On Tuesday, I noted that Mutasim Agha Jan had gone missing in Dubai while attempting to work toward negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. Multiple outlets now are reporting on the Peace Council having confirmed that Mutasim was indeed detained by authorities in the UAE. Here is Khaama Press on the confirmation:
The Afghan High Council has confirmed that the former Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has been held in United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Agha Jan Mutasim has been missing in United Arab Emirates during the past several days. He was a senior Taliban leader and was supporting the Afghan peace process with the Taliban group.
Afghan High Peace Council following a statement said the detention of Agha Jan Mutasim clarifies that certain elements in the region are disrupting the Afghan peace talks.
The statement further added that those individuals, who are struggling to resume Afghan peace process, have been victimized.
The High Peace Council insisted that Afghan peace talks should take place inside Afghanistan and negotiations have taken place with the UAE officials to end limitations and resolve the issue of Agha Jan Mutasim.
Note that the High Peace Council accuses “certain elements in the region” of “disrupting the Afghan peace talks”. We also get a similar accusation from Karzai’s office. From today’s Washington Post, there is this:
“Known and secret enemies of peace in Afghanistan continue sabotaging our peace process,” Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, said Thursday. He did not specify who he thought was responsible, but Afghan officials often accuse neighboring Pakistan of abetting insurgents and stymieing peace efforts.
In that regard, it is very interesting to see an opposition political figure in Pakistan speaking out today against Pakistan’s military supporting the Afghan Taliban: Continue reading
While the mainstream press finally catches up to the fact that there were indeed hundreds of violent attacks on election day in Afghanistan (even though hippies could find the data over a week ago), there is yet another disturbing development in the efforts to hold talks between Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and the Afghan Taliban. I noted nearly a year ago that Mutasim Agha Jan was beginning to bring some attention to a more moderate faction within the Afghan Taliban. He was successful in getting discussions going with the Afghan High Peace Council, but one of his associates, Abdul Raqib, was gunned down in Peshawar in February just after returning from a negotiating session in Dubai. It has now been confirmed that Mutasim Agha Jan has disappeared while in Dubai as he was preparing for another round of talks there. Here is ToloNews on the disappearance:
Agha Jan, who was one of the few crucial Taliban figures that had direct contact with the HPC, lived in Turkey and recently disappeared during a tour to the UAE.
“The government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is aware of Agha Jan’s disappearance in the UAE,” MoFA spokesman Ahmad Shekib Mustaghna said on Monday.
There are rumors about the possibility that Agha Jan may have been abducted. MoFA has not released a statement in regards to the rumors, but has called the circumstances surrounding the disappearance ambiguous and questionable.
Over the past month, Agha Jan had met with the HPC delegation twice; both sides had agreed to continue peace discussions.
There is a very interesting bit of language in the Khaama Press story on the disappearance:
The ministry of foreign affairs of Afghanistan confirmed that the former senior Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim has gone missing in United Arab Emirates.
Foreign ministry spokesman, Shekib Mostaghni told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan officials have started negotiations with the UAE officials regarding the fate of Agha Jan Mutasim.
Mr. Mostaghni further added that the government of Afghanistan has stepped up efforts to take practical steps to find out Agha Jan Mutasim.
Normally, I would attribute that bit about “negotiations with UAE officials” as poor translation from an initial story about Afghan officials speaking to UAE officials simply to ask questions. But there is also this report in the Express Tribune:
Last week, Mutasim’s family sources and friends confirmed to The Express Tribune that they have lost contact with him in Dubai. They were concerned that the UAE authorities might have detained and shifted Mutasim to an undisclosed location in Abu Dhabi.
The Express Tribune article also makes it clear that he has been missing for quite a while:
After a mysterious silence for nearly two weeks, the Afghan foreign ministry on Monday confirmed that Mutasim is missing in the UAE. “The Afghan government confirms that Agha Jan Mutasim has disappeared in the UAE and we are talking to senior Emirati officials to know his fate,” spokesman Ahmed Shakaib Mustaghni said in Kabul.
“The talks, unfortunately, have not yet produced any results and we do not have any more details,” Mustaghni told a weekly press briefing, according to the recorded version of the briefing received here.
So it would indeed appear that Afghanistan may be in some sort of negotiations with UAE on the fate of Mutasim. But since we don’t have confirmation yet that he actually is under UAE control, we could be back to the list of suspects I discussed in the death of Abdul Raqib also being suspects in this case as well (but read here for a pretty strong argument that Taliban hardliners were responsible for Raqib’s death). I will keep an eye out for further developments on Mutasim’s location and safety.
Oh, the poor class of 2014 at the United States Military Academy! This morning’s New York Times brings us the tragic news that this year’s class graduating from West Point must somehow find a way to advance their military careers without being deployed to a combat zone. What could our politicians be thinking to so senselessly deprive our “best and brightest” the chance to get those colorful “coveted combat patches on their uniforms”? Why did they pass up the chance to invade Syria? Can’t they send troops quickly to Ukraine? Get with it, Washington, these poor cadets need you:
For the first time in 13 years, the best and the brightest of West Point’s graduating class will leave this peaceful Hudson River campus bound for what are likely to be equally peaceful tours of duty in the United States Army.
“It started to hit home last year, when we started considering what we really wanted to do, and realized that there’s a much more limited opportunity to deploy,” said Charles Yu, who is majoring in American politics and Chinese. Cadet Yu, who will graduate this spring, is going into military intelligence in South Korea, where he hopes to get experience helping to manage the long-running conflict between North and South Korea. He will work at Camp Red Cloud near the demilitarized zone, or, as he put it, “as close as you can get to the DMZ.”
For Cadet Yu and the rest of the class of about 1,100 cadets, there may be few, if any, coveted combat patches on their uniforms to show that they have gone to war. Many of them may not get the opportunity to one day recall stories of heroism in battle, or even the ordinary daily sacrifices — bad food, loneliness, fear — that bind soldiers together in shared combat experience.
The end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan mean that the graduates of the West Point class of 2014 will have a more difficult time advancing in a military in which combat experience, particularly since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been crucial to promotion. They are also very likely to find themselves in the awkward position of leading men and women who have been to war — more than two million American men and women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — when they themselves have not.
But buck up, young soldiers! There is precedent for how to advance your careers in such desperate times:
Two months after graduation, Petraeus married Holly Knowlton, a graduate of Dickinson College and daughter of Army General William Knowlton, who was superintendent of West Point at the time.
Get on it, soldiers! I don’t know their marital status or ages, but it appears that the current commandant has both a son and a daughter, so choose your target appropriately.
While I was busy bashing David Petraeus yesterday over his tantrum warning us that dropping sanctions on Iran will result in more funding for terrorism, I missed an important Reuters article by Fredrik Dahl in which he noted this PressTV interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Salehi informs us that Iran is willing to make design changes to the Arak heavy water reactor that will result in it producing much less plutonium. The P5+1 group has been adamant that Iran not finish construction of Arak over fears that it would produce sufficient plutonium for a nuclear weapon, despite the fact that Iran has not built the sort of dedicated facility that would be required to recover the plutonium from spent fuel from the Arak reactor. Here is the relevant part of the PressTV article:
Iran has offered a scientific and logical proposal to clear up any ambiguities over the country’s Arak heavy-water reactor, a senior Iranian official says.
After the signing of the Geneva deal dubbed the Joint Plan of Action between Iran and six world powers, Tehran put forward a scientific plan to resolve the West’s alleged concerns over the Arak reactor, whose closure had been demanded by the Western states, said Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi on Wednesday.
In November 2013, Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, France, Russia, China and Britain – plus Germany sealed an interim deal in Geneva to set the stage for the full resolution of the dispute over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program.
“In our plan, we explained that we would redesign the heart of the Arak reactor, so that its production of plutonium will decrease drastically. They (Iran’s negotiating partners) were surprised when they saw our scientific and logical reaction,” Salehi said.
The Arak reactor, which uses natural uranium to produce radio medicines, is planned to gradually replace the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical radioisotopes for cancer patients.
Dahl gives us a bit more perspective on the importance of this announcement:
Iran has made a proposal that would significantly lower plutonium production at a planned reactor, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying, signalling flexibility on a key issue in talks to end the nuclear dispute with world powers.
The comment by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, was the latest sign that a compromise may be possible over the Arak research reactor, which the West fears could yield weapons-usable material. Iran denies any such aim.
The fate of the heavy-water plant, which has not yet been completed, is one of the central issues in negotiations between Iran and six major powers aimed at reaching a long-term deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme by an agreed July 20 deadline.
Significantly, the Russian negotiator says that agreement over changes to Arak may be near:
Russia’s chief negotiator suggested after the April 8-9 talks that progress had been achieved on Arak. “The possibility of a compromise on this issue has grown,” Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.
On September 26, 2004, the Washington Post disgraced itself by giving David Petraeus space to write an op-ed in which he spouted pure bullshit on how well his vaunted “training” program was going in Iraq. Of course, that program failed multiple times with Petraeus never being called to account. Despite clear military regulations prohibiting political activity by members of the military, Petraeus’ op-ed was seen by some as providing an endorsement which gave a significant boost to George W. Bush’s re-election campaign at a time when public opinion on the war in Iraq was beginning to sour. Just short of ten years later (and after his career got Broadwelled, I mean, broadsided), Petraeus is back on the pages of the Neocon Daily today, warning us that the “US needs to plan for the day after an Iran deal“.
The reviews of Petraeus’ newest op-ed are now in, and it has been called “Provocative!”, “Apocalyptic!” and even “Gut-Wrenching!” Oh, wait. That’s how the 1983 made for TV movie The Day After is described on its DVD cover. My mistake. But clearly Petraeus is playing off that old title. The old movie deals with life in Lawrence, Kansas after a nuclear war and Petraeus is now telling us we must prepare for life after preventing Iran getting the chance to wage nuclear war.
The central tenet of the op-ed is that Iran is “the leading state sponsor of terrorism”. Like most of what Petraeus does or says, that statement is just flat wrong. Even though the US (including the military when Petraeus was head of Central Command and the CIA when Petraeus led it) never admits it publicly, the rest of the world knows that Saudi Arabia is by far the largest state sponsor of terrorism. There are even Wikileaks cables confirming the role of Saudi money in supporting Sunni extremists. And note that the single most important organizer of state sponsored terrorism, Bandar bin Sultan, is now returning to his role after a brief interruption.
It appears that Petraeus stopped paying attention to world events when he resigned from the CIA in disgrace in November of 2012, because nowhere in his anti-Iran screed do we see any acknowledgement that in June of 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected as Iran’s new president and has ushered in a new, more moderate outlook that is credited with providing the window for diplomatic progress toward an agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology.
Okay, so here is Petraeus (and co-author Vance Serchuk, who was Joe Lieberman’s foreign policy advisor after cutting his teeth at the American Enterprise Institute–you just can’t make this shit up!) framing the problem for us: Continue reading
Today marks the launch in London of a book titled “An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012″. The book’s author is Dr. Mike Martin. Until Monday, he was known as Captain Mike Martin. In order to publish the book, however, he resigned from the military when it refused to grant him permission to publish the book, which the military ironically had initially commissioned from Martin.
From the Guardian:
A captain in the Territorial Army has resigned after a dispute with the Ministry of Defence over a book he has written that is critical of the conduct of the campaign in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The MoD commissioned the book by Dr Mike Martin, but took exception to parts of the account. The dispute has gone on for more than a year.
In a statement, the MoD said it “has a strong record of learning from previous campaigns and encourages its officers to challenge existing norms and conventional wisdom. However, the publication of books and articles by serving military personnel is governed by well-established policy and regulations. When these are breached, the MoD will withhold approval.”
We get more from BBC:
Mr Martin studied Helmand for six years and completed an Army-funded PhD at King’s College in London.
He told the BBC Nato troops did not understand the “complexities” of Afghan tribal conflicts and were “manipulated” by tribal leaders fighting over land and water.
“This meant that we often made the conflict worse, rather than better,” he wrote in the study.
Mr Martin said he was originally told his final thesis could not be published as a book because it made use of secret cables published by Wikileaks and classified materials.
But for now it looks as though his resignation will make it possible for Martin to go ahead with the book launch:
But he denied the book contained any intelligence material that was not in the public domain.
Last week, he was then told by his commanding officer that he was “not authorised to published the book”.
He resigned on Monday and will launch the book in London on Wednesday night.
The MoD said the department had accepted the material in the book did not contravene the Official Secrets Act.
More information on the book and Martin’s research for it is found in the King’s College announcement for a seminar tomorrow:
An Intimate War tells the story of the last thirty-five years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In theWest, this period is often defined through different lenses—the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.
This book—based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pushtu—offers a very different view of Helmand from those in the mainstream. It demonstrates how outsiders have most often misunderstood the ongoing struggle in Helmand and how, in doing so, they have exacerbated the conflict, perpetuated it and made it more violent—precisely the opposite of what was intended when their interventions were launched.
Dr. Mike Martin is a Pushtu speaker who spent almost two years in Helmand as a British army officer (covering Operation HERRICKs 9-16). During that time, he pioneered and developed the British military’s Human Terrain and Cultural Capability—a means to understanding the Helmandi population and influencing it. He also worked as an advisor to several British commanders of Task Force Helmand. His previous publications include A Brief History of Helmand, required reading for British commanders and intelligence staff deploying to the province. He holds a doctorate in War Studies from King’s College London.
Well, at least Martin didn’t have to leak his book to Rolling Stone to get it published. Informing the military of its own mistakes and hubris never seems to go well. As we are seeing now with Mike Martin in the UK and saw previously with Daniel Davis in the US, the military takes active steps to block such publications. And then sometimes it even goes so far as retroactively classifying material that is found to be embarrassing. I hope to get a chance to read Martin’s book. From the description, it sounds as though it may well take a similar cultural approach to the analysis of green on blue killing that lead to the retroactive classification of “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf).
Is there any higher heroism than disrupting one’s own career in the spreading of truth?
I have been following the story of the five Iranian border guards who were abducted in early February by the Jeish Al-Adl terrorist group. Late in March, the group claimed to have executed one of the guards. Last week, four guards were released and eventually made their way back into Iran, presumably from where they were being held just across the border in Pakistan. Iran’s statements relating to the group’s claim of killing one guard have been quite strange, alternating between stating flatly that he has been executed while also stating that they can neither confirm nor deny his death.
The speaker of Iran’s Parliament added yet another twist to the string of strange statements, today issuing a call for Pakistan to “release” the fifth guard, but the story as it is presented by Fars News appears to leave open whether he is calling for release of a living person or the body of a dead one:
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani called on the Pakistani officials to double their efforts to release the 5th Iranian border guard who was abducted by Jeish al-Adl terrorist group in February and kept hostage despite the freedom of his other four colleagues.
“The Pakistani government should certainly be accountable and provide the ground for the freedom of the 5th Iranian border guard as soon as possible,” Larijani said in an open session of the parliament in Tehran on Tuesday.
His remarks came amid reports and claims by Jeish al-Adl that the terrorist group has killed, Jamshid Danayee-Far, one of the Iranian border guards kidnapped along Iran-Pakistan borders in February.
The five Iranian border guards were abducted in Jakigour region of Iran’s Sistan and Balouchestan Province on February 6 and taken to Pakistan. Jeish al-Adl claimed late last month that it has executed Danayee-Far.
Meantime, Governor-General of Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province Ali Awsat Hashemi this weekend confirmed the death of Danayee-Far, and said Iran is waiting for the transfer of his body.
Just yesterday, we had another “cannot confirm nor deny” version:
Iran’s interior minister has said due to lack of sufficient evidence, Iran could not confirm abducted guard’s death.
Speaking in the sidelines of country’s governors gathering, Abdurreza Rahmani Fazli pointed to the abducted guard’s martyrdom. “Available information and document do not compel us to confirm the guard’s death,” he said, adding that “we do not have sufficient information and four released soldiers who returned back to the country do not know anything about the other abducted guard – Jamshid Danaeifar.”
Complicating matters even further, Al Monitor reports that no video or photo has appeared to confirm Danaeifar’s death and that Jeish Al-Adl has even removed their claim of killing him from their website: Continue reading
With no catastrophic attacks taking place and reports of over 7 million people voting, on first impressions it would appear that Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday was a resounding success. Digging a bit deeper, though, reveals disturbing evidence of hundreds of violent incidents that received little attention and large areas of the country where the electorate was too scared of the Taliban to vote. Another large cautionary note is that the slow rate of vote counting means that it will be a long time before there can be any meaningful analysis of the extent of vote-stuffing. Further, the US goal of a new president clearing the way to a signed Bilateral Security Agreement is likely to be put off further, as any runoff will not happen until late May, which could well be past the point at which the US will have to decide if it will invoke the zero option and withdraw all troops from the country at the end of the year.
The New York Times gives us the rosy version of the voting:
After enduring months of Taliban attacks and days of security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered the first solid indications that the vote had far exceeded expectations.
Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.
Even this report, though, cautions that fraud could still be a problem and will take time to detect:
Afghan election observers backed up the numbers offered by election officials, as did Western diplomats, though the latter struck a more cautious tone. But both said that some votes would invariably be thrown out because of fraud.
The question was how many, and whether Afghanistan would see a repeat of the 2009 election, which was marred by widespread ballot stuffing and other fraud. Turnout that year was about 38 percent, though some estimates put it lower. The memory of what happened that year still hovers here, giving many reason to hesitate before declaring this weekend’s vote an unqualified success.
It took days for the full extent of the problems with the 2009 election to emerge, and the ensuing political crisis lasted months, souring relations between President Karzai and the United States, embittering many Afghans and helping fuel a Taliban insurgency that was gaining momentum.
But the claims of no large attacks overshadowed the news that there were actually hundreds of attacks aimed at the voting:
The anti-government armed militants carried out 690 attacks across the country during the presidential and provincial council elections on Saturday.
Defense ministry spokesman, Gen. Zahir Azimi said Saturday that the attacks by militants included direct fire, rocket attacks, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and suicide attacks.
Azimi also added that 164 militants were killed and 82 others were injured during the attacks while Afghan army soldiers seized various types of weapons belonging to the assailant militants.
He said at least 7 Afghan national army soldiers were martyred and 45 others were injured during these attacks.
Yesterday, in noting the large deployment of Afghan security personnel for Saturday’s presidential election, I wondered in an aside how well these troops had been screened, since a large contingent of them were described in the Afghan press as “fresh”. Sadly, a police unit commander in the Tanai District on the outskirts of Khost turned his gun on a vehicle occupied by AP photographer Anje Niedringhaus and AP reporter Kathy Gannon. Niedringhaus was killed and Gannon is being treated for at least two bullet wounds but is said to be in stable condition. Early reports suggest that the police officer who opened fire was not a recent recruit and was taken into custody when he surrendered immediately after the incident.
AP provides details on Niedringhaus’ Pulitzer Prize-winning career:
Niedringhaus covered conflict zones including Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Gaza and the West Bank during a 20-year stretch, beginning with the Balkans in the 1990s. She had traveled to Afghanistan numerous times since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Niedringhaus, who also covers sports events around the globe, has received numerous awards for her works.
She was part of an AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography for coverage of the war in Iraq, and was awarded the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation. She joined the AP in 2002 and had since been based in Geneva, Switzerland. From 2006 to 2007, she was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in journalism at Harvard University.
Niedringhaus started her career as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper in her hometown in Hoexter, Germany at the age of 16. She worked for the European Press Photo Agency before joining the AP in 2002, based in Geneva. She had published two books.
Reporter Kathy Gannon is also experienced in war zones and Afghanistan particularly:
Gannon, 60, is a Canadian journalist based in Islamabad who has covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the AP since mid-1980s.
She is a former Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the author of a book on the country, “I Is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years Inside Afghanistan.”
The New York Times has one of the more complete descriptions of the attack that I have seen:
Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon had spent Thursday night at the compound of the provincial governor in Khost, and had left on Friday morning with a convoy of election workers delivering ballots to an outlying area in the Tanai district, The A.P. and Afghan officials said.
The convoy was protected by the Afghan police, soldiers and operatives from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, said Mubarez Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial government. Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon were in their own car, traveling with a driver and an Afghan freelance journalist who was working with the news agency.
After the convoy arrived at the government compound in Tanai, Ms. Niedringhaus and Ms. Gannon were waiting in the back seat for the convoy to start moving again when a police commander approached the car and looked through its windows. He apparently stepped away momentarily before wheeling around and shouting “Allahu akbar!” — God is great — and opening fire with an AK-47, witnesses and The A.P. said. His shots were all directed at the back seat.
Ms. Niedringhaus was killed instantly.
The police commander, identified by the authorities as Naqibullah, 50, then surrendered to other officers and was arrested. Witnesses said he was assigned to the force guarding the government compound and was not one of the officers traveling with the election convoy.
I have written extensively on the issue of green on blue killings, where Afghan forces attack US forces. It would appear that this is the first instance, though, of Afghan security personnel turning fire on Western members of the press. The Times addresses the insider killing aspect in relation to previous events: Continue reading
Saturday will mark the first time Afghanistan has gone to the polls to choose a new president since the US overthrew the Taliban and put Hamid Karzai in charge. This will hardly be an accomplishment to herald in the US press, although I am sure the military will attempt to get major outlets to tout it as so after the fact. In fact, even the rosy “look what has been accomplished in Afghanistan” fluff piece published today in Khaama Press cites a paltry list of accomplishments, such as 50 television stations and not quite half a million Afghans on Facebook. Tellingly, though, a closer look reveals that the piece is attributed to Dr. Florance Ebrahimi. It turns out that even though she is originally from Kabul, she practices in Sydney. And why shouldn’t she? Afghanistan is tied with North Korea and Somalia at the very bottom of the list when countries are ranked for their level of corruption. And it appears that even before the election takes place, ten percent of the planned polling stations have been closed due to security concerns. And what of the candidates? The top three are profiled here by the New York Times. All three of the leaders have already pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year–and thus assuring the maximal continuing flow of US funds to fuel even more corruption. The candidates are noteworthy to me only in that two of them have running mates that would rival Dick Cheney as the most notorious war criminal to be Vice President of a country in the past 15 years.
Today’s New York Times piece cited above on the closure of polling places due to anticipated violence is devastating. For example:
One of the few polling centers in this part of Logar Province is the government’s district headquarters, a building so devastated by rocket attacks and Taliban gunfire that it looks more like a bomb shelter than an administrative office.
As the body count for security forces has risen over the past few days in this embattled district, a stretch of dusty farmland surrounded by mountains, it has become clear that no one here is going to vote on Saturday, either for president or for provincial council delegates.
So far, that has not stopped security officials from proclaiming the district open for voting: It is not among the roughly 10 percent of 7,500 total national sites shut down as too dangerous to protect. The Charkh district center has been pumped full of security forces to keep the vote a nominal possibility, but residents know that within a day or two after the elections, the guards will be gone and the Taliban will remain.
“The government has no meaning here,” said Khalilullah Kamal, the district governor, who was shot two times in the stomach a few months back while speaking in a mosque. “If there is no expectation that we will arrest people who break the law, then how do we expect the people to come and vote?”
Think about that. The polling place in this passage looks like a bomb shelter and life has gotten so violent there that it is clear nobody will vote there Saturday. And yet this site isn’t included among the 10 percent of sites that won’t be open Saturday. Further, “government has no meaning here” reflects the utter failure of US efforts to establish a unified government in Afghanistan. But does that apply only to a small area? Hardly. Consider that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated back in October that it is likely that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to SIGAR (pdf) to carry out oversight functions (and the State Department warned them that the 21 percent figure may be overly optimistic) by the end of this year.
Since the US has already formally handed over security operations to the Afghans, what are they doing to make the election safe? On Tuesday they announced that 60,000 “fresh” (I presume this means newly trained? How well were they screened?) Afghan National Army troops were deployed across the country for election security. Then, on Wednesday, the figure was increased to 195,000 total security personnel when ANA figures were joined with security personnel from the Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security. That’s quite a force. So for roughly 7500 polling stations, that gives about 26 security personnel guarding each site if they are distributed evenly. Oh, and to protect Westerners before the election, places where they tend to gather have been closed.
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, I see little reason to be optimistic that there will be any improvement in living conditions for the average Afghan citizen.