Saturday, October 25, 2014

Taliban’s Foreign Support Vexes U.S.

By YOCHI J. DREAZEN-

U.S. officials recently concluded that the Afghan Taliban may receive as much money from foreign donors as it does from opium sales, potentially hindering the Obama administration’s strategy to rehabilitate Afghanistan by stopping the country’s drug trade.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that the Taliban has three main sources of funding: drug revenue; payments from legitimate businesses that are secretly owned by the armed group or that pay it kickbacks; and donations from foreign charitable foundations and individuals.

“You have funds generated locally, funds that come in from the outside, and funds that come from the illegal narcotics business,” he said. “It’s a hotly debated topic as to which is the most significant and it may be that they are all roughly around the same level.”

Gen. Petraeus estimated that the Taliban raise a total of “hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars” each year from the three sources, and said the U.S. doesn’t have precise figures.

The Taliban have depended in part on foreign support for decades. In an interview last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said some Afghan militants could draw on “external funding channels” created in the 1980s for wealthy Muslims — with U.S. support — to funnel money to Islamic fighters battling the Soviet military. “It wouldn’t surprise me if those channels have remained open,” he said.

Two senior U.S. officials said the Central Intelligence Agency has identified individuals and charities suspected of providing the bulk of the Taliban funding, but declined to name them, citing continuing operations to disrupt the money flows.

Senior U.S. officials said the Taliban received significant donations from Pakistan — where sympathy for the group is widespread in the country’s Pashtun community — and Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Pakistani Ambassador Hussein Haqqani said his government had frozen hundreds of bank accounts tied to the Taliban and other extremist groups and said the effort is a “work in progress.”

“The extremist networks continue to find new financing schemes and methods to evade law enforcement,” he said.

A senior Saudi official here said his government regularly arrested citizens suspected of funneling money to armed groups such as the Taliban but questioned the extent of the practice. The official said Saudi charities are barred from sending money outside the country.

“If the Americans have actionable intelligence on Saudis who are supporting the Taliban, they should provide us the intelligence, and we will act on it,” he said.

Officials from the Kuwaiti Embassy declined to comment.

The Taliban’s ability to continually replenish its coffers concerns U.S. policy makers such as Mr. Gates, who conjectured in the interview that American public support for the war will dissipate before the end of the year unless the administration achieves a “perceptible shift in momentum” there.

American officials said most of the money was sent to the Taliban through the informal hawala money-transfer system — a network of money brokers with little outside oversight. A 2006 World Bank report about Afghanistan said the hawala system “carries out the majority of the country’s cash payments and transfers.”

The resurgent Taliban have been mounting attacks in recent months, inflicting heavy casualties on U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Afghan soldiers. On Thursday, U.S.-led forces raided a suspected foreign-fighter camp in eastern Afghanistan, setting off a gun fight that killed 34 militants, according to an Afghan official.
-Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

“I have never felt more welcome in any other part of the world”

Chris Alexander, the United Nations Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, has left after six years in the country. Mr Alexander worked in Kabul from 2003, first as Canadian ambassador, and then as one of two deputies at UNAMA with responsibility for political affairs.

The following is an extract from an interview he did on his last day in Kabul.

I have to say there are mixed feelings about leaving. It’s been a time of suffering for a lot of Afghans. Peace has not come to this country, humanitarian suffering continues, people don’t have enough to eat and just when they have rebuilt their house a flood comes or the Taliban come, girls who’ve gone back to school aren’t able to continue in some parts of this country.

One has to be honest. We haven’t achieved enough. We have much more to do together in this country: Afghans because they will always be in the lead and their international partners.

But at the same time, sometimes many people both Afghans and foreigners forget what the starting point was. They forget how devastated, how isolated Afghanistan was in 2001 when really the very limited Government, repressive Government that it had, disappeared over night and there was nothing, there was no institution to replace it. And so when we started together under the leadership of an interim administration in late 2001 there were no services being delivered, there was no rural development, there was no system of clinics or schools, all of that had to be rebuilt.

And what is remarkable is the extent to which those basic things have been done. They don’t make Afghanistan a rich country, they don’t solve the problem of hunger in this country and they certainly haven’t brought peace. But they are the right things that need to be done as soon as one has the opportunity after the fall of a hostile regime, one that wasn’t willing to do these things. And so I think the international community has focused on the right priorities. What I regret is that the scale of effort wasn’t larger at the beginning; fortunately it’s much larger now and the prospects for the future, if the Government takes the right decisions, if Afghans consider their options seriously in these elections, if they demand accountability from their elected leaders, the future can be bright.

Many say this will be a very difficult and challenging time especially during the upcoming elections. How do you see the coming months?

They will be a time of drama, that’s the same for elections anywhere in the world. It’s an opportunity for people to literally consider their choices with regard to who should be in Government and in constitutionally authorized positions to lead and I think Afghans will take that question seriously. But they want to know from all of the candidates: What are you programmes? What can you deliver? If we vote what are we likely to get in return in terms of security, in terms of better governance (which is a huge priority for Afghans in terms of better services and development)? There will be some debate, there may even been some controversy. But our sense is that the political class here is much more sophisticated even than it was six or seven years ago, the media are very professional and sophisticated, the institutions running the elections, the Independent Election Commission, the Complaints Commission, the Media Commission, even the police and state institutions that are involved, are going to be doing their best to be responsible, to play their roles impartially and without interfering in the substantive debate. I think that will make for a good election and I’m a bit sorry that I will not be here to see it but I think the whole world will be watching as well.

How do you see the future of Afghanistan in the next five to ten years?

Let me answer that question by thinking back to five or six years ago when I arrived. This city was not under the control of the national police, it was under the control of the militia forces. There was no national army and the mujahideen, who had defeated the Taliban, had over ten thousand heavy weapons under their authority. These were the same mujahideen, some of them who had proudly served in the resistance to the Taliban but also took part in the civil war, and as a result there wasn’t a great deal of trust by the population to them. Everyone was grateful to be rid of the Taliban but the situation was fragile.

Today there is an elected president, a more professional Government and cabinet of ministers than we’ve ever seen in the past seven years, some very good national programmes like the National Solidarity Programme, like the basic package of health care, the road building programme that continues to be implemented across this country and disarmament has taken place. The Urdu-i-Milli (the Afghan National Army) is closing in on 100,000 members from all over Afghanistan; well-trained, well-disciplined and people are proud of their army. Think of the difference between the suspicion of six years ago and the pride today.

The police are also making improvements. The Amniat-i-Milli (Afghan National Police) is helping keep many parts of the country safe to discover bombs before they explode. All of that shows how important institutions are to every country and the Afghanistan that I imagine five or ten years from now one is one that will have even stronger Government institutions, a much more thriving private sector one connected to the region by trade, by more and more trading of energy and also by better management of water resources and thirdly it will be an Afghanistan in which civil society has a very central place, this is something we insist on in the United Nations. The media, the school system, universities are all already a sign of that vibrancy of that civil society. The NGO community is also very strong and I think on human rights, even transitional justice, there’s a lot of work ahead for this country; but work that is best done by civil society. And I think the trend lines in all of those areas of Government institutions, private sector, civil society, are all heading in the right direction. The challenge now is to scale up the effort, sustain the effort, not do the same thing that we did last year or the year before, but be creative and ensure that we get the best out of people and out of institutions.

What is your message for the people of Afghanistan and their future?

My message would be to join together in making effective institutions a reality in this country. Many people most Afghans have never lived in an Afghanistan that had a well functioning Government and Afghanistan that was at peace, an Afghanistan that had strong private sector because of all the events of these 30 years. But the Afghanistan we all know from history, from the time of Zahir Shah, from the time of many stages of its history in the past was an Afghanistan that not only had institutions, invented some institutions that were later adopted in many parts of the world. That is the Afghanistan that will be stable and prosperous; one that trusts not only in the instincts of the individual but in the traditions and authority of institutions. Yes, based on elections and national representation, but institutions that are strong enough to be respected by Afghans. It’s very easy to give up on the institution building process, it’s certainly not finished, in some sectors it hasn’t even started. My message would be work with us, the UN certainly believes in this, and work with the international community on a partnership of mutual accountability where Afghans lead but in providing support where the international community has the right to hold Afghans accountable.

I would simply like to add how grateful I am and I know many of my colleagues who’ve had the privilege of working in UNAMA are for all of the friendship and support we’ve had from all of our Afghan partners. I have never felt more welcome in any other part of the world and that’s something which Afghans should be proud of.

Interview by Jamil Danish, UNAMA

Pakistan’s Struggle for Modernity

By FOUAD AJAMI-

The drama of the Swat Valley – its cynical abandonment to the mercy of the Taliban, the terror unleashed on it by the militants, then the recognition that the concession to the forces of darkness had not worked — is of a piece with the larger history of religious extremism in the world of Islam. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was the latest in a long line of secularists who cut deals with the zealots, only to discover that for the believers in political Islam these deals are at best a breathing spell before the fight for their utopia is taken up again.
[Commentary] David Klein

The decision by Pakistan to retrieve the ground it had ceded to the Taliban was long overdue. We should not underestimate the strength of the Pakistani state, and of the consensus that underpins it. The army is a huge institution, and its mandate is like that of the Turkish army, which sees itself as a defender of secular politics.

The place of Islam in Pakistani political culture has never been a simple matter. It was not religious piety that gave birth to Pakistan. The leaders who opted for separation from India were a worldly, modern breed who could not reconcile themselves to political subservience in a Hindu-ruled India. The Muslims had fallen behind in the race to modernity, and Pakistan was their consolation and their shelter.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was secular through and through. The pillars of his political life had been British law and Indian nationalism. Both had given way, and he set out for his new state, in 1947, an ailing old man, only to die a year later. He was sincere in his belief that Pakistan could keep religion at bay.

Jinnah’s vision held sway for three decades. It was only in the late 1970s that political Islam began its assault against the secular edifice. A military dictator, Zia ul-Haq, had seized power in 1977; he was to send his predecessor, the flamboyant populist Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to the gallows. Zia was to recast Pakistan’s political culture. It was during his decade in power that the madrassas, the religious schools, proliferated. (There had been no more than 250 madrassas in 1947. There would be a dozen times as many by 1988, and at least 12,000 by latest count.)

Zia had been brutally effective in manipulating the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. His country was awash with guns and Saudi and American money. He draped his despotism in Islamic garb. He made room for the mullahs and the mullahs brought the gunmen with them.

Say what you will about the ways of Pakistan, its people have never voted for the darkness that descended on Swat and its surroundings. In the national elections of 2008 the secular and regional parties had carried the day; the fundamentalists were trounced at the polls. The concessions in Swat were a gift the militants had not earned.

The preachers and the gunmen who brought their reign of terror to Swat made no secret of what they wanted. Sufi Mohamed, the radical cleric who cut the deal on behalf of the militants, was clear about his project. He, and his gunmen, would define the true nature of the faith. They would separate the true Muslims from the “apostates” in their midst. They would replace the system of justice with Shariah law. They would restrict the access of women to the public space. They would war openly against democracy, declaring it a godless innovation at odds with Islam. The conquest of Swat was to be a message to the populace: The writ of the Pakistani state, its monopoly on order, had been broken. The battle was joined, for the very legitimacy of the Pakistani army had been at stake.

In the 1980s, Pakistan led to Afghanistan, and to the final battle of the Cold War. Nowadays, the struggle in Afghanistan leads back to Pakistan, and for a battle on behalf of Muslim modernity. The stakes in Pakistan for the U.S. are vital. Its population is at least six times as large as that of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the question of the Taliban is a tribal one. The strident religion is a vehicle for Pashtun resentment and ambitions. Afghanistan is a relative stranger to the doctrines of political Islam that have been blowing through the Middle East and the subcontinent for decades.

America travels light into this region. South Asia has not been a place of American imperial reach. We barely took notice of Pakistan when political Islam began its march there, for we once thought that the religious reactionaries could be managed and contained.

We have a new American president, but we have yet to figure out the new American mission in Pakistan. The Democrats had had a simple approach to Pakistan: It had been wrong, they insisted, to embrace the dictatorial Gen. Pervez Musharraf, for he had taken our treasure but had not severed the ties of his intelligence services to the religious extremists within his country and in Afghanistan. Gen. Musharraf is gone, but no redemption has come.

In his days on the stump, candidate Barack Obama had maintained that he would begin with active diplomacy over the long-standing Pakistani-Indian dispute over Kashmir. But by any reckoning, India’s weight and power preclude taking up that question. No government in New Delhi would countenance any change in the status in Kashmir.

In truth, the U.S. can’t alter the balance of power between India and Pakistan. For six decades now, Pakistan has lived in the shadow of India’s success. This has tormented Pakistanis and helped radicalize their politics. The obsession with the unfinished business of partition (Kashmir) has been no small factor in the descent of Pakistan into religious and political extremism. The choice for Pakistan can be starkly put: the primacy of Kashmir in political life or the repair of the country, the renewal of its institutions, and the urgent task of putting in place an educational system that would undercut the power of the religious reactionaries.

In his desire to be the un-Bush, President Obama seems bent on waging this war in the “AfPak theater” without ennobling it, without giving it a name or a stirring call. We are not to see this struggle through the lens of the “long war” against jihadism and Islamism, for this would give vindication to the way George W. Bush saw the world in the aftermath of 9/11. Besides, we had declared that war done and over with, a great overreach.

By the Obama administration’s practice and admonition, we are not to see the ideological trail from the Middle East to South Asia that has put the world of Islam and its fragile modernism in great peril. Ours is a stealth campaign. We want to “degrade, dismantle, and defeat” al Qaeda, deny it the ability to do us harm. In Afghanistan, and in the Pashtun belt in Pakistan, we wish to separate the “reconcilables” of the Taliban from al Qaeda and the forces of the global jihad. But the people themselves, we hold at arm’s length. We are not to invest ourselves in their affairs in the way George W. Bush invested himself in the reform and freedom of the Greater Middle East.

For a man of words, a bestselling author at that, the reticence of Mr. Obama about the stakes in this struggle is odd and bewildering. Ideology is “so yesterday,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said, telling us volumes about our current diplomatic practice. So for Mr. Obama, it was two days in Turkey — which has hectored us now for the full length of a decade and given voice to the most malignant fantasies of anti-Americanism — and four hours in Camp Victory. Under Mr. Obama we are not to embrace the Iraqis, and claim the victory we won there and the decent democratic example we implanted on so unpromising a soil. In the same vein, we are to “do Pakistan,” but clinically, without giving a name to the dangers that attend it or to the better heritage we should be calling it to.

For so pragmatic a people, Americans have done best when called to great undertakings. It is not enough to carry to this contested landscape in South Asia the cold-bloodedness of the so-called foreign policy realists.

Mr. Ajami is professor of Middle East Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies and an adjunct senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Source: The Wall Street Journal