Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Buying off Afghanistan’s “$10 fighters”

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If you can’t beat the Taliban, buy them out. At last week’s conference in London, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s Western backers endorsed his latest attempt to lure away low level Taliban fighters with money and jobs,  committing themselves to a $500 million fund to finance the re-integration plan. The logic is that a majority of the Taliban , 70 percent actually according to some estimates, are the so-called “$10 fighters” who do not share the leaders’ intense ideological  motivation. They are driven to the Islamists because they are the only source of livelihood in a war-ravaged nation. So if you offered them an alternative, these rent-a-day foot soldiers can easily be broken.

Quite part from the fact that several such attempts have failed in the past, the whole idea that members of the Taliban are up for sale  just when the  insurgency is at its deadliest is not only unrealistic but also smacks of arrogance, Newsweek magazine notes in an well-argued article.  It quotes Sami Yousoufsai a local journalist “who understands the Taliban as few others do”  as laughing at the idea that the Taliban could be bought over.

“If the leadership, commanders, and sub commanders wanted comfortable lives,  they would have made their deals long ago. Instead they stayed committed to their cause even when they were on the run, with barely a hope of survival,” the article says quoting the journalist.  Now the Taliban are back in action across much of the south, east, and west, the provinces surrounding Kabul, and chunks of the north.”They used to hope they might reach this point in 15 or 20 years. They’ve done it in eight. Many of them see this as proof that God is indeed on their side.”  Indeed one Taliban member reacted angrily to the idea of a buy-out. “You can’t buy my ideology, my religion. It’s an insult,”he said.

At another level, come to think of it, if theirs is a force largely made of rented foot soldiers,  the Taliban have done exceptionally well  taking control of large parts of the country massed against the world’s biggest military powers. Imagine what it would be like if this wasn’t just a $10 a day army as Karzai and his allies paint it to be and instead a proper fighting force.

Reintegrating the Taliban: where does it leave Afghan women?

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At Thursday’s London conference on Afghanistan, some 60 countries will to try flesh out the details for a plan to gradually hand security to Afghans, which involves strengthening and expanding Afghan security forces, improving the way donor aid to Afghanistan is spent and reintegrating Taliban fighters. But where do women fit into these plans, especially if the Taliban are to be involved?

The plan, which has been tried in the past without much success, would involve luring low-level Taliban from the insurgency using jobs and money to re-join Afghan society. There has also been much talk, particularly in the media, about the possibility of dialogue or negotiations with the Taliban.

The Afghan conference: a meeting of victors or the vanquished ?

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AFGHANISTAN/If you listened to some of the rhetoric in the lead-up to Thursday’s conference on Afghanistan in London and followed the coverage accompanying it, you would think it is a meeting of the victors of war.

Here we are, at a meeting attended by representatives from more than 50 countries, offering the Taliban a chance for peace before the “surge” of 30,000 additional U.S. troops hits them. They better grasp it before the tide turns decisively against them, seems to be the message.  Host British Prime Minister Gordon, according to this report, vowed to “split the Taliban” while offering them a full part in the rebuilt Afghanistan if they united behind the government in Kabul.

Promote peace talks, Afghan war is not a success

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By guest writer Hanan Habibzai, an Afghan journalist and commentator based in London

afghanistanThe attack on Kabul on January 17, which took place only metres away from the Presidential Palace, was evidence that not only have the international community and the Afghan government failed to win the people’s hearts and minds, but also they have lost their trust. The military conflict has now reached even the heart of Kabul. It is hard to imagine anywhere safe in the whole country.

America, don’t “leave us in the lurch” in Afghanistan

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(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

One of the first things that U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did during his trip to India last week was to assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the United States did not intend to cut and run from Afghanistan.  America was committed to Afghanistan for the long-term, he said, trying to calm Indian concerns over the Obama administration’s stated plans to begin  withdrawing troops from July 2011. 

It struck me as quite remarkable that India, long a prickly nation opposed to superpower presence in the region, had so openly pinned its hopes on a prolonged U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Quite a change from the time  it would rail against the presence of such “extra-regional” powers.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan: ditching “strategic depth”

Indian farmer in front of Taj MahalKamran Shafi has a column up at Dawn mocking Pakistan's old strategy of seeking "strategic depth" - the idea that in the event of war with India its military would be able to operate from Afghanistan to offset its disadvantage as a small country compared to its much bigger neighbour:

"Let us presume that the Indians are foolish enough to get distracted from educating their people, some of whom go to some of the best centres of learning in the world. Let us assume that they are idiotic enough to opt for war instead of industrialising themselves and meeting their economic growth targets which are among the highest in the world. Let us imagine that they are cretinous enough to go to war with a nuclear-armed Pakistan and effectively put an immediate and complete end to their multi-million dollar tourism industry. Let us suppose that they lose all sense, all reason, and actually attack Pakistan and cut our country into half.

The price of greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is heading to India, and one of the things Washington is looking at is how can regional players such as India do more in Afghanistan. “As we are doing more, of course we are looking at others to do more,” a U.S. official said, ahead of the trip referring to the troop surge.

But this is easier said than done, and in the case of India, a bit of a minefield. While America may expect more from India, Pakistan has had enough of its bitter rival’s already expanded role in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Indeed, Afghanistan is the new battleground on par with Kashmir, with many in Pakistan saying Indian involvement in Afghanistan was more than altruistic and aimed at destabilising Pakistan from the rear.  Many in India, on the other hand, point the finger at Pakistan for two deadly bomb attacks on its embassy in Kabul.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Brzezinski on U.S.-India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China

brzezinskiThe Real News had an interview last week with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who talks about how U.S. policy is playing out across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China. The second part of the interview covers his support for the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, but here is what he has to say about Pakistan and the regional dynamics: 

"We are in Afghanistan because we have been there for 8 years, now getting out is easy to say, but by now if we get out, quickly, the question arises, what follows? Is there going to be again a very sort of militant regime in Afghanistan which might tolerate al Qaeda's presence and beyond that is now a new issue, namely the conflict in Afghanistan has come to be connected with the conflict in Pakistan. Pakistan is an important country of 170 million people which has nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, and delivery systems, delivery systems to the entire region around so we have to think much more responsibly on how to deal with this problem ... "

Opening up Afghanistan’s trade routes

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Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

The United States is pressing Pakistan to allow Afghan agriculture products to pass through its territory to India, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a trip to the war-torn country this week. Opening India’s huge and exploding market to Afghan farmers sounds like a perfectly logical thing to do. Their produce of dried fruits, nuts and pomegranates long made its way to India before the partition of  India and Pakistan in 1947, immortalised in Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s classic story for children, Kabuliwallah.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taking on Pakistan’s “military-jihadi” nexus

The fenced border between India and Pakistan

The fenced border between India and Pakistan

It's the start of a year and there is some path-breaking thinking going on in Pakistan as it seeks to get back on track. This article takes on the so-called "military-jihadi nexus" that some blame for pushing a modern nation of 170 million people with a strong middle class to the edge.  Dr Manzur Ejaz writing in the Daily Times says this may be the year the military takes on the demons within and goes after each and every militant group including those closely nurtured by it. Not because it has had a change of heart, but because circumstances will force it .

The chief is that the state of Pakistan - where the military enjoys immense privileges - is itself under threat.  And it was to safeguard the state, that the military moved against the Taliban and other militant organisations in 2009, not just under U.S. pressure, he argues.

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