Afghan villagers in the north of the country, around Kunduz, have been forming their own militias. They say this is required to protect them against Taliban attacks since the Afghan Army and international forces are not able to do so. This is a very busy week for me, so, unfortunately, I’m not able to go into detail into these reports.
Meanwhile, talks have taken place between the Afghan government and insurgents.
According to a report by Amir Mir, published in Pakistan’s The News, US drone strikes have mostly missed targeted al-Qaeda leaders. The study covers a period between 14 January 2006 and 8 April 2009.
Out of 60 Predator strikes, 10 hit their intended target, killing 14 members of al-Qaeda in addition to 687 civilian deaths. According to these calculations, from the total number of deaths only about 2% of them were al-Qaeda.
This is a terrible track record and explains the fear, anger, and opposition from Pakistani citizens to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. The US seems to be crippled by poor intelligence on legitimate targets but seems to follow through with attacks despite the poor intelligence. A significant portion of this intelligence is believed to be provided by local tribes people who are given cash rewards for this information.
I have not yet been able to find official calculations by the US military. This may not be available since the use of drones in Pakistan is classified and officials generally only speak of their overall tactical impact under condition of anonymity. A look at official statements immediately following a strike then retractions by US officials sometimes months later is enough to make my head spin with confusion. It’s not uncommon for claims to be made that al-Qaeda targets were killed only to be retracted or reduced in number and sometimes civilian casualties admitted after strong pressure and evidence contradicting these reports.
The militants in Pakistan have responded to US intelligence gathering from locals by kidnapping, torturing, and murdering people they accuse of spying for the US.
You can read the full article and breakdown of numbers here.
An article in McClatchy, by Jonathan S. Landay, reviews the issue from a slightly different perspective. The article quotes a US intelligence official saying:
The UAV strikes have had two unintended consequences.
First, al Qaida and the Taliban have used our use of unmanned aircraft in their propaganda to portray Americans as cowards who are afraid to face their enemies and risk death. In their culture, and in the context of what they portray as a war between Western religions and Islam, that can be a powerful argument,
Second and not surprisingly,” he continued, “rather than sit around in the (tribal region) waiting for the next strike, some of the jihadis have moved into Pakistan proper, into Karachi and even into Punjab, where we can’t target them and where they’re in a better position to attack the Pakistani government.
Other military and intelligence officials that were interviewed expressed concern that “the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S.”
The war in Afghanistan has become the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, sometimes termed the Afpak war by the US administration. This expansion into Pakistan reveals much about the nature of the war in the region, is a response to the origin story of the Taliban, and reflects the practice of the rights of the dominant international subjects to intervene throughout the world in the name of global order.
The current US administration, under president Barack Obama, has refocused its attention on Central and South Asia after its predecessor had shifted the greater part of its international policy resources to the war in Iraq. President Obama has increasingly articulated a US and NATO policy that has been a growing reality since the tail end of the US presidential election campaign: de-emphasis on Iraq and emphasis and resurgence of international political-military activity in and around Afghanistan.
In this regard, the US will in the short term be sending some 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and it will be sending a great number more civilian experts to train and handle Afghan bureaucrats and politicians.
Taliban Sans Frontiere
The Taliban’s presence is today strongest in southern Afghanistan and north western Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (read my article on the Taliban presence in FATA for more information). These areas constitute the majority of the Pashtun people’s territories. The Taliban has its roots in Pashtun culture. Almost all Taliban leaders are of Pashtun origin, and they are currently the primary power bloc within these highly tribal influenced people. In fact the Taliban’s rules and codes, as they enforce them in territories they effectively govern, are a synthesis of a particular Sunni school of religious conduct (originally from India’s Deobandi school) and the Pashtun tribal rules known as Pashtunwali.
According to an article by Marc Ambinder, published by the Atlantic, US president Barack Obama will likely support a senate bill to provide funds to Pakistan tied to that country’s efforts against Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents.
These reports are coming from US government insiders prior to president Obama’s formal release of his Afghanistan and Pakistan policy.
Such aid will likely be used to pressure Pakistan’s government to reduce it’s long-standing and often covert cooperation with the Taliban. This method is not new, and was carried out quite under both presidents Bush and Clinton. The Pakistani government, at that time under the leadership of Pervez Musharraf, proved adept at playing both sides, receiving money from the U.S. and using its military and secret intelligence to support Taliban assets it had cultivated over many years.
Pakistan had previously used its ties to the Taliban to exert influence within Afghanistan, such as undermining the Northern Alliance (which had greater understanding with Iran), establishing trade routes and smuggling rings, keeping Indian influence to a minimum in Afghanistan, and using Taliban allied training grounds and people as fighters against India in Kashmir in order to avoid the full fallout from a formal government directed attack.
According to the Atlantic article, president Obama plans to send “4,000 additional troops … tasked with training Afghan soldiers and the national police; the administration hopes to have more than 130,000 [Afghan] soldiers and 82,000 [Afghan] police officers trained by 2011.”
The Nation has an informative article on the use of Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, by Israel in the latest major assault on the Gaza Strip. Israel is a leader in the development of drone technology, modifying U.S. designs as it has done with many of its other military hardware.
The AFP reports that Iran has attended a meeting at NATO headquarters, the first time direct talks were held between these two groups since the Iranian revolution some 30 years ago. According to a chief NATO spokesman, “the Iranians are interested in possible cooperation on Afghanistan.” AFP reports that Iran is interested in mitigating the smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan into Iran.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that between 1.5 and 2 million Afghan refugees reside in Iran. Iran is keen on reducing the numbers of these refugees and reducing the flow of new refugees. Also, Iran has had quite bad relations with the Taliban. The Sunni Taliban sees Iran’s Shia government as apostate and relations between the two are anywhere between strained to hostile.
In 2001, Iran proved supportive of the US invasion of Afghanistan and, importantly, was instrumental in convincing its allies in the Northern Alliance to work with the US.
Juan Cole reports on an Al-Zaman article claiming “that Iranian speaker of the House Ali Larijani is on a secret mission in Iraq to mediate between the Islamic Mission (Da’wa) Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his sometime coalition partner, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). The two parties are seeking to form coalitions in several southern Shiite provincial councils, and Iran is said impatient for the deal to be concluded.”
The lead-up to Iran’s June presidential elections has been somewhat tumultuous for all candidates involved, including current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He faced stiff resistance, and finally parliamentary defeat of his budget plans in March. Despite this body blow, EurasiaNet reports that president Ahmadinejad remains the front runner in the race. Ahmadinejad’s power base is heavily tied to his alliance with the military, counter to traditional politics in the Islamic Republic of Iran. His past and current election campaigns indicate greater military influence over Iranian politics, undermining some of the power of clerics and their financiers (the bazaaris).
First published at Rabble.ca:
Today, masked gunmen executed an attack in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore. Reports indicate that fourteen heavily armed gunmen were involved, attacking a bus convoy carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team to the local stadium for the day’s game. The attackers are said to have descended on the scene from four different locations, and were armed with at least one rocket launcher, several grenades, and AK47s. Reports are a little confused about the length of the firefight, lasting anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.
The driver of one of the buses was killed and some team members were injured.
This attack follows weeks after a cease fire was called between the central government and the Taliban insurgents in the country’s north west region after the government had OKed legislation formalizing the religious foundation of Sharia law in that region as a prerequisite to peace.
Today’s attack is outside the region in which the Pakistani military was fighting militants, and is sign of a disturbing trend toward commando attacks within the heart of Pakistan’s economic and administrative centres.
In a country in which cricket is the top sport, this attack was designed to show just how unstable is the country and that militants are strong. It worked on these fronts. Pakistan’s role in international cricket is dead for some time now, and the world is made deadly aware of the spreading chaos and loss of government authority in that country.
In a report published today, Tariq Ali, states that greater instability and violence will be a result of the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan as insurgents unify in opposition to it. The surge cannot possibly provide enough personnel to protect all regions of Afghanistan let alone protect the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
If the cease fire holds between Pakistan and insurgents in its north west, then these fighters can focus greater effort into attacks within Afghanistan. This year’s fighting has not yet really started. Fighting in Afghanistan drops to a relative trickle in winter months as mountain passages become congested with snow and many roads difficult or impossible to cross.
Pakistan’s government has lost face, the population grown more contemptuous of it, and militants more hostile after a recent revelation by Senator Dianne Feinstein that U.S. drone attacks carried out in Pakistan are being directed from and launched from bases within Pakistan. This means that the local government and military are in collusion with U.S. decision-makers. Drone attacks have been highly unpopular within Pakistan, seen by the people as a breach of their sovereignty, intrusion of war into their neighbourhoods, and cause of civilian deaths. The revelation also reinforces many Pakistani people’s beliefs that the civilian government is a stooge of the U.S., adding to its unpopularity and growing inability to command the respect required to govern.
The government’s unpopularity has further been increased by President Zardari’s refusal to live up to a campaign promise, to reintroduce an independent judiciary that was disempowered under the late stages of Musharraf’s rule. President Zardari has dismissed the Punjab province’s government and is now in direct control of the country’s most populous province. Tariq Ali writes that this move took place after the province’s “chief minister apparently refused to accept a bribe in the shape of a lucrative business deal in return for abandoning the fight to restore the chief justice fired by the military leader over a year ago.”
The US is talking with Pakistan over the planned troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan doubling the number of US soldiers. The war in Afghanistan is no longer just that, it’s also a war in western Pakistan. Coordination of efforts between the US and Pakistan are important in the success of military (and non-military) efforts to mitigate or defeat the insurgency. The Pakistani paper, DAWN, has a little more on this.
One of Pakistan’s concerns is US military action within its borders. Pakistan’s fear here is that the US will continue to strike into that country without warning the government, essentially a violation of their borders and sovereignty. This has been a blow against the government’s legitimacy, fueling anger within Pakistanis not only against the US but also against a government that has done nothing, or perhaps is incapable of defending the country’s sovereign integrity. Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday commented on the use of US drone attacks in Pakistan, “when there is a drone attack that unites them again, the tribes and the militants… This thing is counterproductive for Pakistan and the Pakistan military.” You can read more at The News.
Afghanistan’s Presidential elections have been pushed back to 20 August. This is three months behind the schedule outlined in the constitution. Officially, the delay is due to lack of security and sparse funds. Unofficially, the current President, Hamid Karzai, is likely buying himself some time to maneuver into a better political position leading up to the election. He has become quite unpopular, mocked as the ‘mayor of Kabul’ by Afghans, and it also seems that the new US administration does not favour his staying in power. President Karzai has failed to extend the government’s authority over much of the country, nor has he succeeded in building a broad based consensus among Afghanistan’s people. The authority of the central government under President Karzai rests on the shoulders of Western funds, Western weapons, and Western military power. The Afghan National Army has not even attempted to act independently from US and NATO handlers and is generally seen as incapable of fighting effectively.
All the while, many Afghans are struggling for the basics of life essentials: food, water, and medical treatment.
Under these circumstances it’s not hard to imagine why President Karzai would be unpopular. Any people would want an independent national leadership to take charge of a bad situation. Similarly, the Pashtun based Taliban is popular enough in southern Afghanistan to continuously extend its reach. Contrasted against President Karzai’s ineffective government, the Taliban appear quite independent, and themselves capable enough to fight against a modern Western army without the conspicuous need for billions of dollars in foreign funds and training. It doesn’t look good therefore that the central government isn’t as capable.
A Callous Strategy Continues to Kill Innocents In Afghanistan While Pakistan Fights For The Minds Of Its People
Many US and NATO victories encapsulate defeat within them. Earlier this month, the US military claimed to have killed 32 Taliban fighters in an operation it has presented as a success in counter-insurgency.
The New York Times covers the story after interviews with the wounded in hospital:
But the two young men who lay wincing in a hospital ward here told a different story a few days later, one backed up by the pro-American provincial governor and a central government delegation.
They agreed that 13 civilians had been killed and 9 wounded when American commandos broke down doors and unleashed dogs without warning on Jan. 7 in the hunt for a known insurgent in Masamut, in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan. The residents were so enraged that they threatened to march on the American military base here.
Another US raid, this one on Friday, has sparked local demonstrations. Locals are angry at civilian casualties from the raid. “The raid killed at least 16 villagers, including 2 women and 3 children, according to a statement from President Hamid Karzai.”
The CBC reports that “two caches of weapons and roadside bomb-making materials were also destroyed by coalition troops, apparently because they were too unstable to transport to a secure location. The resulting blasts may have killed civilians, according to the deputy governor of Laghman province, Hadayut Qalanderzai.”
This is unfortunately a too common occurrence. US led missions often claim significant victories after ground or air raids in which they present a figure for Taliban dead in a battle but refute claims of any civilians injured or killed. Later investigations by the UN and human rights groups too often discover evidence (and at times record visual evidence) of civilians such as children and women killed in the same fight. The US spokespeople then fall into what has become an ignoble dance of denial sometimes followed by late acceptance of the civilian dead. Afghans can’t help but feel that this communicates little regard for the death of their neighbours, and loved ones. Anger is growing, among the people and government of Afghanistan. Not only are apologies often not forthcoming but the strategy that results in such innocent deaths persists without serious review. It’s not surprising then that there would be little sympathy for or assistance for international troops fighting in Afghanistan when these same troops appear to be competing with the Taliban over who has killed more civilians in their mission for control of the country. In fighting over territory and in the quest to bag as many enemy dead the very people who inhabit the land seem forgotten and their deaths and hardships are reduced to a consequence or collateral of ongoing war. It then follows that the Taliban or US blames the other for instigating a war that has forced them to kill civilians in what each considers a justified mission against a nemesis. The fact remains that civilians continue to die in great numbers at the hands of both parties.
The Taliban in Pakistan continues a campaign of killings of people they claim to be US spies operating near the border with Afghanistan. Likely these executions have multiple facets. They instill fear within the local population so that they desist from resistance against the Taliban, some may well be political deaths of opponents who had no direct ties to US institutions, and others may well be spies. The US does have cash rewards for informants in Pakistan. The latest Taliban execution took place in North Waziristan. The murdered body was found dumped in the mountains.
The fighting between insurgents and the local security forces has become focused on schools. Girls’ schools and state schools are being attacked by the Taliban while the Pakistani military has now taken to securing the educational centres. From UPI:
Suspected Taliban militants blew up a school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, bringing to 183 the number of area schools destroyed in six months, officials said.
Also Monday, local newspapers printed the list of 50 government officials and tribal elders whom radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah threatened to kill if they did not appear before him for opposing the Taliban, CNN reported.
The FATA and NWFP regions of Pakistan have chronically suffered from a lack of education. This has been an effective tool in the hands of Islamist groups who increasingly tend to provide the most readily available form of schooling. This deficiency in education began during the inception of Pakistan, the central government never taking it upon itself to provide adequate social services, economic development, or even equal civic rights to the people of those territories.
The FATA has a 17% literacy rate, 3% for women. The national average is 56%. It seems clear that Islamist militants wish to maintain this trend and monopolize general education to their benefit.
One civilian killed, eight injured after a suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan, according to a provincial official.
How the threat to US and NATO military supplies routes to Afghanistan is the sign of a failed policy.
The Khyber Pass supply route for international forces stationed in Afghanistan was briefly closed by Pakistan, again. DAWN reports, “supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan through Khyber Pass were briefly suspended on Monday after militants attacked an army camp, killing a paramilitary soldier and wounding 10, an official said.” I’m not certain how all of these disruptions are affecting supplies to international forces in Afghanistan. Most of the US-NATO supplies go through the Khyber Pass. I’ve been reading rumbles of already eroded supplies in Afghanistan. With a planned US troop increase and the growing instability of Pakistan along the Khyber Pass, the Western military operation may become even more vulnerable. Protecting the pass with more troops will probably greatly increase international troop casualties since insurgents are well entrenched in the region.
The US and NATO are still trying to negotiate alternate routes, mainly through the countries on Afghanistan’s northern border. The most logical route other than Pakistan is through Iran. However, after a brief period of cooperation following 9/11, the US closed the door on Iran working with them in Afghanistan once President Bush identified Iran as a leading member of the “Axis of Evil”.
Kyrgyztan is one of the countries north of Afghanistan. The country’s government, however, has recently warned that it may any day demand a withdrawal of US presence from the base. This has come after Russian pressure. The US has also voiced interest in basing in Kazakhstan, immediately south of Russia. Kazakhstan has closer ties to Russian than Kyrgyztan and to reach a base there would essentially require passage through Russian territory, then a hop through the air space of another Central Asian state which will also under significant Russian influence and pressure. Furthermore, all but one of the Central Asian states – the exception being Turkmenistan – are facing their own very real Islamist insurgency. After seeing the US-NATO alliance’s abysmal failure to deal with the Taliban, these countries will undoubtedly have little trust in direct Western assistance or presence on their soil, worried that this may well destabalise their own constituencies.
So, in order to solve the supply problem, the US and NATO forces have these options:
(1) Pakistan is itself able to rapidly bring peace to its border area, thus securing supply routes into Afghanistan. This seems impossible in the immediate future. Pakistan has been engaged in a hot war with insurgents since the end of Summer 2008 and the conflict has only expanded. Furthermore, Pakistan’s ruling factions are divided, some even providing barely secret support to the insurgents.
(2) Western forces expand the war into northwestern Pakistan. The plan here would be to formally cooperate with Pakistan in fighting an insurgency that is active both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The goal would likely be to focus a major assault in Pakistan in order to deny Taliban bases and resources there as well as to safeguard what is currently the only supply line of importance to Western forces. There would be need for a predominantly political dimension to this strategy. Pakistan cannot be distracted by possible conflict with India, so this matter would need to be settled between them. Furthermore, there would need to be clear, and commanding leadership from within Pakistan’s political elite in defiance to the powerful factions that resist the defeat of that country’s homegrown armed Islamists. These requirements would allow Pakistan to engage the full force of its army and intelligence services, both of which are currently riddled with dissenting power blocs. Also, the West would have to be prepared for an expansion of the war into Pakistan when war weariness is exhausting the patience of its citizens, commit more money, commit more troops, and commit to much larger loss of life among its soldiers. On top of everything, there would be no guarantee of success; insurgencies are notoriously difficult to quell especially when the local central authority is weak and divided.
(3) Iran is used an alternate route for military supplies. On the surface this seems the most reasonable. Iran has the ports that could handle the marine convoys, it has a relatively secure border with Afghanistan, and has suitable roads into the north and south of Afghanistan. Also, Iran sees the Taliban as an enemy and has for years worked to defeat them, even convincing its allies in the Northern Alliance to work with the US in the 2001 invasion. Relations between the US and Iran, however, are terrible. The US in 2001 rejected attempts at Iranian rapprochement, making it very difficult to quickly reverse the situation of mutual animosity. The US is likely concerned that its key regional allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, would react in hostile manner to any American cooperation with Iran on Afghanistan. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are weary of Iranian influence, each wanting to be a regional hegemon and concerned that any Iranian gain would deny them this victory and perhaps allow Iran to instead become the preeminent power. So, this solution will almost certainly be rejected by the US.
(4) The US would need to cooperate with Russia for a northern supply route into Afghanistan. Russia currently has no incentive to accept this. The US, through its NATO alliance, has placed new missile defence military installations on Russia’s western border. The US has also, for the most part, led NATO through massive expansion into former Soviet states, encircling a significant portion of Russia and adding new bases to an already impressive chain that spans from northern Europe to the Middle East and Afghanistan. This cordon is seen as a serious military threat by Russia and after years of signaling its concern at the pursuit of this expanded iron curtain, Russia has regained its confidence and some of its (still fragile) strength to react politically (with new pacts in Central Asia, and the Middle East), militarily (in the short war in Georgia), and economically (mainly through its energy export policy). Russia would not want to help the US and NATO establish stable bases in Central Asia since the US will likely try to turn these into long term bases and succeed in a near complete encirclement of Russia. On some level Russia may actually encourage further US-NATO engagement in Afghanistan’s war, only so that more of its opponent’s resources are sunk there. Following this, it would likely seek, without any outwardly hostile act, to maintain or promote an environment in which US-led forces suffer great military, economic, and symbolic losses.
(5) US-NATO can also seek to pursue the current political and military strategy with minor adjustments here and there. This is unlikely to result in a clear and discernible Western victory in the region especially since the focus remains military with a clear disregard of the political solutions required to face the underlying causes of insurgency, instability, and civil war. Nor will an unchanged strategy bring Afghanistan’s regionally significant neighbours on-side with US goals: many in Pakistan’s ruling elite will resist US policy, India and Pakistan will see Afghanistan as a ground to pursue a proxy war between them, Iran will seek to thwart both the Taliban and the US, and Russia will cheer for a US-NATO disaster.
(6) The US and NATO may try to wash their hands of their own creation and leave after a symbolic show of force potentially in the guise of a ‘surge’. The plan of departure may include at least preliminary negotiations with some elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Western military alliance may then claim to have established a framework of local cooperation superficially facilitated by a military surge. The US and NATO, once withdrawal is complete, would then likely cease any significant direct commitment to Afghanistan. Factional fighting would probably continue in Afghanistan, effectively another civil war. Afghanistan would at this point be even more impoverished and war-torn after the 2001 invasion. In this case the US would likely seek to outsource its Afghanistan policy to a regional ally, as it did prior to 2001. Back then, Pakistan’s military and intelligence services had this role. Things may be different this time around. The US is showing increased interest in having India join a military pact (mainly through a Nuclear deal), while India has shown greater interest in expanding its influence within Afghanistan and Central Asia, partially to counter Pakistan. The US may well support Indian influence in Afghanistan, backing an anti-Taliban government in Kabul. In return for legitimating and subsidising Indian regional influence in this regard, the US could demand greater Indian military and foreign policy compliance, locking India into an Asia-Pacific alliance that would include Japan and Australia.
One of Afghanistan’s senior generals has died in a helicopter crash. The New York Times reports:
The senior commander who was killed, Gen. Fazel Ahmad Sayar, was head of the 207th Corps and one of four regional commanders in the Afghan Army, responsible for the western zone of the country.
He was on a mission to visit army bases and posts in the province of Farah when his Russian-made MI-17 helicopter ran into bad weather and hit a mountainside on Thursday morning, General Azimi said.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin Wednesday asked Afghanistan to stop using illegal copies of Russian weapons. “It would be proper if such weapons were delivered from Russia and not from third countries,” Borodavkin said. The Moscow Times reports that Russian sale of arms has risen to a post-Soviet peak of $8 billion in 2008. It has traditionally been popular to use cloned versions of Russian weapons throughout many of the world’s conflict zones.
US and ISAF-NATO supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan have seen a number of disruptions of late. Supply routes are vital for any sustained military operation to have reasonable chance of success. DAWN covers the story: “A key route for NATO supply trucks through southwest Pakistan into Afghanistan reopened Wednesday five days after tribesmen blocked it over the killing of a man in a drugs raid, police said. Hundreds of trucks and tankers have been stranded since Friday along the highway between Quetta and the border town of Chaman due to the tribesmen’s blockade in the rural town of Qila Abdullah. The men were protesting at the recent killing of a tribesman during a joint raid by Pakistani paramilitary forces, anti-narcotics police and intelligence agents.” On Tuesday, insurgents struck a NATO supply depot in Peshawar (Pakistan).
The Khyber Pass is the main route from which foreign military supplies enter Afghanistan. This route has seen a lot of disruptions of late due to continued Taliban attacks targeting convoys and supply depots. US-led forces have been seeking alternate routes in order to decrease their dependence on the Khyber Pass, a route that forces them to pass through regions with high insurgent opposition. There are rumours that international troops’ northern supply lines may also be at risk. A Russian newspaper has reported that a key US airbase in Kyrgyzstan (north east of Afghanistan) could be shut down in exchange for a large Russian investment. Russian resistance to US military bases in the region are a response to NATO expansion to the borders of Russian, to the US’s establishment of new missile defence stations in eastern Europe, and also an outcome of heightened tensions following the short war in Georgia.
On Thursday, the Taliban shot dead a man they accused of spying for the US. The execution took place in Pakistan’s North Waziristan agency, part of the FATA. From DAWN: “The 30-year-old was abducted from Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan, a month ago after a suspected US drone attack on a militant hideout in the area, they said. ‘He was gunned down before dawn and his body was dumped on a roadside near Miramshah,’ said an official who aked not to be named. A note placed near the body described him as a US spy.” The US has placed rewards for information on Taliban movements within Pakistan, which seems to be the source of some real anxiety and paranoia from groups of Taliban combatants who often pass through or temporarily camp in the region’s villages.
Two British marines die in an explosion in Helmland province. 9 have died since mid-December, for a total of 143 dead. A Canadian solider died on Wednesday during a raid on what’s described as a Taliban bomb-making factory.
The situation has only worsened in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan’s military continues to be engaged in a furious conflict with insurgents on part of its border with Afghanistan, mainly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The military claims that they’ve killed more than 1,500 rebels since August in just one region of the FATA. Despite Pakistani troop buildups along its western border with Afghanistan, insurgents do not seem dissuaded from combat. Only yesterday, 600 fighters, many crossing from Afghanistan, attacked a Pakistani military checkpoint in Mohmand. Pakistani officials claim to have killed 40 insurgents and lost 6 of their own troops in the fighting.
The FATA has a history of autonomy from Pakistan’s central authority, and has rebelled in the past. It is a region marginalized from Pakistan’s political and economic heartland. The FATA’s people have suffered from a long period of restricted political rights, and the economic and social situation in the FATA is dismal. Annual per capita income is only $500, nearly half that of the rest of Pakistan. Literacy stands at 17%, with 3% for women. The national average is 56%. Clearly, the FATA is marginalized and socio-economically abandoned. Religious schools are the most available form of education, providing a further advantage to these institutions. With the collapse of government authority in southern Afghanistan, it didn’t take much for violence to spread over the porous border into Pakistan’s impoverished neighbouring regions.
AFP reports that “masked gunmen on Sunday kidnapped a senior local government official in a troubled tribal area in northwest Pakistan where Taliban militants are active, police said… Last month, militants in neighbouring North Waziristan abducted another senior government official, Asmatullah Wazir, from the Mir Ali district. He has not yet been recovered, officials said.” The kidnappings took place in the FATA’s South and North Waziristan regions. The Pakistani paper, DAWN, highlights the ineffectiveness of local security plus the boldness of insurgents by indicating that the latest kidnapping took place: “in the presence of more than 20 security personnel.”
IPS reports that some 400,000 people have fled the FATA’s Bajaur Agency since 22 September. This is the region Pakistan’s military claims have killed 1,500 insurgents. Refugees are fleeing to the neighbouring North West Frontier Province (NWFP). IPS:
The NWFP government set up 11 camps to shelter internally displaced peoples (IDPs) from Bajaur and Mohmand agencies that are part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Swat, a district in NWFP that has been riven with violence since 2006.
…”About 51 percent of the camps’ inmates suffer from acute respiratory infections and 19 percent had acute watery diarrhoea,” says Dr Saeed Akbar Khan of the World Health Organisation that along with the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN children’s agency, UNICEF, launched a 30 million dollars appeal to help IDPs in October.
UNICEF estimates that 15 percent of children in the camps are severely malnourished. The worst affected are children from Nowshera, Lower Dir, Mardan, Charsadda, according to Dr Saeed Anwar.
…Things could get worse, warns Amjad of the NWFP Disasters Management Cell. “With unending militancy, we fear more people would arrives in these camps,” he says.
…There are no schools for children, and no hopes for employment for the adults.
The Taliban was born from similar refugee camps in Pakistan. Refugees who fled the chaos of Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of that country were settled in tented refugee camps in Pakistan where an entire generation of children was born without access to public education, without proper sanitation, with no prospect of sustainable employment, and cut off from general society within these isolated camps. A large part of the Taliban’s founders grew up in refugee camps. These latest camps in Pakistan can add to the militant resistance in Pakistan and Afghanistan by enraging yet another generation of desperate people cut off from and isolated from their traditional homes and societies(1).
(1) Read Ahmed Rashid’s book, ‘Taliban‘ for information on that organization’s inception and growth.