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Afghan Report: June 15, 2006

June 15, 2006, Volume 5, Number 17
Pakistan officials refer to those fomenting unrest along the country's border with Afghanistan -- primarily in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northwest Pakistan -- as "miscreants." It is a term reminiscent of the label that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration uses for antigovernment fighters in his country: "enemies of peace and security." It might also indicate a shortsightedness that hinders both countries' security efforts.

Situated along the disputed Afghan-Pakistani boundary, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) include seven agencies and four tribal areas adjoining districts of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The inhabitants of these regions are predominately ethnic Pashtuns, the same case as on the Afghan side of the border.

The Pakistani Constitution states that acts of that country's parliament are nonbinding in the FATA unless the president declares otherwise. The president has discretionary power to order all or part of any of those tribal areas to be brought under direct government control -- provided that local views, reflected in a traditional Pashtun tribal council, or jirga, are taken into consideration.

The situation in the FATA -- especially in the agencies of North and South Waziristan -- has steadily deteriorated since demise of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001. A large number former Taliban leaders are thought to have settled in the FATA, along with some of their foreign supporters.

As part of its counterterrorism effort, Pakistan has for the first time in its history introduced upwards of 70,000 regular and irregular military troops to the FATA. The introduction of regular Pakistani forces has failed to halt neo-Taliban activities on either the Pakistani or the Afghan side of the border.

Since March, some 300 "miscreants" -- including foreign fighters -- have been reported killed in FATA. In the same period, some regions of the FATA have come under the control of Pakistan's neo-Taliban and their sympathizers.

In early June, the "miscreants" carried out a suicide attack on a Pakistani military convoy in the in Banu district of the North-West Frontier Province, killing four soldiers. A previous attack in North Waziristan killed a policeman and a soldier. Islamabad's "Pakistan Observer" commented on June 4 that suicide bombing, "introduced by the Palestinians... has spilled over to Iraq and Afghanistan and is seemingly falling out to Pakistan as well."

The Pakistani neo-Taliban have begun to exercise greater control over aspects of daily life in areas of the FATA. In addition to policing and the collection of duties -- mimicking the tactics of their allies across the border in Afghanistan -- the neo-Taliban in Pakistan have targeted a mother-and-child health center, and have beheaded individuals on charges of providing intelligence to the United States.

Engaging Locals

Pakistani authorities have also adopted a tactic similar to one being employed in Afghanistan. Traditional Pashtun councils (jirgas) have been organized under government supervision in the North-West Frontier Province to solicit the aid of local tribes in fighting what officials call the "miscreant" menace.

According to a June 7 report in the Lahore-based "Daily Times," the newly appointed governor of NWFP, retired Lieutenant General Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai, told a recent gathering in Peshawar of tribal leaders from North Waziristan that Islamabad needs their help to "put out the fire that has engulfed the entire Waziristan."

Orakzai vowed to convene a grand assembly, or loya jirga, that would possess decision-making powers to address the current problems. He added that it would represent all segments of society in the troubled FATA areas.

Pakistan reportedly is also considering replacing civilian administrators in the FATA with military personnel. The use of tribal militias -- known as "levies" -- is being considered to help quell the growing power of the neo-Taliban areas of the FATA. Afghanistan is also toying with the idea of establishing local Pashtun militias to counter the neo-Taliban in that country.

The use of tribal militias could offer a short-term tactical solution to challenge the neo-Taliban ascendancy in parts of the Pashtun heartlands on either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border. But the strategic endgame for both countries is the establishment of strong and effective state control in those areas. As with the use of militias in the early stages of the defeat of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, tactical approaches might complicate the strategic mission of firmly establishing state institutions. If the states become weak and ineffective, neither NATO nor Pakistan's own nuclear-armed military can be of much use.

Before debating the creation of more fragmented military units that could actually help an elusive enemy, Kabul and Islamabad need to realize that both are losing ground to an enemy that they are not even prepared to properly identify. Instead of blaming each other over security or intelligence failures, Afghanistan and Pakistan should join hands in operations to counter antigovernment activities that neither side appears prepared to defeat at the moment. (Amin Tarzi)

There have been more combat-related deaths in Afghanistan during the past two months than any similar time period since the U.S-led coalition's campaign against the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Hundreds of suspected Taliban have been killed this year by the coalition's ground and air strikes in southern Afghanistan. Tailban fighters also have increased the frequency and veracity of their attacks compared to recent years. The death toll is also boosted by civilian casualties caused mainly by suicide bombers.

The escalation of violence in Afghanistan comes as NATO troops prepare to take over security operations from U.S.-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.

General Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week during a visit to India that the death toll is particularly high in southern Afghanistan because Taliban fighters are concentrating their forces more than in the past.

A Tactical Problem

"In the last two months, the Taliban have been conducting larger attacks this year than they did during the same time last year," Pace said. "The problem for the Taliban is that as they have gotten larger groups together, they have become much bigger targets. And they have lost about 300 Taliban in the last two months during those operations. So the Taliban are a tactical problem for the coalition in Afghanistan. [But] the coalition in Afghanistan is a strategic problem for the Taliban."

NATO spokesman Mark Laity said in Kabul today that it is not right for journalists to characterize the violence as worse than any time since 2001. But all agree that there has been an upsurge in Taliban attacks. "I would slightly challenge the word 'worse,'" he said. "I think the situation is probably more difficult and more complicated than in the past because there is an upsurge in attacks."

In London, independent defense analyst Ian Kemp said the Taliban is simply trying to undermine public support for the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force into southern Afghan provinces like Kandahar and Helmand.

"One reason for the increase in violence is [because the Taliban wants] to show the NATO forces as they arrive that they are not going to have the situation their own way," Kemp said. "And the second reason is that there is going to be an impact on public opinion. This is going to serve to undermine public morale in [NATO's] troop-contributing nations."

Coalition Forces More Offensive

Amin Tarzi, RFE/RL's analyst on Afghanistan, said recent Taliban attacks are a reaction by militants to increased offensive operations by NATO and the U.S.-led coalition. He said the reasons for the escalation of violence are mainly twofold.

"One is the offensive nature of the coalition forces right now," Tarzi said. "There is a [coalition] effort to clear [things] up, especially in southern Afghanistan, before NATO takes over there totally in July. [And the Taliban] are being attacked, so you see more reaction [by them as well.] The second [reason] is a broadening of the base of the opposition -- what I call the neo-Taliban. There is a manifestation of different groups within the neo-Taliban. [And there is] the Afghan government's own inability to even recognize their own enemy. They don't want to officially recognize the enemy because there is a political issue. All of that combined has created a more violent situation."

Tarzi said some recent violence reported as Taliban attacks may be related, instead, to Afghan drug lords trying to protect opium harvests and smuggling routes.

Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of an international security and development policy group called the Senlis Council, said ordinary Afghans are increasingly angry about civilian casualties caused by foreign troops. He said efforts by the Afghan government and its Western backers to eradicate poppy cultivation also contributes to greater sympathy in some regions for Taliban fighters (see below).

Disillusioned Citizenry?

"The local population is now totally disillusioned in relation to what the government in Kabul and the coalition has been trying to do," Reinert said. "They see no change in their daily lives. They still live in extreme poverty. And this is only getting worse. And the only thing they see coming from Kabul is eradication forces destroying their livelihoods -- and kids and women being killed."

During a visit to Tokyo on June 6, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta admitted that the Afghan government and its international supporters have made mistakes in the way they are conducting the war on terrorism.

"The problem is, I think, we have [made] some mistakes in our war against international terrorism because we have [aimed] our war against terrorism -- and [against] the phenomenon of terrorism in Afghanistan -- at the symptoms of terrorism," Spanta said. "But not against the sources of terrorism. And this is the main problem."

Spanta concluded that the three most important and critical challenges now facing Afghanistan are terrorism, drug lords, and how to make the government in Kabul more effective so that it can better deliver services to the people of Afghanistan. (Ron Synovitz)

Afghanistan's Helmand Province is poised to have a large opium poppy crop this year, despite a fledgling eradication program there. Until this year there has been only a small contingent of foreign troops in Helmand, leaving the Taliban uncontested in most districts. The Senlis Council, an international security and policy advisory group, says it has just completed a survey suggesting most of Helmand's residents have not seen major improvements in their lives as a result of the efforts of the Kabul government and U.S.-led coalition forces.

Despite the government's efforts to eradicate opium cultivation, Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province is heading for a bumper crop of opium poppies this year. Many farmers who had stopped growing poppies in respect for the ban decreed by President Hamid Karzai -- have come back to it.

They have done so in many cases because their economic situation has worsened and they often receive help, understanding, and protection from the ever-stronger Taliban. These are the findings of the latest report from the Senlis Council, which is headed by Emmanuel Reinert.

Banner Crop

"The opium production will double and even more than double this year," Reinert said. "And already Helmand is one of the first cultivating provinces in Afghanistan with 25 percent of the production, and this part will [also] double."

Reinert explains that Helmand's opium poppy cultivation is expected to reach some 40,000 hectares this year, which is a 50 percent increase over last year. Such numbers suggest that the large-scale and sometimes aggressively pursued forced eradication programs have failed to achieve any lasting impact.

Reinert says that the increase in opium production undermines the efforts of the international community to achieve some stability, as many farmers don't believe the state is going to help them and they feel abandoned by the international community.

Mark Harper is a Tory member of the British Parliament and the shadow defense minister who is also a critic of current policies in Afghanistan.

"If the government wants to support the Afghan government's attempt to remove opium production, then it can't do that properly with the level of forces that we've got, and also with the amount of money that the Western allies are spending on alternative livelihoods for the farmers," Reinert said. "Opium production is a significant portion of the Afghan economy, and unless farmers have got something else that they can do to support their families they're going to be driven into the arms of warlords and the Taliban."

Taliban Helping Farmers

Harper stresses that the Taliban is using the eradication failures to win greater support. He points out that the British government now has soldiers in Helmand to help with reconstruction. Harper suggests that massive reconstruction and development be done first to gain the trust of the locals before eradication policies are begun.

Reinert says that the Senlis Council has some 20 highly mobile Afghan researchers in Helmand who contributed to its report. They have reported many incidences of officials leaving large opium producers alone while eradicating the crops of those farmers who could not afford to pay a bribe.

"With eradication you antagonize the local communities, and on top of that you add a very severe sense of injustice," he said. "Because, of course, once again, the ones who are eradicated are the poorest ones."

Reinert also stresses that opium is an indispensable part of life in Helmand and is totally entrenched in the economy of the province and Afghanistan at large.

Senlis: Legalize Poppy Cultivation

"It represents more than 50 percent of the Helmand economy," he added. "The rest is basically international aid. So, it is used as a currency; it is used as a way to gain access to credit; it is the only economic activity. So, I would say there are two currencies in southern Afghanistan. It's opium and Pakistan's rupee."

That is a main reason why the Senlis Council recommends that eradication policies be rejected in favor of controlled, licensed opium poppy growing for pharmaceutical production.

The Senlis Council says research carried out in Afghanistan shows that such a plan would not only be financially viable, but also workable on a local level. That is because the very traditional communities have strong social and ethical bonds that could be called upon, and the local jirgas (councils), shuras, and elders would readily cut their links with drug mafias.

"It would be a way for the central government to collaborate with the local communities, and not to alienate them or antagonize them, as is currently the case with the eradication policy," Reinert says. "So, not only [will you] develop sustainable economic activities for Afghanistan, but on top of that you will bring the rule of law and good governance in the provinces."

Reinert concludes that not every expert is convinced that the growing of poppies for pharmaceutical use is the best solution to Afghanistan's narcotics problem, but he argues that it is an idea that should be given serious consideration. (Jan Jun)

Defense ministers representing the 37 nations participating in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) met on June 8 with their Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak in Brussels.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer promised after the meeting that the alliance would "stay the course" in Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban insurgency in the south. He also called on the international community to step in with more development aid.

'Test' For ISAF

NATO-led ISAF troops are in the process of moving into the south, which will nearly double ISAF's strength in Afghanistan, to some 17,000 troops. ISAF's expansion, led by Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Canada, is scheduled to be complete by late July.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said today that ISAF is being "tested" in a hitherto "relatively ungoverned space."

"Are we meeting resistance? Yes, we meet resistance, of course, because there are spoilers of the democratic process in Afghanistan who do not like to see NATO and its partners coming to the south," de Hoop Scheffer said. "They want progress to stop. [The] Taliban? Yes, certainly [the] Taliban, but also narco-traffickers, other criminals. But let no one doubt NATO's resolve [or] capability."

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO and its ISAF partners will have the necessary forces and "robust" rules of engagement to prevail against the Taliban. He also reiterated a long-standing promise that NATO will "stay the course" in Afghanistan and not leave before the country is secure.

Minister Predicts Quick End To Unrest

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak was upbeat in his assessment of the southern insurgency. He said it represented a short-lived attempt to take advantage of the handover of the responsibility for security in the region from the U.S.-led coalition to ISAF. And he said it was calculated to unsettle public opinion in Europe and elsewhere.

The south has been wracked by violence in recent weeks (epa)"I think we have taken the necessary measures," Wardak said. "I have just come from that region, three, four weeks back I was there, and I think we will have maybe one or two months [during] which there will be a little bit of crisis, but with the measures already taken and also our joint operation plan, jointly with ISAF and [the] Afghan National Army, in a short period, I think, you will see a drastic change."

Wardak appealed to ISAF nations to intensify their training of Afghan troops. An official present at the ISAF-Afghan meeting -- which was the first of its kind -- said Wardak had also asked for more equipment and complained that the weapons donated by Western countries are often substandard.

Wardak said that with proper assistance Afghanistan could at some point in future field an army of 70,000 men -- enough, he said, to secure the country internally.

More Than Security Needed

The NATO diplomat said the prevalent feeling in today's ISAF-Afghan meeting was that the country is in need of urgent measures that go beyond security. Drug trafficking is a long-established concern, and a number of ministers urged more effective and better standardized police-training programs.

The need for action against poverty, and for the rehabilitation of health care and education sectors were singled out by a number of ministers, mostly representing Northern Europe.

De Hoop Scheffer also called for broader international assistance. "There's much more work to be done in Afghanistan and there it is important that NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, the G8 [Group of Eight] group of industrial rich nations also are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to see that this is a longer term commitment vis-a-vis the people and government of Afghanistan. NATO will do its part, NATO will provide security," he said. "But that's only one leg of the stool and there are other legs."

Promisingly, today's meeting was also attended by an EU representative who said Brussels, among the biggest donors in the country, is ready to directly fund reconstruction projects. However, the projects will need to be civilian in nature and separate from NATO-led operations.