Written by admin on Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

By Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

All articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan posted on in 2013

IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2013 POSTS (PDF) [Note: large file (6 MB)]

The year 2013 in review

In May 2013, general elections were held in Pakistan. The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) took over the federal government from the Pakistan People Party (PPP), after a crushing defeat for the Zardari-Bhutto led party. The PML-N gained 166 seats, the PPP 42, out of 342. It meant that Nawaz Sharif became Pakistan’s prime Minister for the third time. Thus, the year 2013 witnessed the first-ever peaceful civil transition in Pakistan’s history. It also laid bare the leadership problem within the PPP.

Not too long after that, a new president was due to be elected to replace President Asif Ali Zardari (by all newly elected Parliaments of Pakistan). Besides, after eight years in office the famed Supreme Court leader Iftikhar Chaudhry had to be replaced as well and, perhaps most important of all, after six years a new Army COAS (commander in chief) had to be appointed by the incoming prime minister. Thus, the entire national leadership of the country was about to be changed.

The Pakistani Taliban (largely assembled in the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan movement, or TTP) remained uncompromising, seeking to establish a shari’ah-based state to their own wishes, as a replacement for ‘democratic’ Pakistan. Although the TTP-leader Hakimullah Mehsud offered talks to a beleaguered PPP government, it simultaneously continued its practise of killing its opponents, real or imaginary ones. General Kayani kept announcing that the armed forces would tackle the challenge of extremism and terrorism, but under his command no military offensive was started in North Waziristan, a well-known base-area for a number of radical Islamic organizations.

In Afghanistan, the drawdown of Western troops created anxiety and uncertainty, but divisions as well, among its 30 million inhabitants. Would the Afghan National Army (ANA), numbering 200.000 at the end of the year (and 50.500 Afghan national Police) be able to withstand the expected offensive by the Taliban? Another huge worry was how strong Afghanistan’s economy, weak and fully dependent on aid dollars and military contracts support anyway, would be affected.

This year, the withdrawal of Western troops began in earnest, but no new military agreement between Afghanistan and the Western countries involved was signed by an uncompromising President Karzai, not even after it was approved by a special Loya Jirga convened by him (grand meeting of 2500 elders and representatives from all 34 provinces), in November. Decisions by the Loya Jirga are not binding upon the President.


In 2013, the pace of withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from the country, which began in 2012, accelerated. At the end of the year, 73.000 foreign troops remained in Afghanistan, 46.000 of them American. Eventually, they were all supposed to be replaced by Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF, comprising both police and army forces). The Afghan Army now did the bulk of the fighting. As a result, both in 2012 and 2013 the number of Afghans killed in battle rose steeply; over a 1870 (Army and Police) in 2012, over 2767 in 2013 (Army). The number of civilian casualties rose as well; at least 2730 Afghans lost their lives, many more were wounded.

General John Allen, commanding all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan since July, 2011, quit his job in February, to be succeeded by General Joseph Dunford. During his command, 640 US and NATO troops had died. He had been assigned to both reduce U.S. troops presence by one-third, or 30.000 soldiers. At the same time the Taliban were to be pushed back further. He acknowledged that criminal and patronage networks prevailed in much of the country. Establishing government offices and effective governance in newly secured areas like Helmand was required if a speedy return of the Taliban was to be avoided. Little came of it; institutional weakness (that is, the absence of government) remained a big problem.

In the heated debate about the number of U.S. troops to be maintained in Afghanistan after 2014, Allen supported the 9.000 – 15.000 option. Other rumours had it that there was a so-called ‘zero-option’, preferred by a number of politicians in Washington, since President Karzai refused to sign the BSA.

Bilateral Security Agreement

Karzai refused to sign an earlier agreed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States unless it stopped night raids on Afghan homes by Special Forces. This threatened to make Afghanistan loose several billions of aid dollars, as well. The Afghan President also objected to giving all American service members immunity from Afghan law, as demanded by the US government.

The so-called ‘Zero Option’ (meaning the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan after 2014) also threatened the continuation of US drone strikes against militants in the region, primarily in neighbouring Pakistan. President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, told Karzai that an annual 4 billion US dollars destined to support the Afghan Army would be in jeopardy, as well.

For their part, the Taliban praised Karzai for his decision on the BSA. Although Karzai had even invited the Taliban to participate in the Loya Jirga, they branded the 2500 members of the assembly as ‘traitors’, warning them not to support the BSA. To underscore their stance, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car near the giant tent where the Loya Jirga would be held, killing and wounding many.

Afghanistan’s elusive ‘peace process’ never materialized, despite the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. The High Peace Council (HPC), installed by Karzai, failed to make much progress. To stimulate the Afghan peace process, and seeking to improve Afghan-Pak relations at the same time, the Pakistani government decided to release former Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar. A visit by the Afghan High Peace Council to Islamabad to hold talks with former Afghan Taliban No.2, Mullah Baradar, yielded no result whatsoever. The Afghan Taliban stated that no ‘prisoner’ could represent them.

Following the BSA impasse, many Afghans feared renewed outbreaks of sectarian violence and ethnic tensions, resulting in chaos. As doubts about the future of the country increased, food and fuel prices started to rise. As business confidence, faced with the possible end of all foreign support, declined, the little economic growth that occurred in 2013 (an estimated 3.1%, down from 12% in 2012) diminished.

Karzai has sought to obtain Indian military equipment; also, a number of Afghan special forces were trained by the Indian army. Delhi, already the largest foreign investor in Afghanistan, seeks to prevent greater instability in that country after the presidential election and the withdrawal of Western troops. With the Afghan Taliban thriving, Afghanistan might become an even safer haven for militant groups originating from Pakistan, which likely enhances the prospect of future militant attacks on Indian soil.

The Afghan Taliban announced repeatedly that they would not rest until the last foreign soldier had left the country, dead or alive. Tellingly, they succeeded in maintaining their strength, in spite of the many thousands of fighters and commanders they have lost over the years. Indicating government failure to ‘lure’ back Taliban fighters to civilian life by training programs and job creation was the ultimate failure of the ‘Afghan Insurgent Retraining Scheme’. It had merely served to enhance corruption, since large amounts of funds provided by the Afghan Ministries of Economic Affairs and Labour and Social Affairs remain unaccounted for.

Some estimates are, that between 2500 and 3000 Taliban got killed each year since 2006. According to a UN report, even up to 12.000 Taliban fighters had been killed in the year 2013. Apparently, they continued to seek governing powers, supported by the safe havens they have found in neighbouring Pakistan. The illustrious, invisible leader of the Afghan Taliban, mullah Omar, and his shura (council) reportedly still live in Quetta, Pakistan.

As the Western military presence in Afghanistan started to be strongly reduced in 2013, this only served to harness the Taliban quest for a free-of-all-foreign soldiers Afghanistan. Although a diplomatic post had been ceremoniously opened by the Taliban in Qatar, the peace talks that president Karzai so eagerly sought with the ‘lost brothers’ never materialized.

The established stalemate between foreign forces and insurgents will shift to the latter’s advantage, it is feared, while at the same time political instability will increase. A huge American intelligence assessment endorsed this rather bleak outlook, although it also pointed out that the Afghan security forces (ANSF) had grown stronger than often assumed. Over 43 billion dollar had been spent by the US government just on weaponry and military training in Afghanistan since 2001.

That was not the only achievement US officials pointed at. It was claimed that nearly eight million children are now in school, two third of them girls. Life expectancy in the past 12 years had increased, from 42 to 62 years. Almost 60% of all Afghans were within an hours’ reach of basic health facilities; over 18 million cell phones were owned. Small wonder that many Afghans feared the dire consequences of the departure of American and Western forces, military and civilians. Hundreds of aid projects are being handed over to the Afghan government, but it lacks both the capacities and funds to sustain them.

Another promising development was the start, in June, of the construction of a 500 kilometres railway-connection from Turkmenistan through northern Afghanistan, ending in Tajikistan. It will be only Afghanistan’s second railroad line. Afghanistan and Tajikistan, both landlocked countries and economically feeble, could well profit from it. Although initially this ‘New Silk Road’ was a US-initiated project, seeking to diminish Russian influence in the region and interconnecting Afghanistan with Central Asian markets, main investor became the Asian Development Bank. The new railroad should be completed in 2015.

As foreign funding decreases and the flight of capital from Afghanistan continues, housing prices in Kabul are spiralling down. In general, poverty was on the increase in 2013; over 4 million street children now lived in the country, one million of them in Kabul. It was estimated by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs & Disabled (MoLSAMD) that a third of Afghanistan’s 9 million workers were unemployed. Afghan opium cultivation and production reached a record high in 2013, enhancing all collateral effects of an illegitimate economy; less food farming, increased corruption, growing numbers of drug addicts, stronger links between drugs incomes and Taliban insurgency, rising crime.

A huge election poll carried out all over Afghanistan nevertheless shows that over 80% of the population intended to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Main issues to the electorate were security (or rather, the lack of it), terrorism, crime, and bad economic prospects. President Karzai, faced with the prospect of elections in April 2014, repeatedly assured that he would not seek another, third, term as president; that would be unconstitutional anyway. Although Karzai appeared to be sincere about this, many in Afghanistan and abroad feared he would find a way to stay in office.

At the same time Karzai, having accused the US of interfering in the 2009 elections in order to weaken the country, demanded guarantees from the US government that it would not meddle in the elections. As former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah commented while the Loya Jirga was in progress, Karzai wanted both US guarantees for transparent elections and the US to stand aloof from them. The two main contenders for the Afghan presidency in April, 2014, turned out to be Abdullah Abdullah, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. They both supported the immediate signing of the BSA.


Although China has stayed aloof from interference with Afghan affairs, Beijing propagated an increasingly proactive stance toward Afghanistan. At the end of the year, the third round of the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral dialogue was held in Kabul. Thus, Karzai’s visit to Beijing in 2012 bore fruit, as he obtained Chinese economic support and military training programmes.

At last, some support for the US and the Western coalition is forthcoming from Beijing. As China and Pakistan are ‘all-weather friends’ and, since China supposedly has some leverage with the Afghan Taliban as well (owing to its ‘benevolent neutrality’) it is hoped that Beijing will be able to solidly support security and peace. But Chinese government officials repeatedly made it clear that it does not seek any leading role in the peace process; it merely provides support and assistance.

On the eve of the Western troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Beijing feared a growing security vacuum in the region as a result. Primarily, China seeks to prevent a renewed influx of militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan into its Xinjiang province.

Chinese investments in Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s economies are continually expanding. In Afghanistan, it has invested massively in the Aynak Copper Mine and Amu Darya Basin Oil projects. In Pakistan, Beijing allotted 6,5 billion dollar to the building of a new major nuclear power plant near Karachi, thus supporting the Sharif-government efforts to tackle the nations’ energy shortages. Stepping up diplomacy would certainly serve to promote and enhance required peace and stability in the region. Both China and Pakistan wished to see a smooth transition of power in Afghanistan in April, 2014.

China does want the US to maintain troops and some bases in Afghanistan, if only as some sort of safeguard for its current and future investments. It should be kept in mind that Afghanistan, according to the US Geological Survey, possesses vast amounts of hardly tapped mineral resources, including a number of ‘rare earth metals’.


As the PPP-led government led by PM Ashraf proceeded into its fifth and final year, it had regrettable few landmark achievements to point to. With the upcoming national and provincial elections (always jointly held), prospects of success at the ballot box looked rather dim for an embattled PPP leadership and its allies. In its wake, the presidential election looked equally worrying for President and PPP-party leader Asif Ali Zardari. On September 19, He was succeeded by Syed Mamnoon Hussain, a conservative nationalist business man loyal to the Sharifs.

Still, a certain measure of political stability had been reached, owing to both promises by the largest opposition party PML-N not to seek a premature removal of the PPP government, and a military leadership still under the command of general Kayani that stayed aloof from directly mingling in politics.

Making it considerably easier for the PML-N to allow the PPP to govern in Islamabad and fulfil its legal term of five years was its own control, by a Shahbaz Sharif led government, of Punjab province, since 2008. Punjab is by far the most populous and economically strongest province of the country. 70% of all 185 million Pakistani live there.

After the unique, largely fair national and provincial elections, only in the province of Sindh the PPP was left with governing powers. The PML-N gained 166 seats in national parliament; since 19 independent candidates supported the PML-N, it could comfortably establish a majority government. As Bilawal Bhutto sought to establish his political credentials, his father and party leader Asif Ali Zardari rather saw him stroll around in Dubai, indicative of the internal strife that developed inside the PPP.

Pakistan’s tense national civil-military relations, the repression of ethnic and religious minorities, Kashmir and India, drone strikes, terrorism, US-Pak relations, troubled polio-campaigns, and the worrying state of the economy have all been figuring prominently in Pakistan’s media for a number of years now.

Nawaz on campaign promised: talks with the Taliban

Militant attacks against Pakistan’s inhabitants (185 million, largely moderate Muslims), continued unabated. Since 2002, over 40.000 people fell victim to the scourge of terrorism. Although the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan continued its gory practises of kidnappings and bloody attacks on the Pakistani Army and police, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif in his election campaign vowed to start talks with the TTP, once he would be in power.

PTI leader Imran Khan even went one step further, by offering peace to the militants. The PTI had become the ruling party in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province, opposing the Nawaz-led federal government in its search for improved ties with the US. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) until November, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, emphasized his stand that a ‘negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan’ was in the best interest of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The PTI, strongly objecting to CIA-led drone attacks in the tribal areas, since November 24 ‘infinitely’ blocked the main artery for US and NATO military transports into and out of Afghanistan at Torkham border to Karachi. Every month, ten to 12.000 military and commercial trucks pass through K-P into Afghanistan. This K-P government sponsored blockade put a serious strain on relations between the federal PML-N government and the PTI-led provincial government.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani army continued its low-key operation in South Waziristan, while militant groupings carried on with their suicide attacks against military, religious and civil targets (mosques, schools, markets) alike. Although Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti has strongly condemned suicide bombings, his allegedly huge authority within the Sunni community did not make radical sectarian leaders change their minds.

Good and bad Taliban

In September, an all parties conference (APC) unanimously decided to pursue a negotiated settlement with Pakistan’s militants. It did not stop the Taliban from killing a senior army general, and carrying out terrorist attacks, especially in Peshawar. Still, the Nawaz-government wished to maintain its disastrous distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban, if only for the purpose of allowing negotiations at all.

The ‘good ones’ (like the Haqqanis) primarily operated in Afghanistan, against the Karzai government and international forces, and were largely left at ease; the bad ones sought to overthrow and take over the Pakistani state, and had to be negotiated with. Another ‘good’ Taliban organization was Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) despite, or rather owing to, the fact that it was directly linked with the attacks in Mumbai, in November 2008.

In November 2013, two topleaders of the (Afghan) Haqqani network based in North Waziristan got killed: key financier and ‘emissary’ Nasiruddin Haqqani and Ahmad Jan. Also TTP-leader Hakimullah Mehsud, got killed, the latter by an American drone. It meant a serious setback to both the mighty Haqqani-network and the TTP.

After fierce debate, Fazlullah from Swat was named the new headman of the TTP. Reportedly, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar supported his candidacy. The so-called ‘mullah’ from Swat, also known as ‘radio-mullah’, had ordered the assassination of Malala Yousufzai. This surprising choice could well be considered as a ‘bonus’, since Fazlullah, because of originating from Swat, would find it difficult to command full loyalty from the tribe of the Mehsuds in Waziristan. Hardliner Fazlullah made it clear that he was not interested in peace talks, forcing the PML-N government to rethink its ‘talks first’ approach.

Talks between movements seeking the establishment of shari’a based societies on the one hand, and democratically elected constitutional governments on the other were always bound to fail. As preconditions for peace talks, the TTP had demanded stopping the drone attacks, withdrawal of the army from the tribal areas, and implementation of the shari’a. In other words, a near-complete surrender to all major TTP demands by Pakistan’s government and army.

As long as Afghan Taliban could hide in Pakistan, and Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan, eradicating them physically would be impossible. Since a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan would surely strengthen its Pakistani brethren, many members of the Pakistani ‘establishment’ (civilian and army leaders) now choose to support a phased withdrawal of foreign troops, rather than an immediate, full pull-out. The Afghan and Pakistani governments and military should closely cooperate in fencing off the border areas.

Urgently required UN sponsored polio campaigns in many tribal areas were frequently and violently cut short in 2013, as well. Pakistan is one of just three countries were polio is still manifest. Several TTP leaders banned these campaigns, since they considered them to be attempts to gather information about their whereabouts. Also, it was widely rumoured that these campaigns were intended to sterilize Muslims.

At the end of 2013, as rumours had it that the Army, having been the victim of numerous attacks by Taliban outfits, was preparing for an offensive against the TTP, the ways of politicians and military in Pakistan clearly parted. A public rebuff of deceased Pakistani soldiers in the struggle against the Taliban movement, of whom the death were lauded as shaheeds (martyrs) by the chiefs of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), further widened the gap between angry soldiers and a silent PML-N government.

Both JUI-F led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and JI led by Syed Munawar Hassan are religious right-wing parties, though not extremist. As in previous elections, they did not succeed in gaining substantial numbers of parliamentary seats. In May 2013, JUI-F got 3,22% of the votes (15 seats in the federal parliament); JI obtained 2,12% (4 seats), out of a total of 342 seats.

The newly appointed Pakistani supreme commander in November, Raheel Sharif, seemed willing to finally launch a military operation in North Waziristan, which the US had so frequently requested. To be sure the US, though temporarily halting its drone attacks to enable talks (or, phrased more formal, to provide the Sharif government with some period of time to try its political strategy) squarely stood by the military stance.


Talks with the ‘enemy within’, militant organizations, turned out to be equally hard as with the ‘enemy without’, India. Both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his advisor on foreign and security affairs Sartaj Aziz repeatedly emphasized the need for normalizing relations and increasing trade-relations with India. From the Indian point of view, terrorism emanating from Pakistan had to be stopped before any development in relations could start.

Pakistan stuck to its position that the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir could not be turned into an international border. At last, on December 24, 2013, Pakistan and India succeeded in putting in place a mechanisms to prevent or end firing ’incidents’ along the LoC. However, both countries kept manufacturing considerable numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, assuming that a ‘nuclear umbrella’ will safeguard their nations.

Although India presumably has China in mind first, it probably will not hesitate to aim a nuke or two against Pakistan when that country tries to launch another Kargill- or Mumbai-like operation. It is unsettling that Pakistan maintains its right to a ‘first use’ doctrine to counter India’s stronger conventional forces. It is equally unnerving that in such a case India reserves its right to ‘massive retaliation’. Both countries, not being parties to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, have shielded their nuclear facilities against international inspection.

The Nawaz government was confronted by ‘the three E’s’: Economic stagnation, Energy shortage, Extremism. To that sorry list could easily be added another handful of problems. Economic growth in Pakistan continued to diminish. Essential public features like railways, water supplies, electricity supplies, the development of oil and gas production facilities, further declined. Domestic and foreign investments reached a near all-time low; the rupee lost eight percent of its value against the US dollar. Unemployment, especially among youngsters, and poverty were on the rise.

A new, troublesome development is demanding attention: the ever-increasing shortage of drinking water. Already, at least 40 million Pakistani have no access to safe drinking water, especially in the province of Sindh. Droughts are severely disturbing agricultural production. Contaminated water, or the sheer lack of water, brings several children’s diseases and high rates of infant mortality.

At the end of the year, the PML-N government had still little to show for. Although the new government had inherited a highly troubled economy, it seemed to be unable to start mending even the most pressing problems. Much needed and promised electricity supply increases did not materialize. Iran, hit by US economic sanctions over its nuclear program, cancelled its 500 million dollar loan to Pakistan to construct its part of a gas pipeline out of Iran. The country’s debt burden had risen to over 70 billion dollar, owed to the IMF. The national reserve, held by the State Bank of Pakistan, had been reduced to a mere 3.5 billion dollar.

Positive trends

The European Union had decided to grant Pakistan the status of preferential trading partner. That should seriously increase Pakistani exports to Europe. After only a month in office, the Sharif government was able to conclude a deal with the IMF; 6.6 billion dollar was promised from the funds’ Extended Fund Facility.

Another promising development was the agreement with China about creating an ‘economic corridor’ from China through Pakistan, up to the Arabian Sea. Airports, road and rail networks are to be improved and extended; regional trade should be considerably increased. Through Gwadar port, China will then be able to shorten its route for imports of oil and gas from Africa and the Middle East. It should provide a boost to trade links between both countries, currently standing at 12 billion a year.

To boost energy production, Prime Minister Sharif inaugurated the construction of the biggest atomic power plant in the country, with Chinese technical and financial assistance. It is located on the Arabian Sea coast in the province of Baluchistan, 40 kilometres west of economic mainstay Karachi. Though a large coal-fired energy project is being built in the same area, his aim is to make nuclear power the largest source of energy in Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif strongly favours trade and business developments; what is good for business is good for the country. To this end, in December the ‘Incentives Package’ was launched by the government, primarily aimed at reinvigorating investments and business.


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