Profile: Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai was a participant or observer in the following events:
In a series of multinational conferences held to discuss the future of Afghanistan, Western leaders make great pledges and promises to Afghanistan. For instance British Prime Minster Tony Blair says, “We will not walk away from Afghanistan, as the outside world has done so many times before.” [Observer, 5/25/2003] President Bush says, “The Afghan people will know the generosity of America and its allies.” [Guardian, 9/20/2003] US Secretary of State Colin Powell says, “[We] have an enormous obligation—not only the United States, but the whole international community—an enormous obligation to not leave the Afghan people in the lurch, to not walk away as has been done in the past.… We cannot wait; we must act as fast as we can. We must act as soon as possible.” [New York Times, 11/20/2001] In a January 2002 donor conference, countries around the world pledge $4.5 billion to aid Afghanistan. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/19/2002] However, new Afghan leader Hamid Karzai says, “We believe Afghanistan needs $15-20bn to reach the stage we were in 1979.” Most outside observers will agree that the amount pledged is insufficient. [Observer, 5/25/2003] Yet even that amount will fall far short of the aid actually given to Afghanistan in subsequent years (see Spring 2003).
US troops are set to land near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Afghanistan (see November 26, 2001). [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Apparently, as the noose tightens around Kandahar, Hamid Karzai, the new leader of Afghanistan, makes a deal with the Taliban. He gives them a general amnesty in return for surrender of the city. Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar is allowed to escape “with dignity” as part of the deal. However, the US says it will not abide by the deal and Karzai then says he will not let Omar go free after all. Taliban forces begin surrendering on December 7. [Sydney Morning Herald, 12/8/2001] Omar escapes.
[Source: United States Agency for International Development]Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and his transitional government assume power in Afghanistan. The press reported a few weeks before that Karzai had been a paid consultant for Unocal at one time (Karzai and Unocal both deny this), as well as the Deputy Foreign Minister for the Taliban. [Le Monde (Paris), 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/22/2001]
James Dobbins, the Bush Administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, later will say that three decisions in late 2001 “really shaped” the future of Afghanistan. “One was that US forces were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but they were not going to have any role in providing security for the country at large. The second was that we would oppose anybody else playing this role outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a good deal of interest from other countries in doing so.” The main reason for this is because it is felt this would tie up more US resources as well, for instance US airlifts to drop supplies. The third decision is that US forces would not engage in any counter-narcotics activities. The Atlantic Monthly will later note, “One effect these policies had was to prolong the disorder in Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable government. The absence of American or international peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new [Hamid] Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul itself.”
[Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
Secretary of State Colin Powell argues in a White House meeting that US troops should join the small international peacekeeping force patrolling Kabul, Afghanistan, and help Hamid Karzai extend his influence beyond just the capital of Kabul. The State Department has held initial talks with European officials indicating that a force of 20,000 to 40,000 peacekeepers could be created, half from Europe and half from the US. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld asserts that the Europeans would be unwilling to send more troops. He argues that sending more troops could provoke Afghan resistance and divert US forces from hunting terrorists. National Security Adviser Rice fails to take sides, causing Powell’s proposal to effectively die. In the end, the US only deploys 8,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2002, but all of them are there to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda, not to assist with peacekeeping or reconstruction. The 4,000 international peacekeepers do not venture beyond Kabul and the rest of the country remains under the de facto control of local warlords. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Pakistani President Musharraf and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai announce their agreement to “cooperate in all spheres of activity” including the proposed Central Asian pipeline, which they call “in the interest of both countries.”
[Irish Times, 2/9/2002; Gulf News, 9/2/2002]
An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields. [Source: Shaul Schwarz/ Corbis]“American officials have quietly abandoned their hopes to reduce Afghanistan’s opium production substantially this year and are now bracing for a harvest large enough to inundate the world’s heroin and opium markets with cheap drugs.” They want to see the new Afghan government make at least a token effort to destroy some opium, but it appears that the new government is not doing even that. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai had announced a total ban on opium cultivation, processing, and trafficking, but it appears to be a total sham. The new harvest is so large that it could be “enough opium to stockpile for two or two and a half more years.” [New York Times, 4/1/2002] Starting this month, Karzai’s government offers farmers $500 for every acre of poppies they destroy, but farmers can earn as much as $6,400 per acre for the crop. The program is eventually cancelled when it runs out of money to pay farmers. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
President Bush explicitly likens US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to the successful Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II. At the Virginia Military Institute, where Gen. George Marshall trained a century ago, Bush calls the Marshall Plan “a beacon to light the path that we, too, must follow.” He says that Afghans have felt abandoned before, including by the US at the end of the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s, and says, “We’re not going to repeat that mistake. We’re tough, we’re determined, we’re relentless. We will stay until the mission is done.” He vows to avoid the syndrome of “initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure.” The New York Times will later note that that speech is little-noticed in the US but fuels expectations in Afghanistan and bolsters the stature of Hamid Karzai shortly before he is formally chosen to lead the Afghan government. But Bush’s promise will fail to materialize. In the months following the speech, the Bush administration fails to make any detailed reconstruction plan. For the next few years, Afghanistan will end up getting less assistance per capita than post-conflict Bosnia and Kosovo, or even poverty-stricken Haiti. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, “How ought security to evolve in [Afghanistan] depends on really two things; one is what the interim government decides they think ought to happen, [the other is] what the warlord forces in the country decide they think ought to happen, and the interaction between the two.” Rumsfeld’s suggestion that the warlords should share power with the government in Afghanistan outrages many leaders in the US and Afghanistan. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment that this “gave the Taliban just the propaganda excuse they needed to reorganize themselves. [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai considered Rumsfeld’s comment an insult to all Afghans, and from that time on, he saw [Rumsfeld] as being completely out of touch with reality.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) says a few days later: “America has replaced the Taliban with the warlords. Warlords are still on the US payroll but that hasn’t brought a cessation of violence. Not only is the US failing to reign in the warlords, we are actually making them the centerpiece of our strategy.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 134-135]
Leaders sign the pipeline agreement. [Source: Associated Press]Afghanistan’s interim leader, Hamid Karzai, Turkmenistan’s President Niyazov, and Pakistani President Musharraf meet in Islamabad and sign a memorandum of understanding on the trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline project. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/31/2002; Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 6/8/2002] Afghan leader Hamid Karzai (who formerly worked for Unocal) calls Unocal the “lead company” in building the pipeline. [BBC, 5/13/2002] The Los Angeles Times comments, “To some here, it looked like the fix was in for Unocal when President Bush named a former Unocal consultant, Zalmay Khalilzad, as his special envoy to Afghanistan late last year .” [Los Angeles Times, 5/30/2002] Unocal claims that it has no interest in any Afghanistan pipeline after 9/11. However, Afghan officials say that Unocal will be the lead company in funding the pipeline. The Afghan deputy minister of mines comments on Unocal’s claim of disinterest: “Business has its secrets and mysteries. Maybe… they don’t want it to be disclosed in the media.” [Toronto Star, 3/2/2003]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead, but former Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive. Karzai makes the comments in a CNN interview on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead,” Karzai says. “But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive. The more we don’t hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere.” However, Mullah Omar is alive. “We know of that,” he says. “And we have come close to arresting him several times, but he’s been able to escape.” Karzai adds: “I believe he is most of the time inside Afghanistan. He could go, from time to time, toward our borders, but he stays around the Afghan area, sometimes close to the borders.” [CNN, 10/6/2002]
Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Associated Press]Afghan President Hamid Karzai travels to Islamabad, Pakistan, and meets with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Karzai hands Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Quetta, Pakistan, and urges Musharraf to have them arrested. The list includes the names of senior Taliban leaders Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, and Mullah Akhter Mohammed Usmani. All are believed to be in Quetta. The list is leaked to the press. The Pakistani government denounces Karzai and denies any Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. The US government declines to back the list, even though the US embassy in Kabul had helped make it. Journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain: “The Americans were already deeply involved in Iraq and wanted no distractions such as a cat fight between the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. [The US] was unwilling to push the Pakistanis, and the Afghans were angry that the Americans had allowed Karzai’s credibility to suffer.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 246]
Zalmay Khalilzad, a prominent neoconservative connected to top Bush administration officials, is appointed US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Ethnically Afghani, he had already been appointed special envoy to Afghanistan at the start of 2002 (see January 1, 2002). But it is increasingly obvious that the US effort in Afghanistan is not going well and Khalilzad’s appointment as ambassador reflects a new Bush administration resolve to devote more attention to Afghanistan. He had worked for the likes of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney in years past and is easily able to reach President Bush on the phone. Khalilzad agrees to take the job if the US expands resources in Afghanistan, and as he takes over the US gives $2 billion in aid to the country, double the amount of the year before. [New York Times, 8/12/2007] Khalilzad becomes so powerful that in 2005 the BBC will note that he is sometimes dubbed “the viceroy, or the real president of Afghanistan.” He is accused of “frequently overshadowing President Hamid Karzai.… No major decisions by the Afghan government [are] made without his involvement.” [BBC, 4/6/2005] Similarly, a London Times article on him will be titled: “US Envoy Accused of Being the Power Pulling Karzai’s Strings.” [London Times, 10/5/2004] A New York Times article on him will be titled: “In Afghanistan, US Envoy Sits in Seat of Power.” [New York Times, 4/17/2004] He will keep this position until April 2005, when it is announced that Khalilzad will become US Ambassador to Iraq, as the Bush administration grows more concerned about the war there. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
A senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. [Foreign Affairs, 5/2004]
Hamid Karzai wins the first-ever presidential election with 55 percent of the total vote. Karzai has been the leader of Afghanistan since late 2001 (see December 22, 2001). There were 17 other candidates and the second place candidate finished far behind. Election officials say about eight million of the 10.5 million registered voters cast ballots. Forty-one percent of them were women. The election cost $200 million to hold and was arranged by the United Nations. [CNN, 10/24/2004]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visits Kabul, Afghanistan. During his visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai consents to Washington’s decision to establish nine more permanent military bases in the country. The bases, to be manned by 2,200 troops, will be constructed in Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost and Paktia. In the provinces of Khost and Paktia, there will be two bases. [News Insight, 3/5/2005] Observers note that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had little choice in the matter given that his government’s continuing existence is dependent upon the private security forces provided by the US. [Asia Times, 3/30/2005]
Newsweek prints an item in its “Periscope” section that reports an American guard at Guantanamo Bay flushed a detainee’s Koran down a toilet. According to the report, the US Southern Command intends to mount an investigation into the desecration, which violates US and international laws. The report sparks widespread rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that results in the deaths of at least 17 people. The Pentagon and the Bush administration immediately blame Newsweek for the riots and the deaths; Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the senior commander of US forces in Afghanistan, says the report did not spark the Afghan rioting, as does Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Newsweek says the information came from an American official who remains unidentified. “We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst,” Mark Whitaker, Newsweek’s editor, writes in a subsequent article. Whitaker adds: “We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know what the ultimate facts are.” The Pentagon denies the report; spokesman Bryan Whitman says: “Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.” The report is “demonstrably false” and “irresponsible.” Whitman says the report has “had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world.” Senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita calls Whitaker’s note “very tepid and qualified.… They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says, “Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care.” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Newsweek is wrong to use “facts that have not been substantiated.” And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issues the admonishment, “[P]eople need to be careful what they say… just as people need to be careful what they do.” According to Whitaker, while the magazine tries to avoid using unnamed sources when it can, there are instances where sources will not speak to reporters unless their anonymity is guaranteed. The administration source has been reliable in the past, Whitaker says, and, moreover, the reporters of the story, Michael Isikoff and John Barry, received confirmation from both the source and a senior Pentagon official. Whitaker’s explanation notes that Newsweek has chosen not to publish previous reports of Koran desecration at Guantanamo because the sources are former detainees whom it considers unreliable. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that guards and officials at Guantanamo have looked for documentation of the reported Koran-flushing and cannot find it. [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 164] The Pentagon will conclude that the Newsweek report is indeed responsible for the riots; Isikoff and Barry’s source for the story will back off on his original claim (see May 15, 2005). A month later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, John Barry, Hamid Karzai, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Karl Eikenberry, Lawrence Di Rita, Mark Whitaker, Michael Isikoff, Scott McClellan, US Department of Defense, US Southern Command, Richard A. Boucher, Newsweek
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
President Bush and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai sign a “strategic partnership” allowing the US to have a long-term military presence in Afghanistan. The US is allowed to have access to existing military bases and potentially new bases as well. [Agence France-Presse, 5/24/2005] Both the US and Afghanistan government try to avoid talk of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan, because the idea is highly unpopular with the Afghan population. There are about 18,000 foreign troops in the country, half of them American. There also is a NATO-led force of 8,500 peacekeepers in the capital of Kabul. [Reuters, 4/26/2005] Asia Times reports that the US is constructing new military bases in the country, and in fact began work in February 2005. The bases “can be used in due time as a springboard to assert a presence far beyond Afghanistan.” The largest US air base is Afghanistan is located only about 50 miles from the border with Iran, “a location that makes it controversial.” [Asia Times, 3/30/2005]
In 2003, Afghan President Hamid Karzai presented Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a list of Taliban leaders living openly in Pakistan, but Musharraf took no action in response (see April 22, 2003). In February 2006, Karzai and Musharraf meet again, in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Karzai again gives Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, is also at the meeting, and will later say, “It was a target list—locations, training camps, telephone numbers, and everything.” Musharraf responds by giving Karzai a report of the Indian government funding rebels in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan through Afghanistan. Western intelligence officials say India is funding these rebels, but not through Afghanistan. Musharraf again takes no action against the Taliban leaders living in his country. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 286]
Ronald Neumann. [Source: US State Department]The Taliban carry out their largest offensive in Afghanistan since 2001. Suicide bombings increase four-fold to 141 and roadside bombings double (see 2004-2007). 191 US and NATO soldiers die in 2006, making it nearly as statistically dangerous to fight in Afghanistan as in Iraq. But US assistance to Afghanistan drops 38 percent from $4.3 billion in 2005 to $3.1 billion in 2006. Ronald Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan, argued against the cut. He also warns in a February 2006 cable to his superiors that the Taliban is planning a strong spring offensive. Afghan president Hamid Karzai and some US military officials make similar warnings. But despite such warnings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will later say, “There was no doubt that people were surprised that the Taliban was able to regroup and come back in a large, well-organized force.” The US will boost aid to $9 billion in 2007 in response to the offensive. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Small flash computer drives for sale in a bazaar just outside the Bagram US military base. [Source: NBC]The Los Angeles Times reveals that stolen computer drives containing important classified information can be purchased cheaply at the local bazaar just outside the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Shop owners at the bazaar say a variety of Afghan menial workers at the base continually sell them equipment stolen from inside the base. The drives had been sold cheaply as used equipment and only recently did a reporter discover some of them contained classified information. The drives purchased by reporters include:
Deployment rosters that identify about 700 US soldiers and their social security numbers.
Maps showing the locations of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan (see January 2005).
Presentations that name suspected militants targeted or “kill or capture.”
A list of officials in the Afghan government profiting from the illegal drug trade (see Early 2005).
Documents and maps suggest the Taliban are staging attacks from across the Pakistan border with Pakistani support (see Late 2004-Early 2005).
A classified briefing about capabilities of a special radar used to find where mortar rounds have been fired, including a map of where the radar was deployed in Iraq in March 2004.
A January 2005 presentation identifying a dozen Afghan governors and police chiefs as “problem makers” involved in kidnappings, support for the Taliban, and/or attacks on US troops.
Discussions of US efforts to “remove” or “marginalize” problematic Afghan officials. One governor on the list was removed from his post in December 2005 after he was caught with almost 20,000 pounds of opium in his office. But President Hamid Karzai then appointed him to Afghanistan’s upper parliament. [Los Angeles Times, 4/10/2006]
Some psychological operations are detailed, including attempts to manage the Afghan media. For instance, one list contains the item, “Prepare radio news stories for local stations highlighting Afghan National Police support.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/12/2006]
“Scores of military documents marked ‘secret,’ describing intelligence-gathering methods and information.”
The names, photographs, and telephone numbers of Afghan spies informing on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Some spies are described as having networks of informants working for them.
Descriptions of meetings of Taliban commanders held in Pakistan.
A file describing the layout of a US Special Forces base in Afghanistan complete with photographs of its perimeter and procedures for defending the base if attacked. [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] The US immediately launches an investigation into the security breach. One US official says, “We’re obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2006] Several days after the first press reports, US soldiers buy up every computer drive from the bazaar that they can find, presumably to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. But within two weeks, there are plenty of drives for sale again, some containing classified information. One shopkeeper says he had been selling pilfered US military computer drives for four years: “I may have sold thousands of [them] since I have come and opened this shop.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2006] A month after the security breach was first reported, shopkeepers at the bazaar say they still receive goods from inside the US base, but not at the rate they once did. [Associated Press, 5/8/2006]
Protesters in Kabul run from Afghan police gunshots. [Source: Associated Press / Rodrigo Abd]A US Army truck in a convoy careens out of control in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing at least three locals. Witnesses see the incident as symbolic of lack respect for the Afghan populace and rumors quickly swirl that it was intentional. Angry crowds form and begin pelting the rest of the convoy with rocks. US and/or Afghan soldiers open fire on the crowd and kill about six Afghans. This further enrages the populace, leading to rioting and looting all over Kabul for hours. Looters destroy businesses, Western non-profit offices, and even lay siege to the Interior Ministry for a time. NATO peacekeeping troops stay in their compounds and Afghan security forces are ineffectual. Officially, 17 are killed in the riots, but informed observers believe the death count is close to 100. Afghan member of parliament Dr. Ramazan Bashar Dost says that the people are angry at perceived price gouging by Western contractors and non-profits, and what is seen as poor results for all the billions of dollars spent. He says, “The problem is that the [non-profits] work within the system of corruption that plagues Afghanistan. They pay the bribes to the officials and even to Western contractors. So people see them as part of the same system as the corrupt government.” [Salon, 6/14/2006; New York Times, 8/23/2006] Afghan President Hamid Karzai responds by appointing a new police chief and other top police officers known for their ties to organized crime. [New York Times, 8/23/2006]
The Washington Post and New York Times both publish articles suggesting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is losing support among Afghans and some of his foreign backers. The Washington Post comments, “public confidence in his leadership has soured with reports of highway police robbing travelers, government jobs sold to the highest bidder, drug traffic booming, and aid money vanishing.” An anonymous Western diplomat says, “There is an awful feeling that everything is lurching downward. Nearly five years on, there is no rule of law, no accountability. The Afghans know it is all a charade, and they see us as not only complicit but actively involved.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2006] The New York Times notes there “is widespread frustration with corruption, the economy and a lack of justice and security.” Karzai is widely viewed as having failed to deal with many pressing problems. “For the first time since Mr. Karzai took office four and half years ago, Afghans and diplomats are speculating about who might replace him. Most agree that the answer for now is no one, leaving the fate of the American-led enterprise tied to his own success or failure.” [New York Times, 8/23/2006]
A Central Intelligence Agency assessment conducted before Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington in late September 2006 warns that Karzai’s government is increasingly weak and unpopular, and is failing to exert authority and security beyond Kabul. [New York Times, 11/5/2006]
Ronald Neumann, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, discusses the worsening security situation in Afghanistan in separate interviews. Neumann is quoted in the New York Times as saying that the United States faces “stark choices” in Afghanistan, adding to the recent chorus of dire warnings being expressed by US officials in Washington on the deteriorating security situation there and the failure of the government in Kabul to project authority. Neumann says that plans drafted in 2002 to train the Afghan army and police force needed to be revamped, and that the country’s security forces need to be expanded, better supplied, and better equipped. He says that the overall effort would take “multiple years” and “multiple billions,” warning that failure to do so would lead to fragmentation of the country. In an interview with Der Speigel, Neumann states that efforts to extend security beyond Kabul and push back the insurgency will “easily” take 10 years. When asked about the next steps to be taken, he replies: “We have to put more guns in the field. Afghans have to believe they can survive in their home at night.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/26/2006; New York Times, 11/5/2006]
In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, NATO supreme commander General James L. Jones testifies that the Taliban headquarters is in Quetta, Pakistan. The Taliban presence there has been widely known in intelligence circles since at least 2003 (see April 22, 2003), but this marks the first time a major US figure publicly acknowledges the fact. However, the US still is not pressuring Pakistan very much over the issue. For instance, President Bush did not even bring up the issue when he hosted a dinner recently for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. [International Herald Tribune, 10/12/2006]
The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael V. Hayden, appearing before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, states that the Afghan government’s outreach and provision of security to the country is inadequate. Hayden stresses that the key to making progress in Afghanistan is bolstering security, stating, “The capacity of the government needs to be strengthened to deliver basic services to the population—especially security.” He notes that there are not enough properly trained, equipped, or well-paid security forces in Afghanistan. “Even though the Afghan National Army continues to become larger, stronger, and more experienced, progress has been slow and little progress has been made in constructing an effective Afghan National Police force,” reads his prepared statement. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/15/2006 ]
Afghan intelligence allegedly suggests that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a town very close to Abbottabad, Pakistan, but the Pakistani government will not listen. Shortly after bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad in 2011 (see May 2, 2011), Amrullah Saleh, who from 2004 to 2010 was head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, will claim that in 2007, the NDS identified two al-Qaeda safe houses in the town of Manshera. Manshera is only about 13 miles from Abbottabad. Saleh brought this information up in a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also in 2007. But Saleh says that Musharraf was outraged at the suggestion that bin Laden would be able to hide so far inside Pakistan. Musharraf allegedly smashed his fist on a table. “He said, ‘Am I the president of the Republic of Banana?’ Then he turned to President Karzai and said, ‘Why have you have brought this Panjshiri guy to teach me intelligence?’” Saleh says Karzai had to physically intervene after Musharraf started to physically threaten Saleh. [Guardian, 5/5/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Dan McNeill. [Source: US Department of Defense]Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticizes the rising number of civilians killed by NATO and US-led troops. “Innocent people are becoming victims of reckless operations,” he says. He says his Western allies are using “extreme” force without coordinating with his government first. He says, “You don’t fight a terrorist by firing a field gun [24 miles] away into a target. That’s definitely, surely bound to cause civilian casualties.” It is believed more civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in 2007 so far by Western allies than have been killed by the resurgent Taliban. [BBC, 6/23/2007] The Observer reports that senior British soldiers have expressed concerned that Gen. Dan McNeill, the new head of NATO troops in Afghanistan, is “‘a fan’ of the massive use of air power to defeat insurgents and that his favoured tactics could be counter-productive.” He has been dubbed “Bomber McNeill” by his critics. One British officer who recently returned from Afghanistan says, “Every civilian dead means five new Taliban. It’s a tough call when the enemy are hiding in villages, but you have to be very, very careful.” [Observer, 7/1/2007]
Fox News host Sean Hannity, in an interview with former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele (R-MD) and former Clinton administration counsel Lanny Davis, says that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is lying when he says “our troops are killing civilians, air raiding villages” in Afghanistan. As co-host Alan Colmes notes, Hannity is likely referring to Obama’s August 13 comment that “[w]e’ve got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan] and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there.” Actually, Obama’s statements are true; numerous media reports from multiple sources have shown that US air strikes in Afghanistan have killed a large number of Afghan civilians, and have prompted complaints from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a British commander stationed in Afghanistan (see June 23, 2007). According to the Associated Press, “Western forces have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents.” During the same broadcast, Hannity further mischaracterizes Obama’s statements on foreign policy, falsely claiming that Obama “says he takes nukes off the table,” and that Obama has said he “is going to bomb an ally in the war on terror, [Pakistan President] General [Pervez] Musharraf, and possibly invade them.” Hannity concludes that by these statements, Obama is “finished” as a presidential contender. In reality, Obama has never said he would bomb or invade Pakistan. Instead, he has repeatedly said statements such as those he made in an August 1 speech: “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan] and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” Nor has Obama ever said he would not “take nukes off the table,” but instead said he would not use nuclear weapons “in any circumstance” to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [Media Matters, 8/23/2007]
Lord Paddy Ashdown, the former United Nations high representative and European Union special representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, says that international forces are unlikely to win the war in Afghanistan, risking to set off a regional conflict that could match the scale and magnitude of World Wars I and II. “I think we are losing in Afghanistan now, we have lost I think and success is now unlikely,” Ashdown says in an interview with Reuters. “Some people refer to the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars and I think a similar regional civil war could be initiated by this (failure) to match this magnitude,” he says. Ashdown warns that failure of international forces in Afghanistan would have wider repercussions than any loss in Iraq. “I believe losing in Afghanistan is worse than losing in Iraq. It will mean that Pakistan will fall and it will have serious implications internally for the security of our own countries and will instigate a wider Shiite, Sunni regional war on a grand scale.” Ashdown then ties impending catastrophe in Afghanistan with the lack of a powerful, high-level coordinator to lead the foreign mission there. “Unless somebody has the power genuinely to coordinate and unify the international approach, we will lose and I think that is happening,” he says. Ashdown, who currently heads the EU-Russia Centre think tank in Brussels, has been tipped and promoted for such a role by some US and UK officials, but says he has ruled himself out of the job. [Reuters, 10/17/2007] Ashdown will later interview for the position of United Nations “super envoy” to Afghanistan. However, Afghan president Hamid Karzai will oppose Ashdown’s candidacy, forcing him to withdraw his name from consideration, something he will say he did “reluctantly.” [UN Elections.org, 1/30/2008]
The Taliban’s former chief spokesman, Mullah Mohammad Is’haq Nizami, reveals that talks are being held between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and key lieutenants of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mullah Nizami says that he has been relaying messages for months from Kabul to Mullah Omar’s aides in the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s ruling council based in Pakistan. The Quetta Shura is thought to be responsible for orchestrating attacks across the border in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Afghanistan. The disclosure contradicts British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s carefully worded statement to Parliament a day earlier insisting that no negotiations would be held with Taliban leaders. “We are not negotiating with the leadership, but we want to support President Karzai in his efforts at reconciliation. If he is successful in bringing across those members of the insurgency who then declare that they will give up fighting and support democracy and be part of the system, then these are efforts at reconciliation that are important to the future of the whole country,” Brown states during a session of prime minister’s questions. Mullah Nizami, who also ran the regime’s radio station Voice of Sharia until 2001, says that the negotiations aim to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. “Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taliban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate,” he says. Nizami fled to Pakistan in 2001 when the Taliban regime collapsed, but returned to Kabul under an ongoing reconciliation programme in an effort to open talks. Mullah Nazimi further explains that the Taliban want to take part in the Afghan government, want sharia law instituted, and want the withdrawal of international forces. The Belfast Telegraph reports that talks will continue “under the table” until the two sides can agree on something warranting a public announcement. The Independent reports that the British government was prepared to admit that the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban had taken place and that dialogue should be opened with Taliban leaders, but Gordon Brown changed his mind just before prime minister’s questions on December 12, denying any negotiations with Taliban leadership. Brown’s denial is further contradicted by a report that British MI6 agents had engaged in secret talks with the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent leaders in Helmand Province earlier this summer (see Summer 2007). [Independent, 12/12/2007; Belfast Telegraph, 12/13/2007]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” [Guardian, 2/29/2008]
Hamid Karzai on parade, April 27, 2008. [Source: massoud_hossaini_afp_getty]On April 27, 2008, there is an attempted assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as assailants fire guns and mortars towards him, scores of senior officials, and foreign diplomats during a military parade in downtown Kabul. Karzai escapes unharmed, but three Afghans are killed, including a member of parliament. Two months later, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency accuses the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, of organizing the assassination. The agency claims that phone calls from the cell phones of those arrested show a Pakistan link. Investigators suspect one assassin tried to call his supervisor in Pakistan from a nearby hotel to ask for instructions because he could not get a clear shot at Karzai from the hotel window. Investigators believe Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader based in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan with long-time ISI ties, instigated the plot. Karzai’s spokesman makes the same accusation against the ISI more obliquely, “Evidence shows the hallmark of a particular foreign intelligence agency which we believe was behind this attack.” [Agence France-Presse, 6/25/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Angry Afghani citizens march in protest against the US air strike at Azizabad. [Source: Reuters]A series of US airstrikes kills over 90 civilians, mostly women and children, in the western Afghani province of Herat, according to an Afghan government investigation. Most of the deaths take place in and around the village of Azizabad. Nematullah Shahrani, the Afghan Religious Affairs Minister, says the strikes, carried out by US, NATO, and Afghan forces, were planned to strike at a Taliban commander, but were not coordinated and did not kill any Taliban fighters. The US-led coalition claims 30 militants and no civilians died, a claim repudiated by Afghan officials and the United Nations. “We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy, lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90 non-combatants including women, children, and elders have died,” says Shahrani. “Most are women and children.” President Hamid Karzai fires two senior Afghan army commanders in the area over the strikes, and sharply criticizes American and NATO military commanders for the errant air strikes. Shahrani says he intends to meet with US Special Forces commanders who were involved in the operation. “They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it,” he says. “So far it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes.” Local residents engage in angry, grief-stricken demonstrations outside the blast zones. Such incidents, Shahrani says, have a “very bad impact” on the local populace. “It causes the people to distance themselves from the government.” The UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, agrees, saying that such operations undermine the “trust and confidence of the Afghan people.” Karzai has ordered Shahrani’s team to pay 100,000 afghanis ($2,000) for each person killed. [Agence France-Presse, 8/24/2008; Financial Times, 8/26/2008] Karzai later says that the raid did not kill “a single Taliban” but caused serious harm to US-Afghan relations. A government spokesman will say that the US acted on false information provided by a rival tribe. A UN investigation later finds that 92 civilians died in the strikes. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008] Karzai says he will launch a “full review” of the agreements allowing US and NATO forces to operate in his country. “The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the international forces and asked for all air raids on civilian targets, especially in Afghan villages, to be stopped,” the government says in a statement. “The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids.” [Financial Times, 8/26/2008]
The United Nations reports that 1,445 Afghan civilians have died during fighting between Taliban insurgents and US and/or NATO forces in 2008. This is a 40 percent increase over 2007 (see September 7, 2008). Around 55 percent of those civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks or by al-Qaeda or local strikes, says the UN report. Around 40 percent of those deaths were due to US, NATO, and/or Afghan troop attacks. Of those deaths, 395 were from US or NATO airstrikes. The number and percentages of civilian deaths at the hands of US/NATO forces is up significantly from 2007. “This is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. He calls for greater transparency in accountability procedures for US and NATO forces involved in civilian casualties. The UN does not provide information on how its figures were collected. Afghan officials say that a recent US-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, dramatically increasing the death toll and damaging US-Afghan relations (see August 22, 2008). US General David McKiernan, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops. As a result, he is forced to rely more on air power, and that costs civilian lives. With violence escalating, McKiernan says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that the shortage compels him to rely more on air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties. Some 65,000 coalition ground troops are in Afghanistan, 33,000 of those American. Still, the UN emphasizes, most civilians die at the hands of Taliban attacks. Militants routinely kill civilians in suicide bombings and random strikes, but are also targeting Afghans that they suspect are working with the government of President Hamid Karzai, or with US-led forces. “There is substantial evidence indicating that the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at Afghan civilians they believe to be supportive of the government, the international community, and military forces,” says Pillay. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008]
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosts “ice-breaking” talks between the Afghan government, current and “former” Taliban, and representatives of other militant groups. Among the participants are Mullah Omar’s former “foreign minister” and his former Kandahar spokesman, Afghan government officials, and a representative of former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose group, Hezb-i-Islami, is labeled a “terrorist organization” by the United States. [CNN, 10/5/2008] Hamid Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayum, and ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif are also reported to be in the meetings. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Independent, 11/13/2008] During the talks, all parties reportedly agree that continued dialogue should be sought. AFP, citing Saudi sources, reports that the negotiators move on to Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, September 27, 2008. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai will later deny that negotiations were held, saying that Afghan religious scholars had visited Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and attended a dinner with King Abdullah. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, also denies any meetings. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2008]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly briefs British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on talks his government has been holding with Taliban representatives on ways to work together to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The Independent discloses that Karzai’s government has also been holding secret talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through members of his family, which is consistent with news published early the following year (see February 2009). Karzai is visiting London after meetings in New York with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, figures who have also been involved in the ongoing Afghan government-Taliban insurgent dialogue. In September, the Saudi King sponsored talks between the Afghan government and emissaries of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including representatives of Hekmatyar, at a series of confidential meetings held in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). The British government continues to publicly deny any involvement in negotiations or direct contact with the Taliban and other insurgents while encouraging the Afghan government to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgency and the Taliban. [Independent, 11/13/2008]
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says that he finds it “insulting” that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned with civilian casualties from US military strikes in his country. Karzai has criticized the US for a recent air strike that he says killed 16 Afghani civilians (see January 26, 2009). O’Reilly tells his listeners: “US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are risking their lives to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But President Karzai does not seem to get that. Once again, he has condemned American forces after a raid killed some civilians. In that raid, a top Taliban commander and some of his cronies were also killed, but apparently, Karzai doesn’t understand that in war, collateral damage is constantly present. US military is investigating the situation, but Check [a segment on O’Reilly’s show] believes Karzai is making a political grandstand play, and it is insulting. Without us, his head is on a stick.” [Think Progress (.org), 1/27/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemns a US attack that he says killed 16 civilians in eastern Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan villagers protested the raid, which the US military says killed 15 Taliban militants. Karzai says no Taliban were killed, but among the civilian dead were two women and three children. Karzai says killing innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists” and requests that Afghanistan be given more oversight of US military operations in the country. Vice President Joseph Biden says that the situation in Afghanistan will not improve any time soon. “We’ve inherited a real mess,” Biden says. “We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost. All of this means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.” [New York Daily News, 1/26/2009] In 2008, Human Rights Watch condemned the US and NATO for killing hundreds of Afghan civilians, mostly in impromptu “rapid response” airstrikes (see September 7, 2008). Casualties in 2008 were higher than ever, according to a UN report (see September 16, 2008).
President Obama orders 17,000 additional US troops to be deployed in Afghanistan. He says that nation must be stabilized, and the US-led offensive there has suffered from years of neglect. The move effectively doubles the number of US combat brigades in the country, though both White House and Pentagon officials have been careful not to call the increase a “surge,” as the 2007 increase in US troops in Iraq was called (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007).
Answering Request from Months Before - Obama notes that a request for more troops had been made months before, by General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan. “This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama says. [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009] “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.” Obama recognizes “the extraordinary strain this deployment places on our troops and military families,” but the deteriorating security situation in the region requires “urgent attention and swift action.” [Australian, 2/19/2009] Some 3,000 soldiers have already arrived in Afghanistan, where they are seeing combat near Kabul. [Associated Press, 2/17/2009]
Refocus on Afghanistan, Away from Iraq - During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly promised to refocus American efforts onto Afghanistan and away from Iraq. A full strategic review of the US’s war plans in Afghanistan is still pending (see February 4, 2009). Military officials warn that without a commensurate reduction in troops deployed in Iraq, the already-critical strain on US troops will only increase. One Pentagon official says: “All we are doing is moving demand from Iraq to Afghanistan. This sustains and, to some degree, increases the demands on soldiers.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009]
Afghans Welcome Additional Troops - Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Is’haq Payman calls the deployment “a positive move,” and adds: “[W]e have our own conditions. We want these troops to be deployed in areas where they could play a positive role in suppressing terrorists.” [Taipei Times, 2/19/2009] Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomes the deployment; after discussing the move with Obama via telephone, he says that former tensions between the US and Afghanistan over the issue of US-inflicted civilian casualties (see August 22, 2008, September 7, 2008, September 16, 2008, and January 26, 2009) are finished. “The tension was over civilian casualties and uncoordinated operations by foreign troops,” he says. “From now on, no foreign troop operations will be uncoordinated with Afghan forces. The tension the Afghan government had with the US government is now over.” [Reuters, 2/18/2009]
The Afghan government initiates preliminary negotiations with the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, considered one of the most dangerous insurgent factions in the region. In return, the Haqqani network, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally that has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001), tentatively agrees to discuss a peace proposal with government-backed mediators, according to a Christian Science Monitor report. In the talks, mediators draft a road map for an eventual settlement in which the first stage would ensure that the Haqqani network stops burning schools and targeting reconstruction teams, while the US military stops house raids and releases Haqqani-network prisoners. The draft proposal states that if these conditions are met on both sides, the next step would be to agree on a system of government. The Haqqani network and the Taliban say they want an “Islamic Emirate” based solely on their interpretation of Islamic law. The final stage would set a deadline for the withdrawal of foreign military forces, which Jalaluddin Haqqani and other leaders of the Haqqani network would require before accepting any Afghan government posts. Analysts say that the American concessions or changes to their counterinsurgency strategy are unlikely; they are more likely to give political concessions, rather than military ones. “If the Haqqanis can be drawn into the negotiation process, it would be a serious sign that the insurgents are open to one day making a deal,” says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. “Ultimately, the US will have to come to a political settlement, and that may mean a situation where insurgent leaders are brought into the government.” The Christian Science Monitor notes that initial contact between the Afghan government and the Haqqani network may have begun in the months after meetings were held the previous year between the Afghan government and representatives of various insurgent groups under Saudi auspices in Mecca (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/19/2009]
Senior White House and Pentagon officials tell the New York Times that President Obama is expected to approve a Pentagon plan to vastly expand Afghanistan’s security forces to about 400,000 troops and national police officers: more than twice the forces’ current size. The officials say the plan is part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to fill a void left by the weak central government and to do more to promote stability. The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army to 260,000 soldiers in addition to around 140,000 police officers, commandos, and border guards. The Times notes that presently the army has 90,000 troops and the Afghan National Police numbers about 80,000 officers.
Program Costs a Concern for Administration Officials - The Times reports that members of Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost projections which dwarf the budget currently provided to the Afghan government; cost projections to establish and train the forces range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years, and officials have yet to determine costs to sustain the security forces over the long term. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, endorses the goal and justifies the costs of expanding Afghan security forces saying, “The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it—of having Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look as though we are dominating it.”
Concerns over the Power of an Expanded Security Force Dismissed - The former commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, Lieutenant General David Barno, now the director of Near East and South Asian security studies at National Defense University, dismisses concerns that either the Afghan army or the Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of the central government in Kabul. Other military analysts cite Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey as models where the United States supports civilian governments in which military and security forces are at least as powerful as those governments. [New York Times, 3/18/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Obama administration, Carl Levin, Afghan National Army, Afghan Ministry of Defense, Afghan Government, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Security Forces, Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, David Barno
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Afghan President Hamid Karzai pardons five convicted drug traffickers who in 2007 were caught in military uniforms transporting over 100 kg of heroin in a police truck and sentenced to more than 10 years in jail. One of the released men is the nephew of a powerful Afghan politician who heads Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign in 2009. A spokesman for Karzai will later confirm the pardons. The spokesman, Siyamak Herawi, explains that Karzai ordered the release of the five men only after the customary intercession of tribal chiefs. “The tribal chiefs had sought their release and the president… acquitted them,” he will say. One of the pardoned men is Bilal Wali Mohammad, the aforementioned nephew of Haji Din Mohammad, the powerful politician who will later resign his post as Kabul governor to become Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign manager. Spokesman Herawi will also claim that the pardons are not linked with the 2009 election or Haji Din Mohammad’s position. At the time of his arrest, Bilal was working as the personal secretary for his cousin, Haji Zahir, commander of the border police in Takhar, a province that borders Tajikistan and serves as a conduit for drugs to Europe. In fact, all five pardoned traffickers were employed by Zahir at the time of their arrest. Reuters adds that Bilal belongs to a powerful family from eastern Afghanistan, and that one of his brothers served as a deputy to Karzai before he was assassinated in 2002. The Boston Globe will report that by July 2009, Karzai has ordered the release of at least 10 convicted drug traffickers since he began pardoning drug traffickers this month. Records seen at the Afghan attorney general’s office suggest that the total figure is almost certainly far higher. [Boston Globe, 7/3/2009; Reuters, 7/9/2009]
Mohammad Qasim Fahim. [Source: Ozier Muhammad / New York Times]President Hamid Karzai formally registers as a candidate for re-election, choosing Mohammad Qasim Fahim—a powerful warlord accused of human rights abuses and criminality—as one of his vice presidential running mates, just hours before leaving for meetings in Washington with US President Barack Obama and Pakistani President Asif Zadari. Human rights groups immediately condemn the selection of Fahim, who was a top commander in the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami during Afghanistan’s 1990s civil war, a Northern Alliance intelligence chief, a former interim vice president, and defense minister.
Human Rights Watch: Choice a "Terrible Step Backwards for Afghanistan" - Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that Karzai is “insulting the country” with the choice. “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan,” says Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “He is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009] General Fahim was one of the chief Jamiat-e-Islami commanders under Ahmed Shah Massoud. A 2005 HRW report, “Blood-Stained Hands,” found that “credible and consistent evidence of widespread and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law” were committed by Jamiat commanders, including Fahim, who was among those “directly implicated in abuses described in this report, including the 1993 Afshar campaign.” [Human Rights Watch, 7/6/2005]
Afghan Civil Society Responds - Fahim served as Karzai’s first vice president in Afghanistan’s interim government set up after the ouster of the Taliban in the 2001 US-led invasion. During the 2004 election, Karzai dropped Fahim from his ticket. Aziz Rafiee, the executive director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum says that Karzi’s pick begs a question. “If (Fahim) was a good choice, why did (Karzai) remove him [in 2004]?” Rafiee asks. “And if he was a bad choice, why did he select him again? The people of Afghanistan will answer this question while voting.” According to Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political columnist and the editor in chief of the Afghan newspaper 8 a.m., Fahim could be an issue for Western countries invested in Afghanistan’s success. “Perhaps if Karzai wins the election Western countries are going to use this point as an excuse and limit their assistance to Afghanistan,” he says. “This is also a matter of concern for all human rights organizations who are working in Afghanistan and working for transitional justice.”
US Response Evasive - The US Embassy does not comment on the choice, saying it is not helpful for the United States to comment on individual candidates. However, the US does issue the following statement: “We believe the election is an opportunity for Afghanistan to move forward with leaders who will strengthen national unity.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, Jamiat-e-Islami, Hamid Karzai, Afghan Civil Society Forum, Afghan Government, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Aziz Rafiee, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Qasim Fahim
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Malalai Joya. [Source: Getty]In a series of editorials and interviews, Afghan MP Malalai Joya declares that the upcoming presidential election polls in Afghanistan are illegitimate and have been determined in advance in favor of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai by the United States in cooperation with a group of powerful allied warlords and former Mujaheddin. “Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption, and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House,” Joya writes in a Guardian editorial. [Guardian, 7/25/2009] She echoes this in a later interview in London with the Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat: “Even the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan will not change anything because the next president will be chosen behind the closed doors of the Pentagon.” [Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/3/2009]
Karzai a 'Shameless Puppet' of Afghan Warlords, Coalition Occupiers - In an interview with Johann Hari in The Independent, Joya rails against the current government of Hamid Karzai, the US and NATO occupation, and the mafia-ridden warlordism that dominates Afghan social and political life. She asserts that Karzai keeps power only as “a shameless puppet” of both the Afghan warlords and the occupying powers, thus guaranteeing him victory in the August elections due to his fealty to these powers. “He hasn’t yet stopped working for his masters, the US and the warlords.… At this point in our history, the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country,” she says. “Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.” [Independent, 7/28/2009] Joya also slams the recent western troop surge as a farce masquerading as support for democratic elections. In the progressive Internet magazine ZNet, she writes: “We are told that additional US and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people have no hope in this election—we know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia, and occupation.” [ZNet, 5/16/2009]
Suspended from Assembly, in Hiding from Assassins - Joya was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in September 2005 as a representative of Farah province, but was suspended from the parliament in 2007 for publicly denouncing fellow members as drug smugglers, warlords, and war criminals. Her suspension sparked international condemnation and is currently under appeal. Joya, a champion of women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan, lives in hiding and has survived at least four assassination attempts. [Human Rights Watch, 5/23/2007; Democracy Now!, 6/19/2007]
The price of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle more than doubles in Afghanistan. Time reports that the price of a Chinese-made AK-47 smuggled in from Pakistan has risen to $400 from $150 in just three months. The Independent reports that the weapons are going for $600 apiece and that a steady stream of them is heading to the north of the country. Both sources suggest that the surge in demand for the guns is due in part to mounting tensions over the disputed August presidential elections, which are widely perceived by Afghans, diplomats, and foreign observers as marred by fraud in favor of current President Hamid Karzai. “People are arming themselves,” Time quotes one Western official in Kabul as saying. In the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of the Northern Alliance and a Tajik stronghold of presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, former Mujahedeen commander Gul Shah Mohammed tells The Independent that the Tajiks will not tolerate being deprived by a fraudulent poll. “We know how to use these weapons, we haven’t forgotten how to fight,” he declares. [Independent, 9/2/2009; Time, 9/10/2009] Such a dramatic rise in price is an ominous sign of demand in a country already awash in weapons. In addition to the demand and flow of arms to the north, also portentous is the sharp rise in Taliban presence and activity in the previously peaceful northern regions of Afghanistan (see Between January and September 2009), and reports that Taliban and other insurgents are being ferried to the north by helicopter (see May-October 12, 2009).
Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. [Reuters, 7/12/2009] A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” [Reuters, 7/12/2009] Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. [National Public Radio, 3/17/2008; Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Entity Tags: Task Force Helmand, Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, Taliban, Ronald Neumann, Hamid Karzai, Nick Richardson, Afghan Ministry of Interior, Afghan National Army, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Afghan National Police, DynCorp International, Ghulam, Afghan National Security Forces, William Pelletier
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009; Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai attempts to cut a secret deal with one of his presidential election rivals in a bid to knock his strongest challenger from the race, to ensure a clear victory and, ostensibly, the minimization of sectarian violence a tight result might provoke in the hyper-armed country. In the proposed deal, Karzai asks former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani, a candidate currently running third in the polls, to give up his election bid in exchange for a job as “chief executive”—a post described as similar to prime minister—in a Karzai government. Such an agreement would likely unite the Pashtun vote and knock Karzai’s main contender, Abdullah Abdullah, out of the race. Karzai’s offer will be confirmed by several sources, including Ghani himself, and may have backing from top US officials. “If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as president and Ghani as chief executive,” one campaign official will tell The Independent. During the election campaign, Karzai has made deals with tribal leaders and various warlords, promising them positions and patronage in exchange for the votes they control. The Independent cites international officials who believe that as many as 20 cabinet positions have already been pledged.
Karzai's Offer Confirmed - President Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, is the first to approach Ghani with the proposal according to sources close to Karzai’s inner circle. Karzai presents Ghani with the argument that Ghani can’t win the election anyway, and even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to hold on to power. Ghani’s staff will also confirm that Karzai emissaries make an offer, but they say that Ghani has no plans to pull out of the race and will continue his campaign. Ghani himself will later confirm Karzai’s overture. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” he will tell reporters in the province of Faryab (see August 8, 2009).
Top US Diplomats Holbrooke and Eikenberry Back the Proposal - Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, are understood to have discussed the proposal with Ghani, according to the Independent report. “It makes sense,” a policy analyst with close links to the US administration says. “Holbrooke likes Ghani, and he has come round to the fact that Karzai will probably win.” Furthermore, The Independent notes that the idea of a chief executive was originally devised in Washington as a way of handing the responsibility of running the government to a skilled technocrat, a profile that certainly fits Ghani. The Washington Post will later report that according to Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, US officials back the idea of a new chief executive position under Karzai. The Post also reports that US officials have discussed the “chief executive” proposal with Ghani. US embassy officials, however, deny any involvement in back-room deals. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Washington Post, 8/14/2009]
Threats of Post-Election Armed Protests, Civil War - Analysts and journalists suggest that Afghanistan’s coming elections threaten to split the country along ethnic and sectarian lines, possibly igniting a civil war reminiscent of the 1990s (see March 13, 1994). “The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy,” one Afghan analyst says. Anticipating fraudulent results, Abdullah’s campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations if Karzai wins. Abdullah’s supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but “with Kalashnikovs,” should Karzai win a second term. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Reuters, 8/8/2009]
Ashraf Ghani, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s main presidential election rivals, denies that he has agreed to withdraw from the August 20 election in exchange for a top position in a future Karzai government. Karzai proposed the back-room offer to Ghani in late July (see Late July 2009) in the hope of securing victory over leading contender Abdullah Abdullah. In the proposed deal, Karzai offered Ghani a job as “chief executive” in his (future) government if he would agree to drop out of the race. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” Ghani tells reporters in Faryab province. However, it appears that Ghani, a former finance minister under Karzai, is holding out for a better deal. Suggesting that he is not ruling out a return to government if allowed to implement his plans, he says, “There would have to be very very firm commitments, time-bound set of activities, full embracement of the program that I’ve articulated for the next 10 years.” [Reuters, 8/8/2009]
On the eve of the Afghan elections, Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks out on the war in Afghanistan in statements to various media outlets. In a statement given to CNN, Hekmatyar says that he is willing to “help” the US and NATO forces if they announce a pullout timeline and prepare to leave Afghanistan. “We are ready to help with the United States and… other coalition forces if foreign troops announce the time frame for the pulling out their troops from Afghanistan,” he says in the statement. “I am sure Afghans will fight US forces and will continue Jihad against them like they fought against Russia before if they don’t leave the country,” he adds. Hekmatyar does not define what he means by “help,” nor is it clear if he would agree to join coalition forces against the Taliban and other insurgents. [CNN, 8/17/2009] In an interview with Sky News on the same day, Hekmatyar elaborates. He emphasizes that he is open to negotiation and a political process, but says his forces would stop fighting only if negotiations for an end to the occupation are made in good faith: “We are not against [a] political solution.… We are ready to negotiate with friends and enemies, with Afghans and non-Afghans. We will not close the door to negotiations.” However, he reaffirms his demand for an end to foreign occupation and also rules out participation in any Afghan government formed under US and NATO occupation. “We never want to take part in a puppet government under foreign dictators and to end occupation and establishing an Islamic government in a free Afghanistan via a free election,” he says. Hekmatyar also says he is open to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but points out that there are some Taliban who refuse to cooperate with the Hezb-i-Islami to form a united Islamic front. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the Afghan government have been engaged in negotiations with Hekmatyar representatives over the last year (see February 2009 and Early April 2009) to discuss possible arrangements in which Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the US government for terrorism, is granted immunity and a role in a future Afghan government. In the Sky News interview, Hekmatyar denies negotiations with Britain, but acknowledges having had contact with the Afghan government, which he describes as a “dirty swamp” of corruption under foreign control of which he wants no part. He indicates that Kabul is powerless and unwilling to implement the advice (and conditions) he sent it for “ending the war.” [Sky News, 8/17/2009] Hekmatyar is considered to be among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan warlords and has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984, 1983, and March 13, 1994).
Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. [Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/15/2009] A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. [Ariana Television Network, 10/14/2009] “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly condemns the recent burning of a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see March 20, 2011). He condemns Jones and calls on US authorities to arrest him. A day later, Afghan protesters storm a UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing seven guards and staffers and setting off a wave of bloody protests throughout the nation (see April 1, 2011 and April 1-5, 2011). US and international officials blame Jones for setting off the protests, but note that Karzai brought the attention of his people to the incident. They do not believe that Karzai intended to set off such violence, but instead think that he may have chosen to use the incident to vent his frustration with the continued foreign presence in Afghanistan. Stephen Carter, an independent policy analyst in Kabul, says: “Karzai seems to veer between being dependent on the international presence and a real sense resentment and powerlessness. He tends to come out with public statements that make clear the degree of resentment that he feels. In this particular case, he could have refrained from making a statement and acted in a way that would have made this particular outcome less likely, but I don’t think it was a deliberate conspiracy. I think he was voicing frustrations that he genuinely feels.” A Karzai spokesman says Karzai spoke out because of his moral outrage at the burning. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/5/2011]
Smoke billows from the burning UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif, as protesters take to the streets. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty]Eleven people, including seven United Nations officials, are slain in Afghanistan following a protest in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. (Some press reports say 12 are killed.) The protest was spurred by the recent burning of a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see March 20, 2011) and a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemning the burning (see March 31, 2011 and After). The attack is the worst incident on record against the UN since the conflict began in 2001. The protest begins peacefully, but turns violent after Mullah Mohammed Shah Adeli tells the crowd of some 20,000 that multiple Korans had been burned, and they must protest in a call for Jones to be arrested. Otherwise, says Adeli, Afghanistan should cut off relations with the US. “Burning the Koran is an insult to Islam, and those who committed it should be punished,” he says. The infuriated crowd marches on the nearby UN compound, ignoring guards who at first fire their AK-47s into the air and then into the crowd. Four or five crowd members are killed before the guards are overwhelmed (press reports differ on the number of protesters slain). Crowd members take the guards’ weapons and turn them on people in the UN compound. Four UN guards from Nepal and three foreign workers from Norway, Romania, and Sweden are killed, along with four non-UN victims. One Afghan is arrested for leading the attack. General Abdul Rauf Taj, the deputy police commander for Balkh Province, says, “Police tried to stop them, but protesters began stoning the building, and finally the situation got out of control.” Kieran Dwyer of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says, “Some of our colleagues were just hunted down” by angry protesters, who also burn and vandalize the building. [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
Early Reports of Two Beheadings - Early press reports indicate that two of the seven slain UN personnel are beheaded, but Afghan authorities later deny these reports. [New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] An early report from the Christian Science Monitor says that 20 UN staffers have been killed. Later press reports do not include this number. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011]
Pastor Blames Muslims for Deaths - An unrepentant Jones calls on the US government and the international community to respond, saying in a statement: “We… find this a very tragic and criminal action. The United States government and the United Nations itself, must take immediate action. We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities. Islam is not a religion of peace. It is time that we call these people to accountability.… They must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech, and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed.” Pegeen Hanrahan, the former mayor of Gainesville, Florida, where Jones lives and works, says that most in the Gainesville community do not support Jones. “He’s a really fringy character,” Hanrahan says. “For every one person in Gainesville who thinks this is a good idea there are a thousand who just think it’s ridiculous.” Jacki Levine of the Gainesville Sun newspaper says of Jones: “He’s a person who has a congregation that’s exceedingly small, maybe 30 or 40 people—50 on a good day. He is not at all reflective of community he finds himself in.”
Condemnations, Warnings that Further Attacks May Take Place - President Obama condemns the attack, saying: “The brave men and women of the United Nations, including the Afghan staff, undertake their work in support of the Afghan people. Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.” Obama was sharply critical of Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran (see September 10, 2010). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoes Obama’s sentiments, saying, “This was an outrageous and cowardly attack against UN staff, which cannot be justified under any circumstances and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.” Ulema Council member Mullah Kashaf says of Jones: “We expressed our deep concerns about this act, and we were expecting the violence that we are witnessing now. Unless they try him and give him the highest possible punishment, we will witness violence and protests not only in Afghanistan but in the entire world.” [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] Although Jones and his fellow church members deny any responsibility for the attacks, others disagree. One woman who lives near Jones’s church shakes her head in regret after being told of the Koran-burning, and says, in reference to Jones and the attack, “All because of him.” Gainseville Mayor Craig Lowe says: “Terry Jones and his followers were well aware their actions could trigger these kinds of events. It’s important that the world and nation know that this particular individual and these actions are not representative of our community.” Jones’s son Luke, a youth pastor at the church, says: “We absolutely do not feel responsible for it. You’re trying to avoid the real problem and blame someone.” The “real problem” is Islamic extremism, Luke Jones says, a stance he says is proven by the day’s attack. “The world can see how violent this religion—parts of this religion—can be.” [Gainesville Sun, 4/1/2011]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Shah Adeli, Christian Science Monitor, Craig Lowe, Hamid Karzai, Jacki Levine, Barack Obama, Luke Jones, Kieran Dwyer, Abdul Rauf Taj, Mullah Kashaf, Ban Ki-Moon, Pegeen Hanrahan, United Nations, Terry Jones (pastor)
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Afghan protests against an American pastor’s recent burning of the Koran (see March 20, 2011) continue. Four days earlier, 15 people, including seven members of a United Nations mission, were killed in a violent protest against the Koran-burning (see April 1, 2011). Today, about 1,000 protesters gather in front of Kabul University, and other protests take place throughout Afghanistan. The Kabul demonstration is peaceful, local police say. Earlier protests have claimed lives, including but not limited to the UN murders. Two days ago, three people were killed in Kandahar when police fought with stone-throwing protesters. The day before that, nine people were killed in another Kandahar protest. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says of the Koran-burning and the violent protests in response: “The desecration of any holy text… is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity.” [CNN, 4/5/2011] Less violent protests also take place in Pakistan. [Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.