Hamid Karzai

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Abdullah Becomes Serial Quitter While Dempsey Continues Denying Reality

The last 24 hours in Afghanistan are a perfect summation of the insanity imposed by endless US occupation.

On the election recount front, after warning for several days that he might do so, Abdullah Abdullah has withdrawn his observers from the audit process. The UN is desperate to see the process through to the end, as tweeted by ToloNews:

The Washington Post, in its article on Abdullah’s withdrawal, holds out hope that he will continue to take part in the negotiations on Kerry’s extra-constitutional shared governance plan:

It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether Abdullah still planned to participate in a unity government with Ghani.

Ghafour Liwal, a Kabul-based political analyst, said Abdullah’s campaign may be using the boycott to seek more concessions from Ghani about his future role in a new government.

“Abdullah’s team is using the withdrawal from the audit process as political pressure,” he said.

Those talks about possible power-sharing are “far more important than” the technical issue of how to conduct the audit, Liwal said.

The New York Times, though, sees Abdullah as likely withdrawing from the entire process:

Both Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani pledged to Secretary of State John Kerry that they would accept the audit’s conclusions about who had won the election and then would form a government of national unity including officials from both campaigns.

But it was unclear Wednesday whether Mr. Abdullah planned to keep that commitment. He had yet to make a public comment on the matter, but statements from his aides have been negative. On Tuesday, his chief auditor, Fazul Ahmad Manawi, said that if the campaign’s demands for changes to the audit were not met, Mr. Abdullah would pull out of both the audit and the broader election process. “We will not continue to be part of the process, and any result coming out of it will not be acceptable to us and will have no credibility to us,” he said.

Gosh, Abdullah withdraws in the face of widespread fraud that he is unable to overcome. We’ve seen this movie before. Remember that was eligible to take part in a runoff election against Karzai in 2009 but withdrew just a few days before the election, knowing that Karzai would make sure of his own victory. The runoff was canceled and Karzai served a second term.

It was already becoming clear as the recount progressed and Ghani was looking more and more likely to retain an edge in the “final” count that he had no intention of really sharing power with Abdullah, so it seems likely to me that Ghani will assume the role of president in the next few weeks. It seems unlikely that there will be time for this to play out before the NATO summit at the end of next week, but the US (and by extension, NATO) stands ready to allow extra time for the eventual winner to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement.

And that brings us to the other insanity front in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours. Visiting Afghanistan to preside over the handing off of ISAF command from Joseph Dunford to John Campbell, Joint Chiefs Chair Martin Dempsey proved he is genetically incapable of straying from the military’s constant Afghanistan script of “We have the Taliban on the run and things are improving” no matter how dismal the situation: Continue reading

With Clock Still Ticking, Afghanistan No Closer to Resolving Election Crisis

Reuters reminds us this morning that under one previous set of plans, today was to have been inauguration day for Afghanistan’s new president. Karzai is now insisting that the candidates must work out the vote audit and their power sharing agreement very quickly because he intends to stand by September 2 as the definite inauguration day. But that doesn’t look like a realistic deadline, either, according to Reuters:

But officials from the rival camps, as well as from the election commission, doubt that the Sept. 2 date would be met.

“Honestly, I cannot come out with something definite on that, but I hope. It’s Afghanistan. Things are unpredictable,” said Abdullah’s spokesman, Mujib Rahman Rahimi.

An official for Ghani’s campaign, who declined to be identified, said little progress had been made in interpreting the framework for a power-sharing deal.

“Nothing yet has added to the political framework and the commission couldn’t reach an agreement in most of the areas,” the official said, adding that the candidates were meeting to try to break the deadlock.

Many Western diplomats also say the process is unlikely to be resolved in time.

“I don’t see how there will be any space for compromise, because the pie is too small and there are too many people who want a piece,” said one Western official.

BBC chimes in with a report today that the small pie is getting even smaller:

Afghanistan’s finance minister has said deadlock over the disputed presidential election has cost the economy $5bn.

Omar Zakhilwal told the BBC he would have to cut salaries and lay off government workers if the crisis was not resolved by the end of the month.

Foreign investment is at a standstill and government revenues have fallen sharply since the April vote.

Khaama Press adds that in addition to the $5 billion in lost revenues, Afghanistan also has seen around $6 billion in capital flight due to the election dispute.

The final process of invalidating votes is apparently underway this afternoon in Kabul, but as Carlotta Gall noted Saturday in the New York Times, the math of the audit is daunting:

The huge scale of the fraud — involving perhaps more than two million ballots out of roughly eight million reported cast, according to independent international estimates — has stymied efforts to achieve a democratic transition. Secretary of State John Kerry has intervened twice to keep the campaigns in agreement on a unity government and a complete audit of the vote, but the process has repeatedly broken down in disputes.

/snip/

Mr. Abdullah was the clear leader in the first round, with a 900,000-vote margin over Mr. Ghani. But the preliminary results of the runoff showed a gigantic improvement for Mr. Ghani — an “impossible” one, according to one Western official — of 1.9 million votes.

Hmm, some dirty hippie had come up with very similar math on the dramatic change in vote numbers–back on July 8.

Oh, and even if by some miracle, a new “final” vote tally does appear before September 2, don’t look for an agreement on the structure of the power sharing government any time soon.

With the NATO summit still planned for September 4, that looms as the real deadline for the West to decide if the zero option on troop deployment after the end of this year becomes the only option.

Why US Wants BSA With Criminal Immunity: Amnesty Reports US War Crimes in Afghanistan Not Prosecuted

Barack Obama faces a huge amount of pressure during the current meltdown of Iraq because he withdrew all US military forces from the country. As I have pointed out in countless posts, the single controlling factor for that withdrawal was that Iraq refused to provide criminal immunity to US troops who remained in Iraq past December 31, 2011.

A very similar scenario is playing out now in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that will provide criminal immunity to US troops remaining beyond the end of this year. Both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have stated that they will sign the BSA immediately upon taking office, but the recount of their runoff election remains mired in dysfunction over how to eliminate fraudulent votes. John Kerry has visited twice to get the candidates to cease sparring, but dysfunction has quickly ensued after both visits. Meanwhile, the clock ticks ever closer to expiration of the current agreement providing immunity.

All along, the US framing for insisting on criminal immunity for troops is based on avoiding the chaos of soldiers facing false charges that might be brought through a court system that lacks the safeguards of the US court system or even the US military courts. But a report (pdf) released Friday by Amnesty International provides solid evidence that the US has failed, on multiple verified occasions, to take any action to pursue those responsible for clear war crimes in Afghanistan. That stands out to me as the real reason the US insists on criminal immunity.

Amnesty sums up their findings in the press release accompanying the report:

Focusing primarily on air strikes and night raids carried out by US forces, including Special Operations Forces, Left in the Dark finds that even apparent war crimes have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.

“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.

“None of the cases that we looked into – involving more than 140 civilian deaths – were prosecuted by the US military. Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored.”

The description continues:

Two of the case studies — involving a Special Operations Forces raid on a house in Paktia province in 2010, and enforced disappearances, torture, and killings in Nerkh and Maidan Shahr districts, Wardak province, in November 2012 to February 2013 — involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes. No one has been criminally prosecuted for either of the incidents.

Qandi Agha, a former detainee held by US Special Forces in Nerkh in late 2012, spoke of the daily torture sessions he endured. “Four people beat me with cables. They tied my legs together and beat the soles of my feet with a wooden stick. They punched me in the face and kicked me. They hit my head on the floor.” He also said he was dunked in a barrel of water and given electrical shocks.

Agha said that both US and Afghan forces participated in the torture sessions. He also said that four of the eight prisoners held with him were killed while he was in US custody, including one person, Sayed Muhammed, whose killing he witnessed.

Of course, the US claims that while it wants troops immune from prosecution in Afghanistan under trumped up charges, crimes will be investigated by US authorities. The Amnesty report puts that lie to rest. Again, from the press release:

Of the scores of witnesses, victims and family members Amnesty International spoke to when researching this report, only two people said that they had been interviewed by US military investigators. In many of the cases covered in the report, US military or NATO spokespeople would announce that an investigation was being carried out, but would not release any further information about the progress of the investigation or its findings – leaving victims and family members in the dark.

“We urge the US military to immediately investigate all the cases documented in our report, and all other cases where civilians have been killed. The victims and their family members deserve justice,” said Richard Bennett.

Yeah, I’m sure the military will get right on that. Sometime in the next century or two.

The report provides three recommendations to the government of Afghanistan:

 Create a credible, independent mechanism to monitor, investigate and report  publicly on civilian deaths and injuries caused by the ANSF, and to ensure timely and effective remedies. This mechanism should include detailed procedures for recording casualties, receiving claims, conducting investigations, carrying out disciplinary measures including prosecutions where warranted, and ensuring reparation, including restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation.

 Ensure that accountability for civilian casualties is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements signed with NATO and the United States, including by requiring that international forces provide a regular accounting of any incidents of civilian casualties, the results of investigations into such incidents, and the progress of any related prosecutions. Such agreements should exclude any provision that might infringe upon Afghanistan’s obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

 Continue to press the US and NATO authorities to take meaningful steps to enhance civilian protection, investigate reports of civilian casualties, and prosecute violations of international humanitarian law that result in civilian casualties.

Those recommendations are terrific, but they are completely meaningless when applied to what is really happening in Afghanistan. None of the good things in that list have any chance of even making it into the language of the already negotiated BSA, and even if they did, no enforcement of it would ever be allowed. After all, the US is the country that even has passed a law allowing use of military force to “rescue” any citizen facing charges in the ICC. It doesn’t matter whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama is the Commander in Chief, the US military will go wherever it wants, kill whoever it wants, and allow the vast majority of its crimes to go without consequence.

That is the particular freedom they hate us for.

Suicide Bomb Kills Karzai’s Cousin: First Victim of Abdullah-Ghani Battle?

Hashmat chilling with his lion.

Hashmat chilling with his lion.

The cousin of the Afghan President, Hashmat Karzai was a colorful character. He kept a pet lion at his home. NDTV tells us that the photo of him and the lion at left was posted by him on Facebook. The Washington Post gives us more of his background:

For years, he ran Asia Security Group, a security company supplying logistics and protection for convoys of U.S. and other foreign troops. After his father was murdered in the early 1980s by a relative, Hashmat Karzai’s family moved to the United States, and he became a U.S. citizen and worked at a Toyota dealership in Virginia, the New York Times reported.

Regarding Asia Security Group and private security contractors in Afghanistan, recall that back in 2010, Hamid Karzai tried to expel US private security contractors so that companies (specifically including Asia Security Group) controlled by Ahmed Wali Karzai (and Hashmat, although I don’t see him mentioned in that post) could take over the business.

So Hashmat went from hiding out in the US after his father was killed to running a large security contracting company in Afghanistan, presumably raking in huge profits from the US war in Afghanistan. That history, along with his being a cousin of the president, would of course make him a logical target for any number of reasons. But Hashmat’s recent activities suggest another strong possibility for why he was killed. From The Guardian:

Hashmat Karzai was a campaign manager in Kandahar for Ashraf Ghani, one of the two presidential candidates involved in a bitter dispute over fraud that threatens to pitch the country into worsening instability.

The Post story adds that the bomber was only 16:

The bomber, a 16-year-old boy, detonated explosives hidden in his turban while embracing Hashmat Karzai as part of special greetings for the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday at Karzai’s home in Karz district of Kandahar, they said.

The bomber also was well dressed, according to Reuters:

A spokesman for the provincial governor said the bomber had been well dressed.

“His style was very modern, everything was new, and when he came to talk with Hashmat Khalil and wish him a happy Eid, he blew himself up,” the spokesman said.

Reuters adds that no group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. There were no other fatalities in the explosion.

The Post brings us Ghani’s response posted on Twitter:

Ghani, a candidate to succeed President Karzai, condemned the assassination on his Twitter account.

“We will not succumb to cowardly acts of the enemies of Afghanistan,” he wrote. “Every loss of Afghans reminds us that we must stay united to overcome the challenges.”

It will be very interesting to see if more information comes to light on the motives of the suicide bomber and whether Ghani’s followers take it upon themselves to seek revenge in any way. Many have predicted that the Abdullah-Ghani disputed recount could spark a civil war along ethnic lines. Should that come to pass, the killing of Hashmat Karzai may stand out as the first casualty of that war.

With Afghan Runoff Audit Hopelessly Mired, Clock Running Out on US Hopes for BSA

I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to track the various deadlines the US has issued for having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement in hand. Such an agreement would authorize US troops to remain in Afghanistan with criminal immunity after the current agreement expires at the end of this year. Just a search of the tag “Bilateral Security Agreement” brings back three pages of posts on the topic at Emptywheel.  Early in the process, the US position was that the mental giants in our military needed a full year to plan whether or not we were withdrawing completely, and so a signed BSA had to be in hand by the beginning of 2014. Then, after Karzai defied the loya jirga and stated that he would not sign the agreement while in office, the US pinned its hopes on the presidential elections, since the two leading candidates both stated they would sign the agreement immediately upon winning. There was the unrealistic hope that a clear winner would emerge from the first round of voting in April, but that did not come to pass.  The runoff was originally slated for May 28, then moved to June 7 and finally took place June 14. But when the preliminary results of the runoff showed Abdullah moving from beating Ghani by a million votes in the first round to losing to him by a million votes in the runoff, the problems with counting votes in Afghanistan have moved to the center of the ongoing crisis.

The crisis shows no prospect of abating. Even though Kerry brokered an extra-constitutional “unity government” agreement between Abdullah and Ghani (and there has even been a nebulous conference on the new structure), the dim prospects for these two actually sharing power can be seen in how long the arguments over how to audit the runoff votes has carried on. We have had countless pronouncements out of Kabul that the snail’s pace of the audit will accelerate any day now, once the two sides agree on the procedure. The UN finally put forward its own proposal for a procedure yesterday since the candidates could not agree on one. Further disruptions in the audit will come next week as two more days will be lost to Eid. With thousands of ballot boxes still to be audited, there is no way that an official final tally will be issued by the specified August 2 date Karzai had planned for inauguration of the new president.

It’s hard to see how Kerry’s fantasy of a shared government will ever come to pass. Each candidate in the runoff will have strong grounds for declaring the results fraudulent should the other be declared the winner of the audit, and I think that is behind the impasse on developing an audit procedure. The argument can be made that there is no legitimate government in place since Karzai’s term has already expired, so there simply is no way to say who should be responsible for signing a BSA at this point. Back in December, the US openly floated the idea of working around Karzai to get someone else to sign the agreement. I’m thinking that plan is being dusted off again this week in Washington.

Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration have already shown that they are quite willing to work outside Afghanistan’s constitution when it is in their interest (as demonstrated by the shared government plan). As noted above, Karzai’s term officially expired in May. I look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately. But remaining in Afghanistan likely also will suddenly require a lot more US troops since it also seems likely that violence will break out between supporters of Abdullah and Ghani rather than the two sharing the new government. I doubt Obama has the courage to simply walk away from Afghanistan, but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.

Kerry, UN Fail to Resolve Afghan Election Crisis

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Three short weeks from tomorrow marks the date on which Afghanistan’s new president is to be sworn in. The problem, though, is that Abdullah Abdullah refuses to believe that he could have beaten Ashraf Ghani by a million votes in the first round and then lost to him by a million votes in the runoff a few weeks later. Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN have tried to defuse the crisis, but neither effort has had any effect whatsoever.

No words are needed to describe Kerry’s failure. In their story on Kerry’s visit to Kabul today, Reuters carried photos of Ghani and Abdullah with Kerry in front of the same backdrop of US and Afghan flags. The photo of Ghani and Kerry could pass as a propaganda photo handed out jointly by the two governments to promote a continued relationship between the US and Afghanistan with Ghani as the new president. The photo with Abdullah, on the other hand, shows a deeply distrustful Abdullah casting a sideways glance at Kerry, who seems not to have the courage to look Abdullah in the eye, let alone shake hands as he did with Ghani. Perhaps Abdullah and Kerry did shake hands, but photographer Jim Bourg seems to have captured the essence of the crisis perfectly.

Meanwhile, the UN proposal for additional auditing has fallen flat. From the New York Times:

The United Nations proposal centered on a special audit of suspected fraudulent votes, and it appeared to be a winner when the office of President Hamid Karzai called reporters shortly after midnight Friday, the beginning of the Afghan weekend, to spread the news of the new plan.

Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said the president was backing the proposal, which involved a deeper audit of votes from 8,000 polling stations, or about 43 percent of the 8.1 million ballots cast. The plan had been presented to Mr. Karzai on Thursday evening by Jan Kubis, the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, who was to brief Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani about it later on Friday, Mr. Faizi said.

But within minutes, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign said it had already made clear to United Nations officials that the plan was not acceptable during discussions on Thursday about possible ways out of the crisis. A senior aide to Mr. Abdullah said the campaign had its own plan, which would entail audits of votes from about 11,000 of the roughly 22,000 polling stations.

Western reports on the election crisis that I have read have danced around a very important central issue without ever addressing it. The huge problem that Afghanistan faces is that there is no real way to audit this election after the fact. Elections in Afghanistan do not take place in the way that elections in the West are conducted. Once outside of Kabul, Afghan society is structured around village life and women often live their entire lives without going outside the walls of the family compound. Village elders carry huge influence for all residents of the village.

In his book No Good Men Among the Living, Anand Gopal provided a couple of very informative vignettes of previous presidential elections. On page 156, we have this from the 2004 election: Continue reading

Thousands of Abdullah Supporters Rally in Kabul While Ghani Predicts Million Vote Victory

Khaama Press photo of June 27 Kabul protest in favor of Abdullah Abdullah.

Khaama Press photo of June 27 Kabul protest in favor of Abdullah Abdullah.

Last week, Abdullah Abdullah angrily withdrew his support of the runoff election process when he released audiotapes purported to be the voice of the head of the Independent Election Commission urging his staff to stuff ballot boxes. Although Afghanistan continues counting ballots and has announced that the July 2 scheduled date for releasing preliminary results will be met, Abdullah still has not rejoined the process. There is an argument between Abdullah and the Electoral Complaints Commission on whether he has actually submitted a formal complaint regarding the Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail audiotapes. Abdullah’s response is to say that since the ECC won’t act, he is now submitting the material directly to the Attorney General.

Yesterday, Abdullah released more evidence of ballot stuffing:

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s electoral campaign team released an audio tape of Maidan Wardak provincial governor on Thursday, in which the governor persuades an unknown “army officer” not to prevent ballot-stuffing in the June 14 runoff.

Governor Attaullah Khogyani of Maidan Wardak, a province at the south-west of Kabul, speaks on the phone with the officer who asks the governor whether his unit should prevent electoral fraud in a district, according to the tape released in a live press conference.

The governor tells the army officer that fraud prevention was not a task for the security forces and encourages him to speak to a Member of Parliament, Kalimzai Wardak, a supporter of Abdullah’s rival, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

/snip/

The footage which was also released on Thursday shows men in a room in the eastern Paktika province, as Abdullah’s team said, stuffing the ballot boxes for Mr Ahmadzai. The stuffed boxes were confiscated by the security forces, said Mr Shilgari.

Today, thousands of supporters took to the streets of Kabul with Abdullah to protest ballot stuffing. From ToloNews, we learn that although Hamid Karzai is accused of being one of the leading perpetrators of fraud on behalf of Ghani, one of Karzai’s brothers, whom they list as one of Abdullah’s running mates, took part in the demonstration:

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Kabul City on Friday marching alongside Abdullah Abdullah in protest of frauds that took place in the presidential runoff elections.

Several roads in Kabul have been blocked as the demonstrators advance toward the Presidential Palace calling on the government to invalidate the rigged votes.

Protests have begun in several areas of Kabul City that are joined by Dr. Abdullah and his running mates, the High Peace Council Chair, Salhuddin Rabbani, Mahmoud Karzai—brother of President Hamid Karzai—and Amirullah Saleh, former Afghan intelligence chief.

Thus far, there have been no reports of security threats. The demonstration is continued peacefully.

We learn from Khaama Press that there were angry slogans about Hamid Karzai and that posters of him were destroyed.  But it is in the Wall Street Journal where we learn what those angry slogans were:

Demonstrators shouting “Death to Ashraf Ghani” and “Death to Karzai” marched past government buildings and the gate to the presidential palace. Mr. Abdullah, riding atop a truck, greeted supporters chanting their support.

I wonder how Mahmoud Karzai felt about those “Death to Karzai” chants.

Recall that in the first round of the election, Abdullah fell just short of the 50% threshold needed to win outright, getting 45% of the votes, while Ghani was significantly behind him at 31.6%. But from Reuters, we see that Ghani’s team is expressing confidence that Tuesday’s vote announcement will have him leading by well over a million votes:

A member of the Ghani team, former candidate Daud Sultanzoy, said on Friday that based on information from election observers it predicted a lead of about 1.2 to 1.3 million votes over Abdullah.

“We are not claiming anything as we respect the election commission and will wait for its official announcement of the winner,” he said. “However, we know we are comfortably ahead.”

This is indeed a fragile time for Afghanistan. The Abdullah-Ghani split is largely along ethnic lines, with Ghani supported by the Pashtun majority and Abdullah by the second largest group, the Tajiks. But the Reuters article points to another risk the standoff presents:

“We want the mujahideen back. We don’t want technocrats and slaves of Jews and Christians,” said Badam Gul, a former mujahid.

“We want justice at any cost. There’s fraud and that is unacceptable for us. We will fight for our right until the last drop of blood in our body.”

Wednesday is shaping up to be a very important day as Afghanistan faces a highly uncertain future.

Will Successful Bergdahl Negotiations Get US-Taliban Peace Negotiations Going Again?

This weekend’s swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo has triggered responses on a large number of fronts. For now, I will leave it to others to sort through whether Obama was required to inform Congress, whether the move provides incentive to the Taliban to capture more prisoners and whether Bergdahl was a deserter. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that this prisoner exchange stands as a significant accomplishment in negotiation among parties who have seen previous attempts at negotiation fail.

Recall that back in early 2012, we first learned that the Afghan Taliban was opening an office in Qatar:

The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political address in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

So the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo was at the top of the list for setting up the office in Qatar and beginning negotiations. It is also important to note that the Haqqani Network, who held Bergdahl in Pakistan, was also to be included in the talks at the same time that the opening for negotiations was first noted and that Pakistan helped to move things along:

The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.

A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.

The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.

“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

The process suffered a major setback when the office was found to be flying the flag the Taliban used when they ruled Afghanistan and when the sign on the door seemed to suggest that the Taliban felt they were still the legitimate governing body. Hamid Karzai threw a huge fit over that development, and even though his government hadn’t been invited to the talks, he managed to stall the process. About a year and a half later, things settled down a bit and the provocative sign and flag were removed.

In today’s New York Times, we are warned not to infer that the prisoner swap means that additional talks look likely: Continue reading

Did Obama’s Handling of Karzai When Visiting Kabul Put Bilateral Security Agreement at Risk?

Demonstrating once again that electoral politics trumps all other considerations for his administration, Barack Obama mostly went along with the military’s recommendation (successful US political campaigns NEVER contradict the military) on troop levels in Afghanistan after this year, announcing a force size of 9800 after the military had requested 10,000 to 12,000 troops. Even the one instance of bucking military hawks comes from an electoral standpoint, as he announced that the force size will be cut in half after a year and then taken to only a handful by the end of 2016, which magically coincides with when Obama expects to triumphantly ride off into the sunset. Republicans are upset about an announced end to the troop presence, rather than allowing “conditions on the ground”, which is shorthand for letting the military do what it damn well pleases, to dictate force levels, but Obama seems to think that putting the end of our troop presence just before the next presidential election will get troops out at the one time electoral blowback will be minimized.

Obama’s announcement came with a large helping of arrogance in the handling of his invitation to meet with Karzai during the surprise visit to Kabul over the weekend. Although Obama fully intended his poor treatment of Karzai, he seems to have raised the ire of many more Afghans with his actions. Will that put the Bilateral Security Agreement, on which his troop size plan depends, at risk? From Khaama Press:

President Hamid Karzai was praised by Afghans for rejecting the invitation by President Barack Obama to meet him in Bagram air base.

A last-minute invitation was sent to President Karzai to come to Bagram air base as Obama arrived to Afghanistan on Sunday following an unannounced visit to meet with the US troops.

White House officials said, “We did offer him the opportunity to come to Bagram, but we’re not surprised that it didn’t work on short notice.”

Obama’s plan on troop levels is fully dependent on the winner of next month’s presidential runoff signing the Bilateral Security Agreement that Karzai has refused to sign. Although both Abdullah and Ghani have said they will sign it, their responses to the handling of Karzai are very interesting. Returning to the same Khaama Press article:

In the meantime, Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential race, said the decision by President Karzai not to go to Bagram was “respectful to the people of Afghanistan.”

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, one of the other leading candidates, told Wall Street Journal in an interview that he wasn’t privy to the security discussions surrounding Mr. Obama’s visit.

Some Afghans saw the episode as a deliberate snub and said the U.S. leader didn’t respect diplomatic protocol.

Ghani said, “We do understand security concerns, but adhering to protocol helps cementing relationships.”

Obama has set himself up for a huge problem here. It looks as though both Abdullah and Ghani are indicating that they expect to be treated with the respect due to the office of President. Should Obama continue his cavalier attitude of simply assuming the BSA will be signed once the winner is sworn into office, he could be in for a big surprise.

On the other hand, there are still the four billion US dollars every year that come with our continued presence (and all the attendant opportunities for embezzlement), so perhaps in the end Obama can continue his arrogance without fear of consequences. With that in mind, the role of that final handful of military personnel to be left in Afghanistan after 2016 stands out. From the Washington Post article linked above:

At the end of that year, the force will shrink to the size of a regular armed forces assistance group, largely to handle military sales, under the authority of the U.S. ambassador.

Even after our troops are gone, the US will do everything it can to keep enriching military contractors.

After Delaying Runoff, Afghan Taliban Announce Start Date of Fighting Season, Targets

One of the most enduring formulas throughout the nearly 13 year US quagmire in Afghanistan has been the persistent claims by our military and their fans that we are making tremendous progress and that the Taliban has been weakened significantly. That formula held true in spectacular fashion for the Afghan election, with broad instant claims of how successful and peaceful voting was. But alas, once real information started coming out, it turns out that election day was in fact extremely violent. Even less noticed is that the facilities of the Independent Election Commission have been attacked since the day of the vote and now it appears that there will be a delay in the runoff election because of that attack. As if that blow is not enough, the “weakened” Afghan Taliban has now announced the date for the start of their spring offensive and have provided a long list of the types of targets they will attack.

Here is ISAF patting itself on the back on the day of the elections because those ANSF troops they trained did so well:

The International Security Assistance Force congratulates the people of Afghanistan on today’s historic election. Today’s success clearly demonstrates that the Afghan people have chosen their future of progress and opportunity.

As the world watched, Afghan National Security Forces provided the opportunity for the Afghan people to choose their new President, securing over 6,200 polling centers across the country. Soldiers and policemen confidently patrolled the cities and countryside to protect innocent civilians and prevent insurgents from disrupting today’s elections. Afghan voters displayed confidence in their army and police, turning out in unprecedented numbers to cast their ballot for the future of Afghanistan.

“The people of Afghanistan can be proud of their security forces,” said General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., ISAF commander. “For months, they’ve conducted planning and security operations to ensure that the conditions were set for inclusive elections. What we saw today as a result of that effort was extraordinary. In addition to their physical performance, what equally impresses me is the sense of responsibility and determination they had in ensuring the Afghan people had a secure environment in which to vote and determine their own future.”

Ah, but that carefully crafted narrative of peaceful elections was bullshit that took several days for the media to pierce. Ten days after the election, the Washington Post had this to say:

But on voting day, the country seemed unusually calm, prompting Afghan politicians to speculate that the Taliban had intentionally allowed the election to proceed.

“I don’t think the other side put too much pressure,” said Hedayat Amin Arsala, a presidential candidate. “They even prevented some people from attacking.”

The statistics tell another story. Data released Monday by the U.S. military in Kabul show that April 5 was, in fact, an unusually violent day, spiking far above the norm, although falling 36 percent short of the peak number of attacks during the 2009 election, one of the bloodiest days of the war.

Of the 286 insurgent attacks during this election, the vast majority (226) occurred in eastern Afghanistan, followed by 21 in the Kandahar area of southern Afghanistan, 17 in the west, 14 in the north, seven in the Helmand region and just one in Kabul.

It now turns out that the fallout from Taliban attacks after the election could be huge, with the runoff possibly delayed:

Independent Election Commission (IEC) Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani admitted on Wednesday that the runoff round expected between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai could face delays.

A runoff is required by Afghan law if no presidential candidate gets over 50 percent of votes in the first round. As of now, no one has passed that threshold. Although the runoff round was originally scheduled for May 28, election officials have said a number of setbacks have made it more likely that the round will be delayed.

Mr. Nuristani cited the Taliban’s attack on the IEC’s headquarters in Kabul as the cause of the delay.

“The election law says that a run-off must be held two weeks after the final results’ announcement, but the Taliban launched a rocket attack, and as a result of the attack we lost some of our critical materials, therefore, we will not be able to hold a run-off after two weeks,” he explained.

So the Taliban, despite the early claims of a hugely successful election, has now managed to get a crucial delay in the runoff election. Remember that Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would allow US troops to stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year. Although both Abdullah and Ghani have said that they would sign the agreement, a delay in the winner taking office increases the odds that the US will simply withdraw completely if they feel there isn’t sufficient time to plan for the number of troops to leave behind.

And the Taliban are pressing ahead, announcing the start of their spring offensive: Continue reading

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @joanmccarter Yeesh.
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bmaz @joanmccarter Welp, this is not going very well. #BroncoBlues
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bmaz @shaneharris @columlynch No, not in the least. Seemed worth noting though.
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bmaz Does Power ever look in the mirror? RT @CBSWalsh: Strong words from @AmbassadorPower: Russia has to stop lying+has to stop fueling conflict
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bmaz @shaneharris @columlynch Well, that is pretty dubious.
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bmaz @kevinjonheller No kidding. Also, Sam Power chastising Russia for lying is pretty hilarious. Does she ever look in the mirror??
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bmaz RT @kevinjonheller: Pretty sure the US is the last country that should be criticising #Russia 4 violating #Ukraine’s sovereignty. Something…
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emptywheel Why are they teaching Johnny Football w/binders rather the Surface?
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emptywheel SEC Commissioner calling SEC punishment a wrist slap. http://t.co/bm0nFW4W6S
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emptywheel RT @eisingerj: #SEC chair Mary Jo White's commissioners are now in open revolt. Aguilar's amazing dissent on weak enforcement move: http://…
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bmaz @jadler1969 @Mansfield2016 @brianbeutler @voxdotcom @ezraklein Hey, I would like to hear more about the Halbig Kitty.
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bmaz Wow. Texas A+M did some work on SC and the 'Ole Ball Coach. Very impressive. Bet @JWGOP is pretty pumped up.
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