Summary here and here.
While media attention has been focused on the U.S. quagmire in Iraq, an equally failed war in Afghanistan has received little coverage. As in countless militaristic U.S. nation-building fiascos, “mission creep” in Afghanistan is leading to another foreign policy disaster. Although the escalation in Afghanistan has not been announced publicly, a reliable source with connections at the Pentagon tells me that the Joint Staff has been ordered to plan for a surge in that country, and the Department of Defense Comptroller has been asked to budget the money for it. As in Iraq, however, the escalation just promises to sink the United States deeper into the nation-building morass. Article
It has been four weeks since the district center of Musa Qala was overthrown by Taliban forces. Since then, the occupying Taliban forces have lost two leading commanders due to precision air strikes directed by NATO aircraft. NATO officials have long supported a military takeover but were waiting on word from the Afghan government.
Since the takeover, reports have trickled out describing the methods the occupying Taliban units were using to reinforce their positions; land mining the street leading to the city’s center and fortifying the buildings they are currently using as a command center. Article
The “We pardon ourselves” bill: the proverbial turd in the punchbowl.
The sweeping resolution not only grants blanket amnesty from prosecution - or even criticism - to all parties and individuals involved in gross human rights violations; it also extends a similar reprieve to the current groups who are terrorizing parts of Afghanistan.
Nowhere in the resolution is there any mention of human rights, the suffering of the Afghan people, or any public aspirations of justice - even if merely symbolic. The bill grants full pardons to those who murdered, raped, and maimed their countrymen - and then goes on to laud them as heroes.
Karzai faces a thorny dilemma over the resolution. On the face of it, he must approve it - thus making it part of his country’s laws - or reject it - inviting opposition from powerful elements within and outside his own government.
The Afghan Constitution (Article 94) says a bill becomes law after approval by both houses of the National Assembly and endorsement by the president “unless the Constitution states otherwise.” If the president rejects a bill approved by the National Assembly, he “can send the document back with justifiable reasons to the Wolesi Jirga” within 15 days. The lower house (Wolesi Jirga) can override presidential objections with a two-thirds majority vote. But if the president takes no action on a bill for 15 days, the document becomes law.
Karzai now has less than two weeks to influence the fate of a resolution that appears to run counter to the wishes of the Afghan public and the country’s international obligations.
Karzai can choose to reject the bill based on constitutional grounds - which his experts can arguably find in Article 7 and in Article 6, which obliges the state to create a society “based on social justice, protection of human dignity, [and the] protection of human rights.” HRW Asia researcher Sam Zarifi has noted that international law prohibits the extension of national amnesties to genocide or war crimes.
Basing a rejection argument on Afghan law, experts could conceivably turn to Islamic jurisprudence - under which neither the state nor its organs has the right to forgive the perpetrator of a crime like murder.
Karzai’s rejection of the bill would surely alienate some in his immediate circle, including powerful members of both houses of the National Assembly. And in the end, the Wolesi Jirga might muster enough votes to overturn his veto, further eroding the president’s public standing.
Former warring parties have tried to flex their muscles - including through today’s rally by tens of thousands of supporters of the controversial bill.
The “amnesty” bill and the ensuing presidential quandary are ultimately a result of expediency measures - endorsed by Karzai himself - that allowed individuals accused of gross rights violations to escape accountability and even assume positions of power. Article
A recent report by Human Rights Watch named a number of very senior members of the current government as war criminals, including: the former minister of defence Mohammed Qasim Fahim, the former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the minister of energy Ismail Khan, army chief of staff Abdul Rashid Dostum, and the current vice-president Karim Khalili, along with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord based in south eastern Afghanistan. All of these figures will be covered by the proposed new amnesty law, even though Hekmatyar is currently fighting alongside the Taliban.
The current impasse points to a systematic failure by western policy-makers to plan strategically for Afghanistan’s future. The initial failure to deploy an effective international peacekeeping force and the holding of elections in a climate where warlords were bound to hijack the new parliament were entirely predictable mistakes. Allowing the amnesty bill to become law would be another triumph of short-term and cowardly expedience over principle and strategic vision. The bill is unconstitutional and should be struck down on that basis.
If the bill is enacted the British government should immediately press the UN security council to refer Afghanistan to the international criminal court. Afghanistan has ratified the court’s statute and the enactment of the amnesty bill would be a clear sign that the domestic courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute perpetrators of crimes within its jurisdiction.
This move could cause some problems for the current US administration, given its hostility to the international court, but there is no other mechanism for holding perpetrators to account. If Tony Blair is reluctant to do this, he must clearly explain why British soldiers are being asked to risk their lives to defend the political careers of Afghan war criminals. Article
Remember that we’re now in year six of warfare (emphasis added). Unlike Simple Simon, those with fingers in the pie have stuck in the entire hand up to the wrist and their gooey, sticky fingers inevitably stain everything they now touch.
Britain is to send an extra 1,400 troops and equipment to southern Afghanistan, raising its total deployment in the country to 7,700 - and exceeding current British troop levels in Iraq.
The fresh deployment will bring the overall number of British servicemen in southern Afghanistan to 7,700 by the summer, Browne said.
Current troop levels in Iraq stand at 7,100, but the government said last week that 1,600 troops would be recalled from southern Iraq over the next few months.
The troops in Afghanistan were committed to the mission until 2009. Most would be deployed to Helmand province and some would be stationed at Kandahar airfield, said Browne.
Among the extra equipment to be sent to Afghanistan were additional helicopters, Harrier fighter jets and guided multiple launch rocket systems, Browne said. Article
Britain has committed 1,400 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban - as ministers admitted the Army is now at breaking point.
It came as senior defence sources revealed that Britain will also have to send another two battalions later this year - raising the size of the Afghan force to more than 9,000.
…Defence Secretary Des Browne told MPs that commanders on the ground have demanded not one but two battlegroups if they are to defeat the Taliban.
Mr Browne went further than ever before in admitting that the Army is now at the limit of what it can do.
He revealed that training has had to be cancelled to free up troops.
But with Britain taking command of the whole southern area of Afghanistan - encompassing Kandahar, Oruzgan, Zabol, Nimruz and Daykondi prvinces as well as Helmand - in the summer, pressure on the MoD to find extra troops will be overwhelming.
A well-placed source said: “Nato needs another battlegroup and there will be no prizes for guessing where it will come from. Contingency planning is already under way to find two more battalions before the end of the year.”
The revelations sparked fury among MPs and defence officials, who also warned that the Afghan force is also “woefully” short of air cover.
Mr Browne revealed that just four extra ageing Sea King helicopters and four Harriers will be sent to Afghanistan but no more Apache gunships. He conceded that getting more helicopters from allies would be “crucial”.
The Defence Secretary said that Britain could not send two battlegroups immediately because of the risks of overstretch. He described the new deployment as “manageable” but admitted: “There may be a consequence in relation to the training of some troops because we are operating at a higher level than we had planned for. We cannot sustain this in the long term without doing damage to the core of our troops.”
But even in private MoD officials were not able to give an assurance that no more troops will be sent later in the year. While the Army has 100,000 personnel and half could be deployed in a war situation, the number of soldiers deployed overseas is far more than can be sustained on a long term basis. Soldiers have found the time between tours of duty and time with their families slashed, and key training cut, leading many to quit.
Whether 1,400 extra troops, spread over an area four times the size of Wales, will be enough to crush the Taliban remains open to doubt.
Commanders privately admit they have come close to defeat at times, with British troops clinging on to positions and narrowly avoiding disaster. Article
Britain’s growing military mission in Afghanistan could help attract international terrorists to the country, government intelligence analysts have warned.
Assessment documents circulating in Whitehall security circles suggest Afghanistan could soon replace Iraq as the prime focus for radical Muslims wanting to pursue jihad against western interests. Article
Robert Fisk implores the powers that be to look back in order to look forward.
Kaleidoscope of chaos: the brutal, tattered legacy of the flawed, short-sighted policies of the woebegone G. Walker administration.
Fears that a revitalised al-Qaida is planning a stepped-up offensive against “soft” western targets are driving an intensifying debate both inside and outside the Bush administration over how to counter the threat. But terrorism experts say the deepening quagmire in Iraq is fatally hampering US efforts while simultaneously fuelling a sevenfold increase in fatal jihadist attacks.
“In Washington the consensus view is that while Bush’s foreign policy has been an overall disaster, he can still lay claim to one key achievement: severely weakening al-Qaida in the five years since September 11,” Mr Bergen wrote in The New Republic. “But today, from Algeria to Afghanistan, and from Britain to Baghdad, the organisation once believed to be on the verge of impotence is again ascendant.
“Attacks by jihadists have reached epidemic levels in the past three years … There is considerable evidence that al-Qaida has managed to regroup. And there is reason to believe that over the next few years, it will grow stronger still. More than at any time since September 11, Osama bin Laden’s deadly outfit is back in business.”
Other US experts, independent or otherwise, also talk of an al-Qaida revival, centred on a burgeoning “operations hub” in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.…
Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the outgoing US commander in Afghanistan, suggested that Pakistani or US military strikes on reconstituted, joint al-Qaida and Taliban training camps might soon be needed.…
And there should be no doubt about who carried most responsibility for these developments, the New York Times said this week. “Al-Qaida’s comeback in Pakistan is a devastating indictment of Bush’s grievously flawed strategies and misplaced Iraq obsession. Unless the president changes course, the dangers to America and its friends will continue to multiply.” Article
Shorter version of the newest trope: The Democrats are forcing us to at least pretend to conduct serious diplomacy, the days of ‘nudge, nudge – wink, wink’ relations are coming to a close.
Congressional Democrats have threatened to review military assistance and other aid to Pakistan unless they see evidence of aggressive attacks on Al Qaeda. The House last month passed a measure linking future military aid to White House certification that Pakistan “is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control.”
Pakistan is now the fifth-largest recipient of American aid to foreign nations. Bush has proposed $785 million in aid to Pakistan in his new budget, including $300 million in military aid to help Pakistan combat Islamic radicalism in the country.
The rumblings from Congress give Bush and his top advisers a way of conveying the seriousness of the problem, officials said, without appearing to issue a direct threat to the proud Pakistani leader themselves.
“We think the Pakistani aid is at risk in Congress,” said the senior official, who declined to speak on the record because the subject involved intelligence matters.
The administration has sent a series of emissaries to see the Pakistani leader in recent weeks, including the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Gates was charged with prompting more action in a region in which American forces operate with great constraints, if they are allowed in at all.
“This is not the type of relationship where we can order action,” said an administration official involved in discussions over Pakistan policy. “We can strongly encourage.” Article
Rubber. Glue. Denial. Do the math, follow the threads.
“If the U.S. cannot stop infiltration from Mexico, how do you expect us to control our border with Afghanistan that’s mostly desolate and mountainous?” pleaded Tariq Azim, minister of information, in an interview in Islamabad, the capital.
Pakistan is tired of hearing that it is not doing enough, says Azim. “But nobody tells us what is enough. Nobody defines what will be enough.” I asked him if Pakistan is getting fed up with the U.S. and other allies.”Up to here,” he said, lifting his hand to his throat. Article
Regionally speaking, the voice carries immense weight.
In a rare public criticism of Pakistan, the Tehran Times commented last week that an exclusive Islamabad-Washington nexus is at work manipulating the Afghan situation. The daily, which reflects official Iranian thinking, spelled out something that others perhaps knew already but were afraid to talk about publicly.
All the same, the commentary gave a candid Iranian insight into the state of play in Afghanistan. It estimated that without a comprehensive rethink of strategy aimed at addressing the problems of weak political institutions, misgovernance, corruption, warlordism, tardy reconstruction, drug trafficking and attendant mafia, and excesses by the coalition forces, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) couldn’t possibly hope to get anywhere near on top of the crisis in Afghanistan.
The commentary pointed a finger at Pakistan’s training the Taliban and providing them with “logistical and political support”. It highlighted that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who visited Islamabad recently, chose to sidestep the issue and instead bonded with President General Pervez Musharraf. This is because Washington’s priority - that the “new cold war” objective of NATO is to establish a long-term presence in the region - can be realized only with Musharraf’s cooperation. Article