Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

The contours of an Afghan settlement

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AFGHANISTAN/

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.”

As the title suggests, America’s exit strategy should be based on the premise that  while the Talban will have to be accommodated in any settlement, they must be contained.  Disengagement  from Afghanistan does not mean surrender to the Taliban, Harrison argues, even though the austere Islamist group has virtually fought a coalition led by the world’s most powerful military to a stalemate.  And the key to the containment strategy rests with Afghanistan’s neighbours.

Six of the seven regional powers with a stake in Afghanistan share the U.S. goal of preventing the return of a Taliban dictatorship in Kabul.  These  include such unlikely countries as Iran, Russia, China, and India besides the central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan all worried that the extreme version of Islam espoused by the Taliban can only have negative consequences for their own countries, the  author argues.

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.

Resurgent Taliban target women and children

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Civilian casualties in the worsening war in Afghanistan are up just over 30 percent in the current year,  the United Nations said in a mid-year report this week, holding the Taliban responsible for three-quarters of the deaths or injuries.

More worrying, women and children seem to be taking the brunt of the violence directed by a resurgent Taliban, which will only stoke more concern about the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamist group.

No place for women in the Great Afghan endgame

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A Time magazine cover showing the face of an 18-year-old Afghan woman mutilated by the Taliban has set off a furious debate about how far to go in search of a political settlement with the resurgent Islamist group to end nine years of fighting.

On the one side are those who point to the latest atrocity as a reminder of the brutality of the Taliban, and that nothing really had changed. Women will pay the heaviest price if the hardline Islamist group returned to power, they warn. On the other hand are those who argue that America cannot indefinitely remain in Afghanistan to defend women’s rights which in any case remains an elusive goal. Indeed the latest abuse took place while troops are on the ground which goes to show the limits of military power.

from Russell Boyce:

“Allah-u-Akbar! God is Great!”

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Some pictures still shock me. Some make me laugh; many provide an insight or window into a new idea but only a few haunt me with my mind's eye returning to them again and again.

On Wednesday 28th July an Airblue plane crashed  just outside Islamabad in the beauty spot of the Margalla Hills killing all 152 on board. The cause of the crash, as yet unconfirmed, is thought to have been the driving monsoon rain. I edited the pictures shot by Reuters photographers who reached the scene. Images ranging from smoke drifting through the hills, men scrambling in the charred rocky, woodlands, picking through twisted metal and rocks looking for signs of life; tied cloth bags, dripping with the blood  that contained the remains of the passengers, to a severed arm and hand, the fingers still perfectly formed, just lying on the ground. There were no survivors.

The view from Pakistan: India is a bigger threat than the Taliban, al Qaeda

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A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, from a donkey inside a compound at a makeshift factory in Karachi July 25, 2010. A man unloads clay tiles, used for flooring and roofs, at a makeshift factory in Karachi.

India may have  a bigger problem in Pakistan than previously thought. More than half of Pakistanis surveyed in a Pew poll say India is a bigger threat than al Qaeda or the Taliban.

It’s not just the Pakistani military that believes a bigger, richer India is an existential threat. A majority of ordinary people share that perception as well. That ought to worry Indian policy planners. Of the Pakistanis polled, 23 percent think the Taliban is the greatest threat to their country, and 3 percent think al Qaeda is, despite the rising tide of militant violence in Pakistan’s turbulent northwest region on the Afghan border, and also in the heartland cities.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra

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wikileakIn many ways the documents released by WikiLeaks last night merely underscored the bleak assessment of the Afghan war which General Stanley McChrystal issued last August.

At the time McChrystal warned the overall situation was “deteriorating”, complained of “under-resourcing” and called for not just more resources but a “fundamentally new approach” from NATO forces if failure were to be avoided.

WikiLeaks: shaking the foundations of U.S. policy toward Pakistan

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A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan's Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

A Pakistani security official stands near a burning vehicle after it was attacked in Chaman in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, along the Afghan border on May 19, 2010.

On the face of it, you could ask what’s new about the latest disclosures of Pakistani involvement in the Taliban insurgency while accepting massive U.S. aid to fight Islamic militancy of all hues. Hasn’t this been known all along — something that a succession of top U.S. officials and military leaders have often said, sometimes  couched in diplomatic speech and sometimes rather clearly?

U.S. troops walk a dangerous line in Arghandab

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A member of the U.S. Army's explosive ordinance disposal unit scans the area around a burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an improvised explosive device (IED) near Combat Outpost Nolen. Pic by Bob Strong, Reuters

A member of the U.S. Army's explosive ordinance disposal unit scans the area around a burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an improvised explosive device (IED) near Combat Outpost Nolen. Pic by Bob Strong, Reuters

The walk to besieged U.S. Combat Outpost Nolen is only 700 metres in a straight line, but for the soldiers who walk it every day it is an extraordinary feat of fitness and defeating their own fear in one of Afghanistan’s riskiest front lines.

Corruption’s tentacles reaching across Afghanistan

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(Mullah Abdul Salaam ... all levels of Afghan society hit by graft. Pic by Omar Subhani, Reuters)

By Sayed Salahuddin

Petty corruption has more than doubled in Afghanistan since 2007, a new survey shows, and nine years after the fall of the Taliban graft drains at least $1 billion a year from the $11 billion economy.

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