Sunday, May 30, 2004

Pamela Constable, an Afghan Voice favorite, has a new article in the Washington Post today that contends that Karzai is busy trying to broker a backroom deal with the Northern Alliance to preserve his own position and to make sure they--the Northern Alliance warlords--don't create any mayhem. That's old news however; these talks have happened sporadically over the past two years. The most worrisome news is buried deep inside the story.

Some Pashtun leaders, however, are said to regard Karzai's outreach to ethnic rivals as a further betrayal of their interests after more than two years in which Northern Alliance figures have held many key posts in the transitional government. Sources said two senior Pashtuns in the Karzai administration, including Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, are seriously considering challenging him or backing alternative candidates.

Even some Pashtun figures who said they would support Karzai's candidacy expressed disappointment in his leadership, saying he has been unwilling to stand up to regional bosses despite enjoying strong international support -- and is now snubbing his tribal constituents while courting perennial adversaries.

"People were lukewarm before, but now that has turned to bitterness," said a Pashtun tribal leader. "Without the Pashtun vote, Karzai is nothing. We are his natural allies and supporters, but he is ignoring us. It is a huge mistake for him to make deals with people like Rabbani unless he has fortified himself and made sure we are there guarding his back."
The unnamed Pashtun tribal leader is right. Karzai may be working hard on a bipartisan ticket, but he's forgetting the people in his own backyard--the Pashtuns. Without them, he's nothing.

This is kind of off-topic, but I thought it'd be interesting to note. According to new evidence uncovered by the German military, German soldiers fathered more than 50,000 children during the occupation of Holland during the Second World War. Oh, the Germans stopped counting in 1944 so the number is likely to be a bit higher.

When it comes to counterterrorism, there is often talk about removing "the walls" between the intelligence agencies to that they can coordinate better and share intelligence with each other. Well, perhaps we ought to remove another so-called wall, this one between the CIA and Special Forces. The Christian Science Monitor's Ann Scott Tyson explains.

It was "High Noon" in Afghanistan. On the dusty main street of the border town of Orgun, a large crowd gathered as three US Special Forces soldiers confronted the corrupt local warlord.

Master Sgt. Mark Bryant positioned his men for a gunfight, then made the first move. "We pulled him and his guys out of the car, and told him 'Hey, you're on foot now. We're confiscating this car because it doesn't belong to you,' " he said.

After a tense standoff, warlord Zakim Khan backed down and left town, culminating months of effort by the Special Forces team to end his grip on the Orgun valley. But the hard-won progress in Orgun proved fleeting, Bryant says. Thanks to a $20,000 monthly CIA stipend intended to buy his loyalty, Mr. Khan survived his 2002 ouster and is now back in power. In fact, knowingly or not, the CIA sealed his comeback by abruptly cutting off US wages for a 300-man Afghan militia that the Special Forces had lured away from Khan and trained, a military official says.

"We don't control that money," Bryant says. "So now you have 300 [well-trained] fighters and you're just going to tell them: 'OK, guys, see ya. Have a nice day.' "

The story of Orgun illustrates how conflicting priorities between the CIA and elite US military units can sometimes hamper efforts to forge alliances with indigenous forces and tribes - relationships increasingly vital to uproot terrorist groups from lawless regions in Afghanistan and around the world.
Fortunately, Tyson reports that Congress is making sure that Special Forces get their own budget, which would make sure that they are more successful in the long term. The bill that would make sure this happens has passed the House, but the Senate hasn't had time to vote on it yet.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

I don't think anybody noticed or cared but during the second part of last night's Nightline, Ted Koppel read the names of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Even though there were only names and no pictures, it was touching. For the record, 122 American servicemen and women have died in Afghanistan.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Read this quote from a militiaman who just turned over his weapons.

"We have our freedom, so I won't miss this gun," he said, patting the steel barrel. "They said the army will protect us now. They said the government will find us jobs, but we'll see. I have some land, but there's no water, and now they're cutting down all the poppy. What will happen to men like me, I really don't know."
Neither do I, but let's hope for the best. From an article by Pamela Constable in last Monday's Washington Post.)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

On March 16th, the much-praised Washington Bureau of Knight Ridder reported on the "Information Collection Program," or ICP, a "U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq" run by the Iraqi National Congress, which is headed by the infamous Ahmed Chalabi. The story was basically that the INC fed the world-press with ICP-information that was known to be false and dubious. All this information was based on a letter send by the INC to the Senate Appropriations Committee titled "Summary of ICP product cited in major English-language news outlets worldwide (October 2001-May 2002)" which listed all the articles and publications in which ICP-information was cited. You can read the list here. If you read the list, you may notice that a man by the name of Christopher Hitchens is cited. Twice, actually.

Hitchens and his editors do readers a great disservice by conveniently failing to disclose that fact in an article published today that defends-—surprise, surprise!—-Ahmed Chalabi. If the charge (that Hitchens published false information provided to him by the INC through the ICP-program) is false, he should say so. But by avoiding the issue, Slate readers are led to believe that Hitchens is Chalabi's personal propagandist.

(You can e-mail Slate editors at: letters@slate.com.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Hamid Karzai has been named the recipient of the 2004 Philadelphia Liberty Medal. Karzai will be following in the footsteps of people like Jimmy Carter, Thurgood Marshall, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel in 1994, Shimon Peres and Colin Powell. I wonder what he'll do with the $100,000 that he will accompanies the medal.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Both the New York Times and the Financial Times (subscription required) are bashing NATO over its fiasco in Afghanistan. As frequent readers of Afghan Voice know, I have criticized NATO over its unwillingless to ensure success in Afghanistan. It's not that NATO has been unable to provide security Afghanistan; it's just that NATO's members are not willing to sacrifice. Allow me to quote the New York Times:

The shortfall for the Afghan operation includes several utility helicopters, a few Hercules transport planes, a medical facility and a quick reaction force to help protect troops who are in danger. It is a modest list of requirements for an alliance that once prepared to take on the Warsaw Pact and that has expanded to 26 countries. NATO has more than 2,000 helicopters, about half of which are possessed by its European members. But political will and a common view of the alliance's priorities seem to be in the shortest supply.
The Financial Times is equally critical:
It is tempting these days to see any operation vaguely associated with the US as doomed. But in Afghanistan, Nato is really just Europe plus Canada. So it cannot use the US as an alibi for failure. The Europeans, in particular, should consider the way failure there would hit the credibility of their own defence ambitions elsewhere.
Don't forget either that ISAF-troops are supposed to ensure security during the coming presidential and parliamentary elections coming September. At the voting boots it will be determined whether democracy will prevail or whether the Taliban and its allies will be victors. Those are two clear-cut choices. It's up to the diplomats in Brussels to decide which one is in their interest.

(Note also that NATO has recentely launched an internal review into "to why it has been unable to provide basic equipment for Afghanistan.")

We want to wish Dan Darling much success over at the American Enterprise Insitute here in Washington D.C. We have one question for Dan, however. Where will he live and how is he going to pay for it?

In a semi-related note, go read Dan's Winds of War and Nathan's Central Asia Briefing, which contains some news from Afghanistan.

Friday, May 21, 2004

A front-page article in the New York Times says that Abu Graib was run by people who had served in Afghanistan and who had brought the interrogation rules that applied there with them to Iraq. The difference is that al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are not protected by the Geneva Conventions, which does apply—or is supposed to be applied—to prisoners in Iraq. (See the Gonzalez memo [PDF].) But does the fact that these so-called interrogation “techniques” (more commonly known as torture) work change anything? No. It’s not that Afghanistan, where high-value terrorists are tortured to save lives and rightly so, and Iraq are different. In Iraq, we mostly deal with Sunni insurgents and Sadr’s thugs; not the kind of people we ought to torture for information. But say we do capture someone important in Iraq, say al-Zarqawi. He would not and should not be entitled certain rights under the Geneva Conventions. The use of torture is limited to a small and specific group of people, and not a certain geographical area.

(Minor editing.)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Gang violence in Northern Virginia is getting more attention. Finally! Last Sunday night, a high school freshman was shot and killed about a mile from where I live. The week before that, in Alexandria, both hands of a 16-year old were chopped of with a machete. And you thought East L.A. was bad.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

What kind of effect is the prisoner-abuse scandal having in Afghanistan? Well, according to Der Spiegel magazine, German military lawyers have advised Special "KSK" Forces not to take any prisoners as to avoid handing them over to the Americans. The magazine quoted military lawyers as there being "too many open questions" about the status of prisoners in the wake of the scandal at Abu Graib. So now the culprits of Abu Graib (it's up to you to decide whether these culprits are the seven guards facing court marshall or senior officials of the Department of Defense) are not only responsible for the abuse and torture of POWs in Baghdad, but also for hindering progress in our attempts to catch members of al-Qaeda, Taliban and Gulbuddin's Hezb-i-Islami. Nice job, guys.

Note: I'm not quite sure whether the Germans are making a distinction between German soldiers fighting under the Operating Enduring Freedom (OEF) umbrella and that of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It's quite significant because German OEF forces operate outside of Kabul, usually alongside the Afghan-Pakistani border (where else?). ISAF forces on the other hand operate only in Kabul and in Kunduz, where the Germans have a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).

The Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program was started back in October of 2003 with the aim of disarming of Afghanistan's militias. The DDR-program started in Kunduz, a province in the north that borders Uzbekistan, where some Afghans really intended to start a new life. Some others merely wanted to cash in on the incentives provided (usually a good amount of cash and some food). But as the Candian Press is reporting, the DDR program isn't exactly a dashing succes.

About 100 army officers, most of them highly skilled rocket and electrical engineers who were on the brink of retirement, refused to sign their discharge papers Monday at a ceremony intended to mark Afghanistan's demilitarization.

The ceremony outside Kabul marked commencement of the main phase of the country's disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, or DDR, program. But with the deputy defence minister in attendance, along with the Japanese ambassador, whose country is sponsoring the attempt to disarm mainly Afghan militias and demobilize 100,000 of their troops, the officers balked.

During the two-hour ceremony, which included patriotic music and speeches, the first of 62 Soviet-made anti-aircraft missiles belonging to 99 Rocket Brigade were hauled off to a cantonement site about 40 kilometres away. But the supposedly retiring officers, who are not militiamen, said the whole process was a charade. They had no intention of walking away from their jobs, they said, and the missiles were all duds, disarmed and rendered useless years ago. Many of the five-metre rockets were badly damaged, riddled with shrapnel and bullet holes or bent and twisted out of shape.

"They are taking these weapons but these weapons are not functioning," said one. "They have no explosives or propellant; they can't be used."
The DDR process is not simply a "hand-in-your-weapons" program. There are incentives, like I mentioned, such as food and money. It gives Afghans a chance to rejoin mainstream society (or what's left of it) and to contribute in the rebuilding of their country. Those who turn in their weapons can receive free education and vocational training. Many have become policemen, deminers or have joined the Afghan National Army.

Though these incentives may work at times for footsoldiers, they won't convince Afghanistan's warlords. They're thinking that if they can keep their weapons until after the September elections, they'll be in the clear. And if the DDR program fails, that may just happen.

Aziz Poonawalla is attending the 12th annual International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine conference in Kyoto, Japan and he's blogging from there. Now usually I don't link to these kinds of things, but that all changed when I found out that he managed to take a picture of an airplane with the images my heroes on it...*

* Just some comic relief...

Friday, May 14, 2004

In the past few days, the Human Rights Watch and a former Afghan police colonel have claimed that there is systemic abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan. It doesn't have me worried, though. It is estimated that only about 300 prisoners are held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

And then there was that article in the New York Times detailing U.S. torture of senior al-Qaeda members. Yes, torture. The article's authors used words like "harsh methods," "coercive interrogation methods," "graduated levels of force," "methods," and "techniques." But after reading the third paragraph in which the "technique" of "water boarding" was explained, you realize that they were only kidding themselves. Yes, we torture Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. Where's the cruelty in that? There is none. We don't torture him out of vengeance or barbarity; we do it to save lives. If we can save the life of a donkey in Afghanistan by depriving Mohammad of sleep, I say we do it. (I do admit, however, to secretly wishing to torture Mullah Omar once we catch him.)

But where do we draw the line? In Iraq. Most prisoners being held there are not terrorists, but simply insurgents who are entitled to a certain amount of rights under the Geneva Conventions. They are POWs. At Abu Graib, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's minions should have far less rights than the Sunni insurgent from Ramadi. That's a distinction the enemy doesn't make.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Afghan children seem to in need of pens, of all things. I have already mobilized some immediate family to pitch in. You should too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

NPR's Renee Montagne has a nice report on Afghanistan's mullahs. It should be recognized that Islam in general and mullahs specifically have a very permanent role in Afghan society. They can ultimately help establish democracy or they can work to topple it when it doesn't satisfy their demands.

Monday, May 10, 2004

If everything goes according to plan, Afghan Voice will have its very own correspondent* from Afghanistan by September to cover the elections. The correspondent's name will remain anonymous given that he is the father of this blog's author. (Interesting factoid: the correspondent's stay in Afghanistan will be his first since January 1980!)

* Full disclosure: the correspondent will be on assignment primarily for the Voice of America, not just this blog.

NEW BLOGGER: Expect some changes, while I try out some things.

Friday, May 07, 2004

KARZAI ON NPR: For those interested, you can now listen to NPR's interview with Hamid Karzai.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

THE LOGIC NEXT STEP: Noted the contempt towards the United Nations and Kofi Annan lately? I have. Some criticism is well-reasoned; other criticism is livid ranting. But if the United Nations is such a horrible and ineffective institution (and in some instances it is, I'm sad to say), wouldn't it make sense to criticize President Bush's decision to leave America's exit strategy/plan to implement democracy in Iraq in the hands of the U.N.—the same establishment they loath so much? It would, wouldn't it? I myself don't think involving Lakhdar Brahimi is such a bad idea, but that's because I don't detest the organization he works for. (Brahimi did a pretty good job in Afghanistan, which explains my benevolence towards him.)

Monday, May 03, 2004

THEY'RE COMING... Big Bird and his friends that is! Apparently, Sesame Street is coming to Afghanistan as part of an education video that will be distributed throughout schools in Afghanistan.

TOP-SECRET PENTAGON SLIDES YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW ABOUT: General John Abizaid held a briefing on Friday from Central Command in Doha, Qatar. And he showed some interesting slides. The first slide breaks down the number of forces currently in Afghanistan.

US FORCES: 20,300
OEF COALITION: 2,024
NATO/ISAF: 6,221
The reason for the unusually large amount of American soldiers in Afghanistan is two-fold. One, there are more offensive operations along the Afghan-Pakistani border and two, there's currently a rotation between two divisions. This second slide shows where all the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are located and what country is leading them. It also shows where several other places where coalition soldiers are operating.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN AFGHANISTAN: Be sure to take a quick look at the Reporter Without Borders' report on press freedom in Afghanistan. There's a long way to go, for sure. It does implicate the central government in some cases, but none of them are infuriating enough for my bloodpressure to rise. Not this time, at least.