pose a higher risk of failure for the American effort in Afghanistan, 10,000 would be medium risk and 20,000 would be lower risk, the official said. But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the options, said that a more important factor in the success of any post-2014 American mission was how well — or whether — an Afghan government known for corruption could deliver basic services to the population. General Allen’s options offer ascending levels of American involvement in guarding against the expansion of terrorist groups in Afghanistan and advising an Afghan military that has limited air power, logistics, leadership and ability to evacuate and treat its wounded. With 6,000 troops, defense officials said, the American mission would largely be a counterterrorism fight of Special Operations commandos who would hunt down insurgents. There would be limited logistical support and training for Afghan security forces. With 10,000 troops, the United States would expand training of Afghan security forces. With 20,000 troops, the Obama administration would add some conventional Army forces to patrol in limited areas. Defense officials said it was unclear whether President Obama had studied the options, although they said he was expected to discuss them at the White House next week when President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan visits. About 66,000 American troops are now in Afghanistan. (NY Times)
Spain Wants to Stay in Afghanistan Beyond 2014
The Spanish prime minister on 22 December expressed his country’s willingness to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, when all foreign troops are scheduled to leave. At a meeting with President Hamid Karzai after his arrival in Kabul on a surprise visit, Mariano Rajoy said they wanted to help all Afghans, just like they have been serving Badghis and Herat residents over the past decade. Karzai’s office said the president discussed Spanish investments in Afghanistan with Rajoy, who conveyed greetings from his president. They also discussed further strengthening of the bilateral relationship. Rajoy said Spain would like to invest in Afghanistan in solar electricity, rehabilitation and water sectors, as well as in railroads’ construction. In the 2014 presidential election, the government would try to provide security for all Afghans going to polling stations to elect a new president, Karzai said, adding foreign influence and pressures would not be tolerated. Karzai appreciated Span’s aid over the past 10 years and welcomed its investment in Afghanistan, a statement from the Presidential Palace said. “We assure them of having good opportunities in Afghanistan.” Spain has 1,605 soldiers within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) framework in Afghanistan. So far 34 of them have been killed. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan)
UK’s Troop Pullout Decision Well-Timed: Karzai
President Hamid Karzai, hailing the British prime minister’s announcement on the withdrawal of 3,800 troops from Afghanistan next year, said his country was prepared to take over security responsibilities. On 19 December, David Cameron told parliamentarians almost half of the 9,000 British soldiers would be pulled out of Afghanistan in 2013, a year ahead of NATO troops’ withdrawal and complete security transition to Afghan forces. The president welcomed Cameron’s announcement as well-timed, asserting Afghanistan was ready to take charge of its own security. “Afghan forces are ready to provide security and defend their country,” Karzai said in a statement from his office. The statement called the partial pullout an “appropriate” move. Speaking in the House of Commons, Cameron said a small number of British troops would stay in the country beyond 2014 to work at an officer training academy and be “involved in returning equipment and dealing with logistics”. The premier promised: “We will not be leaving Afghanistan in terms of our support and our help for the Afghans. We will be contributing £70 million a year to help pay for the Afghan forces, we will have an aid programme in excess of £70 million a year for Afghanistan.” (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)
US Drone Strike Kills Pakistani Warlord: Officials
US drone strikes killed a prominent warlord who had sent insurgents to fight in Afghanistan as well as nine other militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt, according to local officials. Mullah Nazir was the main militant commander in South Waziristan, part of the tribal zone where militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have bases. He is one of the highest-profile drone victims in recent years. Pakistani officials said a US drone fired two missiles at his vehicle in the Sar Kanda area of Birmil in South Waziristan, and five of his loyalists including two senior deputies were also killed. (…) In the neighboring district of North Waziristan, two more missiles fired from a US drone killed four other militants on 3 January but their identities were not immediately known, other Pakistani security officials said. (Tolo News)
Transition & Security Challenges
Afghanistan Announces Next Security Transition
The Afghan government says the next phase of transferring security from NATO to Afghan control will begin in two months. The latest transition will see Afghan forces assuming control of 87 percent of the country. With most NATO-led troops set to leave by 2014, the 330,000-strong Afghan National Army is assuming more responsibility, including leading combat operations. The upcoming transition will see Afghan forces take over control of 12 provinces, mostly in central and northern Afghanistan, as well as a district in Helmand Province, in the country’s restive south. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement that the impending transition was a “significant step toward our shared goal of seeing Afghans fully in charge of their own security by the end of 2014.”(RFE/RL, AP)
Afghanistan Faces Uncertain Future: Ghani
Afghanistan will face major threats post-2014 if its national forces are not fully trained and equipped, Head of the Transition commission Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai said on 3 January. Speaking in an exclusive interview with TOLOnews, he added that the country’s national identity could be in jeopardy and some neighboring countries might be banking on the government’s collapse. “We are facing the threat of losing our national identity. Our neighbors, some international experts and those who do not want the good of Afghanistan are waiting for a regime collapse,” Ahmadzai said. There’s anxiety among ordinary Afghans about the future, but Ashraf Ghani added that even government officials are worried about the future.”Government officials are also afraid of the uncertain situation of the country after 2014,” Ghani added. This comes as top ISAF commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, has presented three contingencies about the presence of US troops in Afghanistan after 2014. The first scenario calls for 6,000 troops, and the second and third plans ask for 10,000 to 20,000 forces after 2014. President Hamid Karzai will visit his American counterpart next week to discuss these and other security-related issues. Lack of capacity, inadequate resources and a functionally nonexistent air force are considered the main shortfalls of the Afghan security forces as they take charge of protecting the country after the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan. To ease the pressure on the security forces, Afghanistan is trying hard to bring the Taliban into peace negotiations. Pakistan seems to be cooperating lately, but the process is still far from being on a stable track. (Tolo News)
Taliban Sympathizer In Police Force Helps Kill Officers
Afghan officials say a police officer loyal to the Taliban helped a group of Taliban fighters sneak into a remote police post and kill at least three other police officers. The Taliban raid happened before dawn on 27 December in Tarin Kot, the capital of the Uruzgan Province. Police spokesman Farid Ahmad Aiel said the Taliban sympathizer called the militants while the other officers were sleeping and told them to carry out the attack. He later fled with the attackers. Abdullah Hemat, a spokesman for Uruzgan’s provincial administration, confirmed the incident and also blamed a Taliban infiltrator. Insider attacks by Afghan police and soldiers have become a major concern as Kabul hires many new recruits to bolster its security forces ahead of NATO’s planned withdrawal by the end of 2014. (RFE/RL, AFP)
Afghan warlord vows fresh attacks on NATO troops
Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar vowed in an interview published on 2 January to kill as many Western soldiers as possible before NATO combat forces withdraw from the country in 2014. Hekmatyar, a former prime minister who leads Afghanistan’s second largest militant group Hezb-i-Islami, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that fresh attacks would send a warning to “others waiting to invade Afghanistan”. “Before the withdrawal of invading forces, the Mujahideen would like to witness with their own eyes a scene that will teach the invaders to never think of coming this way again,” he said in a video obtained by the Telegraph in response to questions asked through an intermediary. Hekmatyar, designated a global terrorist by the United States, warned that Afghanistan could collapse into bloody civil unrest after NATO troops withdraw, 13 years after the US-led invasion. “The fact is that the government has failed,” said the former premier, who is shown in the video with a white beard and wearing a black turban. “We might have a dreadful situation after 2014 which no one could have anticipated.” NATO is aiming to train 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police by the end of 2014 to take over responsibility for security. (AFP)
Panetta Praises Security Transition Progress in Afghanistan
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lauded Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s announcement that Afghanistan has entered the second to last stage of the transition of security responsibility from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force to Afghan security forces. “It is another sign of steady progress that the Government of Afghanistan has announced the fourth tranche of the transition process,” Panetta said in a statement issued on 31 December. Afghanistan’s security transition is designed to take place in five tranches, or stages. The transition is in line with the plan set forth at the Lisbon summit, ISAF officials said in a news release issued 31 December. “I congratulate President Karzai, his national security team, and the Afghan National Security Forces for their commitment to taking even more of a lead role for the security of the Afghan people,” Panetta said. As part of the fourth tranche, 12 Afghan provinces entered the security transition process, ISAF officials said. Afghanistan now has 23 of its 34 provinces entirely in the transition process. The provinces added in tranche four are primarily in the north and interior of the country, said officials, noting that one district in Helmand province is also included in the announcement. “This step demonstrates the success of our strategy and the progress that the men and women of ISAF, working closely with our Afghan partners, are achieving every day in Afghanistan,” Panetta said. “President Karzai’s announcement of the fourth group of provinces to enter transition is another historic step for Afghanistan as it gets closer to taking full responsibility for security of the entire country,” said Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of ISAF and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. “With the addition of these 12 full provinces to the transition process, Afghan National Security Forces are now taking the security lead in areas where 87 percent of the Afghan people live,” Allen said. This is a strong indicator that Afghanistan is on the path to full self-governance, Panetta said. “Going forward, our efforts in Afghanistan will continue to ensure that the Afghan people can secure and govern themselves, and to deny safe haven to al-Qaida. Today’s announcement marks another major advance toward those goals,” he said. It is expected that all parts of Afghanistan will have begun transition by the summer of 2013, ISAF officials said, putting the Afghan forces in the lead for security nationwide. Ambassador Maurits R. Jochems, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, recognized that the progress made in professionalism and confidence by the Afghan National Security Forces has enabled the transition strategy to succeed. Speaking about NATO and ISAF’s commitment to Afghanistan, Jochems said, “ISAF will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces until the end of 2014, and after that NATO and its partners remain committed to Afghanistan’s future stability through a new mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.” (Defense.gov)
US Pushing for Election Reform
President Hamid Karzai’s weak government riddled with corruption and the continued presence of militant safe havens in Pakistan will threaten Afghanistan’s stability after the withdrawal of US forces in 2014, a Congressional report has warned. “The administration view is that Afghan stability after the 2014 transition is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance and insurgent safe haven in Pakistan,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in its latest report on the post-pullout scenario. Among other efforts to promote effective and transparent governance, the US was pushing for substantial election reform to ensure that the next presidential vote, scheduled for April 2014, would be not experience the fraud seen in 2009 and 2010 polls, it said. Authored by Kenneth Katzman, specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, the report noted there was also an increased US and Afghan emphasis on negotiating a settlement to the conflict. “That process has proceeded sporadically since early 2010, and has not, by all accounts, advanced to a discussion of specific proposals to settle the conflict.” Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups are worried about a potential settlement, fearing it might produce compromise with the Taliban and erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing, according to the CRS — an independent research wing of the US Congress. To promote long-term growth and prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement in Afghanistan, US officials hope to draw on Afghanistan’s vast mineral and agricultural resources. “Several major privately-funded mining, agricultural, and even energy development programs have begun or are beginning. US officials also seek greater Afghanistan integration into regional trade and investment patterns. Persuading Afghanistan’s neighbors to support Afghanistan’s stability instead of their own particular interests has been a focus of US policy since 2009, but with mixed success,” it said. CRS said even if these economic efforts succeeded, Afghanistan would likely remain dependent on foreign aid indefinitely. Through the end of 2012, the United States has provided nearly $83 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, Pajhwok)
2012 In Review
Tolo News: 12 Events That Shaped Afghanistan in 2012
The Editors at Tolo News Service have picked 12 events for their potential to shape the country in 2012 and beyond. In rough chronological order, here are the 12 events that shaped Afghanistan in 2012.
1. Taliban open office in Qatar – giving peace a chance?
The year began with the Taliban agreeing to open an office in Qatar from where they could negotiate with the US. The Afghan government had long lamented the lack of “an address” for the insurgents, but reacted to the office opening dourly: The US had conducted preliminary talks in secret without consulting Afghanistan. Pakistan allowed several Taliban representatives to fly to Qatar, but once there, they didn’t have busy office days – they broke off talks with the US because it refused to release five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo. The peace process is limping along again and, after a string of talks and meetings with the Taliban, Afghanistan eventually came around and accepted the Qatar office.
2. Strategic partnerships – securing Afghanistan’s future
President Obama flew to Kabul late one night in May to sign the US-Afghanistan Enduring Strategic Partnership, commiting the US to help Afghanistan for 10 years after 2014. Iran voiced concerns over the pact, but Afghan lawmakers slammed it for interference and unanimously ratified the agreement. The partnership leaves out the critical issue of legal immunity for US forces post-2014. But the pact was part of a slew of similar agreements, including those with Germany, China, France, Italy and the UK.
3. Security transition – Afghans control 75% of the country
President Karzai announced the third phase of the security handover in May and the Afghan National Army took over all military operations in the critical South in July. Afghan forces also took over security for provincial centers and, eventually, more than 70 percent of the whole country as Isaf troops closed their bases and withdrew. Afghan troops also started taking the lead in more operations, incurring their heaviest yearly death toll yet in the process. A Pentagon report revealed that although only one of the 23 Afghan army units is capable of operating without help, violence was lower in 2012 than its peak of 2010. 4. The international conferences – long-term security and development impact
The international community, led by the US, tried to reassure Afghanistan that it will not be abandoned after the Isaf withdrawal in 2014. The result was a string of conferences in which they pledged significant aid to the country, beginning with Chicago, where they agreed to provide “appropriate, coherent and effective funding mechanisms” to cover the estimated $4.1 billion a year cost of Afghan security forces. The Tokyo Conference followed, with $16 billion in civilian aid between 2012 and 2015. The conference was also important for the Mutual Accountability Framework to monitor aid for corruption and irregularity.
5. Popular uprisings against Taliban – no more safe havens
After closure of hundreds of schools across Afghanistan, most notably in Ghazni province, the people decided they’d had enough. A popular uprising in Ghazni’s Andar district soon spread to 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, including Faryab, Laghman, Kapisa, Nangarhar and even towns 25 kilometers from the capital. Some reports indicated that the armed citizens had ties with Hizb-e-Islami, but their uprising served to dispel the prevalent image of popular helplessness in the face of a resurgent Taliban. They drove heavily armed insurgents out of their villages to open schools for children and resume their normal way of life, breaking the taboo of Taliban invincibility in the process.
6. Parliament dismisses key ministers – flexing the legislature’s muscles
Parliament flexed its muscles mid-year and dismissed the ministers of defense and interior, ostensibly for their failure to prevent cross-border shelling from Pakistan. President Karzai, who had previously kept ministers in place despite votes of no-confidence from parliament, promptly accepted its verdict this time. In the aftermath, Nato scrambled to assuage an Afghanistan nervous about the security handover. Parliament promptly reconfirmed one of the two dismissed ministers, but the episode cemented the body’s constitutional role. 7. Olympic bronze – Afghans unite in triumph
Rohullah Nikpa, the Olympic star who is a barber by profession, followed through on his debut medal in Beijing and won a bronze in Taekwondo in London, the second ever medal for Afghanistan at the games. Afghans erupted in jubilant celebrations after a long night of being glued to their television. Nikpa had united a nation in historic triumph, much like Kristy Coventry had done for Zimbabwe in Sydney. Nikpa came home to a hero’s welcome, greeted by members of parliament, government officials and throngs of citizens at the airport. President Karzai gave him the country’s highest award, and a Dubai-based publishing company gave him their “Most Popular Face” award.
8. Afghan Premier League – first professional sports league
The Afghan Football Federation teamed up with telecom giant Roshan and TOLO TV for an historic sports event, bringing the country’s top soccer players into eight teams that clashed for the cup. Players were chosen after a two-month trial and teams were named after each of the country’s regions. All matches were attended by enthusiastic crowds and broadcast on TV with live commentary. Herat’s Toofan Harirod, which had convincingly trounced De Spinghar Bazan in the semifinals, retained its unbeaten streak in the tournament and lifted the first ever Afghan Premier League Cup and received $15,000 in prize money.
9. Cross-border shelling – Nangarhar vows jihad
After continued shelling from Pakistan that inflicted damages to Afghan villages in the eastern province of Kunar, residents decided to act. They were flocking to register their names as volunteers for jihad against Pakistan. The provincial governor called for better weapons to retaliate, Isaf’s Gen. Allen visited Pakistan to quell the uproar, and Afghanistan threatened to take its case to the UN. But it took its case first to NATO, which responded that its mandate doesn’t include incursions into Pakistan. Pakistan said frequent raids from Kunar-based insurgents promoted the shellings and asked Afghanistan to do more to stop the attacks. The months-long episode induced serious diplomatic strains and led to the ouster of two Afghan ministers.
10. High Peace Council visits Pakistan – finally, some momentum for peace
The long-delayed visit of the Afghan High Peace Council head Salahuddin Rabbani finally occurred in November. During the visit, the Afghan peace officials met with civilian and military leaders in Pakistan. To show it wants to be a serious partner for peace, Pakistan released a number of Taliban prisoners to encourage the insurgents to come to the table for talks. They promised to release more, but Afghan lawmakers asked what good that would do, given that the insurgents have refused to talk to the Afghan government. But the train appeared to be in motion, with a peace summit in Paris and another to follow in Turkmenistan.
11. Billions invested in mines – fuelling economic development?
Major multibillion-dollar investments poured into Afghanistan’s natural resources sector, triggering hopes that the sector could propel Afghanistan into economic independence. First came the Hajigak iron ore deposits, whose extraction rights went to a state-backed consortium of Indian companies. The company will invest $7.8 billion. Together with a planned steel mill and a power plant, the investment climbs to $11 billion. A Chinese company won rights to explore the Amu Darya oil deposits, which will produce 12 million barrels of oil by its fifth year. That will meet Afghan needs and then some. But concerns remain, not least because of insecurity and corruption.
12. Intelligence chief attacked – another Taliban infiltration
An insurgent suicide bomber disguised as a peace negotiator entered the highly secured NDS guesthouse in Kabul and attempted to kill NDS chief, the flamboyant Asadullah Khaled, who survived the attempt. While he was being flown abroad for treatment of his life-threatening injuries, President Karzai alleged that the attack was planned in Quetta. Pakistan was having none of it and denied the allegations. President Obama visited the Afghan spy chief in Virginia and pledged his full support for his recovery. The attack was exactly like the one that killed former president and High Peace Council Chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani last year, raising alarms over Taliban’s ability to infiltrate the security establishment and strike at will at high-level officials. Source: Tolo News
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