Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Walking into a giant tent at the foothills of Kabul, you are conscious of the importance of jirgas throughout Afghanistan’s troubled history. These assemblies of tribal elders have been called at key moments in the country’s history from whether it should participate in the two World Wars to a call for a national uprising against an Iranian invasion in the 18th century.
Next week’s jirga is aimed at building a national consensus behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s effort to seek a negotiated settlement of the nine year conflict now that the Taliban have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate and the clock on a U.S. military withdrawal has begun.
But the question is how much of an influence Afghanistan’s half a dozen direct neighbours including Pakistan and Iran and near ones such as India, Saudi Arabia and Russia will exert on any possible settlement of the conflict. At one level Afghanistan has become a battleground for India and Pakistan on the one hand, and the United States and Iran on the other. At another level there is also China’s deepening economic engagement and Russis’s concerns of the arc of instability radiating from Afghanistan into the Central Asia republics.
Here’s how some of the big regional players are approaching a U.S. military withdrawal stated to begin from mid-2011 and Karzai’sbid to seek reconciliation with the Taliban who have fought U.S. and NATO forces to a virtual stalemate.
Only 41 percent of likely U.S. voters believe that the country can win the war in Afghanistan, a new poll shows, down from 51 percent in December when President Barack Obama announced a new war strategy. The Rasmussen telephone poll conducted last week found that 36 percent of those surveyed didn’t think the United States could win in Afghanistan. Another 23 percent were unsure.
Doubts about the handling of the Afghan war have continuously been growing, except for that spike in hopes soon after Obama announced a surge as part of his strategy to stabilise Afghanistan and bring the troops home. Indeed, 48 percent of those polled said ending the war now was a more important goal than winning it, reflecting falling confidence in the war effort.
New British Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s remarks describing Afghanistan as a broken 13th-century country have predictably touched off a firestorm of criticism both at home and in Afghanistan. For a moment, though, if you drove around Kabul’s dusty hillsides dotted with dirt-poor, crumbling dwellings and saw the war-ravaged capital’s ruins, you could forgive Fox for thinking he was in a medieval-era country.
Indeed the criticism against him in Afghanistan is not so much about it being a broken country, but that who exactly is responsible. Mandegar, a local newspaper, kicked off its reaction with the headline : “Our 13th century society is the result of your colonialism.” It reminds readers about the British wars in Afghanistan and how each time Afghans succeeded in driving them out of the country. “We don’t need Britain in Afghanistan,” the Arman e-Melli daily said.
The United States has signalled that it will gradually start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, after almost a decade fighting in the country, from July 2011. And so, perhaps driven by a sense of fear over what the absence of tens of thousands of foreign troops will mean for an already fragile security situation, the Afghan government is pursuing a policy of engaging the Taliban and other insurgent factions such as Hezb-i-Islami. It is a policy widely backed by officials and many members of parliament. It is a political means of seeking an end to the conflict, perhaps because the idea that Afghan security forces will be capable of doing the job of 100,000 foreign troops, is still unfathomable to many. But to many other Afghans it also represents a compromise which could see the country paring back the political developments it has achieved since 2001.
Six months into the surge in Afghanistan, Americans and Afghans alike are asking the question whether it has worked and the ugly reality is that it has failed to make a difference, writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post.
To be sure, as U.S. President Barack Obama said last week only half the reinforcements he ordered in December have arrived and there is still more than a year to go before the troop withdrawals begin.
from The Great Debate:
Last year, under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan slipped three places on a widely respected international index of corruption and became the world's second-most corrupt country. It now ranks 179th out of 180, a place long held by Somalia.
According to a United Nations report published in January, Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes in 2009, roughly a quarter of the country's Gross Domestic Product (not counting revenue from the opium trade). The survey, based on interviews with 7,600 people, said corruption was the biggest concern of Afghans.
It’s still not firmly established whether any Pakistan-based militant groups were involved in the failed car bombing in New York this month and there have been renewed suggestions that the suspect Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, may have been a lone wolf.
But this hasn’t stopped the soul-searching that Pakistanis have engaged in since the failed attack on May 1. Indeed, it’s not just the United States or other countries in the west urging Pakistan to act against militants; the Pakistanis are as forthright, if not more demanding that the whole ‘terrorist infrastructure” be taken down.
U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus last month warned residents of the southern Afghan city of Kandahar of a violent summer ahead as his troops prepared to take full control of the southern province (with the same name) from the Taliban. He spoke of the insurgents taking “horrific action” to stop the military advance into their spiritual centre.
Some of it may already be unfolding although the offensive is still thought to be weeks away. In one week alone toward the end of April there were 400 attacks , 60 percent of them roadside bombs. Which makes it 57 attacks in a day, telling you more than anything else the deteriorating military situation in the country.
from Tales from the Trail:
When two heads of state stand side-by-side in public, it's all about reading into the words they choose and the body language.
In the case of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama the word "frank" came up a number of times.