Posts Tagged ‘ Kabul ’

Rural Tinkerer Builds The First Airplane Made in Afghanistan

By Tom A Peter for The Christian Science Monitor

Afghanistan’s rural Ghazni Province usually appears on the news radar only to herald a tragedy: Five Polish soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb days before Christmas. A group of armed men accused a widow and her daughter of adultery in November and stoned the pair before shooting them in front of their home.

In other words, it’s not the sort of place you’d expect to find a hobbyist aviator in his backyard building what he describes as the first airplane ever designed and constructed in Afghanistan.

Yet, over the past three years Ghazni-native Sabir Shah managed to fashion a one-man “microlight,” aircraft at his family home using instructions from the Internet and parts from the local market.

While impressive compared with a Wright Brothers’ creation, the plane is far from a marvel of modern aviation. But Mr. Shah hopes it’s enough to inspire government support or private investment in Afghan aviation.

So far though, aside from modest, but passing interest from a few government officials, he’s received little attention. Most Afghans, including his own family, have called him crazy and told him to get a regular job. Still, Shah remains determined to create a business building airplanes for Afghanistan.

“I believe that if you want something, you can get it,” he says.

Shah is an unlikely candidate to be Afghanistan’s aviation advocate. A high school graduate with no pilot training nor aeronautical engineering background, he’d never even traveled by airplane when he started building one.

For Afghans wishing to learn how to fly, the options are extremely limited. The country has a fledging air force, but there are no other practical opportunities for pilot training. The Ministry of Transportation and Aviation offers flight classes, but ministry officials admit that few students actually take the courses because Afghan airlines almost exclusively hire foreign pilots with better training and more experience.

After high school, Shah considered going on to college. Yet even though public universities are free, his family couldn’t afford losing the extra pair of hands.
Given his circumstances it’s easy to understand why people were skeptical when Shah announced his plans to build a microlight airplane after seeing one featured on a documentary and doing a bit of Internet research.

“I didn’t have money and there was no one to help me,” says Shah. “Everyone was saying, ‘Have you studied about airplanes? Do you know anything about airplanes?’ I would say, ‘I have got some recommendations from the Internet.’ Nobody believed I could build it.”

Undeterred, Shah continued his research and worked a series of odd jobs to save up money for parts and equipment. As he progressed, friends and family donated money. An uncle in Australia gave him a vital $2,000 donation and even Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili contributed $1,000 when he learned of the project.

After three years, Shah had constructed a microlight airplane using a propeller he made himself, a small Toyota car engine, a homemade fiberglass body, a wing made of a metal frame and cloth, and some spare gauges he bought at the market for his instrument panel. The project cost Shah a total of $12,000, a small fortune here.

When it came time for his first test flight, the Afghan Ministry of Defense agreed to use a military helicopter to transport Shah and his plane to an airfield north of Kabul. The trip was the first time Shah had ever traveled by air. “I was frightened a little when I was looking down,” he says, recalling the trip.

Before Shah climbed into the pilot seat, a retired Afghan pilot who’d flown jets for the Soviets and now managed the airport gave him a few pointers. Otherwise, he was relying on manuals he’d collected on other microlight aircraft.

As his plane sped down the runway, his fear momentarily faded. The flight lasted less than a minute before he set it down on the runway again.

In a total of four takeoffs, his longest and last flight traveled about a quarter of a mile – nothing compared with professional tests, but 11 times farther than the original Wright Brothers’ flight. However, that final flight ended when he crash-landed just off the runway. Though he walked away from the crash, the plane was damaged beyond repair.

Considering that it’s been 64 years since a pilot first broke the sound barrier and 25 years since a plane circumnavigated the globe without stopping or refueling, Shah’s achievement may seem hardly worth mentioning. But his accomplishment is much less about the actual plane he built and more about his creativity and inventiveness in a country where innovation and ingenuity are in short supply after three decades of war.

“Innovation doesn’t mean anything in this country,” says Daoud Sultanzoy, a former member of parliament from Ghanzi, who has been a pilot since 1973 and is now starting his own airline. “We always look at the past and behind us instead of looking forward…. He’s a young man who must have used his own know-how to build his own airplane, which should be encouraged.”

Despite the challenges, Shah says he’ll keep working. If he can find a scholarship to study abroad he will, but he doesn’t know how to look for such an opportunity and doubts it will happen. For now, he hopes his initial success will attract investors as he endeavors to start his next project, an eight- to 10-seater airplane that he hopes can be used for domestic travel in Afghanistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteWhat an amazing story of ingeunity and ambition that Sabir Shah demonstrates that should make all Afghans and Pakistanis proud. Just imagine what amazing talents could be nurtured with several billion dollars in seed money in start-ups in Kabul instead of all the money lost on wars~

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Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author of Modern Afghanistan.

Rick Santorum, Meet Hamza Kashgari

By George Packer for The New Yorker

President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religious freedom makes Rick Santorum “throw up.” “What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum says. It’s a central part of his campaign strategy to distort such things as a Kennedy speech, or an Obama speech, to whip up outrage at the supposed war on religious people in America. Here’s what Kennedy said:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him… I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair.

Kennedy said much more, but this is the strongest passage of that famous campaign speech to a group of ministers in Houston, in which he argued that the election of a Catholic President who believed in the Constitution shouldn’t concern any American who believed in the Constitution—and, Santorum says, “That makes me throw up.” Santorum’s rhetorical eloquence is about equal to his analytical skill. Kennedy had nothing to say against believers entering public life, or believers bringing their religious conscience to bear on public policy. He spoke against any move to make religion official. The Constitution speaks against this, too—Article VI establishes an oath to the Constitution as the basis for public office, and explicitly prohibits a religious test, while the First Amendment forbids the official establishment of religion and protects its free practice. Santorum claims to be a constitutionalist, but that’s just rhetoric and opportunism. Santorum believes in a religious test—that may be all he believes in. (Mitt Romney believes in a religious test of a slimy, halfway, Romneyesque variety: in 2007, he reportedly dismissed the idea of appointing a Muslim to his Cabinet, saying, “Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position would be justified.” So does Newt Gingrich, who has made atheist-baiting a central part of his political business.)

Kennedy seemed to have someone like Santorum in mind when he warned, “For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been—and may someday be again—a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.” In 1960, it would have been hard to imagine how thoroughly religious sectarianism and intolerance would infect American politics, and especially one major party. The outcry over Obama’s policy on health insurance and contraception has almost nothing to do with that part of the First Amendment about the right to free religious practice, which is under no threat in this country. It is all about a modern conservative Kulturkampf that will not accept the other part of the religion clause, which prohibits any official religion.

Santorum, like most conservatives these days, says he is a constitutionalist. Jefferson wrote, and Madison worked to pass, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which held that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Jefferson included an even stronger phrase that was eventually struck out by amendment: “the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.” Presumably, all of this originalist nonsense makes Rick Santorum heave, gag, vomit, and puke.

What makes me throw up is the story of Hamza Kashgari. It’s a shame that every American doesn’t know his name. He’s a young, slender, philosophical-minded columnist and blogger from Saudi Arabia who, earlier this month, dared to tweet phrases of an imagined conversation with the Prophet Mohammad: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you…I loved the rebel in you…I will not pray for you.” Within twenty-four hours, more than thirty thousand furious replies had been posted on Twitter. Within a few days, more than twenty thousand people had signed on to a Facebook page called “Saudi People Want Punishment for Hamza Kashgari.” (So much for Arab liberation by social media.) One commenter wrote, “The only choice is for Kashgari to be killed and crucified in order to be a lesson to other secularists.”

Kashgari backed down, apologized profusely, and continued to be attacked. He went into hiding. Clerics and government officials threatened him with execution for blasphemy. He fled to Malaysia, hoping to continue to fly to New Zealand, where he would ask for asylum. But Malaysian officials, behaving against law and decency, had him detained at the airport and sent back to Saudi Arabia, where he was promptly arrested. Since mid-February there’s been no word of Kashgari. The Saudis have said they will put him on trial. What a pity there’s no First Amendment to protect him.
If only he had more powerful friends—if only Christopher Hitchens were still alive—Hamza Kashgari would be called the Saudi Rushdie. There would be a worldwide campaign to pressure the Saudis into releasing him. The United States would offer him asylum and quietly push our friends the Saudis into letting him go. But we’ve come to expect these things from our friends the Saudis.

We’ve come to expect these things from the Muslim world. We expect Afghans to riot for days and kill Americans and each other because a few NATO soldiers were stupid enough to burn copies of the Koran along with other objects discarded from a prison outside Kabul. Yes, those soldiers were colossally, destructively insensitive. Yes, we should know by now. Yes, the reaction has a lot to do with ten years of war and occupation and civilian deaths and marines urinating on Taliban corpses. Still, can we have a little outrage at the outrage? Can we reaffirm that human lives are more sacred than books? Can we point out that every time something like this happens, there’s a manufactured and whipped-up quality to much of the hysteria, which has its own cold political calculation (not unlike the jihad against secularists by Sean Hannity and other Salafist mouthpieces)?

Saudi Arabia needs an absolute separation of religion and state so that Hamza Kashgari can say things that other people don’t like without having to flee for his life. Afghanistan needs it, too, and so does Pakistan, so that mob violence and political assassination can’t enjoy the encouragement of religious authorities and the tolerance or acquiescence of government officials. And America needs it so that our Presidents’ religious views remain their own private affairs, and Rick Santorum and his party can’t impose dominion of one narrow, sectarian, Bible-based idea of the public good over a vast, pluralist, heterodox, freedom-loving democracy.

Peace Effort Takes Karzai to Pakistan .

By Yaroslav Trofimov, Tom Wright and Adam Entous for The Wall Street Journal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday met with Pakistan’s leaders, trying to gain Islamabad’s support for his peace outreach to the Taliban, as U.S. officials worked to keep expectations in check about the strategy’s prospects for yielding direct peace talks with the Islamic militant group.

The Taliban, meanwhile, denied Mr. Karzai’s claim that they have been negotiating with the Afghan government.On the first day of his three-day visit to Pakistan, Mr. Karzai met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who promised Pakistani cooperation in investigating the September assassination of the chief Afghan peace negotiator and voiced support for an Afghan-led peace process. Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who wields considerable influence over the country’s foreign policy, also took part in the talks.

In Islamabad, Mr. Karzai reiterated that respect for the Afghan constitution and for women’s rights remain his “crucial conditions” for any future deal with the Taliban.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has been skeptical of reconciliation efforts in the past, at a Thursday news conference lauded Mr. Karzai’s remarks—made in a Wall Street Journal interview—about Kabul’s willingness to engage with the Taliban.

“What President Karzai’s statement confirmed is that Afghanistan is very much involved in the process of reconciliation and that is extremely helpful and important to determining whether or not we are ultimately going to be able to succeed with reconciliation or not,” Mr. Panetta said. “The news that Afghanistan has joined those reconciliation discussions is important.”

Mr. Panetta said he didn’t know whether additional three-way sessions between the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban have been planned.

Another senior Obama administration official remained cautious about whether such confidence-building contacts would translate into direct peace talks, calling the process “complicated and precarious.”

A day after Mr. Karzai told the Journal that Afghan government representatives have had contacts with U.S. and Taliban officials in an attempt to end the 10-year war, the Taliban said they had no intention of negotiating with “the powerless Kabul administration.”

“If someone met the Karzai administration representing the Islamic Emirate, he is an impostor,” said a statement by the Taliban leadership, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban in the past denied reports of peace talks with the U.S., only to confirm them in recent months.

U.S. officials have confirmed Mr. Karzai’s remarks, saying at least one three-way negotiating session occurred in recent weeks.

Admitting negotiations with Kabul would be fraught will political risks for the insurgent leadership, possibly undermining the morale of Taliban fighters, and weakening the militants’ resolve amid coalition offensives.

The intensity of the conflict already declined dramatically in recent months, Afghan and coalition officials say, though it is unclear whether this drop is due to the spreading news about peace talks, unusually harsh winter weather, or a strategic decision by the Taliban to hold their fire as foreign forces withdraw.

Pakistan, which U.S. officials say provides shelter and support to the Taliban leadership, plays a crucial role in Afghanistan’s peace outreach.

Mr. Karzai’s relations with Pakistan neared a rupture point after the September assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the peace negotiator, by purported Taliban peace emissaries. At the time, Afghan officials blamed the killing on Pakistan, something that Pakistani officials denied. Two suspects have since been arrested in Pakistan.

The White House wants to show progress on the reconciliation track before a May summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders in Chicago. There, NATO leaders are expected to announce plans to shift to a train-and-assist mission in Afghanistan in 2013, giving Mr. Karzai’s security forces the lead role in combat operations before most U.S. and NATO troops pull out at the end of 2014.

Where Pakistan fits into tentative peace talks with the Taliban remains unclear. The U.S. has not kept Islamabad informed about developments in the peace process, Pakistan civilian and military leaders claim.

U.S. and Afghan officials say they are concerned Pakistan might try to undermine peace talks. In January 2010, Pakistan detained a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Afghan and U.S. officials claim Pakistan arrested him for contacting the U.S. and Mr. Karzai’s government without Pakistan’s knowledge, a claim denied by Pakistan.

Afghanistan has asked for Pakistan to transfer Mr. Baradar to Kabul, but this hasn’t happened so far. Pakistani officials deny they back the Taliban.

Pakistan will stay on the sidelines in the tentative peace process as long as the U.S. remains distrustful of Islamabad, said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.

“We’re not sure to what extent the U.S. wants Pakistan to play a role,” Mr. Gul said. “The Pakistani role at this moment seems very limited.”

Pakistan’s ability to play a meaningful part in talks has further been hampered by a deterioration in relations with U.S. after an American helicopter strike in November mistakenly killed 26 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border.

U.S. officials say they are still trying to hammer out an agreement with Taliban representatives on a sequence of confidence-building measures aimed at laying the ground for any future direct negotiations on ending the war.

In addition to the establishment of a political office for the Taliban in Qatar, the U.S. wants the Taliban to issue a statement distancing itself from international terrorism and to agree to stop fighting in certain areas of the country.

The U.S., in turn, would transfer of up to five Taliban militants held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar. Key U.S. lawmakers have raised objections to the prospective prisoner transfers.

Officials have identified the five Guantanamo detainees who may be transferred to Qatar as Muhammad Fazl, a former senior Taliban defense official; two former local governors, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Noorullah Nori; former Taliban intelligence official Abdul Haq Wasiq; and top Taliban financier Muhammad Nabi.

Messrs. Haq Wasiq, Fazl and Nori were among the first 20 detainees who arrived at Guantanamo Bay 10 years ago, when the prison was opened on Jan. 11, 2002.

The U.S. has received assurances from Qatar that the five militants, if transferred, won’t be released by the government or handed over to the Taliban. But officials said the men could be freed later as part of a future Afghan-Taliban peace deal.

Pakistan is Helping Afghan Taliban, Says Nato Report

As Reported by The BBC

The Taliban in Afghanistan are being directly assisted by Pakistani security services, according to a secret Nato report seen by the BBC.
The leaked report, derived from thousands of interrogations, claims the Taliban remain defiant and have wide support among the Afghan people. It alleges that Pakistan knows the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

A BBC correspondent says the report is painful reading for international forces and the Afghan government. Pakistan has strenuously denied any links with the Taliban on previous occasions.

“We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks,” said US Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby, adding that the US Defence Department had not seen the report.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says the report – on the state of the Taliban – fully exposes for the first time the relationship between the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) and the Taliban.

The report is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians.
It notes: “Pakistan’s manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly”. It says that Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

The report states: “As this document is derived directly from insurgents it should be considered informational and not necessarily analytical.”
Despite Nato’s strategy to secure the country with Afghan forces, the secret document details widespread collaboration between the insurgents and Afghan police and military.

Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said the document was “a classified internal document that is not meant to be released to the public”.

“It is a matter of policy that documents that are classified are not discussed under any circumstances,” he said.
The report also depicts the depth of continuing support among the Afghan population for the Taliban, our correspondent says.
It paints a picture of al-Qaeda’s influence diminishing but the Taliban’s influence increasing, he adds.

In a damning conclusion, the document says that in the last year there has been unprecedented interest, even from members of the Afghan government, in joining the Taliban cause. It adds: “Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption.”

The report has evidence that the Taliban are purposely hastening Nato’s withdrawal by deliberately reducing their attacks in some areas and then initiating a comprehensive hearts-and-minds campaign.

It says that in areas where Isaf has withdrawn, Taliban influence has increased, often with little or no resistance from government security forces. And in many cases, with the active help of the Afghan police and army.

When foreign soldiers leave, Afghan security forces are expected to take control. However according to the report, rifles, pistols and heavy weapons have been sold by Afghan security forces in bazaars in Pakistan.

Why They Get Pakistan Wrong

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Review of Books

Nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the commencement of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the alliance between the US and Pakistan is on shaky ground. The killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces this May in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has incensed officials on both sides: on the American side because bin Laden’s hiding place appears to suggest Pakistani perfidy; and on the Pakistani side because the US raid humiliatingly violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

As Ted Poe, a Republican congressman on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, puts it: “Unless the State Department can certify to Congress that Pakistan was not harboring America’s number one enemy, Pakistan should not receive one more cent of American funding.” Dramatic words,1 for Pakistan has been allocated quite a few cents of American funding. Yet this money has bought little love. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States, and only 8 percent would like to see US troops “stay in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.” Why might this be the case?

The past decade has been devastating for Pakistan. The country’s annual death toll from terrorist attacks rose from 164 in 2003 to 3,318 in 2009, a level exceeding the number of Americans killed on September 11. Some 35,000 Pakistanis, including 3,500 members of security forces, have died in terror and counterterror violence. Millions more have been displaced by fighting. It is difficult to convey how profoundly the country has been wounded. In 1989, my Lahore American School classmates and I (including children from Pakistan, America, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Korea) were able to go to the beautiful valley of Swat by bus for a weeklong field trip with no security arrangements whatsoever. In 2009, the battle to retake Swat from Taliban militants involved two full divisions of the Pakistani army and hundreds of casualties among Pakistani soldiers. (Similarly, until a few years ago, there had never been a suicide bombing in Lahore. Now one occurs every three or four months.) The Pakistani government puts direct and indirect economic losses from terrorism over the last ten years at $68 billion.

Of the $20.7 billion in US funding allocated to Pakistan from 2002 to 2010, $14.2 billion was for the Pakistani military. On paper, economic assistance came to $6.5 billion, less than a third of the total. In reality the civilian share was even smaller, probably less than a quarter, for the $6.5 billion figure reflects “commitments” (amounts budgeted by the US), not “disbursements” (amounts actually given to Pakistan). The United States Government Accountability Office reports that only 12 percent of the $1.5 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan authorized for 2010 was actually disbursed that year. Independent calculations by the Center for Global Development suggest that $2.2 billion of civilian aid budgeted for Pakistan is currently undisbursed, meaning that total economic assistance actually received from the US over the past nine years is in the vicinity of $4.3 billion, or $480 million per year. (By comparison, Pakistanis abroad remit $11 billion to their families in Pakistan annually, over twenty times the flow of US economic aid.)

Pakistan is a large country, with a population of 180 million and a GDP of $175 billion. Average annual US economic assistance comes to less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s current GDP, or $2.67 per Pakistani citizen. Here in Lahore, that’s the price of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra toppings from Pizza Hut.

The alliance between the US and Pakistan is thus predominantly between the US and the Pakistani military. To enter the US as a Pakistani civilian “ally” now (a Herculean task, given ever-tighter visa restrictions) is to be subjected to hours of inane secondary screening upon arrival. (“Have you ever had combat training, sir?”) For a decade, meanwhile, successive civilian Pakistani finance ministers have gone to Washington reciting a mantra of “trade not aid.” They have been rebuffed, despite a WikiLeaked 2010 cable from the US embassy in Islamabad strongly supporting a free trade agreement with Pakistan and citing research showing that such an arrangement would likely create 1.4 million new jobs in Pakistan, increase Pakistani GDP growth by 1.5 percent per year, double inflows of foreign direct investment to Pakistan, and (because Pakistani exports would come largely from textile industries that US-based manufacturers are already exiting) have “no discernible impact” on future US employment.

Perhaps the vast majority of Pakistanis with an unfavorable view of the United States simply believe their annual free pizza is not worth the price of a conflict that claims the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens each year.

Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, in The Scorpion’s Tail, his examination of the rise of militants in Pakistan, makes clear that both sides of the alliance between the US and the Pakistani military share blame for the violence currently afflicting Pakistan. A long series of mutual policy missteps led to the present bloodshed.

As Hussain reminds us, the US and the Pakistani military together backed the Afghanistan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, thereby bequeathing to the world unprecedented international networks of well-trained jihadist militants. For the US, as in its previous alliance with the Pakistani military in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary objective was to counter the Soviets. For the Pakistani military, as ever, the primary objective of the alliance was to lessen India’s superiority in conventional arms. The US gained a proxy fighting force in the form of the Afghan Mujahideen (literally: “people who do jihad”). The Pakistani military gained access to advanced US-made weapons, the most important of which were forty F-16 fighter aircraft: too few, obviously, to resist any full-blown Soviet air assault, but enough to strengthen meaningfully the Pakistan air force against its Indian rival.

With the Soviet withdrawal, America turned abruptly away from the region and washed its hands of its militant cocreations; in the ensuing power vacuum Afghanistan descended into a bloody civil war among former Mujahideen. The US also severed its alliance with the Pakistani military, cutting off supplies of spare parts for Pakistan’s American weapons and withholding delivery of further F-16s that Pakistan had paid for but not yet received.

The outraged Pakistani military was seriously weakened as a conventional fighting force vis-à-vis India. But it now, as Hussain shows, had enormous experience of projecting power through jihadist militants and two opportunities to continue doing so. One was in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir (the divided Muslim-majority territory at the center of the Indian–Pakistani conflict, claimed in its entirety by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan), where an insurgency against Indian troops had broken out in 1989 following a disputed election.

The other was in Afghanistan, where the largely ethnic-Pashtun, Pakistan-backed Taliban were battling the largely non-Pashtun, India-backed Northern Alliance, consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and others. During the 1990s, Hussain writes,

the jihadist movement in Pakistan was focused entirely on supporting the regional strategy of the Pakistani military establishment: to liberate Kashmir from India and install a Pashtun government in Afghanistan.
But following the terrorist attacks of September 11, linked to members of al-Qaeda living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan, the US returned to the region in force and demanded that Pakistan choose sides. President Pervez Musharraf’s subsequent decision to align Pakistan with the US was perceived by many militants as a “betrayal.” Still, Musharraf hoped the Pakistani military’s conflict with its infuriated, jihadist offspring could be circumscribed, that it might be possible “to drive a wedge between the Pakistani militants and the al-Qaeda foreigners.”

This plan, besides denying the extent of the militant threat to Pakistan, was also undermined by US strategy, a strategy that suffered from the outset from what Hussein identifies as two “fundamental flaws.” The first of these was a failure to understand that unless Pashtun grievances were addressed—particularly their demand for a fair share of power—the war in Afghanistan would become “a Pashtun war, and that the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

As the US campaign in Afghanistan began, Hussain writes, Musharraf “warned the United States not to allow the [Northern] Alliance forces to enter Kabul before a broad-based Afghan national government was put in place.” But the US ignored this advice, and later, at the Bonn conference of December 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as chairman (and subsequently president) as Pashtun “window dressing, while the Northern Alliance took over the most powerful sections of the government.”

By backing the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and then failing to include a meaningful representation of Pashtuns in a power-sharing deal in Kabul, the US not only sided with India in the Indian–Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan, it also elevated a coalition of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnicities above its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Conflict was inevitable, and since twice as many Pashtuns live in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, it was also inevitable that this conflict would spill over the border.

The results for Pakistan were catastrophic. Over the following decade, as Hussain describes in detail, the Pakistani military’s attempts to separate “good” militants from “bad” foundered. Instead, strong networks developed between radical groups in Pakistan’s Punjabi east and those in its Pashtun west. With each move of the Pakistani military against them, the frequency and lethality of counterattacks by terrorists inside Pakistan, on both military and civilian targets, intensified. Pakistani casualties soared.

The only way out of this trap, in which an unwinnable “Pashtun war” threatens to swamp an essential Pakistani program to neutralize militants, Hussain suggests, is to address the second “fundamental flaw” in US strategy: the “failure to appreciate that combating the militant threat required something far more than a military campaign,” namely a “political settlement with the insurgents, requiring direct talks with the Taliban.”

Equally vital, it must be added, is a push toward political settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This simmering conflict fuels the Indian–Pakistani proxy war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan, encourages the Pakistani military’s embrace of militants, and helps subordinate Pakistani civilian governments to the Pakistani military (by allowing a near-perpetual state of security crisis to be maintained in Pakistan). The outlines of a deal on Kashmir were reportedly secretly agreed upon in 2007, but progress has been frozen since Musharraf’s fall from power in 2008 and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai that same year.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama acknowledged Kashmir’s central role. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan,” he said in October 2008.

We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India but on the situation with those militants.
Once he was elected, however, talk of Kashmir and peace between India and Pakistan receded from President Obama’s official pronouncements, and he embarked upon an Afghanistan policy that might be described as “shoot first, talk later.” US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt intensified, with more—53—in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, than during the entire Bush administration—42—followed by a further sharp increase in 2010, to 118. This unmanned assault was accompanied by a tripling of US military manpower in Afghanistan, which in turn resulted in a fourfold increase in the American fatality rate, with more deaths there of US soldiers in twenty-nine months under Obama (974) than in eighty-seven months under Bush (630).

Obama has now begun to reverse his Afghanistan escalation. His June 22 speech announced that 33,000 US forces (described as those of his “surge,” but more accurately representing the second of his two roughly equal-sized surges) would begin withdrawing this summer and be gone by the end of the next. There will then, he said, be a “steady pace” of further reductions until by 2014 the change of mission “from combat to support…will be complete.” He also stated that “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.”

The following day, in an interview with the Voice of America, Obama acknowledged a US “focus shifted to Pakistan” and declared:

I think what’s happened is that the [US–Pakistan] relationship has become more honest over time and that raises some differences that are real. And obviously the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear with Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it. We think that if Pakistan recognizes the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively….
The tone of Obama’s underlying message to Pakistan is certainly much improved from that of the US in September 2001, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly told Pakistan to cooperate with the imminent US campaign in Afghanistan or be prepared to be bombed “back to the stone age.” But implicit in Obama’s words, and explicit in his actions, is a continued willingness to escalate US armed intervention in Pakistan should Pakistani cooperation prove insufficient. The alliance between the US and the Pakistani military remains, therefore, a relationship between parties viewing one another through gunsights. Each side blames the other for putting its citizens in grave danger, and each is correct to do so.

A gunsight is not, however, the primary lens through which King’s College professor and former London Times journalist Anatol Lieven sees Pakistan. Quite the opposite: his Pakistan: A Hard Country, by far the most insightful survey of Pakistan I have read in recent years, reflects sensitivity and considerable, if clear-eyed, affection. Lieven has traveled extensively through Pakistan (dismayingly atypical for a contemporary foreign commentator), exploring all of its provinces and speaking with Pakistanis from a very broad range of backgrounds. He has also immersed himself in written sources, including pertinent anthropological research produced over a period of some two hundred years.

Pakistan’s is a diverse society, so diverse, in fact, that observers who deal best in generalizations are bound to get the country horribly wrong. Lieven recognizes this diversity and makes it central to his analysis. For him, Pakistan is a place of competing and overlapping clans, sects, tribes, beliefs, and practices. Its society, in order to function, has evolved powerful mechanisms to deal with rivalries inside shared localities. As a result, Lieven argues, Pakistan is characterized by structures—military, bureaucratic, social, political, spiritual, judicial—that are profoundly “Janus-faced,” in the manner of the two-faced Roman deity who gazes and speaks in opposite, contradictory directions. These structures, at once predatory and protective, operate to make the country both (frustratingly for reformers) very difficult to change and (bafflingly for forecasters of its demise) remarkably resilient.2

At the heart of Lieven’s account of Pakistan is kinship, pervasive networks of clans and biradiris (groups of extended kin) that he identifies as “the most important force in society,” usually far stronger than any competing religious, ethnic, or political cause. Several millennia of invasions, occupations, colonizations, and rule by self-interested states resulted in a “collective solidarity for interest and defense” based on kinship becoming paramount in the area that is Pakistan. It now, as Lieven points out, “is a cultural system so strong that it can persuade a father to kill a much-loved daughter, not even for having an affair or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission.” Moreover it is enduring, having survived, for example, “more than half a century of transplantation of Pakistani immigrants to the very different climes of Britain.” It has done much the same in the far less dislocating shift to Pakistan’s cities, sustained, as in Britain, through constant replenishment by newly migrating kin from the countryside.

The effects of kinship on Pakistani politics are profound. Most of Pakistan’s leading political parties are dynastic, including the Bhutto family’s PPP and the Sharif family’s PML-N; even individual members of parliament are often elected on the basis of clan alliances and support. Politics is therefore about patronage far more than ideology. Furthermore, the Pakistani state is relatively weak, collecting taxes that amount to less than 10 percent of GDP.

As a consequence, Lieven notes, Pakistani governments follow a predictable pattern. They are elected (usually as coalitions, Pakistan’s many divisions making absolute majorities exceedingly rare) on general promises of higher living standards for the population and individual promises to particular politicians, families, and districts. The governments lack the resources to keep many of these promises (which are, in any case, often conflicting); their majorities ebb away; they lose power and await another turn.

Yet because of patronage, much of what politicians extract financially from official positions circulates among their kinship groups, which cut across class. Lieven believes this system, while hugely ineffective at driving real change, helps explain “Pakistan’s remarkably low inequality rating according to the Gini Co-efficient, measuring the ratio of the income of the poorest group in society relative to the richest.” By that measure in 2002 “the figure for Pakistan was 30.6, compared with 36.8 for India, 40.8 for the US, and 43.7 for Nigeria.”

The role of religion in Pakistan, a source of much hand-wringing in policy think tanks, is similarly complex. As Lieven points out: “the Islam of the Pakistani masses contains very different traditions.” Moreover, unlike in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where an oil-bankrolled state has tried to impose one monolithic version of Islam, “the Pakistani state is too weak to achieve this even if it wanted to.” Lieven describes the theological divisions among Sunnis sustained by Pakistan’s clan and kinship diversity. The Ahl-e-Hadith, heavily influenced by Wahabism, loathe saintly traditions. The Deobandis may praise saints but object to worshiping them. The Barelvis, Pakistan’s most numerous (and “fissiparous”) school, tend to embrace the intercession of saints with God. Veneration of saints is also central to Pakistan’s Shias. Because saintliness can be inherited, the heads of Pakistan’s powerful landowning “pir families remain of immense political importance.” They can actively create bridges among religious groups and they serve as major bosses in several mainstream political parties, especially the “secular” PPP.

Religiosity thus fuses with kinship networks and politics to reinforce Pakistan’s existing elite. But it also helps marginalize Pakistan’s Islamist parties, drawn primarily from the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi schools, which struggle to capture more than a few percent of the country’s vote. (Away from politics and “hardly noticed outside the country,” Lieven believes Pakistan’s religiosity also softens “the misery of Pakistan’s poor” by contributing to an astounding level of charitable donation, which, “at almost 5 percent of GDP, is one of the highest rates in the world.”)

Throughout his analysis, Lieven rejects the notion that Pakistan fits somehow in a category apart from the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, a sui generis nuclear-armed “failed state” on the verge of collapse. Rather, he writes,

Pakistan is in fact a great deal more like India—or India like Pakistan—than either country would wish to admit. If Pakistan were an Indian state, then in terms of development, order and per capita income it would find itself somewhere in the middle, considerably below Karnataka but considerably above Bihar.

Indeed, even in the violent challenges confronting its state authority, Pakistan is like its subcontinental neighbors: “All of the states of this region have faced insurgencies over the past generation,” Lieven notes, and by comparison to the Taliban conflict in Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebellion “caused proportionally far more casualties” and India’s Naxalite Maoist insurgency controls “a far greater proportion of India.”

Lieven has evident sympathy for the Pakistani military (indeed there are points when, in referring to a uniformed ancestor who served during British rule in what is now Pakistan, one suspects Lieven may have his own feelings of kinship with the Pakistan army). But he is clear about the role the army has played in fomenting militancy, and about the deadly threat militants now pose to Pakistan, especially the potential for far worse bloodshed if the remaining militant groups that have not yet turned on the military and are therefore being kept “in existence ‘on the shelf ‘”—including Pashtun militants focused on Afghanistan and Punjabi militants focused on India—were to do so.

Still, despite the ineffectiveness of much of the Pakistani state, he believes Pakistan’s kinship groups and its stabilizing and antireformist social structures give the country a combination of diversity and toughness that makes successful revolution highly unlikely. He also writes that the Pakistani army, as it demonstrated in the “brutal but in the end brutally effective” operation to liberate Swat from militant control in 2009, is fully capable of routing guerrillas who seize territory when it sets its mind to doing so.

A key question, therefore, is whether the army itself could split. Lieven thinks not (and we must fervently hope that he is right). The army, he explains, is an all-volunteer institution with a strong shared ethos, nationalistic rather than pan-Islamic in outlook, and increasingly vigilant against Taliban sympathizers within—”after all, we are not suicidal idiots,” an officer tells him. The real risk, which Lieven argues must be avoided at all costs, is of “open intervention of US ground forces” in Pakistan. For if ordered by their commanders not to resist, “parts of the Pakistani army would mutiny in order to fight the invaders,” and in such an eventuality “Islamist upheaval and the collapse of the state would indeed be all too likely.”

In passages such as this, Lieven comes close to describing Pakistan as if through a gunsight; but the gunsight belongs to an American decision-maker on the hunt, with Lieven playing the role of preservationist guide. The best Western strategy, he counsels, would “stem from a recognition that Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan are in part legitimate—even if the means with which they have been sought have not been”—and would “seek a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute, despite all the immense obstacles in both India and Pakistan.” For in the end, “not even the greatest imaginable benefits of US–Indian friendship could compensate for the actual collapse of Pakistan, with all the frightful dangers this would create not just for the West but for India too.”

Lieven’s is a vital book, with much wisdom in its advice for the West. But equally importantly, this detailed and nuanced survey offers Pakistanis a mirror in which to look hard at their country and themselves. Pakistan’s resilience is bound up with its resistance to reform, yet reform will be essential for facing the great challenges ahead, including the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on a dry and overpopulated land that is dependent on a single river and its tributaries. Pakistanis, and above all members of Pakistan’s military, would do well finally to reject their country’s disastrous embrace of militants. Pakistan must urgently mend its relationships in its own neighborhood and refocus on taking care of itself. Time is not on its side.

1
Indeed, perhaps more than just words: on July 9 the US announced it was holding back $800 million of military aid for Pakistan. ↩

2
Lieven is careful to point out that his analysis refers only to Pakistan as it has been configured for the past forty years, a territory with “more of a natural unity…[and] a degree of common history and ethnic intertwining stretching back long before British rule,” and not to what he terms 1947–1971’s “freak of history…[with] its two ethnically and culturally very different wings separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India,” a situation from which Bangladesh should have been given a “civilized divorce” but which instead “ended in horrible bloodshed.”

-Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He lives in Lahore, London, and New York. (Article originally appeared late September 2011)

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The views expressed in this article are the solely the opinions of the writer and although interesting, do not necessarily reflect nor represent the views of Pakistanis for Peace and or Manzer Munir. 

What Happened on the Border?

As Reported by The New York Times

It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.

Washington and Islamabad need to work together, urgently, to ensure that this incident does not destroy their deeply troubled relationship. The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging as it is — to pursue the fight against the Taliban. And without American support, Pakistan’s fragile government will be even more vulnerable to extremist attacks.

So far, Pakistan’s leaders seem most interested in fanning popular anger. The Obama administration and NATO have wasted precious time, allowing the crisis to escalate.

On Saturday, after the first reports, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement offering their “deepest condolences for the loss of life.” We’re not sure why President Obama waited until Monday to add his voice.

We are also puzzled, and concerned, by the delay in opening a full and transparent inquiry. On Saturday, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, said he would “thoroughly” investigate the incident. But that was never going to be enough.

It took until Monday for Gen. James Mattis, leader of the Pentagon’s Central Command, to announce a more formal investigation and to name Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark to lead it. The inquiry will include representatives of NATO and General Allen’s team. Significantly, Central Command said Pakistan and Afghanistan would be invited to participate. Islamabad and Kabul should both agree. The panel needs to move ahead quickly and credibly, with full disclosure no matter what it finds.

Pakistan’s leaders, as ever, are playing a very dangerous game. On Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani vowed in an interview on CNN, that “business as usual will not be there.” His government has already shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, ordered a base used for drone strikes evacuated and threatened to boycott a conference on Afghanistan’s security and development. Some news reports are also quoting ordinary Pakistanis demanding that their government retaliate militarily against American forces across the border.

Before things get out of control, Pakistan’s leaders need to lower their rhetoric and make clear that it is in their country’s interest to work with the Americans to find out what happened and ensure it will not happen again.

There are many questions that need to be answered. Who first fired on the American-Afghan force? Pakistan’s army is far too cozy with the Taliban. Were fighters sheltering near the Pakistani outposts? What about Pakistan’s claim that the NATO strikes continued for two hours even after Pakistan alerted allied officials? What needs to be done differently going forward?

The two sides need answers if there is any hope of finding a way back from the brink.

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