Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rubin: Pakistanis on Pakistan

Scott Horton of Harper's has interviewed Ahmed Rashid, whose book "Descent into Chaos" has just come out, on Pakistan and the Taliban:

The CIA, we learned in a report today, has compiled damning evidence of the Pakistani military’s complicity with the Taliban. But this is hardly news. Indeed, one analyst has repeatedly warned that Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence service have been taking America for a ride, pretending to support U.S. counter-terrorism operations while sheltering and supporting the Taliban and numerous other extremist organizations. That analyst is Ahmed Rashid, and he is the most articulate of the observers of the region between the Oxus and the shores of Karachi. Based in Lahore, Rashid combines scholarly excellence with popular appeal, as demonstrated by his book on the Taliban, which is Yale University Press’s all-time best-seller. Rashid’s latest book, Descent into Chaos pulls back the cover on American operations in Afghanistan, which were hampered from the outset by chronic bad judgment on the part of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

The following article by Afrasiab Khattak, the head of the Pashtun Nationalist Awami National Party in the Northwest Frontier Province (Pakhtunkhwa) appears in Dawn today. I have not been able to find it on the website yet. Khattak is provincial head of the party that heads the elected government of NWFP and has been appointed Pashtun Peace Envoy by the NWFP Provincial Assembly.

FATA’s growing disconnect

By Afrasiab Khattak

IT is hardly an exaggeration that the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the entire region and indeed that of the whole world will be defined by developments in Fata over the next few months. Different scenarios are being painted by military strategists and political experts.

Al Qaeda, after regrouping in the militant sanctuaries of the area, is acquiring the capacity to repeat attacks in North America or Europe similar to those carried out in 2001 in the US.

If reports about the exchanges between Pakistan and the US at the highest level are anything to go by it is pretty clear that the US will retaliate against Pakistan, probably even more severely than it did against the Taliban-dominated Afghanistan. Similarly the use of these militant sanctuaries for cross-border fighting is so large in scale (in fact all the six political agencies bordering Afghanistan are being used) that denial in this regard is no longer plausible.

The federal government has to either admit defeat or muster the political will to resolve the problem, or else justify the existence of militant sanctuaries by explaining their usefulness to the national interest. We have run out of time and this decision cannot be delayed any more as there are no takers of the denial line.

As if this were not enough, armed lashkars (armies) from militant sanctuaries in Fata are poised to penetrate/invade the contiguous settled districts. The events in Hangu some three weeks back are a case in point. The Hangu police arrested four Taliban commanders from a car that also contained weapons, explosive material and manuals for making bombs in a place called Doaba not far away from the Orakzai Agency border.

Hundreds of Taliban surrounded the Doaba police station and demanded the commanders’ release. They also blocked the Hangu-Kurram highway. During this confrontation the Frontier Constabulary was ambushed near Zargari village and 16 security personnel were killed. Subsequently the army was called in to launch a military operation in Hangu. This action was not just in retaliation for the murder of 16 FC men but also came in view of the threat of attack by four to five thousand Taliban from Orakzai and Kurram agencies.

By now the said military operation has been completed and the targets achieved to the extent that the Taliban have been chased out of Hangu. Nevertheless, they have fled to Orakzai Agency where they are regrouping and preparing for future attacks.

The NWFP (Pakhtunkhwa) government is in a quandary. It has to call in the army whenever armed lashkars threaten to overrun a district as the police force simply does not have the capacity to fight an ever-expanding insurgency.

After Swat the army has also been deployed in Hangu. In view of the militant sanctuaries situated nearby, the army cannot be withdrawn in the near future. Imagine if the story is repeated in other vulnerable districts. Will the army also have to be deployed in all these other districts? Will such measures not bring the existence of the civilian provincial government into question?

Is it not amazing that in spite of such high stakes the presidency that has a monopoly over governance in Fata seems to show no anxiety over the prevailing situation? It is continuing with the policy of keeping Fata a black hole where terrorist groups from across the globe run their bases. It is still a no-go area for the media and civil society, and so far there is no corrective measure or policy change in sight. So much so that we have failed to take even the most preliminary step of extending the Political Parties Act to Fata.

It is only natural that we are perturbed when attacks are launched from across the border. But should we not be equally sensitive to the loss of our sovereignty over Fata to militant groups? Strangely enough we do not seem to be bothered about the militants’ total control of Fata. When the international media carries reports about this situation we dismiss them as ‘enemy’ propaganda against Pakistan. We have failed to grasp the fact that in the post-cold war world there is a universal consensus about two things. One, that all assault weapons that can be used for launching a war cannot be allowed to be kept in private possession. Two, that no state will allow the use of its soil by non-state players against another state. The entire world is astounded by our fixation with the cold war mode. We have developed an incredible capacity to live in unreality. This is indeed dangerous for any state system but it can be catastrophic for a state dancing in a minefield.

Where does all this leave the people of Fata? They are victims and not perpetrators as some people would like us to believe. They are in fact in triple jeopardy. Firstly they are groaning under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. They have no access to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan since they are not justiciable outside of the jurisdiction of the higher judiciary.

Secondly the tribal belt has almost been occupied by foreign and local militant organisations that are better equipped, better trained and better financed than the local population. More than 160 tribal leaders have been killed by terrorists in North and South Waziristan who operate with total impunity. Today’s Fata is not dissimilar to the Taliban and Al Qaeda controlled Afghanistan before 9/11.

Thirdly, the people of Fata get caught in the crossfire between militants and security forces from both sides of the Durand Line. The so-called collateral damage has seen a cancerous growth in Fata. The people of Fata have lost the support and protection of the state. They have no access to the media, courts and hospitals or to humanitarian assistance. The only intervention by state players takes place through their armies and air forces in which people of the tribal area are mostly on the receiving end.

For any informed and sensitive Pakistani, the situation in the tribal area is the top-most priority when it comes to policy formation and implementation. We must realise that the question of dismantling militant sanctuaries in Fata and taking short-term and long-term measures to open up the area and integrate it with the rest of the country needs urgent national attention if we are to avoid the impending catastrophe.

Read more on this article...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Iran’s Eighth Majles Faces Its First Real Test

Farideh Farhi

In the parliamentary elections that took place in March 2008, the core issue was not whether reformists or conservatives would win – a conservative win was presumed - but whether the new elected Eighth Majles can act in a more effective manner in the face of an executive branch that had learned to play fast and loose with the constitutional requirements of checks and balances, particularly in the budget process where Iran's Parliament has traditionally played an important oversight role.

The previous Seventh Majles, after its first year, had become accused of being weak, repeatedly consenting to Ahmadinejad’s expansionary economic policies and raiding of the oil fund despite qualms and public criticisms, and closing its eyes to the executive branches numerous violations in the implementation of passed legislations. Last year, for instance, Ahmadinejad withdrew $1.2bl from the oil fund for food imports despite Majles’ explicit rejection as a budgetary line item and later went on to say in a television interview that he had received approval from Ayatollah Khamenei to do so.

So, when Ali Larijani was unanimously elected as the speaker of the new Majles, handily beating out the previous speaker, Gholamali Haddad Adel, most observers presumed that his leadership was itself a signal that the era of Majles submission was over, despite hints of a backroom deal between Ahmadinejad supporters and Larijani’s more traditional conservative allies. Larijani had resigned his post as Iran’s nuclear negotiator in an open conflict with Ahmadinejad and this singular act provided the hope for a changed environment in the new Majles when he was elected as speaker

The new Majles has not done much since its convening in late June because it has been mostly been in summer recess. With its return to session, however, the coming week will provide a good testing ground for assessing whether such an expectation was justified. The occasion for this is the confirmation process for three vacant ministries.

Currently there are three ministries – Economy and Finance, Interior, and Transportation - that are being run by caretakers after the firing or resignation of their ministers. The use of caretakers has been Ahmadinejad’s favorite instrument in going around the Majles regarding appointments for which he thinks he will have a hard time receiving approval. But Article 135 of the Iranian constitution is quite clear that the president can only appoint a caretaker for a maximum period of three months.

This is something Ahmadinejad did not do for the all important Ministry of Economy and Finance (and the deadline for the Ministry of Interior is approaching) essentially because he was worried that his caretaker appointee, Hossein Samsami - a rather young Najaf-born economics professor with not much experience in running a government bureaucracy - was not going to be approved by a parliament particularly worried about his newly touted Economic Transformation Plan; a plan whose details have yet to be spelled out beyond the idea of some sort of direct cash payments to the needy as a substitute for untargeted subsidies. A similar situation was brewing at the Interior Ministry where the caretaker, Mehdi Hashemi, is someone whose candidacy for minister of welfare was rejected by the parliament when Ahmadinejad first became president.

Parliamentary complains about the delay was temporarily solved last week by an intervention by Ayatollah Khamenei in the form of a publicly announced but yet unpublished “state order.” Through this order the leader allowed Ahmadinejad to extend the 3-month limit for the Economy and Finance Ministry. What was initially not clear was whether this order extended Samsami’s stay until Majles came back from summer recess (which was last Sunday), as maintained by Majles members, or another three months as claimed by Ahmadinejad’s liaison to Majles.

But it didn’t take long to become clear that support for a longer period and continued constitutional violation was not forthcoming and two days after deputies came back from summer recess, Ahmadinejad hastily introduced his three ministers. Interestingly, though, only the least controversial caretaker, for the Transportation Ministry, was offered as a candidate. For the other two ministries, Economy and Interior, Ahmadinejad was effectively forced to withdraw the names of the caretakers and offer two other candidates.

In the case of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, this withdrawal came after Samsami had a disastrous meeting with the members of the parliament which lasted only 20 minutes. In the case of the Interior Ministry, the withdrawal came after the caretaker had publicly announced that he will probably be the candidate! So there is no doubt that the parliament did manage a pushback.

And despite the last minute changes, Ahmadinejad’s troubles with getting his candidates approved may still not be over. Even Ruhollah Hosseinian, a well-known hard-line deputy from Tehran, is on record saying that he was shocked to hear the names of the candidates and did not see any of them as being effective.

Hosseinian does have a point. Samsami’s replacement is Seyyed Shamseddin Hosseini who seems even more inexperienced in the running of a bureaucracy. His latest portfolio is Secretary of the Working Group for Economic Transformation, which is more of a consultative position. Majles should have at least as much trouble with Hosseini as it did with Samsami unless a backroom deal has been made between Speaker Larijani and Ahmadinejad to ignore Hosseini's inexperience for the sake of trying to overcome at least the appearance of disarray that is plaguing Ahmadinejad’s economic agenda and team. The number of votes received by Hosseini will be a good test for Larijani’s leadership as well as a marker for the extent to which the new Majles is willing to go beyond talks and complains and actually act differently from the previous parliament.

Also to be watched is the vote for Ali Kordan, the candidate for the Interior Ministry. The sudden choice of Kordan is actually quite strange. His name gained prominence last October as someone who might be nominated the head the Petroleum Ministry but, given his low chances of approval, he was never introduced. Instead, despite his lack of experience in the oil industry, he was imposed on the newly approved Petroleum Minister, Gholamhossein Nozari, as his first deputy for human resources and management with rumors abound that he was really the one running the ministry. But Rajanews, which is close to Ahmadinejad, is reporting that his choice was a compromise because he is a friend of Larijani (Kordan was Larijani’s deputy both at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance as well as Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

We shall have to see if there is any truth to all these speculations and whether, if there has been some sort of backroom deal between Larijani and Ahmadienjad, the rest of Majles will agree to the deal. What is not speculation is the reality of Ahmadienjad working with a very limited pool of trusted appointees who are acceptable to both him and the Parliament. What has also been manifestly on display is the dysfunctional relationship Ahmadinejad has developed with the rest of the Iranian political system.

He was able to bully the Seventh Majles by either imposing his will on it or ignoring its legislative dictates on occasions it decided to stand against him. He managed to do it because he has essentially maintained, with quite a bit of righteousness, that there is really no other institution besides the office of the supreme leader that can prevent him from the routine ignoring of the constitutional mechanisms for legislative action and oversight.

Given his brazen attitude, even if the makeup of the new parliament translates into a stronger stance against Ahmadinejad, it will ultimately be Ayatollah Khamenei’s public and explicit orders that will allow Majles' stronger stance to place effective limits on Ahmadinejad’s policies and behavior. Given the record of the past three years, whether he chooses to do so is not at all clear. But this must not be a comfortable position for the supreme leader more used to subtle nudging and ambiguity as a means to maintain the appearance of his office staying above the partisan fray. Read more on this article...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rubin: Milanovic on Globalization and Corrupt States

In my first post on former US Afghanistan counter-narcotics coordinator Tom Schweich's article claiming that Afghanistan is a narco-state (with the connivance of the US Department of Defense, Democratic Party, and NATO among others) I mentioned a World Bank article on the world drug economy and corruption by a Hungarian economist. I was pretty close, really: actually it's an article by a Serbian economist, Branko Milanovic, published by Yale Global Online.

Here's some of what Milanovic has to say in his essay, Globalization and the Corrupt States:
Intensified trade and travel have enabled the rise of corrupt states that thrive on illegal businesses. Only by changing the rules of the same global trade that has allowed corrupt states to grow can one hope to remove this blot on globalization.

"Corrupt states" are different from a more commonly used category of "failed states." The distinguishing characteristic of a failed state is its inability to exercise control over its national territory; a key feature of a corrupt state is its weak governance structure, lawlessness and inability to move toward self-sustained development. While failed states have existed in the past - think of the Ottoman Empire in its last century - the spread of corrupt or criminalized states is a recent phenomenon, almost non-existent before the current wave of globalization. Is this a coincidence?

Globalization influences the relative profitability of different activities. In the US, globalization reduced profitability of steel production and increased it for software. In corrupt states, profitability soars in the production of goods and services that are internationally illegal: drugs, sex trafficking, contraband weapons or cigarettes, or counterfeit goods. . . .

Once organized crime and its supporters become the largest employers in the country, they play the same role that a more conventional business plays in other countries. They try to influence the political process. Moreover, they need to control the political arena - election of presidents and parliaments - even more tightly than "normal" business people because their very existence depends on having a government willing to tolerate violation of international rules as the country's main activity.

The government structure that emerges is "endogenous": It reflects domestic social and economic structure, which in turn is the outcome of greater international trade and economic incentives, much like other countries, except that the governance structure is, almost inevitably, more corrupt. The recent World Bank and International Monetary Fund's insistence on reforming governance in these countries is bound to fail because the cause is misdiagnosed.

Governance is viewed by the international organizations as something "exogenous," something that a country just happens to have and which - through a better electoral process, more transparent laws and more honest lawmakers - can be improved. Thus the international organizations are in a permanent, and fruitless, search of an "honest" lawmaker, an Eliot Ness who will bust corruption and illegality. They fail to notice that governance structures respond to underlying incentives, and to expect an honest person to rise to power in a corrupt state is akin to expecting a person with no financial backing from big business to be elected president of the US. In both cases, the outcome of a political process reflects the country's underlying economic conditions.

A different approach is necessary: legalize the currently illegal activities like prostitution and drug use and modify the often draconian US and European immigration laws that stimulate human trafficking. If prostitution and drugs indeed became like haircuts and candies, their production would obey the same rules: Countries that export beauty services and confectionary products are not notably more corrupt than others. Some of the current entrepreneurs would remain in these activities, others would move to others. In either case, there would be a general "normalization" akin to what was observed after prohibition on alcohol sales was lifted in the US. Thousands of "bootleggers" became normal producers of alcohol, alcohol-linked criminality decreased, and only a minority of those with preference for high risk and crime moved to other illegal activities. . . .

The key is that meaningful reforms do not begin in the corrupt states themselves, but in the rich world that is the main consumer of illegal goods and services. This requires a total overhaul in our thinking about the root cause of a corrupt state. Many of the most corrupt states are "corrupt" because they specialize in goods and services that are deemed illegal. But what is illegal today is not necessarily illegal tomorrow. "Illegality" is a historical category, as the long history of accepted prostitution and drug use shows. Thus if illegality is the main cause of corrupt governments, then the best way to root out corruption is to remove illegality.

The way to help corrupt countries does not lie in hectoring them about the virtue of good governance, but in pushing for the legalization of their main exports. The target constituency of the international organizations' advocacy thus becomes the rich, not the poor, world.

Read more on this article...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rubin: Bush Administration on Drugs in Afghanistan -- So Wrong, So Long

This reminds me of an old Jewish joke (scroll down for joke), updated:
The rabbi was in his study deep in thought, when in rushed Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Thomas Schweich, Senior Coordinator for Rule of Law and Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, and Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State. It was clear that they had been having a heated argument that only the learned rabbi could resolve.

"Rabbi, goodness gracious, this mission creeper wants to drag our warfighters into police work!," burst out Rumsfeld. "First we must win the war on terror, even if it means arming, funding, and protecting drug traffickers! Then let others win the war on drugs! Mercy me!"

The rabbi thoughtfully scratched his beard. "You're wrong," he said.

"Of course he's wrong, rabbi," yelled Schweich. "Drugs are funding the Taliban and al-Qaida! Not only that -- our supposed allies in the Afghan government are protecting traffickers! The poor Tajiks and Uzbeks and Hazaras have all stopped growing poppy and only the greedy rich Pashtuns still want more! Even the UN Agency that I fund says so! The only answer is aerial spraying!"

The rabbi studied the commentaries in a holy book and seemed lost in contemplation. "You're wrong," he said.

"But rabbi," pleaded Condi Rice, "Both of these political appointees from different factions of the Republican Party have the ear of the President! So what if neither of them knows anything about Afghanistan or the economics of the drug industry or counter-insurgency? They can't both be wrong!"

The rabbi stared at the ceiling, as if seeking the counsel of a Higher Father. Finally he spoke: "You're wrong too."
(Note to Afghans: to change cultural context, replace learned rabbi with Mullah Nassruddin. Christians -- not sure, but you could try Father Ted or a character from Garrison Keillor.)

If only I were exaggerating....

Rumsfeld armed and empowered anybody who would or could fight the Taliban and resisted any attempt to curb them, since he didn't want any trouble while we saved our forces for success in Iraq (and then needed more to make it even more successful!). The U.S. doesn't do nation building, it does regime destroying. The Bush administration didn't even allocate any new money for reconstruction the first year! They wanted other countries to clean up Afghanistan after we had destroyed al-Qaida and Taliban. Then -- next!

Schweich (and his predecessor, Bobby Charles) revolted against this policy. Drugs, they rightly argued, were funding the insurgency and government corruption. The war on drugs is part of the war on terror. We have to do both at the same time! Spray the fields and arrest the power-holders! If anyone opposes us, arrest them too!

But nobody ever explained how to win over the farmers while destroying their crops before they had secure alternatives. (Schweich denies he was doing this, which shows how little he understands peasant villages in general, let alone Afghanistan.) Nobody every explained how to fight the Taliban and build security in alliance with a government based on the power of drug-trafficking militia commanders funded and armed by the U.S. while arresting these same people. Consequently the U.S. pursued a bad counter-insurgency strategy and a bad pro-insurgency strategy simultaneously, which Schweich confirms in his account of the total absence of an inter-agency process for implementation of counter-narcotics . It's difficult to say if the government as described by Schweich was not implementing a strategy or implementing no strategy.

The answer is, THINK!!! What are we trying to accomplish, where, with whom, and with what resources? Then develop a strategy for the specific situation instead of taking dogmatic unexamined concepts like "war on terror" and "war on drugs" and trying to smash them together.

The goal is political -- to help our Afghan allies win the battle for legitimacy. The political, military, and economic strategies (including counter-narcotics, which cuts across them) have to be integrated for that end. Yes, integrate counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, development, and lots of other types of operations by disaggregating them into lines of policy and figuring out priorities and relationships: strengthen counter-insurgency AND counter-narcotics by massive aid to increase the productivity and connectivity to markets of rural communities without attacking their livelihoods before the aid comes to fruition; strengthen legitimacy and governance with massive aid to the police and justice system (refused by Rumsfeld to President Karzai's face) while offering a package of cooptation or marginalization for leaders formerly or presently involved in trafficking; use military force sparingly but only against the highest part of the value chain (heroin labs, major trafficking operations); and attack the sources of the drug industry outside of Afghanistan by programs against the export of precursors to the country and money laundering.

I know that was an excessively dense paragraph. For an excessively lengthy exposition of the same thing, see the report I wrote with Jake Sherman.

In conclusion, a warning from Mullah Nasruddin about policy recommendations:
At a gathering where Mullah Nasruddin was present, people were discussing the merits of youth and old age. They had all agreed that, a man's strength decreases as years go by. Mullah Nasruddin dissented.
- I don't agree with you gentlemen, he said. In my old age I have the same strength as I had in the prime of my youth.
- How do you mean, Mullah Nasruddin? asked somebody. Explain yourself.
- In my courtyard, explained Mullah Nasruddin, there is a massive stone. In my youth I used to try and lift it. I never succeeded. Neither can I lift it now.

Only God knows the whole truth.

Read more on this article...

Rubin: Liberal Reality Attacks Bush Appointee's Claims on Colombia and Afghanistan

One of the recurrent themes in Tom Schweich's report from the front about how "odd cabal of timorous Europeans, myopic media outlets, corrupt Afghans, blinkered Pentagon officers, politically motivated Democrats and the Taliban [prevented] the implementation of an effective counterdrug program," is that the strategy he was proposing was tried and true. It had demonstrated its effectiveness all over the world, especially in Colombia.

This just in:

PASTO, Colombia — Along with Colombia’s successes in fighting leftist rebels this year, cities like Medellín have staged remarkable recoveries. And in the upscale districts of Bogotá, the capital, it is almost possible to forget that the country remains mired in a devilishly complex four-decade-old war.

But it is a different story in the mountains of the Nariño department. Here, and elsewhere in large parts of the countryside, the violence and fear remain unrelenting, underscoring the difficulty of ending a war fueled by a drug trade that is proving immune to American-financed efforts to stop it.

Soaring coca cultivation, forced disappearances, assassinations, the displacement of families and the planting of land mines stubbornly persist, the hallmarks of a backlands conflict that threatens to drag on for years, even without the once spectacular actions of guerrillas in Colombia’s large cities.

Soaring narcotics cultivation in the areas affected by the insurgency . . . . Sounds just like Afghanistan. . . .

But then "reality has a well-known liberal bias." Read more on this article...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Rubin: Schweich, ICG, etc. -- Assume the Existence of a State in Afghanistan

The buzz about Afghanistan (outside of Afghanistan) has focused on Thomas Schweich's New York Times Magazine article, Is Afghanistan a Narco-State? This article contains the startling revelation that corrupt Afghan officials protect the drug trade, and that neither President Karzai nor the U.S. Department of Defense believes that direct confrontation with some of the most powerful people in Afghanistan while we are already losing the struggle with the Taliban is a good idea.

Before I proceed, I would like to stipulate that I know and like Tom Schweich. He came into his job as coordinator for counter-narcotics and rule of law in Afghanistan with virtually no background on the subject and read into his brief very quickly and impressively. He is very smart, and he works harder than I do. Unfortunately, he has no idea what Afghanistan is.

(For a detailed analysis of the drug economy in Afghanistan, counter-narcotics policy, and the fallacies of arguments like Schweich's see the report I co-authored with Jake Sherman.)

(Another point: drugs is by far the largest industry in the Afghan economy, probably accounting for a quarter to a third of GDP. It is not a "deviant" activity in the sociological sense. As a political scientist, I don't know of any government in the world that does not have relations with the owners of its country's largest industry and biggest employer. There was a very good essay on this general problem, not focusing on Afghanistan, by a Hungarian World Bank economist. I'll post the link as soon as I can find it.)

I'm going to criticize the Bush administration later in this post (no fainting please), but the basic error Tom makes is not limited to the Bush administration, Republicans, people on the right, or Americans. Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group and many others (for example in my own human rights community, if I have not yet been excommunicated) make the same mistake, which we might call the Can Opener Assumption.

According to a story I heard in graduate school, a chemist, a physicist, and an economist were stranded on a desert island where their only provisions were canned food. How would they eat? The chemist tried to analyze the composition of the metal and searched for materials that would rapidly corrode it. The physicist sought to create a lens out of palm leaves and sea water to concentrate the sun's energy enough to pierce the metal. All failed. Finally, they turned to the economist to ask his advice.

The economist examined the can. After reflection he said: "In principal the problem is very simple. First, assume the existence of a can opener."

In this case, the solution is: assume the existence of a state.

Tom summarizes President Karzai's view as:
"[Mr Karzai] perceives that there are certain people he cannot crack down on and that it is better to tolerate a certain level of corruption than to take an aggressive stand and lose power."
I imagine that is a fair statement of President Karzai's view. He has decided not to lose power trying to do things that might fail disastrously. Tom never says that Karzai is wrong about this, so I wonder what his objection is. Maybe such a grim analysis is contrary to his moral principles.

I happen to think that the President of Afghanistan does not have to be that weak, and there is more he could do, though not the way Tom recommends. But Tom tells us a few things he does not comment on, and he refers to a few things he does not say explicitly, that might explain some of President Karzai's problems.

I'm going to make this short, because there is nothing new here. The Bush administration responded to 9/11 by arming and funding every commander they could find to fight the Taliban, regardless of criminal past or involvement in drug trafficking. Then they refused to get involved in "nation building" activity and instead got other "lead nations" to be responsible for various security issues with insufficient funding and capacity, including counter-narcotics. Then, every time that President Karzai tried to remove one of the U.S.-funded commanders from a position, Donald Rumsfeld would warn him against it and say the US would not back him if there was a problem.

Then the Bush administration decided narcotics in Afghanistan was a problem, but since they didn't want to move against the power holders, they decided to attack the poor -- at least they are consistent in their domestic and foreign policy: eradication, eradication, eradication. They wanted to have a "balanced" policy in Afghanistan: alongside our counter-insurgency policy we should also have a pro-insurgency policy. Karzai resisted that too.

(The charge about poverty is the one that upsets Tom the most. He cites the UN, actually the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, which argues that poverty and poppy cultivation are not connected and says he would not support a policy that attacked the poor. I am analyzing the effect of the policies not the intentions behind them. See our report for an explanation of the poor data and statistical fallacies on which UNODC bases its claim. The World Bank takes the position that "Dependence on opium cultivation is associated with poverty.")

To his credit, Tom tried to introduce more incentives and more enforcement. It is very good that he compiled a list of corrupt officials with data that would hold up in a US court (and he is a law professor, not, I think of the Yoo/Addington variety, so he should know). But just who did he think was going to arrest or fire these people?

It's simple: assume the existence of a state.

What does this mean? Tom Schweich says that Afghanistan's Attorney-General, Abdul Jabbar Sabit, says he wanted to arrest 20 corrupt officials and that Karzai stopped him. Unlike Tom, I have known Sabit for 20 years. He helped me in my research by introducing me to some of his colleagues in Hizb-i Islami. But I would not necessarily take everything he says literally.

Actually Sabit did try to arrest a corrupt official one time, General Din Muhammad Jurat, one of the most powerful Northern Alliance commanders in the Ministry of the Interior. The upshot was that Jurat detained Sabit and disarmed and beat his men. This was not in a remote area on the Pakistan border but less than an hour's drive north of Kabul in an area considered to be under "government" control. What does that mean? It means that Jurat and people like him are the government. There is no state that operates independently of power holders like Jurat. The project is to build such a state, not assume its existence and use it based on that false assumption.

The same applies to Samina Ahmed's incoherent critique of "talking to the Taliban," though at times she opposes negotiating with the Taliban and at other time accepting the Taliban's most extreme demands, as if this were the same as talking to them (this is the John Bolton approach to diplomacy: surrender first, then we'll discuss the terms). (Samina is also a friend, but I wonder if ICG takes the same position on Hamas, Hizbullah, or Iran?)

According to Samina, the international community should first build a state in Afghanistan and then negotiate the Taliban's surrender. Talking now would just be a "quick fix" that would not work. First we should build a functioning nation-state, and then construct the political agreement on which it will be based. Sounds good to me! And how do we build that state without a political agreement? Assume the existence of legitimacy. Read more on this article...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Jalili’s Predicament

Farideh Farhi

Upon his return to Iran from Geneva, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator was very clear in only one respect. Responding to a question from the Iranian press, he stated that in Geneva there was no discussion of Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment. Jalili is actually quite correct.

The Geneva talks were not supposed to be about suspension. They were intended to help launch an intermediary step – freezing the Iran's uranium enrichment program at its current level in exchange for the freezing of UN sanctions at the current level in order to engage in a dialogue over how to move to the next stage of actually negotiating over the package of incentives Iran has been offered if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment activities..

Beyond this selective clarity, however, Jalili’s language was an exercise in obfuscation. According to him, “what was discussed in the Geneva talks was merely focused on dialogue about the approaches of the sides regarding the continuation of the path of negotiations and specified structures and time lines in the direction of reaching a comprehensive agreement.”

I do not know whether Jalili has a problem in the use of the Persian language or the problem is in my understanding of the language but I had to read this statement at least 10 times to realize that he is doing his best to say that Iran wants to continue talks with the six countries present at Geneva (including the United States) without telling the Iranian public that in order to do this Iran has to accept the freeze for freeze formula.

So, he states flatly that there was no discussion of suspension in Geneva, which is true. But in the process he gives the impression that the negotiations will continue without Iran taking the step of agreeing to a freeze of its nuclear program at the current level.

Now the interesting question to me is why Jalili has such a hard time giving a straight answer to the question of whether Iran is willing to go for the freeze formula. After all, enriching at the current level, and not beyond, for only six weeks, give or take, is not suspension and should not harm Iran’s nuclear program. It also has potential benefits if the Iranian negotiators are able to pin down the elements of the incentives package offered to Iran more precisely. Again, after all, the major criticism of the incentives package inside Iran has always been that the package is full of immediate demands on Iran and lots of future and non-specified promises by the Europeans and the Americans. In addition, if there is any chance of convincing the United States to accept some sort of enrichment facilities on the Iranian territory (intrusively inspected and/or multinational), it has to come through negotiations that includes the Americans.

One possible answer to this question could be that Jalili is simply an inexperienced diplomat or negotiator. But the more likely answer to his verbal acrobatics (which does not necessarily exclude the first possibility) is that Ahmadinejad’s administration has turned the issue of Iran’s right to enrichment into such a national spectacle that Jalili has to worry about his moves being perceived by his hard-line audience as a retreat, rather than a mere sensible or even shrewd compromise at a time of great opportunity.

It is probably because of this worry that almost all the newspapers, news agencies, and websites close to the government (such as Farsnews, Rajanews, and Kayhan) are so busy trumpeting the Bush Administration’s “retreat” on negotiating with Iran, ironically approvingly quoting Wall Street Journal as a definite source for the fact that such a retreat has actually occurred. This is while there is literally nothing but the straightforward reporting of Jalili’s words in the reformist or centrist media, probably because there has yet again been a Supreme National Security Council directive forbidding any analysis or commentary about what happened at Geneva.

I am further willing to bet that this hard-line audience is also the reason why the non-paper Iran presented in Geneva does not include any written reference to the freeze on the Iranian part; only a freeze on the current level of sanctions! The worry is so overwhelming that it prevented Jalili to state, as Iran’s previous nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani plainly stated, that "the shift in U.S. diplomacy has created a very good opportunity for Iran and we should do our best to make use of it." Instead Jalili said, “We welcome the fact that the atmosphere of talks in Geneva was constructive and forward looking.” And this is the only comprehensible part of an otherwise very long sentence about Iran’s presence in and view of the talks being “strategic and long-term.”

My bet is that Jalili’s hope is that Solana can convince the six countries that a verbal commitment on the part of Tehran about what amount to an effective freeze would be sufficient for Iran’s interlocutors to continue the talks. It is of course for Solana and the other six countries to decide whether to cover for Jalili. I doubt that they will and I certainly hope that they do not. The news that Iran has agreed to a compromise in order to kick start stalled negotiations is something a good number of Iranians would probably be happy to hear about. Read more on this article...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rubin: Hizb-i Islami Blames Northern Alliance for Attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul and Everything Else

Ahmadullah Archiwal, an Afghan student in New York, has translated the Hizb-i Islami (Hikmatyar) press release on the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul from Pashto to English. I also received an official English version issued by Hizb-i Islami from a colleague in Kabul, but it seems that the official English version de-emphasizes certain points, so I prefer to use Ahmadullah's version. As there has been some confusion in the past, I would like to emphasize that by publicizing a document I am not endorsing its content. I think the content indicates something about the strategy of HIkmatyar and his backers and is therefore worthy of study. Here is the text:
Press Release of Hizb-i-Islami on the explosion in the front of Indian Embassy

While strongly condemning all the criminal acts of targeting helpless and innocent Afghans we recommend to our Mujahideen to demonstrate practically to the nation that they are not involved in such acts, have paid their full attention towards the actual enemy, and do not want to fire a single bullet to other than their enemy.

Some Afghans might ask that, who are responsible, for the explosions that result in the death of innocent and helpless Afghans, for explosions in the mosques, for killing of the religious scholars (Mullahs), for burning the schools, for detonating clinics and madrasas. Why do they commit such crimes? Why any one does not claim responsibilities for such crimes? Are they Taliban and Mujahideen or some circles in the American government of Kabul?

Everyone knows that Northern Alliance wants to demonstrate to their foreign supporters that their long armed presence in the government of Kabul is imperative. They want to get more aid from India. America and their puppets want to intensify the rivalry between India and Pakistan and to turn our country a site for their rivalry. Those who will be benefited are Americans, who will sell their weapons to both the countries, and is the Northern Alliance who will get more aid from New Delhi for their enmity with Pakistan.

This is their reason for opposing Islamabad; otherwise, it is clear that Islamabad is a strong supporter of the USA in the on going war. Pakistan is also a strong supporter of the Afghan government. It is the country that with the pressure from the ISI imposed the leader of Northern Alliance twice on Afghans.

Those who detonate bombs in Iraqi mosques, Kills Iraqi scholars, scientists and make Sunnis kill shites and shittes to kill Sunnis….. They are the same circles who are also behind such acts in Afghanistan. We should not undermine the remarks of the United Nations representative who has said: The intelligence organizations of some countries are involved in acts in which ordinary people are killed!!

If they think that CIA, MOSAD, Sipah –i-Pasdaran are behind such acts in Iraq, then it is a fact that those and some other agencies are behind the same acts in Afghanistan as well. As a matter of fact such people do not believe in God, do not have any sacred goal, they are the ones who do not give any importance to the blood of Afghans, and those who killed more than fifty innocent people in only two provinces in a week in their blind bombardment, they also commit the same crimes .Sometimes, they do such acts directly by themselves and some times do them through the Afghan Intelligence Agency.

Members of the Northern Alliance who were serving the Russians and now serving Americans do such acts in Herat, Khost, Kandahar, Ghazni, Paktia, Nangrahar, Nuristan, Kunar, Laghman and other provinces. They are the people who are in the control of the Khad, they invited Russians and then Americans to attack Afghanistan, and they requested Iran to occupy Herat and pressed Americans to intensify their bombardment and to drop heavier bombs on Afghans. They are the ones who have made private prisons for Americans in Kabul and Panjsher where innocent Afghans are tortured. They are the people who spy for the imperialists and invite them to drop bombs on the villages, cities and mosques of Afghanistan. They are fighting under the command of imperialists against their own people in the East, South and South Western parts of the country and commit such crimes that even foreign military officers, who command their subordinate to keep such acts secret, feel shy to talk about them. Northern Alliance, internal enemy of Afghans and the collections of the foreign servants are responsible for all such crimes. They even dropped bombs and fired rockets on the innocent citizens of Kabul during their reign so to blame real Mujahideen!!

While strongly condemning all the crimes that targets helpless and innocent Afghans we recommend to our Mujahideen to demonstrate practically to the nation that they are not involved in such accidents, have paid their full attention towards the actual enemy, and do not want to fire a single bullet towards other than their enemy. Avoid conventional fighting, the harm of such fighting is greater than their gains, ordinary people are targeted and are forced to leave their houses in such fighting.

We also tell to the nation to pay attention to the conspiracies of the internal and external enemies and to be prepared for the days when the imperialists will withdraw from our country. That time is closer, American system is closer to collapse. The present situation of Afghanistan is just like those days when the Soviet troops were making preparations for their withdrawal. All those Afghans, who want the independence of their country, collapse of the reign of the foreign servants, the end of the conflict, opportunity for Afghan nation to determine their own future by themselves without the foreign intervention, and the establishment of an Islamic system, should come closer.

With a hope for those sacred goals.

Long live Mujahideen.

Read more on this article...

CBS's Lara Logan Interviews Obama in Afghanistan

Here's the video:

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Barnett Rubin Interview with Pepe Escobar of Real News

Pepe Excobar of Real News and Asia Times interviewed me on the U.S., NATO, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The transcript and the first of four videos are on Real News.

ESCOBAR: How come nobody saw it coming, the resurgence of the Taliban and the neo-Taliban's base in the Pakistani tribal areas?

BARNET: I don't know that it's accurate to say that nobody saw it coming.

ESCOBAR: They're running rings around NATO this spring and summer.

BARNET: Of course NATO did not see it coming. The US government did not see it coming.

ESCOBAR: Exactly. [inaudible] I'm referring to.

BARNET: That's true. And I think that is because they essentially didn't understand the regional situation, and they seemed—. I'll just talk about the United States, you know, the Bush administration. They were just focused on al-Qaeda and the terrorist threat. They had a very superficial analysis of Pakistan—not everybody in the government, of course. There are many professional people in the government who understand the situation. But as far as the top leadership was concerned, they had a relationship with President Musharraf, and President Musharraf was willing to use his security forces to arrest Arabs from al-Qaeda who came into Pakistan from time to time. And they really put all of their analytical resources into dealing with Iraq, and put Afghanistan kind of on autopilot, and didn't recognize, first of all, that just having an election in Afghanistan was far from sufficient to stabilize the country, you know, just defeating the previous government and having an election. There were all kinds of governance issues, which prevented the government from really controlling the territory. And second, that Pakistan still really did not consider the Taliban to be an enemy the way that the United States did. In fact, the Pakistan military considered the Taliban to be a resource for the security of Pakistan.
Ok, this part is not too shocking. Other parts might be interesting. Read more on this article...

Rubin: The Tao of Afghanistan (UPDATED with Variant)

I just received an email from the Academy of Sciences in Afghanistan. Apparently archaeologists have discovered an ancient Buddhist inscription in a bunker on Bagram air base in Kapisa Province, center of the ancient Kushan Kingdom. It is the first inscription to show the influence in Afghanistan not only of Buddhism, but also of Tao thought, particularly a variant that flourished in the tribal areas of Southwestern China, near the borders of today's Vietnam. Scholars are still uncertain as to its meaning, but they sent me a preliminary translation:
The Disciple asked: Master, What is the Way to Emptiness: not implementing a good strategy, or implementing a bad strategy?

The Master answered: The Way to Emptiness requires a Strategy for Implementation.

The Disciple asked: Master, is increasing troops a strategy for implementation?

The Master answered: Those who cannot move in large numbers mount offensives. Those who prevail increase their troops.

The Disciple asked: Master, if a province falls where there are no troops, is the cup of victory half-full of emptiness or half-empty of plenitude?

The Master answered:

When troops increase, the East rises;
When the East rises, the Center is disturbed;
When the Center is disturbed, the South falls;
When the South falls, North and Center lose their harmony;
When North and Center lose their harmony, the West turns away.
When the East rises, the Center is disturbed, the South falls, North and Center lose their harmony, and West turns away, the Center is filled with Emptiness.

This is the Way to Emptiness.
Scholars are still trying to understand the highly allegorical language. I will post more as I hear it.

UPDATE: Apparently this was a well-known sutra that was passed on in different versions but was then lost. The archaeologists have found another tablet on the same site with a slightly variant text:
The Disciple asked: Master, What is the Way to Emptiness: the way of not implementing a strategy, or the way of implementing no strategy?

The Master answered: The Way to Emptiness lacks a Strategy for Implementation.

The Disciple asked: Master, can increasing troops implement the way of no strategy?

The Master answered: Those who cannot move in large numbers mount offensives. Those who prevail increase their troops. [NOTE: This phrase is the same in all variants.]

The Disciple asked: Master, if a province falls where there are no troops, is the cup of victory half-full of emptiness or half-empty of plenitude?

The Master answered:

This is the way of implementing no strategy.

When troops increase, the East rises;
When the East rises, the North and Center lose their harmony;
When the North and Center lose their harmony, the South and Center become as one;
When South and Center become as one, the West turns away.
When the West turns away, the Center is filled with Emptiness.

This is the Way to Emptiness.
Publication of a full compendium of all variants is envisioned within a 16-month time table or "horizon." Read more on this article...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rubin: War on Terror Madness

OK, I know this is the kind of thing that gives bloggers a bad name, but I just have to share. So I'm in LaGuardia Airport in New York waiting for my flight to Virginia for a two-day high-level conference on Afghanistan, which, in case you hadn't noticed is not doing too well. Hundreds of insurgents attacking the Kandahar jail, hundreds attacking a U.S. base on the Kunar-Nuristan frontier (there has to be something wrong with any policy that requires a U.S. army captain to understand the differences among Nuristani tribes), huge suicide bomb at the Indian Embassy, the U.S. supported Afghanistan government has cut off talks with the U.S.'s main non-NATO ally, Pakistan, on the grounds that the intelligence agency of the latter is trying to destroy the former, and I could mention a few other things too.

Anyway, how many times and how many ways have I been saying that this was going to happen for the past seven years? I cannot count the ways. I attended Karzai's inauguration in Kabul in December 2004. Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld flew in for the occasion. Afterwards we all went over to the Foreign Ministry for lunch. Rumsfeld was sitting at the head table with Karzai, Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and so on, but Cheney was eating elsewhere in an undisclosed location by himself. Poor Karzai had to eat two lunches, one with Rumsfeld, and another with Cheney.

Anyway, on the way out after the Secret Service had done its thing, I caught up with Brahimi, who was looking annoyed. He told me that Rumsfeld had only said four words the whole time: "What an amazing success!" Brahimi and I walked past all the tanks and barricades blocking the street, which was completely empty of traffic on what would otherwise have been a normal working day in Kabul. Brahimi suggested that when I got back to the U.S. I should write something indicating that holding a presidential inauguration in a shut-down city surrounded by tanks was not exactly a success.

Well I did my best. Or at least I made an effort. Anyway, we are where we are, and I am where I am, in LaGuardia going to a conference to see whether there is a way to keep Afghanistan from going where it looks like it's going. And what happened?


Yes, I had a tube of toothpaste (Sensodyne) in a regulation one-quart clear plastic bag which I dutifully took out of my bag and placed in the grey plastic bin along with my jacket (required at the conference) and my loafers (special flying shoes). My computer was in another bin. When I got to the other side the TSA employee was eyeing my toothpaste suspiciously. He turned it over and peered through the sealed clear plastic bag.

"You can't take this on. This is 4 ounces, and the limit is 3.5 ounces."

I didn't say anything. Probably they will have toothpaste at the conference center. But it's good to know that at least one part of the War on Terror is being implemented flawlessly. Read more on this article...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The quality that distinguishes terrorism from violence in general is not merely that it is political, but that it is opprobrious because it targets innocent people by design. In my own work I have insisted that terrorism may be carried out by non-state actors as well as by governments, including our own. You can find this approach developed in my old essay in Ethics and International Affairs, in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, and in a variety of other publications. Unless we insist on preserving the term "terrorism" to refer to opprobrious violence, the term is, in a sense, cheapened and it becomes only a rhetorical bludgeon.

This brings me to the case of Samir Kuntar (Quntar), the Druze terrorist who has been in jail in Israel for almost three decades for the murder of a father and child. By my understanding, what this then young man did was unquestionably a truly despicable act of terrorism. I happen to know a bit about the victims who lived at 61 Jabotinsky Street in Nahariyya, Israel, and I find the account from the trial of Kuntar an accurate depiction.

One may argue that his pending release by Israel is something of a political victory for Hezbollah, as Amal Saad-Ghorayeb does, but it is simultaneously a moral defeat for Hezbollah. This man was not a victim, but a bona fide terrorist. He is not like those Lebanese seized, reprehensibly, by Israel in years past to be held for years as bargaining chips, or those Lebanese jailed by Israel for fighting to liberate their country. Whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, there should be not doubt about the distinction being made here. The fact that Hezbollah has made his release a centerpiece of its policy, and that his release was a rationale for the infamous operation of July 12, 2006, undermines whatever moral claim the group might otherwise make.

The Israel-Hizbollah prisoner-deal | open Democracy News Analysis Read more on this article...

Rubin: Interview with me by Globe and Mail

Graeme Smith, the Kandahar correspondent for the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, has published a print, audio and video interview with me. The print version is focused on "Afghanization," but the whole interview is much broader. I can't figure out how to embed the video, but you can play it here. Read more on this article...

Rubin: Translation of Statement by Afghan Government on ISI

I received this text from the Office of President Karzai this morning. There may be an edited version available later. Note the careful distinction between the elected government of Pakistan and the military, including the ISI. If only all of our policy makers and journalists were equally careful.

Statement Issued by the Afghanistan Cabinet Meeting

Monday, July 14, 2008

In the Name of the Almighty Allah

Over the past six and half years, Afghanistan has done its utmost to remove any misunderstanding and ease tension between the two countries and focused all its efforts for further promoting a good neighborly relation with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. However, the rightful desire of the people of Afghanistan for an end to interference by Pakistan Intelligence (ISI) and its Army remained unfulfilled. Consequently, people of Afghanistan suffered countless sacrifices and destruction as a result of direct interference by the Pakistani intelligence outfits in the domestic affairs of Afghanistan.

Everyday in Afghanistan, children, women, clerics, elderly, teachers and our international partners who are here to help rebuild Afghanistan fall victims at the hands of the elements of the ISI. Education facilities, hospitals, and development projects continue to remain target of attacks.

The people of Afghanistan and the international community have come to the reality that Pakistan intelligence institutions and its army have become the largest center for breeding and exporting terrorism and extremism to the world and particularly to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan sincerely welcomed and supported the recent elections for a civilian rule in Pakistan. However, the expectation of the people of Afghanistan that an elected civilian government in Pakistan would have the control over its intelligence agencies hoping for an end to the on-going interference in Afghanistan not only didn't materialize, but the agency (ISI) continued and intensified its murderous activities against the civilians, international partners and foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The assassination attempt against the President of Afghanistan on April 27, masterminding the attack against the prison in Kandahar, beheading innocent Afghans in Bajur, Wazirestan and other areas on the other side of the Durand Line, attack in Dehrawood, attack against the Indian Embassy in Kabul that left more than 60 innocent people dead and more than 150 wounded , beheading of two innocent women in Ghazni, organizing suicide bombings and road side blasts and hundreds of other destructive acts are all indicative of the attempts by the ISI to once again occupy Afghanistan and to perish the true right of the people of Afghanistan for national sovereignty.

Pakistani authorities have recently refrained from attending the expected bilateral and trilateral meetings, thus deliberately harming the process of mutual discussions and the Regional Peace Jirgah.

While Afghanistan continues to maintain the people to people contact and its support of the elected government in Pakistan, it feels compelled in the face of the violent policies of Pakistani Army and Intelligence agencies, and for the sake of its national sovereignty to suspend its bilateral and multilateral meetings and sessions of the following until a positive spirit of dialogue and understanding for mutual trust is restored:

  1. The Joint Border Cooperation Meeting, scheduled to be held in Dubai on July 23-24, 2008;
  2. Meeting of the Joint Economic Cooperation Commission scheduled to be held on 26-27, July in Kabul;
  3. Meeting of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference scheduled to be held in Islamabad on 26-27 August.

Read more on this article...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rubin: Afghan Government Charges Pakistan Is World's Main Source of Terrorism

Update: Looks like India is getting in on the act -- a leak to the Hindu (Chennai) reveals that India is considering covert retaliation against Pakistan. The article has a useful review of RAW-ISI covert wars. It would not be surprising if the Afghan NDS and RAW were coordinating. Note that the recently retired former head of RAW, Vikram Sood, is the brother of the former Indian ambassador to Kabul, Rakesh Sood.

At today's weekly cabinet meeting, the government of Afghanistan, chaired by President Hamid Karzai, formally endorsed a statement charging Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate with responsibility for most of the terrorism carried out in Afghanistan. I have received the text in Dari and Pashto and will post it as soon as it is translated.

Excerpts from AP's coverage:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday directly accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of being behind a recent series of attacks by extremist Islamic militants that have killed scores of people.

"Dishonouring and insecurity in Afghanistan is carried out by the intelligence administration of Pakistan, its military intelligence institutions," Karzai said in a statement.

"We know who kills innocent people," the president said. "We have told the government of Pakistan and the world and from now on it will be pronounced by every member of the Afghan nation."

The cabinet announced meanwhile that Afghanistan would boycott a series of upcoming meetings with Pakistan unless "bilateral trust" was restored.

Pakistan's "intelligence agency and military have turned that country (in) to the biggest exporter of terrorism and extremism to the world, particularly Afghanistan," a statement from the cabinet said.

Karzai also referred to a suicide attack that targeted police in southern Uruzgan province on Sunday that killed 24 Afghans, most of them civilians in a bazaar, police said.

He also condemned the Taliban's killing in Ghazni province the same day of two women whom the militants alleged were prostitutes and worked for the police.

"These ladies were martyred by terrorists who have been trained in terrorist nests and intelligence offices outside Afghanistan where respect of (women's) honour doesn't mean anything," he said.

The decision by the Afghan government to boycott bilateral meetings are presumably intended to put pressure on the U.S. and on Pakistan's elected government to take measures to curb the ISI's activities. Thus far neither has publicly agreed with Afghanistan's direct attribution of responsibility, but their denials have been rather mild in tone.

Note that by calling Pakistan the "biggest exporter of terrorism and extremism to the world," the government of Afghanistan is implicitly challenging the U.S. claim that Iran is the greatest source of terrorism. Read more on this article...

Rubin: Notes from Kabul and Kandahar on Recent Bombings

In response to my previous post on the killing of civilians in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and in a bombing by the U.S. in Eastern Afghanistan, BBC correspondent Alistair Leithead wrote, "We went up to the bomb site in Nangarhar's the report...":

On a hillside high in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan there are three charred clearings where the American bombs struck.

Scattered around are chunks of twisted metal, blood stains and small fragments of sequined and brightly decorated clothes - the material Afghan brides wear on their wedding day.

After hours of driving to the village deep in the bandit country of Nangarhar's mountains we heard time and again the terrible account of that awful day.

What began as celebration ended with maybe 52 people dead, most of them women and children, and others badly injured.

The US forces said they targeted insurgents in a strike. But from what I saw with my own eyes and heard from the many mourners, no militants were among the dead. A big double wedding was taking place between two families, with each exchanging a bride and a groom. So Lal Zareen's son and daughter were both getting married on the same day.

He gave the account with his son, a 13-year-old groom, sitting at his feet.

"This is all the family I now have left," he said in a disturbingly matter of fact sort of way.

Apparently the wedding party was crossing a narrow pass of the type that Taliban might use for infiltration when it was bombed by U.S. planes. It reminds of of an incident from 1984: Christian Science Monitor reporter Ed Girardet was traveling to the Panjshir Valley with a weapons convoy. At a narrow pass in Upper Panjshir Soviet fighters decimated a caravan of nomads, killing dozens of them, possibly trying to block the infiltration route.

Leithead concludes:

Mirwais Yasini, a local MP and the deputy speaker of Afghanistan's lower house, made the point that civilian casualties widen the gap between the people and the government, and the international forces.

As another memorial service took place in the mountains, Lal Zareen told me: "I want President Karzai to make sure the people responsible for this face justice."

That will depend on the US findings and how the Afghan government acts.

These mistakes are incredibly costly in a counter-insurgency campaign which relies on winning people over, not forcing them against the authorities.

I wonder how many enemies have been created in Nangarhar as a result of the latest bloodshed?

I also got a note from an Afghan in Kandahar who summarized the situation:
I am writing from Kandahar. It is hell hot here--both literally and figuratively. The temperature is around 40 degrees on centigrade. The heat is especially unbearable during mid days when the sun is strong. And there is almost no electricity in this city. During the Taliban time Kandahar had at least 12 hours of electricity in 24 hours, now days pass here without a blink of electricity. Normally though we have 4 hours of electricity in 2 days. And the political situation has never been as bad here in the last seven years as it is now. There is a general discontent among the people. While a few corrupt government officials are embezzling lots of money, the rest of the population is even deprived of the facilities that it had seven years ago like--electricity, drinking water, and security. The Taliban are using this pathetic situation to their benefit. With the help of local population the Taliban now manage to carry out attacks within the city like the spectacular attack on Kandahar prison last month--and they will not stop there. In Kandahar, time is definitely on Taliban's side.
Finally, further information on the attack on the Indian embassy from Tom Stauffer, President of the American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul:
Indian Embassy Blast. One result of the suicide bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul last week (7/7) was a flurry of inquiries from my emailing friends. The attack was a VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device), actually a Toyota Corolla, with 80-100 kilos (over 200 pounds) of top quality RDX plastic bonded high explosive mixed with land mines and tank shells designed to inflict maximum hurt. The nature of the blast suggests that some professional intelligence service was involved. RDX (or cyclonite) is not found at street vendors.

The Indian Embassy was described as situated on a “leafy suburban street” in several press dispatches, which I figure must have been filed from London, Delhi or some other safe haven. (The actual location is in central Kabul.) Many journalists are afraid to come to Kabul, and, as a result, report from afar. I do not much blame them. . . .

Embassies and military compounds in Kabul are surrounded by wire mesh containers, about three yards on each side, filled with dirt, maybe also fronted by heavy concrete blast barriers. The mesh units each weigh many tons. This is what the bomb hit, albeit it at a weaker embassy entry point, and damage to embassy buildings could have been much worse. The blast was well absorbed, except for those unfortunates lined up to get travel visas to India.

At last count, about 60 died and 130 were wounded. More will succumb.Press dispatches always fail to convey the agony and human cost. Flesh and severed limbs were scattered about. Paris or Dubai based journalists reported the numbers but overlooked those real human beings who perished. Four included a mother and her three children who wanted to go to Delhi to catch a flight for London so that they would visit their student husband/father. A girl and a family, seeking a visa to study in India and passports respectively, were also wiped out. Most victims were just walking in the vicinity. Four Indian diplomats and six police officers were murdered and seven at the nearby Indonesian Embassy were wounded. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry is also located on that same street and many visitors come on routine missions. I have been there twice. The mangled body of one Indian diplomat was found on the roof of his embassy’s main building hours following the blast. Today, the Indian Consulate started issuing visas again.

Anent who did it, everybody denies knowing anything as if the bombing was unplanned. Speculation on the streets and in the press run the gamut of possibilities, but talk concentrates on long deadly clashes among elements in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The story takes too long to tell in my blog, but suffice to say there is poison in the well of regional peace. The Indian Embassy bombing is for the world’s intelligence services to resolve, but trust me, they are working on it. Pakistan and the Taliban deny involvement.

A friend and very prominent Afghan-American missed the explosion by ten minutes because he forgot a small item back at his residence. The human dimension cannot be lost among a pile of geo-political analyses and poorly informed speculation that inevitably follows this and other terrifying VBIED detonations.
Read more on this article...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rubin: Afghan Government Charges on Killing Afghans -- U.S. 47, Terrorists 41

Here and elsewhere this week media covered the terrorist attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. (Above, a picture sent by Hamid Alakozai.)

The Afghan government charged that Pakistan's intelligence service had organized it. After a couple days of silence from the U.S. government, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates answered a question about it:
"I haven't seen any evidence or proof that foreign agents were involved,'' Gates told reporters yesterday in Washington when asked about the July 7 car bombing that killed more than 50 people in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
The delay in making a statement and the rather mild language used seems to me (without any direct evidence) to indicate internal dispute over how to respond.

Since I posted on the bombing, I learned that several of my friends were in the area. All the windows were blown out of the house of Pir Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, one of the leaders of the official parties of resistance to the Soviets and head of the Qadiriyya Sufi order; his daughter, Fatima Gailani, head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, narrowly escaped the bomb.

The offices of Afghanistan's Center for Research & Policy Studies, a think tank founded by Idrees Rahmani and Harun Amin that was due to have its official opening that afternoon, was pretty much destroyed. Idrees writes:
We were badly hit by this incident. The whole office was destroyed and one of our staff was wounded by the shattered glasses. The rest of our staff have all escaped this blast narrowly with God's miracles. We still can not believe that no one is killed while the whole area was smashed. We had one American student from Stanford University working with us as an intern. He was really lucky because he left his chair in front of the window just a second before the blast smashed every thing.
That was on Monday July 7. There has been less coverage of an incident that occurred on July 6 in Shinwar district of Nangarhar province, which borders on Khyber Agency of Pakistan, where the government has been trying to regain control from militants. Original reports said that a U.S. bombing killed about 20 people. The U.S. originally stated that those killed were "militants," while local people reported they were civilians, including a bride on the way to a wedding.

A none-man Afghan government commission headed by the deputy speaker of the Afghan National Assembly upper house, Burhanullah Shinwari, has reported back to Kabul:
[Shinwari] told the BBC: ''Our investigation found out that 47 civilians (were killed) by the American bombing and nine others injured.>Reports at the time said that 20 people were killed in the airstrike in Nangarhar province. The US military said they were militants.

But local people said the dead were wedding party guests.

Correspondents say the issue of civilian casualties is hugely sensitive in Afghanistan.

The commission provided this video of victims:

A friend in the Afghan government who is dealing with the fallout hurriedly wrote:
The problem is that coalition is causing most of the casualties and then NATO/ISAF is left to answer to media. In turn, NATO plainly deny actual incidents like the one which took place a couple of days ago in Shinwar district of Nangarhar. Video and eye wintess accounts were all over the media and yet NATO point blank denied having killed anyone. This puts their credibility and ours seriously questioned.
President Karzai has long taken the position that these casualties result from excessive use of air power and, more fundamentally, from trying to combat an insurgency based in Pakistan by military action in Afghanistan. Within the past year NATO tightened up its rules on the use of air power to prevent such incidents, but it is not clear if the new restrictive rules apply to the Coalition, the "counter-terrorism" component of which is under CENTCOM as well as NATO command. This is what my correspondent was referring to. These killings of civilians probably do more than anything else to undermine the legitimacy of the government and international presence, and, as in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Vietnam in the 1960s, and many other cases are one of the main accelerators of insurgent recruitment. Read more on this article...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rubin: Afghanistan Accuses Pakistan of Responsibility for Attack on Indian Embassy

In a press conference yesterday, Humayun Hamidzada, the official spokesman of President Karzai (and a former colleague at the Center on International Cooperation at NYU) virtually accused Pakistan of responsibility for the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul yesterday:
Afghan officials have evidence that foreigners were behind a massive suicide bombing against India's embassy in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said Tuesday, implying that Pakistan orchestrated the attack.

The spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, did not name Pakistan's intelligence agency but told reporters it was "pretty obvious" who was behind Monday's bombing, which killed 41 people and wounded 150.

An Afghan security report released earlier Tuesday found that the bombing could not have succeeded without the support of foreign intelligence agencies, another reference to Pakistan, India's archrival.

"The sophistication of this attack, and the kind of material that was used and the specific targeting, everything has the hallmark of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar attacks inside Afghanistan in the past. We have sufficient evidence to say that," Hamidzada said. "The project was designed outside Afghanistan. It was exported to Afghanistan."

The Taliban continue to deny any involvement. I haven't seen any U.S. spokesmen commenting on these allegations. Read more on this article...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Rubin: Attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul (Multiple Updates)

After the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul this morning, I wrote the following comment in response to a query from a journalist:
The war in Afghanistan is often depicted as a battle between jihadi groups and the U.S. or the west. But Afghanistan is also a theater for the struggle between India and Pakistan and for the domestic struggles of Pakistan. This is the second major terrorist attack on an Indian target since the election of a civilian government in Pakistan. Nine synchronized bombs killed 63 people in the Indian city of Jaipur on May 13, just before the first high-level diplomatic meeting between India and Pakistan after the elections. Part of the context of this attack is also the Afghan official, public charges that the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, organized the attempted assassination of President Karzai in Kabul in April. These attacks seem designed to sabotage any improvement of relations between Pakistan and either of its two neighbors, India and Afghanistan, to assure that Pakistan has no alternative but to continue to support militant organizations as part of its foreign policy.
I might add that there is also a consistent pattern of attacks on Indian road construction teams in southwest Afghanistan. These teams are constructing a road linking Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf via the Iranian rail and road network, which would bypass both Karachi and Pakistan's new port in Gwadar. This road also passes through the Baluch parts of Afghanistan and Iran, next to the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, where Pakistan charges India with supporting nationalist/separatist insurgents.

Juan Cole on Informed Comment links the bombing to the attack yesterday in Islamabad and posits:
Since the neo-Taliban want to pull down the Karzai government, trying to scare the Indians into leaving would be a way of removing one foreign pillar of support from the edifice of state.
The link to the Islamabad attack on the anniversary of the raid on the Red Mosque may well be valid, but, along with the pattern I cited above, it looks to me more like it forms a pattern of a regional strategy by those who want to place (or keep) the state in Pakistani in the jihadi camp. In addition, in my (admittedly limited) contact with Taliban and in examining Taliban texts from Afghan sources, I see a focus on foreign troops in Afghanistan, not the Karzai government or India.

I heard on the radio that "Taliban" have claimed responsibility for this act. (Also reported by Reuters.) Let's see which "Taliban." Did it come from the former Taliban leadership in Quetta, or did it come from the Haqqani group in North Waziristan? (Note that both command and control centers of the Taliban are in Pakistan.) The latter is campaigning for predominance -- last week a document surfaced in which Jalaluddin Haqqani charged Mullah Umar and the Quetta shura with incompetence. (The authenticity of this document has yet to be established -- facsimile above left from here. [UPDATE 1: A source in Kabul who has been investigating it tells me the document is mostly likely a fake. Psy-ops, I guess.]) Kabul is also focusing its accusations of terrorism on the Haqqani group, which it claims reports daily to the ISI and which has much closer links to al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban than does the Quetta shura.

UPDATE 2: Now I heard on NPR that the "Taliban" have denied responsibility. Let me stick my neck out here: I don't believe that the Kandahari Taliban leadership would mount an attack like this against the Indian embassy. The idea of such an attack came from some combination of all or some of the following: the Haqqani group (as part of a campaign for Pakistani support), Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida, and the Pakistani security agencies, or private entities under their supervision.

Reuters: The Afghan "Interior Ministry believes this attack was carried out in coordination and consultation with an active intelligence service in the region," that is, Pakistan's ISI.

Taliban (Quetta shura) spokesman denies responsibility:

Still, a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied that the militants were behind the bombing. The Taliban tend to claim responsibility for attacks that inflict heavy tolls on international or Afghan troops, and deny responsibility for attacks that primarily kill Afghan civilians.

"Whenever we do a suicide attack, we confirm it," Mujahid said. "The Taliban did not do this one."

Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi condemned the attack. I heard him on the BBC (I can't find the interview on line yet), and he sounded very sincere and pained by it, almost as if the attack were aimed at his government -- which it might be.

UPDATE 3: According to someone who who spent most of the 1980s with the mujahidin in Afghanistan, even then Jalaluddin Haqqani was saying that the number one enemy was India. I've asked a few people, and so far no one can recall hearing this kind of talk from the core Taliban in Quetta. In my experience, the Kandahari mujahidin resisted Pakistani influence quite strongly. Read more on this article...