Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Challenging the myths of Pakistan’s turbulent northwest

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PAKISTAN/

Reuters’ journalist Myra Macdonald travelled to Pakistan’s northwest on the border with Afghanistan  to find that some of the Kiplingesque images of  xenophobic Pasthuns and ungovernable lands may be a bit off the mark especially now when the Pakistani army has taken the battle to the Islamist militants.  Here’s her account :

                               By Myra MacDonald

KHAR, Pakistan – I had not expected Pakistan’s tribal areas to be so neat and so prosperous.

These are meant to be the badlands, mythologised as no-go areas by Kiplingesque images of xenophobic Pashtuns, jezail musket in hand, defying British troops from rugged clifftops.

They are the “ungovernable” lands where al Qaeda took sanctuary after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; the bastion of Islamist militants said to threaten the entire world.

Bombing your own people: the use of air power in South Asia

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(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest  in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.

Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.

Kandahar’s street without women

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Afghan women wearing traditional burqas stand in the street in Kandahar November 7, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Afghan women wearing traditional burqas stand in the street in Kandahar November 7, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Where women really stand in Afghan society didn’t hit home to me until I walked down a busy market street in Kandahar without seeing a single woman. The birthplace of the Taliban, Kandahar is conservative even by Afghan standards.  It is also the focus of NATO’s next big military offensive in Afghanistan,  and I spent a couple of days last week embedded with a U.S. military police unit there to report on plans for the offensive and the mood on the ground

Germany slips up again in Afghanistan

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(German soldiers in Afghanistan salute as a helicopter carrying coffins of their fallen comrades departs)

(German soldiers in Afghanistan salute as a helicopter carrying coffins of their fallen comrades departs)

Germany has slipped up again in Afghanistan, mistakenly killing five Afghan soldiers after losing three of its own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents in the northern province of Kunduz. For a nation with little appetite for a war 3,000 miles away, the losses couldn’t come at a worse time. Germany is still feeling the repercussions of  an incident in September in which its forces called in a U.S. air strike that killed scores of people, at least 30 civilians,  the deadliest incident involving German forces since World War 11.

India talking to Taliban?

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Taliban militants pose for a picture after joining the Afghan government's reconciliation and reintegration program, in Herat March 14, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammad ShioabIf the news reports are true, India’s willingness to talk to the Taliban would represent a seismic shift in strategy for New Delhi and underlines the concern that the Congress-led government has over Pakistan’s influence in any Afghan end game.

India has always publicly opposed any attempts at talks by the Western powers with the Taliban to bring them into any stability plan for Afghanistan — chiding the idea there was such a thing as a “soft side” to the insurgents.

A Guantanamo Bay in Afghanistan?

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USA/

(A protester outside the White House in Washington dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detainee. Photo by Kevin Lamarque)

The United States is considering a proposal to hold foreign terrorism suspects at the Bagram military base in Afghanistan,  the Los Angeles Times reported this week, a  new Guantanamo Bay just as it is trying to close down the original facility in Cuba.

from The Great Debate:

Dirty money and the war in Afghanistan

In a long report on the war in Afghanistan for the U.S. Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations last summer, one sentence stood out: "If we don't get a handle on the money, we will lose this war to corruption."

The money in this context meant the funds, from multiple illicit sources, that finance the Taliban who are fighting the United States and its allies in a war that is now in its ninth year. Dirty money is greasing corruption on a scale so monumental that Afghanistan ranks 179 (out of 180) on the latest index compiled by Transparency International, a watchdog group based in Berlin.

B-minus for war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan ?

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(Afghan boys at a cemetry in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

(Afghan boys at a cemetry in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

Gallup has a new poll out testing the mood inside Afghanistan and Pakistan and it remains downbeat.  Roughly half of those surveyed in both countries said their governments were not doing enough to fight terrorism, despite the infusion of troops in Afghanistan and military offensives in Pakistan.

The dissatisfaction is  even more pronounced the closer you are to the trouble spots.  Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in Pakistan’s northwest, which is really the ground zero of the war against militant groups, were unhappy with the government’s efforts.  Afghans were even more impatient, with some 67 percent in the east which faces Pakistan’s troubled  northwest, registering their disappointment.

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

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(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban’s promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Pakistan getting ahead of itself on the Afghan chessboard?

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(An Afghan woman outside  a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

(An Afghan woman outside a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

If you have been reading news reports and blogs in recent weeks on Pakistan’s Afghanistan strategy, you would think Islamabad has emerged at the top of the heap, holding all the cards to a possible endgame. Its close ties to the Afghan Taliban put Islamabad in a unique position for a negotiated settlement to the eight-year-war, with little place for arch rival India which has been trying to muscle into its sphere of influence.

But Pakistan must not be taken in by all the hype; it has neither delivered a strategic coup nor has it fully secured its interests, argue two experts in separate pieces that seem to cut through all the noise.

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