Tag Archives: Afghan National Army

Political uncertainty looms over Afghan women

Women listen to a speech by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai during a district assembly gathering in Kabul last month. — Reuters

KABUL — A legal requirement that women make up at least a quarter of all provincial elected officials was quietly removed by conservative male parliamentarians, officials said, the latest in a series of decisions undermining advances in women’s rights in Afghanistan.

The change, engineered in mid-May, was only discovered by women members of parliament a few days ago.

The action has sparked fears among women’s rights activists that President Hamid Karzai’s government is increasingly willing to trade away their hard fought gains to placate the Taliban as part of attempts to coax them to the peace table.

Activists said it could also reduce the number of women serving in parliament’s upper house, as most women are elected there via their role as elected provincial officials.

“In negotiations you don’t gain anything unless you also give something up,” said prominent women’s rights activist and MP Farkhunda Naderi.
“This is a political strategy: to please (the Taliban) in peace talks they’re willing to give up women’s rights.”

Women entered Afghanistan’s male-only political arena in 2001 soon after the overthrow of the hardline Taliban regime by a US-led invasion.
The law had previously set aside for women at least a quarter of seats in some 400 district and 34 provincial councils.

Seventeen of 28 women in the upper house are appointed by Karzai. The remaining 11 must be chosen from among women sitting on district and provincial councils, but those positions are now under a cloud. The change was approved by parliament’s lower house, the Wolesi Jirga, on May 22.
Prominent parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi said female members did not discover the change until last week.

“(They) removed it without informing us. We trusted that the law we signed off on was the same as previous drafts,” she said, referring to the members who made the changes. The law still needs approval from the upper house and Karzai before being passed into law.

Critics of the change told Reuters its removal will not only affect women’s ability to serve in the upper house, but also do away with more than 100 seats in local government bodies nationwide that were previously guaranteed to women.

“Women are not in the position to win votes in this country based on popular vote alone, this amendment is worrisome they’ll lose their voice,” said Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.

Conservative male parliamentarians backing the change said the concept of granting rights based on their gender was unconstitutional.

“It’s undemocratic to grant a seat to a woman even though a man had more votes, simply because the law favors her,” said Qazi Nasir Ahmad Hanafi, head of the legislative commission. — Reuters

Abandoning Afghanistan

When Senator Barack Obama was running for president back in 2008, he accused the Bush administration, his opponent Senator John McCain, and their supporters of taking their eyes off the ball by fighting a war in Iraq and ignoring the “necessary war”—the war in Afghanistan. Well, four short years later, by Obama’s lights, Afghanistan is no longer the necessary war but a war to be ignored, a war to be “ended” regardless of the strategic consequences of doing so precipitously.

A firefight in Helmand province: Three U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldierA firefight in Helmand province: Three U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldierAP Photo / Pier Paolo Cito

It’s now clear that Barack Obama’s only abiding interest in Afghanistan was rhetorical, allowing him political space to pull American troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and, once done, to begin the same process in Afghanistan. Even the surge of 30,000 more American troops that began in 2010 was, in hindsight, intended to be less a strategic game-changer (as the earlier surge in Iraq had been) than a stopgap measure to stabilize a deteriorating situation. Smaller than what had been requested by the generals on the ground and put fully in place for only one fighting season, the surge allowed the president to appear serious while, in fact, providing him cover for pulling the plug on the war effort altogether.

Make no mistake, pulling the plug he is. Despite internal Pentagon reports that indicate the Afghans will not be ready to take over combat operations in 2014, news accounts have the White House pushing for cutting the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan this coming year by another 20,000 to 30,000, with the likely goal of leaving fewer than 10,000 noncombat troops in place by the end of 2014. This is not just a race to the exit but a full-out sprint. And once again it’s a decision made against the best advice of the commanders in the field, who would like nothing more than to hold the current force levels constant through at least the 2013 fighting season.

None of this should come as a surprise. Since early in his presidency, when deigning to speak at all about Afghanistan, President Obama has said little about why defeating the Taliban is important. When he does make reference to Afghanistan, it’s invariably to talk of timelines for bringing the troops home or, as he said at the U.N. in September, ending the war “on schedule in 2014.”

Of course, saying the war will end on schedule doesn’t make it reality—a fact Afghans know all too well. With the Taliban on their heels but not defeated, Pakistani intelligence releasing incarcerated Taliban back onto the streets, roadmaps being drawn up for “peace talks” that would allow hardcore Taliban officials into Afghan governing posts, and Obama administration plans to eliminate funding for some 100,000 Afghan security forces after we leave, it’s no wonder arms sales in Afghanistan are booming—not only for warlords who control local militias but also for ordinary citizens. “Whenever you turn on the TV or radio,” said one Afghan, “the discussion is 2014. .  .  . It’s become like doomsday for Afghans.”

“By repeatedly discussing withdrawal dates,” according to Ronald Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, “the Obama administration has only made matters worse.” With virtually all American troops gone in 2014 and local forces not ready to take over, Afghans rightly fear the potential chaos that might follow. “This fear,” Neumann says, “has encouraged Afghan leaders from Karzai on down to hedge their bets and do whatever they can to assure their survival. Rather than fighting corruption, they are tightening their patronage linkages, preparing for civil war, and trying to make or steal as much money as possible in the event they need to flee.” If this sounds like a state headed toward Hobbes’s “war of all against all,” that’s because it is.

The tragedy is that this needn’t be the case. As limited an effort as the surge in Afghanistan has been, it’s had real success. In Helmand and Kandahar, previously key Taliban strongholds, American, Afghan, and allied forces have cleared insurgent bastions and defeated every attempt by the Taliban over the past year to regain their lost territory. But because the administration was determined to go “light” on the number of surge troops and then draw them down more rapidly than had been recommended by commanders, the original plan to tackle simultaneously the insurgent presence in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces was never executed. Now, with the anticipated drawdown of the remaining troops over the next year, a full-on counterinsurgency effort in that region will never take place. In short, the insurgent cancer was going into remission but the White House, irrationally, wants to stop treatment.

Nor is it the case that Afghan security forces have not stepped up their game. When partnered with American and allied combat forces, Afghan troops have learned their trade and begun to fight well. However, they still lack the logistics, intelligence, and mobility capabilities needed to go it alone. Sustaining our combat and support efforts for just a few more years would ensure that when our combat teams do leave Afghanistan, there is a force in place that can effectively defend its own homeland.

Critics of the war like to point out that the Afghan conflict is the longest overseas war in American history—implying that it’s a hopeless case. Yet, for much of that time, the effort in Afghanistan was a holding action, with the war in Iraq eating up time, resources, and energy until the American surge and change in strategy in 2006-07 turned that conflict around. The nation might well be tired of war, but it’s only been a little over three years since President Obama announced his own surge and new strategy. When it comes to counterinsurgencies, a little patience goes a long way.

But this is not a patient president. The pattern for Iraq, Libya, and now Afghanistan has been basically the same. End American military involvement as soon as possible, and damn the consequences.

Obama secretly releasing Taliban fighters, report says

WTF///KABUL – The US has been secretly releasing captured Taliban fighters from a detention center in Afghanistan in a bid to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the insurgent group, the Washington Post reported Monday. The “strategic release” program of high-level detainees is designed to give the US a bargaining chip in some areas of Afghanistan where international forces struggle to exercise control, the report said. Under the risky program, the hardened fighters must promise to give up violence and are threatened with further punishment, but there is nothing to stop them resuming attacks against Afghan and American troops. “Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” a US official told the Post. In a visit to Afghanistan last week, President Barack Obama confirmed that the US was pursuing peace talks with the Taliban. “We have made it clear that they [the Taliban] can be a part of this future if they break with Al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws. Many members of the Taliban — from foot soldiers to leaders — have indicated an interest in reconciliation. A path to peace is now set before them,” Obama said. A stumbling block in the US-Taliban peace talks has been the US refusal to approve the transfer of five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, which the Taliban says is necessary for negotiations to proceed. The clock is ticking also on the US handover of security control to the Afghans. At the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, the US coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead in combat operations across the country next year. During his short visit, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a partnership deal that charts a 10-year relationship between the US and Afghanistan once the majority of American and foreign forces pull out of the country in 2014.