Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
A U.S. military operation in Afghanistan’s Arghandab valley in which a village overrun by the Taliban was destroyed and is now being rebuilt has set off a firestorm of criticism from experts and Afghans who say this is a surefire way of losing the population to the insurgents. Surely you can’t win over hearts and minds by levelling homes and farms and then offering to resettle residents back there, even if the new dwellings turn out to be better, stronger than the original.
It goes back to the old debate that has dogged the U.S. mission in Afghanistan . Is defending the local population and its interests at the heart of the counter insurgency strategy or is this now a mission focused on a single-minded pursuit of al Qaeda (not many left there in any case) and the Taliban to the last man standing ?
Nearly 49,000 pounds of ammunition was dropped on the village of Tarok Kalache nestled in the fertile Arghandab valley last October after repeated attempts to flush out the Taliban failed. The insurgents were using the village as a staging post, one of the many in Kandahar province to stop a rolling U.S. offensive. They had conducted an intimidation campaign to force residents out of the area, rigged the place up with explosives from top to bottom and were carrying out raids on U.S. army outposts, the military said.
Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for the U.S. military, said in an article last month the destruction of the village was necessary to clear the Taliban from the lush farmland. And its reconstruction was just as necessary to stop them coming back, it said citing the military.
By Hamid Shalizi
For Afghanistan’s recently elected MPs, a political crisis that threatened to stop some of them ever taking up their seats had a silver lining – they all moved into a five star hotel.
Nearly all 249 MPs booked rooms in one of Kabul’s most luxurious hotels, the hill-top Intercontinental, after President Hamid Karzai said he would delay the inauguration of parliament by a month.
If a shopkeeper from Quetta impersonating as a Taliban commander made a mockery of President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to seek reconciliation with the insurgent leadership, a parallel programme to lure away foot soldiers too made little headway last year. A bottom-up reintegration of low to mid-level fighters back into society was meant to complement the top-down approach of seeking a compromise with the leadership. In the event, while there is little sign of any engagement, at least in the public domain ( although it has to be said for a peace process to be meaningful it probably has to be conducted away from the public eye), only a handful of rebels have stepped forward to lay down their weapons.
A year into the reintegration programme, less than 800 insurgents agreed to end the fight, according to Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman. That makes up for less than 3 percent of the estimated militant strength of 30,000. At this rate it will take a decade to peel away the rank-and file, assuming the overall strength remains constant. More disappointingly, the men who signed up for the programme weren’t even hard core Taliban. They were mostly low-level community-defense forces, Ackerman quotes British Maj.Gen. Phil Jones, the NATO official in charge of enticing the insurgents, as saying.
Afghanistan’s Taliban have had a change of heart , and are no longer opposed to education for girls, according to the Afghan government. It’s the sort of shift that opens up the possibility of talks with the insurgents whose treatment of women has in the past drawn revulsion worldwide and made a deal that much harder.
Afghan Education Minister Farooq Wardak told the Times Educational Supplement that the upper echelons of the Taliban appeared to have softened their stance on education including schooling for girls . “It is attitudinal change, it is behavioural change, it is cultural change.” He didn’t say what had led to this profound transformation in the Taliban and how far they were willing to go to grant women rights.
The U.S. military has stopped the Taliban momentum in southern Afghanistan, and is probably starting to reverse it following the surge, according to a study we wrote about this week here. The view from the ground, though, is much less rosy.
Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy has published a paper under its Afghan Voices series looking at how ordinary Afghans view the current round of military operations centred around Kandahar.
from Tales from the Trail:
One of the strongest messages that U.S. officials tried to convey during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Afghanistan this week was that the American mission in the war-torn country is changing from combat to training, so that Afghan forces are ready to provide security for their own country after decades of upheaval, invasion and foreign occupation.
Biden made a stop at the Kabul military training center, an expansive site about six miles northeast of the city center, where U.S. forces are teaching members of the Afghan National Army how to be part of a modern military. On 22,000 acres of bare terrain surrounded by mountains and dotted with cement walls and the ruins of Soviet-era military equipment, Afghan soldiers are learning everything from marksmanship to logistics. The facility has even had two all-women officer training classes, the first in the deeply traditional Muslim country, not for combat but for functions such as finance and logistics.
The American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War has a new report out that says rather unequivocally that the United States is starting to turn the war around in southern Afghanistan following the surge. Since the deployment of U.S. Marines to Helmand in 2009 and the launch of an offensive there followed by operations in Kandahar, the Taliban has effectively lost all its main safe havens in the region, authors Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan argue.
The Taliban assassination squad in Kandahar has ben dismantled, the insurgents’ ability to acquire, transport and use IED materials and other weapons has been disrupted, and narcotics facilitators and financiers who link the drug market to the insurgency have been aggressively targeted. Above all, NATO and Afghan forces continue to hold all the areas they have cleared in the two provinces, arguably the heart of the insurgency, which is a significant departure from the past.
Pakistan’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, the dominant power in the nation’s financial capital of Karachi, has agreed to rejoin the federal coalition after Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani agreed to reverse a fuel price rise mandated under an IMF assistance programme.
The party, which mainly represents the Urdu-speaking descendants of immigrants from India following the creation of Pakistan in 1947, said it had decided to return to the ruling coalition so as not to trigger a crisis at a time when the country faced many challenges. But it said it would not immediately return to Gilan’s cabinet, indicating it was holding out for more concessions.
Steve Coll, the president of the New America Foundation and a South Asia expert, has raised the issue of the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the wake of the assassination of the governor of most populous Punjab state by one of his bodyguards. It’s a question that comes up each time Pakistan is faced with a crisis whether it a major act of violence such as this or a political/economic meltdown or a sudden escalation of tensions with India obviously, but also the United States.
Pakistan’s security establishment bristles at suggestions that it could be any less responsible than other states in defending its nuclear arsenal, and its leaders and experts have repeatedly said that the professional army is the ultimate guardian of its strategic assets.
A group of women in burqas rises from the sea to symbolize cleanliness, while further down a factory wall a bus with no wheels and crammed with passengers is a stark comment on war-torn Kabul’s appalling public transport.
A new Afghan art collective called Roshd, or “growth,” has brought street art and graffiti to the conservative Muslim nation’s capital, starting with a mural on a three meter (10 feet) high wall in an industrial park. Soon they hope to take their creativity and commentary to the dusty city center, where blast walls, scrawled advertisements, political propaganda and armed guards are more usual sights.