IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2010 POSTS
By Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten
All articles on Afghanistan and Pakistan posted on Immigvanheugten.nl in 2010
IMMIGVANHEUGTEN.NL 2010 POSTS (PDF) [Note: large file (5 MB)]
Another year, a second yearbook. It contains all posts we considered worthwhile publishing on our website in 2010, www.immigvanheugten.nl We are very pleased to note that our website continues to attract an increasing number of visitors. Apparently, current developments in and concerning South Asia are worrisome to many.
Several analysts, both military and civilian, in 2009 characterized the upcoming year 2010 as a ‘make or break’ year for Afghanistan. It was destined to be the year in which a ‘shift of momentum’, supposedly brought about by an improved counterinsurgency (COIN) approach by the international forces battling the insurgents, aided by the influx of an additional 30.000 US military, would take place. Once the Taliban movement was pushed back militarily, it would be willing to participate in ‘talks’ – or so the reasoning went in Western capitals. A reconciliation and reintegration plan was supposed to lure thousands of Taliban fighters into leaving the movement.
However, it was an ominous sign that on the very first day of January, 2010, in Khost province seven CIA-officers got killed by a suicide bomber. This delivered a severe blow to future US operations against the militants. The Haqqani network and Al Qaeda supposedly planned and carried out the attack.
In June, one of the co-architects of the COIN doctrine, commanding supremo in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, got sacked, since he had criticized his civilian superiors too harsh. He was succeeded by General David Petraeus, main architect of the COIN-approach. Under the command of Petraeus the immensely unpopular night raids increased dramatically; so did the number of Afghan civilians killed. On the other hand, 2010 was the deadliest year for US and ISAF troops battling the Afghan insurgency – till now.
Although opinions on ‘progress’ in Afghanistan continued to differ, it is clear that the – mainly Pashtun – Taliban movement has been anything but subdued, and certainly is not defeated. To the contrary, the movement succeeded in establishing its presence into the northern and western provinces of the country, non-Pashtun areas, as well. It was due to a lack of security in the country that the parliamentary election to be held in May was rescheduled to September 18.
The newly elected Wolesi Jirga (parliament) and the Karzai government got off to a bad start, with president Karzai announcing the request to the Supreme Court and the Attorney General to examine the extent of the fraude during the parliamentary elections. This decision was hotly contested by the Independent Election Commission.
Next to large-scale fraude, quite a lot of Afghans did not cast their votes, especially in Pashtun inhabited areas. This indicated a further erosion of trust in the credibility of the Karzai administration, as in the workings of the democratic system as well. The Karzai government lost what little popularity it possessed; in 2010, it hardly managed to make its writ felt in any province at all. Its resolve to create local police forces made up of former militia fighters, supported by and encouraged by Petraeus, did not generate much trust about their future safety among the inhabitants of the areas concerned.
A promising development may be the installation of a High Peace Council by the Karzai government, in September. Although its primary task is to seek talks with the Taliban leadership, from its inception it should start to spread across the country, establishing local peace councils wherever possible. Taliban spokesmen, however, repeatedly made it clear that they are not interested in talks.
The announced ‘strategy review’ by the US government resulted mainly in the renewed promise by President Obama to start withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan in July, 2011. The charismatic special representative of the US government to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, quite suddenly passed away in December, leaving the explanation and implementation of the renewed strategy to be carried out by his successor.
In 2010, the Pakistan Army continued its operations against militants in Swat, Dir, Malkand and Buner. Claims that the area had been freed of Taliban militants seemed to be premature; although many Taliban fled the area, violent attacks continued. Like most Afghans, a large majority of Pakistan’s 175 million inhabitants detest violence and terrorism. The Pakistan Army gained considerable popularity in taking on an increasingly brutal ‘regime’. But, as it increasingly took over command in the region, a similar problem facing US military in Kandahar evolved; could a credible and capable civilian governing body be installed at all?
In Pakistan in general, a number of key developments showed a negative trend; rising fuel and food prices caused further poverty. On top of that, in July/August the country experienced a huge flooding, inundating one-fifth of its territory, causing billions of rupees of damage. Tellingly, international fundraising got off slowly, as there apparently existed little confidence in the workings of the present civilian coalition-government, led by Prime Minister Gilani. In international public opinion, the Gilani-government is perceived to be only slightly less corrupt than its Afghan counterpart.
In January, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakeemullah Mehsud reportedly got killed by US drone missiles in South Waziristan, just like his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud was in August 2009. Hakeemullah Mehsud, however, soon turned out to be alive and well after all.
Under the new Petraeus command, more US predator strikes then ever were carried out against targets in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies making up the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It is known to be the hide out area of the notorious Haqqani network. This network, an integral and loyal component of the Afghan Taliban movement led by mollah Omar and active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been responsible for numerous deadly attacks on US and Afghan government officials and buildings.
Repeatedly, Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) has been accused by US politicians and military alike of continued support for the Haqqani network. Invariably, the Gilani-government rejected these accusations. Although urged to start a major military operation in North Waziristan, Pakistan’s military leadership was not willing (or able) to do so, claiming its forces were overstretched already. However, undeniably, numerous local radical militant groups as well as Afghan Taliban leaders are moving about largely undisturbed in the country.
Although a substantial majority of all 28 million Afghans, Pashtuns included, abhor violent Taliban actions, as well as the prospect of a future return of the Taliban movement into the national government, continued US and ISAF military presence in Afghanistan seems equally repellent.
Thus, the Afghan population still finds itself caught in an awkward dilemma. If, on the one hand, the international military forces leave the country too hastily, it is highly likely that the Afghan National Army and Police presently ‘under construction’ will rapidly give way to some kind of new Taliban regime in Kabul. Although major efforts were made to strengthen the Afghan army and police, thus enabling them to fully replace the international force in 2014, numerous problems seriously hampered the process.
That does not bode well for president Karzai and his ethnic allies, many Afghan parliamentarians, or even for the continued existence of parliament as an institution. Neither the Karzai government, nor the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police will be able to withstand continued Taliban attacks on their own; a minimum international force seems required to stay in Afghanistan for a considerable number of years to come.
If, on the other hand, the international military presence endures, it will remain a major stimulant for the Taliban movement to increase its efforts to get them out. All the while, the Afghan population at large has to bear the bloody consequences of inevitably being caught in the crossfire. The arrival of over 30.000 extra US troops will only increase the number of civilian casualties. As president Obama already stated in March, 2009, ‘there are no perfect answers’.
In its end of the year report on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Obama-administration characterized its achievements as ‘fragile and reversible’. It echoed equally sober assessments by both the UN and American Intelligence agencies. As Taliban spokesmen categorically reject peace talks, prospects for peace in Afghanistan remain bleak. Pakistan, hit hard by a number of crises, will increasingly depend on foreign support to maintain some badly needed economic development at all.