Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Kabul’s “ring of steel” tests patience

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Afghan police search a car at "Ring of Steel" checkpoint 26 in central Kabul. The checkpoints are testing the patience of ordinary Afghans, who experience increasingly long traffic delays and blame the government and foreigners for the imposition, rather that Taliban insurgent bombers. PHOTO: by author.

(Afghan police search a car at "Ring of Steel" checkpoint 26 in central Kabul. PHOTO: by author.)

If Afghanistan is a fight for hearts and minds, then the war against the Taliban is on shaky ground in central Kabul, where roadblocks and the concrete-encased fortresses of Western countries infuriate near everyone.

A security crackdown in the capital, enforced at so-called “ring of steel” police checkpoints, has turned travel in the capital into a test of patience denting support for President Hamid Karzai’s government just months from parliamentary elections.

“People are furious. They curse the government. They cannot get anywhere on time any more,” said 28-year-old taxi driver Del Agha as he sat beside his small yellow and white cab parked on a dusty Kabul roundabout.

Essential reading: an Afghan primer

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Want to read up on Afghanistan but don’t know where to start? Here is a personal top 10 selection that will quickly make you a dinner-table expert as well, hopefully, give you great reading pleasure:

1. Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid

Afghan court underscores governance challenge

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(British Former soldier Bill Shaw (L) sits alongside colleague Maiwand Limar in the Afghan anti-corruption appeals court at the start of his appeal against a two-year conviction for bribery. Shaw's chaotic court appearance underscores the challenge of improving the access to reliable justice for ordinary Afghans.)

(British Former soldier Bill Shaw (L) sits alongside colleague Maiwand Limar in the Afghan anti-corruption appeals court at the start of his appeal against a two-year conviction for bribery. Shaw's chaotic court appearance underscores the challenge of improving the access to reliable justice for ordinary Afghans.)

International aid workers in Afghanistan — and even new U.S. commander General David Petraeus – like to talk of building governance capacity, which basically means making sure the country runs its schools, courts, health services and so on properly.

A view from the machine gun

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(2nd Lt Matthew Bennet with U.S. C Troop 1-71 CAV chats with villagers during a night patrol in the village of Gorgan on June 25, 2010. Pic by Denis Sinyakov, Reuters)

(2nd Lt Matthew Bennet with U.S. C Troop 1-71 CAV chats with villagers during a night patrol in Gorgan on June 25, 2010. Pic by Denis Sinyakov, Reuters)

By Michael Georgy

An American Lieutenant was doing his best to reassure villagers in the Afghan heartland Taliban Province that U.S. soldiers would protect them from the Taliban, after a roadside bomb killed a father and son who were driving home on a motorcycle. On patrol he asked several people whether they felt safe, and said they should not hesitate to contact the Americans, located a few hundred metres away in their camp.

Western army fights on its stomach;what about the Taliban ?

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(A Thanksgiving meal at Bagram airbase.Reuters file pic/Omar Sobhani)

(A Thanksgiving meal at Bagram airbase.Reuters file pic/Omar Sobhani)

Walking into a mess hall at Kandahar Air  Field in Afghanistan can be confusing.

Soldiers from NATO countries, walking in  all directions, have plenty to choose from. Asian workers load heaps of food on plates as long rows of soldiers wait patiently. There is the salad bar. The fruit bar. The bread toasting area. In the centre of  mess  halls are short order cooks who make stir fry meals, for instance. The drinks section offers everything from apple to multi-vitamin juices to chilled milk.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

New report accuses Pakistan’s ISI of backing Afghan insurgents

us soldiersAccording to a new report published by the London School of Economics, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency not only funds and trains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan but is officially represented on the movement's leadership council, giving it significant influence over operations.

The ISI has long been accused of backing the Taliban - an accusation Pakistan denies, saying this would make no sense when it is already fighting a bloody campaign against Islamist militants at home. But the report is worth reading for its wealth of detail on the perceptions held by Taliban commanders interviewed in the field. You can see the Reuters story on the report here and the full document (pdf) here.

Potential allies: Karzai, Pakistan and the Taliban?

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(Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Razai Gilani)

(Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani)

If you still thought things hadn’t dramatically changed on the Afghan chessboard ever since U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to begin pulling out from mid-2011, you only need to look at President Hamid Karzai’s recent utterances, or more accurately the lack of it, on the Taliban and Pakistan, the other heavyweights on the stage.

For months Karzai has gone noticeably quiet on Pakistan, refusing to excoriate the neighbour for aiding the Taliban as he routinely did in the past, The Guardian quoted  a source close to the country’s former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh as saying.

Saving Afghanistan from its neighbours

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(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held.Reuters/ Ahmad Masood

(A view of the tent in Kabul where the jirga will be held. Reuters/Ahmad Masood

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.

Where does Taliban reconciliation leave victims of war?

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An Afghan boy in Afghanistan's southeaster Paktika province, November 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

An Afghan boy in Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika province, November 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

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.

Is the surge failing in Afghanistan?

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(Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province.Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

(Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

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.

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