Lone girl in Afghanistan, photo: Papyrrari/flickr
As the world anticipates Obama’s long-awaited strategy review for Afghanistan, the debate around the war intensifies with politicians, experts and laymen weighing in on the desired course of Afghan policy.
A war that has lasted eight years, and that costs the US $3.6 billion a month, has become a source of intense historical and strategic debates about the nature of conflict in South Asia, the region’s geopolitical significance, and the role of US power in the modern era. With America’s Vietnam legacy in mind the pressure to deliver something positive is immense.
But in these debates about strategy- how to quell the Taliban insurgency; how to address the region as a whole, particularly with Pakistan’s shortcomings in mind, and how to strengthen the Afghan government without giving Karzai carte blanche, etc – the humanitarian focus is exactly what seems to be missing.
There has been a bit of a buzz in the counter-terrorism (CT) blogshere during the past month due to two notable exchanges between bloggers and prominent members of violent non-state groups that utilize terrorism and other means of political violence.
In one example, John Robb, author of the Brave New War and the Global Guerillas blog was recently contacted by Henry Okah, an arms dealer who has supplied arms to militants in the Niger Delta and assumed various leadership roles in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a group based in the Niger Delta that has, since 2006, launched sustained attacks aimed at the energy sector.
Robb, who has written about Okah on numerous occasions and identifies him as a guerrilla entrepreneur, did not go into detail about the exchange with Okah except to say that he asked to meet with Robb in person. One can assume that more info will follow as the exchange develops.
In another instance, Australian Leah Farrall, currently an academic and author of the All Things Counter Terrorism blog, was also contacted by a well-known figure – Abu Walid al Masri, a senior Arab Afghan adviser to al-Qaida and the Taliban and author of numerous books in Arabic relating to Afghanistan and al-Qaida.
Bruce Riedel chaired the task force who reviewed the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan last winter.
The Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS), an ISN partner, has published a podcast of his talk at the Ottawa Roundtable on Security and Intelligence.
After a long career at the CIA and advising three US presidents to the US presidency, Riedel is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
In his talk, he presents the key conclusions of the Af-Pak strategic review released in March 2009. By the way, here is the US white paper summarizing the recommendations which came out of the review.
Riedel also outlines developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last six months and looks at the direction US policy is likely to, or should, take.
Further ISN resources on the topic:
Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr
After the German-directed ISAF air strike on two fuel vehicles stolen by the Taliban reportedly cost civilian lives, public calls for clarification are accompanied by both palsy and hectic in Berlin. Federal elections will take place in less than 3 weeks.
What often happens when things go very wrong is that people engage in speculation and search for a scapegoat. Too seldom though, we see people take responsibility, especially in politics. Clausewitz wrote that war never is an end in itself and always serves a political purpose. Imagine now a trigger in the hands of a German soldier serving in an army with a heavy legacy; an army from a pacifistic, self-traumatized post-war state, in which military planning, strategy and even tactics are subject to widespread emotional discussions. How much politics can efficient tactics bear? » More
Election fever in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo taken by our correspondent on the ground, Anuj Chopra
Media gags, reports of sporadic attacks, Taliban threats to cut off ink-stained fingers – excitement and anxiety abound as voting in Afghanistan draws to a close.
Several commentators have warned that a contested outcome – most likely one where incumbent Hamid Karzai does not win the first round with 51 percent of the vote – might result in a constitutional deadlock and a period of heightened instability. Others, however, have lauded the gains that his main opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has made as a sign of progress in an open and fair election process. The election will either heal or deepen rifts in the Afghan polity that have been exposed by the failure of reconstruction efforts and the looming Taliban threat.
But what is the situation on the ground? Are voters heeding Karzai’s call to come out and vote? Is democracy, and the hope of a better tomorrow, inspiring Afghans to take the risk and get that ink stain on their finger?
- The ISN provides insights into the election process through Anuj Chopra, our reporter on the ground in Afghanistan. In a piece on the election, Anuj highlights the fears and anxieties of many voters who have succumb to the Taliban’s intimidation-campaign.
- Kai Eide, special representative for the UN secretary general writes for RFE/RL that this election, although difficult, could mark a turning point in the reconstruction effort and the fight against the Taliban. Increased confidence in the democratic process will inspire change and solidify a new strategic vision for the country, he argues.
- Pictures, courtesy of Monsters and Critics show the election process unfolding– ink-stained fingers and all.
- This Crisis Group report examines the technical, political and security challenges associated with the current elections.