Friday, June 15, 2012

Regional Summit Addresses Impact of War

Yesterday the government of Afghanistan hosted representatives from 14 countries in the region to address the impact of three decades of war. The gathering focused on refugees, economic development, drug-trafficking and terrorism.

In addition to Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, participants at the conference included Russia, China, India, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Representatives of 15 mostly Western countries and a dozen regional and international organizations also attended as observers. They included the United States, Britain, Germany, the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO.

Below is a report from the Associated Press.
“KABUL - Afghanistan and regional heavyweights have agreed to work together to fight terrorism and drug-trafficking and pursue economic development — a formidable agenda in a neighbourhood fraught with power struggles and rivalries.

On Thursday, the Afghan government played host to 14 other countries in the region, a peculiar role for a nation at war for more than three decades.

The issues they discussed were not new. What is new is that these countries agreed to work as a team to solve common problems. The hope is that regional co-operation will build confidence and erode decades of mistrust. And that, in turn, could help foster stability and greater prosperity.

"Afghanistan recognizes out of a grim experience of the past that it is only in stability and harmony and peace in this region that Afghanistan can prosper and be stable," President Hamid Karzai said in his opening remarks.

The conference, held under heavy security in Kabul, was a follow-up to the first "Heart of Asia" meeting held in November in Istanbul.

Both sessions took place after the U.S.-led NATO coalition decided to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by the close of 2014. While that deadline likely hastened work to foster more regional co-operation, the meetings are more of a recognition that an unstable Afghanistan threatens the entire region.

"Whatever happens in Afghanistan affects us in one way or another," said Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Turkey and co-chairman of the event.

"In order to build confidence, one needs to commit to working together, to leave past negative memories behind and positively reconstruct future expectations."

The 15 nations that participated in the conference were: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. Representatives of 15 other countries, most of them Western, and a dozen regional and international organizations also attended.

Rivalries abound.

Pakistan and India, for instance, have fought three major wars since the two were carved out of British India in 1947. India and Afghanistan recently signed a strategic partnership agreement, adding to concerns in Islamabad that New Delhi was increasing its influence on Pakistan's western flank. Iran feels threatened by any long-term presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and rivals Saudi Arabia for domination of the Persian Gulf.

Enhanced co-operation could also stall over an inability to find a political resolution to the Afghan war.

The Taliban have been willing to hold discussions with the United States but have rejected talks with the Afghan government — though Karzai insists that Taliban leaders have spoken with his government in private. The Taliban have announced their intent to open an office in Qatar. Karzai has backed that plan, but has been pushing Saudi Arabia as a venue for any possible talks.

Karzai announced at the conference that Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the high peace council, would visit Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the near future. Rabbani is the son of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed in September 2011 by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.

At the Istanbul conference, the nations identified more than 40 steps that could be taken to build confidence in the region. On Thursday, they agreed to:

—Improve the exchange of information about commercial opportunities and trade conditions; enhance co-operation among chambers of commerce; and develop a strategy to develop interconnecting infrastructure across the region — with support from international partners.
—Broaden co-operation and exchanges in the fields of education and science.
—Develop joint plans for disaster management.
—Counter the production, trafficking and consumption of opium, other narcotic drugs.
—Work together to fight terrorism.

The conference communique states that terrorism and violent extremism must be addressed in all their forms, "including the dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens, as well as disrupting all financial and tactical support for terrorism."

This issue is aimed at Iran and Pakistan, which have been accused of not doing enough to counter militancy, or secretly facilitating it.

Iran has denied allegations that it provides financial support to militants.

Pakistan also bristles at allegations that it gives sanctuary to insurgents who attack Afghan and foreign forces across the border.

"If I believe that my future prosperity is linked with Afghans, then how can someone who is harming Afghanistan not be harming me?" Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar asked reporters, rhetorically, at a news conference after the conference.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi expressed support for regional co-operation, especially on drug-trafficking, but used his speech to criticize the U.S.-led military coalition. He said the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan has worsened security and led to a surge in narcotic drug production and trafficking.

The Iranian said "a particular country" intends to prolong its military presence in Afghanistan in "pursuit of its extra-regional objectives." It was clear that he was referring to the United States, which plans to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train Afghan forces and battle terrorism.

In the spirit of co-operation, however, Iran agreed to lead the education initiative — and the United States and Australia signed up to work on that issue too.

Kazakhstan has agreed to host the group's third meeting in the first half of next year in Astana.”

Pew Global Attitudes Survey | Drone Strikes Widely Opposed

Every wonder how people around the world view the impact of US policy and drones?

On Wednesday the Pew Global Attitudes Project released their latest survey (see chart). They found public opinion in 18 of the 21 countries surveyed opposed drone strikes.

The findings of the latest survey are made clear in the title “Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted

Gibran Ashaf, writing for the Express Tribune, offers a perspective from Pakistan. A country that has seen more people killed than any other from the CIA drone attacks.

One theme? Drone strikes are opposed by women more than men.

“It is little secret that the controversial drone strike programme operated by the US has been strongly opposed by many countries. The latest PEW poll from 21 countries reinforced international opposition to the programme with 18 countries, including key allies, disapproving. Interestingly, a gender breakdown of the poll results showed women expressed greater disapproval of drone strikes than men globally.

The report did not ask the question in countries which suffer from the drone strikes, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The report said a different question was asked in Pakistan, the result for which will be released in a subsequent report.

The countries where the strikes found most favour was in the US (62 per cent), UK (44 per cent – but with 47 per cent disapproval).

In what would be considered a blow, major allies of the US in the war against terror were opposed to the strikes programme, including France (63 per cent), Germany (59 per cent ), Italy (55 per cent) .

The most opposition was found in Greece (90 per cent), Egypt (89 per cent), Jordan (85 per cent), and Turkey (81 per cent).

Women oppose strikes more than men

A gender breakdown of the poll results showed an interesting aspect to the opposition, with more women disapproving of the controversial programme.

In the 10 countries for which the breakdown was provided, more women disapproved of the strikes than men, with Brazil (12 to 26 per cent), Germany (24 to 54 percent), Japan (11 to 32 percent), and the United States (51 to 74 per cent).

Legal battle continues

With the US claiming ardent success of its drone programme, the latest feather being the scalp of al Qaeda’s deputy commander Abu Yahya al Libi. But with mounting debate of its legality, the White House maintains the strikes are per US laws.

Though the question of its legality has arisen with rights groups seeking to file a law suit against the US government on behalf of the survivors and relatives of strike victims.

Recently, the question of the programme’s legality was raised from within the US Congress, with members writing a letter to President Barack Obama to explain under which tenets of the Constitution were the strikes being operated and what was the criteria being employed to select targets, thereby efforts to minimise civilian casualties.”
The Express Tribune is the first paper in Pakistan to partner with The International Herald Tribune.

Additional Resource: Drone Attack Page, Express Tribune

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pathways to Peace | Peacebuild & CARE Canada

“There have been limited attempts to demobilize rank-and file opposition fighters and to initiate a national dialogue through a national Peace Jirga and High Peace Council. While these efforts might lead to a Government-Taliban pact for power-sharing, they are unlikely to stop the fighting and even less likely to lead to a positive peace, as conceptualized by Johan Galtung.

A positive peace would restore relationships, meet the needs of the whole population, provide ways to manage conflicts constructively, and hence be widely regarded by Afghans as legitimate, fair, and worthy of support.”

Pathways to Peace: New Directions for an Inclusive Peace in Afghanistan

Executive summary

The planned withdrawal of the majority of international military forces from Afghanistan, coupled with a recognition that force alone will not lead to success in the destabilized region, demands a serious consideration of a negotiated end to the current war.

To date, negotiations have been limited to closed door ‘talks about talks’ between high-level leaders in the Afghan government and armed opposition groups, as well as among regional governments, armed opposition groups and members of the United Nations mandated, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

There have been limited attempts to demobilize rank-and file opposition fighters and to initiate a national dialogue through a national Peace Jirga and High Peace Council. While these efforts might lead to a Government-Taliban pact for power-sharing, they are unlikely to stop the fighting and even less likely to lead to a positive peace, as conceptualized by Johan Galtung.

A positive peace would restore relationships, meet the needs of the whole population, provide ways to manage conflicts constructively, and hence be widely regarded by Afghans as legitimate, fair, and worthy of support.

A lasting, positive peace can only be achieved through a comprehensive peace process that addresses the major causes of three decades of war and includes all major stakeholders.

Any peace process will be neither comprehensive nor lasting without the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 1889 or without the full inclusion of women. Women play a transformational role in peacebuilding and have a particularly high stake in a more just, open, and tolerant society; a society that allows for their participation in politics and the workforce, and respects the expansion of their rights along with the human rights of all residents. A legitimate peace process should be guided by the core values of accountability, transparency, inclusivity, and transitional justice, along with trust building, nation building, and the rejection of impunity.

Positive peace requires a transformation of society, a process that takes generations. However, the peace process provides a window of opportunity to sow the seeds for achieving this change.

A move in this direction would require:

• links between grassroots and national processes through elected representatives, a structured consultation process, and/or the effective mediation of civil society organizations;

• participation of men and women from all sectors of society in local and national dialogues; and

• peace education and trust-building to prepare people for participation in the comprehensive peace process, and to transform a culture and mentality of war into an appreciation for human rights, participatory governance, and non-violent conflict resolution.

Click here for the full report.

Troop Suicides Surging | I Am Who Survived (a poem)

Image from the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit at San Francisco’s City Hall. It was displayed on 19 March 2012 to mark the 9th Anniversary of the War in Iraq.
“Suicides are surging among America's troops, averaging nearly one a day this year – the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war.

The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan – about 50 percent more – according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press.”
-Robert Burns, Military Suicide Rate Surges To Nearly One Per Day This Year.

In April Nicholas Kristof documented the broader issue of veteran suicides.
“More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.”
This Poem, published by the Warrior Writers Project, hints why.


I am a Christian
who survived 9 commandments but violated one
Thou shalt not kill
Plain and simple right?
It's more complicated than that
I followed my leaders with a long black crucifix in my hands
I loaded proverbs into magazines and shot them out of my crucifix
I carried bibles in my grenade pouches.
Forgive me father, for I have sinned
I have allowed bearers of false witness to burn you in an oil fire
I have allowed false idols to drop you on innocent victims, killing some, and disfiguring others
I have killed and allowed killing
I shall never kill again
I shall never get lost in the sandstorm of lies and shoot my way out.
Who survived?
I might have, but my faith didn't

by Cloy Richards

What you can do

Iraq Veterans Against War seek to address this issue through operation recovery.

AFSC Resource | The War Within: The Veteran Suicide Epidemic

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Deadly Day | 68 Killed Across Afghanistan

The Associated Press is reporting that 18 civilians were killed after NATO aircraft bombed houses in support of a joint Special Forces night raid. The raid in Logar province was targeting a local Taliban leader. NATO is disputing the figures.

In Kandahar three bombs killed 22 in a busy market in Kandahar City. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack that targeted Afghan security forces outside a sprawling NATO base in the southern city.

The Afghan Interior Ministry reports that the “Afghan army and police, backed by the NATO-led coalition forces, have eliminated 26 Taliban insurgents during cleanup operations within the past 24 hours…”

NATO also reports that two soldiers died in a helicopter crash in an undisclosed location.

Alissa J. Rubin and Taimoor Shah have a sobering summary in the NYT’s of the years deadliest day for civilians.

Records kept by Xinhua, based on figures released by Afghan Interior Ministry, reveal that around 400 insurgents have been killed, 120 wounded and nearly 450 others detained since May 1 during military operations across the insurgency-hit country. Xinhua is the official press agency of the People's Republic of China.


Just last week the United Nations announced a decline in civilian deaths for the first time since they started keeping track. The figures were reported during a press conference in Kabul. The report has yet to be released publicly.

The Associated Press reported.
“The number of Afghan civilians killed has dropped 36 percent so far this year compared with last, the U.N. said Wednesday, the first time the death toll has declined over multiple months since the United Nations started keeping track.”
Afghan deaths reached a record high in 2011.

Civil society organizations have been united in their appeal that in conjunction with the removal of foreign forces and disarmament efforts, there needs to be an inclusive political process to address the roots of conflict.

In fact, the recent report Unheard Voices: Afghan Views on the Peace Process finds just that.
“Many people see the obstacles to the peace process as external to the country, whereas solutions are more readily identified as internal. Locally, specific conditions in localities such as Marjah and Qadis, in Helmand and Badghis, showed distinct perspectives on questions related to Taliban demands and government strength respectively.”
Earlier in the month the NGO safety Office did release the finding of their monitoring finding that levels of violence from all actors in Afghanistan decreased except for the Afghan security forces which is increasing.

Afghanistan NGO Safety Office | First Quarter Data Report

“Armed Opposition Groups (AOG) attack volumes have decreased by 43% in comparison to Q1 2011 providing the first reliable indicator that the conflict may be entering a period of regression after years of sustained, and compounded, growth by all actors in the field. Despite this, one must still consider them an ascendant power, as they themselves clearly do, and a key question remains as to whether this lack of activity is a deliberate act and if so, why. As last year was characterised by AOG doing more earlier; this year has begun with them doing less later.

Of course, the same could be said for all actors in the field, as this years comprehensive incident volumes are 32% lower than Q1 2011, suggesting a level of synergy between the various parties to the conflict. An exception to this would be the ANSF, who are increasingly shouldering a heavier burden as the ISAF presence wanes, all part of the ongoing processes of withdrawal and transition. There are hints that this fundamental shift in responsibility may result in positive developments, particularly at the tactical level. This apparent willingness between the remaining players to reach local agreements may ultimately result in a broader space within which the NGO community is able to operate, as the volume of actively contested space shrinks.”


“Ultimately, the first quarter of this year raises more questions than it answers by providing numerous indicators of the increasingly fluid nature of the conflict. A new phase in the evolution of the context is being realised, though how this will play out in the coming months, and years, is unclear and only with further analysis of the interplay between the various groups will this new reality become apparent.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Naheed Farid | A Portrait of Afghanistan’s Youngest MP

“Young people represent the new identity for Afghanistan. They can show that we are not only the country of violence and blood, but a country of peace. They have big dreams for this country. I am calling on the youth of Afghanistan to be more engaged in politics, to debate and campaign so that they too can help make the change.”

“My name is Naheed Farid.

I am the youngest MP in Parliament. I am a representative of Herat province. I also consider myself a representative of youth and women.

I was the first girl from our family or tribe to leave Afghanistan and go to Europe to study.

After I got married I did my Masters in America. My education in America, as an Afghan woman, was really interesting to me. I had entered a society with a completely different system. I had entered the land of opportunities, something that never existed in Afghanistan.

I found opportunity in the path of politics, and I stepped in that path. There’s a lack of healthy leadership and politics in Afghanistan, and I thought even with small steps, I could make a difference. My steps were not steady in the beginning. I was afraid to be in this field. I was afraid for my family, my husband and my child to become victims of this path of politics.

My campaign holds both sweet and bitter memories for me.

I felt like I was giving hope to women and youth. It was like I was opening a path for them. Particularly women and girls – they were asking me to be their representative – to open up a way for them to step into politics. I really hope I can live up to this responsibility.

I saw some shocking things when I was traveling for my campaign – graveyards full of women who had died in childbirth, villages with children who had never bathed. It made me more determined to win and give these people a voice.

The people who really campaigned for me were young children. Some I had met and others I hadn’t. They persuaded their parents to vote for me. I was receiving so many phone calls from parents saying they had heard about me from their children and that they would support me.

During my campaign I couldn’t really be a mother to my child. It really saddened me to know that I wasn’t looking after her the way she needed me to.

I received so many threats that I had to stop the campaign towards the end. I got messages saying that Taliban were waiting to attack me. I was restricted to just one district in Herat. I had to ask for military protection. My family was also affected by the security problems. I had to take my daughter out of kindergarten because of the threat. This is still an issue now, my friends ask me to be careful; to employ a bodyguard and keep a gun in the car. But I hate such things.

I work in Parliament from 9am until 4pm but that is only one part of the work. Since MPs are representatives of people, we have meetings with many different groups. Often we’re home only 3 or 4 nights a week. Sometimes we have meetings until 11pm. I cannot say yes to every invitation or request, otherwise I would never be at home. I don’t like disappointing my supporters this way.

The image I had for a government of nation building, transparency, and anti-corruption is pale now because there are people inside parliament who work against these things.

Many of the women MPs come from insecure areas and they cannot work for their people the way they want to. Security is still a big issue. These women are those who 10 years ago did not have the right to go to school, to work, to the bazaar, even to hospital. We try to be united to push women’s issues to the front.

But it’s really hard for a commander, who is now an MP, a person that has never cared about women’s values and has always talked with guns. Now he must sit next to me; he gets 3 minutes to talk and I get 3 minutes. I have the right to speak, and he has to hear my voice. This is a different vision towards women.

Young people represent the new identity for Afghanistan. They can show that we are not only the country of violence and blood, but a country of peace. They have big dreams for this country. I am calling on the youth of Afghanistan to be more engaged in politics, to debate and campaign so that they too can help make the change.”

Re-posted from the web site Kabul: A City at Work.
"A portrait of a city through its working people"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Afghanistan's 'Little America' and For-Profit War

First with an ill-fated Cold War-era project and now with the war today, Helmand province has been the source of enormously lucrative private contracting that has done little to improve peoples' lives.

Visit Afghanistan's 'Little America,' and See the Folly of For-Profit War
David Rohde | Jun 1 2012
“Eight years ago, a 72-year-old American aid worker named Charles Grader told me a seemingly fantastical story. In a bleak stretch of Afghan desert that resembled the surface of Mars, several dozen families from states like Montana, Wisconsin and California had lived in suburban tract homes with backyard barbecues. For 30 years during the Cold War, the settlement served as the headquarters of a massive American project designed to wean Afghans from Soviet influence.

American engineers oversaw the largest development program in Afghanistan’s history, constructing two huge earthen dams, 300 miles of irrigation canals and 1,200 miles of gravel roads. All told, the project made 250,000 acres of desert bloom. The town, officially known as “Lashkar Gah,” was the new capital of Helmand province and an ultra-modern world of workshops and offices. Afghans called it “Little America.”

Intrigued, I hitched a ride to the town with Grader a few weeks later. A weathered New England blue blood, Grader was the last American to head the Kabul office of the U.S. Agency for International Development before the 1979 Soviet invasion. In 2004, he was back in Afghanistan working as a contractor, refusing to retire just yet and trying, it seemed, to do good.

From the moment we arrived in Lashkar Gah, I was transfixed by Little America, its history and its meaning. At enormous cost, a sweeping American Cold War effort had temporarily eased the destitution of one corner of Afghanistan but failed to achieve its lofty goals. Surveying the town, I desperately hoped America could do better.”
Click here to read the full article

Additional Resources:

Kajaki Dam and the Helmand Valley Authority

BBC Radio | How Little America was Built

NATO to Move War Supplies Through Central Asia

On Monday the NATO Secretary-General reported that Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have signed agreements to allow NATO war supplies through their countries.

"These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need," Rasmussen said Monday at a news conference. "I thank all three partner countries for their support. And NATO will continue to actively engage with Afghanistan's neighbors to build wider support for the country's stability."

In November of last year, transit routes through Pakistan were stopped after US forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross border raid.

Before the November attack, one-third of American war supplies moved through Pakistan, costing about $17 million a month. Since then, coalition forces have relied on the Northern Distribution Network, a system of supply lines in countries such as Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, inflating supply costs by $87 million more per month, according to the Associated Press.

Additional Resources:

Talks Resume on Transit of War Supplies through Pakistan

Pakistan and the War

Afghan Broadcaster Defies Expectations | Sanga Jabarkhil

Hijratullah Ekhtyar has a nice profile of TV journalist Sanga Jabarkhil for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting*. At 21, Sanga is the head of Radio Television of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar office.
“By the age of 15, she had begun working for the state-owned Radio Television of Afghanistan, RTA, in Nangarhar, balancing this against her school studies. She told her family she was working on a magazine rather than in broadcasting.

When her first report – on arranged marriages – was aired, her relatives were mortified rather than proud.

“After hearing me on the radio, all my family members stopped talking to me. I stayed in my room, apart from them, and this lasted for a whole year,” Jabarkhil recalled.

Her relatives believed she was working alongside male colleagues, which they viewed as quite unacceptable.

For many conservative Afghans, simply working in a mixed-sex environment is immoral behaviour for a woman, and makes her an unattractive marriage prospect.

It took a long time to win the family over, although Jabarkhil’s mother Nuria was always quietly supportive.

Ultimately, only an elder brother remained opposed to her career choice.

“My brother didn’t talk to me, he didn’t look at me and even avoided coming face-to-face with me,” she said. “He told me, ‘Whenever I am sitting with friends and you appear on the TV screen, everyone looks at me and asks whether you are my sister. I feel ashamed; it’s like dying.’”

Jabarkhil even took her brother to work to assure him that women at RTA Nangarhar worked in a separate office from the men.

Today, aged just 21, Jabarkhil heads the women’s section of RTA’s Nangarhar office.”
Article link here.

Goal of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting
"Journalism in areas of crisis is itself invariably in crisis, suffering repression, lack of financing and independence, and an absence of professional skills and ethics. IWPR's core mission is rooting professional journalism skills deeply within individuals and within societies. From the Balkans to Iraq and beyond, IWPR has played a leading role in establishing a leadership cadre across local media and across regions. Capacity-building initiatives strengthen media institutionally, from management training to establishing local radios and news agencies. IWPR is especially known for intensive, one-on-one, apprentice-style training from basic journalism to human rights and elections reporting."
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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