Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

A drop in Afghanistan’s drug ocean

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                                     By Andrew Hammond

U.S. private security guards mingled in the crowd, while Afghan security forces stood on guard on surrounding hilltops and
access roads. Afghans in dirty robes ran back and forward with paraffin canisters, two of them with the unfortunate task of climbing over
the pile of wood, and seized sacks of drugs to pour on the fuel.

Cameramen, outnumbered by foreign and Afghan diplomats and officials, crowded around for close-ups as bags were slit open,
spilling out the cumin-coloured powder. “Today is a big day for the people of Afghanistan,” said
General Mohammad Daoud Daoud, the Interior Ministry’s anti-narcotics chief. He said the haul was the result of five
drug networks that had been busted in the past five months in Kabul and Nangarhar to the east.

 ”It has a big impact,” a British diplomat said as the pyre was torched. “It’s a message; they have to show that the effort is having an effect. They made a lot of big busts recently.”

from Photographers' Blog:

Life and death on a medevac helicopter

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An Afghan man suffering from multiple stab wounds is loaded onto a medevac helicopter near the town of Marjah in Helmand Province, August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong

Taking pictures of people who are suffering and in pain is never an easy experience. From the jump seat in the back of a Blackhawk medevac helicopter, a constant stream of injured, dead and dying men and women passed in front of me during a recent week-long embed. The wounds were as varied as the patients; an Afghan soldier with kidney stones to a Marine whose legs had been nearly severed by an IED blast.

An Afghan man holds his daughter onboard a medevac helicopter after she was shot in the ear during a gun battle between Marines and insurgents near the town of Marjah, in Helmand Province, August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Bob Strong The medevac helicopter crews were part of the 101st Airborne Division based at Camp Dwyer, a dusty Marine base in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.  During my one week embed with Charlie Company, I would generally work from 6am until it got dark around 7:30pm. The busiest times of day seemed to be in the morning and then again in the afternoon, but calls were received 24 hours a day. About 50% of our patients were Afghan nationals, both military and civilians; with injuries ranging from amputated limbs blown off by IED’s to stab wounds from domestic disputes. The military medical facilities offer the same level of care to locals and soldiers alike, in no small part to gain a bit of good will in this hostile and volatile province.

The contours of an Afghan settlement

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For all the talk of  seeking a political settlement of the Afghan war  with the involvement of the Taliban, it has not been clear even broadly what a final deal will look like.   Will the Taliban, who control or exercise influence over large parts of the country, take charge in Kabul ? Will the United States simply and fully withdraw all its forces from the country?  What happens to President Hamid Karzai who has been actively seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamists ? What about the regional powers, not just Pakistan which obviously will play a central role because of its ties to the Taliban, but also Iran and India, both with rising stakes there along with the Russians and the Chinese to a lesser extent  ?

Selig Harrison, director of the Asia programme at the Center for International Policy, explores some of these questions in a must-read piece in Foreign Policy headlined “How to leave Afghanistan without Losing.”

Afghan election: Industrial-scale corruption, or real hope?

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What is a worse prospect for an Afghanistan election – election fraud on an industrial scale or a quiet campaign of intimidation that keeps voters away from the polls, or forces them to vote for the most powerful candidate?
That seems to be the choice facing many Afghan voters ahead of the Sept. 18 parliamentary election, particularly those in the Pashtun tribal belt in the south and east where so much of the fraud that marred last year’s presidential ballot was committed.

Afghan voters can be excused for feeling ballot fatigue. The September vote will be their fourth in six years.
There have been some improvements but the key questions of poor governance, corruption and security remain unanswered despite the number of ballots they have cast. To turn out again will be a real test of their commitment to democracy, a right taken for granted by many in the West and grumbled about when they are asked to exercise it. It would hardly be surprising, given the risks, if many decided not to vote.

from The Great Debate:

America’s trouble with Islam

Of the many posters held aloft in angry demonstrations about plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in New York, one in particular is worth noting: "All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11."

As an example of wilful ignorance, it's in a class by itself. It passes judgment, in just 12 words, about a sprawling universe of 1.3 billion adherents of Islam (in 57 countries around the world) who come from different cultures, speak a wide variety of languages, follow different customs, hold different nationalities and believe in different interpretations of their faith, just like Christians or Jews. Suicidal murderers are a destructive but tiny minority.

The exaggerated role of violent groups in Pakistan’s relief effort

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Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has once again spoken of the danger of hardline Islamists exploiting the misery of the flood-affected to promote their cause,  which must be cause for worry for security forces in not just Pakistan but over the border in Afghanistan as well, fed by the same  militant fervour. Zardari called it the ” ideal hope of the radical” that the floods would discredit Pakistan’s government and warned that some of these extremist groups aimed to scoop up orphaned children and  “create them into robots.”

Such fears, though,  didn’t stop Zardari from proceeding on a heavily criticised foreign tour just as the flooding was getting worse, even though that was exactly the sort of thing that would  fuel public anger and hand the initiative to the Islamist groups.

Saving women’s rights in a post-war Afghanistan

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                                                        By Andrew Hammond

There have been worrying signs in Kabul over the past week  that political and social gains made by women since the Taliban  were removed from power in 2001 are at best tenuous.

from Tales from the Trail:

Karzai appeals to U.S. taxpayers

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karzai1Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking a page from the playbook of American politicians campaigning for public office: talk to the taxpayers.

Karzai is on a campaign to give the boot to tens of thousands of foreign private security guards working in Afghanistan. He's already put the U.S. government on notice that the private security firms operating in his country will be disbanded within four months.

India, Pakistan can’t break the ice, even in hour of tragedy

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Pakistan’s catastrophic flood continues to boggle the mind, both in terms of the human tragedy and the damage it has inflicted on a fragile, unstable country.  One official has likened the disaster to the cyclone that devastated what was once East Pakistan, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to its secession and the birth of Bangladesh.

Not even that spectre, raised by Pakistan’s ambassador to Britain, can however dent the steadfast hostility between India and Pakistan.   For a full three weeks as the floods  worked their way  through the spine of Pakistan from the turbulent northwest to Sindh in the south, Islamabad made frantic appeals to the international community not  to ignore the slow-moving disaster,  and instead help it with emergency aid, funds. But next-door India, best-placed to mount  a relief effort probably more because of the geography than any special skill at emergency relief, was kept at arm’s length. An Indian aid offer of $5 million, which itself came after some hesitation and is at best modest,was lying on the table for days before Pakistan accepted it.   ”There are a lot of sensitivities between India and Pakistan … but we are considering it very seriously,” a Pakistani embassy spokesman told our reporter in New Delhi earlier this week.  Things appeared to have moved faster only after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani expressing sympathy and reminding him of the offer of aid. Millions of Pakistans meanwhile continued to struggle for food.

With Pakistan on the ropes, the fight against extremism just got harder

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Pakistan’s army has said it won’t be diverting forces from the fight against Islamist militants while it helps deal with the country’s worst floods  in 80 years . Troops who were on training have been called back to lead the flood relief effort, leaving those  deployed on the Afghan front to continue operations against militants, the army said.

But with the floods devastating the trunk of Pakistan running from the northwest to Sind, through the growthengine of Punjab, disrupting the lives of an estimated 20 million people - which is 12 percent of the population – and delivering a serious blow to an already enfeebled economy, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be any impact on the deadly, costly battle to win back ground from the extremists, bothinside Pakistan and Afghanistan.  It is hard enough for any nation to fight a war such as the one Pakistan is engaged in, willingly or otherwise, against an enemy that it once nurtured.  But to be at war when a third of the land  is affected by the most devastating floods yet,  crops worth a $1 billion are damaged in a country in a country where agriculture is the mainstay  and popular anger is  running high, calls for nerves of steel. And all this when it is already on a $11.3 billion IMF bailout programme whose stringent conditions Pakistan was struggling to meet even before the floods struck.

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