Wednesday, March 31, 2004

WHY IS NATO SITTING ON ITS ASS? CONTINUED... I posed the question on Saturday and forcefully tried to remind NATO of its promises. This article on NATO's foot-dragging doesn't answer the question, but it reminds us that we should be thankful of the United States' actions in Afghanistan, despite its shortcoming.

Since December, promises made by Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey to provide helicopters were either delayed or not met amid concern over costs.

With growing impatience, the US stepped in. It will take off the rotary blades and pack the helicopters into C-160 heavy airlift carriers. But Washington did not want to foot the bill either. A US diplomat said Luxembourg would pay for the transport. The helicopters have yet to reach Kabul.

"We keep asking the alliance countries to deliver what they have promised. We are not setting unrealistic expectations. Everything we ask for is needed," said General James Jones, Nato's top military chief.

Nato had also promised to help with the registration of voters and to protect the polling booths. "That would require at least another 3,000 troops. Some hope," said a European diplomat based in Kabul. Last week Mr Karzai officially postponed the elections until September.

Diplomats now admit it will be difficult for Nato to create and command five new provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs). These small military/civilian units of between 80 to 200 personnel, first set up by the US 18 months ago, are designed to provide local security, protect aid workers and help demilitarise some of the 100,000 militia that work for warlords.
I, for one, don't think it will be hard for NATO countries to set up new PRTs. In fact, it's what the NATO countries want you to think. They're not 3rd countries--and hell, even New Zealand has their own PRT set up in Bamyan. American troops are running 10 PRTs, while Germany, United Kingdom (NATO) and New Zealand are running one each. Sadly, all of this boils down to political will. Time for NATO to lead.

DOD CONFUSION: When I was discussing the amount of aid the United States gives to the Afghan government, I noted that most "requests refer to 'Iraq and Afghanistan' or 'the global war on terrorism,' so it’s not clear how much money is going to what country." Linda Bilmes, in the Financial Times, elaborates a bit.

Just how much is being spent in Afghanistan is unclear. The mountainous terrain and the absence of transport infrastructure make it about three times more expensive to keep a soldier on the ground there than in Iraq. The Bush administration has gone out of its way to conceal the magnitude of the campaign by burying its military appropriation deep within the Iraq budget supplementals and "reprogramming" slivers of leftover money from other programmes. In an unusual move, President George W. Bush's two supplemental military budgets since September 11 2001, totalling $152bn, gave the administration complete discretion to spend the money either in Iraq or in Afghanistan. The Defense Department is not required to provide a breakdown of funding for each operation. However, informed guesses put the total cost of US operations in Afghanistan to date as high as $40bn.
If the $40 billion figure is correct, the cost of military operations in Afghanistan is ten times the amount of aid that is given to Afghanistan. Worth thinking about.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

SPAIN AND THE WAR ON TERROR: The Associated Press is reporting on a smart move on the part of Spain's new government:

The incoming Socialist government, under pressure over its plans to withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq, has agreed to double the country's contingent in Afghanistan to 250 soldiers this summer, an aide to the future defense minister said Monday.
This should make Tacitus happy, shouldn't it?

MULLAH OMAR WOUNDED? The German press is citing a Pakistani newspaper saying it happened earlier this month.

ZAHIR SHAH INTERVIEW: Afghanistan's former king Mohammad Zahir Shah still remains a father-figure to many Afghans, especially the ethnic Pashtuns. During the jihad against the Soviets, many of the mujahedin neglected by the Pakistani intelligence service ISI were royalist Pashtun from the Durrani tribe who swore allegiance to Zahir Shah. Since the ISI was selectively chosing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, from the rival Ghilzai tribe, as their main client, they started to look build relationships with people in Washington or Riyadh.

All of this is irrelevant to what I'm trying to say. Which is that Zahir Shah gave an interview to the Indian magazine India Today.

Q. Throughout history many great powers have got embroiled in Afghanistan's affairs. Now it is the turn of the US. What is your advice based on the wisdom of history?

A. I usually do not permit myself to voice an opinion on these matters as they are the policies of the Afghanistan Government. All I can say is that taking Afghanistan is very easy, controlling Afghanistan is very hard. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to win the friendship of the Afghan people so that cooperation is based on the protection of mutual interests and the country.

Q. Why has Afghanistan been subjected to such turbulent events?

A. Afghanistan's geographical position has a lot to do with the tumultuous events that have taken place in the past 100 years. It lies in the heart of Asia and at the crossroads of many countries. The incidents that took place are also an extension of Afghanistan's determination to stay independent, to have the right to self-determination, to defend its territory, way of life and culture.

Q. But in recent years religious extremism has taken root and caused enormous strife. Why?

A. I must explain to you that by nature Afghanistan is not a fundamentalist country. Afghanistan practises the holy religion of Islam. The majority of Afghans are very pious Muslims. But we must separate Islam from those who practise extremism, which is a new phenomenon to Afghanistan. It was unknown in Afghanistan before and it has been imported from elsewhere.

Q. Do you think there will be unity now?

A. I would like to assure you that unity exists in Afghanistan already and I am optimistic that it will be strengthened and nurtured. We have to work hard to solidify and maintain that unity. Of course, some responsibility also rests on our neighbours-they must help us in the unity of our country, which means non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

Q. What is your advice on how Afghanistan should conduct itself?

A. I think it should follow the policy of what we call baitarifa-it means not taking sides, being independent and neutral. Today we have to follow a policy of moderation, of respect for our neighbours and the international community. Afghanistan will get its rightful place once again in the comity of nations.

Q. How do you view India's role?

A. India can help us in many ways-in trade and by giving us the technological know-how to help us progress in the world of science and engineering. I count on India being a friend, having a close relationship with us and strengthening the ties that have traditionally existed between our people.
No matter what your opinion is of Zahir Shah, one cannot deny his wisdom as shown above.

Monday, March 29, 2004

ISMAIL KHAN'S CALL FOR REVENGE: The local TV-station in Herat broadcasted the funeral of Ismail Khan's son, Mirwais Sadiq. I was provided with a transcript of the March 24 broadcast ...

The mourning ceremony of martyred Alhaj Mirwais Sadeq, the Afghan aviation and tourism minister, and those who accompanied him, was held at the grand mosque of Herat this morning.

The ceremony was attended by thousands of people, officials in charge and representatives of the Afghan Interior Ministry, a delegation from the Northern provinces, the Islamic National Movement of Afghanistan, Farah and from other provinces of Afghanistan.

At the end of the ceremony a memorial service was held, attended by Gen Besmellah Khan (army chief of staff); the esteemed leader of the jihad, Alhaj Emir Mohammad Esmail [That would be Ismail Khan--ed.] (governor of Herat); delegates of the Afghan interior and aviation ministries; Alhaj Mir Abdol Khaleq, deputy governor of Herat; Lt-Gen Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, commander of the Military Corps No 4; employees of the civil and military organizations; diplomats to Herat and thousands of people from Herat.

Initially some verses from the holy Koran were recited. After that Enayatollah Shadab, manager of the Payam-e Mojahed monthly magazine; Mohammad Zia Rafat, spokesman of the Council of Herat; Sayd Mahmud Khaleq, deputy minister of education; and Mowlawi Hebatollah, preacher of the grand mosque of Herat, spoke about the personality and honesty of Mirwais Sadeq, the afghan aviation and tourism minister. They offered their sympathies and condolences to Esmail Khan, his family members and people of Herat.

After that Gen Besmellah Khan, on behalf of the employees of the government, read out a message of condolence and promised that the government would take action against his murderers very soon. Afterwards Col Abdol Rashid, an officer of the Military Corps No 4, and Abdollah Khadem read out their poems regarding the martyrdom of Mirwais Sadeq.

After that Mawlawi Abdol Latif Razi, read out the manifesto of the Council of Ulema, and esteemed Abdol Rezaq Ahmadi, read out the message of the people of Herat regarding the issue. The following was stated in the mentioned manifestos:

1. The planners and designers of the plot must be sentenced clearly.
2. Arresting and bringing to the table of justice the criminals who committed the plot.
3. Their definite support of their beloved emir (Esmail Khan).
4. Assignment of one of the sons of this province as the commander of Division No 17.
5. The security of Herat must be supervised by the sons of this province.
6. Prevention of propaganda and plots against Herat city.

Afterwards the esteemed leader of the jihad, Alhaj Emir Mohammad Esmail started his speech. During this speech he acknowledged the attendance of people at the burial and mourning ceremony of Mirwais Sadeq and his companions and said: "The events of yesterday and today showed that I did not have one Mirwais. I have millions of Mirwais."

He called the martyrdom of Mirwais Sadeq the martyrdom of the son of all the people of Herat and expressed his sympathies and condolences with the people and added: "I wish that the criminals knew why the people loved those youths. I wish they could know how much they were respected by the Muslims. This city gave 40,000 martyrs until the victory was achieved. But the betrayer (Gen) Zaher (Nayebzada) was appointed commander of the Division No 17 freely. He proved that he was not suitable for this position."

During the speech he asked the Afghan leader (President Hamed Karzai) to follow the murderers and bring them to the table of justice. The people announced their support for the leader of the jihad, Alhaj Emir Mohammad Esmail, during this ceremony.
Make of it what you will. But one thing is clear: the attempted assassination of Ismail Khan and his son's death has only emboldened and bolstered "the Emir Of Herat."

Saturday, March 27, 2004

WHY IS NATO SITTING ON ITS ASS? NATO SEC-GEN MUST ANSWER! Last August, NATO took control of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Two months later, in October, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing the expansion of ISAF's operations. The ISAF expanded its operations in January of this year. Working together with American soldiers, the Germans are now leading the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kunduz, a city in the province going by the same name in the north of the country.

I expected progress with the appointment of Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as Secretary General of NATO. (I lived in the Netherlands for a while and I shook his hand once but Dutch politics is not as exciting as one might expect.) After all, the first thing he did on the job was to request the homeland for Apache choppers for the ISAF. He visited Afghanistan. De Hoop Scheffer called ISAF’s expansion in Afghanistan NATO's most important and challenging task in 2004. If that's true, NATO is slowly losing credibility and, most importantly, failing the Afghan people.

FOR THE RECORD: De Hoop Scheffer on Afghanistan: "Our security depends on the security of Afghanistan." ... "We will try do everything to build a better, safer and thriving future for you, president Karzai, your government and the Afghan people." [ANP] ... "NATO is going to take a larger role in Afghanistan." [White House] ... "Our first, and immediate priority is to get Afghanistan right. We cannot afford to fail." [National Defense University] ... "There was general agreement on extending the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams. This will help spread stability beyond the capital of Kabul and assist the Karzai Government in its task of consolidating the country and strengthening its ownership of the political and economic recovery process." [Munich Security Conference]

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: With the help of Germany and the United Nations, the Afghan government is holding a two-day international conference next Wednesday and Thursday in Berlin's Intercontinentel Hotel where officials of the Afghan government will urge the international community to donate 4.5 billion dollars a year for the next seven years. The Afghan embassy in D.C. writes:

1 billion per year will be dedicated to the further development of education and social protection. 2.1 billion per year will provide for infrastructure improvement, in transportation, communications, mining, power, irrigation, housing and urban development. 750 million per year will be invested in security, rule of law, judicial and administrative reform and private sector development that will help create an economy sustainable to growth. The goal will be to double the GDP of Afghanistan to just $500 at the completion of the seven year pledge.
Ambitious but definitely achievable with the help of the rest of the world. The United States has pledged to donate an additional billion dollars and it is expected from countries like Japan and Germany to be generous. (China has already decided to write off the 18 million dollar it is owed.) There will be 65 delegations from 56 countries and 11 international organizations and financial institutions.

”THERE IS MUCH WORK TO DO” Colin Powell testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday. Here’s what he had to say on Afghanistan:

Mr. Chairman, Afghanistan is another high priority, and I was there last week. We are committed to helping build a stable and democratic Afghanistan. They had a very fine constitutional process at the end of last year where they adopted a constitution for this country that just a few years ago was a basket case, a despotic basket case. Now it has a constitution, and as you saw in press reporting this morning, President Karzai has scheduled elections for early September for both a new president as well as for a legislature.

There are still problems along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are still problems out in Herat. But as I drove through Kabul last week, you could see buildings going up. You could see women who felt secure enough in their life now to remove the burka -- about 50 percent covered and 50 percent not covered.

I visited a registration place in a school where women were registering to vote, filling out the forms, stepping forward, getting their registration cards and proudly showing to me that they are now part of the life of the new Afghanistan.

So we have accomplished a lot in Afghanistan, but here, too, there is much more work to do. I was watching some footage yesterday that we are going to use at the donors conference next week that shows some of our reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and one shot on this video was of the new blacktop road, complete with markers, that go -- the road goes from Kabul to Kandahar. And we will continue that road around to Herat, working with our Saudi partners, our Japanese partners, and provide a beltway for this country. But it's more than just a beltway. It is a road that will link the country together, give the central government ability to control the regions a little more effectively. It will contribute to the economic life of the country. But more importantly, it will also link Afghanistan with the other nations of Central Asia.

So the opportunities here are enormous and we have to deal with security. We've got to get rid of these remaining Taliban and al-Qaida elements. But we should not sell short, not only our accomplishments over the last couple of years, but the potential that lies ahead for a region -- the Caucasus and Central Asia, South Asia -- all being linked in a new hub of transportation and trade as long as we can keep the peace and security, and that's what we are committed to.

The 2005 budget, as I said, contains $1.2 billion in assistance for Afghanistan, which is on top of the 2.2 in '04 -- 1.2 already out there, and I will make a public announcement of the other billion dollars at the Afghan donors conference in Berlin next week.
I think Powell deserves praise for this honest and candid assessment of Afghanistan, especially his admission that “there is much work to do.” As he notes, about $2.2 billion dollars was appropriated for Afghanistan. But despite promises that the request for the year 2005 would be "north of $1.5 billion," it is only $1.2 billion for 2005.

The Defense of Department is appropriating $200 million under the
the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act, to provide additional help for the Afghan National Army. During this pivotal year, this authority is critical for advancing democracy and stability in Afghanistan. During my visit to Afghanistan, everyone I met gave very high marks to the professionalism and competence of the ANA. The President’s FY 2005 budget does not request specific appropriations for these three authorities, and therefore the Department would need to reprogram funding to use them.
It’s probably the only program for which money is specifically going to Afghanistan; all the other requests refer to "Iraq and Afghanistan" or "the global war on terrorism," so it’s not clear how much money is going to what country. What is known is that the Pentagon has requested
500 million to train and equip military and security forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and friendly nearby regional nations to enhance their capability to combat terrorism and support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, it requested $300 million for the Commanders Emergency Response Program, or CERP (read about its success in Iraq) which
enable[s] military leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs. This has been a remarkably successful program. With quick turnaround projects averaging about $7,000 each, commanders not only help people in their operations area, but also gain their support in defeating terrorists and building themselves a better future.
The $1.2 billion request for Afghanistan in FY05, which includes 300 million from the DoD, brings the total amount of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan to around 4 billion. Much of the money focuses on education, health, infrastructure and assistance to the Afghan National Army. It's far from what Afghanistan needs--but it's sure is a great start.

Friday, March 26, 2004

KARZAI THE REALIST: Hamid Karzai is postponing the elections until September of this year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

LOCAL REPORT: From the Herati newspaper Etefaq-e Eslam, published today:

Two horrific incidents took place Sunday afternoon (21 March). The first was an attempt on the life of the leader of jihad, Emir Mohammad Ismail (which was foiled). The second was the killing of Alhaj Mohammad Mirwais Sadeq, the minister of tourism and civil aviation, who was martyred. The attempts were designed by Zaher Nahebzada, (the former commander of Division No 17 in Herat) who is a criminal and a national traitor. All the citizens of Herat had a restless night after these incidents took place. However, the sincere mojahedin of Herat led by the leader of jihad, conquered the Military Division No 17 bravely and gallantly (on Sunday night). Nahebzada escaped, but his coup was foiled.

There is a question which has not been answered: was Nahebzada the only person behind these attempts or was there a bigger plot by the enemies of Afghanistan, and Nahebzada was only the agent of it? When this criminal (Nahebzada) is arrested and has surrendered to the family of martyrs, this question can surely be answered and the plots of all other criminals attempting to destabilize the situation will also be uncovered.

The important issue is that millions of gallant people of Herat, who are the patrons of martyrs, staged a huge demonstration in the city and shouted 'God is great'. In this way they proved that they will continue supporting their high expectations of the jihad and their beloved emir and such incidents can never stop them from doing so. On the contrary, they will step in this path firmly, shout loudly and deal with the enemies of the Afghan people, particularly their own enemies. This is because Emir Mohammad Esmail is not an individual; he is the pioneer of a idea and is a nation himself.

The most tyrannical and criminal aggressors, who committed genocide like Genghis (Khan) never managed to destroy the idea of this nation, for these ideas make history and the ancestors transfer their values (beliefs and desires) to their sons.

Yes, all Afghan people, especially the people of ancient Herat, promise to their beloved emir that they will do their utmost to preserve the holy Islamic values and national sanctities and will never ignore his orders.
Notice the use of "emir" in reference to Ismail Khan. More later on.

FROM THE AFGHAN RUMOR MILL... Top-officials of the Northern Alliance have been meeting to decide on a candidate to challenge Hamid Karzai in the elections planned for later this year. They don't seem to agree. The Tajik leadership is bitterly divided which increases the chances of a Karzai win. In addition to that, if his current vice-presidents (Mohammad Qasim Fahim , a Tajik, and Karim Khalili, a Hazara) are on Karzai's ticket, it could ease the risk of Karzai, a Pashtun, being seen as partisan.

Candidates named in the mentioned talks: Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdur Rasur Sayyaf, Yunis Qanuni and Ismail Khan. One man who won't be challeging Karzai: current defense minister Fahim. He is apparently planning to run as Karzai's deputy ("and thereby defying ethnic custom!"). Smart move, that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

INSEPERABLE PARTS OF THE SAME CAMPAIGN? "An equivalent increase in the Spanish force in Afghanistan would still keep them in the terror fight as something more than victims -- good for Spain, good for Afghans, good for the West." That's Tacitus catching up to reality.

AMIR OF HERAT: I don't think Brian is far off the mark with his analysis of recent events in Herat, though the view that Naibzadah is a commander loyal to Karzai is incorrect. Naibzadah is a Tajik (as is Ismail Khan; Karzai is Pashtun) and member of the same factional party (Jamaat-e-Islami) as Khan. He supposedly helped return Ismail Khan from exile in 2001. Karzai chose Naibzadah, thought to be friendly and non-hostile to Khan, so not to trouble Khan. Naibzadah figured that he had the support of Kabul and tried to become the “new Ismail Khan.” He failed miserably.

Monday, March 22, 2004

ASSASSINATION? MORE LIKE KIA!: Another interesting bit from today's Times article on Sadiq's assassination.

Attempts had been under way in recent days to dislodge him from his seat of power, Afghan officials said in interviews. Mr. Khan was in Kabul this week and met several times with Mr. Karzai to discuss Mr. Khan's future, and to resolve a lingering dispute over whether Herat was fully sharing with the central government the customs revenues from its lucrative border crossings with Iran. ... Several senior Afghan officials have said recently that they were considering moving Mr. Khan to another province.
Of course! Maybe Karzai can bring Mirwais Sadiq back to life, too!

If we are to believe that Sadiq was killed in factional fighting (and we have no reason not to), it means that Sadiq's death was his very own fault. Leading an advance on the enemy's headquarters isn't the job of an aviation minister.

SHEDDING SOME MUCH NEEDED LIGHT ON THE SITUATION: Since our friend David Rhode is in Pakistan, it’s Amy Waldman who clarifies things a bit. Surprisingly enough, Waldman outshines the Washington Post’s Pamela Constable. From today’s New York Times:

While accounts were conflicting over what set off the fighting, officials in Herat in western Afghanistan said it began after a failed assassination attempt against the warlord Ismail Khan, who is also the provincial governor.

Mr. Khan's son, Mir Wais Sadeq, the minister of civil aviation for the central government, was killed as he led an advance on the headquarters of a government commander whom he blamed for the assault on his father, said Herat's deputy intelligence chief, Abdul Wahid Tawakali.

The Pashto service of the British Broadcasting Corporation said the police, security and counternarcotics chiefs of Herat had also been killed, and the intelligence chief had been wounded, after seven rocket-propelled grenades were fired at Mr. Sadeq's convoy. Officials reached by telephone in Herat, however, said the police chief had not been killed.

Troops loyal to Mr. Khan surrounded the home and headquarters of the commander they deemed responsible for the attack, Zaher Naibzadah, and his brigade on Sunday night, and fighting was continuing. Reports that as many as 100 people had been killed were unconfirmed.
The mystery surrounding Zaher Naibzadah (whose name can be spelled in dozens of different ways) seems to be solved too.
[Foreign Ministry Spokesman] Mr. Samad said Mr. Naibzadah had been appointed corps commander by the central government six or seven months ago, although other accounts said he was only a brigade commander. … He returned in triumph — with the help of Mr. Naibzadah — in November 2001, and proclaimed himself emir, along with governor and corps commander, in Herat. Both men are members of Jamaat-e-Islami, a hard-line religious party.
This certainly isn’t the end of the story. Naibzadah yesterday claimed that Hamid Karzai had called him and assured him that he had the right to defend himself. It appears that Naibzadah has left town and doesn’t have any plans to be return to Herat any time soon.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

PRICELESS: Take a look at Foreign Minister Abdullah's shades. He certainly doesn't fail to entertain. (Photo via State Department.)

AFGHAN AVIATION MINISTER ASSASSINATED: The Associated Press is reporting that Mirwais Sadiq, the Afghan Aviation Minister, was assassinated on Sunday night. Sadiq is the son of Ismail Khan, a fundamentalist warlord who firmly controls the provinces of Herat (where he is based), Farah, Baghdis and parts of Numruz and Ghowr; all in the eastern part of Afghanistan. Khan also has a powerful militia at his disposal. A small-time commander by the name of Zaher Naib Zada called the AP and claimed to have assassinated Sadiq. I'm not familiar with Zada and it's not clear whether a) Zada was a rival warlord who assassinated Sadiq to get to Khan or b) Zada is part of Khan's outfit who was having his own problems with Sadiq or c) Zada is lying. For the time being, I'm placing my bets on option A.

The implactions of Sadiq's assassination are not known yet, but there is no doubht that it will absolutely pose a new challenge for Karzai, who's already had problems with Ismail Khan since he returned to Kabul.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

TURMOIL IN SPAIN: Does a Socialist victory in Spain—and therefore a withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq—translate into a triumph for bin Laden and Islamism worldwide? Only for those who don’t distinguish between the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. (See Tacitus: "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, initially connected only on an arguable conceptual level, are now inseparable parts of the same campaign.") The new Spanish government in Madrid can remove its troops from Iraqi soil and at the same vigorously wage war against the perpetrators of last Thursday’s attacks. Whether that will happen is up to the Spaniards; for now, it’s too early to tell.

It would also be foolish to think that al-Qaeda strook Spain because it sides with the United States and currently has troops in Iraq. As Fareed Zakaria explains:

[R]ecent targets of Islamic militants have been Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, not one of which supported the war or sent troops into Iraq in the after-war. Al Qaeda's declaration of jihad had, as its first demand, the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden does not seem to have noticed, but the troops are gone -- yet the jihad continues. The reasons come and go, the violence endures.
For continued discussion, see Aziz Poonawalla and Dan Darling.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

QUICK NOTE: Two quick things. My Iranian friends at the Voice of America inform me of unrest in the north of the country. Number 2: there seems to be some rumors floating around concerning a new emergency loya jirga. I'm not sure if these rumors are true, but at the moment I'm trying to find that out. More on both of these items later.

Monday, March 15, 2004

AFGHANISTAN: Drugs, warlords and mullahs.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

AFGHAN NATIONAL ARMY: The Voice of America reports on the successful rescue of two kidnapped Turks:

Afghanistan's security forces have rescued two Turkish engineers and their interpreter, who were kidnapped in December. Afghan officials say two kidnappers were killed in the operation and two policemen slightly injured.

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali told reporters the rescue took place before dawn Friday, in a town just south of the capital, Kabul. The captives included two Turkish nationals who had been working on a water project at the time of their abduction.
The remarkable part of this story is the fact that the so-called Afghan "security forces" rescued the two engineers, despite the 20-plus % desertion rate. Both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan police force faced large-scale desertions throughout last year because of relentless across-the-border attacks by Taliban. The desertion rate has considerably lowered ever since winter has prevented the Taliban from carrying out attacks.

In a related note, U.S. forces have launched a new operation in the east and south of Afghanistan.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

WHAT'S GOING ON IN KABUL? CONTINUED... A friend of mine e-mails an interview with Mohaqiq that was published in the Hizb-e-Wahdat's official newspaper on January 20th. The translation is as follows...

A: A huge circle of intellectuals and mujahideen are encouraging to contest the election. I think there is no other obstacle in this regards. The constitution allows me to do so and now with the blessings of God there is national unity in Afghanistan. I as a proud Hazara will be a candidate for the presidential elections and I ask our other brotherly ethnic Afghans to vote for me. The other reason for me running for president is that I want to prove that being Hazara is no longer crime in this country and one Hazara can contest the presidential election.

Q: We have been hearing the news of reshuffling of the cabinet in the government. Do you have any information about this and what is your views on this?

A: I don't have any information about any changes in the cabinet but in my personal view this is not important to me. The Ministry is just a tool to serve the people and you can serve the people by a lot of other means.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Amin Tarzi also notes that Mohaqiq "is running for president as an independent candidate. Mohaqeq... said that he is 'not a candidate of Hizb-e Wahdat or any other group.' Factionalism does not appeal to the Afghan people and, therefore, he has chosen to run as an independent candidate, Mohaqeq said. The former mujahedin said he has 'been on the frontlines against the Soviet Union and the [Afghan] communists...[and he] defended the people in the resistance against the Taliban.' Since it was not just one tribe or group of Afghans that fought against communism and terrorism, he hopes to secure votes from all strata of population, Mohaqeq said. Mohaqeq said he hopes the Information and Culture Ministry will provide all candidates equal access to the media."

WHAT'S GOING ON IN KABUL? CONTINUED... We know that New York Times correspondent David Rhode used to report from Kabul. But then he left. Is he back? Anyway, Rhode's story is relatively short but still very important.

"There were a lot of other problems in the cabinet," said the former cabinet minister, Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq. "But because of the national interest we had to keep quiet."

Mr. Mohaqiq's comments suggested ethnic divisions as well as tensions between Afghans like himself who stayed and fought Soviet forces and those who fled to relatively comfortable exile in the West.

At a constitutional convention completed in January, disputes flared between Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group, and Tajiks and Hazaras, two important minorities.

Senior Afghan officials disclosed this week that Abdullah, the country's foreign minister and a leading Tajik, was so angry at Pashtun actions during the convention that he briefly resigned.

In his comments on Tuesday, Mr. Mohaqiq, an ethnic Hazara who fought the Soviets and Taliban, accused Ashraf Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun minister and close ally of Mr. Karzai who went into exile in the United States, of undermining his authority as planning minister. Mr. Mohaqiq voiced a common complaint among veterans of the long struggle against the Soviets. "Maybe there are some other circles who are destroying jihadis," he said, referring to those who fought the Soviets in a jihad, or holy war. "My dismissal is an illegal dismissal and Mr. Karzai has done it by force."

Jawed Ludin, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said that Mr. Mohaqiq's departure from a cabinet meeting on Sunday after saying that there was no place for him there was taken as a "declaration of resignation."

Asked about reports that Mr. Mohaqiq had raised ethnic differences at the meeting, Mr. Ludin said, "He raised inappropriate questions and addressed them to the president."

At the constitutional convention, ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras complained of heavy-handed tactics by Pashtuns, particularly by Mr. Ghani and Mr. Karzai's brothers, Qayyum and Wali. They accused the Pashtun officials of playing an ethnic card. "People left more polarized," said a senior official who is an ethnic Tajik.

A separate dispute at the convention involving the foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah, who uses one name, centered on the issue of Afghans who remained during years of war and those who went into exile.

Senior Afghan officials said that during the convention Dr. Abdullah, who stayed in Afghanistan during the fighting, pushed for a requirement that no cabinet minister be able to hold dual citizenship, as do Mr. Ghani and Interior Minister Ali Jalali, who also lived in exile. Both men are ethnic Pashtuns. Dr. Abdullah resigned at one point over the citizenship issue, but withdrew his resignation when a compromise was reached, senior officials said.

A senior Pashtun official said the tactics were not "heavy-handed" and said Tajiks were playing the ethnic card. He said he believed the dual citizenship issue was an effort by Dr. Abdullah to single out certain Pashtun ministers.
Can you imagine the headlines if the dual-citizenship issue had stopped the ratification of the new Afghan constitution? Anyhow, I think the jihad veterans are being overzealous. Abdullah, Ghani and Jalali (the last one was my colleague briefly at the Voice of America) are all patriotic Afghans. Abdullah--who was taught English by British MI-6 agents--was Ahmed Shah Massoud's confidant. Ghani and Jalali left very lucrative lives behind in Northern Virginia to help rebuild their country.

For the record, I don't believe Abdullah would quit his job as Foreign Minister. No way; he's having too much fun and he has a lot of friends in different places (such as the United Nations, Foggy Bottom and France)!

UPDATE: Where is the Post's Pamela Constable when you need her?

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

WHAT'S GOING ON IN KABUL? Yesterday, Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq resigned from his post as planning minister in the transitional government of Afghanistan. Today, he gave a press-conference denying he had resigned and instead claimed that he had been removed in an "illegal move" because of plans to run against Hamid Karzai in this year's presidential elections. He also claimed that someone has been threatening him via telephone for the past few days. Here’s a Reuters wire report with additional information...

Mohaqiq told a news conference he had walked out of the meeting in protest against Karzai's decision to transfer some of his ministry's powers to Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, but he denied that he had quit.

"I quit the meeting because of the argument I had with Karzai and then later they said I had resigned and appointed somebody else," he said, adding later to Reuters: "My removal is certainly linked to my announcement that I will be a presidential candidate." Mohaqiq called his sacking illegal and said that he had received threats warning him not to run for the presidency. He accused Ahmadzai of trying to launch a purge of the cabinet. "This is just the start. This will probably happen to others too. There is a circle which wants to get hold of the country's vital arteries and purge others."
Meanwhile, Karzai, through his spokesman, is insisting that Mohaqiq simply resigned.

A couple of background notes on Mohaqiq.

Mohaqiq is, according to its website, Chairman of the Political Committee of Hizb-e-Wahdat--formerly known as Hizb-e-Wahdat-e- Islami-yi Afghanistan--which the principal Shi’a party in Afghanistan with support mostly from the ethnic Hazaras. Hizb-e-Wahdat was originally formed by Abdul Ali Mazari in order to unite eight Shi'a parties in the run-up to the anticipated collapse of the communist government. Its current leader is Mohammed Karim Khalili, whose militia currently controls most of Bamiyan province and some of Kabul. Mohaqiq mujahedin forces fought in a brutal fight over Kabul in the early 90s. His forces and the Hazaras were ethnically cleansed by the Taliban in 1997; Hizb-e-Wahdat's then-leader Ustad Abdul Ali Mazari was martyred. (See Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban" for details of the atrocious events in Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif.) Hizb-e Wahdat has received considerable support from Iran, who have been supporting anything that's Shia in Afghanistan.

Back to the point. Mohaqiq has been courting his Hazara constituents for almost a year now. Although unexpected, his candidacy for president is not surprising. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Hamid Karzai and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq in China

Note: A literal translation of Hizb-E-Wahdat comes out to be "Party of Unity." Its official name is the Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan.

Monday, March 08, 2004

MEMORABLE QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's sounds like curry, but it's really ketchup." -- longtime friend in the Netherlands speaking of John Kerry

Saturday, March 06, 2004

ONE MORE THING: To my fellow Muslims in the Northern Virginia area. Sorry... no more paintball!

STRINGER'S REPORT: An Afghan Voice-reporter (okay, fine--an AV-uncle, then) claims to have seen the very first Starbucks... in Kabul! There also seem to be dozens of internet cafes populated with the local youth.

BALD PROSPECT: After seeing the picture--courtesy of Robert Nickelsberg of Time--below, a friend remarked: "Is it me or are all Afghan men bald?" Hey, it's not far off the mark. AV too has a long family history of baldness!

HERETIC'S BURIAL: In 1980, the Organization of Islamic Conference held a major summit in Saudi Arabia, in the resort town of Taif. Prince Turki's intelligence service had recentely started to aid the Afghan mujahedin and wanted the conference to condemn Soviet interference in Afghanistan. Ahmed Badeeb, Turki's chief of staff, chose Abdur Rasur Sayyaf to give a speech attacking the Soviet invasion as an affront to Islam. Right before Sayyaf spoke, Yasser Arafat spoke in Moscow's defense. Today, he wants to be buried on the Temple Mount. What Arafat did in Taif may have been only one of the uncountable disgraceful things Arafat has done in his life, but it's reason enough for him to be buried in pigs-skin in Cairo--not Jerusalem.

Friday, March 05, 2004

BAD DEAL:If Sy Hersh is right about the deal we just struck with Musharraf, we got duped. The Los Angeles explains...

Across the southern third of Afghanistan, the Taliban is regrouping and waiting for the spring to launch attacks against the central government and its U.S.-led allies. About 70% of Zabol province is completely lawless or is controlled by the Taliban or its supporters.

On the main road linking the province to Kabul, the Taliban sets up roadblocks and scrutinizes vehicles for potential targets to kill or kidnap. Four engineers working on the main road have been kidnapped, and 15 Afghans working for the central government have been killed in the last three months. Foreigners no longer venture to the province; aid workers fled long ago.

Officials said about 700 armed Taliban fighters are members of Afghanistan's ethnic Pushtuns, have crossed from the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta, where they are trained and funded. The Taliban is offering a motorbike, AK-47 and satellite telephone to anyone willing to steal, rob or bomb a government target. A successful hit is worth $200, and killing an enemy has an added incentive of a $900 bonus.
Apparently, the 4x4 Toyotas are out. Thuraya satellite telephones and Honda motorbikes are in. Back in October, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid reported that "thousands of Taliban fighters reside in mosques and madrassas with the full support of a provincial ruling party and militant Pakistani groups. Taliban leaders wanted by the U.S. and Kabul governments are living openly in nearby villages."

Clearly, things aren't going well in the south and we can largely lay the blaim at Musharraf's doorstep. We should act fast--or accept the results of our inaction, for both the American and Afghan people.

ZARQAWI REVISITED: Amid great fanfare, the CPA in Iraq released a letter ostensibly found on a CD-ROM allegedly sent by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi to his betters in Al Qaeda. Assuming it is legitimate, the document provides a unique window on the thinking of an adversary that has otherwise been opaque. But how do we know the text is genuine? My level of trust in the authorities is just above the threshold which means I will take Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt and his colleagues at their word. But let’s look at the content of the letter. Consider the very end of the letter:

You, gracious brothers, are the leaders, guides, and symbolic figures of jihad and battle. We do not see ourselves as fit to challenge you, and we have never striven to achieve glory for ourselves. All that we hope is that we will be the spearhead, the enabling vanguard, and the bridge on which the [Islamic] nation crosses over to the victory that is promised and the tomorrow to which we aspire. This is our vision, and we have explained it. This is our path, and we have made it clear. If you agree with us on it, if you adopt it as a program and road, and if you are convinced of the idea of fighting the sects of apostasy, we will be your readied soldiers, working under your banner, complying with your orders, and indeed swearing fealty to you publicly and in the news media, vexing the infidels and gladdening those who preach the oneness of God. On that day, the believers will rejoice in God’s victory. If things appear otherwise to you, we are brothers, and the disagreement will not spoil [our] friendship. [This is} a cause [in which] we are cooperating for the good and supporting jihad. Awaiting your response, may God preserve you as keys to good and reserves for Islam and its people. Amen, amen.
Bear in mind that Zarqawi is regarded as the key link between Saddam Hussein's ousted regime and al-Qaeda. Doesn’t this passage sound as if Zarqawi is seeking help rather than seeking approval? It seems to me that Knight Ridder’s characterization of Zarqawi as an “independent operator” is apt.

Also allow me to launch a pre-emptive streak at those who find a solid Zarqawi – al-Qaeda link: what’s the connection between Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein?

UPDATE: I think Dan Darling has pretty much demonstratedthe Zarqawi – al-Qaeda link. The second question remains and the passage I quoted, as well as the rest of the letter, remains unique and intriguing.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

DRAW YOUR WEAPONS: How depressing is it to have your party’s leader in the Senate be one of the eight Senators who voted in favor of liability protections for gun manufacturers? The Senate also renewed the Assault Weapons Ban for another 10 years and passed an amendment requiring more background checks on buyers at gun shows. Several Republicans, including John McCain and Craig--the author of the bill and a board member of the NRA--opposed the legislation in the very end. Good for them. For an amusing yet infuriated response to today's outcome, see the livid Pejman Yousefzadeh.

Meanwhile, make sure to read this week’s issue of Time magazine, which includes a cover story and an interview with Hamid Karzai. I haven't read the former but the interview I have--and his answer on the probability of meeting with former Taliban foreign minister Muttawakil is consistent with his previous statements. There's a reason I'm following this issue closely! Expect more commentary on the Time later in the week. In a somewhat related issue, read Nathan Hamm as well, especially since he's covering Sy Hersh's claim that American troops are now actively active inside Pakistan.