IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2009 POSTS
By Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten
All articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan posted on Immigvanheugten.nl in 2009
We are pleased and proud to present to you our first-ever “yearbook”. It consists of all posts we have chosen to publish on our website, www.immigvanheugten.nl in the year 2009. In that year we decided to start operating a website, after many years of research, lecturing, publishing and broadcasting. As the www.com phenomenon is proving daily to all of us, it truly succeeds in connecting numerous audiences worldwide. Consequently, actively participating in research & analysis on any subject through the Internet, particularly on specific international developments, is practically obligatory for anyone working in the field nowadays. Apart from our own contributions, the articles selected here mainly originate from a wide variety of international press and institutional sources.
Especially worthwhile is operating a site about as tumultuous a region as South Asia. The daily number of visitors to our site underlines this view. Developments on the ground in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia have been highly influential on the ‘state of the world’ in recent years. Still, one might add, when we consider all sweeping developments that are taking place in the region since the 1970′s. Unfortunately, the year 2009 has been no exception, quite the contrary.
As in both Afghanistan and Pakistan the local Taliban movements continued to gain strength, a newly elected American president began to unfold a revised strategic approach in the ongoing war against terror and militancy, primarily directed against al-Qaeda and its allies. In a key speech on March 27, 2009, president Obama announced his administration’s upcoming strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, aptly dubbed ‘AfPak’.
Appropriately, his announcement of the ‘new’ U.S. approach of the region became the first post on our website. After the Bush-presidency, a new American approach of the ongoing struggles against both militancy and terrorism in the region was urgently needed. Subsequently, we have paid quite a lot of attention to the critical reception ‘AfPak’ has received in South Asia, as well as in many Western countries.
In Pakistan, the tribal areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (known as the North West Frontier Province, or NWFP, since 1905) became increasingly unruly. Although moderate civilian parties were firmly established as the leading institutions after the elections in 2008, in 2009 the Pakistani government agencies lost their already feeble grip on these notoriously ungovernable lands. The Pakistani military carried out several large-scale operations against local militant organizations. In the northwest of the province, in Swat and its surrounding agencies, both the local and national Taliban were forced to the sidelines. An earlier concluded ‘peace agreement’ between the local and national government and the local Taliban and their national brethren only served to strengthen them. Their bold expansionism
carried them too far; it seemed Islamabad got directly threatened by them, just like Peshawar. Repeatedly urged on by Washington, later in the year South Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, got occupied by the Pakistani army, as well. Its aim was to remove the growing threat by the Mehsud tribe and their militant supporters to the security in both the region itself, as well as in Afghanistan. Again, Washington strongly urged Pakistan to take military action against the largely unhindered cross border activities of militant groups.
At the same time, the U.S. government prodded the Pakistani military leaders into some strategic rethinking, trying to convince them that not arch-enemy India but Islamic militancy was, and is, their biggest enemy. It should result into an increased deployment of troops in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, at the expense of troops quartered in the borderlands with India. Developments in India were helpful in this respect. A re-elected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly sought to open talks with Pakistani leaders, assuring them that no danger emanated from India, in spite of the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and the continuing terrorist threats from militant Islamic groups inside Pakistan.
In 2009, Washington itself drastically increased its so-called ‘drone’ attacks on militant hide-outs and leaders in the tribal areas. These attacks by unmanned planes rapidly became highly unpopular. Although a considerable number of militant leaders got killed, including Baitullah Mehsud, far larger numbers of civilians lost their lives. The Pakistani government repeatedly protested against the use of drones, but it is a public secret that they are based in Pakistan. This has always been vehemently denied by the government of Prime Minister Gilani. However, president Zardari, like his supreme commander Kayani, has for some time now sought to obtain the drone-technology from the United States for his country. They have met with some success.
In Afghanistan, an increasingly unpopular Karzai-government sought to elevate its reputation by publicly criticizing the numerous Afghans killed by foreign military forces. President Karzai was up for re-election in 2009. Initially, the election was postponed, for security and logistical reasons. When they were eventually held in August, they turned out to be indecisive. Fraud on a large scale had been committed, making the Independent Election Committee of Afghanistan decide to hold a second round. Karzai faced Abdullah, the famed Tajik leader, in the deciding round. However, Abdullah, accusing Karzai of unwillingness to reform the electoral system, withdrew, leaving Karzai to be declared the ‘winner’ of the election.
The troubled Afghan presidential election turned out to be the demise of the electoral process in Afghanistan, as well as of quite a number of reputed international organizations. The UN representatives argued among themselves, leading to the untimely departure of senior envoy Peter Galbraith; international observers initially declared the election a success. Prematurely, as subsequent developments and facts about large scale fraud were to prove.
At the same time, the Taliban movement continued to carry out attacks on the ground; 2009 was the bloodiest year for the international forces since they began to arrive, in 2001.
After long and intensive deliberations, on December 1, president Obama endorsed the new strategy for Afghanistan as outlined by his commander, General Stanley McChrystal. Its stated aim was to ‘disrupt, dismantle and destroy’ al-Qaeda. It was determined that an extra 30.000 US soldiers would be sent to Afghanistan in 2010. In the same speech, president Obama also announced that in July, 2011, the withdrawal of American force from Afghanistan would begin. Thus, the American president sought to reconcile the highly diverging opinions within his administration on the war in Afghanistan.
All in all, the year 2009 has been a bad one for Karzai and the international organizations active in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban managed to spread their activities into the northern regions of the country. The eagerly pursued build-up of the Afghan army and Afghan police force, which are supposed to largely replace the departing international forces in 2011, did not materialize as planned. Instead of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan population at large, Karzai and the international coalition saw their unsteady support erode even further.
In Pakistan, in the province of Punjab, especially in the south, increasing numbers of militants continue to spread out across the entire nation. Pakistan’s economic development, never a showpiece of true national development, got heavily buried with serious drawbacks as millions of fugitives from the northwest and Waziristan, on the run in order to escape the struggle between army and militants, had to be internally accommodated in large refugee-camps. The Pakistani army did succeed in pushing back militancy in Swat, Bajaur, and Malakand, as well as in South Waziristan. But both the Gilani government and the army are still faced with growing militancy in North Waziristan and Punjab province.