Written by admin on Saturday, December 31st, 2011

By Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

All articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan posted on in 2011

IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2011 POSTS (PDF) [Note: large file (6 MB)]

The year 2011 in review


After ten years of war, 2011 turned out to be the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the arrival of Western troops. The Taliban movement, though losing some ground and many of its middle men and commanders, was anything but beaten. As the year progressed the number of suicide attacks went on the increase again. The Taliban leadership was not willing to start talks about a peace deal, unless the US presented a timetable for unconditional and full withdrawal. Personal relations between President Karzai and President Obama remained formal if not frosty.

Fight, build, talk

US demands for arriving at some sort of agreement with the Taliban remained unchanged. The Taliban had to renounce violence, accept the supremacy of the current Afghan constitution, and sever all ties with al Qaeda. But a prerequisite fulfilment of these conditions was no longer required to start talks at all, indicating an increasing US willingness to get talks seriously started. The US strategy had now been re-labelled ‘fight, build, talk’, rather than the ‘disrupt, dismantle and defeat’ approach.
In November, 2010, the Lisbon treaty signed by all countries militarily involved in Afghanistan (48 nations), specified that the transfer of full responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan Government and Army would start in 2011. The Afghan National Security Forces should be capable of taking over all NATO/ISAF tasks by the end of 2014. President Karzai fully endorses this scenario. President Obama’s strategy review on Afghanistan in December, 2010, largely amounted to ‘more of the same’. Nevertheless, 2011 from the outset had been designated as another ‘make or break’ year in fighting the Taliban. It was widely perceived that the Afghan ‘endgame’ had begun.
The US intended to maintain several bases, Special Operations Forces (SOF) and airpower in Afghanistan after 2014. President Karzai declared that the much hated SOF’s had to go. SOF’s are responsible for carrying out the notorious night raids, angering ever more Afghans. Since General Petraeus took over command (June, 2010), these operations have been significantly increased. The counterinsurgency strategy (COIN) as devised by generals McChrystal and Petraeus was practically abandoned.
As a growing number of US soldiers died or got wounded in Afghanistan, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent failed to bring about security or stability, but a ‘strategic stalemate’ at best, an increasing number of voices demanded an end to what now had become ‘America’s longest war’.
The drawdown of US troops as already announced by President Obama on December 1, 2009, began in July, to be followed suit by troops from allied countries; altogether, on the eve of withdrawal they numbered about 140.000. In July, command in Afghanistan was taken over by General John Allen. General Petraeus replaced Leon Panetta as chief of the CIA.
The US government repeatedly stated, as did the Pakistani government, that negotiations with the Taliban should be Afghan-led; Taliban spokespersons made it equally clear that the one party they might directly talk to is the US government. The US sought direct contacts as well, rather than depending on Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence agency (ISI). The Taliban leadership stuck to its demand that first, all foreign forces had to leave the country. The Taliban assume that ‘puppet’ President Karzai lacks the authority to make peace with them without the approval of Washington.
The US government did support the efforts of Karzai’s High Peace Council for seeking talks with the Taliban. US military and political leaders were in broad agreement that lasting peace in Afghanistan can only be obtained through negotiations, not on the battlefield. However, no concrete, verifiable signs were noted that peace talks would finally take place between the US government and the Taliban. They didn’t, in spite of rumours about the Taliban possibly opening an office in Turkey or Qatar.
The Taliban, with an estimated strength of about 30.000 men, paid for their insurgency through illicit drugs trade, security charges on convoys, extortions and financial contributions coming from charities and from wealthy individuals in several Islamic countries, weapons smuggling, taxing Afghan villages, business ties with local strongmen.
In a further threat to Afghanistan’s future security and stability, increasing Taliban activities were taking place in Takhar and Kunduz provinces in the north, and in southwest Afghanistan (Nimroz and Farah provinces). It was established that the Sunni Taliban were trained and supported by Shi’ite Iran, despite far-reaching differences between the two of them.

The Karzai-government

Unfortunately, the government of president Karzai in Kabul remained as impotent as ever. After having installed a special court to investigate possible fraud during the parliamentary election of September 2010, he repeatedly postponed the installation of the new Wolesi Jirga (parliament).
A handpicked Loya Jirga (Large Assembly) by Karzai, approved continued US military presence and the creation of military bases in the country after July 2014. The Afghan parliament was by-passed, and expressed its frustration and fury.
Although being a Pashtun, Hamid Karzai never succeeded in finding broad acceptance as a national leader within most Pashtun tribes. It should be noted that a considerable number of all fourteen million Pashtuns living in Afghanistan did and does not ascribe to a renewal of the former Taliban-regime, either.
After ten years of Western military presence and political leadership by President Karzai, the maintenance and survival of the political set-up as designed in Bonn and implemented in Afghanistan since late 2001, continues to overwhelmingly hinge on foreign financial and military support. Massive corruption and nepotism permeate the entire administrative system.
Equally disturbing is the enduring lack of meaningful economic development in the country. Though mineral resources in Afghanistan are worth billions of dollars, only a few mining projects are slowly starting up. The illegal production of poppy was on the rise again in 2011, largely undisturbed by efforts of NATO-forces to stop them. Poppy cultivation still accounts for a major part of national income. It also enables powerful drugs lords in several parts of the country to wield influence in politics.
No serious amount of jobs is created, causing many Afghans, especially in the cities, to barely survive. Of the entire national Afghan budget, comprising approximately seven billion dollars in 2010, the government could only raise one billion dollars from its own resources.
1In an effort to curb corruption and enhance security, President Karzai in August, 2010, ordered a future ban on all private security companies. Many of them were closely linked to senior Afghan officials. They were to be disbanded and replaced by the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), a governmental organization. After numerous protests from his Western allies, the measure was suspended till March 2012. Many private firms are hired to protect convoys and Western bases.

Military progress

The US military and its allies made some, but not sufficient, military progress. General Petraeus declared that ‘the momentum’ of the Taliban in many parts of the country had been stalled. The US troops did succeed in pushing back the Taliban, notably in Helmand province and in both Kandahar province and city. Kandahar province is considered to be the strategic hub of the country.
In retaliation, the Taliban under a directive from Mullah Omar initiated a counter-campaign of suicide attacks and intimidation. At the same time, they continued to kill Afghans who support or work for the international forces and the Karzai-government, whether civilians or soldiers. Ahmad Wali Karzai, highly influential head of the Kandahar provincial council and brother of the President, was among those killed. So was Jan Muhammad Khan, former governor of Uruzgan.
As entire villages were razed to the ground by US troops, trying to clear the area from IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) and killing as many leading Taliban as they could, few Afghan ‘hearts and minds’ were won. The abhorred night raids by US Special Forces (SOF’s) and the increased killing of Afghan civilians served to further estrange an already demoralised population.
When an anti-Islam American pastor in Florida publicly burnt a copy of the Koran, angry mobs in Mazar-i-Sharif attacked UN buildings, killing a number of non-combatant UN employees. In the US, these violent demonstrations only served to further diminish public support for continuation of the struggle in Afghanistan.

Army, police and local forces

The build-up of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) continued at full speed. The number of desertions at some 24 per cent remained dramatically high. The Afghan army is now overwhelmingly commanded by Tajik and Hazara officers, marginalising the traditional position of the Pashtuns. In March, security responsibility in several provinces was taken over by Afghan forces from ISAF/NATO.
Handing over security-control to the Afghan Army in mainly Pashtun-inhibited provinces will arguably lead to future blood shedding. This harrowing prospect only serves to enforce the already determined stance of Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Turcoman political leaders not to seek negotiations with the Taliban (overwhelmingly Pashtun), or approve doing so by President Karzai. As talk of the ‘endgame’ spread, local military preparations were being stepped up to face the Taliban again, once foreign troops have left the country at the end of 2014.
Next to building up army and police, the US military began to install a network of heavily financed village security forces, or ‘local militias’. It was reported by the UN that in 2010-2011 about 5000 private militias, consisting of 120.000 armed members trained and financed by US and NATO sources, are active in Afghanistan. Militias like these, hardly controllable if at all, have regularly plundered and murdered in the region they were supposed to safeguard against terrorist attacks.

Regional cooperation

Karzai, while on a visit in Delhi, concluded a pact for cooperation with India, including military training of the Afghan national army. The strategic partnership between both countries, though announced as a positive factor for peace and stability in the region and supported by the US, inevitably will enhance tensions between India and Pakistan in their search for more influence and presence in Afghanistan.
Relations between Kabul and Islamabad were souring over alleged Pakistani support for terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, especially after the killing of aged Burhanuddin Rabbani, former President and acting head of the High Peace Council.
In another significant move, Russian President Medvedev announced his nominee for the new post of ‘presidential special representative for Afghanistan’, senior diplomat Kabulov. In the 1990s, he had visited Kandahar and spoken with the Taliban leadership, including Mullah Omar. Kabulov also strongly supports the ‘Afghanization’ of the war. Moscow primarily seeks to counter the two greatest dangers emanating from Afghanistan; terrorism and narcotics.


On the eve of US Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Pakistan in January, the country was characterized as ‘being in crisis at every level: militarily, political, economic and societal’. The IMF was considered to be the country’s main economic lifeline. Over 75% of Pakistan’s entire population of 178 million (63% of them are aged under 25) was living at the lowest development level. It was also announced that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal now consisted of over one hundred items, doubling its stock in a few years’ time, and outnumbering India’s arsenal.

Blasphemy killings and rising Islamic extremism

On January 4, Pakistani politician Salman Taseer got killed in Islamabad. Taseer, PPP-Governor of Punjab province, was shot by one of his bodyguards, because of his opposition against Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy law. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities and a Christian, was gunned down in Islamabad as well, for the same reason. A third prominent outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, MP Sherry Rehman, was forced to go into hiding. She was named Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States after the resignation of Hussain Haqqani. Investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad got killed on May 30, after having ignored repeated warnings from intelligence agencies to cease his research on ties between al Qaeda, the Taliban movement, and some Pakistani army branches.
In spite of Prime Minister Gilani’s determined announcements, at the end of 2011, still not a single suspect was arrested for these brutal murders. Fearful lawmakers and officials remained silent, not daring to amend the blasphemy law. Pakistan’s English-language media cried out about increasing societal chaos, arriving on the rising tide of Islamist extremism.
Today, in the southern part of Punjab province many well-funded (Deobandi) madrassas (religious schools) are established. Thus Punjab province, home to a large majority of all 178 million Pakistani (about 70% of them live there), was turning into a major recruiting ground not just for the Pakistani army but for militant organizations as well.
Next to conservative Deobandi Islamist extremism, dominating Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and areas of Balochistan provinces, an increase in Barelvi militancy was noted. Barelvi Sunni Islamites are forming an overwhelming majority in Punjab and Sindh provinces, especially in their cities. All in all, over 400 militant groups have been identified by the Interior Ministry.
Clearly, all secular forces in the country were on the retreat.

Political turmoil & economics

The on-going rupture between the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) led by the Sharif brothers and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto continued. The PPP, minor partner in the Punjab provincial government dominated by the PML-N, was forced to quit the governing coalition.
In Balochistan, the largest province of the country but also the thinnest populated one, escalation between the federal government and army on the one hand and separatist movements on the other continued unabated. The number of missing persons, supposedly abducted, arrested or killed by the armed forces, was on the rise. The presence of political activists, armed nationalists, Taliban groups, Iranian oppositional organizations and a strong presence of Pakistani Army forces made the province an unstable, highly dangerous place. In Quetta, the Afghan Taliban leadership, aptly known as the ‘Quetta Shura’, resides – a generally accepted fact, in spite of Pakistan’s official denials.
Balochistan is an important source of energy for the entire country. Many Balochis feel that the winning of natural resources in their province mainly benefits the Punjabi dominated state.
The severe economic damage caused by the exceptionally huge floodings in 2010 began to make itself felt in 2011. Another heavy flooding hit Sindh province in Autumn 2011, but this time it received little international attention.
The government in Islamabad, seeking for additional funds, decided to introduce a 15% income tax plus a solid increase of excise duty or ‘flood’ tax by presidential order. Petroleum prices also rose substantially, causing main coalition partner MQM to temporarily abandon the government. Pakistan imports 90% of all oil it consumes, making the country rather vulnerable to fluctuating world market prices. These went up to 26% in the beginning of 2011, forcing the government to cut price subsidies.
Each year, over 60% of Pakistan’s national budget is absorbed by debt servicing and defence spending. The government increased the nation’s defence budget by 17% in 2011; national security once again loomed larger than public welfare (education, healthcare, infrastructure). In comparison, a meagre 1,5% of the national budget (down from 2,5% in the previous budget) was destined for public schooling and education. Illiteracy in Pakistan in 2011 still stood at 65%, being one of several huge obstacles to further economic development. In 2011, the World Bank allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for Pakistan’s educational sector. Another unfolding trend, the grinding halt of foreign and domestic investments, is equally threatening to future economic growth and development.
As Pakistan’s domestic economic problems increased, this could be attributed to a chronic shortage of energy and power, too. It turned to its ‘all-weather friend’ China to further develop its nuclear capacities. Two new reactors were planned to be constructed at Chashma, in Punjab province.

Relations with the United States

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen called Pakistan ‘the epicentre of global terrorism’. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad characterized Pakistan as ‘both a friend and an enemy’ (frenemy) of the US. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton forwarded seasoned diplomat Marc Grossman as successor to the deceased former special US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke (who died in December, 2010). It turned out to be the first of many US personnel changes in both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Ambassador Eikenberry, commander General Petraeus, Lt. General Rodriguez (leading daily operations in Afghanistan), Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates were all replaced.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan showed a dramatic detoriation in 2011, plummeting to the lowest point in years. General Kayani publicly expressed his serious doubts about the eventual success of US strategy in neighbouring Afghanistan. He also termed Pakistan America’s ‘most bullied ally’. Beside well-known issues, like Pakistan’s continued discrete support to certain radical Islamist groupings, the continuation of US drone attacks against both al Qaeda and radical Pakistani Islamic leaders, this rapid downturn was caused by a succession of serious incidents, all occurring on Pakistani soil.
On 27 January Raymond Davis shot two Pakistanis in Lahore who pursued him on motorbikes. Davis was imprisoned on accusation of double murder, despite having a status of diplomatic immunity. The Obama administration subsequently suspended all high-level talks with Pakistan. A number of highly annoyed US politicians called for an immediate end of all US aid.
As Davis turned out to be working for the CIA and belonged to a CIA-network operating secretly in Pakistani cities, the existing partnership between the ISI and CIA was seriously questioned. It took direct contacts between CIA-chief Leon Panetta and ISI-director General Ahmad Shuja Pasha to prevent a total collapse of cooperation. Finally, in March, Davis was released by Pakistani authorities and returned to the US.
Further damaging already severely strained relations was caused by the lightning raid on May 2 in Abbottabad, where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in his home by US Navy commandos. This spectacular ‘beheading’ of al-Qaeda got carried out without prior information to Pakistani authorities, now infuriated by a lack of US trust. It was widely assumed that at least some persons inside Pakistan’s intelligence services knew about Bin Laden’s stay in Abbottabad, a major garrison town of the Pak army. US Secretary of Defence Panetta (by now he had succeeded Robert Gates) put it bluntly: either Pakistani were involved or, if not, incapable.
In its wake, relations between Pakistan’s civilian government, in power for four years, and the Pakistani military leadership turned sour. The main bone of discontent, a memo sent by a Pakistani businessman under the auspices of Pakistani Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani to the US military asking it to help prevent a military takeover in the country, became readily known as ‘memogate’. Haqqani was forced to step down, and appear in court in Pakistan on the accusation of high treason.
A third big spoiler was the killing of 26 Pakistani soldiers at Salala security post on November 27, by US and Afghan forces purchasing Taliban fighters from neighbouring Afghanistan. Since no apology from Washington was forthcoming, in November Pakistan retaliated by closing down its borders to all US transports into Afghanistan.
All year, feverish diplomatic traffic and military contacts between Washington and Islamabad continued. Prime Minister Gilani stated that US. Pak-US relations would have to be re-built on entirely different conditions. The US House and Senate froze 700 million dollar in aid to Pakistan.

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