Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Will voters in your town believe Karzai is worth dying for?

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Karzai reviews honour guard ahead of his inauguration at his sprawling Kabul palace on Nov. 19
In his inauguration speech on Thursday, Afghan president Hamid Karzai promised to combat corruption and appoint competent ministers, heading off the growing chorus of criticism from the West that his government is crooked and inept. Unsurprisingly, the Western dignitaries in the audience declared that they liked what they heard.

We predicted ahead of time that we would hear positive words about Karzai this week. After all, Western governments need to convince their own voters back home that the veteran Afghan leader’s government is worth sending their sons and daughters to die for. This autumn’s election debacle made Karzai look bad – a U.N.-backed probe found that nearly a third of votes cast for him were fake — but now that’s all over and the West needs him to look as reliable as possible.

A “very strong, substantial statement,” declared British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

“An important new starting point” that “set forth an agenda for change and reform” gushed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Can the West salvage Karzai’s reputation?

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That sure was fast.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told American TV audiences that Afghan President Hamid Karzai needed to take steps to fight graft, including setting up a new anti-corruption task force, if he wants to keep U.S. support. Less than 24 hours later, there was Karzai’s interior minister at a luxury hotel in Kabul — flanked by the U.S. and British ambassadors — announcing exactly that. A new major crimes police task force, anti-corruption prosecution unit and special court will be set up, at least the third time that Afghan authorities and their foreign backers have launched special units to tackle corruption.

There are just a couple of days left before Karzai is inaugurated for a new term as president. Perhaps a few more days after that, U.S. President Barack Obama will announce whether he is sending tens of thousands of additional troops to join the 68,000 Americans and 40,000 NATO-led allies fighting there.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and Afghanistan: “the bad guys don’t stay in their lanes”

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Given the debate about whether the United States should refocus its strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan more narrowly on hunting down al Qaeda, it's worth looking at what happened immediately after 9/11 when it did precisely that.   In a new book about his years fighting terrorism, former French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere casts fresh light on those early years after 9/11. At the time, he says, the Bush administration was so keen to get Pakistan's help in defeating al Qaeda that it was willing to turn a blind eye to Pakistani support for militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to fight India in Kashmir.   Basing his information on testimony given by jailed Frenchman Willy Brigitte, who spent 2-1/2 months in a Lashkar training camp in 2001/2002, he writes that the Pakistan Army once ran those camps, with the apparent knowledge of the CIA. The instructors in the camp in Pakistan's Punjab province were soldiers on detachment, he says, and the army dropped supplies by helicopter. Brigitte's handler, he says, appeared to have been a senior army officer who was treated deferentially by other soldiers.   CIA officers even inspected the camp four times, he writes, to make sure that Pakistan was keeping to a promise that only Pakistani fighters would be trained there. Foreigners like Brigitte were tipped off in advance and told to hide up in the hills to avoid being caught.   Reluctant to destabilise Pakistan, then under former president Pervez Musharraf, the United States turned a blind eye to the training camps and poured money into the country. In return, Pakistan hunted down al Qaeda leaders -- among them alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in 2003. "For the Bush administration, the priority was al Qaeda," writes Bruguiere. "The Pakistan Army and the ISI would focus on this - external - objective, which would not destabilise the fragile political balance in Pakistan."   Pakistan denies that it gave military support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and has banned the organisation. But India at the time accused western countries of double standards in tolerating Pakistani support for Kashmir-focused organisations while pushing it to tackle groups like al Qaeda which threatened Western interests. Diplomats say that attitude has since changed, particularly after bombings in London in 2005 highlighted the risks of "home-grown terrorism" in Britain linked to Kashmir-oriented militant groups based in Pakistan's Punjab province.   Last year's attack on Mumbai, blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and more recently the arrest in Chicago of David Headley, linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and accused of planning attacks in Denmark and India (pdf document), has underlined international concern about the threat posed by the group.   But for Bruguiere, one of the major lessons was that Islamist militants can't be separated into "good guys and bad guys", since they were all inter-linked.    "You should take into account, this is crucial, very, very important," Bruguiere told me in an interview. "Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistan movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand the violence worldwide."   Bruguiere said he became aware of the changing nature of international terrorism while investigating attacks in Paris in the mid-1990s by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These included an attempt to hijack a plane from Algiers to Paris in 1994 and crash it into the Eiffel Tower -- a forerunner of the 9/11 attacks. The plane was diverted to Marseilles and stormed by French security forces.

This new style of international terrorism was quite unlike militant groups he had investigated in the past, with their pyramidal structures. "After 1994/1995, like viruses, all the groups have been spreading on a very large scale all over the world, in a horizontal way and even a random way," he said. "All the groups are scattered, very polymorphous and even mutant."

Gone were the political objectives which drove terrorism before, he writes, to be replaced with a nihilistic aim of spreading chaos in order to create the conditions for an Islamic caliphate. For the hijackers on the Algiers-Paris flight, their demands seemed almost incidental. "We realised we faced the language of hatred and a total determination to see it through."

from Tales from the Trail:

Will latest polls weigh on Obama?

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President Barack Obama summoned his war council today for what may be a pivotal meeting as he decides what to do in Afghanistan. OBAMAWhile Obama weighs up his options on whether to send in more troops -- with most money on about 30,000 more -- he might also glance at the latest round of public opinion polls on Afghanistan.One by the Pew Research Center put Obama's favorable job rating on Afghanistan at 36 percent, sharply down from 49 percent in July.On troop levels in Afghanistan, 40 percent say there should be fewer U.S. soldiers, 32 percent approve of an increase while 19 percent say current troop levels are satisfactory.A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released today found that 56 percent of respondents opposed sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan while 42 percent supported additional forces.Which way are you leaning? More troops, less, the same? Stay, go, the status quo? As commander-in-chief, will Obama go the way of Goldilocks and take the middle road, or will there be a surprise?Click here for more Reuters political coveragePhoto credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama making statement about Fort Hood shootings)

Afghanistan: neither Vietnam nor Iraq, but closer home perhaps

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[Women at a cemetery in Kabul, picture by Reuters' Ahmad Masood]

As U.S. President Barack Obama makes up his mind on comitting more troops to Afghanistan, the search for analogies continues. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot be compared with Vietnam or Iraq  beyond a point. The history, geography, the culture and the politics are just too different.

The best analogy to Afghanistan may well the very area in dispute – the rugged Pashtun lands straddling the border with Pakistan and where  the Pakistani army is in the middle of an offensive, argues William Tobey in a piece for Foreign Policy.

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama: Not worrying about perceptions on Afghanistan

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OBAMA/INTERVIEWAs President Barack Obama nears a decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, some experts say he should consider the signal his decision will send about his broader commitment to the war, which has grown increasingly unpopular at home.

The White House has been frustrated that its internal deliberations on the Afghanistan strategy have leaked into public view, something that Obama acknowledged on Monday in an interview with Reuters.

Afghan night mission ends in bullets

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This was blogged by Deborah Gembara, a reporter for Reuters Television, who recently spent six weeks in Afghanistan.

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BABO KHEYL – It’s just after midnight and I am in the back of a helicopter, pinned against the wall with two soldiers on either side. We are in darkness, save for slivers of moonlight illuminating the door gunners.

from Tales from the Trail:

Holbrooke: my relationship with Karzai is good, really

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Absolutely they are on good terms...

Richard Holbrooke, special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, once again declared his respect for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. AFGHANISTAN/

In fact, he feels so strongly about reports that the two don't get along he wrote a letter to The Washington Post.

from UK News:

Drawing the line against the Taliban

afghan1Fight them there or fight them here?

Former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells poses the question in the Guardian in a piece made grimly relevant by Wednesday's shooting dead of  five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman.

Howells says troops should be brought back from Afghanistan and that the billions of pounds saved should be used to beef up homeland security in Britain -- drawing the front line against al Qaeda around the UK rather than thousands of miles away in Helmand province.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Targeted killings in Pakistan and elsewhere : official U.S. policy now ?

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One of the things U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ran into last week during her trip to Pakistan was anger over attacks by unmanned "drone" aircraft inside Pakistan and along the border with Afghanistan.

 One questioner during an interaction with members of the public said the missile strikes by Predator aircraft amounted to "executions without trial" for those killed.  Another asked Clinton to define terrorism and whether she considered the drone attacks to be an act of terrorim like the car bomb that ripped through Peshawar that same week killing more than 100 people.

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