Is Karzai sincere in his overtures towards Pakistan?

Hamid Karzai in Pakistan with PM Yousaf Raza Gilani

By Asif Haroon Raja

Hamid Karzai is walking on a tight rope. Ever grateful to Washington for getting the prized post of president of Afghanistan , he has been pursuing American dictates faithfully. He agreed to give all the major portfolios to non-Pashtun Northern Alliance members in his government and to sideline his own Pashtun community enjoying distinct majority. He allowed Indian influence to expand in his country on American insistence and let Afghan soil to be used for subversive activities against Pakistan . Mossad was also allowed a firm toehold in Afghanistan . On the prompting of his mentors he has all along maintained a hostile stance towards Pakistan . By following pro-American policies he became highly unpopular in his country.

To make himself useful, he fed an idea to Washington that given the resources and backing, he would be able to win over majority of Taliban leaders through bribes and incentives and would affect an in-house coup within Taliban ranks after isolating Mullah Omar led hardliners. Once he was given a green signal in 2007, he began to establish contacts with former and current members of Taliban Shura and other resistance groups. By 2009 he was able to make good gains among former Taliban ministers, Hizb-e-Islami and others. Among present Shura, Mullah Ghani Baradar was his big catch. He had made secret contacts with him through his half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai but didn’t disclose this breakthrough to USA . His efforts got stalled because of unexpected successes achieved by Taliban against coalition forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan from June to September 2009 putting ISAF on the back foot.

The US leaders began to have second thoughts about Karzai when situation in Afghanistan began to slip out of their hands. He failed to muster requisite votes in August 2009 presidential election. Although he managed to get re-elected in November because of rigging he further lost his credibility. He however felt convinced that it was America ’s doing to weaken his political standing. He was warned by Obama to improve governance, get rid of corruption in various departments and to improve his standing among Pashtuns in particular and Afghans in general so as to become a bridge between Americans and Pashtuns. These unfriendly acts gave second thoughts to Karzai about US sincerity as well.

Once Obama announced withdrawal timeline of July 2011 and stuck to it despite strong opposition from Karzai , India and Israel , he realized that the US would again leave Afghanistan in a lurch and his fate will not be different to Babrak Karmal or Dr Najibullah. He also assessed that US-Nato had lost the will and was not in a position to defeat Taliban movement. It was in the backdrop of these lurking fears that he hurtled some anti-US and pro-Taliban statements to win the confidence of latter. He also tried hard to allay the heart burnings of Pakistan by making series of friendly statements. While throwing feelers of goodwill towards Taliban and Pakistan , he is still not ready to lose the goodwill of USA and India since the situation at the moment is highly fluid. While he has smelt that USA has lost the war, coming six months are crucial. In this period, it will be decided which side the balance tilts.

Arrest of Baradar, deputy of Mullah Omar, by Pak security forces in January at the pointing of CIA was a setback for him since Baradar’s participation in loya jirga scheduled at Kabul in April would have made a huge difference. When he failed to get him released, he went ahead with the jirga on 2 June which was attended by 1600 people from almost all strands of Afghan society. His plan of re-integration of Taliban through negotiations was endorsed by all. His plan is however not entirely in line with US plan which hinges on first defeating the Taliban on battlefield and then negotiating with them from a position of strength. Americans are sticking to this plan since they want to leave behind a regime of their choice which could safeguard their future interests and also agree to a sizeable military presence in Baghram and Kandahar air bases. Read more of this post

US “Surge” in Afghanistan in Disarray

by Barry Grey

In the midst of one of the bloodiest weeks for US and NATO forces in the nearly nine-year war in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the overall commander, announced Thursday that major military operations around Kandahar would be delayed until September.

The offensive had been slated to begin this month, but, as McChrystal admitted, the US has been unable to win the support either of tribal leaders and power brokers or of the populace in and around Afghanistan’s second largest city. The town of 450,000 in the heart of the Pashtun-dominated south is the birthplace of the Taliban and remains a key stronghold of the anti-occupation insurgency.

The top US general in Afghanistan also acknowledged that the much-touted US offensive earlier this year against Marjah, an insurgent stronghold in rural Helmand province, had failed to uproot the Taliban, who retain control of much of the region.

One recent study found that the majority of the population in Marjah had become more antagonistic to NATO forces than before the operation. Late last, month McChrystal referred to the region as “a bleeding ulcer.”

The worsening security situation for the US and NATO in Helmand was highlighted on Thursday when British Prime Minister David Cameron, on his first trip to Afghanistan, was prevented from making a scheduled appearance at a military base in the province after British officers intercepted calls indicating that insurgents were planning to shoot down his helicopter.

So far this month, at least 35 NATO soldiers have been killed, including at least 23 Americans. The week’s bloody toll began on Sunday, June 6, when 6 NATO troops were killed. The next day, 10 NATO troops were killed, 7 of them Americans. That was the deadliest day for occupation forces since the killing of 11 US troops in a helicopter crash last October.

On Tuesday, two US soldiers and a British soldier were killed in separate incidents in the south. On Wednesday, four more US soldiers died when their helicopter was shot down in Helmand province. A fifth NATO soldier was killed the same day.

Four additional NATO troops were killed Friday, including two Americans. On Saturday, a Polish soldier was killed in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, and a second NATO soldier was killed in the north.

The death toll so far this year for US and NATO forces is more than double that of a year ago. Since the start of the war, more than 1,100 US soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. This month, the war in Afghanistan surpassed Vietnam as the longest war in US history.

To date, the US and its allies have little to show for the increased carnage, which is far worse for the Afghan people. Speaking Thursday, on the first day of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, McChrystal hinted at the massive popular opposition, especially in the Pashtun south, to the US-led occupation.

Explaining the decision to delay the start of the military offensive in Kandahar, he said, “When you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them.”

He suggested that the operation in and around Kandahar would continue at least until the end of the year, telling the Financial Times, “Operationally, it will be tough to the end of the year, casualties will stay high and may go higher than they are now.”
Read more of this post

Pentagon Seeks Contractor to Move Weapons Through Pakistan/Afghanistan

Add to Google Buzz

by Jeremy Scahill

The United States military is in the process of taking bids from private war contractors to secure and ship massive amounts of US military equipment through sensitive areas of Pakistan into Afghanistan, where it will then be distributed to various US Forward Operating Bases and other facilities. According to thecontract solicitation (PDF), “There will be an average of 5000″ import shipments “transiting the Afghanistan and Pakistan ground lines of communication (GLOC) per month, along with 500 export shipments.” The solicitation states that, “This number may increase or decrease due to US military transportation requirements,” adding, “The contractor must maintain a constant capability to surge to any location within Afghanistan or Pakistan” within a 30-day period. Among the duties the contractor will perform is “intelligence, to include threat assessments throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

And while it seems the United States is trying to put a Pakistani or Afghan face on the work, the terms of the contract mandate that US personnel will be involved with inherently risky and potentially lethal operations. Among the firms listed by the Department of Defense as “interested vendors” are an Afghan company tied to a veteran CIA officer and run by the son of Afghan defense minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, and a Pakistani outfit with links to Blackwater.

Perhaps most striking about this US military contract solicitation is the admission by the military that contractors are being used for shipping and guarding military hardware as a runaround to the current official policy of the US and Pakistan governments that the US military does not conduct operations in Pakistan. “Due to current limitations on having US military presence in Pakistan and threat levels precluding US Military active involvement with the contractor ‘outside the wire’ in Afghanistan, the contractor must be proactive at identifying appropriate methods for obtaining the necessary in-transit visibility information,” according to the contract solicitation.

Many of the companies that have currently expressed interest in the contract are registered as Pakistani or Afghan businesses. It is well established that the US military depends on Pakistani and Afghan intermediaries to pay off the Taliban and other resistance groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan to allow safe passage of US military hardware and other supplies, meaning the United States is effectively funding both sides of the war. As my colleague Aram Roston reported last year for The Nation, “US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents.” Other US military sources have told me the number might be as high as 20 percent.

The current contracting arrangement for which the DoD is soliciting bids is essentially a more formalized way of doing the same thing. But while the contractor may place a Pakistani or Afghan stamp on the paper trail and allow the United States and Pakistan to deny that US personnel are involved, the security language of the solicitation actually mandates that US personnel work the operations.

According to the solicitation, the contractor must provide personnel “capable of facilitating, coordinating, obtaining, and reporting critical movement control data and information from the appropriate US government personnel at multiple locations.” The personnel must “have the ability to obtain necessary identification…to gain access to base camps within Afghanistan without escort.” Most importantly, “Personnel must have a valid US Secret Security Clearance.” That level of clearance—”Secret”—cannot be issued to a foreign citizen, meaning that the contract actually necessitates US citizens working on the contract, presumably in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This arrangement is not new. In fact, this is precisely the arrangement I reported on last year for The Nation (See “The Secret US War in Pakistan“). According to Blackwater and US military sources, US military shipments were being protected on a contract with Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. A former senior Blackwater executive with experience in Pakistan told me that Kestral subcontracted to Blackwater and that “Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.” Blackwater, he said, was paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work,” according to the former Blackwater executive.

All of this is consistent with the US military’s current contract solicitation. What’s more, Kestral is listed as an “interested vendor” on the current DoD contract. According to federal lobbying records, Kestral has hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral’s] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.” Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. Since late 2009, Kestral has paid Vision Americas and a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., at least $60,000 to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues. Read more of this post

NATO air strike kills 33 Afghans

Kabul—A NATO air strike killed at least 33 civilians, the Afghan government said on Monday, in the third such mistaken bombing raid in Afghanistan in a week and forcing another apology from a top US commander.

Four women and a child were among the civilians killed on Sunday when they were attacked after being mistaken for Taliban militants who are waging an eight-year insurgency to evict Western troops.

The top ground commander, US General Stanley McChrystal, apologised for the incident to President Hamid Karzai, who has repeatedly warned foreign and Afghan forces to take all measures possible to avoid harming civilians.

The air strike came days after NATO forces pressing a major offensive in the south killed at least nine Afghan civilians when a rocket slammed into a house—for which McChrystal also apologised.

A statement from the decision-making council of ministers, which is chaired by Karzai, condemned the latest incident as “unjustifiable”.

“Initial reports indicate that NATO fired Sunday on a convoy of three vehicles in Gujran district of the province of Daykundi, killing at least 33 civilians including four women and one child and injuring 12 others while they were on their way to Kandahar,” the statement said.

Sunday’s incident was the third mistaken NATO air strike in Afghanistan reported by Afghan officials in a week.

Last Thursday, a NATO bombing raid in the northern province of Kunduz killed seven Afghan policemen, according to hospital and government officials.

On February 15, NATO acknowledged that five civilians were killed accidentally and two others wounded in an air strike in southern Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Waging 10 year war on Taliban then making peace with same Taliban!

Stanley McChrystal, the senior US general in Afghanistan, has told the Financial Times he believes a negotiated settlement would be the right way to end the Afghan conflict. His comments have fuelled a debate on the merits of talking to the Taliban.

Can negotiations end the war?

The appeal of dialogue to end the Afghan conflict has a whiff of alchemy about it: great in theory but extremely difficult in practice. The biggest problem may be that the Taliban feel they are winning. US troop deaths more than doubled in 2009. Gen McChrystal hopes his surge of 30,000 troops will convince his opponents they are better off negotiating but admits that Taliban attacks are likely to spike. “They have got to create the perception that Afghanistan’s on fire,” he told the Financial Times. With Nato allies already eyeing the exit, the Taliban may believe their long-term goal of regaining power in Kabul is within their grasp.

Who could help facilitate dialogue?

Pakistan played midwife at the birth of the Taliban and, along with Saudi Arabia, was one of only three countries to recognise the movement when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Reports of efforts by Islamabad and Riyadh to broker talks have surfaced repeatedly. Both are US allies that would use their leverage over any peace process to expand their influence in Washington. Pakistan, in particular, would want to be rewarded with greater backing in its competition with India.

How would talks happen?

Even contacting the Taliban is a complex process involving intermediaries bearing scraps of paper: the leaders shun telephones that could be used to trace their location. Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador who lives in Kabul, helps facilitate contacts with the Taliban’s leaders, but organising face-to-face talks would be complex. Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which also recognised the Taliban government when it was in power, might be the most plausible venues for initial meetings between low-level representatives.

Although many insurgents loosely pledge allegiance to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the movement’s founder and spiritual head, he was a renowned recluse even before fleeing the 2001 US invasion. Distinguishing key Taliban decision-makers from mid-level commanders who control only small groups of fighters would be tricky.

So what’s the problem?

Too many to list. It is hard to see Mr Omar, who once ruled Afghanistan as emir of an austere theocracy, accepting a role under the current western-style constitution. Although the Taliban has recently stressed it does not pose an international threat, its leaders are conscious of the ire they earned in the west for allowing Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, to organise the September 11 2001 attacks from Afghan soil. Mistrust on all sides runs deep.

What about other insurgent leaders?

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who leads the insurgency in several eastern provinces, is most likely to cut a deal. A former prime minister, he founded a party called Hezb-e-Islami, a faction of which already shares power in Kabul. A father-and-son team from the Haqqani family who run a fiefdom straddling the Pakistan border are less biddable.

Can Taliban fighters simply be bribed?

Maybe. Western countries gathering in London for a conference on Thursday will pledge funds for a scheme outlined by Hamid Karzai, the president, to try to lure Taliban foot soldiers with job offers. Details remain sketchy. Insurgents may simply accept the incentives then return to the fight. The central problem remains: the Taliban may simply believe it can outlast the west. (Q&A: How do you get the Taliban to negotiate By Matthew Green in Kandahar )

%d bloggers like this: