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Afghan Report: April 26, 2006

26 April 2006, Volume 5, Number 11
By Amin Tarzi
While Afghan President Hamid Karzai tries to maintain balance in his country's relations with India and Pakistan, Islamabad might be feeling squeezed and do its best to undermine the renewed Afghan-Indian partnership -- at great cost to Afghanistan.

Karzai led a 110-strong delegation made up of cabinet ministers, members of the Afghan National Assembly, and businesspeople on a four-day visit to India in early April (see feature below). The trip was Karzai's fourth to India since he became Afghan leader in late 2001. But unlike during Karzai's visit to Islamabad in February -- which led to an exchange of accusations between the Afghan leader and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- Karzai and his hosts in New Delhi appeared to get along well.

Karzai described as "frank words" exchanged between friends Musharraf's charge in March that the Afghan leader was "totally oblivious of what is happening in his own country" and unaware that there was an anti-Pakistani conspiracy brewing inside the Afghan government, and he tried to play the role of mediator between his Indian hosts and Pakistan. Karzai said he favors a "tripolar structure of cooperation" among his country and the archrivals, India and Pakistan. According to Karzai, such a structure -- which he does not regard as political -- would "release the best energy of this region and bring quicker progress" to South Asia. In an indirect endorsement of New Delhi's position, Karzai said India and Pakistan should begin working to improve the region and solve their bilateral problems even in the absence of any resolution to the dispute over Kashmir. But Pakistan is directly linking cooperation with India and other outstanding issues with the Kashmir question.

More specifically, Karzai said that he would ask his "brother" Musharraf to allow the transit of Indian goods to Afghanistan through Pakistani territory. Currently, Islamabad only allows the shipment through its territory of Afghan goods going to India, not Indian goods to Afghanistan.

Karzai called indirectly for more effective joint counterterrorism measures within the proposed tripolar structure, presumably including an exchange of information between the three countries on terrorist activities affecting the states.

Diplomatically, Karzai was soft on Pakistan during his time in India -- a departure from his stance in February, when he accused Islamabad of not doing enough to stop cross-border infiltrations by the neo-Taliban and other militants. However, the main topic of discussion between the Afghan and Indian leaders revolved around counterterrorism and security problems -- both in Afghanistan and in Indian-held Kashmir. Kabul and New Delhi have accused Islamabad of doing too little to stop such activities, at best, or worse, of fully supporting the terrorists' activities.

As India tries to move onto the world stage and away from being in a perpetual state of hostility with Pakistan, it wants to curtail Islamabad's ability to be a menace or, in worst-case scenario, entertain hostilities which could lead to a military conflict between the two nuclear-weapons states.

India wants to see the Kashmir issue remain dormant with little or no violence. One way to achieve this goal is to keep leverage on Pakistan that can be used when necessary.

Close cooperation with Afghanistan -- a country with which India has had historically friendly relations up to 1992 -- is a cost-effective policy to keep Pakistan in check. India made a strategic mistake when it took a back seat to Pakistan in the postcommunist era of Afghanistan. It seems very unlikely that New Delhi -- with its aspirations to become a regional and even extraregional power -- would allow Afghanistan to once again become a pawn in Pakistani plans.

During Karzai's visit to New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged an additional $50 million in assistance to Afghanistan, bringing the total Indian pledge to $650 million -- of which $200 million has already been spent. India is also reconstructing a road in the remote southwestern Afghan province of Nimroz. The project is being carried out by state-owned Border Roads Organization (BRO), the mission statement of which states that the BRO is India's "most reputed, multifaceted, transnational, modern construction organization committed to meeting the strategic needs of the armed forces." The killing of a BRO employee by the neo-Taliban in November prompted the Indian authorities to dispatch approximately 200 Indo-Tibetan Border Police commandos to Afghanistan in March to provide security for Indians working in various construction projects in Afghanistan.

That is the first time in the period since Pakistan has been a state that Indian security forces have been stationed in Afghanistan, not far from Pakistani border.

Unlike New Delhi's aspiration to take a seat on the world stage, Pakistan's policies from that state's inception until now are focused primarily on the real and perceived threat emanating from India. This overarching concern also has been at the heart of Islamabad's designs to help establish a client government in a weak and dependent Afghanistan and on keeping Kabul outside of the Indian orbit.

Pakistan was handed the chance to tear away Afghanistan from Indian influence when Pakistan-based and -supported mujahedin groups gained power in Kabul in 1992. However, Islamabad's main clients, namely Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and later the Taliban, both failed to make Pakistan realize its goal.

With the demise of the Taliban regime, Islamabad had to do an about-face and join forces with the U.S.-led coalition, which brought Karzai to power. Reluctantly, Pakistan was forced to work with a Kabul government that not only had unprecedented international support, including the presence of NATO and other Western military forces, but also one which began rekindling the traditional pro-India policy followed by pre-1992 Afghan governments.

The fact that Abdul Ahad Karzai -- Afghan President Karzai's father -- was assassinated in Pakistan in 1999, allegedly by the Taliban, coupled with Karzai himself being a graduate of Himachal Pradesh University in Shimla, India, did not help diminish the threat perception in Islamabad that Kabul's Indian-educated leader could have a potential distaste for Pakistan.

Since 2003, Islamabad has accused its arch nemesis India of setting up camps in Afghanistan to train Afghans and Pakistanis as terrorists to destabilize Pakistan. With the recent and current instabilities challenging Islamabad's authority in Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the fingers of accusation toward India's involvement from across the border in Afghanistan have become louder in Pakistan.

Pakistan charges that with its presence in Afghanistan, India is encircling Pakistan with consulates and commandos and is financing militant organizations in FATA of Waziristan and is providing training and funds to the Baluchistan Liberation Army -- a tribal militant organization established in the 1970s.

During his February trip to Pakistan, Karzai was very empathetic when he stated that Afghanistan's "relations with India in no way, no way, no way will impact" on ties between Kabul and Islamabad. However it is no consolation for Musharraf that Karzai's trip to Pakistan was ostensibly to deliver to him a list of names of alleged terrorists who, according to Kabul, were living in Pakistan. At the same time, the Afghan leader is received as a hero in India where the crux of his discussion revolved around ways to curb the increasing acts of terror in Afghanistan, which both Kabul and New Delhi believe Islamabad can stop.

In circles beyond Kabul, it is becoming understood that unless Pakistan truly tries to stop the influx of insurgents to Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan are not going to be fruitful in the short-term. Karzai, while being fully cognizant of this, has tried to keep a friendly posture towards Musharraf; a few outbursts notwithstanding. While Pakistan needs to accepts Afghanistan as an independent country -- one not subservient to its demands, Kabul has to be careful not to play the Indian card so much that Islamabad's threat level goes on high alert. With the overwhelming distrust between India and Pakistan, both sides are likely to use any opportunity to gain a better hand against the other. Kabul should play its cards carefully so as not to end up with a weakened hand.

By Ron Synovitz
Visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on April 11 in India that he wants to involve both India and Pakistan in the three-way cooperation scheme that would enhance both security and economic development. Karzai is continuing an official visit to India that has focused on regional security and India's support for Afghan reconstruction.

The Afghan president announced his idea of a "tri-polar structure of cooperation" with India and Pakistan. He said an important element in the trilateral system will be the fight against terrorism.

"We will cooperate with any nation that cooperates with us in curbing terrorism," Karzai said today. "Nobody is immune from it, as the prime minister [of India] mentioned. All of us in this region are affected, and I very much hope that all of us in this region will join hands to fight this menace."

Karzai's remarks are seen as an attempt to bring India and Pakistan closer together on counterterrorism operations.

But experts on South Asia say mutual suspicions make Pakistan and India unlikely to join together within such a formal structure in the near future. Among them is Raul Bedi -- a New Delhi-based correspondent for the international security journal "Jane's Defense Weekly."

"It's a very difficult relationship that Afghanistan has with Pakistan and that Pakistan has with India," Bedi said. "Pakistan seems very threatened about India developing a strategic relationship with Afghanistan. So Pakistan is not happy about India and Afghanistan coming close. And it is unlikely that President Karzai's visit will bring India and Pakistan very close -- even though Karzai has made a pitch for that because it would help the entire region reduce the levels of terrorisms as well as the level of tensions that exist in the region."

But Karzai insisted that stronger ties between Kabul and New Delhi are a positive development for all of South Asia.

"This trip will add to the friendship between us -- to the depth of relations between the two countries," Karzai said. "It will definitely bring us a better future for the people of the two countries and also, very much hopefully, for the region. [Afghanistan and India] are cooperating in almost all walks of life -- from education, to health, to rural development, to the reconstruction of infrastructure, to economic affairs and to cooperation in the region."

Karzai was asked today about Kabul's own diplomatic dispute with Pakistan -- including Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's anger over allegations that pro-Taliban militants continue to launch attacks from Pakistani territory.

The Afghan president responded by downplaying the dispute. Karzai said he and Musharraf are friends who, at times, exchange frank words.

Bedi of "Jane's Defence Weekly" said Islamabad's concerns about Indian troops in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan are preventing India from doing more to help Afghanistan's security situation.

"The concrete measures that India can actually affect in Afghanistan are limited," Bedi said. "The only way that India can make a substantial difference is if the United States agrees that India can work more closely on a military level with Afghanistan. But that is something that Pakistan is terrified of and opposes. So it is very unlikely to happen."

Karzai said another important element of the proposed tri-polar structure of cooperation is to foster economic growth in South Asia.

Meanwhile, Karzai has been pushing forward with efforts to improve economic ties between Afghanistan and India. He was scheduled to visit the south Indian city of Hyderabad today. The itinerary includes tours of information-technology centers as well as a visit to a successful Indian rural development project.

"I have a big delegation with me -- a business delegation that wants to seek opportunities in India but also wants to attract Indian businesses to Afghanistan to invest and participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan," Karzai said.

By Irina Lagunina
Insurgents in Afghanistan have intensified attacks on security forces in that country in recent weeks as part of a promised 'spring offensive.' The latest response of the U.S.-led coalition, to which members of NATO are key contributors, is Operation Mountain Lion, targeting suspected mountain strongholds of the insurgents. Irina Lagunina of RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke on the sidelines of a Salzburg Seminar session on the public cost of terrorism with Jamie Shea -- the director of policy planning in the Private Office of NATO's secretary-general -- about the broader strategic response to the deteriorating security situation in southern Afghanistan, the alliance's commitment to that country, and cooperation with Pakistan.

RFE/RL: The situation in Afghanistan is worsening. There are more suicide attacks, which the Afghan government claims are the work of Arab terrorists, arguing that it is not in the nature of Afghans to blow themselves up. They also say that these suicide bombers come from or through Pakistan. How will NATO respond to this new reality in the country?

Jamie Shea: Well, I think that the first thing is that Taliban, which of course is behind these attacks, is unable to hold territory or to conquer towns or to reestablish its authority. The only thing they can do is to organize suicide attacks. But they are not going to come back to power in Afghanistan. That said, you are quite right: Obviously there is a danger, a danger to NATO troops, a danger to Afghan citizens and officials. And this is obviously a challenge to [Hamid] Karzai, the president, as he extends the authority of the legitimate, elected government of Afghanistan to the south.

So we accept that the south is not going to be like the north. We know that. It's going to be more demanding, more challenging, the rules of engagement have to be more robust, the force posture has to be more robust. We need more helicopters, more air cover.

But the good news is that the situation has not deterred NATO. We have not run away. The British have made an enormous commitment for the next two years, the Canadians.... The Dutch parliament voted [in early February to send troops to join NATO's expanded mission in southern Afghanistan], after a difficult debate, but they voted. And the expansion of NATO's mission to the south will go forward. This spring the United States has made it clear that it will also be part of NATO's mission as it expands to the east. So, while not trying to underestimate the difficulties, the good thing is that NATO with public support -- I mentioned the Dutch parliament -- is aware of it and it's going to go to the south. But clearly the southern part of the country needs to be pacified if NGOs, civil reconstruction agencies are going to go back in.

RFE/RL: Well, they are unable to do it now...

Jamie Shea: That is the reason why NATO has to expand the mission, because we have to create an environment of security throughout the country in which the reconstruction can go ahead. Clearly, the Afghan army is not yet able to take on this task alone. So it will require the assistance of NATO.

On the other hand, we are now starting a security cooperation program with the Afghans to deal with things like border management, to assist with counternarcotics [efforts] -- because there is obviously a link between the drugs trade and extremism and terrorism -- and to train and equip and assist the Afghan army to be able gradually to take over the security responsibilities. Mr. [Abdul Rahim] Wardak, the Afghan minister of defense, was at NATO several weeks ago. And he believes that, with NATO assistance, as he said publicly, the Afghans should be able to assume this responsibility after about five years.

RFE/RL: Is NATO prepared to be there for five years?

Jamie Shea: Well, I think we've got staying power. Look at the record. We were in Bosnia for nine years after the Dayton peace agreement. And we are still there, albeit not with a big peacekeeping force any longer but giving assistance to the new Bosnian army, which has being established finally with the three old armies merging under one unified command. Nobody would have predicted that after Dayton. We now see, with the new agreement on the Bosnian constitution, that finally, after 10 years, it is moving ahead. So I think that the lesson we learned is that it's not mission impossible, but it takes a lot of commitment and a lot of staying power. Kosovo: We've been there for seven years. At first it was very difficult, as we all agreed, but now the status talks are going ahead and there will be some resolution of the issue. I don't know what it's going to be, but it will be by the end of the year. And we've been in Afghanistan for three years now.

So, I think that NATO has staying power. There may be debates in the alliance before we launch these operations, but once they are launched everybody knows what we are going in for. Eleven partner countries, including Australia and New Zealand, are joining us in Afghanistan and my sense is that we are there for the long, long haul. Nobody wants to abandon Afghanistan, particularly after a free and fair election and the first signs of democracy -- and also, you know, let's be honest, with the prospect of those Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps coming back. So I think this is not a charitable exercise; I think we also see it as linked to our own security.

RFE/RL: You said that the mandate should be changed now that NATO is moving to the south and southeast of Afghanistan. What will that mandate be like?

Jamie Shea: Well, it's going to be more robust. That's to say, the troops will have heavier equipment than you see on a traditional peacekeeping activity. You mention roadside bombs: vehicles have to have a certain degree of armored protection. We need better intelligence to anticipate possible threats. That means more air cover, satellite reconnaissance, signals, helicopters, rapid-reaction mobility. The provincial reconstruction teams in the south are obviously going to need a high degree of protection, physical security -- what you've seen in the north or elsewhere. There will also have to be a high degree of what we call in NATO jargon "synergy" with the American-led counterterrorist operation, Enduring Freedom. The missions will be distinct. But in terms of intelligence-sharing, in terms of a coordinated command structure, there will be a high degree of cooperation.

RFE/RL: Is Pakistan being helpful?

Jamie Shea: Yes, Pakistan is grateful to NATO because we sent a NATO response force a few months ago to assist them after the devastating earthquake that they had. And we also organized a major airlift. We have concluded an agreement on the line of communication for our supplies across Pakistan. And Pakistan also has a very big challenge with its domestic terrorism. You've seen the Pakistani army operating -- with some loss of life, it has to be said -- in the tribal provinces in the northwest, in Waziristan and so on. And yes, as we move south, closer to Pakistan border, then obviously the dialogue will have to be stepped up.

RFE/RL: So you want to say that there are no grounds for the recent complaints of President [Hamid] Karzai that Pakistan is not helping enough, that it's not cutting down infiltrations by Arab terrorists across the border?

Jamie Shea: Well, I know that everybody of course wants to stop the terrorist attacks, that's normal. The border is a very long one; indeed it's a very mountainous one, we all know. We know that it's not easy to monitor every dirt track that goes across the mountains. One of the great problems with terrorism is that, because [terrorists] operate in very small groups, very lightly armored, they are not easy to pick up. It's not like you are moving a tank column along the motorway that can easily be monitored.

So we don't underestimate the difficulties. But, as I've said, we've had a good relationship with Pakistan in the past few years, particularly in the wake of the assistance after the earthquake. And President [Pervez] Musharraf has declared his total determination to fight terrorism, he has handed over many Al-Qaeda suspects to the United States that had been arrested in Pakistan. We'll work constructively together -- of that I have no doubt.

By Jan Jun
Is the forced eradication of farmers' opium-poppy crops in the Pashto-speaking belt of southern Afghanistan leading to a rapid disintegration of government control and an increase in Taliban/Al-Qaeda power controlled by Pakistani insurgent elements? A new report by the Senlis Council based on interviews with local farmers, community leaders, security officials, and district and regional councils concludes that crop eradication and security objectives are at odds and that compensation to farmers is being mishandled. As a result, the report says, local confidence in government and foreign security forces is lessening, and insurgency is on the increase.

The Senlis report claims that counternarcotics policies pursued in Afghanistan by the international community have been largely ineffective and contribute to a worsening of relations with local communities. As the eradication of poppy crops continues, it has led to support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents among dissatisfied farmers instead of helping to "win their hearts and minds."

Those findings by the Senlis Council, an international security and development think tank, are based on groundwork in the three southern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Kandahar, and Helmand.

"Eradication operations which are taking place have given a clear target for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, for their operations, so they know what to do and where to operate -- it's right after an eradication campaign," Senlis Council Executive Director Emmanuel Reinert says. "And there has been already casualties during this operation with Afghan forces and also the American troops and an American private company which are involved in this eradication campaign."

Reinert explains that this growing insurgency may focus on the British forces that are to be stationed in Helmand Province in June, even if those troops are not supposed to be directly involved in eradication. And the more dangerous aspect of the situation is that the insurgents are now protecting and supporting the disgruntled eradicated farmers, Reinert notes.

"More importantly, because they offer protection to the farmers, they offer compensation to the farmers [who] have [had their crops] eradicated, [and the] Taliban [is] actually gaining the heart and minds of the local population," he says.

Reinert explains that the Taliban has been financed by powerful elements from across the porous Pakistani border who, he claims, control large areas in southern Afghanistan. This is enhanced by cross-border marriages and the fact that it is the Pakistani rupee, not the Afghan currency that is being used in the rural communities of the Pashto belt. Only the presence of the international forces is stopping the Pakistanis from overrunning the provinces, he says.

Other experts agree. Kim Sengupta is the defense and diplomatic correspondent for "The Independent" in London, and he was recently in Afghanistan.

"They have got the influx from Pakistan and some resurgent Taliban from Waziristan, from Khost, all along the border," he says. "I think the fear is that you've already got that problem, and the fear is of the war on two fronts. So, you've got the insurgents coming back in; at the same time you have got farmers who are so angry, so disgruntled that they are prepared to take up arms."

Sengupta adds that the problem is that no other crop remotely commands the price of opium poppies. And if the farmers are indeed being armed by the Islamists, it can only mean that the opposition against the Karzai government and its Western allies is going to spread.

Reinert also explains that some farmers have been willing to produce alternative crops after eradication. But even some of them are turning against the government because they have been promised compensation that has never arrived, he says.

With this distrust growing, the British plan for securing Helmand will be very difficult, Reinert concludes, as he defends an alternative Senlis plan for legalizing the production of opium for medicinal purposes.

Sengupta agrees with the Senlis Council report when it says that frustrations like this within the rural communities make the insurgents campaign easier. "This is a very big point, because all the farmers we've spoken to in Helmand and Kandahar are very angry," he says.

Other observers agree that until the problem of poppy-crop eradication is successfully solved, the security situation in Afghanistan is going to get worse. And this view is also shared by a British Parliament committee report published in early April. It says that in the short term, at least, "the security situation is likely to deteriorate."