Afghanistan News and Views

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AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: Pressure Like Nowhere Else in the World: Journalism in Afghanistan

By: Bismellah Alizada   p

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan in more than a decade, and first ever trained in digital media, produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation, a leading non-governmental organization active in Asia since 1954. The hour-long documentary captures the stories of women in Afghanistan, describing both their lives under the Taliban and their hopes for the future. www.asiafoundation.org. (PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation)

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation. Photo by PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation, Creative Commons

With the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan almost 15 years ago, a democratic government with a relatively liberal constitution emerged that made allowances — in theory — for freedom of the press and expression. But ensuring the basic security of media workers in the country has been somewhat harder. Media outlets grew exponentially after the anti-press Taliban was toppled, thanks in part to generous funding coming from NGOs, international organisations and foreign countries.

But as foreign troops withdrew, funding for these operations began to wane and only a handful remained commercially viable as many others closed down.

Threats affecting journalists are numerous. Media workers are targets because they highlight the brutality of the insurrection led by the Taliban and other militant groups, while pinpointing the shortcomings of the government and the misdeeds of warlords and parliamentarians alike.

According to a report published by Deutsche Welle in January 2015, there were 125 incidents of violence against journalists reported in 2014, marking the year the “most violent year on record for journalists in the country” as thousands of troops from the US-led coalition withdrew from the country.

Things have not improved since. In August 2015, Pajhwok News Agency’s Azizullah Hamdard was shot and injured in Kabul by unidentified assailants after she reported an incident of electoral fraud.

But it was in autumn last year that things truly took a turn for the worse for the country’s media, as the Taliban dramatically seized the strategic northern city of Kunduz, one of their biggest coups in recent years.

As noted in a recent report by International Media Support (IMS), a non-profit that advocates for media rights and safety across the world:

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilising social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Among the outlets to feel the Taliban’s wrath is TOLO News, a dynamic organisation owned by the MOBY media group that has gained the trust of large parts of the Afghan public by providing 24-hour coverage that includes some of the most dangerous and inaccessible areas of the country.

On January 21, TOLO News staff were targeted by a suicide bomber in Kabul, who killed seven of their workers.

The Taliban had been particularly angry with TOLO News for what it described as a vilification effort after the outlet described incidences of violence and rape towards Kunduz’s civilian population during the month of October.

The subsequent attack on the channel sparked public outrage.

In response to the Taliban’s attack, some journalists suggested a boycott of coverage of future attacks, depriving the group of a vital source of publicity.

Accordingly, the February 1 bombing in Kabul that claimed 20 lives was not covered by TOLO TV and TOLO news.

However, the initiative received mixed responses.

Government officials meanwhile try to force corruption, embezzlement, land usurpation, and human rights abuses off the media’s agenda.

On his first day in office, President Ghani allowed New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg, who had been expelled by Afghan government on allegations of undermining Afghanistan’s national interests, to return to the country, showcasing his administration’s commitment to free press and freedom of expression.

He also signed into law the Access to Information Law earlier passed by the parliament which states that government-held information should be available to the public, “except in cases that would threaten national security, compromise privacy, or interfere with a criminal investigation”.

Ghani’s administration, however, has failed to deliver on those promises.

The government’s controversial Media Violation Investigation Commission (MVIC), which has been in effect since 2005, has summoned leading daily newspapers on many occasions.

Hasht-e Subh Daily, Daily Open Society, and Etilaat-e Roz Daily are amongst those whose editors-in-chiefs called in by officials as a result of critical reporting.

Moreover, when the anonymously-run satirical Facebook page Kabul Taxi poked fun at Ghani’s powerful security chief Hanif Atmar, Atmar began an unsuccessful witch hunt to try and find out if any prominent media workers were behind the page. It was eventually shut down.

Although television is attracting a significant audience throughout the country, radio still remains the primary source of news for the bulk of the population.

Print media readership is low, but social media usage is on the rise and Internet connections are becoming faster and more accessible.

Accompanying these trends are citizen journalism and blogging, which are increasingly appreciated by a young educated readership.

The phenomenal growth of an independent media in post-Taliban Afghanistan is one of the few major achievements that a government still stricken by graft and incapable of providing many public services can point to.

Despite all manner of pressures, the media is fulfilling its duty and defending the public interest. Although the sacrifices it has been forced to make in order to achieve that goal have been far too many.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan war: Just what was the point?

By Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Updated 5:43 AM ET, Thu February 25, 2016, original

Afghan troops pull out of Helmand districts

Afghan troops pull out of Helmand districts

Nick Paton Walsh is a CNN Senior International Correspondent who has reported from Afghanistan frequently over the last 10 years.

(CNN)It is worse in Afghanistan now than I ever could have imagined. And I was a pessimist.

Fatigue was always going to be the decider. Western fatigue with the horrors their troops saw, and with the violence inflicted daily on Afghans themselves. The fatigue of the financial cost, where a power station that was barely ever switched on cost Uncle Sam a third of a billion dollars.

And the other fatigue — the one felt by the Taliban — mostly distinguished by its absence; they felt only the tirelessness of their cause.

Meet Afghanistan's Romeo and Juliet

Meet Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet

Sometimes the occasional jolt reminds the world that the war is still ongoing. The conflict, begun initially to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., has cost the lives of more than 3,500 Coalition service members and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians.

This week, Afghan troops, after months of fury at poor supplies and low morale, fell back from two vital positionsin the volatile Helmand province. It leaves Lashkar Gah and Sangin as the major strongholds the government still holds, and a sense of foreboding that the opium-rich southern region will eventually entirely belong to the Taliban.

The war also moved back into focus three weeks ago with the death of Wasil Ahmad. Wasil learned firearms and commanded a unit of anti-Taliban fighters briefly, before Taliban gunmen on a motorbike mowed him down as he bought food for his mother and siblings. Wasil was just 11 years old.

Before the Coalition came

Known as the “graveyard of empires,” Afghanistan has a reputation for humiliating would-be conquerors. Both the Soviets, in the 1980s, and the British, during the 19th century, were forced to beat bloody retreats from Afghanistan, deprived of what looked, on paper, to be easy victories.

Time has changed the definition of what people nowadays call an “empire,” but not this perception. The U.S. military liked to feel wise as they repeated the maxim that they had the “fancy watch, but the Taliban had the time.” In truth, the American watch ran out of batteries, leaving the Taliban owning both the aphorism and the clock.

READ: Young Messi fan wearing plastic bag jersey found in Afghanistan

The rise of the Taliban before 9/11 owed much to the country’s ethnic divides. In the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, Pashtun forces swept in from the south, towards the capital Kabul, and pushed the Tajiks back to the north.

Time passed. The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. The Taliban found its feet again. The U.S. began to get mired in Iraq. The insurgency picked up. The Afghan government started losing ground. By 2008, it was a full-on emergency and the U.S. realized — even from the liberal anti-war perch of President Barack Obama — that this was the “just war” that it must fight.

And then, the war ramped up

For about three years, there was intense focus. First came the surge. Up to 100,000 U.S. troops (as part of a NATO force) at one point, pressing into the darkest Taliban valleys. Holding ground — spending millions every month to maintain a presence in tiny dusty villages in faraway places like Kandahar to show the insurgency the U.S. had the resolve.

READ: Top U.S. general in Afghanistan: 2016 ‘possibly worse than 2015’

But it was never going to last. In fact, that was always an advertised part of the plan: the U.S. and NATO would hold the land for a few years — until they thought the Afghan troops were ready — and then they would pull out. The Taliban had to hope the Afghans wouldn’t be ready, and just wait. It seems they did.

Secondly, came the budgets: $110 billion spent in the largest reconstruction effort in U.S. history. Some new roads that made life in some towns viable again, but also buildings that always stood empty, and an injection of cash into Kabul so unrealistic, unprecedented and absurd that the cost of living became almost reckless.

At one point the World Bank suggested more than 90% of Afghanistan’s total budget was aid-dependent. (I got a very quick call from the U.S. Embassy telling me this wasn’t true — no alternative figure was offered). Housing for Afghans became more expensive — some rents have now dropped by almost half. From behind the concrete blast walls where foreigners mainly lived, a (small) can of black market Heineken at one point cost $10. America had no shortage of cash, just a shortage of viable ways to spend it, resulting in some daft projects and a brief pocket of total imbalance in the Afghan economy.

Thirdly came the leadership. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired the military commander of the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan ISAF, David McKiernan, in 2009 and replaced him with Stanley McChrystal, a special forces veteran.

McChrystal’s bleak assessment of the war was damning enough to suggest the Green Beret knew the scope of the challenge. He had a plan — and it was leaked quickly enough to back the White House into a corner that involved a large commitment of resources. It involved talking to Afghans, and winning them over. Troops would get out and meet people. For a moment, it seemed to work.

Then the bizarre happened. Eyjafjallajökull, a volcano in Iceland erupted in 2010, scattering ash into the atmosphere and grounding aircraft. McChrystal and his team were among those delayed, along with a Rolling Stone reporter. They spoke their minds, found themselves in print, and McChrystal was fired. From that point, the war felt like it changed. Forever.

READ: Opinion – Sanity prevails on U.S. troops in Afghanistan

David Petraeus swept in that year as McChrystal’s successor — a career general, mindful that the clock was ticking on the surge. The campaign focused on the message and that clock. Petraeus was succeeded by another Iraq veteran, John Allen, whose role was about cleaning up. The surge had almost worked, but been interrupted, caught short, and now America was leaving.

Between January and May 2012, every day seemed to bring a new calamity to the U.S. military presence. From Qurans burned apparently in error; to the corpses of Taliban fighters urinated on by Marines who filmed themselves as they did it; to a massacre by an American soldier in a Kandahar village. Even the most footsure NATO spokesman seemed to lose faith.

So what was achieved?

Well, at one point, al Qaeda was said to be in its mere hundreds in Afghanistan — hiding away in the eastern hills. Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. A few thousand Afghans became absurdly rich on the U.S. presence. Far many more thousands (there is no real, reliable figure) died or were injured.

Women saw a brief moment when Western aid programs and ideals let them think about lives outside of the home, where they could flourish. (They still can think about that, but now risk more than ever brutal reprisals from conservatives). The West flooded the country with money and weapons to the point that it is now a land of warlords on steroids.

READ: Opinion – How Afghanistan can succeed

The Afghan army, briefly, swelled. But it could never hold the ground NATO did. NATO advisors would swear blind that you were wrong, that the ramshackle units you saw could defeat a hungry and angry local insurgency. But it became clear they were misinformed. That an inner malaise — corruption — would undo the Afghan National Security Forces, whose upkeep has cost the U.S. taxpayer well over $60 billion, and whose brave losses continue now at an unprecedented speed.

In Afghanistan, portrait of a tragic failure of humanity

In Afghanistan, portrait of a tragic failure of humanity

 Two stories stick out of Afghans who are not where the West told them they would be. The first is Gulnaz, the woman who was raped, then jailed for adultery because her attacker was married, then told she would have to marry him. International pressure led to her release into a shelter for women, but three years later I found her living with her attacker, and married to him — the only way Afghanistan’s at times backwards world could find to reconcile the crime against her.

Second is Wahid. He commanded an Afghan army unit, fighting fiercely in Kunduz against the Taliban. They had little support, he alleged, even ammunition, and the dead bodies of their fallen comrades were left to rot in their besieged base. So he fled — dodging bullets in Iran, taking the boat to Greece, and enduring tear gas near Hungary. He is exactly the sort of Afghan the West promised a future to and needed to stay where he was — defending his country. We found him eating a muffin in a café in Munich, Germany.

Where are we now?

The dissent in the ranks of the Taliban has led to ISIS becoming a radical, brutal and attractive alternative to the country’s disenfranchised youth, for whom the old insurgency isn’t moving fast enough.

Haunting pictures of Kunduz MSF hospital

Haunting pictures of Kunduz MSF hospital

 According to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR — the U.S. government’s money watchdog there), the Taliban hold more territory now than at any time since 2001. There are about 10,000 U.S. troops left, who can hunt extremists, but not hold territory. And it seems neither can the Afghan army at times. It is losing fast in Helmand. It lost Kunduz temporarily in October. If you suggested either of these losses were remotely possible two years ago, most NATO advisors would accuse you of mild insanity.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people. Without that the result is thousands of refugees in Europe, and ISIS gets a new safe haven. What is left is a country where the West is discredited as unwilling to stay the course; where most fighters are meaner, better armed, and more chaotic than they were in 2001; and whose name causes opinion-formers in the West to try and change the subject.

It was dubbed the Just War, then the Forever War. Now many want it to be the Forgotten War.

But it is still a war, and the West owns a lot of it.

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan teacher among top 10 finalists for $1 million Global Teacher Prize

By KHAAMA PRESS – Sat Feb 20 2016

A female Afghan teacher has been nominated for the Global Teacher Prize by Varkey Foundation and is among the top 10 finalists to receive the $1 million prize.

According to a statement by the organization, the top 10 finalists were announced on Wednesday, representing 5 continents, and 9 countries.

The winner of the prize is expected to be announced on 13th March in Dubai and each of the top 10 finalists will be featured by the organization.

Aqeela was forced to leave Afghanistan in 1992 due to the civil war and shifted to Pakistan along with millions of other Afghans.

Shocked with the deeply conservative Afghans refugees in the camps who were regarding education with suspicion preferring to put their children to work, Aqeela started her first school in a borrowed tent, spending as much time educating parents on the benefits of education as their children.

“There was no money and no equipment: her first pupils spelt out their work in the dust of the tent floor. Careful to be sensitive to religious and tribal sensibilities, word spread amongst both the Afghan refugees and the local Pakistani families who started to send their daughters to Aqeela’s school. She gained the trust of the community and was rewarded increased attendances,” according to a feature published about Aqeela on The Global teacheer Prize organization.

Today, over 1500 pupils are enrolled in her schools of whom 900 are girls. Her graduates are carrying the message back home – two of her former pupils have opened schools for girls in Afghanistan and other have started businesses, become doctors or government employees .
“I am particularly proud of those who have made their decision to return to Afghanistan and become active agents of change at a time when their country needs them most”, she says.

Aqeela’s school has produced over 1,000 graduates (mainly Afghan refugee girls, but also local Pakistani children). Some have become doctors, engineers, government officials and teachers in Afghanistan.

She was also presented with the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award in 2015.

http://www.khaama.com/afghan-teacher-among-top-10-finalists-for-1-million-global-teacher-prize-0121

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ON THE MEDIA; AFGHANISTAN: What next for media in Afghanistan?

By Helle Wahlberg, International Media Support, 18 Feb. 2016

An Afghan journalist at work. Photo: Lars Schmidt

As private and independent media in Afghanistan struggle to come to terms with the loss of seven colleagues from Tolo TV in January following a Taliban-led bomb attack, the international community must now consider how best to move forward in their support for media workers in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of equally media-hostile ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan pose serious challenges to the impressive gains in the field of independent media and freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years.

The vulnerability of private, independent media in the country was brutally exposed when a bomb attack on 20 January targeted a minibus carrying workers from the country’s largest private broadcaster, Tolo TV, killing seven staff members and injuring dozens.

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilizing social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Despite being taken somewhat by surprise by this turn of events in Kunduz, the AJSC, a locally led network of journalist union -, media and civil society representatives working to protect and improve the safety of Afghan journalists, was able to help over seventy journalists out of Kunduz in time. The emergency assistance involved providing accommodation, transportation by air and cash handouts to cover emergency expenses for the displaced journalists. Female journalists fled under the cover of their Burqas.

Following the Kunduz incident, Tolo TV News and 1TV, the two largest private broadcasters in the country, were singled out and named as military targets by the Taliban allegedly for having broadcast false reports about the conduct of Taliban fighters during their brief takeover of Kunduz. According to the AJSC, this was the first time that the Taliban had publically issued threats against specific media outlets directly from the Taliban Military Council. In a strong show of solidarity, some Afghan media and media support organisations issued a joint statement promising to boycott any Taliban media and news sources if such an attack was carried out. Tolo TV was attacked on 20 January.

The threat of another imminent attack is now one that staff at 1TV are living with every day.

“The attack on Tolo TV was shocking. I expected it, but not so soon,” says Abdullah Azada Khenjani, editor-in-chief and Head of News and Current Affairs at 1TV.

“1TV covered the attack and issued a statement saying that we considered this to be an attack on all media. The night of the attack, we focused on supporting our colleagues at Tolo TV. The next morning, BBC Persia reported that a spokesperson for the Taliban had said that 1TV was next in line.”

The attack on Tolo TV has taken its immediate toll on the daily lives of staff at 1TV. Many staff members are opting not to come to work out of fear of another attack and while the management group at 1TV has taken the threats against the station very seriously, ensuring the protection of over 100 staff members remains not only logistically difficult, but also very costly.

“Not only are journalists living in fear. Their families are affected as well. My mother is not sleeping and I need to report to my wife every hour for her peace of mind,” Abdullah Azada Khenjani explains.

He continues:

“The aim of the Taliban is to demolish the beginnings of a democratic system in Afghan society in which media is a main pillar. My fear is that they will succeed. We need the Afghan government to help mitigate these attacks on media and we need more support from the international community. I think the coming year could well become the deadliest yet for journalists in Afghanistan.”

The international community including governments, the UN, international media and journalists’ rights organisations and civil society have responded to the latest attacks on media in Afghanistan with statements of solidarity. While the working relationship between media support organisations and the Afghan government has improved, most recently manifested in the establishment of an Oversight Commission on Access to Information that will monitor the government’s implementation of the Access to Information Act, more is needed from the international community. According to Abdullah Azada Khenjani, the international community must increase its pressure on the Afghan government to take the threats against the hard-won achievements of the Afghan media sector seriously.

“In the last 15 years, the international community has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan, but more of this should have been invested in securing freedom of expression values. We need to help Taliban supporters understand that media has an important role to play as a watchdog of government and power holders and that for this reason, media should not be a target. In addition to this, there is a need for more technical support to educate local media in the provinces on how to better protect themselves.

For now, the IMS-supported, locally anchored Afghan Journalist Safety Committee remains the only country-wide safety and protection mechanism for Afghan journalists that operates in 32 out of 34 provinces. The Safety Committee has assisted some 600 journalists in distress since it was set up in Afghanistan with support from IMS in 2009. Regional safety coordinators and volunteers manage an alert system, where they liaise with journalists under threat and provide updates on violations and changing circumstances for media to the AJSC headquarters. Basic services include various types of safety training for both male and female journalists, legal advice, a hotline, safe houses and safety funds coupled with efforts to influence media law reform through advocacy efforts.

One of the AJSC’s key initiatives has been its approach to community-based safety where cooperation with local police authorities has resulted in agreements on provincial safety procedures for police to follow to help ensure a safer working environment for journalists. But also the AJSC setup remains fragile in a volatile environment where rising insecurity and decreasing funding for their essential work to ensure the safety of journalists are a reality.

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of ISIS and their aggressive and coercive position towards media in Afghanistan both pose serious challenges to the impressive gains made by media and in the field of freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years. Today, media plays a highly important role in public life. The media is the only watchdog apparatus monitoring the performance of the government and power holders. Safeguarding a strong, professional and independent media sector and its workers should thus be viewed as a long-term investment in Afghanistan’s democratic and peaceful development.

Read more about important developments in Afghan media between July – December 2015 in AJSC’s Six Month Report July-December 2015.

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ON AFGHANISTAN: Profiting off of chaos: How the U.S. privatized its war in Afghanistan

salon.com, by Ben Norton, Feb. 16, 2016, 6 min read, original

Journalist Antony Loewenstein tells Salon how corporations exploit violent conflicts in Afghanistan and beyond

U.S. Army soldiers fire a howitzer artillery piece, Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

U.S. Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery, fire a howitzer artillery piece at Seprwan Ghar forward fire base in Panjwai district, Kandahar province southern Afghanistan, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“The corporation is now fundamentally more powerful than the nation-state,” writes journalist Antony Loewenstein in his new book “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe.”

“Many ongoing crises seem to have been sustained by businesses to fuel industries in which they have a financial stake,” he explains. “Companies that entrench a crisis and then sell themselves as the only ones who can resolve it.”

Loewenstein, a columnist for the Guardian, traveled the world in order to understand just how multinational corporations profit off of such chaos. The Australian-born yet decidedly cosmopolitan journalist devotes the meticulous and daring tome to reporting on the foreign exploitation he witnessed in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and the destructive mining boom in Papua New Guinea, along with seemingly dystopian prison privatization in the U.S., predatory for-profit detention centers for refugees in Australia and ruthless austerity in Greece.

In the book, Loewenstein expertly shows how corporate control of not just the domestic, but also the global political system has led to a drastic “erosion of democracy.”

A quote he chooses as the overture sets the tone for the ensuing pages. “It is profitable to let the world go to hell,” warns scholar Jørgen Randers, a professor of climate strategy at Norwegian Business School, while railing against “the tyranny of the short term.” This quote succinctly summarizes exactly how disaster capitalism operates.

The concept of disaster capitalism is derived from a similar work, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” an influential 2007 book by journalist Naomi Klein. In some ways, “Disaster Capitalism” can be seen as a sequel to Klein’s book, yet Loewenstein’s formidable work stands out in its own right.

Salon sat down with the journalist to discuss one of the more explosive controversies he uncovers in his book: how the U.S. war in Afghanistan was privatized.

Loewenstein spent time in war-torn Afghanistan, as well as neighboring Pakistan, researching for “Disaster Capitalism.” His compelling recounting of his experiences paints a picture of a crisis-stricken world in which virtually everything has been privatized, in which private military companies, or PMCs — 21st-century warlords — exercise more control over countries than their own inhabitants.

A slew of Western multinational corporations quite familiar to Americans appear throughout the chapter, including Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, Halliburton and more.

The personal interactions Loewenstein has with military contractors on the ground are some of the most fascinating. A British PMC managing director the journalist met in Kabul, whom he refers to simply as Jack, bluntly admits his corporation “survives off chaos.”

Predicting future U.S. wars in Africa, Iran and Korea, the corporate military executive tells Loewenstein, “If we can make money, we’ll go there.”

“I’m my own government,” Jack boldly declares.

“Disaster Capitalism” bolsters Loewenstein’s growing body of important work. Among his other books are “Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism Is Swallowing the World,” a kind of 2013 prequel to “Disaster Capitalism”; “The Blogging Revolution,” a 2008 investigation of how bloggers around the world challenge their oppressive governments; and the best-selling “My Israel Question,” an exhaustive 2007 account of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians, and a profound and intimate exploration of the author’s Jewish identity.

For his previous books, Loewenstein traveled widely, from Palestine to Iran, from Saudi Arabia to China, from Cuba to Egypt and beyond. For “Disaster Capitalism,” Loewenstein went even further. When Salon contacted him to schedule an interview, the intrepid journalist seemed every time to not only be in a different country, but even on a different continent.

This is the first in a two-part review of Loewenstein’s reporting in “Disaster Capitalism.” Another piece will be devoted to Loewenstein’s findings in Haiti, a small country that has been virtually taken over by Western NGOs. Loewenstein spoke with Salon about both little-discussed yet tremendously important issues.

Jack, the British PMC managing director you met in Kabul, said “we don’t call ourselves mercenaries.” Are they mercenaries? Should they be called that?

Not all private security interests in Afghanistan are mercenaries; many men are just security guards protecting embassies or Western interests. But mercenaries are a little-reported aspect of the war, either directly engaged in killing or capturing suspected insurgents (a key failing of the Western war in the country has been its insistence on designating any opponent of the conflict as “Taliban” and therefore “terrorist”) or training Afghan forces to do the same thing, often inflaming conflicts in local villages.

You call imperialism “the dirtiest word in modern English” and note, “There is not a country I visited for this book in which the legacy of imperialism does not scar the landscape and people.” You also point out that “there were often more contractors than soldiers in Afghanistan.” Jack said it is cheaper for countries to use PMCs than it is to put their own boots on the ground.

Do you see this as an outsourcing of imperialism and neo-colonialism, if you will? Is this how war will work in the future?

The U.S. government, along with its many allies, likes using private assets to further geo-political interests. The initial motivation when invading Afghanistan was revenge for 9/11, but this quickly morphed into a messy project to control the nation and partner with a corrupt central government and warlords across the country.

The reason I use the term “imperialism” to describe the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond — along with U.S.-backed autocratic partners in the Middle East, South America, Asia and Africa — is that there’s no other way to describe attempts to secure energy reserves and economic influence in the modern age.

War has always worked this way, but the inclusion of globalized private entities removes one more level of accountability. Today in Afghanistan there are around 30,000 contractors working for the Pentagon alongside the U.S. military and Special Forces. And the Pentagon won’t acknowledge how many soldiers are truly fighting ISIS in Iraq.

Can you talk more about Afghanistan’s enormous natural resources, the TAPI pipeline, drugs, etc.? This is little discussed. Why do you think that is?

During both the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan, huge discoveries of natural resources occurred. There is an estimated U.S. $1-4 trillion of untapped minerals, oil and gas and yet most of it is unreachable due to security concerns and corruption.

I have been investigating these issues for my book, and also the documentary in progress, “Disaster Capitalism,” with New York filmmaker Thor Neureiter.

Natural resources will not sustain Afghanistan after most of the Western aid dries up, and neither the U.S. government nor Afghan authorities have any answers for long-term sustainability (the proposed TAPI pipeline crossing Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Turkmenistan isambitious but prone to problems).

Drug cultivation has soared during the U.S. occupation. Too many Western reporters have framed the Afghan war as simply between U.S. forces and the Taliban when in reality Afghanistan has a complex history that never tolerates long-term occupation.

You write about the “military-enforced bubble,” in which the foreign occupying army is completely out of touch with the locals. An Afghan translator told you the U.S. “only understood force.” Can you expand?

A constant refrain I heard in Afghanistan, during my visits there in 2012 and 2015, was the inability and unwillingness of U.S. and foreign forces to listen to the Afghan people. It’s one reason the U.S. relied on faulty intelligence to understand what Afghans were thinking about their presence.

As the security situation deteriorated after 2004-2005, and U.S. forces falsely framed any Afghan who opposed the occupation as Taliban, the U.S. used a failed counterinsurgency program (designed by David Petraeus and Australian David Kilcullen) that inflamed Afghans.

There has never been accountability for this plan, including by the countless Western journalists seduced by U.S. military talking points.

You talk about the relationships between the U.S. military, USAID and private companies, and say “military and humanitarian work were all too often fused in the post-9/11 world.” Can you comment?

A key component of USAID in the post 9/11 world is using the military to deliver its goals. This fundamentally misunderstands the importance of maintaining neutrality when delivering aid.

The U.S. government’s SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) regularly reports on the U.S. $110 billion spent in Afghanistan on so-called nation building since October 2001, and how USAID was regularly used as a mask for a corporate and military agenda across the country.

Where else is the private security industry growing?

The definition of private security is expanding to include the growth of private armies in often unregulated and chaotic places (from Iraq to Afghanistan and Libya to Syria). South African mercenaries wereworking in Nigeria against Boko Haram and Colombian forces operated in Yemen thanks to the United Arab Emirates.

You write “the Bush administration saw its ‘war on terror’ as a boon for the private sector.” Has the Obama administration has done the same?

Post 9/11, the Bush administration saw an opportunity to implement an extreme neoconservative agenda with the support of its friends in the private sector. They claimed it would save money and be more efficient but the reality was uncontrolled mercenaries and private security in countless war zones.

When Barack Obama was a candidate for President in 2007, he pledged to change this out-of-control contracting since 9/11. However, nothing has improved since he took office due to a number of factors including failing campaign finance laws and Congressional inertia to punish corporations breaking the law.

You conclude the chapter saying, “we created chaos.” What do you think the legacy is of the now 15-year U.S. occupation, especially now, with the rise of ISIS and the resurgence of the Taliban?

The Taliban now control more of Afghanistan than at any time since October 2001. President Obama has now pledged to maintain an indefinite occupation and the U.S. military claims U.S. forces will need to stay in the country for decades to support a failing Afghan state.

The presence of ISIS only complicates the picture, especially for Afghan civilians.

The longest war in U.S. history has not achieved any of its stated goals and the Afghan people, often forced to choose between the Taliban and a U.S.-backed warlord, often pick the former. That’s the legacy of the U.S. war.

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ON AFGHANISTAN: What Can Be Done to Revive Afghanistan’s Economy?

Reviving the Afghan economy during a time of intensifying violent conflict, declining external financial aid, and ongoing political uncertainty and dysfunction will be extremely challenging. But the country cannot wait for these entrenched problems to be addressed. While keeping expectations modest, this report proposes some targeted, near-term measures to increase confidence and stimulate the economy. Rather than engaging in politics as usual and following conventional policy prescriptions that will not work in the short run, the Afghan government and international community need to focus limited available resources on efforts that will have the highest visibility and impact on the current situation.

Full Report: http://www.usip.org/publications/2016/02/09/what-can-be-done-revive-afghanistan-s-economy

Summary

  • Afghanistan’s National Unity Government (NUG) needs to operate more like the unified government of a country facing a national crisis.
  • Tens of billions of dollars in Afghan private capital is being held outside the country, but the money is unlikely to be repatriated and invested effectively in Afghanistan unless confidence in the future increases, the NUG becomes more effective, and prospects for reconciliation and reduced violence improve.
  • Near-term measures to increase confidence and stimulate the economy include (1) increasing overall demand (for example, by starting some sizable infrastructure projects, regularizing informal urban settlements, and implementing selected urban income-generation and job programs); (2) shifting demand away from imports toward domestic production (through targeting spending programs disproportionately at the urban poor, increasing local procurement, and imposing moderate import tariffs on agricultural cash crops); (3) promoting export value chain development for high-value cash crops; and (4) creating fiscal space (including limited government borrowing).
  • Corruption needs to be combated strategically and selectively; too broad an approach, let alone comprehensive, would divert attention from the most important corruption problems and squander limited political capital.
  • Economic reforms and development programs that are too broad could also divert attention and resources away from a priority agenda and be counterproductive in the short run; examples include quick privatization of numerous public enterprises; efforts to quickly reduce opium poppy cultivation; expensive, long-gestation, financially unviable railway investments; excessive tax concessions to promote private investment; and the thin spreading of limited resources across numerous, small rural projects.
  • If the Afghan government takes urgent actions to revive the economy—including through greater political effectiveness—the international community must respond proactively and flexibly by funding high-level expertise to support economic management and innovative programs, front loading aid to support priority initiatives, and restructuring project portfolios to shift funding toward activities that achieve faster results.

About the Report

Despite significant progress in raising government revenue, the Afghan economy in 2014–15 suffered from its lowest economic growth since 2001, and prospects for improvement in the short run appear weak. This report puts forward some innovative, near-term measures that, combined with greater government effectiveness and potential reductions in violent conflict, could help stimulate the economy. It also highlights what should not be done, such as spreading limited resources too thin in pursuit of an excessively broad policy or development agenda.

About the Author

William Byrd is a development economist and has been following the Afghan economy closely since 2001. He is currently a senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has published numerous reports, articles, and papers on Afghanistan’s economy, public finances, governance, corruption, political economy dimensions, drug industry, extractives sector, and development challenges.

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AFGHANISTAN; DEVELOPMENT: UN reduces Afghanistan appeal but urges other donors to do more

As hunger and malnutrition threaten millions of Afghans, UN in Kabul says US aid to the country is ‘small change’ compared with its military spending

theguardian.com, by Sune Engel Rasmussen, Jan. 27, 2016, original

A Lazeez food truck in Kabul, which caters to the wealthier residents of the city. For millions of other Afghans, food security and poor nutrition is the reality. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

The UN has implored member states to keep humanitarian aid flowing to Afghanistan as the organisation seeks to limit its focus to life-saving assistance.

Although an estimated 8.1 million Afghans will need help this year – about one-third of the population, and 700,000 more than last year – the UN said on Wednesday it was lowering its request for funding inits humanitarian appeal from $405m (£283m) in 2015 to $393m this year.

The cut will primarily affect efforts to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition. Three million Afghans are malnourished. One million are in acute need of treatment. But the UN’s humanitarian aid will now only target malnutrition caused by displacement, not by poverty and general food shortages.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Kabul, Mark Bowden, said the reason for the narrower focus is because malnutrition is mostly a development issue, not a humanitarian one.

“The problems of food insecurity have increased because poverty has increased,” Bowden said. “It’s not being dealt with as a development problem, and the humanitarian resources are not sufficient to deal with it.”

However, development agencies and the Afghan government are unlikely to be able to pick up the slack.

“I’ve been frustrated by the lack of response from both the international donor community and government on this. We’ve been talking about it for two years,” Bowden said. “We’ve been having meetings with USAid and others as to how to deal with it. It’s not being well prioritised.”

Humanitarian appeals are a balancing act between what is needed and what can realistically be achieved. Last year, the UN in Afghanistan received 70% of its request, one of the most successful UN appeals.

Humanitarian assistance makes up about 10% of the overall non-military assistance to Afghanistan, which also includes development and government assistance.

This year, donors are expected to renew commitments set out at the2012 Tokyo conference, where they pledged $4bn annually in assistance to Afghanistan.

The UK in particular, said Bowden, has pushed donor countries to boost aid. Last year, the UK gave the UN’s humanitarian appeal $16m, tripling 2012 levels and making the UK the third-largest national donor after Japan and the US. In total, the UK donated £25m in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan last year, according to an embassy spokesperson in Kabul.

Diplomats in Kabul point out that for European countries, aid can be a way of reducing the inflow of migrants, of whom Afghans make up 21%.

“It is essential that the most vulnerable Afghans receive appropriate life-saving assistance, quickly. If their needs are not met, Afghans will choose to migrate out of their country as a last resort,” said the German ambassador to Kabul, Markus Potzel.

About half of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan – $141m – comes from the US, but the figure is dwarfed by the $4bn the US pays annually to the country’s security forces.

“I hate to say it but, for the US, humanitarian assistance really is small change,” Bowden said.

Related: Impunity in conflict has cast a dark shadow over humanitarian work in 2015 | Clár Ní Chonghaile

With the Taliban taking over territory across the country, civilian hardship is likely to worsen. The number of Afghans in need of assistance is expected to rise from 7.4 million in 2015 to 8.1 million in 2016, according to the UN. Mass displacement caused by armed conflict, the expulsion of undocumented Afghans from Pakistan and natural disasters, is a major driver.

“With it being El Niño year, the likelihood of more flooding is quite considerable. It’s certainly not going to be any better than last year,” Bowden said. “And, depending on how you see conflict developing, possibly worse.”

Pockets of Islamic State fighters, primarily in the country’s east, also present challenges. Isis seems less accepting of international agencies and immunisation campaigns than the Taliban, with whom the UN negotiates access to affected areas. After the Octoberearthquake in north-east Afghanistan, the Taliban offered a unilateral ceasefire to allow delivery of aid.

Although Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous countries in which to be an aid worker, Bowden said “there is a great respect for international humanitarian law across the board”.

“Though there is a risk of some of that eroding, basically we’ve been able to work with all parties to get assistance through.”

Crucially, attacks on health facilities are becoming rarer, he said, “with the glaring exception of Kunduz”, where a US gunshipattacked a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in October, killing at least 42 staff and patients.

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ON AFGHANISTAN: India’s role in bringing peace to Afghanistan

theguardian.com, Observer editorial, original
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after the opening ceremony of a new Afghan parliament constructed by India, in Kabul, Afghanistan on 25 December, 2015. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Taliban’s portentous advance on Sangin, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, and the hasty, improvised British and American response have aroused a broad range of emotions. Anger and sadness on the part of relatives of the more than 100 British soldiers who died in an ultimately vain attempt to pacify the area. Bitterness among former army officers who say Westminster failed to set clear goals and adequately support their mission. Bemusement, bordering on hopelessness, among policy-makers at a loss over what can or should be done to rescue Afghanistan from itself.

The tragedy is that these critical outpourings are largely justified. In Afghanistan, there never was a convincing, coherent, workable long-term plan. The 2001 invasion was initially a US-led effort to catch or kill the al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Its aim widened to embrace regime change, targeting the Taliban regime. Then, when the Talibs were toppled, it shifted again, to nation building. Thereafter, the US and Britain, increasingly distracted by Iraq, tended to make things up as they went along.

By 2006, the Taliban were back and the neglected Afghan project was in trouble. John Reid, the then defence secretary, oversaw the additional deployment of thousands of British troops to Helmand. Visiting the province in April that year, Reid said the mission primarily concerned reconstruction. Although it was possible British soldiers could become involved in fighting, it would only be in self-defence, Reid said. “Of course, our mission is not counter-terrorism… We are in the south to help and protect the Afghan people construct their own democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction.”

Doubtless Reid spoke in good faith. But the effect of his public statements and of other Labour ministers at the time, including Tony Blair, was deeply misleading. Within months, British soldiers were sucked into a bloody, thankless conflict from which the armed forces emerged, eight (not three) years later, with their reputation and self-esteem much dented. The dream of nation building was despoiled amid the shrapnel of a thousand IEDs, the screams of the injured – both military and civilian – and the lack of a consistent, well-funded and thought-through policy. As the troops left, 68% of Britons said their efforts were “not worthwhile”.

Despite repeated assurances, it is now plain, post-withdrawal, that the Afghan army and police, expensively retrained and re-equipped by Nato, are not yet, and may never be, up to the task of defending Afghanistan’s security and stability. They nearly lost Kunduz in the north earlier this year. Large rural areas are again under insurgent control. Now symbolic Helmand totters on the brink. Courageous though they be, British and US special forces cannot stem this tide indefinitely.

What is to be done? First, it is time to let go of the discredited idea that western military intervention, at current or expanded levels, can cure Afghanistan’s chronic insecurity. More or better guns are not the answer. In any case, public opinion would rightly refuse to tolerate another escalation.

Second, cultivate a modern mindset. The future projection of Afghanistan as a unitary nation state on the 19th-century European model looks hopelessly inappropriate. It ignores the country’s deep ethnic, geographical and cultural fissures, not to mention the artificiality of the colonial era border known as the Durand Line, which deliberately divided the Pashtun areas straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan. If lasting peace is to be secured, it may be that devolved, federal arrangements offer the best hope of resolving Afghanistan’s problems.

Last, surrender the lead role in forging an Afghan political and security settlement to the regional states most directly concerned, namely Pakistan and India. Islamabad is already promoting a peace process involving the Taliban and other parties that may resume next month. But Pakistan, with its own Taliban problem and a history of unhelpful alliances, can only do so much. What is needed is a bolder, more imaginative initiative from the region’s leading power.

Under its prime minister, Narendra Modi, India has reached out to the Afghan government, helping with institution building and supplying military helicopters. The two countries have signed a strategic partnership agreement. Modi visited Afghanistan and Pakistan last week. Now this proud nationalist has a golden chance to show that where the old western powers failed, the “new India” can succeed.

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AFGHANISTAN: Women Suffer Psychological Problems After Living Under Taliban

ipsnews.net, by Ashfaq Yusufzai, original
Women being examined by female doctors in free medical camp held in North Waziristan, one of the seven districts of FATA. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

– “My two sons were killed by Taliban militants mercilessly three years ago. My husband died a natural death two year back. Now, I am begging to raise my two grandsons,” Gul Pari, 50, told IPS.

Pari, who is waiting for her turn at a psychiatrist’s clinic in Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says she dreamed every night that her sons were alive and would return one day.

“I am waiting for them. They are martyrs and will come and take revenge from their killers,” she said.

While psychiatrist Dr Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that a majority of the women from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) suffer from psychological problems due to endless violence by Taliban militants.

“We have been receiving at least 200 people, mainly women, with post-traumatic stress disorders due to the human and financial losses.

FATA comprises seven districts, is home to 6 million people and has suffered immensely due to endless conflict,” he said.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas located on the border with Afghanistan is thick with militants since 2001 when the U.S.-led coalition forces toppled their government in Kabul in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.

They took refuge in FATA from where they began targeting Pakistani forces, damaging schools and other government-owned buildings.

Towards the end of 2005, Pakistan, a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, began military operation which displaced at least 3million people.

“Most of the displaced people have developed psychological problems because they have lost their near and dear ones in war between Taliban and the army, besides losing their trades, shops and agricultural productivity,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.

FATA near Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, has suffered immensely.

Muhammad Rafiq, a shopkeeper in North Waziristan, one of FATA’s districts told IPS that his daughter developed mental problems due to displacement. “We now live in a mud-built house which is without clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. There is no electricity, which makes my children face health problems,” he said.

Rafiq said he had better house back home and had earned an appropriate amount to lead prosperous lives but now they have become extremely poor and couldn’t get proper food.

Prof Syed Muhammad Sultan head of the psychiatry department at the Khyber Teaching Hospital Peshawar warns that residents of FATA would face more mental and psychological problems in the days ahead.

Most of the displaced population has taken temporary shelter in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in tiny houses or schools where they lacked basic amenities.

Women and children are vulnerable to psychological conditions, he said.

“They are destined to develop short as well as long term psychological disorders in addition to physical problems,” he said.

Most of the displaced persons have developed the problems of de-personalisation, a condition in which people feel change in their personalities, as well as de-realisation, a condition in which people feel a complete change in the other people’s personalities, he explained.

Professor Sultan said the burden of psychological disorders is unseen but it could go out of proportion if attention is not paid to control it early.

“Women are the worst victims of this mass displacement, which is likely to cause them anxiety disorders, panic disorders, mixed anxiety depression disorder and depression,” he said.

Psychologist Zeenat Shah said many displaced persons suffered from poor self-esteem as well as insecurity about future, while grief and bereavement were other issues faced by them.

“The people who have to flee homes, struggle to adjust to new environments and have a sense of insecurity. This is the result of loss of social structure as well as deaths of close relatives in the conflict and will cause permanent phobias, chronic depression and adjustment problems among displaced people,” she said.

Another psychologist has voiced concern about the mental health of displaced women and children.

“From childhood to adolescence, a child passes through a lot of dramatic changes in physical as well as mental health. During the transition, they gain their identity, grow physically and establish social interaction and relationship in home, in community and in society as whole,” she said.

The psychologist said children going through through the psychological ordeals as in FATA couldn’t progress academically.

She said the situation with regard to women would deteriorate if they (women) continued to stay in the conditions which they were currently in.

“Such women have to live in host communities with relatives or in small rented houses most of which don’t have proper water, electricity and sanitation system. It is very difficult for them to work and cook in the current fasting month in this hot weather, especially when they don’t have access to basic amenities,” she said.

Zainab Bibi, another psychologist from the hospital, has seen the situation as critical for the Waziristan people.

“They (the displaced) have left their homes in a hurry to save their lives. They are victims of decade-long war in their native areas.,” she said.

“It will be very difficult for them to face challenges. However, they could overcome some of them with the help of the government and welfare societies as well as relatives,” she said.

The incidence of psychiatric disorders among displaced persons would soar due to the protracted life difficulties.

Interventions like educational and recreational facilities for the displaced to help them fight mental health problems could help alleviate the problem, she suggested.

(End)

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan calls on India to step up military assistance

indianexpress.com, Nov. 13, 2015, original, Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi |
India deploys some 325,000 troops-not counting paramilitary forces and central police 
in counter-insurgency duties in the 1,01,000 square kilometre Jammu and Kashmir state.

 

Afghanistan has asked India to step up supplies of lethal equipment for its military, battered by a resurgent Taliban that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 soldiers, and led to loss of government control in large swathes of territory. The request, diplomatic sources told The Indian Express, was delivered by Afghanistan’s national security advisor, Hanif Atmar, who visited New Delhi this week.

Atmar, the sources said, has asked for India to consider contributing to a long list of deficits in logistics and strike capacity, including training equipment, air and ground mobility assets, engineering infrastructure and light infantry.

Last week, Russia’s ambassador to Kabul, Alexander Mantytskiy revealed his government had also received a request for “certain types of assistance free of charge”. The request, he said, was “under consideration at almost the final stage”.

Kabul, an Indian government official familiar with the talks said, had also requested China for military assistance. However, he said, Beijing had not committed to help Afghanistan, perhaps because of resistance from Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s search for assistance from old regional allies comes amid declining levels of Western aid to its beleaguered military-a 352,000-strong force, including 157,000 armed police, which the country says is unable to meet demands on it because of chronic problems with mobility and equipment.

The Afghan National Security Force budget, estimated at $5.4 billion, is expected to fall to about $5bn next year because of lower aid. The United States is contributing $4.1bn to the ANSF this year, but has requested only $3.8bn for 2016. United States military assistance to Afghanistan has declined year on year since 2011, when it touched a high of over $10bn.

Afghanistan’s NSA, Indian diplomats said, underlined the Taliban’s threat to the regime, describing its recent occupation of the city of Kunduz as “a disaster”. Forced to commit large numbers of troops to defending cities from attack, he argued, lack of offensive hardware and mobility had limited the army’s ability to stage offensive operations.

India deploys some 325,000 troops-not counting paramilitary forces and central police-in counter-insurgency duties in the 1,01,000 square kilometre Jammu and Kashmir state. Afghanistan has similar numbers for its 662,225 sq km-terrain far harsher, and worse connected by road, than Kashmir.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan assessed that about half of Afghanistan’s districts have a threat level considered high or extreme. In addition, it flagged Taliban threats to key communication axis, like the Kandahar-Kabul highway.

India had promised, in a strategic partnership agreement signed in 2011 to assist in “the training, equipping and capacity-building programmes for [the] Afghan National Security Forces”. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, however, stalled Afghan requests for military hardware, fearing they could derail its peace negotiations with Pakistan. However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government had placed the requests on hold after it took office, when it began a policy aimed at persuading Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Atmar’s request to India comes amid the collapse of the peace bid.

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AFGHANISTAN: The Pentagon Spent Nearly $43 Million On A Gas Station In Afghanistan

What we’d call Corruption if someone else did it.

 

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense spent almost $43 million to build a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan that would have cost up to $500,000 anywhere else and which may no longer even be operational, a congressional watchdog said on Monday.

“Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme,” wrote John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, in SIGAR’s just-released report on the Pentagon-funded station.

Sopko cited figures from the International Energy Association and the Pakistani government to say it should have cost between $200,000 and $500,000 to build a compressed natural gas station, even in an underdeveloped and relatively dangerous country.

The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which had an $822 million budget for projects in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2014, contracted an Afghan company to build the station in 2011 to demonstrate the potential of CNG stations to investors. That contract was for $3 million, the SIGAR report noted — but the cost to build and supervise the station ended up soaring to $42.7 million by 2014, with $30 million going to overhead costs, according to the task force’s own assessment.

The station opened in May 2012, and the task force planned to license it to a private firm willing to build a second CNG station, according to task force documents SIGAR cited. An Afghan firm did take over the station in May 2014, but its license expired in November 2014, and neither the watchdog nor the Defense Department could confirm that it is still operating, the inspector general said.

The report blasts the Pentagon for claiming that it can no longer answer questions about the task force that financed the station’s construction.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense could not respond to SIGAR’s queries or assess task force documents because the entity was shut down in March, wrote Brian McKeon, the Pentagon’s principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in letters attached to the report. Pentagon officials would have been happy to help locate former task force officials and sort through documents about its activities, but SIGAR investigators did not take up that offer, McKeon wrote, and that was the most the Defense Department could do.

Sopko and his allies on the Hill are not satisfied with that reasoning.

“One of the most troubling aspects of this project is that the Department of Defense claims that it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or to answer any other questions concerning its planning, implementation, or outcome,” Sopko wrote in an Oct. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter regarding his report.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the ranking member of its investigations subcommittee, sent her own letter to Carter on Nov. 2.

“I am particularly troubled by [the watchdog’s] account of its difficulty in obtaining information regarding the CNG facility,” McCaskill wrote. She asked Carter to tell her staff who at the Pentagon is now responsible for the shuttered task force’s projects, which together cost U.S. taxpayers more than $800 million.

“There’s few things in this job that literally make my jaw drop. But of all the examples of wasteful projects in Iraq and Afghanistan that the Pentagon began prior to our wartime contracting reforms, this genuinely shocked me,” McCaskill said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “It’s hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs more than 8,000 percent more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational.”

The controversy surrounding the task force — once praised as essential for future stability — may become one of the most prominent battles in the fight to expose U.S. government waste in Afghanistan. While Pentagon officials have cooperated on other audits, they seem especially reluctant to allow access to information about the task force, SIGAR said. “Experience indicates that [the Defense Department’s] repeated promises of access to [task force] files are more pretense than promise,” the report stated.

As American forces come home and the Taliban insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan gains strength, the U.S. has found it increasingly difficult to monitor the success of its reconstruction efforts there. Sopko previously warned that President Barack Obama’s planned troop drawdown would diminish that ability further. But Obama decided in mid-October to abandon his plan to slash the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by the end of his presidency, and 5,500 American soldiers will remain in the country in 2017, after the president leaves office.

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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AFGHANISTAN: Cashing In on the Decision to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

foreignpolicy.com, Oct. 30, 2015, original

In August, the nation’s top military officer came to President Barack Obama and bluntly asked him to break a promise to bring the last American troops home from Afghanistan by the time the president left office.

Obama had been repeating the vow for years, but Gen. Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States needed to keep at least 5,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 to ensure that the Islamic State didn’t take root there and to prevent al Qaeda from moving back into the country. In July, the Pentagon discovered that the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks had been running a pair of large training camps in southern Afghanistan, including one that covered nearly 30 square miles.

The president, anxious to prevent Afghanistan from turning into another Iraq, told Dempsey that he was willing to consider the troop request. First, though, he wanted the general to tell him the “no kidding” cost of keeping U.S. forces there — including what the Pentagon would pay the thousands of contractors needed to house, feed, and support U.S. military personnel. Wisened after years of overseeing two wars, Obama didn’t want to let the additional cost of contractors escape him, particularly since the military rarely includes it in its proposals. The exchange was first reported by the Washington Post. The White House declined to comment on the president’s decision-making.

That Obama even factored “in contracting costs marks an evolution in the way leaders think,” said Sean McFate, a professor at the National Defense University and the author ofThe Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. “Just 10 to 15 years ago, contracting costs came as an afterthought,” he said. “Now they are part of strategic planning. This makes sense, since the majority of ground personnel are contracted.”

This is certainly true in Afghanistan, where there are 30,000 contractors working for the Defense Department, according to the latest Pentagon tally. Of these, roughly 10,000 are U.S. citizens. The rest are local or third-country nationals from states like Nepal. The Pentagon figures don’t include the thousands of other contractors working for the State Department, USAID, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

That means Obama’s decision to extend America’s longest warwon’t just keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan longer than had been expected; it will also keep thousands of contractors there, ensuring that the gold rush sparked by the 2001 invasion continues for the next several years.

That’s good news for companies like Fluor Corp. and DynCorp International, which have been providing U.S. troops with things like electricity and laundry services on their Afghan bases for years. They and the other contractors working for the military stand to earn billions of dollars per year.

It also means the U.S. government is going to have to continue to provide close scrutiny of their work, as major contractors have been accused of overbilling the government, failing to deliver what they promised, abusing their labor force, and, in some cases, committing outright fraud.

But contractor wrongdoing will be even harder to detect in the years ahead because the ongoing military drawdown will make it extremely difficult for government auditors to travel the country and check on specific projects. U.S. civilian personnel conducting contractor oversight only have access to about 10 percent of the country today, according to an official in the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

“With the drawdown of [coalition] forces in Afghanistan, the ability of U.S. government personnel to go out and kick the tires in order to provide proper oversight is limited,” said John Sopko, the current head of SIGAR, in a statement to Foreign Policy. “With less of the country accessible, it means the American taxpayer is footing the bill for billions of dollars in projects that a U.S. government employee may never see.”

While Obama may have gotten a clearer picture of the costs of an extended mission in Afghanistan, the American public did not. There was no mention of how much money it would cost to delay the drawdown when Obama finally announced in early October that he had decided to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of next year before reducing that footprint to 5,500 for 2017 and beyond. (Under Obama’s original 2014 proposal, only 1,000 troops, all based in Kabul, were scheduled to stay in the country beyond 2016.)

But Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has come up with a good back-of-the-envelope way of estimating the cost of operations in Afghanistan based on funding trends from 2005 to 2013.

When analyzing the data over that time period, Harrison discovered a linear relationship where the total annual cost of operations in Afghanistan equals the number of troops deployed multiplied by $1.3 million — the cost per year of keeping each soldier or Marine in the field — plus $6 billion in fixed costs that don’t vary with the size of the force.

This means the additional cost of keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan in fiscal year 2017 is about $13 billion. That would come on top of the money Washington would be spending on American reconstruction projects and to pay for the Afghan security forces.

“So all in [all], it would probably end up being about $20 billion,” Harrison said. A large portion of that would go to contractors who are involved in everything from maintaining weapons for Afghan forces to building new infrastructure projects across the country.

That doesn’t mean that’s the number you’ll see the Obama administration requesting for its war budget though, Harrison noted.

In recent years, the White House has used its war spending bill — also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, fund — to finance the purchases of $20 billion to $25 billion worth of weapons and other programs that really belong in its base budget. That has allowed it to effectively hide the true cost of some of its procurement efforts. But, Harrison noted, it means the “OCO budget is no longer a good indication of actual war costs.”

As for contractors, the number in Afghanistan has been steadily falling from its peak of 117,000 in 2012, as the number of U.S. troops on the ground shrinks. There were 15,000 more contractors working for the Defense Department in the country last October than there are today.

But with Obama’s announcement, that steady reduction will come to a halt, especially among the major contractors who directly support U.S. troops by providing them meals, doing their laundry, and keeping the lights on at the bases in Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Bagram. In Afghanistan, the big players are DynCorp International, based in McLean, Virginia, and Fluor Corp., based in Irving, Texas.

The hundreds of millions of dollars these contractors stand to gain because of the delayed withdrawal in Afghanistan mirrors the lucrative deals the Pentagon has signed with the companies charged with supporting the expanding American troop presence in Iraq. There, contractors like SOS International are winning bids to provide everything from meals to perimeter security at Iraq’s Besmaya Compound and Camp Taji.

The contractors stand to pocket even more in Afghanistan because more U.S. troops are deployed there and the reconstruction effort is ongoing. In early October, DynCorpwon a $154 million one-year contract modification to continue providing support to American troops in Afghanistan. According to the company, the contract covers everything fromproviding the bases with electrical power to sewage and waste management and even food and laundry services.

DynCorp’s original contract for base support in Afghanistan had been awarded in 2009 and has earned the company more than $6 billion.

The State Department has also relied heavily on the company to perform work in war zones, especially in Afghanistan. Of the $4 billion the State Department spent on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013, DynCorp won 69 percent, or $2.8 billion, according to an April 2014 SIGARreport.

But DynCorp is not without controversy. It has been chargedwith overbilling the government millions of dollars. SIGAR is also investigating the company, along with Fluor, in connection to reports of human trafficking in Afghanistan. The inspector general has collected evidence that shows that third-country nationals from India, Nepal, and elsewhere have been enticed by labor recruiters to pay improper “recruitment fees” and “kickback payments” to obtain their jobs working for these companies on U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

In a statement to FP, DynCorp said it has put policies and procedures in place to educate employees about and prevent human trafficking.

“The company has developed a strict code of ethics and business conduct, which includes a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking; created a position of chief compliance officer; introduced global training programs; and has taken a number of additional steps to ensure a compliant, ethical, [and] successful workplace,” a spokeswoman for the company said.

Fluor said it also strictly adheres to a policy of zero tolerance for human trafficking.

“We take any alleged violation of that policy very seriously,” a Fluor spokeswoman told FP.

Fluor said it promptly responded to a request for information from SIGAR in July 2014 and has not heard from the inspector general’s office since.

The company will “proudly continue” to support U.S. and coalition forces “in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world as directed and for as long as there are requirements,” the spokeswoman told FP.

KBR, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, used to play a much bigger role in Afghanistan, but after years of winning contracts without having to compete for them and facing charges of fraud and overbilling — not to mention failing to protect soldiers from harmful chemicals in Iraq — the Pentagon decided to change things up and let other companies compete for the business.

While KBR is not providing base support to American soldiers in Afghanistan, it still is working on American military contracts in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and other countries.

The Supreme Group, headquartered in Dubai, has also seen its business in Afghanistan dry up. It used to feed up to 130,000 troops a day in Afghanistan, raking in a total of $6.8 billion, but lost its multibillion-dollar contract in 2012 to one of its competitors, Dubai-based Anham FZCO.

Then, in December 2014, executives from the Supreme Group pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States, admitting it had overcharged the government hundreds of millions of dollars for food and water. It agreed to pay $389 million in fines and damages.

In a more staggering case of Washington’s quid pro quo economy, retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail was hired in 2008 as president of Supreme Group’s U.S. branch, after giving the company the New Contractor of the Year award in 2007 when he was serving as head of the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversaw the company’s contract in Afghanistan.

The Supreme Group has continued to provide fuel to U.S. and NATO forces, even after it lost its giant food contract. British military police are now investigating claims that the company may have overcharged as much as $700 million in fuel contracts, the Guardian reported last month.

Meanwhile, Anham’s contract is valued at $8 billion. In 2013, the company admitted to the U.S. Commerce and Treasury Departments that it had shipped some of its supplies through Iran because the main route through Pakistan had been closed.

These are just some examples of why close scrutiny of overseas contractors is needed, but SIGAR warns that oversight in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly restricted because of security reasons.

American civilians are only allowed access to areas in Afghanistan within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility. Because of this, U.S. government officials — from the Pentagon, the State Department, and USAID — cannot visit reconstruction projects that altogether total more than $725 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars.

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AFGHANISTAN: Pakistan and Afghanistan: The new Great Game

bbc.comoriginal
 The Peshawar school attack was widely condemned.   Image copyright EPA

Ever since the Pakistan Taliban massacred 132 schoolboys in a Peshawar school last December, the Pakistan army has been confronting some of the country’s militants, with unprecedented determination.

But the campaign is still patchy. While the Pakistan Taliban have been forced on to the back foot, other Pakistan-based militant outfits have been left undisturbed.

Publicly, Pakistani officials insist that they no longer make a distinction between the “good” Taliban (proxy forces of the Pakistan state) and the “bad” Taliban (which mount sectarian or anti-state attacks).

But privately they argue the army has to prioritise which groups to confront first. The immediate, urgent task, they say, is to fight the militants who have caused tens of thousands of deaths within Pakistan itself.

Afghan attacks

It means militant groups such as the Haqqani network, which focuses most of its efforts on Afghanistan, can fight on unimpeded. The group, which is based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, is believed to have mounted a series of attacks on Kabul this summer.

It has been a devastating campaign. In the first six months of 2015, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented the highest level of civilian casualties in the country since it began keeping authoritative records in 2008.

Similarly, the Afghan Taliban have stepped up their military activity – most recently in the city of Kunduz in the north of Afghanistan.

Kabul for years has complained that many Afghan Taliban leaders live in and around the Pakistani city of Quetta.

When asked about the issue, Pakistani military officials say that, with as many as three million Afghans in Pakistan, it is difficult to be sure who is living where.

The lack of an outright denial is deliberate. The perception that Pakistan controls the Afghan Taliban gives Pakistani officials diplomatic leverage. If the West wants peace in Afghanistan, they are implicitly suggesting, it will have to secure Pakistani co-operation to deliver it.

In fact, history suggests that the Afghan Taliban, while happy to accept Pakistani support, are quite capable of ignoring Islamabad’s instructions and formulating their own policies.

Co-operation

When the new Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, won power in 2014, he said improving the relationship with Pakistan was a top priority: if Islamabad would cut its links with the Afghan Taliban, then Kabul would try to prevent anti-Pakistan forces finding sanctuary in Afghanistan.

The two countries, he suggested, could only find stability by working together.

But for all the hope that President Ghani engendered, Islamabad and Kabul have reverted to hurling accusations at each other. And the distrust seems set to continue.

Geostrategic concerns

Senior Pakistani military officers say one of the reasons they have a continued interest in Afghanistan is because India is extending its influence there.

Islamabad fears that, among other things, Delhi is using its presence in Afghanistan to build a closer relationship with Baloch separatists, who for a decade have been fighting to split away from Pakistan.

The issue is especially sensitive because of Pakistan’s plans to construct the China Pakistan economic corridor. The planned trade route will run through Balochistan, close to the Afghan border, down to the new deep-sea port of Gwadar.

Pakistan is hoping the corridor could generate billions of dollars of revenue.

It is a highly complex geostrategic situation.

Put at its most succinct, Pakistani strategists are supporting Islamist militants to counter Indian intelligence officers working with Baloch nationalists to thwart Chinese traders.

It all shows the extent to which the Great Game, in which outside powers struggle for control of Afghanistan, is alive and well.

The Great Game

  • Strategic rivalry between the British and Russian Empires for control of central Asia during the 19th and early 20th Centuries
  • Officially ended with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which divided Persia into three zones, declared Afghanistan an official protectorate of Britain and said that neither Russia nor Britain would interfere in Tibet’s internal affairs
  • Britain’s Capt Arthur Conolly is generally considered to have coined the term
  • Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim is set against the backdrop of the Great Game, which brought the phrase into the mainstream

As has so often been the case in the past, the stability of Afghanistan depends on it being left alone. But the regional powers all see the country as a place that can cause them problems.

The result is that many of Afghanistan’s neighbours sponsor local, tribal and religious militias so as to prevent anyone else’s proxy getting control.

It is a process Afghan civilians recognise all too well because, more often than not, they are the ones caught in the crossfire.

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AFGHANISTAN, DEVELOPMENT: The Next Refugee Crisis: Afghanistan

New York Times, OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
By MICHAEL KUGELMAN, OCTOBER 21, 2015

WASHINGTON — With the war in Afghanistan heating up, thousands of Afghan refugees are fleeing their country. But Iran and Pakistan, which house most of the Afghan refugees from previous cycles of violence, are increasingly unwelcoming. So the new exodus has begun to flow toward Europe, already inundated with Syria’s refugees.

Yet these Afghans have attracted little attention from Western policy makers; they do not seem to recognize the Afghans’ desperation, and the challenges their flight poses for Afghanistan, its neighbors and Europe. For Afghans, it is a recurring nightmare. Like previous exoduses going back to the 1970s, this one is stripping the country of precisely the professionals who are vital to its future as a modern state.

President Obama has an opportunity to change that on Thursday by putting the issue high on his agenda, and calling international attention to it, when he hosts Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in Washington.

The new surge of refugees began with the Taliban’s offensive this year, and intensified after fighting reached populated areas like Kunduz. Last month, employees at Afghanistan’s passport agency said they were issuing an average of 2,000 passports daily — triple the number of six months ago.

In recent decades, most Afghan refugees have wound up in Pakistan, which now hosts nearly three million. But refugees there complain that this year, officials have been forcing them to return home. The International Organization for Migration says 90,000 Pakistan-based Afghans did just that since January. Now the government refuses to extend identity cards for 1.5 million refugees, many of whom have been in Pakistan for decades, when their permits expire at year’s end.

Iran, too, has been deporting refugees. One reason is fear that Afghans with ties to the drug trade will compound Iran’s own drug-use problems.

Deportation can be a harsh sentence. Some returnees end up in United Nations camps near Jalalabad, a stronghold for former Taliban militants who joined the Islamic State. The danger may be worst for ethnic Hazaras; they are Shiite Muslims, and many fled slaughter by the Taliban.

Afghans cannot expect much help from their own government. One official American report says the State Department stopped funding a training program for Afghanistan’s refugee and repatriation ministry last year after finding the ministry corrupt and dysfunctional.

Helping Afghan refugees is not an easy issue for Pakistani officials, who already deal with a million internally displaced Pakistanis fleeing conflict in their own border areas.

So the Afghan exodus increasingly looks to Europe as its destination, after a perilous trek across Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean.

According to United Nations and European estimates, more than 20 percent of the roughly 500,000 people who have arrived this year via the Mediterranean have been Afghans.

The flow poses a serious challenge for Europe, which is already experiencing its greatest refugee crisis since World War II and needs no further scapegoats for its anti-immigration demagogues to attack.

But if Europe closes its doors to them, that would only shift the challenge back to Pakistan, where Afghans could be expected to resume arriving in greater numbers. Even in normal times, tens of thousands of Afghans pass back and forth monthly through two border checkpoints, most of them as legitimate temporary visitors. The temptation to cheat at those crossing points would increase even as other desperate Afghans stepped up the flow across more porous parts of the border. That would surely exacerbate a growing public resentment of Afghan refugees, whom many Pakistanis already associate with terrorism, drug abuse and a drag on their economy.

So the world must acknowledge the plain fact that Afghanistan’s refugees need help. Their own government, beleaguered by war and its own dysfunction, is not up for the task, and its two largest neighbors are increasingly indifferent to their plight.

It is unrealistic to expect Pakistan to voluntarily accept more Afghan refugees. Still, it should better help those already there. Mr. Obama should press Mr. Sharif to extend the identity cards about to expire. He should urge a more gradual and humane repatriation process. And he should assure Mr. Sharif that Americans remain committed to financial support for international aid programs that assist Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran — programs now under budgetary pressure.

Iran, which houses the second-largest Afghan refugee population, has extended the visas of 450,000 Afghans. Yet Afghans there also report forced deportations and other bad treatment. According to one recent report, Iranian border policemen shot and killed seven Afghans trying to enter the country. These policies must end.

As for the Western countries, the European nations whose troops took part in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan should ensure that Afghans are included in any European Union quotas that distribute refugees among member states. And Washington should expedite special visas for those Afghans who worked for the United States government or military and say that their lives are endangered. In September, at least 13,000 Afghans and Iraqis with that status were still waiting.

And, if security can be assured, international aid groups should accelerate the creation of safe zones within pacified areas in the country, where the United Nations says the total internally displaced population numbers nearly a million. These people need incentives to stay in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, some of Afghanistan’s other neighbors should band together to help. Bordering countries in Central Asia, along with Russia, China and Iran, all need more stability in Afghanistan and fear the specter of heavy refugee flows into their countries; they should pool funds to support the formation of permanent safe areas inside Afghanistan, in places like Bamian Province that still enjoy relative stability.

Given the lack of quick fixes for Afghanistan’s violence, corruption and economic distress, safe areas may be the best possible incentive for Afghans to remain in their country. It is only a stopgap, but one that might help keep a dangerous crisis in check.

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AFGHANISTAN, DEVELOPMENT: Afghanistan’s Other Security Threat: Brain Drain

m.voanews.comoriginal, by Hasib Danish Alikozai, September 7, 2015

Each day an estimated 7,000 Afghans apply for passports

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A family from Afghanistan arrives from the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos to the Athens’ port of Piraeus on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. Photo: AP

Afghans do not apply for passports unless they intend to travel outside the country since they do not use passports for identification at home.

That means more than 200,000 Afghans plan on leaving the country each month — a sudden and dramatic increase.

The head of the Afghan passport distribution directorate, General Sayed Omar Saboori, told VOA the directorate’s central and provincial offices have the capacity to provide only 2,500 passports on a daily basis.

“The system was primarily designed for 1,000 passports countrywide, but in recent months because of the rising demand, we are working both shifts,” said General Saboori. “Thousands of applicants wait all day long, and we can only do so much to meet the rising demand.”

Dangerous journey to Europe

Right now, Afghans are the second largest group — behind Syrians — waiting on the shores of Europe, hoping to embrace a new life on the continent.

Most undertake unthinkably dangerous journeys seeking a better future in Europe.

According to Babar Baluch of United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Hungary, of the 140,000 people who sought asylum in Hungary alone this year, 40,000 of them are Afghans.

“[And most arrive] in ships that can easily capsize because of the overload and a lot of them did, resulting in the tragic death of countless people who drowned in the ocean,” he said.

Zalmai Rasooli, who lives in northern Parwan province, experienced this journey himself.

“Two years ago, I decided to leave the country and reach Europe,” he said. “I went through Iran and Turkey and reached Greece after months of travel and tremendous amount of hardship. I was caught at the border of Greece and deported back to Afghanistan.”

Rasooli recalls seeing a boat capsize. To this day he’s convinced none of its 40 refugees could have survived.

But that immense risk will not deter him from making the journey all over again.

Afghanistan, he says, doesn’t have anything to offer him, and he plans to leave the country soon.

Disappointed youth

On Monday, hundreds of Afghans took to the streets in the capital, Kabul, to protest against the rising unemployment in the country. Protestors were complaining about the lack of employment opportunities and warned of “mass exodus” if the government fails to address the issue.

“If the unemployment issue is not addressed, we will soon witness an empty Kabul,” said Sharif, a protestor, who like many Afghans goes by only one name.

Over 60 percent of Afghans are aged 18-25, making Afghanistan one of the youngest countries in the world.

The Afghan government acknowledges the seriousness of unemployment in the country. Spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ali Eftekhari, told VOA the government is working on short and long-term projects to address unemployment.

“In the long-run, we will provide enduring employment opportunities for Afghans through building economic infrastructures in the country, but in the short run, we are in discussions with a number of Arab countries that are in need of workers,” he said.

Opportunities for the educated

Hanif Sufizada, a Fulbright scholar who graduated from Cornell University’s Institute of Public Affairs, paints a rather bright picture of opportunities in Afghanistan.

“After graduating from Cornell University in public administration, I came back to Afghanistan to join a newly established National Unity Government because of ample employment opportunities in the area of my specialization,” he said.

One of the 450 Afghan Fulbright scholars who came to the U.S. for education, Sufizada said that some fellow scholars, pessimistic about the direction their country was headed in, chose to remain in the U.S. upon the completion of their degrees. Others returned and are working in various sections of the Afghan government.

Despite the situation of youth in Afghanistan, thousands are employed by the Afghan government and international organizations.

In the last 14 years, tens of thousands of Afghans have left the country in pursuit of academic opportunities. Similarly, tens of thousands graduated from local universities, a potentially tremendous asset for the Afghan economy should they be given the opportunity.

But a young society can be a double edged sword. Employed, young people contribute to the country’s economy; unemployed, they can be a force of instability. As one of those who took part in Monday’s protest in Kabul said, “It’s unemployment that pushes Afghan youth to join the insurgents or use drugs.”

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AFGHANISTAN: When It Comes to Afghanistan, America Should Ditch Pakistan for Iran

nationalinterest.org, by C. Christine Fair, September 7, 2015

“The fact is, none of Iran’s actions hold a candle to the things the Pakistanis have already done, and continue to do.”

1024px-thumbnail_5With Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) having now announced her supportfor the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement, President Obama has thirty-four senators in favor, making the deal all but done.

Beyond its main purpose, the agreement with Iran affords us a historic opportunity to get right what we’ve gotten wrong in Afghanistan ever since September 11. When we went into Afghanistan in the aftermath of the attacks, we chose to rely on the one country least likely to help us win: Pakistan. Our dependence upon Pakistan to supply the war effort allowed it to play a double game that has cost the lives of thousands of American troops and many more Afghans.

Some U.S. officials counter that we had no alternative. Actually, we may have: Iran.

Iran’s then president Mohammad Khatami strongly supported the war and our efforts to rehabilitate Afghanistan. The Iranians helped us strategize on Afghanistan at the Bonn conference in December 2001, and even insisted upon putting the word “democracy” in Afghanistan’s constitution.

Iran also has two ports—Bandar Abbas and Chabahar—that would have enabled us to resupply our troops in Afghanistan. Had we seized upon Khatami’s early support, we could have given ourselves more options, and avoided being solely dependent upon the perfidies of Pakistan. Instead, after only two months, the Bush administration cast Iran into the “Axis of Evil,” at which point Tehran became increasingly opposed to U.S. efforts.

Critics of the U.S. nuclear agreement charge that we can’t deal with the Iranians because Tehran is a malicious actor bent on nuclear proliferation, and whose proxies thirst for American and Israeli blood. Yet we have spent the past fourteen years paying the Pakistanis—who already have nuclear weapons—no less than $30 billion to draw real American blood on the fields of Afghanistan. Pakistan has used Islamist militants as tools of its foreign policy ever since 1947, and harbored notorious enemies of the United States from the Taliban’s Mullah Omar to Osama bin Laden himself.

Like the Iranian regime, it is not our rhetoric so much as our real policies that do us the most harm. We refuse to collaborate with governments we dislike, even in the service of defeating common enemies. That has hamstrung us in ways that may cost us victory in Afghanistan, and have greatly strengthened the rampaging hordes of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The prospect of cooperation with Iran, even if slow and tentative at first, could help considerably on both fronts.

If we were to mend fences with the Iranians, we could ship supplies to our troops and the Afghan army through Chabahar, and the road and rail links that connect that port to Afghanistan that the Indians helped build. Instead, we continue to rely on Pakistani supply routes—rendering us unable to confront the reality that Pakistan takes our money and kills our troops in Afghanistan. Rapprochement with Iran would better position us to take a harder line on Pakistan, a necessary prerequisite to avoiding a near total reversal of our gains in Afghanistan.

We’ve come to this pass in part because we’ve misunderstood our own recent history.

In 1990, three years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, President George H.W. Bush declined to certify that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear weapon. As a result, the sanctions of the Pressler Amendment came into force, after which Pakistan could no longer receive U.S. military assistance.

Many Republicans and Democrats alike cite the Pressler Amendment as an example of failed sanctions, arguing that the legislation did not prevent the Pakistanis from testing nuclear weapons in 1998. These critics also claim that that the cutoff in U.S. aid resulted in the rise of the Taliban, Al Qaeda’s move to Afghanistan and eventually the events of 9/11.

This reasoning is flawed on both counts. According to former Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, sanctions would not have prevented the Pakistanis from developing a nuclear weapon in 1990—because they already had one as early as 1980.

In fact, the Pressler Amendment allowed us to resupply the Pakistanis in our proxy war against the Soviet Union, even though U.S. intelligence knew Pakistan was developing nuclear capability. After all, the Carter administration first sanctioned Pakistan for nuclear proliferation in April 1979. From 1982 to 1985, when Pressler was passed, all security assistance required a waiver of those 1979 sanctions.

Second, the 1990 cutoff did not require the United States to outsource our Afghanistan policy to Pakistan altogether. But this is exactly what we did, and it was that decision that ultimately resulted in the rise of the Taliban, their cooperation with Osama bin Laden and the attacks of September 11.

Although we’ve long since swapped seats with the Soviets, we once again find ourselves in a similar predicament in Afghanistan. With our total reliance on Pakistan having denied a clean victory, we now hope Islamabad will help us find a tolerable exit from that war, in exchange for calling the shots after our departure. This is a sure recipe for failure, but Pakistan remains our only other neighboring ally with an available port.

India and Iran share the strong American interest in fighting Sunni militancy in Afghanistan. U.S. and European sanctions on Iran hindered Indo-Iranian collaboration during the very years when we should have done everything in our power to encourage it. The prospect of lifting these sanctions under the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement may be too little, too late. But it will surely be a welcome change for two regional powers we can no longer afford to alienate.

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Afghanistan: What Now for China’s Afghanistan Strategy?

thediplomat.com, by Andrew Small, September 01, 2015, original

Despite the blow to peace talks with the Taliban, China is unlikely to change its approach to Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Men sit amid debris of their properties at the site a truck bomb blast in Kabul, August 7, 2015. Image Credit: REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Along with advances in northern Afghanistan by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — the principal host for Uyghur militants in the region — and the Taliban’s own battlefield successes, the strategic situation for China appears to be moving in an adverse direction. Beijing’s longstanding concern that Afghanistan might become a safe haven for “East Turkestan terrorists” is now coupled with worries about the dangers that instability there could pose to Beijing’s various Silk Road economic schemes, particularly in Central Asia and Pakistan. Despite speculation that these might be imperiled by China’s current economic frailty, this multi-trillion-dollarbonanza for Chinese industry is, if anything, only rendered more important.

An inevitable question, therefore, is whether Beijing can be expected to lean on its all-weather friend, Pakistan, to take action against the Taliban. For all that the Afghan government would like China to step up its direct bilateraleconomic and security support, it is Beijing’s leverage over Islamabad thatthey see as its most valuable asset. China played an important role in encouraging Pakistan to bring a reluctant Taliban to the table for the peace talks in Murree. And since the Kabul attacks, the Afghan government has sought Chinese assistance in pressing Pakistan to take the actions demanded in its “non-paper”, such as denying sanctuary and passage to Taliban fighters.

Beijing is well aware that Ghani’s Pakistan opening left him out on apolitical limb. In the absence of deliverables, relations between Islamabad and Kabul are heading into a phase that risks being characterized by “freeze, deep freeze, or hostility,” in Ghani’s words. China has sympathy for the Afghan government’s position, and is certainly concerned to help keep its relationship with Pakistan from breaking down further. But while Kabul’s previous efforts to leverage Beijing’s position of influence in Islamabad were relatively successful, it is now running into the limits of what China is willing to do.

Beijing is cautious about its own relationship with the Taliban. In meetings with its representatives, China has sought to persuade them that a peace deal will be in their interests, but also to keep the two sides’ longstanding ties in good working order. Beijing continues to see the Taliban as a political force that it needs to deal with, and is wary about turning them into enemies. Encouraging Pakistan to twist arms to get the Taliban into peace talks was one thing — any perception that they were pushing Pakistan to take more decisive action against the group would be quite another. Thebacklash China faced after it was blamed for instigating the Pakistani government’s assault on the Red Mosque in 2007 is a cautionary tale that still resonates with Chinese officials.

But it is not just fear of getting on the wrong side of the Taliban that is holding China back. The ISI’s current attempts to help consolidate the position of the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Mansour, are fully in line with China’s view of its own interests. Beijing does not want to see the Taliban fractured, operating under the control of opponents of reconciliation talks, or actively hostile to Pakistan. China sees the maintenance of a relatively coherent Taliban movement as a necessary evil if a political deal in Afghanistan is ever going to be reached, and if its own arrangements with the group are to remain intact. The internal tensions that have roiled the Taliban in recent weeks are partly a product of their involvement in the Murree talks, and Pakistani pressure to bring them to the table. Havingdelivered on its promise to get them in the room, Beijing is now likely to leave the ISI with the time and space to deal with the resulting fallout.

Mullah Mansour may never have Mullah Omar’s authority, but if the Taliban can be broadly unified behind a figure close to the Pakistanis and willing to approve peace talks — in principle, if not currently in practice — this is about the most that China could currently hope for. Conversely, a scenario in which the Pakistani government decided to turn on the Afghan Taliban (not that this is on the cards) would pose serious risks for the security situation in Pakistan, and likely make China itself into a target too. Beijing has already gone through eight years of this experience with the Pakistani Taliban. And with the rise of forces such as the Islamic State that areexplicitly hostile to China, a cohesive Taliban under Pakistan’s continued influence looks like a safer bet.

In the end, despite the serious hits that the prospects for peace have taken in recent weeks, China still believes that a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan is the only viable solution. Beijing will expect Pakistan, in due course, to do its part to facilitate it. If the Afghan government were facing an immediate, existential security crisis, China’s stance might look different but, although the Afghan National Security Forces have faced a worryingly high attrition rate this year, they continue to hold their own, and there is no looming prospect of the Taliban “victory” that Beijing would certainly not want to see. For now then, China is trying to hold together its existing strategy in Afghanistan rather than embarking on a new one. However unpalatable it might seem in Kabul as civilian casualties reach record highs, that will mean Beijing giving the Pakistanis time, not turning the screw on them.

Andrew Small is a transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund’s Asia program and the author of the book The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics.

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Afghanistan: Rising to the Afghanistan Challenge

thediplomat.com, by Timur Urazayev for The Diplomat, September 04, 2015, original

To date, 2015 has sadly been dominathediplomat_2015-09-04_00-27-47-386x257ted by conflicts and suffering. Early in the year, violence in Gaza and Ukraine brought images of destruction to our screens and shook the foundations of international relations and stability. The violent threat posed by Daesh (known as ISIS), Boko Haram (allied to Daesh), and other terrorist groups has destabilized large parts of Eurasia and Africa. Civil wars in Libya and Yemen have cast a dark shadow over the lives and hopes of their citizens and risk widening the conflicts.

The rise of violence in forms of extremism and terrorism represents the greatest threat to global peace and stability. The split of previous national regimes in Libya and Iraq has undermined the entire situation in the Middle East. Syria seems to be next in this paradigm. Without a determined response, there is a real possibility that these countries will be permanently torn apart and Daesh will become a platform for exporting violence, extremism and instability across the entire region and beyond.

As the international community battles against this danger, Afghanistan serves as a sobering reminder of what happens if you ignore the threat. It is also why, despite all the challenges elsewhere, the world should combine its efforts in the political, social and cultural realms to prevent a recurrence of old errors.

Afghanistan today, thanks to the sacrifices of its people and the support of the international community, is unrecognizable from its past under the Taliban. But despite real achievements in recent years and political progress since the presidential elections last year, the country continues to be plagued by threats such as illegal drug production, trans-boundary crimes, and internal insurgency. Moreover, the rise of Daesh and terrorist attacks by the Taliban along with economic hardship tear at the fabric of the nation. Afghanistan also remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with depressingly high levels of child mortality and illiteracy.

We all share a common interesting in building the capacity of the Afghan statehood, strengthening appropriate institutions, including the Afghan National Security Forces, and giving Afghans the opportunity to create a secure, stable and prosperous future. Without this commitment, there is a real risk that the country could descend again into outright chaos and that instability and violence will increasingly spill over its borders. No nation, not even Kazakhstan where extremists have failed to gain a foothold in our moderate and tolerant society, is immune from this threat. That is why it is in all our interests to work together to help Afghanistan.

As part of our contribution, Kazakhstan is already stepping up direct economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. This includes funding the restoration of the Talukan-Kunduz-Shirkhan-Bandar road and construction of schools and hospitals across the country.

We are continuing to finance the education and training of 1,000 young Afghanis for civil professions in Kazakh colleges and Universities. Essential items like vegetable oil, warm clothes, beds, tents, bedding and dishes are being provided to the Afghan people every time a natural disaster happens. We are encouraging Kazakh businesses to enter the Afghan market, and vice versa, to promote trade and economic cooperation. Kazakhstan also intends in the near future to streamline its aid to neighbors and friends under our own official development program, provisionally labeled KazAID.

Together with our regional neighbors, we are also discussing how we can do more to help rebuild Afghanistan as well as improve collective security against terrorism and the drugs trade, which has created crime and misery far beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

Improving regional economic connectivity is key to this goal. Afghanistan can benefit enormously from the new opportunities presented thanks to the modern road, rail and energy links being put in place. The positive impact of this “New Silk Road” will be felt far beyond Afghanistan or Central Asia. Rich in energy and natural wealth and strategically positioned between Europe and the fast-growing economies of the east, improved connections can provide a much-needed boost to global growth.

We cannot halt the powerful forces that are changing our world. But through increased cooperation with our partners in the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the UN, they can be channeled for the benefit of all. We have also offered Almaty as a new regional base to host the UN’s efforts and disaster management facilities for the needs of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s people are depending on the international community to pull together to help them. If we do not turn good intentions into positive action, the country risks again descending into chaos. We cannot fail this challenge.

Timur Urazayev is Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

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Afghanistan tackles hidden mental health epidemic

theguardian.com, by Sune Engel Rasmussen, Sept. 2, 2015, original
Dr Fareshta Quedees, project manager at the International Psychosocial Organisation in Kabul, at a training session for counsellors. Photograph: Sune Engel Rasmussen

Mohammad Qassem had been chained to a wall for 13 days. Locked in a tiny concrete cell with his hands and feet shackled, he had 27 days left before he would be declared healthy.

During that period, the keeper of the holy shrine where Qassem was held would feed him only tea, bread and black pepper, ostensibly to rid him of what his family said was insanity. Qassem, a former soldier who spoke hoarsely, with bursts of laughter, said he just had a hashish addiction. “When I don’t smoke hashish I want to kill all foreigners,” he roared, to giggles from a crowd of onlookers from the nearby village who had gathered at the cell entrance.

Related: Afghanistan growing more receptive on women’s rights, says British ambassador

For generations, the Mia Ali Baba Shrine, in a rural part of Nangarhar province, has been renowned for allegedly curing mental illnesses with forced asceticism and spiritual cleansing. “We leave everything to God,” said the shrine keeper, Mia Saheb. “The Earth and the sky have been made by God. God takes care of the patients.”

Qassem, meanwhile, showed off wounds where the chains had gnawed into his wrists. “They need to take me to the doctor instead of putting me in prison here,” he said. “They made me crazier by bringing me here.”

Fourteen years of violence have created a hidden epidemic inAfghanistan of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other war-induced illnesses. It is one of the most enduring damages wrought by the war – one few people understand, and fewer can treat. But a small army of therapists now seeks to change that. And they are led by a woman.

“We are in a vicious cycle of violence and trauma,” said Dr Fareshta Quedees, project manager at the International Psychosocial Organisation (Ipso) in Kabul and the driving force behind training 280 psychosocial counsellors who work across the country.

Half of the counsellors are women, a rare ratio for any profession in Afghanistan, and an acknowledgment that wives and families also suffer from trauma, despite often being removed from the frontline. Domestic violence, for instance, is rampant in Afghanistan, and is often unleashed by trauma.

“Women don’t necessarily face trauma directly but traumatised men are more violent, and that increases family conflicts,” said Fariba Amin from the provincial hospital in Zabul, who, along with dozens of fellow counsellors, had come to Kabul for a five-day training course.

A man chained beneath a tree, as treatment for his mental illness, on the compounds of Mia Ali Baba Shrine in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Photograph: Rahmat Gul/AP

For women, she said, counselling is a rare chance to confide in someone. Afghan women are rarely asked about their hopes and dreams, let alone what burdens them. “That someone sits down and listens to the woman is a treatment in itself,” said Amin.

A UN-sponsored survey found that in 2005, 16.5% of Afghans suffered from mental disorders. The problem is likely to have grown since then.

The Afghan government has made tackling mental illness a priority and developed a national mental health strategy. All provincial hospitals now offer counselling. Counselling is free, and even available online.

Quedees, 35, discovered psychosocial counselling in 2004, while in medical school, during a stint as a translator for a foreign NGO. She found the therapy resonating with ideas she had harboured herself but never articulated. “I was the sort of person who always talked a lot about my feelings, and I remember my friends made fun of me,” she said with a smile.

But Quedees’s counsellors are working against long-held traditions and a culture of stigmatisation of the mentally ill. Faced with mental disorder, many resort to drugs or superstitious practices that often cause more harm than good.

Critics claim the treatment at shrines like Mia Ali Baba is a hoax, which sedates patients suffering from hunger and maltreatment rather than curing them. Still, locals maintain a strong belief in their healing powers. One of them, Nasibullah Subara, said the treatment had helped his nephew.

“Before, he didn’t sleep. He had a short temper and bothered his family. But now he doesn’t have those problems,” Subara said. The $20 cost of the treatment at the shrine is cheaper than medicine or a trip to the nearest hospital. As a result, the shrine’s 16 cells are often full.

Modern therapy is also at odds with the sense of privacy so paramount in Afghan culture. “Many people don’t like the concept of counselling. It is not appropriate in our culture to share intimate matters and family secrets,” said Fatma Dauladzai, a counsellor from Paktia province.

But while the idea of counselling has yet to take firm root, women, especially, are growing more receptive.

Wahid Nurzad, a male counsellor from Herat, recalled a group session for people who had experienced domestic violence, where one 35-year-old woman suddenly started crying: “When these tears of mine are falling, I feel lighter,” she had said. “I forget the suffering I have gone through.”

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Afghanistan: Ahmed Rashid: Ghani is running out of options in Afghanistan

bbc.com,
Viewpoint, Ahmed Rashid, September 1, 2015

Image caption A wave of Taliban attacks and offensives have left the country reeling in recent weeks

Afghanistan is in dire crisis as the Taliban battle a weak government, and peace talks with the militants are put on hold, writes guest columnist Ahmed Rashid.

The Taliban have captured most of Helmand province, including for several days a strategic district headquarters, Musa Qala. They are growing stronger in the north and east holding more territory than ever before and mounting ferocious attacks in Kabul in which some 100 people have been killed in the past few weeks.

Talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban and Pakistan are at an impasse following the recent announcement of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in 2013. Afghan criticism of Pakistan for allegedly not reining in the Taliban is increasing daily.

President Ashraf Ghani’s approval rating has fallen from 50 percentage points to 38, while his partner in power Abdullah Abdullah’s ratings are even lower, according to Tolo news. The government is paralysed, apparently incapable of still filling empty slots in the cabinet, while key projects such as identity cards and electoral reforms are on hold and mired in controversy.

Image caption President Ghani’s popularity ratings are apparently in steep decline at the moment

The government has failed to tackle corruption or bolster the economy. There is large-scale capital flight, especially to the Gulf where many Afghans have bought houses. Afghans constitute the third largest group of migrants after Syrians and Iraqis trying to escape into Europe by land and sea.

The international community is delaying or withholding vital financial contributions to a government that has long run out of money. Some government salaries have not been paid for months.

Afghanistan’s army is heroically struggling to contain the Taliban and hanging on to district capitals but is incapable of going on the offensive or regaining lost territory. Officers are struggling to contain sizeable desertions from the army and police by refusing home leave. The casualty rates are the worst ever and according to US officers, “unsustainable”. The remaining US and Nato forces are expected to leave at the end of the year.

According to the New York Times, about 4,100 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed and another 7,800 wounded in the first six months of this year. That is 50% more than the same period last year. Meanwhile warlordism is back with a vengeance as leading figures from the 1980s jihad (holy war), including Vice President Rashid Dostum, Balkh province Governor Atta Mohammed Nur and others raise militia armies across the country.

The country’s best hope in years – opening talks with the Taliban – has been stymied by the leaking of Mullah Omar’s death. Pakistan and some Taliban leaders tried to keep it secret for unknown reasons until the news broke after the first meeting between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Pakistan on 7 July.

Image caption Peace talks have been suspended since Mullah Mansour (right) replaced Mullah Omar

Mullah Omar’s death has created a struggle for power within the Taliban and there is a growing conviction amongst many ordinary Afghans that Pakistan is trying to install its chosen favourite, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, as the new Taliban leader.

It also became clear that Jalaluddin Haqqani, a leading jihadi figure wanted for terrorism by the US and a major Taliban operative also died a year ago.

This lack of transparency has destroyed the trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In his opening address to the Taliban, Mullah Mansour took a belligerent stance, dismissing talks about peace as “enemy propaganda”. Before that he was seen as a moderate figure.

Meanwhile in Kabul, new anti-Ghani groupings are emerging, especially among those who resent the president surrounding himself with fellow Ghilzai Pashtuns.

In conversations with many Afghans over the last few months there seems to be a growing consensus that Afghanistan’s internal sovereignty is at stake and that the national unity government has not worked. Many feel constitutional changes are urgently needed in order to prevent the disintegration of the country, a coup by one or more warlords or a section of the army, or a power grab by disgruntled politicians.

One popular solution being hotly debated by Afghan intellectuals and politicians is for President Ghani to call an emergency loya jirga that would choose an interim government and president for a period of no more than a few months. Such a grand assembly would then initiate debate and pass constitutional and electoral reforms, as President Ghani and Mr Abdullah had promised to do when they were installed as joint power holders in the national unity government.

Image caption Afghan security forces are battling a resurgent Taliban after Nato combat troops withdrew

These reforms would introduce constitutional amendments to make the country a parliamentary democracy – something that the non-Pashtun groups and many urban Afghans have been demanding since 2001. These reforms could be coupled with a renewed attempt to bring the Taliban into talks or even encourage them to take part in the loya jirga debate. The Taliban have made it clear that they also want changes to the constitution.

Finally after the passage of new electoral laws that would eliminate vote rigging, and the issuance of new ID cards, the interim government would oversee fresh parliamentary elections. The newly elected parliament would then choose a new prime minister to lead the country and a president as head of state, after which the interim government would resign.

Ambitious and difficult though such a path may be, many Afghans are convinced that ultimately Mr Ghani has no choice but to radically shake up the system. If he takes such a risk then who knows – he may remerge as the winner once again.

Ahmed Rashid

  • Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and author based in Lahore
  • His latest book is Pakistan on the Brink – The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • Earlier works include Descent into Chaos and Taliban, first published in 2000, which became a bestseller
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