Thursday, January 31, 2008


Several groups of the U.S. foreign policy establishment have released reports calling for major changes in strategy on Afghanistan (I am a member of the Afghanistan Study Group, the first mentioned). From a media advisory (links added):
Three independent reports have concluded this month that a major new effort is needed to succeed in Afghanistan. These reports – by the Afghanistan Study Group, established by the Center for the Study of the Presidency following the Iraq Study Group; the Strategic Advisors Group of the Atlantic Council of the United States; and the National Defense University – concur that without prompt actions by the U.S. and its allies, the mission in Afghanistan may fail – causing severe consequences to U.S. strategic interests worldwide, including the war on terrorism and the future of NATO. The U.S. cannot afford to let Afghanistan continue to be the neglected, or forgotten, war.
(Only the ASG report seems to be available on the web -- I would be grateful for pointers to the other reports.)

This morning (Thursday January 31, 2008) the co-chairs of the ASG, General James Jones and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, will be testifying at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They will be preceded by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and joined by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Readers of this blog will not find anything new or surprising in the ASG report. They will just find many of the same judgments echoed in a more considered establishmentarian tone of voice.

On the Ashdown smash down: a more considered view will follow. Just a note from Kabul (where I am currently defrosting slightly after a cold snap): Zalmay Khalilzad did not plot to undermine Ashdown to clear the way for a presidential bid. According to quite good reports (not from Khalilzad), he did his best to convince President Karzai to accept the proposal.

(As Khalilzad is the only member of the entire Bush/Cheney foreign policy and security team who still has a chance of escaping the sinking ship with his reputation afloat, some nuts in the White House are now attacking him for sitting next to the Foreign Minister of Iran on a panel at Davos, where Khalilzad faithfully reiterated the administration's position and never spoke to or greeted Minister Manouchehr Motakki.)

The super-envoy position may not have been defined as needed to be effective; Ashdown may or may not have been the right person for the job, and he may or may not have focused too much on pressuring the Afghan government rather than disciplining the internationals; but the way in which President Karzai handled this decision has damaged his relations with the US, UN, and UK at a time when he needs to conserve his political capital to resist pressures for some major unwise policy decisions.

Besides the well-known dispute over aerial poppy eradication and eradication in areas where farmers have no alternative livelihoods (but are said to be "greedy and corrupt"), the US is now pressing the Afghan government to use the Afghan National Army to provide security for eradication operations. Sources in the Afghan government who do not wish to be named state that this will make the ANA fight the people and destroy its morale. Morale is already falling, since mullahs who conduct funeral services for fallen ANA soldiers risk assassination. But the Bush administration is apparently determined to wreck its one partial success story in Afghanistan before leaving office. Read more on this article...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rubin: More on the Dangers of Poppy Eradication in Afghanistan

Under the provocative title Poverty feeds Afghan drugs trade, Alastair Leithead of the BBC reports from Helmand and Balkh in southern and northern Afghanistan. His findings, like my arguments, contradict the claim by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (echoed of course by the US) that "opium cultivation is no longer linked to poverty." Leithead interviewed some of those farmers whose "greed and corruption" UNODC claims is responsible for poppy cultivation in Helmand:

The farmers are weeding the fields at the moment in Helmand. It is a family business, and they insist there is no alternative.

"I only have a small area of land and 10 people in my family," one farmer says angrily. "I can only grow enough wheat to last two months on this land, so the only way to feed them is growing poppies."

It is very fertile land, but the farmers complain the cost of fuel to pump irrigation water and the lack of markets and infrastructure makes anything else untenable.

Another man had his poppy crop eradicated last year, but it will not stop him trying again. "I lost my poppies, but those grown by the rich and the powerful aren't touched. So why should I stop growing them?" he asks.

Leithead also paid a call to Balkh, part of the "opium-free north":

After meeting and drinking tea with a number of contacts in different homes outside Mazar, a bearded, cheerful drug dealer took us to a place where they displayed plastic bags of liquid opium. He explained how the traffickers would come round to all the villages, buying what they had before taking it out of the country. "Ordinary people like you and I can't take drugs out of the country," he explained. "Only the foreigners and the big men with contacts can do it. They are stopped at police checkpoints, but they call the police chief, or a minister or the governor and they are allowed to pass."

But poppy cultivation has indeed decreased! Instead:
Although they have lost a profitable crop, for now another alternative is bridging the gap. In a mud compound a short walk away another man goes through the process of stripping the buds off giant cannabis stalks. In the autumn vast forests of marijuana plants scatter the landscape. It is something that has always been done here, but the price has gone up by a factor of four in just a year.

Richard Holbrooke, principal foreign affairs adviser to Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton, slammed the Bush administration's pressure for crop eradication in the Washington Post:
But even without aerial eradication, the [crop eradication] program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy. It's not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan.
Read more on this article...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Serious Political Blow to Ahmadinejad or an Election Maneuver?

Farideh Farhi

Something interesting happened in Iran yesterday that some, particularly outside of Iran, are interpreting as a serious political blow to Ahmadinejad. I am not sure whether it should be considered a serious blow or more of an election maneuver on the part of the current speaker of the parliament speaker, Gholamali Haddad Adel, trying to improve his standing among his conservative colleagues who have to decide soon who should lead their list of candidates for the next session of the parliament or his Tehrani constituency who will have to make a decision soon about whether or not he should be re-elected.

The story goes something like this. Apparently some time in the past week or so Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to the speaker complaining about parliamentary legislation passed which mandate policies that, from his point of view, clearly infringe upon the prerogatives of the executive branch. Calling these legislations - which included retuning to daylight savings time after Ahmadinejad had rashly abandoned it or the law mandating the executive branch to specify budgetary lines for certain allocations – unconstitutional, he asked the speaker to stop these “evident” violations of the constitution. He also said that he would not implement a legislation to supply cheap gas to villages suffering power cuts in an unexpectedly harsh winter because the source of funding was not specified.

But in registering these complaints Ahmadinejad was standing on shaky grounds as the Iranian constitution has a rather clear and peculiar institutional set-up for finding which legislative acts are unconstitutional. The Guardian Council has the task of validating both the Islamic and constitutional nature of legislation (with the Expediency Council as the final arbiter if the parliament and Guardian Council cannot reach an agreement). Regarding the latter, it often sends back legislation it deems unconstitutional on the basis of Article 75 of the constitution which requires specification of compensation or source of funding for any legislation that leads to the reduction of public revenues or increase in public expenditures. By in effect proclaiming the executive branch a constitutional authority and then using that authority to not implement laws that couldn't have become laws unless the Guardian Council had agreed were constitutional, Ahmadinejad is walking on very thin legal reasoning as far as the parameters of the Islamic republic are concerned.

Haddad Adel decided to solve the problem by writing a letter to the leader, who, since the 1989 constitutional revision which significantly expanded the power of his office, is endowed with the responsibility of resolving conflicts among the three branches of the government. Ayatollah Khamenei responded immediately in a short, terse note, stating "All legal legislation that has gone through [the required] procedures stipulated in the constitution is binding for all branches of power."

Receiving the response, Haddad Adel immediately released all the relevant written exchanges, making a point that the leader had taken the side of the parliament.
As I mentioned above, some outsiders, perhaps looking for individual conflicts at the top as the explanation for why things happen in Iran they way they do (a sort of Kremlinology, if you will, applied to Iran) and trying to extract what these conflicts indicate about the direction of Iranian politics, saw this intervention as the “latest in a series of recent signals that Khamenei is losing patience with a president to whom he once showed staunch loyalty.”

In Iran, though, the commentary was much more skeptical and focused not on Khamenei’s action but Haddad Adel’s. Why did he publicize this? Why did he do it now? To some the move was a good one but rather late. After all, as one current reformist deputy put it, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly violated legislative authority on financial matters by making promises of major projects in his numerous provincial trips without going through the required funding process in the parliament. Even more problematic the parliamentary leadership had said nothing despite repeated complaints by various deputies.

A couple of conservative deputies, frustrated by the parliamentary leadership’s passivity, were more brutal, pointing out that Ahmadinejad’s unilateral moves had undermined and weakened the institution of the parliament which instead of “being behind the government was more held in its fist.” This is why to them what Haddad Adel did seemed more like a “propaganda move” to hide the lowering of the status or weakening of the parliament that had occurred under Haddad Adel’s own leadership.

Etemad newspaper saw the move less in terms of shaping public opinion and more as part and parcel of an attempt to force the conservative coalition to place Haddad Adel on top of its list of candidates for the city of Tehran, enhancing his chance of re-election but also for becoming a speaker again. This was more than anything else “a message about Haddad Adel’s spiritual influence and current position in the Islamic republic and that because of this influence the conservative leadership has no other choice but to accept him as the list leader and probably his leadership again in the 8th parliament.” One deputy quoted in the Etemad piece even goes so far as to suggest that the whole thing was a mere personal feud between the two men.

From his point of view, Ahmadinejad had not implemented many legislations in the past and will continue to do the same in the future (indeed even after the leader’s intervention, he went on and insisted that what the parliament was doing was still unconstitutional). His mistake this time around was simply to put his long-held position in writing, giving Haddad Adel an opportunity to capitalize and letting those making decisions about the candidate lists know about his clout and his ability to get the support of those who really matter in Iran.

Accepting Etemad’s version of what happened essentially implies that everyday politics in contemporary Iran, like everywhere else, may simply and merely be interesting, intricate and yes petty, nothing more and nothing less. Trying to read too much into everyday politicking of Iranian politicians interested in securing their position in relation to other politicians is increasingly looking like an over-interpretation intended to fit Iran into a narrative that implicitly or explicitly asks us to think of its politics as different from elsewhere in so far as some fundamental change about power relationships are about to happen.

Strangely despite all the economic problems, external pressures, and even the reality of a president who has antagonized a whole of array of elites in Iran and is deemed both incompetent and rash by many of them, Iran looks pretty settled to me; settled enough for dirty laundry to be washed in public for electoral gains. In any one day, the president can yell constitutional disaster; the speaker of the parliament can make big noises about parliamentary prerogatives; the all powerful leader can intervene presumably for the good cause of parliamentary vigor; commentators can look around for a second, detect manipulation and personal rivalries, note it and then get ready for commentary on the next public drama. Life goes on! Read more on this article...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Poverty and Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan: Open Letter to UNODC and Reply

Barnett R. Rubin

On Sunday, January 13, I sent a letter (via email) to Antonio Maria Costa, the administrator of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Vienna. In that letter I challenged several assertions in UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007, in particular these:
First, opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty – quite the opposite. Hilmand, Kandahar and three other opium-producing provinces in the south are the richest and most fertile, in the past the breadbasket of the nation and a main source of earnings. They have now opted for illicit opium on an unprecedented scale (5,744 tons), while the much poorer northern region is abandoning the poppy crops.

Second, opium cultivation in Afghanistan is now closely linked to insurgency. The Taliban today control vast swathes of land in Hilmand, Kandahar and along the Pakistani border. By preventing national authorities and international agencies from working, insurgents have allowed greed and corruption to turn orchards, wheat and vegetable fields into poppy fields.

I have appended the full text of the letter to the end of this post and also posted it here. The main point of my letter was:

I believe that the assertions in the two paragraphs are wrong, not supported by evidence, and are being used in support of a policy that will greatly hinder achievement of the over-riding goals of the Afghanistan Compact, “to improve the lives of Afghan people and to contribute to national, regional, and global peace and security.” The statements also contradict other well known policies of the United Nations: the estimated average per capita income of the residents of Hilmand province, the “richest” province in the supposedly richest part of Afghanistan, is estimated to be $1 per person per day. As you know, the first of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to “Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day.” The United Nations thus has defined the average income in “rich” Hilmand as the threshold of absolute destitution.

UNODC replied by raising a straw man and implicitly admitting that the statement in the Opium Survey 2007 was wrong:
Dear Mr. Rubin,

Thank you for letter (via e-mail) to Mr. Costa dated 13 January. We appreciate the fact that you respect and rely on UNODC's research, and the trouble that you have taken to put forward an extensive letter with a number of thought-provoking points.
We are aware of the policy impact of UNODC's work. We also realize the complexities of promoting both security and development, and the need to eradicate poverty and not just opium.

In due course we will post a discussion paper on the UNODC website ( that will present some evidence to show that poverty is not the single, exclusive driver of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. When the paper is uploaded, you may wish to make a link from the UNODC website to your blog.
Mr. Costa will also put forward his views on the subject at the Joint Cooperation and Monitoring Board in Tokyo.

Thank you again for raising these important issues.


Walter Kemp
Office of the Executive Director
I replied:
In your response you say that the discussion paper you plan to post will "present some evidence to show that poverty is not the single, exclusive driver of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan." Such a paper would be welcome, but please note that there is not a single person in the world, including me, who has ever claimed that poverty is the "single, exclusive driver of opium cultivation in Afghanistan." David Mansfield, on whose work for UNODC and others I have relied heavily, argues that the main driver is insecurity, and this is the hypothesis borne out by the data presented in the 2007 Opium Survey.

UNODC's 2007 Opium Survey, however, stated, “opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty.” To the average reader this would mean that poverty is not a driver of opium cultivation in Afghanistan. Your statement in your reply to me, implying that poverty is one of several drivers of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, directly contradicts the statement in UNODC's 2007 Opium Survey. I hope your paper will include a correction of the serious error.
The text of my letter follows (PDF version here):

13 January 2008
Antonio Maria Costa
Administrator, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Vienna, Austria
Via electronic mail

Dear Mr. Costa:

I regret that we have not met in over a year, since we testified together at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations on September 20, 2006. I am writing now to follow up on an informal query I sent to your office that has remained unanswered, probably because of the informal and indirect way that I sent it.

I am now writing formally to request a response. At the hearing I had the pleasure of meeting the head of your office in New York, Simone Monasebian, with whom I have developed very good cooperative relations. After the publication last summer of UNODC’s Afghanistan Opium Poppy Survey 2007, I wrote to Simone informally to ask her to pass on a query to UNODC headquarters. I asked UNODC to provide the empirical basis on which the Survey made the following statements:
First, opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty – quite the opposite. Hilmand, Kandahar and three other opium-producing provinces in the south are the richest and most fertile, in the past the breadbasket of the nation and a main source of earnings. They have now opted for illicit opium on an unprecedented scale (5,744 tons), while the much poorer northern region is abandoning the poppy crops.

Second, opium cultivation in Afghanistan is now closely linked to insurgency. The Taliban today control vast swathes of land in Hilmand, Kandahar and along the Pakistani border. By preventing national authorities and international agencies from working, insurgents have allowed greed and corruption to turn orchards, wheat and vegetable fields into poppy fields.
I have not yet received an answer to this informal query, which, as I noted, could easily have been misplaced. I am therefore writing to explain why I consider this question to be important and to request an answer by January 21, in advance of the February 6, 2008, meeting of the Afghanistan Joint Cooperation and Monitoring Board, which will meet in Tokyo to discuss action on counter-narcotics. I consider this matter important, because these two paragraphs are cited by proponents of expanded forced eradication of the opium poppy crops. I believe that the assertions in the two paragraphs are wrong, not supported by evidence, and are being used in support of a policy that will greatly hinder achievement of the over-riding goals of the Afghanistan Compact, “to improve the lives of Afghan people and to contribute to national, regional, and global peace and security.” The statements also contradict other well known policies of the United Nations: the estimated average per capita income of the residents of Hilmand province, the “richest” province in the supposedly richest part of Afghanistan, is estimated to be $1 per person per day. As you know, the first of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to “Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day.” The United Nations thus has defined the average income in “rich” Hilmand as the threshold of absolute destitution.

In my discussions with policy makers about counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, I have at times encountered a dismissive attitude toward research that does not conform to their policy preferences and “academic” forms of argument in general. But UNODC has an extensive and highly respected research department full of academic experts, for whose work I have enormous respect and on which I have often relied. While policy makers cite this work because it justifies what they want to do rather than because they believe the analysis of United Nations Agencies (you may compare your experience with that of your colleague Mohamed El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency), I believe that I owe your researchers a reasoned response based on data and established principles of analysis. I hope you will bear with me as I proceed through this exercise.

The first paragraph makes two empirical assertions:
  1. That “Hilmand, Kandahar and three other opium-producing provinces in the south are the richest and most fertile [provinces in Afghanistan], especially compared to “the much poorer northern region.”
  2. That because in the past few years there are trends toward reduction of poppy cultivation in the north and its concentration in southern provinces, “opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty.”
Nowhere does the report define what it means by “rich” and “poor” provinces or how this is measured. David Mansfield, a researcher who has worked for UNODC in the past, with his co-author, Adam Pain, believes that the assertion is based on “the finding that households in these provinces reported higher average annual incomes ($3,316 for poppy-growing and $2,480 for others) to UNODC surveyors than those in the north ($2,690 for poppy-growing and $1,851 for others) or centre ($1,897 for poppy-growing and $1,487 for others).” There are many ways in which this data is inadequate as a justification for policies such as requiring forced eradication of poppy crops in insecure areas under Taliban control adjacent to areas of Pakistan where Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, and al-Qaida are well positioned to exploit discontent in either country. Mansfield and Pain mention some of those technical and academic points such as lack of reporting of sample size and statistical significance. They also note that household income is notoriously difficult to estimate and unreliably reported. I will not repeat their arguments here, though I would appreciate a response to them.

The argument fails primarily because of the ecological fallacy, an error of inference from aggregate statistics that I warned my students against back when I was an assistant professor of political science. The arguments make assertions about the “north” and “south” by aggregating provincial averages for all provinces. Yet is it not true that every province in the south is “richer” even by this flawed measure, than every province in the north. Mansfield and Pain note:
Household data produced by the Central Statistics Office of Afghanistan in 2004 and collected by the 2005 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) rank the southern provinces relatively low in terms of social and economic well-being. Of the 34 provinces, Helmand ranked 6th, Kandahar 15th, Uruzgan 32nd and Zabul 33rd. The seven northern provinces ranked higher: Jawzjan 1st, Balkh 9th, Baghlan 11th, Samangan 13th, Bamyan 18th, Faryab 25th and Sar-i-Pul 31st. These rankings do not substantiate the argument that farmers in the south are significantly wealthier than those elsewhere in the country. Moreover, in 2005, Helmand reported some of the country’s worst school enrolment rates for children aged between 6 and 13, and one of the highest illiteracy rates. Given the intensity of the conflict in the south, these indicators are likely to have dropped further over the two years since the data were collected.
Let me simplify. Of these eleven provinces, the estimated ranking from most to least well-being is:

1. Jawzjan (N)
2. Hilmand (S)
3. Balkh (N)
4. Baghlan (N)
5. Qandahar (S)
6. Samangan (N)
7. Bamyan (N)
8. Faryab (N)
9. Sar-i Pul (N)
10. Uruzgan (S)
11. Zabul (S)

I am not sure which is the fifth southern province to which UNODC is referring. The inclusion of Farah, Nimruz, or Paktika would not change the overall picture, which is that there is much greater difference in social and economic well-being within both the south and the north than between the two regions considered as a whole.

This fallacy is related to the major conclusion of the paragraph, which is frequently cited by proponents of eradication: that “opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty.” UNODC has produced no evidence to support this assertion, and the available evidence contradicts it.

UNODC’s argument is: higher average household incomes across multi-provincial regions are correlated with increased poppy production in those multi-provincial regions. Therefore poppy production is not associated with poverty. Indeed the second paragraph goes even further, stating that poppy cultivation is due to “greed and corruption.” This is a very grave conclusion, with major policy implications, which should not be taken lightly on the basis of flawed data and faulty reasoning, compounded by negative stereotyping. Yet, in my view, this is what UNODC has done.

Decisions about poppy production are not made by regions consisting of several provinces that are closely identified with particular ethnic groups. Nor are they made by provinces. They are made by households. This too is overly simplified, as any piece of farmland may be owned by one family, sharecropped to another, and may employ labor from yet another family. Just as there is greater variation within north and south than between them, so there is greater variation within each province than there is among them. There are many desperately poor households in even the “richest” provinces. Valid inferences about the relationship of poverty to poppy cultivation must be based on household-level data. Research by Mansfield, the World Bank, and others using household level data is quite clear. I am sure that your research department is quite familiar with the research showing that dependence on opium poppy cultivation is highest among the poorest households. To put it statistically, among households, poverty is correlated with dependence on opium poppy cultivation.

Therefore, those dependent on opium poppy cultivation in Hilmand are likely to be the poorer households in that province, those with an income less than one dollar per person per day. Does UNODC consider such households to be rich, greedy, and corrupt because households in Balkh have an average income of only $0.70 per person per day?

The second paragraph is more complex, as it is phrased so that it can be subject to several interpretations. The key sentence is “By preventing national authorities and international agencies from working, insurgents have allowed greed and corruption to turn orchards, wheat and vegetable fields into poppy fields.”

This statement is true in the following sense. As research by scholars such as Francisco Thoumi of Colombia has demonstrated, the cultivation of raw materials for illicit narcotics migrates to those naturally suitable areas that are most insecure. Hence opium poppy cultivation has migrated from other countries to Afghanistan. Furthermore, within Afghanistan it has migrated from the more secure areas to those where the insurgency is more concentrated. The one way that north and south are indeed very different is that the insurgency is much more widespread in the south and security is worse. That, as you know, is due to the geographical position of the southern Afghanistan rather than its alleged wealth.

Insecurity leads to poppy cultivation in part because, as UNODC says, national authorities and international agencies cannot work where it is insecure. As a result, the government and international community cannot provide security and all of the other supportive public goods necessary to agriculture and other forms of employment, such as financing, technical assistance, and marketing. Instead all of these are supplied by the drug industry.

I will make one parenthetical remark here. The U.S. government says that this does not apply to Helmand, which, if it were a country, would be the fifth largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world. This is a very deceptive statistic. What the U.S. government measures is the amount that it has spent (or authorized) for projects located in Helmand. The single largest and most expensive project in Afghanistan today is the Kajaki Dam, located in Helmand Province. The bulk of U.S. expenditures in Helmand are for this project. As you know, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on that project, it is not yet operational. As the people of Helmand have yet to receive any benefits from this project, it is deceptive to characterize them as its “recipients.”

I have no quarrel with characterizing drug traffickers and their protectors as greedy and corrupt. While policy should be based on analysis of what actions are effective, rather than value judgments alone, certainly this characterization of drug traffickers and their protectors provides moral support for effective measures of interdiction. In my discussions with policy makers, however, they have applied these terms to cultivators of opium poppy in Helmand and used the UNODC statement as justification for eradication. Does UNODC consider opium poppy cultivators in Helmand to be primarily driven by greed and corruption?

Of course, even if that were true, it would not be a reason to carry out eradication, as policies should only be carried out if they are effective. That is not the subject of this note. But I would like to point out that there is a relationship between what I consider to be UNODC’s erroneous arguments and policy on eradication.

The National Drug Control Strategy of Afghanistan states that the Afghan government will “conduct targeted and verified eradication where there is access to alternative livelihoods.” Proponents of increased forced eradication have taken the two paragraphs from the UNODC Survey above as evidence – indeed proof – that Helmand province is such a place and that eradication should therefore be carried out there. I do not think that the fact that the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an unfinished project in a province where the average income per person is one dollar a day and where insecurity has prevented the delivery of education and healthcare constitutes evidence that in Helmand province “access to alternative livelihoods” is available. Does UNODC consider that access to alternative livelihoods is available in Helmand Province and that it therefore should be subject to increased forced poppy eradication?

Some policy makers are aware of these problems and try to compensate for them by arguing that eradication will be targeted against the truly rich, corrupt, and powerful. They have not explained to me yet how they will target the rich owners of land cultivated with poppy without targeting their poor sharecroppers and laborers, who will bear the brunt of the cost and have no access to alternatives. As UNODC’s own outstanding research has documented over the years, the opium economy creates powerful ties of dependency between those who control the economy and the poor who are dependent on it.

I believe that the misleading presentation of research by UNODC is providing a justification for a very mistaken and dangerous policy in Afghanistan. I would appreciate any explanation you can provide of why the assertions in the UNODC Afghanistan Opium Poppy Survey are correct. If I receive a reply by January 21, I will post both this letter and your reply to my blog and circulate them to my mailing list. If I do not receive a reply by that time, I will circulate this letter while awaiting your reply.

Sincerely yours,

Barnett R. Rubin

Read more on this article...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Palestine-Israel - a Bush Sea-Change? Charles Smith

I am delighted to revise part of my earlier comments to note that President Bush did address Palestinian-Israeli issues in his Abu Dhabi speech and did call on Israel as well as the Palestinians to make sacrifices: acceptance of a Palestinian state was necessary for Israel's long-term security, in his words. This is noteworthy - what will come of it remains to be seen, especially with respect to how these remarks are interpreted not only in the region but in the U.S.
One sign of alarm comes from Daniel Pipes, always a good sign. Pipes is so perturbed that he has written an op-ed in today's (1/17) Jerusalem Post condeming the idea of, quote, a "sovereign" Palestine. Pipes states that "the mischievous goal of creating 'Palestine' [his quotes] will inspire more fervor to eliminate the Jewish state, especially if accompanied by a Palestinian 'right of return'." [his quotes]
Pipes makes clear here what was only suspected before. Pro-Likud alarmists like Pipes oppose the creation of any Palestinian state in principle since any state will supposedly seek to eliminate Israel; therefore it should be opposed. What the alternative is is carefully avoided. Admittedly Pipes qualifies this by his reference to the right of return issue, but analysts in general accept that in reality there will only be a token return accepted. What is important to Palestinians is that the issue should be negotiated, not rejected and taken off the table before talks begin. As former security chief Ami Ayalon has noted, what Palestinians want is Israeli acknowledgement of the PRINCIPLE of a Palestinian right of return. This would mean that Israel would also be acknowledging that the creation of Israel led to the Palestinian refugee problem that now creates the demand for a right of return.
That Israeli forces, official and terrorist (Irgun, LEHI), participated in the ousting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is no longer in question for scholars, other than those on the far right of the Israeli spectrum. But dealing with historical reality is difficult for many Israelis. Prime Minister Olmert has stated he will never admit that Israel played a role in the Palestinian exodus and Likud historian Efraim Karsh is now the leader of "Project 1948" sponsored by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies ( at Bar-Ilan University and championed by former prime minister Bibi Netanyahu; Project 1948 is dedicated to publishing the "basic truths" of what occured.
With this in mind we can look forward to "scholarly" publications on the issue, especially if matters come to the point where actual negotiations occur, as opposed to preliminary forays and subsequent denials of accomplishments. But there is hope that we can also look forward to further encouraging and surprisingly balanced statements from the president. Whether that inspires any American presidential candidates of either party to openly applaud the president, and thus appear to even tacitly question Israeli policy in an election year, is an entirely different question. But it does put them in the dilemma as to whether they should openly oppose him, with Rudy Guiliani being the exception - his advisers include Pipes, Martin Kramer, and Norman Podhoretz.
But, for now, despite the obstacles to found in the region, we have a somewhat sophisticated and open statement addressing both sides from an unexpected source. That itself is an accomplishment. Read more on this article...

Pakistan Commentary: Haqqani, Hoodbhoy, Daily Times, Bergen

There's a set of recent articles on Pakistan I'd like to call to readers' attention.

Husain Haqqani called attention to an editorial on the Daily Times (Lahore), which makes clear a point I argued earlier, that the Pakistan Army is not just a defense organization but Pakistan's ruling party, controlling all branches of government. Haqqani is Director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations, Co-Chair of the Hudson Institute’s Project on Islam and Democracy. and the author of the Carnegie Endowment book "Pakistan Between Mosque and Military." He served as an adviser to Ms Bhutto. The editorial, entitled PPP and the Pakistan Army, opens:
President Pervez Musharraf’s view, expressed to an American magazine, that the late PPP chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, “was very unpopular with the military”, clears the issues surrounding his policy drift in the last eight years and foreshadows what might transpire in the coming months. He began his career as the ruler of Pakistan by stigmatising both the mainstream parties, then plumping for the breakaway PML, in line with his military indoctrination against the PPP. The army’s dislike of Ms Bhutto dated from her 1988-1990 government when she was reluctantly allowed to rule under “conditions”, but was doubly disliked when she failed to walk in step with the military adventurers of Pakistan.
Haqqani has published two articles of his own. First, Healing the Rifts:
Pakistan is a nation in need of healing. The last one year has highlighted the many fissures that have festered below the surface for years. Unity of command, so effective in running a disciplined force like a military unit, has ended up dividing the Pakistani nation. The first opinion poll, conducted by Gallup, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto showed that nearly half of the sample suspected Government agencies (23%) and Government allied politicians (25%) of killing Ms Bhutto. The response to such widespread mistrust of the government is not dismissive statements by the country’s rulers. A serious effort is now needed to bridge the gap between Pakistan’s state and society.
Second, Advancing the Bhutto Legacy:
Too much commentary on Pakistan has focused on the flaws and feudal nature of its politics. Given the choice between flawed politicians and a military-intelligence establishment that has fostered terrorism for years, the international community - including the United States - must side with Pakistan's politicians. Politics can change. Continued rule by a nontransparent secret service with ties to militant jihadis (which is what General Pervez Musharraf represents) will always create a security dilemma.

The Pakistan People's Party's decision to elect Benazir Bhutto's 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, as co-chairmen of the party is being criticized as representing dynastic politics that does not promote democracy. A distinction must be made between dynastic politics and the politics of family legacy.

It is difficult for Westerners to understand a situation in which a well-organized political party unites around the charisma of a single family while retaining a vast pool of talented leaders. Family legacies have worked to build democracies in countries as far apart as Greece and India. The Papandreou and Karamanlis families have provided leaders for rival parties in Greece for years, and the Nehru-Gandhi family has been the focal point for the Indian National Congress. The Pakistan People's Party, like other parties with family-based leadership in Greece, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, has a lot of talent in its ranks. That talent remains available to the party regardless of who leads it.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the department of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad and the author of "Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality," addresses Pakistan's State of Denial about the threat posed by its nuclear weapons:
A cacophony of protests in Pakistan greeted a recent statement by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad ElBaradei. "I fear that chaos, or an extremist regime, could take root in that country, which has 30 to 40 warheads," he said. He also expressed fear that "nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of extremist groups in Pakistan or Afghanistan."

But in Pakistan, few worry. The Strategic Plans Division, which is the Pakistani agency responsible for handling nuclear weapons, exudes confidence that it can safely protect the country's "crown jewels."
After reviewing the deep inter-penetration of the Pakistan military and jihadi militants, he concludes:

[W]e Pakistanis live in a state of denial. Even as suicide bombings escalate, criticism of religious extremists remains taboo. The overwhelming majority still attributes recent terrorist events - such as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto - to the Musharraf government. But these delusions will eventually shatter. At some point we will surely see that ElBaradei's warning makes sense.
Peter Bergen, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know, examines the evidence surrounding Bhutto's assassination in The Killer Question (The New Republic, subscribers only). Read more on this article...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Naser Shahalemi: Firsthand Experience of Terrorism in the Serena Hotel

I received the account and photos below from Naser Shahalemi, an Afghan-American friend living and working in Afghanistan. He has agreed to their publication. I also received some other pictures that I am not publishing, because they show the two fingers of one of the bombers that Naser found in his car. I assure readers that the report is substantiated.

Barnett R. Rubin

Naser writes:

It was 5:30 PM [Monday January 14, Kabul time, 13:30 GMT] and I was wrapping up my day in the office. My cousin Arif, my office manager, and I decided to head off to the Serena Hotel for a classy 5- star dinner, a rare commodity in Kabul. My two drivers were out driving the employees home and so Arif decided to drive and we left without a driver which may have saved their lives.

We arrived at Serena Hotel, on the outside gate. The same friendly faces, all 4-6 guards posted outside, one a good friendly face Aghai Sultan always gives me a friendly wave and waves my car in after checking the vehicle.

Everything smooth, and everything is normal. We walk to the Restaurant section and they have not yet setup the final buffet, the friendly hostess tell me we need 15 minutes. I look at Arif and I say come on lets take a walk until things are setup. I head back walk into the lobby see a few friendly faces. I sat down in the lobby a few minutes, and Arif said hey lets wait here until time is ready. Then I remembered the nice teahouse on the left side of Serena called the Chai Khana. So we went for a quick cup of tea in the Chai Khana.

We sat down, tea in hand and then it began. All of sudden BOOM! A suicide bomber dressed as police had walked into the security X-ray booth with a vest of explosives attached on his chest and blew himself up killing half of the guards in the booth.The windows began shaking, I quickly think hey that was a bomb but the Serena Glass is thick so we don't know if its close or far. Usually a bomb like that I would estimate it was 5 blocks away then all of a sudden BOOM again and then rapid gunfire. The guards killed 1 attacker and but two more get inside the main lobby of the Serena.

Everyone gets up, and starts getting back into a slip door, that connects to a second lounge. I quickly move looking around thinking very quick anything could happen. I don't hear anything I walk back to the original spot I was in looking for some signal of what was happening. I look through the glass outside and see a Corolla turn and wrap to the front of the Serena Door and then the driver jumps outs and throws himself on the ground. The Corolla hits the wall of the front glass doors.Then I just hear hundreds of bullets shooting, I hit the ground because the bullets at this point sound extremely close to me. I start crawling through the Chai Khana on my knees and I get back to the second lounge in the slip door.

The Serena worker is quickly telling me to move and get to the basement as soon as possible. Grenades are being thrown and the lobby is covered in a thick smoke that no one can see. I hear more explosions, one Serena employees is being carried past me covered in blood by two other Serena employees. His hand is is covered in blood. His face is covered in blood. I am hearing gunshots in the lobby, the terrorists have infiltrated the lobby and are now shooting anyone.

I turn on the afterburners and start cutting up the hall following a trail of blood leading to the basement. Everyone is running as fast as possible. I lost my cousin Arif in this mess. I get down two flights of steps in the secure basement of the Serena where I see Arif. We greet each other, and I check to see he isn't injured. I asked him are you OK, he is fine, we quickly move to the deeper portion of the basement. Amongst us is the Norwegian Foreign Minister, and his security contingent. Also is the UN Human Rights activist Sima Samar [she is Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the Sudan], also a former Women's Minister of the Karzai Administration [and Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission]. We get in the cafeteria and more Afghan politicians are amongst us, with Europeans and foreigners. Karzai''s oldest brother is also trapped with us and he is pacing frantically as we are unaware of what is going on in the lobby. We can hear shots and we can hear booms, but the remaining security personnel is posted at the doors and is ready to shoot at will.

More people come to the basement, as the terrorists have infiltrated the gym and spa area. They have shot dead the spa manager, Zina a very pleasant Filipino Girl who was just doing her job working in Afghanistan to support herself and family abroad. The Terrorists move into the gym and shot an American dead in the face on the treadmill. The president of the Olympic Committee, Mr. Anwar Khan Jagdalak [a former mujahidin commander of Jamiat-i Islami] was in the locker room getting dressed when the Terrorist came face to face to with him. Mr. Jagdalak asked him in Persian "Khaireyaat Khob ast?" (Is everything OK?), and then he turned his gun and took a shot at the president of the Olympic Committee. Mr. Jagdalak made an Olympic dive and fled, and quickly found refuge in some space in the locker room where the Terrorist couldn't find him. He escaped to the basement through another pass.

The doorman, was carried down to the basement by Serena Staff. He had passed out from all of the events he saw, and they were opening up his vest to get him air and began sprinkling water on his face. Then all of sudden a bunch of Serena employees started running down the hall in the basement like they were being chased. This in turn caused two Russian girls to start screaming, and made everyone start to hide including President Karzai's oldest brother who was also trapped with us. What could you do, what would you do if you knew people were coming to shoot you? Turns out the terrorists had not infiltrated the basement, and the Russian girls had to be calmed down, and were given cigarettes to relax.

Hours pass, and we are all sitting and reminiscing about what the hell just happened in front of our eyes who and what we saw. Then all of a sudden two U.S. Marines come down to the basement armed to the teeth, asking everyone if they are all right. We were kind of relieved to see the Marines. The Marines then called out for all US Citizens and they took me, and about ten other people out including Arif whom I told the marine was with me. They said fine, but let's move. We started moving with the Marines out the basement, guns drawn, coming upstairs through the same hall I ran down. There was a pool a blood where I was standing before when everything began and now there was blood everywhere in the lobby, broken glass, black walls from the bomb blasts. Hundreds of Afghan Secret Service and NDS [National Directorate of Security, Amaniyyat-i Milli] guards were standing around. The US Marines got us out and put us in armored vehicles and took us to the embassy where they treated us, took reports and gave us medical checkups.

They later than released us, and my driver and guards came and picked us up in another car and we went home. Next day I came to get the land cruiser I left parked at the entrance of the door when the bomb went off. Amaniyyat (Afghan CIA) [NDS] asked us some questions then let us in. I looked at my car, I couldn't believe what I saw. Blood, guts, black marks from the bomb blast everywhere. The land cruiser from behind was filled with bullet holes throughout the vehicle. The second Suicide bomber had detonated himself five meters away from car once he got inside and his finger ended up in my back of my land cruiser, and his thumb was on my dashboard. I peered inside the back of the land cruiser through the broken glass and saw the finger, I am not at all accustomed to seeing those types of gruesome items up close it was pretty damn disgusting. The lack of respect for their lives was proven in this heinous crime.

This whole thing has me really spooked, now Taliban are vowing more attacks on Kabul restaurants where foreigners and expatriates are attending. I am unsure what to make of all these tragic events however the situation in Kabul is obviously deteriorating.
Read more on this article...

More Thoughts on the Serena Bombing: Back to the Light Footprint; Democracy in Pakistan

Update: There are some good comments. They are a bit long, so I am not promoting them to the front any more, but I recommend taking a look if you have time.

I had a few conversations that led me to the following thoughts about the Serena bombing:

Whatever happens next, this is a major decision point for everyone concerned in Afghanistan. Such operations will continue. Even if the vast majority do not succeed, the result will be a mix of the following:
  1. Many if not most of the civilian foreign expatriates currently involved in the delivery of aid or other activities in Afghanistan will leave.
  2. Most of the rest will be concentrated into a Forbidden City like the Green Zone in Baghdad. The U.S. Embassy is already such a compound, and the area around it in Wazir Akbar Khan is already so fortified that it might not take much more to turn that and the adjacent areas of Shahr-i Naw (palace, main ministries, UN offices, embassies) into such a zone.
This is happening at the same time that it is necessary to increase development assistance, as the absorption capacity of the Afghan government and society is finally starting to increase. These alternatives are unacceptable. They would make aid even more wasteful and out of touch than it is now.

The alternative is to go back to the original much misunderstood idea of the "light footprint." People say that Lakhdar Brahimi's idea of the light footprint has failed. They even confuse the idea with Donald Rumsfeld's idea of "economy of force." But there has never been a light footprint in Afghanistan. Brahimi imagined in the fall of 2001 that most of the aid to Afghanistan would be delivered through UN agencies, as it was in East Timor. As Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN, he advocated a light footprint for those agencies, so as to channel most of the aid to building up the capacity and legitimacy of the Afghan government rather than into parallel structures that would suck all the talent and money away.

That never happened. The SRSG could not control the agencies. But even that hardly mattered. Most of the aid was not delivered by UN agencies. It was delivered by an army of foreign contractors, consultants, and NGOs working for bilateral donors (that's aid-speak for "countries," like the US). And all those foreigners need security that NATO, the Coalition, and the Afghan government cannot provide: hence the proliferation of foreign owned-private security contractors -- and the Afghan private security contractors that they have spawned as their subcontractors, many of which are composed of supposedly demobilized militias.

I'm not attacking all those aid workers. I'm one of them. The point is not about our individual merits -- there are saints and sinners among us. God knows, I am probably a more legitimate target for the Taliban than that Filippina woman they killed in the gym. But collectively we have generated an infrastructure serving only our needs that dwarfs the infrastructure provided for Afghans. This infrastructure -- of which the Serena Hotel is the flagship -- is the most visible part of the aid system to Afghans. Projects may mature in a few (or many) years, but right now Afghans see the guest houses, bars, restaurants, armored cars, checkpoints, hotels, hostile unaccountable gunmen, brothels, videos, CDs, cable television, Internet cafes with access to pornography, ethnic Russian waitresses from Kyrgyzstan in Italian restaurants owned by members of the former royal family and patronized by U.S. private security guards with their Chinese girlfriends and Afghan TV moguls, and skyrocketing prices for real estate, food, and fuel, traffic jams caused by the proliferation of vehicles and exacerbated by "security measures" every time a foreign or Afghan official leaves the office -- I could go on, but the Serena is a symbol of all that.

Is there a way to make this danger into an opportunity? The Afghan government from the beginning has asked for more aid to go through the Afghan government budget, more contracts to be given to Afghan firms. The international reply has always been "lack of capacity," though I am not sure which is a more serious problem: Afghans' lack of capacity to do what foreigners require of them to get aid, or foreigners' lack of capacity to build meaningful skills or deliver aid in a way that Afghans perceive as effective.

We don't have the luxury of waiting around for some mythical "capacity building" programs that the "international community" apparently lacks the capacity to conceive or run (my apologies in advance to the exceptions -- please don't flood me with emails about how your program works -- I know some of them do). Do we want to support the Afghanistan that actually exists, or are we waiting for a new Afghanistan of our imagination to appear out of the mists of the Hindu Kush and deserve our aid? (Of course Afghans are also waiting for the superpowers and aid donors of their imagination to materialize, but it turns out that in reality -- well, see above.)

As far as I know, all this aid is not there because of anybody's generosity, though Afghans are required to say so from time to time. Did the US and other donors suddenly develop a bad case of generosity after September 11? I tried that argument from time to time during 1992-2001, but it didn't work. The US and others are in Afghanistan for their national security interests. So we can't just pack up and walk away if the Afghans don't conform to our desires. Sometimes I wish the Afghan government would keep that more firmly in mind.

It is possible -- though not necessarily so -- that these interests will coincide with that of many Afghans for a while. That's the question Afghans are asking: are the foreigners here to help us as well as themselves, or to help only themselves, even at our expense? That's the political question at the heart of counter-narcotics policy. That is the political question at the heart of disputes over civilian casualties, status of forces agreements, detainees, and how aid is delivered.

In fact it's the dispute that started the whole thing. Remember, Bin Laden stated on October 7, 2001, that the international state system (symbolized by the Treaty of Lausanne, to which he referred as the start of 80 years of humiliation) was a source of oppression to Muslims. He cited lots of examples. Muslims don't want to believe him. Whatever they have suffered or think they have suffered in this system, most don't see Bin Laden (or the Taliban) offering an alternative to modern education, science, health care, development, legality, and so on.

But they have to ask themselves -- what is the alternative the international system is actually offering us? For citizens of the UAE -- not so bad! For Afghans? They don't want more bombings, killings, executions, torture, corruption, invasions, ignorance, poverty, disease.... When I visited Afghanistan under the Taliban in 1998 people quietly let me know how frustrated they were. In the Pashtun areas, at least, people felt a degree of personal security as long as they obeyed the Taliban, but they were bitter about their poverty and lack of development and freedom. The universal strength of that feeling was the most lasting impression of that visit. Everything I have seen since has confirmed and reconfirmed it. But it has also confirmed and reconfirmed that Afghans are losing faith that they are actually being offered a share of what they think the "international community" has to offer.

I don't have a blueprint on my hard drive on in a cache somewhere. But the Serena bombing is a sign that unless Afghans are really in charge of their country, it will not be rebuilt. I know that some plans are out there. It's time to take a new look at them. Are they unrealistic? Maybe. But what is definitely unrealistic is thinking we can succeed with the approach we have used so far.

Now for Pakistan: the Afghan NDS says that the attackers were trained and equipped by networks based in Pakistan. That's not much of a surprise. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the UN already published a report on suicide bombings in Afghanistan, showing that they were organized, funded, and planned in the Tribal Agencies of Pakistan. Pakistan's main response (always proactive) was that its UN representative called the UN Secretary General and demanded that the report be taken off the website.

But I don't want to "attack Pakistan" (more emails). Pakistanis are asking similar questions: is the War on Terror making us more or less secure? Is it a common interest we have with the Americans or something imposed on us against our interest? Right now, there is an unbridgeable gap in Pakistan between the population's perception of security threats and the military government's doctrine of security threats, conforming to Washington's.

According to poll data, most Pakistanis seem to see the Pakistani military as the most immediate threat to their security. Nawaz Sharif told a cheering crowd the other day that a government supinely following the Americans' War on Terror had "drowned the country in blood." He was referring to the military offensives in the tribal territories and the attack on the Red Mosque in Islamabad last summer. Does his audience want to be ruled by Taliban and Usama Bin Laden? I haven't interviewed them, but I will hazard a guess: no they don't. But right now that is a secondary threat to them. Telling them they have to be for us or against us will only convince them that they are against us.

Conclusion: until Pakistan develops a legitimate political elite with a reasonable consensus about the national interest and national security, Pakistan will not be a "reliable ally in the war on terror." Why are the supporters of Benazir Bhutto more hostile to the military government than to the militant groups that probably killed her? Because they know that the military government used US aid to nurture those same militant groups and their civilian political allies in order to impose its own dictatorship. Reversing that calculus is the single most important task for security in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Now people will ask me how to do it. I have some ideas ... I'd like to hear some others. One hint: missiles, Drones, commando raids, and more military rule in Pakistan are not the preferred options.

Response from Farid Maqsudi, promoted from Comments:

The key to success for Afghanistan and stakeholders such as USA and the international community, is the shift of burden from US and international community to Afghans.

The accountability for the success and failure needs to be with the Afghans and the Afghan government.

A common Afghan knows what he/she wants and needs for better life.

I agree in principle with the government's position that aid should flow through it. But as President Karzai acknowledges the increasing corrupt environment, he must first take serious action against the corrupt culture to gain the confidence of the donors, citizens and the private sector.

I am involved in the reconstruction economy of Afghanistan and from experience, I can tell it is better for Afghanistan and the world to stop with much of the technical studies and consultants to consultants in the reconstruction projects.

Afghans are hearing about billions and billions of aid money but they don't see it benefiting them. Let's talk smaller money and extend it directly to the people so they appreciate the challenges of reconstruction as well as the benefits.

The Afghan government should promise and deliver to its citizens a number of high impact projects that will boost the confidence of its citizens and stakeholders.

No doubt that various entities in Pakistan are taking detrimental actions against Afghanistan but Pakistan is not the entire cause of the problems in Afghanistan. The Afghans on both sides of the border should demonstrate their patriotism for Afghanistan by taking constructive and peaceful actions.

It is high time that we address the basics.

It is time for President Karzai to take the respectful robe off and pull up the shirt sleeves.

It is time for President Karzai to spend several continuous months in each regional capitals like Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat to bring attention to security and reconstruction.

It is time for the international community to support Afghans.

It is time for the country to come together. Read more on this article...

New York Times on ISI; Serena Hotel Attack (Plus Update Connecting the Two and Historical Background)

David Rohde and Carlotta Gall deserve huge credit for an outstanding investigative article today on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. This article makes sense out of all the contradictory indications about the ISI's links to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as other armed militant groups. It also covers the ISI's role in domestic politics, including election rigging. It is clear from the article that a military regime cannot (and some will not) control the militants it created and that the military will also not permit civilians to take control of the state. But at least President Bush is hard at work building the broadest possible global alliance against Iranian speedboats and Filipino radio pranksters. Bush reportedly does not believe his own intelligence agencies' report on Iran, as it failed to coincide with what he knows to be true. (More on this from Scott Horton....)

The attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul is a shock for all of us foreigners who have gone there for tea. conferences, or brunch, even if we never stayed there. Like most people who go in and out of the Kabul expatriate community, I imagine, I knew a couple of people who were there -- in my case including some Norwegian diplomats.

News reports mention that this was Afghanistan's only "five-star" hotel. They don't mention that nearly all Afghans live in "zero-star" conditions, including the thousands of people who pass that traffic circle every day and see inaccessible luxury behind thick walls. The rioters attacked the Serena in May 2006, apparently believing that alcohol is served there, though it is not.

I am sure that the people of Kabul don't want more violence in their city. They were badly frightened by the riots in 2006. But there is huge resentment and anger building up at the overbearing foreign presence. The May 2006 riots were sparked by an accident where US military vehicles killed a pedestrian. Afghans see and often do not distinguish among the "Chinese restaurant" brothels and the glittering restaurants (by Afghan standards, not ours) serving luxuries, including alcohol, to foreigners, some of whom are being highly paid to destroy Afghanistan's opium livelihood, which Afghan Islamic figures say is no worse than the alcohol they drink at night after destroying farmers' poppy crops.

Many Afghans think that money that is supposed to be used to help them is instead being used to pay for the good life for foreigners in the Serena hotel. Alas, it is true. When aid donors boast of how much technical assistance they are giving Afghanistan, they provide data on the size of the contracts they have given to consultants. I have spent some of the grant and contract money that pay for my salary and travel expenses on meals and tea at the Serena Hotel. These expenses are counted as someone's assistance to Afghanistan.

This is a new kind of target for the Taliban. Foreigners going to restaurants in Kabul (including some where, unlike the Serena, alcohol is in fact served), sometimes joke that they feel like targets. Up to now, however, they have not been. The Taliban have mostly attacked the international forces and Afghan army, police, and officials, as well as other "collaborators," such as employees on reconstruction projects or public figures who support the government. Sometimes they kill civilians indiscriminately when they attack government buildings (including cases when they killed students in schools). But as far as I know, this is the first attack targeted at the foreign assistance community and the "corrupt" lifestyle it has brought to Afghanistan. I imagine it will not be the last.

Update: AP quotes Amrullah Saleh, head of the National Security Directorate of Afghanistan, as saying that the attack was planned by the network headed by Siraj Haqqani, a native of Khost currently based in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency of Pakistan. So it seems the two posts above might be connected. In case this hypothesis proves true, here is some background.

Haqqani's father, Mawlawi Jalaluddin, was a highly praised mujahidin commander in the 1980s. He was called "Haqqani" because he attended the Deobandi madrasa Haqqaniyya in Akhora Khattak on the Grand Trunk Road between Peshawar and Islamabad, headed by Senator Sami-ul-Haq of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema. This madrasa trained many Taliban leaders.

Haqqani was one of the CIA's favorites because of his penchant for "killing Russians" and executing Afghan "communist" prisoners after trial for apostasy. He was one of ten commanders known as "unilaterals" who got aid directly from the CIA, not filtered through the ISI. His huge base (later occupied by al-Qaida) was built by a Pakistani construction company connected to the military and paid for by private Saudi donations (not sure whose, but it could easily have been Bin Laden).

Though not a member of the Taliban core group in southern Afghanistan (he is from the Zadran/Jadran tribe in Khost, in the east), he became an important minister and commander of the Taliban, leading offensives in the Shamali plain north of Kabul in cooperation with al-Qaida.

During the Coalition operation against the Taliban in the fall of 2001, the ISI brought Haqqani to Islamabad several times, offering him to the U.S. as a "moderate Taliban" replacement for Mullah Umar, but Haqqani did not cooperate or at least he didn't deliver. In December 2001 Mawlawi Jalaluddin announced that despite his opposition to the U.S. invasion, now was the time for peace in Afghanistan, and he sent a delegation from the Jadran tribe to attend the inauguration of Hamid Karzai. Someone (reportedly Mawlawi Jaluluddin's rival, Pacha Khan Zadran, though there are other suspects as well) warned the U.S. that Taliban were approaching Kabul, and a U.S. bombing raid killed over 60 elders of the tribe who were on their way to Kabul for reconciliation.

Since that time, Mawlawi Jalaluddin (who may have died -- reports are unclear) and his son Sirajuddin have built up a powerful front based in North Waziristan. The Jadrans remain factionalized and their loyalties have vacillated -- today many are serving in pro-government militias, and cross-border attacks from Waziristan are said to have decreased.

The Haqqanis are considered by the U.S. military to constitute almost a separate operation from (though nominally affiliated with) the Taliban under Mullah Umar. They are one of the pivotal points of cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as the Haqqanis have close relations with Baitullah Mahsud, Amir of the Pakistani Taliban and commander in South Waziristan.

If anyone believes that the ISI does not know where the Haqqanis are, there is a bridge not far from my office in lower Manhattan I would like to show you.

Historical Note: In May 2002 in Kabul I attended a meeting at the home of the former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, where he received a delegation from the Jaji tribe in Paktia, neighbors (and at times rivals) of the Jadrans. The Jaji elders reminded Zahir Shah that their fathers and grandfathers had helped his father, Nadir Shah, overthrow a usurper in Kabul, Amir Habibullah Kalakani, known as Bacha-i Saqaw (son of the water carrier) and Khadim-i Din-i Rasul Allah (servant of the religion of the Messenger of God). Habibullah came from the Tajik village of Kalakan north of Kabul, which briefly became a "Maoist" bastion in the early 1980s.

The elders offered to help Zahir Shah evict the Northern Alliance from Kabul, as they had helped his father before him. Zahir Shah said he wanted to work for peace and asked them to participate in the Emergency Loya Jirga scheduled for the following month.

By the way, when Nadir Shah (then Nadir Khan) mobilized the Jajis, Jadrans, Ahmadzais, and Tanis against Amir Habibullah, he was sitting in Waziristan, receiving aid from the British through the political agents in the Tribal Agencies. . . . Read more on this article...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bush and Palestinian-Israeli Peace Efforts

Bush and Palestinian-Israeli Peace Efforts.
Charles D. Smith
Any doubts as to the president’s sincerity in committing himself to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process were increased, not dispelled, by his performance once he left Israel for Abu Dhabi. There he delivered a speech portrayed by his aides as the “centerpiece” of his Middle East trip. It focused on Iran as the threat to peace and attempted to reassert his commitment to democratic trends in the region. No mention was made of Israel or the Palestinians, a serious disconnect from the reality perceived by his hosts who consider the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli issue, not Iran, as a far greater threat to regional stability and their own security against popular unrest.

Were there any good signs from Bush’s visit to Israel and the West Bank? Upon arriving at Ben-Gurion airport he immediately lambasted Hamas for undermining the Gazan economy, spurring CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman to post a story on babies dying in Gaza hospitals because of the American-backed Israeli blockade of most goods in and out of the area; no similar story appeared in the mainstream media. But Bush’s Israeli hosts were concerned. Prime Minister Olmert’s airport welcome was so effusive that many winced. Olmert had himself given an interview a week before where he had said that many “painful decisions” would be necessary regarding withdrawal from West Bank settlements. The question remains whether the pain Olmert forsees for Israelis by confronting settlers will be sufficient to meet minimum Palestinian expectations regarding the borders of a viable Palestinian state.

To his credit, Bush did speak openly of the need for Israel to end its “occupation” of Arab land. Israelis bristled at the word “occupation.” He referred to a “viable, contiguous, and sovereign” state, indicating that the Israeli right of oversight of Palestinian movements would be curtailed. He also called for the end of settlement building and removal of unauthorized outposts. But much of this can be reinterpreted to mean something quite different than what one might expect.

What does the word “contiguous” signify? Ariel Sharon referred to “transportational contiguity” for Palestinians on the West Bank. He meant that Israeli settlements and bypass roads would remain, some such as Maale Adumim virtually cutting the West Bank in half. Palestinians could connect between the northern and southern areas by means of tunnels under the Israeli bypass roads, overseen by Israeli troops on the roads above. That’s not exactly what contiguity usually means. Olmert himself has referred to contiguity with the idea that Gaza and the West Bank must be connected to form one Palestinian state; no mention of West Bank contiguity that could only be assured by removal of Malae Adumim. Olmert is adamant that that settlement will remain part of Israel.

Indeed, Israel officials can rely on Bush’s April 2004 letter, written with the aid of Elliott Abrams of the NSC, assuring Sharon that the “facts on the ground,” major population areas in the West Bank, could remain part of Israel. But where some might think that referred only to the Etzion and similar blocs close to Jerusalem, Israeli officials appear to have other towns in mind, including Ariel, an town that thrusts well into the northern West Bank and around which the security barrier is being extended. Once Bush had left, Israeli officials said with assurance that major settlement expansion would continue.

In such circumstances, we should not expect that any Palestinian leader, however conciliatory he might wish to be, could accept such a process where the “painful concessions” amounted to very little from a Palestinian perspective. Olmert may fear his settler constituency and civil war if required to abandon many settlements, but Abbas’s position depends on achieving nearly the maximum possible with respect to Israeli-occupied land across the 1967 Green Line.

Interestingly, Secretary of State Condalezza Rice appears more determined to confront the issues than President Bush. She has been cited in the Israeli press as saying that Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank reminds her of her childhood as a black woman in the American south. Strong stuff. But if Olmert feels he can bypass her and rely on Abrams to get to Bush, he may not feel too threatened.

Under the circumstances, with Bush far more focused on Iran than the Palestinians, we should not expect too much for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Bush has strong emotional ties to Israel, fueled by his helicopter survey of the West Bank with Ariel Sharon in 1998. As the Washington Post reported, Bush viewed the ten-mile width of Israel within its 1967 borders and quipped that there were driveways in Texas longer than that. What the Post did not note was that Bush made that remark at the AIPAC convention in spring 2000 as he appealed for Jewish support in the election campaign.

As Olmert noted in his Jerusalem Post interview, Israel faced the quandary of either withdrawing from much of the West Bank, to ensure a Jewish state, or retaining hold and taking on governance of the Palestinian population, denying the possibility of a Jewish state. Recognizing the dilemma and doing something about it are two different things. It is more likely that Olmert may hope that Palestinian rejection of a supposedly generous offer -recall the fictional narrative of what happened at Camp David 2000- will enable him to evade confrontation with the settlers. But such evasion threatens rather than ensures Israel’s security in the long term. Mahmud Abbas, on his part, must demand almost full Israeli withdrawal or be forced out of office. In such circumstances, what Olmert views as necessary for his political survival, which includes escaping assassination by settlers, will likely be what Abbas cannot accept if he himself wishes to survive.

Serious discussions of these matters may await a new administration. If Democratic, it will likely include Dennis Ross overseeing the supposed peace process. That is not encouraging. Ross essentially falsified the information he gave the American public on the Oslo process and Camp David. He willingly acknowledged to a European audience in Charles Enderlin’s Shattered Dreams [now in English] that Israel was as responsible for the failure of the peace process as the Palestinians. He specifically mentioned Israeli settlement building from 1993 onward to 2000. In his memoir for Americans, The Missing Peace, he never mentions Israeli settlements after the year 1993, thus evading the 1993-2000 period he mentions in Enderlin.

Such an example of bias does not inspire confidence for what might happen beyond the end of this year. We may have to hope for more boldness from Israelis and Palestinians than concrete initiatives from Washington, especially in a presidential election year. Read more on this article...

Let Them Eat Cake

Of course, one needs flour to make cake. Pervez Musharraf recently opined that the flour crisis is not real and that the cost of flour in Pakistan is, in fact, cheaper than neighboring countries. Let it be noted that the price of flour in Pakistan is 3 or 4 times the normal rate and that is only if you can find any. [The BBC Urdu article notes that the price of flour in India is three times lower.] The things are so dire that army troops are guarding wheat shipments. I wonder if our informed commentator, Fareed Zakaria, was served cake while having tea with Musharraf.

It is not hard to imagine what the lack of basic foodstuff, and basic security, can mean for this nation in crisis. Read more on this article...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fareed Zakaria: Musharraf's Last Stand

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek has just returned from a trip to Pakistan, where he met with, among others, President Musharraf. The result is one of the best analyses to appear in the media: Musharraf's Last Stand. A few excerpts:
In the past year Pakistan has suffered its worst violence since the riots that followed its founding in 1947. And in the past six months it has careered from one political and constitutional crisis to another, none of which has been resolved, or is likely to be resolved by parliamentary elections scheduled for Feb. 18. . . . In fact, Pakistan is facing two crises—one political and the other security-related. . . .
There is a solution to Pakistan's political crisis, one that will allow Musharraf to leave on a high note. First, he must hold free and fair elections. . . . Musharraf should recognize that he has become far too controversial to be able to lead his nation and should instead recede from power.

That still leaves Pakistan's other, more dangerous, crisis—the new jihad. . . . The most troubling aspect of this wave of terror is that no one in Pakistan seems to understand why it's happening. . . . Theories abound. The Pakistani military was never fully committed to battling jihadists. Having spent decades training fighters for Kashmir and Afghanistan, the Army withdrew support but would not kill or arrest its former charges.

Washington itself bears a significant part of the blame. The Taliban were never really defeated after the fall of Kabul. They simply went into hiding and regrouped, and yet the American Army declared victory and left. . . . The American debate has been, as is often the case, largely removed from reality.

The real question we face in Pakistan is what to do about the upcoming elections to ensure that they are free and fair. We need to walk Musharraf back from a power struggle in which he is pitted against an independent judiciary and democratically elected politicians. And above all we must find a way to work with the Pakistani people and not a handful of generals. Otherwise the intense anti-Americanism in Pakistan—fast rising because of our support for Musharraf—will produce a new wave of jihadists, born in the mountains of the frontier, tested in battle against the Pakistani Army and thirsting to fight the ultimate enemy, thousands of miles away.
Read more on this article...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Erroneous Talking Points on Opium Poppy Crop Eradication in Afghanistan

The major donors and troop contributors to Afghanistan will meet in Tokyo on February 6, 2008, to review progress in Afghanistan. One major theme of the meeting will be counter-narcotics, as opium production increased last year. The U.S. position, as stated in its official counter-narcotics strategy for Afghanistan, demands forced eradication of a significantly larger portion of the crop, especially in areas under Taliban control. In the absence of aerial eradication, which the Afghan government has rejected, this requires forced eradication, using troops and police to protect manual eradicators and possibly fighting in order to obtain access to areas for eradication. Though there is agreement on many other areas of counter-narcotics policy, many in Afghanistan believe that such forced eradication is likely to backfire and strengthen the insurgency.

I have concluded from my discussions with US officials that they believe that the expansion of the opium economy in southern Afghanistan, and especially in Helmand province, has strengthened the Taliban and that crop eradication would therefore weaken the Taliban by depriving them of funds. I believe that this argument is wrong and that forced eradication in hostile areas will not defund the Taliban or increase security. It will weaken the government and strengthen the insurgency. Eradication is part of a balanced counter-narcotics policy, but gaining control of territory and providing security and starting development come first.

It is wrong to imply, as some US officials do, that the Taliban have become so powerful in Helmand because the GoA failed to implement its CN policy. The Taliban became powerful in Helmand because until 2006 the US put only 150 Special Forces there to catch terrorists and did little to provide security or development to the population. Consequently the government of Afghanistan and aid organizations could not work there. Furthermore, the U.S. ignored warnings about the development of Taliban leadership and infrastructure in Quetta, Pakistan, right across the border, and took at face value the statements of the Government of Pakistan, which, according to Pakistan's Daily Times, are believed by no one in Pakistan itself.

So when the British arrived to lead the NATO deployment to Helmand in 2006, they found that Taliban controlled most of the province, poppy cultivation was expanding because of the lack of government control, and the Taliban were safely ensconced right across the border in Baluchistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. government was focused on Iraq.

Other erroneous talking points on this subject:

  1. The US and UNODC claim that poppy cultivation is not related to poverty because southern provinces where poppy is grown are richer than northern provinces where it has been reduced. Wrong. First they are using average income to measure poverty, which is highly inaccurate and not the preferred measure. Even using this flawed measurement, official statistics show that the northern provinces of Jawzjan, Balkh, Samangan, and Baghlan are all “richer” than the southern province of Qandahar. All seven northern provinces are richer than the southern provinces of Zabul and Uruzgan. The average income in Helmand is indeed estimated to be greater than in Balkh, amounting to $1 per person per day rather than $0.70 per person per day. A dollar a day, the average income in "rich" Helmand, is the internationally accepted definition of destitution. And within each province, the poorest people are the most dependent on poppy cultivation. In any case, the argument against eradication is not bleeding-heart liberal (or Christian) sympathy for the poor. It is analysis that the net result of forced eradication will be greater insecurity and a stronger insurgency with no negative effect on Taliban operations or financing.
  2. The US and UNODC claim that the fact that poppy cultivation is concentrated in the south, where the insurgency is, proves that the insurgency grows because of the drug trade. Wrong. Poppy cultivation follows insecurity. Since the Taliban control so much of Helmand,where natural conditions favor poppy cultivation, poppy is grown there. Natural conditions also favor poppy cultivation in Badakhshan and Nangarhar, but because the insurgency is weaker in these provinces, security is better and communities have more alternatives to the drug economy.
  3. Crop eradication will deprive the Taliban of funds. Wrong. Did the Taliban lack money in 2000-2001, when they decreased opium poppy cultivation by 95%? They continued to tax trafficking of existing stocks. If the government with NATO back-up manages to eradicate in Helmand this year, the first year or two trafficking will continue from stocks. After that, either poppy will be grown elsewhere and trafficked through Helmand, at a higher price, or the government will lose control of Helmand and poppy will come back. Crop eradication does not defund the Taliban.
  4. The successful capture of Musa Qala district from the Taliban in northern Helmand shows that eradication will defund the Taliban, because the area had been turned into a heroin production center to fund the Taliban. U.S. Ambassador Wood stated that "in Musa Qala Afghan and international forces found a reported $500 million in street value of drugs warehoused in the district." The use of "street value," (i.e. price to the final consumer in Europe) exaggerates the local value of the drugs by a factor of at least 20. In fact the seized narcotics in Musa Qala show that forced eradication is not necessary for tackling the link between insurgency and narcotics. There was no eradication in Musa Qala. A successful political-military operation (negotiation with Taliban leader Abdul Salaam, who came over to the government side, plus the military operation) enabled the government to get control of the area, seize drugs, and destroy heroin labs. This is interdiction, not eradication. If the government had forcibly eradicated the crop, would Mullah Abdul Salaam have come over to the government side? Would the operation have succeeded? Now the government and international agencies can start programs to help people in Musa Qala and ask them to refrain from planting poppy.
  5. Helmand has received so much money in US aid that if it were a country it would be one of the leading aid recipients. This is the kind of argument that sounds good in Washington and rings false in Afghanistan. What is true is that the U.S. has appropriated and partly spent that amount of money for projects in Helmand. The largest project in Helmand is the Kajaki dam hydro-electric project, which I think is the single biggest project in Afghanistan. Much of the money for Helmand has been spent on equipment and operations for the Kajaki Dam, which is not yet operational, largely because the Taliban managed to entrench themselves around it, thanks to the Bush administration's neglect of Afghanistan. No one in Helmand has yet “received” any benefit from these expenditures, so it is deceptive to claim that they are "recipients" of this amount of aid. The implication that Helmandis are greedily enriching themselves off of US aid and then enriching themselves further with poppy (and then asking the Taliban to come and protect them!) is false. It also inflames regional and ethnic conflict in Afghanistan, which is not helpful.
The turning of a major Taliban commander to the government side in Helmand, the successful seizure of large quantities of heroin, and the destruction of about 60 heroin refineries in Musa Qala are successes. Forced crop eradication before the government can provide security and economic opportunity will reverse these successes. Read more on this article...