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.
As we get into the final days before voting begins on Saturday for Afghanistan’s presidential election, the biggest question aside from the issue of who will win is whether the Taliban will succeed in its determination to disrupt the election through violence and intimidation. Rapidly unfolding events today represent either a remarkable combination of good work and good luck by Afghan authorities or the product of an infiltration of the Taliban by the National Directorate of Security, which is Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. Breaking news stories today inform us of Afghan forces capturing 22 tons of explosives from a Taliban hideout in Takhar province, the deaths of six Taliban commanders when a suicide vest went off “prematurely” (in Logar province) and the deaths of 16 Taliban commanders when a suicide bomber is said (by the NDS) to have developed differences with the leaders and decided to turn on them, exploding his suicide vest in Ghazni province.
Reuters brings us the story of the captured explosives:
Afghan security forces have seized more than 22 tons of explosives, enough to make hundreds of bombs, the interior ministry said on Tuesday, four days before a presidential election.
Taliban insurgents have declared war on the April 5 vote, calling it a Western-backed sham and threatening to disrupt it.
“This discovery will prevent hundreds of bomb attacks and would have a significant impact on the overall security of the elections,” Sediq Sediqqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, told Reuters.
Sediqqi said the explosives, hidden in some 450 bags, were seized from a basement in the relatively peaceful northern province of Takhar, where the Taliban have gained ground in recent years.
What remarkable timing! Just four days before the election, Afghan forces find a huge cache of explosives in a “relatively peaceful” province. Four days would not have been a lot of time to produce the hundreds of bombs and distribute them to voting stations, but that is still a lot of dangerous material to be removed from use.
Moving south of Kabul to Logar province, we have this story of a suicide vest apparently going off too soon:
At least six Taliban commanders were killed following a suicide blast in eastern Logar province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.
According to NDS officials, the incident took place around 12:30 pm local time in Charkh district.
The officials further added that the Taliban commanders were looking to prepare a suicide bomber for an attack when the suicide bombing vest went off.
Hmm. It’s the NDS and not local police who are cited by Khaama Press in this story.
For the story of the suicide bomber deciding to attack the Taliban instead of voters, here is more from Khaama Press:
At least 16 senior Taliban commanders were killed following a suicide attack in eastern Ghazni province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Afghan Intelligence – National Directorate of Security (NDS) said the incident took place in a Taliban leaders gathering in Gelan district.
National Directorate of Security (NDS) following a statement said the Taliban leaders were planning coordinated attacks in Ghazni province when a Taliban suicide bomber opposed with the Taliban leaders plans and detonated his explosives.
Wow. Sixteen senior Taliban commanders is a huge gathering for one spot. And isn’t it interesting that it would be during that gathering that a suicide bomber would suddenly become “opposed with the Taliban leaders plans” and decide to detonate his explosives, taking them all out? And on the very day of this event, NDS seems quite confident that the 16 killed were senior Taliban leaders. Further, the NDS even seems to already know that some of the Taliban leaders killed came from Pakistan.
So did Afghanistan get incredibly lucky today, with a premature explosion taking out 6 Taliban leaders and a difference of opinion leading to a suicide bomber changing sides to take out 16 Taliban leaders, or is there another explanation? It seems to me that we have to at least consider that the National Directorate of Security has been developing assets inside Taliban cells and is choosing this pivotal week as the time to put those assets into action. Such assets could have provided the key information leading to the discovery of the explosives cache. It is also possible that these assets could have gained control of the suicide vests that went off today, either as the suicide bombers themselves or through some form of remote control, creating the appearance of accidents or betrayals.
Whatever caused these events, when grouped together they represent a major setback for Taliban plans to disrupt the election. Will they be able to respond?
The New York Times has just released an excerpt from Carlotta Gall’s upcoming book “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014″. Recall that Gall lived in Afghanistan and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Times from 2001-2013 (Declan Walsh also covered Pakistan from inside Pakistan until he was expelled just before the election in 2013). The biggest revelation in the excerpt is that Pakistan knew about, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, actively sheltered, Osama bin Laden when he was in hiding in Pakistan.
Gall claims that then-ISI head Ahmed Shuja Pasha had direct knowledge of bin Laden’s presence:
Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid. “He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,” the Pakistani official told me. The official was surprised to learn this and said the Americans were even more so. Pasha had been an energetic opponent of the Taliban and an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI. “Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy,” the official said. But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
Although Pasha knew, it appears that ISI compartmented the knowledge very carefully:
In trying to prove that the ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him, I struggled for more than two years to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI — such is how supersecret intelligence units operate — but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.
Gall’s reporting on Taliban factions and their madrassas came at great personal risk. This story picks up at a point where her Pakistani colleagues have been picked up by the ISI at the hotel where they were staying and she had been summoned to meet the ISI agents outside: Continue reading
Today’s New York Times has a fascinating update on the investigation into the killing of Swedish reporter Nils Horner on March 11. Although there have been systematic attacks on journalists in the region for years, it appears that in the case of Horner, suggestions of the involvement of Western intelligence agencies are getting significant attention:
Now, some are saying Mr. Horner may have been killed as part of some shadowy intelligence war in Afghanistan waged by foreigners.
The allegation first surfaced in a widely disputed claim of responsibility issued by a group calling itself Feday-e-Mahaz, and thought to be an offshoot of the Taliban.
“This was certainly not the work of the Taliban,” Mr. Faizi said in an interview, adding that he did not believe there were any breakaway factions. “They are fictions.”
Afghan officials linked Mr. Horner’s death to the attack on Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners that suicide attackers struck in January, killing 21 people, most of them foreigners.
Though the Taliban took credit for that attack, Mr. Karzai has suggested that it may be linked to foreigners and not Afghan insurgents. Mr. Horner was shot as he tried to find and interview a chef who had escaped from that Lebanese restaurant, officials said.
“Perhaps there are some of those with fears about what he would find out,” one Afghan official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.
The official emphasized that he was speaking of the possibility that Westerners were responsible in both the restaurant attack and Mr. Horner’s shooting, and not Pakistanis, whom Afghan officials often blame after attacks because of what the official called Pakistan’s clandestine support of the Taliban.
But how on earth could such a ludicrous story get started? I mean, it’s not like the US meddles and tries to prevent the outbreak of peace talks or anything like that. Oh, wait.
Okay, but surely this meddling is recent. The history of our motives in the region must be pure. Just ask someone who has observed our actions over the years, like, say, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, (pdf):
But it was too late because some of the organizations had become a part of the Afghan
people. As for Afghanistan itself, the West did not support the Afghan organizations in
order to bring about peace, prosperity, and security in Afghanistan. The U.S. proxies in the
lSI under American control foiled every attempt to reconcile or integrate the various
Afghan organizations. Every time they saw a strong leader or an organization, they
supported him in order to split his organization off from the others. They split the group
Hezb Al-Islami Hekmatyar into two parties- one by the same name and one by the name
Hezb Al-Islami Younis Khalis and so on.
Well, yes, as Marcy notes, KSM is trolling, but there are bits that can’t be denied.
Oh, and don’t forget the use of a doctor in a vaccination ruse to obtain intelligence on the compound where Osama bin Laden was living prior to the attack that killed him. So why wouldn’t the West use a journalist? And look at Horner’s history:
Horner, 51, was an experienced Hong Kong-based reporter who had previously been in Afghanistan to witness the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and in Iraq during the war in 2003.
And just to make things juicier, even though Horner worked for Swedish radio, he held British citizenship. The Wall Street Journal article linked here notes that Horner covered Asia generally since 2001 and “had visited Kabul many times in the past”.
I’m not ready to embrace these conspiracies, but it sure is easy to see how the concept can take hold when we consider how the US has behaved in the region for decades.
Back in January, I mused on whether Pakistan was making a play for counterterrorism funds that were being freed up by the US cutting back on its funding plans for Afghanistan. It now appears that Pakistan is not only starting to receive renewed flows of US defense funding, but US development funding is flowing, as well. I probably shouldn’t be so surprised by this, since the article I cited on the US cutting back on Afghanistan funding mentioned both defense and development funds, but it still remains remarkable that those funds are being so clearly moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
It appears that Pakistan has had to quickly establish a new fund for accepting the newly designated development money, which totals a whopping $1.5 billion in only one month:
As the State Bank of Pakistan remains tightlipped over the source and purpose of funding, Pakistan received another tranche of $750 million in the newly-established Pakistan Development Fund (PDF), taking the total contribution to $1.5 billion so far.
Highly-placed sources told The Express Tribune that friendly countries have injected another sum of $750 million in the PDF – an account opened to channel money from abroad. The last tranche was received in February that stabilised the dwindling official foreign currency reserves.
It is the first time that any country has generously given $1.5-billion assistance to Pakistan within one month, as Islamabad never received such an amount as ‘upfront’ payments. The US, which remains the largest contributor, always gave amounts in tranches spreading over several years. Under its five-year, $7.5-billion Kerry Lugar aid package, Washington gave less than $2.5 billion in government-to-government assistance in over three years.
However, it was not clear whether the money received is a grant or depositary loans aimed at temporarily bailing out the country.
At the very end of the article, the Express Tribune notes that Pakistan is also asking the US to expedite payments under the Coalition Support Fund, which is the route through which Pakistan is reimbursed for its defense spending related to Afghanistan security. That is very interesting, since it was only a month ago that there was a major disbursement in the CSF:
United States has released second tranche of $352 million out of a total of $1.4 billion Coalition Support Funds (CSF) that Pakistan is budgeted to receive during the current fiscal year.
This was revealed by US Ambassador Richard Olson in a meeting with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Tuesday.
According to Finance Ministry, the ambassador assured the Financial Minister that the remaining amount will be disbursed as soon as possible,
Pakistan had hoped to receive the second tranche in December last year.
It certainly stands out that what changed between December and February was Pakistan’s new-found enthusiasm for military action against the Taliban. The article also notes that this payment was meant to cover Pakistan’s expenses incurred during January to March of 2013, so the payments are lagging spending by about a year. That would be why today’s news has Pakistan urging the US to shorten the time until reimbursement: Continue reading
In recent posts, I’ve been wondering just how Pakistan’s new security policy will be implemented. Late last week, it appeared as though Pakistan was determined to carry out a sustained military intervention in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The big question to me was whether this action would be taken against only the TTP or if Pakistan would also be attacking groups such as the Haqqani network, which the US accuses Pakistan of supporting while they carry out attacks against US troops in Afghanistan. If Pakistan were to attack the Haqqani network, I predicted that the US will provide a major increase in counterterrorism funding to Pakistan.
There have been multiple major developments since my post on Friday, with the Taliban suddenly announcing a ceasefire and Pakistan’s government responding favorably by stating that air raids in FATA will end during the ceasefire. These peaceful responses were shattered early today, though, with a major terror attack in Islamabad resulting in at least 11 dead and 25 wounded when a court area was attacked with guns and suicide bombs.
It appears that the committee of government representatives and Taliban representatives that had been appointed to get the peace talks re-started was responsible for getting the ceasefire put into place:
After the Taliban issued a call for ceasefire on Saturday, members of the government-nominated peace committee welcomed the call, terming it a major breakthrough and an opportunity to hold direct talks between the two sides.
Major (retd) Mohammad Aamir, part of the government’s peace committee negotiating with the Taliban, suggested that direct talks should now take place between the government and the Taliban as it is high “time for taking and making important decisions.”
“I do not see any relevance now for the government committee as we have succeeded to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiation table and declare ceasefire,” Aamir told The Express Tribune in an interview.
He disclosed that the “backdoor efforts” carried out by him and the Jamiat Ulema Islam -Samiul Haq Group leader Yousaf Shah resulted in the Taliban-declared ceasefire.
The government responded positively and quickly to the ceasefire announcement:
The Pakistani government on Sunday suspended its airstrike campaign against militants in the country’s northwestern tribal regions in response to a Taliban cease-fire, raising the prospect that peace talks between the two sides will be revived.
The announcement of the suspension was made by the Pakistani interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, on Sunday evening, and came hours after military gunships targeted militant positions in the northwestern Khyber tribal area in retaliation for an attack on health workers trying to vaccinate Pakistanis against polio. Officials said that notwithstanding the suspension, they would continue to respond to provocations by militants.
Tragically, the attack on the polio workers was especially deadly, with a death toll of 13. Khan also issued a warning along with his announcement of the halt to the air strikes:
“The government and the Armed Forces of Pakistan reserve the right to effectively respond to acts of violence,” the interior minister warned in a statement.
In the worst attack in at least six months, Taliban fighters overran an Afghan army base in Kunar province near the Pakistan border, killing 21 Afghan soldiers who were said to have been sleeping at the time of the attack. It appears that a very large Taliban force carried out the attack. The New York Times carried a statement from the Afghan Defense Ministry that “hundreds” of fighters were in the attack and that the battle lasted four hours, while the Washington Post stated that “more than 100″ Taliban fighters carried out the attack.
The Times article informs us that at least one version of events suggests that the Taliban had infiltrators on the base who helped the assault forces:
One of the Afghan soldiers taken prisoner, who later escaped and was interviewed in the eastern city of Asadabad, said he believed that the insurgents had entered the fortified base with the collusion of infiltrators who had been on guard duty in the base’s three watchtowers and outside its barracks. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
“I believe these four soldiers had links with the Taliban,” he said. “They shot our soldiers while they were sleeping. When others woke up, they were taken alive, along with me.” He said that he and three other soldiers had managed to escape from the insurgents as they fled the area.
The Times article also states that as the US draws down its forces, Afghan units no longer are accompanied by US forces and “do not have the close air support they often enjoyed”. It should be noted, though, that Afghan forces have already retaken the base. Also note that, as seen in the accompanying video of the funeral in Kabul for those killed, and as noted in this article in ToloNews, Afghan helicopters were at least available to ferry the dead, and so we are left to wonder if they were also involved in the re-taking of the base.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai canceled a planned trip in response to the attack and called for Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban forces which find refuge in Pakistan. It is not clear if Karzai was aware that on Sunday, Pakistan killed at least 38 suspected militants in North Waziristan in air raids carried out by Pakistani jets. Yet another high ranking member of Pakistan’s Taliban also was gunned down today, as well.
Interestingly, at least one person the New York Times talked to about the attack seemed to think that there are still problems with screening of Afghan security forces since there are hints that sympathizers let the Taliban onto the base:
“My cousin was killed in the attack yesterday,” Hajji Alif Khan, from Khost Province, said at the ceremony at the military hospital. “I want to see the bloodshed ended in this country in my lifetime. It is enough, we lost thousands of people. Let’s stop this war,” he said.
But in the meantime, he said, “They should check every soldier’s background.”
Gosh, we were told about a year and a half ago that screening was now very good…
It seems that Mike Rogers lately is aiming to take over the Emptywheel blog. When he’s not yapping about criminalizing journalism or dissembling about Congressional briefings on the Patriot Act renewal, he’s putting out bloodthirsty endorsements of drone violence. When we last heard from him on the drone front, he was joining the mad rush to come up with the most damning indictment of Hakimullah Mehsud after the US disrupted Pakistan’s plans to start peace talks the very next day with a Taliban group headed by Mehsud. Yesterday, Rogers used a hearing of his House Intelligence Committee as a venue in which to pitch a tantrum over the US daring to adjust its drone policy, leading to fewer strikes.
Now, almost exactly three months after the Mehsud drone strike, we see the prospect for peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban disrupted again. As I mentioned yesterday, Taliban negotiators fear that Pakistan’s government may be planning to scuttle the talks in order to launch an offensive against the Taliban in tribal areas, which might also play into a desire by Sharif’s government to be in line for counterterrorism funds which the US might not be spending in Afghanistan.
The Washington Post has Rogers’ tirade. First, there is news of a pause in drone strikes in Pakistan:
The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials.
“That’s what they asked for, and we didn’t tell them no,” one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.
Concern about Pakistani political sensitivities provides one explanation for the absence of strikes since December, the longest pause in the CIA’s drone campaign since a six-week lull in 2011, after an errant U.S. air assault killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post, triggering a diplomatic crisis.
Oooh, look! There’s Marcy’s favorite word again, “imminent“. But this lull in drone strikes, coupled with the explanation offered in the Post, tells us that no suitable al Qaeda targets with credible plans against the US presented themselves in Pakistan’s tribal areas for over a month. That didn’t deter Rogers; he’s upset that any potential targets aren’t blasted immediately: Continue reading
For both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prospect of a future not marred by terrorist attacks is a strong incentive to explore peace talks with the Taliban groups that have fueled the bulk of the violence in both countries. Over the past few years, there have been many attempts to start such talks, but these efforts have not been successful so far. At times, one or more of the many sides involved in the talks has proposed an opening stance that was known to be untenable to another side. Also, parties not involved in particular sets of talks have taken active steps to derail them, such as when Karzai went ballistic over the sign on the door of the Taliban office in Doha (disrupting US-Taliban talks) and a US drone strike took out Hakimullah Mehsud just before he joined a set of talks in Pakistan (disrupting Pakistan-Taliban talks).
Today’s New York Times informs us that Hamid Karzai has been secretly working to establish talks with the Afghan Taliban since announcing in November that he would not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement even though his own loya jirga urged him to do so. This disclosure, mostly communicated to the Times through anonymous sources, but confirmed by Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi, seems to account for a fair amount of Karzai’s behavior while refusing to sign the BSA and taking repeated steps that seem aimed at creating more friction between the US and the Karzai government.
Those providing the new narrative to the Times paint the talks between Karzai and the Taliban as not getting beyond initial contact and into discussion of substantive issues. The reasoning, according to these sources, is that by merely maneuvering Karzai into refusing to sign the BSA, the Taliban can achieve their primary goal of getting the US out of Afghanistan completely, so they would have no incentive to enter into an actual peace agreement with Karzai:
Western and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the peace contacts, said that the outreach was apparently initiated by the Taliban in November, a time of deepening mistrust between Mr. Karzai and his allies. Mr. Karzai seemed to jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict — a belief that few in his camp shared.
The peace contacts, though, have yielded no tangible agreement, nor even progressed as far as opening negotiations for one. And it is not clear whether the Taliban ever intended to seriously pursue negotiations, or were simply trying to derail the security agreement by distracting Mr. Karzai and leading him on, as many of the officials said they suspected.
So we now have a complete reversal of stances from early last summer. Recall that US diplomats had quietly worked for over a year to establish talks with the Taliban, with the Taliban going so far as to open an office in Doha. However, Karzai felt that the office presented too many of the trappings of a government in exile and he managed to scuttle those US-Taliban talks. I held out hope for the ascendance of a more moderate faction of the Afghan Taliban in the aftermath of that fiasco. Whether the secret approach to Karzai came from these more moderate elements is an interesting question worth considering, especially since only a few month elapsed between Karzai’s tantrum over the office in June and the secret communications starting in November. At any rate, we have gone from the US appearing to promote the talks and Karzai disrupting them to Karzai promoting talks and the US releasing information that seems aimed at scuttling them.
If the US truly cared about bringing peace to Afghanistan, an interesting new bargaining position would be to threaten both Karzai and the Taliban that they intend to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year even if Karzai doesn’t sign the BSA, but that if a peace agreement is reached, the US would leave and provide a portion of the funding that the US now dangles as incentive for signing the BSA. Such a position by the US would allow the Taliban and Karzai to unite behind their one common goal–the removal of all US troops. With public opinion of the US effort in Afghanistan at an all-time low, promoting a full withdrawal would be a welcome development in the US.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the issue of peace talks with the Taliban is as muddy as it is in Afghanistan. Consider how the first screen of today’s Washington Post story on the talks loaded on my phone this morning: Continue reading
As the US military bumbles and stumbles toward an ignominious exit from Afghanistan that is looking more and more like it will follow the script from the Iraq exit, it appears that the final ploy from Washington is an effort to paint Afghan President Hamid Karzai as detached from reality. This current ploy seems to be serving two purposes. First, it attempts to set the stage for an end-run around Karzai in a last-ditch effort to get some other party to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement allowing US troops to stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year. Second, it is obscuring yet another incident of indiscriminate US air raids and affiliated operations resulting in civilian casualties. Totally missing from these US actions is any awareness that Afghans cooperating with the US in this operation could well be motivated by the upcoming elections or an appreciation that the willingness of some Afghan citizens to participate in fabricating charges against the US isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the Taliban as much as it represent the intense desire of many Afghans to get the US out of their country after 13 years of war.
The current circus was precipitated by the January 15 incident in the Ghorband District of Parwan province. As I noted right after it happened, distinctly different accounts of what happened appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post. Karzai appointed a commission to investigate the incident. Leading the commission was Abdul Satar Khawasi. He is a member of the Afghan Parliament and represents Parwan. He also is known to be anti-American, and articles about the commission’s report from both ToloNews and the New York Times mention a video in which he appears and:
Mr. Khawasi is heard urging a crowd of angry Afghans to wage a holy war against Americans, saying, “Anyone who sits silent is a traitor.”
The Times pointed out just after the report was released that at least one photo in the report was from 2009, but now the entire report is being questioned by the Times because of that one photo:
The CD-ROM contains nine other photographs, all of which appear to be frames from a video clip on the disk. The video purports to show the funeral of villagers who were killed in the airstrikes and houses that were destroyed. The graphic images include some of a woman whose face is gone.
The Times’ examination found no physical clues in the video that would help determine where or when it was shot. The file’s creation date is Dec. 18, nearly a month before the raid, though it may not be accurate; digital time stamps on the accompanying photos say they were created in April 2014, and the video’s embedded data could be similarly unreliable.
Even if the video is actually of a funeral in Wazghar, some Afghan and Western officials said there was no way to tell from it whether an airstrike or some other gunfire or explosion had killed the people seen being buried, or who was responsible.
But even though an Afghan villager was brought out to “identify” fellow villagers in the false photo in question, this whole episode of discrediting the commission’s report still has one major problem: Continue reading