Afghanistan Election Run-Off, Italian Scandal, Lahore Attacks on Eve of Obama Decision

Four pieces of news from what Washington now calls AfPak raised questions about the stability of Central and South Asia on Thursday and Friday morning. Given the energy resources in Central Asia and the emergence of India as a regional superpower, the destabilization of this region and continued American military involvement with it has momentous implications for geopolitics in the coming decades.

  • The Pakistani Taliban upped the stakes in their life or death struggle with the Pakistani state by hitting not only their traditional targets, such as Kohat in the northwest, but striking at the heart of the state’s security apparatus in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province. There is a sense in which the Pakistani army’s struggle against the Taliban is increasingly an ethnic war between radical Muslim Pashtuns and more traditionalist or secular Punjabis. (Punjabis are 55% of the population and dominate the army; Pashtuns are more like 12% of the population and disproportionately rural and poor).
  • President Obama is now said to have completed his policy review of Afghanistan and now to be moving toward making a decision about whether he will pursue a wide-ranging counter-insurgency strategy that implies substantial investment in state-building (as recommended by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and apparently by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), or whether he will adopt the much more modest counter-terrorism strategy proposed by Vice President Joe Biden.
  • It now seems increasingly likely that there will be a run-off in the Afghanistan presidential contest between incumbent Hamid Karzai and his chief rival Abdullah Abdullah. As fraudulent ballots have been tossed out, Karzai’s margin of victory has apparently fallen below the 50% threshold that would have allowed him to avoid a run-off. Since, however, Abdullah Abdullah’s support largely comes from the Tajik (Dari Persian-speaking Sunnis) ethnic group, and Karzai’s strongest support comes from anti-Taliban Pashtuns, there are fears that the run-off might produce increased ethnic tensions and even violence. On the other hand, had Karzai been declared the victor on the basis of clearly fraudulent ballots, it would have fatally undermined the legitimacy of his government.
  • Meanwhile, NATO is being roiled by reports that Italy bribed the Taliban in its area of Afghanistan (Sarobi) to remain quiet, but did not inform France of the arrangement when it took over, thus setting French troops up for ambushes when the payments were discontinued. Bad blood among NATO allies is bad news for Obama.

    The impact on Pakistan of the Taliban resurgence was visible on Thursday, as guerrillas attacked security centers in the eastern city of Lahore, far from the Pashtun areas. Ten attackers in their late teens hit 3 separate targets, killing 17 persons and spreading fear throughout Lahore. Because of the city’s proximity to the Indian border, the attacks also threw a scare into External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. Xinhua also reports on Indian apprehensions of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan.

    Altogether, Taliban attacks in various cities left dozens dead on Thursday. Pakistanis are nervous about the deteriorating security situation.

    Aljazeera English has video:

    Dawn has raw video:

    Aljazeera English on how President Obama’s decision on what to do about Afghanistan will have a general impact on the region– Pakistan in particular. (I would also add that there is some potential for destabilizing Tajikistan and other areas of Central Asia, as the US and NATO increasingly use them for resupply, thus making them targets for the anti-government guerrillas.

    The recent Frontline report on the “Return of the Taliban” seemed to me an eloquent argument against the likelihood that Gen. McChrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy can succeed in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. One thing the report neglects is kinship. It depicts the Taliban as outsiders, but likely they were the cousins of the villagers with whom US troops were trying to make friends. If so, no wonder no shopkeepers opened businesses in the Marines’ bazaar. (For the FCC: IC carried an ad for this program via blogads for one week).

    AFP reports that even officials in Karzai’s circle are now acknowledging the likelihood of a run-off election. Peter Galbraith, who as a UN official played an important role in forcing the issue, also seems reassured that there will now be a second round of voting. The allegation is that the gray diplomats of the UN in Afghanistan were initially so afraid of ethnic violence that they had been ready to acquiesce in Karzai’s ballot fraud and just declare him the president. Galbraith courageously blew the whistle on this approach. Ironically, his role in Iraq as an advocate of Kurdish secessionism has now come under question because of his investments in Kurdistan petroleum.

    Jake Tapper at ABC News had argued that if Karzai refused to accept a run-off, his consequent lack of legitimacy would affect Obama’s decision on strategy.

    Aljazeera English reports on Abdullah Abdullah’s own demand for a run-off election, and his conviction that he will win on the second round.

    Italy denied on Friday that it had been bribing Taliban to keep quiet, but neglected to tell the French about the deal when it handed the region over to French troops. The allegations were reported by the Times of London. The bad news for President Obama is that such discord among NATO allies makes it even more unlikely that member states will send substantially more troops, as Obama has requested. While Britain will send 500 extra troops, France is declining to increase its contingent.

    France24 has video:

    End/ (Not Continued)

  • 12 Responses

    1. As I sit here in Kabul typing this, I have to wonder what kind of mess will be created by a runoff election.

      In a matter of weeks, the high country – which constitutes a great deal of the country – will become impassable due to snow, rendering many villagers without access to the outside world (or able to vote) until spring.

      Asking the citizens to once again brave security risks and possible death on the way to and from polling stations is almost a guarantee of even lower turnout than in August. People with stumps where the finger with the voting dye used to be are a grim reminder of the potential hazards of exercising your voting franchise.

      Waiting until spring to schedule the runoff vote leaving the government and the country in an even lengthier state of limbo isn't much of an acceptable choice either.

      I've been somewhat bizarrely amused at the shock expressed in the world community by vote fraud and corruption in Afghanistan. It's AFGHANISTAN, fercryinoutloud, what do you expect? Besides, the U.S. is very, very adept at teaching institutionalized corruption and the Afghans, pragmatists that they are, are extremely fast learners. When you've got a country – the U.S. – based on grabbing all you can as fast as you can and letting the devil take the hindmost, why should we be surprised that all of those we've put in positions of power here are only following their role model?

      So, what's the answer? As simplistic as it sounds, what's needed here more than anything else is decent infrastructure – roads, water, electricity, sanitation, food supplies – coupled with health care, education and jobs. The security situation is as much aggravated by the lack of all those things as anything else. Desperate people are willing to do desperate things. To make matters worse, it's positively chilling to drive up and down streets that are narrowed to nothing by concrete blast walls and Hesco barriers and see humvees rolling by, bristling with troops in full body armor, brandishing weapons and looking like something out of a mad max movie. Imagine something like that on any street in the U.S. We can't. It's unthinkable, and yet we've made it the daily life of the 4M people who are stuffed into this dusty little capital.

      When you put aside the ideologies, the religious claptrap, and the capitalism/privatization/democracy mantras, the vast majority of the people here only want what all the rest of us want – a means of livelihood to be able to feed, clothe and shelter their families, some of the basic societal infrastructure and support services that, god knows, should be the right of every human being living in the first half of the twenty-first century, and to be able to walk the streets and let their children play outside in safety. Is that too friggin' much to ask?

      link to takeitpersonally.blogspot.com

    2. Weird that Obama's administration maintains wars that it clearly has no jurisdiction over and then, as if talking out of another mouth, tells Israel that they need to work with the Palestinians for peace.

      Peace now. If all the troops/weapons etc are pulled out, what would these people do? Keep fighting? I think they enjoy the attention and if they didn't have to worry about who's side they're on, well, anyway, they lack artillery that the West provides.

      Sorry to prattle on. But i'm so sick of men killin other men, and i do mean men.

    3. sure, when "elections" are held under USA and NATO boots, votes really do not matter, and it is called nice names like "there are fears that the run-off might produce increased ethnic tensions and even violence" As if ALL USA interventions in the region are not one long bloodbath.

      On the other hand, regarding Iran and WITHOUT any proof the same USA and NATO care a lot about "stolen votes". I suppose they do not mind a bit of "increased ethnic tensions and even violence" in Iran, when it suits them.

      "On the other hand, had Karzai been declared the victor on the basis of clearly fraudulent ballots, it would have fatally undermined the legitimacy of his government."

      As if there is ANY "his government" with ANY legitimacy :)

    4. I do not understand how the Afghani electorate can be free when there is a MASSIVE foreign military presence in the country. The Afghani electorate have votes, but the foreign military presence has every deadly weapon known to mankind. And, this foreign power is DESPERATE to avoid another military humiliation so they are micro-managing every aspect of Afghani internal affairs.

    5. It is notable that the report claims the US also knew of the Italian-Taliban baksheesh. So basically, the French were screwed by everybody.

      NATO: Treachery Is Us?

    6. .
      "the Pakistani army's struggle against the Taliban is increasingly [seen as] an ethnic war between radical Muslim Pashtuns and more traditionalist or secular Punjabis."

      Really ?
      I had assumed it was more of a divide between the Pashtuns on one side, and a combination of Sindh and Punjabi on the other. Many leading national politicians are from Karachi.
      Are the Sindh generally on the sidelines for this contest ?
      .

    7. ref : “Aljazeera English on how President Obama's decision on what to do about Afghanistan will have a general impact on the region see also: “Ralph Nader on Obama: "A Frightened Man"” : His early months in office have been "very disappointing…"

      * Obama is "a frightened man," who won't take on corporate power.

      * Obama is "conflict averse" – and a "harmony ideology type," who's being taken advantage of by the sharks in Congress, of both parties.

      * He's "Bush-Cheney redux" when it comes to military and foreign policy, "albeit with better speeches" to the Muslim world. Given Obama's handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Nader wonders in amazement: "And they gave him the [Nobel] Peace Prize?"

      see also: Hold the Line in Afghanistan by ‘Percy Blakeney’, a Major in the United States Army writing under a pseudonym so as to adhere to Army public disclosure protocols : “The Taliban are in a quandary. They cannot fight adequate American/NATO forces toe-to-toe on a linear battlefield and if there is to be any long-term hope for their insurgency, they must have uninhibited access to infiltrate into the interior of Afghanistan to continue asymmetrical warfare in order to erode Western resolve. The only means to solve their dilemma is to lure the West into a psychological trap of its own making so USA/NATO will reject the only strategy that is feasible: seal the border. That is why the attack [on Forward Operating Post Keating] was not-ironic. It was the calculated loss of 100 insurgents to tweak the nose of the World's superpower, seed self-doubt and build the myth that Afghanistan is the grave-yard of empires. In one year, two assaults by the equivalent of a light infantry battalion succeeded in convincing Commanding General McChrystal to fall back. What kind of impact does that have on the psyche of the men and women in the field, the descendants of Thermopylae — the archetype of Second Generation warfare?

      Napoleon Bonaparte stated, "Even in war, moral power is to physical as three parts out of four." If our Soldiers and Marines believe they cannot win on a linear battlefield against an inferior enemy how can we expect them to fare any better on an asymmetrical battlefield? By ceding the borders, the Taliban, by default, is three quarters of the way to victory — they are inside the country and inside the psyche (the decision making process) of the Military's most valuable resource: the boots on the ground.

    8. .
      Of course the Italian Government didn't pay bribes to the Taliban.
      But it just makes good business sense to hire the local tribal chieftain to use the militia under his control to provide security for ongoing reconstruction projects.

      What's the difference between that protection money and a bribe ? The distinctions are too subtle for me to discern, but I think one is legal and the other is not.

      The US did exactly that in Iraq, and the practice has migrated to Afghanistan. In a recent solicitation for contractors to build a road from the other Sarobi, the one in Paktika Province, to Khanji Kot, the US Army Corps of Engineers even hinted that bidders needed to include those costs in their bid.
      .

    9. prof. cole, i have to disagree with ur observation that it is increasingly an ethnic war between the pak army and taliban because 1. the army does comprise of mostly punjabis but that has been traditionally so even before pakistan came into being) and 2. the pakistani taliban, specially the ones who carried out the recent attacks were not just pashtuns, they were kashmiris, punjabis, shias, sunnis etc.
      they are more ideologically motivated and have little to do with belonging to a particular race or speaking a particular language. and as a pakistani, i speak for many of our people when i say that the whole country mourns when people r killed in these blasts, be it a punjabi or a pathan soldier, woman, man, child.

    10. I note you've yet to comment on the interview with Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, "an al-Qaeda leader who, according to American intelligence is al-Qaeda's head of military operations." It might be wise to read what he has to say about events in AfPak:

      "Today, NATO does not have any significance or relevance. They have lost the war in Afghanistan. Now, when they realized their defeat, they developed an emphasis that this entire battle is being fought from outside of Afghanistan, that is, the two Waziristans. To me, this military thesis is a mirage which has created a complex situation in the region and created reactions and counter-reactions. I would not like to go into the details, to me that was nothing but deviation. As a military commander, the reality is that the trap of Afghanistan is successful and the basic military targets on the ground have been achieved," Ilyas said….

      "Our battle cannot be against Muslims and believers. As I have mentioned earlier [in this interview], what is happening at the moment in the Muslim world is a complexity due to American power games which have resulted into reactions and counter-reactions. This is a totally different debate and might deviate me from the real topic. The real game is the fight against the great Satan and its adherents," Ilyas said.

      "What turned you from the most-beloved friend to the most-hated foe in the eyes of the Pakistani military establishment?" I asked.

      "Pakistan is my beloved country and the people who live there are our brothers, sisters and relatives. I cannot even think of going against its interests. It was never the Pakistan army that was against me, but certain elements who branded me as an enemy to cover up their weaknesses and to appease their masters"

      To be sure, the whole of what he said must be examined, not just the above exerpts which lack some of the context the whole interview provides.

      So, what do we know? We know the stated aim of al-Qaeda is to destroy the USA's and its allies's global hegemony. Note the truism that there will not be true freedom and the resolution of gross injustices perpetrated worldwide until this hegemony is defeated. We know AQ enjoys the US/NATO presence in AfPak as this helps destabilize its regional and global enemies. And we know the USA wants to maintain its global hegemony no matter the numbers killed or the treasue expended.

      Afghanistan can never be won, but it can be occupied for as long as the money holds out–sorry, creditors keep lending–and people are willing to continue the killing.

    11. .
      I'd like to recommend a singularly noteworthy interview from the News Hour on PBS.
      "Former CIA officer and terrorism expert Bruce Riedel discusses his book, "The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future" and his work chairing [the first] Afghanistan policy review for the Obama administration."
      link to pbs.org

      At about 1:30, he says that the US needs to get more involved in running the upcoming runoff election.
      At about 3:30, he says that it is not a graveyard of empires: Alexander of Macedonia didn't fail there, and neither did the British.
      At about 3:50 he encouragingly suggests the fight against the Taliban isn't hopeless, because it is just an uprising of a minority of Pashtoons.
      At about 8:10 he insists that there is no comparison between the Soviet occupation in the 1980's and what we are doing there now. None.
      At about 9:15 he says that as long as al-Qaeda has a safe haven in the tribal areas, they pose an existential threat to the US.

      Agree or disagree, this is the caliber of thinking that is informing the Obama Administration on Afghanistan.
      That scares me.
      .

    12. 9:57 PM, Anonymous

      At about 8:10 "he insists that there is no comparison between the Soviet occupation in the 1980's and what we are doing there now. None"

      But he was right!
      1) USSR came to help friendly government after much asking and very relactuntly.

      USA attacked foreign state under false pretext (I hope you are aware that Taliban suggested to let Bin Laden to be tried?)

      2) USSR was fighting against USA founded religious fanatics from all over the world

      USA is fighting mostly about people itself have trainded and payrolled before

      3) USSR-friednly government was a progressive one, his foes were mostly reactionary
      USA-puppet government is NOT really different from its foes (the same warlords, founded by USA)

      4 USSR came to Afghanistan to protect its borders (USA-founded terrorists were attacking USSR as well)

      USA came to Afghanistan from another side of the globes to protect oil and gas interests.

      So, I do NOT see many similarities.

      Do you?

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