Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts

28 January 2020

Afghanistan: “Peace” as the Vietnamization of a U.S. Withdrawal?

By Anthony H. Cordesman

One has to be careful when examining the “peace” the United States is now seeking in Afghanistan. There are many warning signs that this peace effort may actually be an attempt to provide the same kind of political cover for a U.S. withdrawal as the peace settlement the United States negotiated in Vietnam. At the same time, U.S. policymakers may be taking the current peace effort in Afghanistan seriously and believe it could actually succeed. At best, it is a well-intentioned attempt at peace, whose authors do not realize that this form of “peace” is likely to rapidly deteriorate into a Vietnam-like withdrawal.

Seeking a failed peace is an all too real possibility. After all, almost all current U.S. and other international peace efforts lack a clear strategy that goes beyond military victory or conflict termination. In Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, the U.S. goal is limited to bringing an end to the current fighting, creating some form of ceasefire, or defeating the current terrorist threat. There is no clear effort or plan to produce a stable peace and create both a workable and lasting structure in any country’s governance, security, or economy. Looking for a hidden motive in the lack of a meaningful peace strategy for Afghanistan can easily end in discovering that a motive does not even exist.

27 January 2020

Who Gets to Tell the Story of the Afghanistan War?


The Washington Post’s ‘Afghanistan Papers’ is the latest contribution to a growing argument over whether the conflict — or any of the ‘forever wars’ — was worth the cost.

Who gets to tell the story of the Afghanistan war?

Is it angry veterans and war-weary journalists? Is it Pentagon public relations pros, putting the spin on the best story they can for Washington politics and the public? Is it the ground troops and their families who led their men and women through combat, took terrain, won hearts and minds, killed the enemy, and then came home to heroically save each other once again, yet this time from their demons? Is it the Hollywood movies that don’t get the story quite right? Is it the 4-star generals who still methodically and earnestly warn politicians and the public that this war, like all of the United States’ contemporary missions against worldwide violent extremism, will be messy, complicated, and take much longer than 18 years to win? Is it American voters?

The latest retelling of the war, and most assuredly not the last, is the Washington Post’s “Afghanistan Papers” investigation. It landed with a splash in December, revealing raw documents obtained from John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR. He is a man whose office for years has been a respected and unflinching presenter of overwhelming evidence of the war’s unfulfilled promises to American taxpayers. “Here comes another Sopko report” is frequently uttered in newsrooms when the next email hits their inboxes. There have been so many, frankly, that they’ve lost impact. But with an eye-catching digital format, the Post presents the SIGAR’s latest findings, and their own reporting, as a major scoop. Indeed, the paper touted the package as a modern-day version of “Pentagon Papers.” In that legendary news moment of the 1970s, a contract analyst for the Defense Department, Daniel Ellsberg, amassed, copied, and leaked to reporters 7,000 pages of classified analysis revealing that U.S. leaders for years during the Vietnam War secretly had believed it to be an unwinnable morass but constantly and deliberately lied to the American people to keep it going. 

Pakistan and CPEC Are Drawn Into the U.S.-China Rivalry

By: Adnan Aamir


Leaders in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan were stunned in late November when a senior U.S. government official issued a strong verbal attack on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). On November 21 in Washington, D.C., U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asia Affairs Alice Wells spoke at length about the CPEC at a public event, criticizing multiple elements of the $62 billion flagship component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Ambassador Wells cast doubt upon claims that CPEC will generate sustainable economic development in Pakistan and criticized the project’s cost escalations and non-transparent processes of awarding CPEC contracts to Chinese firms. She appealed to Pakistan’s citizens to ask tough questions of the PRC regarding the CPEC and China’s related projects in Pakistan (U.S. State Department, November 21, 2019).

In the past, the U.S. government had raised concerns over CPEC and China’s “debt-trap diplomacy,” but it had never presented such a direct and detailed set of criticisms. Ambassador Wells crossed that line—bringing the notoriously stalled out CPEC back under international scrutiny just after Chinese and Pakistani leaders had brokered a cautiously optimistic set of funding deals to jumpstart progress a month before (Ministry of Foreign Affairs (PRC), October 9, 2019). Chinese representatives were quick to respond to Ambassador Wells’s criticisms. The next day, PRC Ambassador to Islamabad Yao Jing(姚敬) said that he had been “shocked and surprised to see the remarks of Alice,” and that Ambassador Wells lacked accurate knowledge and had relied on “Western media ‘propaganda’” for her accusations. He called on the U.S. to “show your evidence, give me evidence” of specific cases of corruption related to the CPEC, and questioned whether Wells was taking potshots at the CPEC to score political points. Ambassador Yao challenged the U.S. to suit its actions to its words: “If there is any sincerity… [the U.S. should] come forward to invest in Pakistan. We [China] welcome U.S. investment in Pakistan.” (INP (Pakistan), November 22, 2019; VOA, November 22, 2019). 

The Killer Algorithms Nobody’s Talking About

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This past fall, diplomats from around the globe gathered in Geneva to do something about killer robots. In a result that surprised nobody, they failed.

The formal debate over lethal autonomous weapons systems—machines that can select and fire at targets on their own—began in earnest about half a decade ago under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the international community’s principal mechanism for banning systems and devices deemed too hellish for use in war. But despite yearly meetings, the CCW has yet to agree what “lethal autonomous weapons” even are, let alone set a blueprint for how to rein them in.

Meanwhile, the technology is advancing ferociously; militaries aren’t going to wait for delegates to pin down the exact meaning of slippery terms such as “meaningful human control” before sending advanced warbots to battle.

To be sure, that’s a nightmarish prospect. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, echoing a growing chorus of governments, think tanks, academics, and technologists, has called such weapons “politically unacceptable” and “morally repugnant.” But this all overlooks an equally urgent menace: autonomous systems that are not in themselves lethal but rather act as a key accessory to human violence.

Iran Expands Support for Taliban, Targets U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

by Guy Taylor 

Escalating U.S.-Iran tensions mean Afghanistan, which shares a border with Iran, could be the next proxy battleground between Washington and Tehran, a clash that threatens to undermine the Trump administration’s pursuit of a peace deal with the Taliban and eventual drawdown of American troops.

Administration officials have recently warned of the potential for expanding Iranian activity in Afghanistan, and sources say Tehran’s support for the Taliban is well known in intelligence circles, where analysts are examining the extent to which the insurgent group already outsources some of its attack planning operations to Iran.

Communications intercepted between Taliban operatives based in Mashhad, Iran, and their counterparts working in Quetta, Pakistan, have exposed at least some level of such operational connectivity, one source told The Washington Times…

Taliban admits ‘peace’ negotiations with U.S. are merely means to withdraw ‘foreign forces’

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The Taliban admitted this week that current negotiations with the “arrogant” U.S. – often billed as “peace talks” that will purportedly end the fighting in Afghanistan – are merely being conducted to facilitate “the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.”

The Taliban made the statements in its latest commentary, titled “Powerless shall always remain shareless…!,” which was published in English on Jan. 20 on its official website, Voice of Jihad.

In addition, the terrorist group called the Afghan government “impotent,” “powerless,” “incapable,” “a tool of the invaders,” and a host of other insults in the statement. The Taliban was clear, as it has consistently been clear, that it would not deal with the Afghan government, which has been “sidelined [by the U.S.] in every major decision regarding Afghanistan.”

24 January 2020

The Missing Links in the Afghan Peace Process

By Mushtaq Rahim

William Zartman, the renowned scholar of conflict and peace studies, says that parties to a conflict agree to negotiate when they are faced with a mutually hurting stalemate. The Afghan conflict has apparently reached that stage of stalemate where none of the parties seem to be making advances in regard to deciding the situation in their favor. Therefore, the parties — namely the United States, the Afghan government, and the Taliban have been willing to engage in dialogue to explore a viable solution to the nearly two-decade long conflict. The search for peace and reconciliation gained impetus when Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed as the United States’ special representative for the Afghan peace process in September 2018.

While the Afghan conflict has reached, to use Zartman’s word, “ripeness” and is ready for political dialogue over a settlement, the process has been facing many consistent roadblocks. This has halted the desired progress, causing a lot of anxiety among the stakeholders. The roller-coaster peace process has serious flaws, and without correcting those issues it will be nearly impossible to conclude negotiations successfully.

Pakistan Has a Truly Deadly and Scary Nuclear Weapons Program

by Kyle Mizokami
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Key point: Pakistan and India have a dangerous rivalry that could one day lead to nuclear war. Islamabad has its own formidable nuclear arsenal and has threatened to use it.

Sandwiched between Iran, China, India and Afghanistan, Pakistan lives in a complicated neighborhood with a variety of security issues. One of the nine known states known to have nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and doctrine are continually evolving to match perceived threats. A nuclear power for decades, Pakistan is now attempting to construct a nuclear triad of its own, making its nuclear arsenal resilient and capable of devastating retaliatory strikes.

Pakistan’s nuclear program goes back to the 1950s, during the early days of its rivalry with India. President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously said in 1965, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.”

The program became a higher priority after the country’s 1971 defeat at the hands of India, which caused East Pakistan to break away and become Bangladesh. Experts believe the humiliating loss of territory, much more than reports that India was pursuing nuclear weapons, accelerated the Pakistani nuclear program. India tested its first bomb, codenamed “Smiling Buddha,” in May 1974, putting the subcontinent on the road to nuclearization.

Taliban open to 10-day ceasefire with U.S., talks with Afghan govt -sources

Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Jibran Ahmad

If an agreement is sealed, it could revive hopes for a long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Taliban and U.S. negotiators met on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the signing of a peace deal, according to a spokesman for the Taliban office in Qatar. The talks were “useful” and would continue for a few days, the spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said on Twitter early on Friday.

U.S. President Donald Trump had called off the stop-start talks to end the 18-year war in September after an U.S. soldier was killed in an attack by the militant group.

They resumed but were interrupted again in December after the Taliban launched a suicide attack on a U.S. base outside Kabul killing two civilians.

Two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Wednesday that the Taliban’s top leadership had now agreed to implement a 10-day ceasefire with U.S troops once a deal was signed in Doha, and to “reduce” attacks against the Afghan government.

23 January 2020

The Need for Détente: Cyberwarfare in India/Pakistan Conflict

Jonathan Lancelot

Sometimes brutal honesty is the best form of diplomacy, and if there is a conflict that is in immediate need for some kind of resolution, it is the conflict over the region of Kashmir between Pakistan and India. As both nuclear nation-states are within instant reach of one another, the conflict has reached a new high beginning in early 2019, and the escalation includes use of cyberwarfare. “While countries like Russia, China, and North Korea have often dominated the international landscape for their cyberattack capabilities, both India and Pakistan also have formidable government hacking programs, as well as populations with strong technology skills and access to hacking tools” (Fazzini). Granted, the cyberwar between the two nations have been ongoing since the late 1990s. Recent escalations have led organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations or individuals like Alex Stamos, former chief security officer of Facebook to be deeply concerned. This concern should lead to diplomatic interventions from the United States, China, Russia, and Iran as three of these nations have a geopolitical interest in helping the cyber conflict from metastasizing into a full blow conventional war, and the United States interest in mitigating the conflict is within responsibility of the most powerful nuclear nation-state on Earth. 

The biggest hurdle to a strategic partnership between the US and the other three nations is evident. There is respective mutual tension amid the US and each of the three, preventing a geopolitical collaboration that could possibly solve the real danger of an escalation and nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India. There could very well be a partnership between Russia, Iran, and China to help the situation, yet China might not be an impartial partner as they might side with Pakistan against India due to historical relationships. These are examples of vulnerabilities within the international system’s capacity to collectively solve the Kashmir problem. 

The Three Misunderstandings of Soviet Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

Daniel J. O’Connor

As scores of diplomats seek to navigate a peaceful resolution to the current instability in Afghanistan, it is the proper time to reassess the major effort of the conflict; specifically, the military effort. Although most of those involved want nothing more than a sustainable resolution to the conflict, it seems distinctly possible that military action will be a continued component, at least in the near-term. To aid conflict resolution in Afghanistan, the enemy must be deprived of their willpower, localized clout and the impression that they hold a powerful bargaining position, due to local support and coalition missteps. Accomplishing this requires a deeper understanding of past conflict in Afghanistan, acknowledgement of conventional warfare’s place in this conflict, and a tactically sound counterinsurgency approach. While many choose to see the US effort in Afghanistan as distinct in its aims and outcomes, this may not be an entirely accurate view. It is particularly helpful to utilize the lessons of those who have fought on Afghan soil before the US became involved.

Several major actions taken by the United States and coalition in the last 18 years share much in common with the efforts of the Soviet Union during its combat operations in the country (1979-1989).[i] It is therefore incumbent upon any student of the current conflict to firmly understand the Soviet conflict, its doctrine, execution, and most importantly, the Soviet methods of counterinsurgency. This should be done in order to avoid an “eerily familiar” application of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.[ii] Due to the Soviet Union’s particularly disastrous experience in Afghanistan, and some of the recent challenges to US and coalition policy, this topic will continue to be important for the foreseeable future as the US and its partners seek to open windows of advantage, exploit the advantage and stabilize Afghanistan through conflict resolution with the Taliban and other powerbrokers in the region.

Iran's New Quds Force Leader Has A Long, Shadowy History With Afghanistan

By Frud Bezhan

It was in the late 1980s when Ismail Qaani -- then a local commander in Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- first became active in Afghanistan.

It was to be the start of Qaani's decades-long involvement in Iran’s eastern neighbor, where Tehran has carved up influence by arming and offering political and economic backing mostly to the Shi'ite and Persian-speaking communities.

Qaani on January 3 became the chief of Iran’s elite Quds Force, the overseas operations arm of the IRGC, established following the 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend the country's theocratic system.

The 63-year-old general succeeded Major General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, early on January 3. He had long served as Soleimani's deputy.

Mysterious Visit

22 January 2020

China Hopes UN Meeting Spurs India-Pakistan Talks on Kashmir

By Edith M. Lederer

China’s U.N. ambassador warned Wednesday against further escalation between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region and expressed hope that a Security Council meeting called by Beijing will encourage both countries to seek a solution through dialogue.

Zhang Jun told several reporters after the closed meeting that China remains “concerned about the situation on the ground” in Kashmir.

“I’m sure the meeting will be a help in both parties to understand the risk of further escalation and encourage them to approach to each other and to have dialogue and to seek means to seek solutions through dialogue,” Zhang said.

India’s Hindu nationalist-led government ended Muslim-majority Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in August. The move was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi sending tens of thousands of additional troops to the already heavily militarized region, imposing a sweeping curfew, arresting thousands and cutting virtually all communications.

21 January 2020

America Should Have Left Afghanistan 8 Years Ago, And The Same Problems Remain

by Daniel L. Davis 
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The Washington Post published on Monday morning an explosive, in-depth report exposing how American military and civilian leaders have been systematically deceiving the public, since at least 2003, on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. 

The report may be more painful to me than most, however, because I first publicly exposed our leaders’ duplicity almost eight years ago—yet because the government and military leaders were unwilling to take corrective action. Since then, the war continued without pause and thousands of American service members have since been killed and wounded pointlessly pursuing the unattainable. 

My hope is that now, with this comprehensive report detailing how top leaders in three consecutive Administrations have ignored the evidence, the Trump Administration will end the war and bring our troops home. As the Washington Post reveals and I have personally observed, it should have happened long ago. 

South Africa's leaders are facing impending disaster

South Africa is on the brink of collapse. After years of corruption, mismanagement and poor investment, the fruits of the once-promising country have turned rancid. As the country’s leaders grapple with the impending disaster on their hands, tensions are boiling over. On January 10, Tito Mboweni, the finance minister, launched a series of tweets underscoring the gravity of the situation: “If you cannot effect deep structural economic reforms, then game over! Stay as you are and you are downgraded to Junck [sic] Status!! The consequences are dire. Your choice.”

The ANC’s bruising internal battles have stymied critical reforms to jumpstart the economy, prompting outbursts of frustration from officials like the finance minister Tito Mboweni. Yet while the short-term consequences are readily obvious to many, the long-term reckoning that South Africa will face is less clear

While his direct audience was unclear, the message was clear. More than a decade of worsening economic indicators has wreaked havoc on the African giant. From eye-popping unemployment of over 29 per cent to stupefying levels of violent crime, South Africa is sinking ever further into the muck.

18 January 2020

As Violence Soars, Time Runs out for Afghan Interpreters

By Sarah Blake Morgan

In a quiet cul-de-sac of this major North Carolina city, two boys kicked a soccer ball as their father tended to the tiny scraped knee of a third. “You’re strong,” Zia “Booyah” Ghafoori said, scooping up his youngest son.

A U.S. flag fluttered gently from a pole attached to their modest two-story home, the epicenter of the Afghan family’s new life in America.

Ghafoori, 36, came to the United States with his pregnant wife and three small children in 2014 on a Special Immigrant Visa. The visa is Ghafoori’s reward for his 14 years as an interpreter for U.S. Special Forces or, as Ghafoori calls them, “his brothers.” His nickname, Booyah, came from them.

While earning the admiration and respect of the U.S. military, Ghafoori’s work made him a traitor in the eyes of some of his fellow countrymen. He came to the United States to escape possible retribution from the Taliban, the extremist Islamic group that has steadily regained power in the country since being ousted by the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hostility toward the United States has spiked in neighboring Iran and in Iraq in recent days after President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike that killed a top Iranian military leader in Baghdad.

China-Pakistan Naval Drills: More Than Just Symbolism

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Earlier in the week, the navies of China and Pakistan began their sixth bilateral naval exercise, titled Sea Guardians-2020, in the northern Arabian Sea. Such military exercises are expected to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries, who are already “iron brothers.” According to Chinese media reports, the naval drills are aimed at exploring new methods of conducting China-Pakistan joint naval drills while stepping up the capabilities to jointly addresses issues such as maritime terrorism and crime.

The exercise is also sensitive because it is taking place on India’s west coast, a critical security area from New Delhi’s perspective. Clearly, the exercise will be very important for China because it increases the PLA Navy’s familiarity and understanding of the operational conditions in this part of the Arabian Sea. Moreover, gaining greater access to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan is also likely an attractive incentive for China. If it works, it can be an alternate route for China in the event of a naval blockade by an adversary that closes the Malacca Straits choke point.

In addition, India will also have concerns because India’s Arabian Sea coast hosts several major Indian ports including Kandla, Okha, Mumbai, Nhava Sheva (Navi Mumbai), Mormugão, New Mangalore, and Kochi. For China, the Arabian Sea is also important in the context of its air and naval facility, Jiwani, close to the Gwadar Port and the Iranian Chahabar Port that is jointly developed by India and Iran.

16 January 2020

A recent poll shows how Americans think about the war in Afghanistan

Shibley Telhami and Connor Kopchick

A recent poll finds that despite Americans’ hesitancy to deploy U.S. troops into other conflicts, they remain comparably supportive of maintaining the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, write Shibley Telhami and Connor Kopchick. This piece originally appeared in the Washington Post.

The Washington Post’s recently published Afghanistan Papers project revealed a purposeful effort, by both Democratic and Republican administrations, to mislead the American public on the harsh realities of the war in Afghanistan. This fall, we asked a nationally representative sample of Americans, as part of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll, what exactly they thought of the state of America’s longest war.

The survey was carried out October 4-10, 2019, online among a nationally representative sample of 1,260 respondents from Nielsen Scarborough’s probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. The margin of error is +/- 2.76 percentage points. The survey variables balanced through weighting were: age, gender, race/ethnicity, household income, level of education, census regional division and political party affiliation.

14 January 2020

Countries To Watch In 2020, From Chile To Afghanistan: 5 Essential Reads

by Catesby Holmes

Where will the world's attention turn in 2020?

The United States' impeachment trial of Donald Trump and the United Kingdom's long-awaited Brexit are sure bets. And after the U.S. military withdrawal from northern Syria in October, Bashar al-Assad may well win his civil war this year.

Many other countries will see pivotal events in 2020, too. Here are five countries to watch.

1. Venezuela

This year will bring new depths of misery to Venezuela, which is suffering the worst economic collapse ever seen outside war.

"Most Venezuelans today are desperately poor," explains St. Mary's College professor Marco Aponte-Moreno, citing a U.N. statistic that 90% of the people in the South American country live in poverty - double what it was in 2014.

12 January 2020

Where U.S. troops are in the Middle East and Afghanistan, visualized

By Miriam Berger
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U.S. soldiers with their gear head to a waiting bus Jan. 4 at Fort Bragg, N.C., as troops from the 82nd Airborne Division are deployed to the Middle East as reinforcements in the aftermath of the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. (Chris Seward/AP)

Iran has promised severe revenge for the United States’ killing of Qasem Soleimani, the country’s powerful military commander. Across the Middle East, these threats of confrontation have put on high alert the bases, ports and other installations where U.S. troops are based or pass through.

On Friday, the Pentagon announced that it was sending an additional 3,500 troops to the region, while troops in Italy were put on standby, according to defense officials. The troop escalation came just days after President Trump ordered an additional 750 U.S. soldiers to the Middle East and 3,000 more to be on alert for future deployment, after pro-Iranian forces stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as part of a worsening cycle of violence.