Written by admin on Monday, December 31st, 2012

By Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

All articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan posted on in 2012

IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2012 POSTS (PDF) [Note: large file (6 MB)]

The year 2012 in review


At the beginning of the year the Afghan Taliban announced its willingness to open a ‘political office’ outside Afghanistan, in Qatar. In exchange, it wanted its prisoners in Guantanamo Bay released.  In seeking international political clout, the Taliban movement abandoned its purely military stance. 

Both the US and the Karzai-government welcomed this step. The Taliban have always maintained that talks, if held at all, would be conducted solely with the United States, considered to be the real power in the country, thus excluding the ‘puppet’ government of Hamid Karzai. At the same time, the Karzai-government insisted that ‘peace’ talks with the Taliban must be led by the Afghan government.

Formally, the US government endorsed Karzai’s position. Practically, the US government sought talks with Taliban representatives whenever and wherever possible, in order to accomplish a ‘transition’ in 2014 as smooth as possible.  President Obama is eager to end the ‘longest war’ of the USA. Small wonder that Karzai felt side-lined by Washington. 

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced in February, 2012, that US troops will already begin to diminish their combat role in Afghanistan in the middle of the year 2013. The Taliban were not impressed; in March, they suspended possible peace talks with the US, accusing Washington of not setting the Guantanamo-prisoners free.

Direct talks between the US and Taliban representatives did not take place. Talks were held however between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, NATO forces Commander John Allen, President Karzai, and a representative of the Hizb-i-Islami, still led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Just as significant were US efforts to include the strong Haqqani network, an integral part of the Afghan Taliban movement but based in North Waziristan, Pakistan, in future peace talks.

Afghan political opposition groups, opposed against any sort of political deal with the Taliban anyway, have been excluded from possible discussions with the Taliban. Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders warned against any secret talks with the Taliban, whether by the US or the Karzai-government. On the other hand, the non-Pashtun ethnic groups are still supporting the Karzai-government, acknowledging it as ‘the lesser of two evils’ for them.

As at previous occasions, Karzai demanded that while targeting the Taliban civilian casualties should be avoided at all cost, the widely hated night raids by US Special Operation Forces (SOF) to be abolished. Though being quite effective, they are considered by the Karzai-installed High Peace Council (HPC) to damage the ‘peace process’.

The night raids, characterized as ‘essential’ by American officers, had to be ended before Karzai had would sign the Afghan-US Strategic partnership at the NATO conference in Chicago, in May.

At that conference, NATO leaders decided to hand control over Afghanistan to its own security forces by the middle of 2013. In August, international forces had abandoned about half of 800 bases of small to medium size in the Afghan countryside, closing them or handing them over to Afghan security forces. Effectively, this meant an early prelude to the full withdrawal in 2014. 

Numerous problems continued to besiege the Afghan army in 2012, the designated guarantor of Afghanistan’s democratic future: few national financial means, large-scale corruption and lawlessness in both the national government and military leadership, a dangerous ethnic imbalance of its forces and officers’ corps, a foreign-imposed but flawed counter-insurgency strategy, desertions and drugs abuse, the absence of an air force, massive drug-trafficking, the practice of grabbing land, illiteracy, militant infiltration. Equally troubling were reports about the built-up of the Afghan National Police. Loyalties of police units are primarily to their ethnic leaders, rather than to the public in general.

An increasing number of ‘green on blue attacks’ – Afghan soldiers killing their Western allies –  in 2012 may be mainly attributed to cultural and personal enmities, as NATO commanders have stated.  The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, readily claimed responsibility for these attacks. In his traditional Eid al Fitr message to the Afghan population in August, Mullah Omar once again made the aims of the Taliban movement perfectly clear: the Taliban will be and are winning; negotiations are strictly for prisoner exchanges and obtaining international recognition; the sharia will be re-established.

Most Afghans detest a possible return of a Taliban-run government. But a clear majority is equally annoyed about a continued presence of foreign troops. Violent protests in all parts of the country after the burning of Korans on an American base (Bagram Air Base) showed the deep rift between Afghan and Western cultures and religion.

 In several parts of the country successful local uprisings against oppressive Taliban groups occurred. Though requests for support (weapons) were addressed to the government in Kabul, local inhabitants primarily wanted their areas to be left in peace by Taliban, government or foreign troops alike.

Nowadays, news is spreading fast across the whole of the country.  At least 61 percent of Afghans now own mobile telephones. A host of national and local radio stations and TV channels, next to daily newspapers, inform Afghans about developments in all parts of their country.

The enduring Karzai rule, already lasting for ten years in 2012, has never been able to provide adequate protection to the majority of Afghans. Karzai’s public support, arguably still considerable when he was re-elected as president in 2009, has largely dwindled.

At the same time, the Taliban movement has equally failed to create any meaningful political platform. It did not even seek to; instead the movement relies on its self-righteous version of ‘Islam’ and terror to re-establish an Islamic emirate.

Unfortunately, the political and economic track records of the international coalition are equally poor. It never succeeded in sufficiently facilitating civilian Afghan efforts to establish a broadly accepted native government. Likewise, militarily it did not remotely succeed in decisively defeating the Taliban ‘insurgency’.

Though loosening up ties between the Afghan Taliban and a supposedly weakened al Qaeda may be considered a ‘success’, prospects for enhanced stability, let alone ‘peace’ in the region, remain bleak.

Though the core struggle inside Afghanistan is between Karzai and his domestic and international ‘allies’ on the one hand and the Taliban and its supporters on the other, numerous conflicts and antagonisms between all foreign parties involved have always contributed to the intransigence of the Afghan conflict. Saudi Arabia and Iran are vying for influence and as strong a position as possible; so are Pakistan and India, while China and Russia wish to see their interests in the region safeguarded, as well.

Pakistan in particular has always been of great importance and influence in Afghan affairs. Although planning to repatriate them Pakistan is still housing 3 million Afghan refugees. The Pakistani military leadership likes to think that Afghanistan may function as its ‘strategic background’, in case of another armed conflict with India. By far the largest part of Western military supplies reached Afghanistan by two roads, both leading through Pakistan. 

It is illusive, however, to expect that any Afghan government, including a Taliban one, would comply with Pakistan’s strategic wishes. 

Another problem is that the ‘border’ between Afghanistan and British India, as established in 1893 by Durand and his associates, has never been acknowledged by Afghanistan. To this day Karzai supports the idea, if not the actual creation, of a greater Pashtunistan, emphatically including all 24 million Pashtuns currently living in Pakistan’s border areas.

China’s interest in Afghanistan, sharing only some 70 kilometres of largely impenetrable border with it, appears to be mainly economic, since that country possesses numerous valuable minerals (copper, iron, oil, gas, rare earth metals).

At the international donor Conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo in July, Afghanistan’s civil needs in 2014 and the decade beyond were addressed. In the end, the donors assembled in Tokyo pledged 16 billion dollar for the next four years.

As the Afghan political process is largely based on corruption and patronage, one may well expect that financial support from the international community may not be forthcoming, especially when Western forces have left the country.  A considerable part of approximately 12 billion dollars in aid during the last ten years has been misused or embezzled. 



In 2012, Pakistan’s domestic political and economic scenes started to look increasingly worrisome. The government, the army and the judiciary seemed to chase each other around.  Radical Islamic groups continued to carry out violent attacks; socio-religious and sectarian violence escalated. Equally worrying were international developments, in particular deeply disturbed relations with the United States.

Remarkably, a high-level delegation of Afghan Taliban sent by its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, reportedly succeeded in persuading – largely Pashtun – Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups including the Haqqani network and the TTP to bundle their efforts in combatting NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan.  The main TTP leader since 2009, Hakimullah Mehsud, felt not obliged to follow Omar’s path, or to start ‘peace talks’ with the Pakistani government.

As the year progressed, numerous (Shi’ite) Hazaras, Christians, Sufis and even scores of moderate Sunnis got killed by radical Sunni groups in the country, as well as well-known religious leaders. Sectarian violence had spread to all corners of the country. It continued largely unabated, seemingly unhindered by political or military action.

Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous (86 million) and most prosperous province, in 2012 was ruled by Mian Shahbaz Sharif, brother of national opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. Militancy remained on the increase in southern Punjab. The Seraiki-speaking part, which some political parties want to be transformed into a new, fifth province, has become a fertile recruiting ground for militant groups. 

As the year progressed, violence between the three major ethnic groups in Pakistan’s main financial and commercial city, Karachi, steadily increased. As militants from the TTP, mainly consisting of Pashtuns, took over control of entire districts of the city of at least 18 million inhabitants, several political parties were forced to close their offices and flee.

In tribal areas, in the northwest of the country, health workers’ teams carrying out anti-polio campaigns set up by UNICEF and internationally financed were attacked by militant groups that warned them to cease their activities. In the aftermath of Doctor Shakeel Afridi’s campaign in Abbottabad, and the subsequent killing of Bin Laden by US commandos (May 2, 2011), the teams were considered to be spying networks for ‘infidel forces’.  Pakistan’s most prominent Islamic clerics condemned the attackers. This, however, failed to halt the attacks. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the last countries in the world where polio is endemic. Measles, pneumonia and dengue are also recurring regularly.

In the continuing bloody conflict in the ever restless province of Balochistan, military and intelligence operations were ceaselessly carried out against any sort of Baloch ‘separatists’, real or supposed. The federal parliament in Islamabad has formally granted provincial autonomy to all provinces, but little changed on the ground. This has resulted in a strong revival of Balochi separatism.  

An independent or even largely autonomous Balochistan, however, is unacceptable to Islamabad, if only because Balochistan province forms 43% of Pakistan’s entire landmass. The province also carries considerable national economic importance. The port of Gwadar, financed and developed by China, has been ‘leased’  to China by the Supreme Court in Islamabad in 2011. Another important feature of Balochistan are its natural resources, in particular gas.

The public call by Nawaz Sharif at the beginning of the year for an All Party Conference (APC) on the issue remained the sole initiative to discuss it at all. Increasingly, though, the Supreme Court started to carefully voice its ‘concerns’ about the increasing number of missing persons in the province. It ordered the intelligence services and the army to ‘produce’ missing and detained persons, usually held without charges or trial.

 Several other developments continued to seriously undermine Pakistan’s political scene throughout the year, in particular the fall-out of the 2011 ‘memogate’ affair, and the efforts of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to force the Gilani-led government to request the Swiss government to effectively declare President Zardari an embezzler.

 As both PPP-politicians President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani were threatened with resignation by the Supreme Court, many considered this to be a ‘judicial coup’ against the government. Though Gilani steadfastly refused to budge, eventually he was forced to resign as Prime Minister and as a member of parliament. 

As ‘memogate’ gathered momentum tensions between the Gilani government, protecting president Zardari, and the military leadership increased. In Islamabad extra police and paramilitary forces were deployed, guarding the entrance to the Parliament House in the capital.

Gilani’s successor, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, another PPP bigwig, stepped in three days later, after having obtained a necessary parliamentary majority vote (211 of 338). The PPP government allies, ANP, MQM and PML-Q, apparently fearing early elections as well, all supported the appointment of Ashraf. Early elections were off the cards after the PPP and PML-N agreed to hold them as constitutionally scheduled, in March, 2013.

Initially, the Obama-administration refused to apologise for the shooting and killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers on Pakistani soil at Salala, on November 26, 2011. According to newly appointed ambassador Sherry Rehman (she succeeded Hussain Haqqani, who was forced to resign over ‘memogate’ in November, 2011), the relationship between Pakistan and the US had never been as important, yet the tensions never so grave.

The two main NATO supply routes through Pakistan into Afghanistan remained closed.  Pakistan was not invited until the last minute to participate in NATO’s conference in Chicago, on May 21st; only after the Pakistani government had announced that the NATO-supply routes into Afghanistan would soon be re-opened president Zardari could travel to Chicago.

Pakistan’s Army chief Ashfaq Kayani seriously worried about the consequences of the ‘endgame’ facing Pakistan in neighbouring Afghanistan. At the same time, he kept refusing to attack well-known safe havens of militants in North Waziristan. Although still focussing on India as its main enemy, increasing domestic militants’ strength forced the army leadership to rethink its basic strategic orientation.

Shortly after Prime Minister Ashraf took office, the new terms of engagement as drafted by the parliament in Islamabad, covering all aspects of ties between Pakistan and the US, were finally accepted by the Obama-government. Washington also assured Islamabad that it would pay the agreed amount of the Coalition Support Fund. 

Military cooperation between the two countries started to be restored. The NATO logistical supply routes into Afghanistan were re-opened in July. The oil supply line was only re-opened in November. A pact was signed with the US, allowing the use of supply routes through Pakistan till the end of 2015. A large demonstration in front of Parliament House in Islamabad against reopening the supply routes was staged by the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defense of Pakistan Council), a coalition of over 40 religious parties led by Hafeez Saeed. Several religious parties were planning to block the city of Peshawar and the road to the Khyber Pass.

For their part, several Afghan Taliban commanders expressed their relief when the supply routes were reopened. They have been receiving millions of dollars for years, illegally paid to them by Afghan security and truckers firms, to refrain from attacking the truck convoys carrying fuel, food, and ammunition. 

As the withdrawal of all Western troops from Afghanistan in 2014 nears, Pakistan has assured the government in Kabul ad nauseam that it fully respects Afghan sovereignty, and that the peace process must be ‘Afghan-led’ and ‘Afghan-owned’.

Throughout 2012 as well, US drone attacks (from bases in Eastern Afghanistan) were carried out in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Pakistani public at large is thus led to believe that drone attacks mainly kill civilians instead of militants.

Since coming to power in 2008, the PPP-led coalition government never succeeded in getting a grip economic developments. All major indicators showed a negative image. In four years’ time, public debt more than doubled. GDP growth in this period averaged 2.9%, an all-time low. The main reason for this was a sharp decline in the textile and food exports of the country; on the other hand, the volume of imports rose sharply.

Power and gas cuts severely damaged Pakistan’s textile industry, accounting for over half its exports, mostly to the EU. Foreign investment, already on the decline in 2011, continued to do so in 2012. Political uncertainty, flawed economic management, increasingly large law and order disturbances, corruption, energy shortages, and sliding exchange rates caused this continuous downturn.

Adding to Pakistan’s many problems, it is steadily developing into a ‘water stressed’ country. Though the absolute amount of available water has only been decreasing slightly, the population number is shooting up. In 1970, (West-) Pakistan had a population of 62 million. In 2012, approximately 186 million people lived in the country.

Ever larger energy shortages led to severe disruptions in production. In its fierce search for energy imports, electricity supplies were to be imported from Tajikistan; several pipeline projects were under negotiation.  Despite strong-worded warnings by the US, both Iran and energy-starved Pakistan remained firmly committed to building a major gas pipeline. The US did offer Pakistan its help in developing the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline.

Desperately seeking to stimulate its economy in all possible manners, the PPP-government decided to liberalise trade with India, and grant Delhi the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status.  During President Zardari’s visit in April, Prime Minister Singh emphasized the need to take action against the founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT, or ‘Army of the Pure’), Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.

Both India and Pakistan unabatedly continue to carry out missile tests, and expand and modernize their nuclear arsenals. Reportedly, Islamabad spends about 2,5 billion dollar each year in its efforts to outdo India.

To the annoyance of Pakistan’s leadership, to this day India has provided political and economic support to the non-Pashtun ethnic groups of Afghanistan, the main adversaries of the Taliban since that movement came into existence (1994). Pakistani leaders, in particular Pakistan’s military leadership, deeply distrust Delhi’s moves on Afghanistan, fearing to become encircled by its arch foe.

India does have a strong interest in supporting stability in Afghanistan after 2014. Increasing instead of diminishing regional turmoil will damage both its own national political stability and regional economic interests. It has provided a few billion dollar in aid to the Karzai-government.  

As the departure of NATO forces at the end of 2014 gets closer the Obama-government, like President Karzai, is encouraging India to play a more active economic and political role in Afghanistan, and expand training programs for Afghanistan’s Army. The US government, although providing massive economic and military means to Pakistan, has expressed its support for increased Indian-Afghan cooperation.

Pakistan, seeking to counter both Indian and US influence in the region, increasingly turns to its ‘all-weather’ friend China for economic and military support. Pakistani politicians and military leaders alike regularly visit China. While extending its political support to Islamabad, Beijing advised Pakistan to settle its numerous differences with the USA, and to avoid radical solutions.

China has its own serious problems with Muslim extremism in the province of Xinjiang, bordering Pakistan. Beijing suspects local Islamic separatists (an estimated 8 million Muslim Uighurs, seeking independence) of being linked with the Pakistani Taliban. The Chinese government made it clear that it is highly worried about support coming from Pakistan to radical Islamic groups in Xinjiang.


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