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Kunar and Nuristan
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30 Jun 2010
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It is very rare for an article to influence policy. However, the Institute for the Study of War has achieved this distinction through its article on Kunar and Nuristan by Michael Moore and James Fussell, which made the case for a US withdrawal from this area and whose recommendations were implemented early this year.

Kunar and Nuristan border Bajaur, Mohmand, Dir and Chitral and are an isolated and extremely mountainous area of Afghanistan of no strategic value. The only reason the US decided to send troops to the region was that because of its isolation it had become a major infiltration route and sanctuary for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda .

However, counter insurgency proved difficult to apply in this sparsely populated area and the US forces were disproportionately committed to defending marginally significant areas in these remote provinces.

Prior to 1896 Nuristan was called Kafiristan and Amir Abdul Rehman converted the population to Islam after the area had been demarcated by the Durand Line. Perhaps, this is the reason why the population is so fanatic, fighting with the zeal of the recently converted and providing bases to extremist parties like the Salafis, Wahabis and Hizb-e-Islami (Gulbudin), which have difficulty in establishing themselves in other parts of Afghanistan where ethnic and tribal loyalties are more important .

The population is of Kunar is 95 percent Pashtun and the Northern districts speak Pashai.

Nuristan has always had a well established tradition of fundamentalism and it was here that the first revolt against the communist rule began in 1978, and the first uprising against the Soviet occupation in 1980. It was also the first area from which the Russian troops withdrew, for the same reasons as the US withdrawal.

This historical hostility to any outside foreign influence, including Afghans from outside the valley meant that the presence of US forces generated violence.

The US force disposition also relied, too, heavily on isolated outposts that required massive amounts of air power and artillery to defend, which was counterproductive in dealing with the insurgency, because their use alienated the population that the US was trying to save.

With only two battalions for the area the forces were stretched extremely thin with an average of only 70 men for 100 miles of the border. The result was that the US had to use annually 30,000 rounds of artillery, 8,000 mortars and 3,000 tonnes of bombs to safeguard their forces and through road building sought to expand their security bubble.

The US troops built fixed positions along the main line of communication which acted as ‘Taliban magnets’ or ‘bullet sponges’. The failure to dominate the heights meant that the US forces could not deny the insurgents from operating in the area or protect the population but could only bring to bear their overwhelming fire power.

The US troops were therefore forced to pursue a defensive ‘counter punch strategy’ whereby they drew in the enemy and then counter attacked with superior fire power. This approach was neither sustainable nor conducive to waging a counter insurgent strategy since it was alienating the very population it was trying to secure.

Facing the US was an insurgent force of 7,000 to 11,000 fighters from the Taliban, Al-Qaeda , Haqqani group , Salafi Taliban , Hizb-i-Islami (Gulbudin), TTP, TNSM, LeT and Jaish-i-Mohammed. According to Thomas Ruttig, writing in the Afghan Analyst Network, the Salafi from Kunar have now pledged allegiance to the Deobandi Taliban led by Mullah Omar.

The original leader of Jamaat Al Dawa Al Sunnat, Maulvi Jamilur Rehman had established an Islamic emirate during the jihad against the Russians. Initially from the Jamiat-i-Islami he had joined Hizb-i-Islami in 1991. However, encroachments by the Shura-i-Nazar, which slowly pushed out other factions from Kunar administrative positions and possibly the ethnic spilt along the Nuristani-Badakshani fault line, could also have been the reasons for the Salafis joining the mainstream Taliban in Kunar reportedly coordinated by Maulvi Kabir.

The area was economically depressed with 90 percent subsistence farmers and a similar percentage of males of fighting age were unemployed providing a large pool of poor, young, uneducated, unemployed highly impressionable young men, who were prime targets for insurgent recruitment.

The US strategy of using excessive fire power had become unsustainable as it had met its match against this inexhaustible supply of manpower and after eight years of effort the US was no closer to meeting its goals of ‘clear, hold, build and transfer’ than when it had started .

The report had therefore recommended that forces must be redeployed to areas where they had greater effect and resources must flow to the areas that are strategic positions in order to allow force densities high enough to produce counter insurgency efficiencies.

This logic was accepted by the US as it was by the Russians before them. There were never enough soldiers to pursue a practical counterinsurgency strategy and it became clear there was not much worth winning in these sparsely populated valleys.

Putting bases there was in retrospect a costly mistake and shows how choices made from a lack of understanding or consultation with the locals can drive the population into the arms of the insurgents. The withdrawal would also provide an opportunity to consolidate and refocus forces where they might change the momentum of what had become a losing contest .

While tactically correct and rational the withdrawal will nevertheless encourage the insurgents and provide them with a psychological victory, reconfirming the reputation of Kunar and Nuristan as a ‘cradle of jihad’. For Pakistan the withdrawal will create additional problems in dealing with the insurgents in Bajaur, Mohmand and Dir as now they would have free access across the border.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Pentagon’s report to Congress
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16 Jun 2010
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Arif Ayub

The US Department of Defence has to report every six months to Congress on the situation in Afghanistan in order to receive funding for the operation. The 151 page report covers the period from October 2009 to March 2010, and provides a detailed situation report on the political, economic and military aspects of the situation in Afghanistan.

These extensive reports provide a contrast with our situation where we are dependent on foreign reports for military operations in FATA. The contrast is even greater where defence budgets are concerned with the US providing about 400 pages to Congress compared to our meagre four pages to Parliament. This is obviously an area where our defence committees need to focus on.

The report gives an accurate though depressing account of the current situation in Afghanistan highlighting the incompetencies of the Afghan government both military and political, and the challenges created because of widespread corruption. The increase in the Taliban influence is clearly outlined with the help of tables and maps showing a remarkable display of objectivity on the part of the authors of the report.

The US forces in Afghanistan were at 87,000 in March 2010 and expected to rise to 100,000 by August 2010. These are supplemented by 40,000 international forces and supposedly 134,000 strong Afghan army and 109,000 police. The basic mission remains to clear, hold, build and sustain.

The main problem however is that the Afghan government lacks popular support with only 24 percent of the people surveyed supporting the present situation, with Kabul, Herat and Nimroz identified as the only secure provinces. An additional problem for the counter insurgency is that international support is waning with the Dutch leaving Urazgan by December 2010 and Canada leaving Kandahar by 2011.

On the other hand, the Taliban insurgents are increasing in strength with improved media campaigns, better organisational capabilities, intimidation of political opponents through target killings, formation of shadow governments in almost all the provinces, and the increasing use of complex IEDs and sophisticated tactics.

Insurgents weaknesses are identified as their being dependent on multiple local based tribal networks, layered command structures leading to fissures among insurgent leaders, over dependence on external support, and violence against civilians being counter productive. The militant groups identified include the Taliban, Haqqani group, Hizb-i-Islami (Gulb-uddin), Hizb-i-Islami (Khalis), Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, TNSM Mullah Nazir, Lashkar-i-Islam, Lashkar-i-Tayyaba and IMU (Uzbeks).

Commenting on the political and economic situation the report frankly notes that the 2009 elections were marred with allegations of fraud and corruption. On the positive side, the programme for reintegration and reconciliation had been initiated in order to accommodate peacefully into the Afghan society those who renounce violence, sever all ties with Al-Qaeda and abide by the Afghan constitution.

The report hopes that this process would blend with the consultative peace jirga (recently held in Kabul). Government revenues had increased to $1 billion but they were still serious deficiencies at all key border crossing points. Torkham and Chaman were rated at only 50 percent functional.

The ring road which would be the basic lifeline linking the major Afghan cities is 89 percent complete but the Kajkai Dam (which supplies the Helmand valley and was originally built by the US) is still three years away from providing 100MW due to the security situation in the Helmand and Kandahar area. However, the 100MW gas-fired project is nearing completion in Shibargan. Mobile coverage has reached 40 percent with 12 million users and $1 billion in revenues.

Commenting on regional countries the report favourably notes that the Pakistan military has deployed 150,000 troops in FATA and NWFP. China has contracted to provide $300 million annually for the Aimak copper mine.

India is providing $1.3 billion for infrastructure development, 1300 scholarships annually, food and medical aid and construction of a dam in Herat Province.

The Herat – Mazar-i-Sharif rail link when completed would provide access through Uzbeki-stan to Europe. Iran comes in for particular criticism for “continuing to provide lethal assistance to elements of the Taliban, to ensure a positive relationship with potential leaders and hedging against foreign presence.” The annual budget for the Afghan defence forces is estimated at $6.6 billion which seems to be an unsustainable figure.

The quotas for recruitment in the defence forces continues to be lopsided with Pashtuns at 41 percent, Tajiks 34 percent, Hazaras 12 percent, Uzbeks 8 percent , and others at 5 percent. Unless the US and Afghans find a more equitable solution to ethnic representation the insurgency would continue to be fed on real and imaginary grievances.

The conclusion of the report that the security situation has improved within the last six months is completely at odds with the figures, maps and data provided in the report itself.

This point is also brought out in the review of the report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies by Anthony H. Cordesman entitled Shaping the War in Afghanistan – The Situation in the Spring of 2010 which makes the following comments:

? The insurgency is loosely organised, increasingly effective and growing more cohesive.

? Insurgents strength is enabled by government’s weakness.

? International support for development has not met peoples expectation.

? Afghan security forces competency has lagged behind a growing insurgency.

? Presumed insurgent successes will draw foreign fighters.

? The insurgents are efficient, have strong capability and influence among the population covering 95 districts, mostly in the Pashtun areas.

? Production of opium has surged to 6,000 tonnes.

? The 2,412 civilian deaths in the last six months is causing severe resentment.

? The clear, hold, build and transfer mission is not working.

While keypopulation centres have been secured, the coalition has been unable to remove the insurgents, maintain security, provide sufficient relief and reconstruction or effectively involve the Afghan government.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Tribal engagement workshop
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21 Apr 2010
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ARIF AYUB

After nearly 10 years in Afghanistan the US has finally realised that tribes play an important role in Pashtun society where almost all of the counter insurgency is concentrated. The Small Wars Journal therefore held a tribal engagement workshop at which nearly 50 papers were presented giving the pros and cons of a tribal policy. Some of the papers were of an exceptionally high quality and showed that the Americans were quick learners as they had analysed the problems and provided solutions within these 10 years which had taken the British nearly 50 years to formulate and implement. The difference is that the British planned to stay for a 100 years and constructed their institutions to deal with the tribes with this timeframe in view. By contrast the US is planning to leave by early next year and is implementing the tribal strategy through the army which is a particularly blunt instrument to deal with the complexities of tribal politics.

The workshop had Major Jim Gant’s paper One Tribe at a Time as the basic working paper based on his experiences in the Kunar valley facing our Mohmand Agency. Major Gant was convinced that the US had to work with the tribes as they were the most important military, political, social and cultural unit and the Afghan government was not competent enough to deal with the threats facing Afghanistan and the Afghans always resented any type of foreign intervention in their affairs.

Col Jeffrey A Sinclair presented the Tribal Configuration Matrix based on his experiences in Iraq and focused on tribal networks, tribal mapping, tribal leaders and their social network which were fed into a tribal database, which showed the nature of the balance of power in an area and the best way to go about developing local national security forces and economic and governance needs. Most participants were however convinced that the Iraqi situation was not comparable to the tribes of Afghanistan who were a unique social phenomenon.

Col Ellen Harring presented Mobilising Identity in the Pashtun Tribal Belt emphasising that religious identity was being mobilised by one group for political power and ethnic identity was being inadvertently threatened by another group resulting in the resistance and increased violence. Jirgas were seen as providing a conflict resolution mechanism since the formal system was corrupt and inefficient. The Taliban supplemented the jirga system and tried to subordinate to Shariah Law. Initially tribal mullahs were subordinate to tribal elders and leaders. However, throughout history a number of mullahs had risen to challenge the Pashtunwali tribal code by attempting to gain power via religious fanaticism. In the seventies and eighties religious leaders were empowered with arms, ammunition and money by external actors who sought to assist the Afghans against Soviet occupation. External actors represented now by the US and the international community were attempting to impose control on all of Afghanistan through a centralised government apparatus. Pashtuns saw this as an attempt to takeaway their autonomy and impose laws and rules that did not reflect the Pashtunwali tribal codes and had therefore moved closer to the Taliban who were challenging the presence of the international community. Col Ellen has recommended avoiding threats to the Pashtun cultural practices and ethnic identity, returning power to tribal elders and resolving Pashtun grievances.

The concept of mullah challenging the Pakhtunwali tribal code received particular attention in the workshop and was presented by a number of participants as a leader overcoming person based politics by using religion in order to overcome tribal constraints and kin based political economy. This had been shown in the triumph of the Taliban movement waging jihad against non-Muslim invaders. The state was seen as a means of enhancing local status and power and must therefore be effective without being disruptive. In 1978 the new communist state was perceived as an enemy of the people based on an alien ideology and working for an alien country. The revolt therefore took on an anti-state dimension.

The US army in its Study of Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan based on the reports of its human terrain teams was of the opinion that the tribal system was weak in most parts of Afghanistan and could not provide alternatives to the Taliban or US control. The strategy in Iraq was not relevant since the tribes in Afghanistan did not act as unified groups. Instead it recommended local knowledge, cultural understanding and local contacts to influence policies. An example was given of the Kunar uprising of 1978 which began as a tribal revolt by the Safi Pashtuns but as the lashkars dissolved more disciplined and better funded parties stepped into this void e.g. Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbudin. Three decades of war had undermined centrality of the tribes as a source of identity.

Most participants were of the view that Taliban strategists had a better feel for the complex social landscape and the various rival configurations of power in each region. The Taliban vanquished some groups entered into alliance relationships with others while some groups worked as their clients.
The US Marine Corp also emphasised the complexity of the social matrix in Afghanistan where power was divided between the government, land holders/tribes and the mullahs and there was a constant power struggle between these three entities. The example of Mullah Powindah in the 1890s and the Faqir of Ipi in the 1930s were provided to show the power of the mullah to lead the insurgency against the might of the British empire. The ability of the mullah to call for jihad gives him the power to motivate the Pashtuns to fight outside his tribal allegiances.

The workshop highlighted the importance of tribal identity in Afghanistan but at the same time emphasised on the complex social dynamics operating in the country over the last four decades which had obviously affected the tribal system both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. The situation was different in each province and agency and accordingly decisions would have to be made on interactions with the tribe or the Taliban. At times the situation is even more confused as the dividing line is not clear. For example Jallaludin Haqqani and Anwar Ul Haq Mujahid (son of Younis Khalis) are both religious and tribal leaders. Tribal policy therefore needs to be dealt with pragmatism and should be devoid of any preconceived ideas or ideology.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Cheeni Aur Bey Cheyni
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17 Nov 2009
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Article Published In EXPRESS By Shakeel Farooqi
Article Published In EXPRESS By Shakeel Farooqi
Ehed Saaz
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06 Oct 2009
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Article Published In EXPRESS By Shakeel Farooqi
Article Published In EXPRESS By Shakeel Farooqi
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