Dec 31, 2009

How to Whip the Afghan Army Into Shape

Much of President Barack Obama's strategy rests on the creation of a new, more competent Afghan military. Here's what he'll need to know to get the job done.

In his Nov. 28 speech at West Point laying out his military strategy for Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama explained that success hinges on developing Afghan security forces that can control the country on their own. Tasked with the responsibility of figuring out how to develop them is Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, newly arrived in Kabul. According to the New York Times, Caldwell intends to devote unprecedented time and effort to improving the quality of Afghanistan's security force leadership, rather than merely concentrating on increasing the quantity of troops. This is an overdue change that promises real improvements.
In Afghanistan, poorly led soldiers and policemen have often proved useless or worse. For the past eight years, the lack of leadership in Afghan police and militia units has resulted in egregious abuses of power that have helped convince thousands of Pashtun tribal elders to support the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Those abuses have too seldom offset forceful action against insurgents. Increasing the number of Afghan troops, which some analysts believe must be the top priority, will not solve any of these problems without sound leadership. As U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has aptly pointed out, "Ten good police are better than 100 corrupt police, and 10 corrupt police can do more damage to our success than one Taliban extremist."

In developing the Afghan National Security Forces, the U.S. and Afghan governments must combine short-term fixes with long-term development. It is a project that will take longer than American policymakers would like, no matter how many resources they allocate to it. It will also require smart use of U.S. resources.

Of the potential remedies for inferior Afghan leadership, the replacement of bad Afghan commanders with better ones is an obvious choice, but not an easy one. Numerous commanders in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) hold their positions because they have friends or relatives in the upper echelons of President Hamid Karzai's government and those patrons have been known to demonstrate resolve and guile in protecting their protégés.

A case in point is Brig. Gen. Shams, former commander of the 2nd Brigade, 201st Corps. Shams had far too little experience for a brigade commander and owed his position to political connections. Devoting more of his time to socializing in Jalalabad than to leading his brigade, he failed to organize any brigade-level operations, and corruption ran rampant within his unit. American advisors eventually appealed to higher levels of the Afghan government for help, but high-level Afghan leaders blocked action against Shams for many months. In the end, thankfully, U.S. persistence induced Karzai's office to authorize the brigade commander's relief. Read more

Dec 12, 2009

Drew University soccer star Shamila Kohestani leaves Taliban behind

BY Wayne Coffey
Five times a day, on the third floor of a boxy brick dormitory, a reserve forward on the Drew University women’s soccer team spreads out a special rug, sits down and tries to figure out which direction Mecca is.

For 10 or 15 minutes, Shamila Kohestani, of Kabul, Afghanistan, quiets her mind and says her prayers. Then she hustles back to her new western life, complete with fingernails painted pink, her name taped to the dorm-room door and a laptop that is rarely far from her side.

Shamila Kohestani never used a laptop until last year. She never did a lot of things. Life under the Taliban included periodic beatings and regular degradation, but not much in the way of amenities, and nothing at all in the way of education.

Sitting on her bed, alongside the patch of floor where she lays her prayer rug, Kohestani takes a short break from another five-hour night of studying. She looks toward a display of photos of her parents, six sisters and one brother, all of whom remain in Kabul - in a country where the life expectancy is 44 years, according to a study by the World Health Organization.

“When I first came here, people would ask, ‘What did you do for fun in Afghanistan?’” Kohestani says. She pauses and smiles. It is a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial. ‘I’d say, ‘What do you mean fun? What is fun? I spent all my life in war.’

“I tell American kids, ‘You need to appreciate everything you have, because everywhere there are people who are starving, people who have nothing. Here there is so much.”

Shamila Kohestani isn’t so much a 20-year-old freshman as she is a social groundbreaker in shinguards, a cross-cultural wunderkind, a woman who captained Afghanistan’s first national women’s soccer team and who scarcely spoke English a year ago, and who, as recently as last month, had massive doubts if she could make it as a college student.

“The first days, I was sure I was going back home,” Kohestani says. “I told myself, I can’t do this.’” And then she did it, relying on the same indefatigable will that helped her through Ramadan last month, Kohestani fasting from sunup to sundown, going through grueling soccer practices without a sip of water.

“I’d get thirsty sometimes, and I’d just tell my mind, ‘Shut up,’” she says.

Christa Racine has been the soccer coach at Drew for 14 years, and a fixture in Jersey soccer since her record-setting days at Rutgers, a school she led to three straight ECAC titles, from 1990-92. That Kohestani has only gotten into one game this season takes nothing from what she has accomplished, in her coach’s opinion.

Dec 7, 2009

Exercise of Democracy in afghanistan.

The street is not silent but for his pounding heart, slapping feet, and spinning tire.

There are other noises: distant car engines rumble; horns scream point and counterpoint; air force planes roar overhead; and somewhere close by a couple is arguing.

But he hears only three things: his heart, his feet, and his tire. They consume his reality, shoving all else to the side, discarding it as unimportant.

The only thing that matters is getting his prize home before they find him.

He does not turn his head at the sudden shout behind him. He does not feel the struggle of his heart and legs to keep him moving.

Only home matters. He will be safe there. His prize will be secure there.

But then he reaches his street and as he turns to cover the final fifty feet to his front door he sees them waiting for him. He skids to a halt but the tire continues on its way, wobbling on unsteady rubber before collapsing midway between him and them.

He pauses in the midst of silent, swirling dust. They stare at him with no expression. Then smiles creep onto each scarred, dirty face, one by one.

And then they raise their guns and the silence is no more.

by Marc


For all the harshness of a world drenched in fear and bombing,

And all the wretched things this young boy has undoubtedly seenor perhaps even been a party to,

And all the horror his young mind has absorbed,

I wonder if his psyche can overcome, can forget.

For now, his mind is occupied by something that gives him hope--just an old wheel caroming through the streets, with an audience of poster people who do not laugh.

I wonder if he finds time to laugh; this photo brings out my tears for humankind.

by Wildspirit


Carve out playin

a bombed reality.

Dodging through streetsa boy focuses his joy.

by Septembermom


Posters hide the pock marks left my cartridges.

Ochre peels from the vertical plane.

Black cloth flaps round slim form as it runs beside.

Simple pleasure in the revolutions of a hoop.

Soon the boy will arrive home, he will be feted.

He will be dressed in a waistcoat of plastic and wires.

A clean robe will cover hiis frame, as his mother covers his face with kisses.

He will walk out with pride until he reaches his destination.

As he atomises, his thoughts will speed from him, racing to meet his glorious destiny, a smile on his thin, chaste lips.

by Christine

To see the Photos by Me see Basir Seerat

Nov 25, 2009

No honeymoon for Hamid Karzai

To regain legitimacy, Afghanistan's president must commit to critical reforms and prove he deserves international support

Hamid Karzai assumes his second term as president without a honeymoon. He faces a crisis of both domestic and international confidence, and has the option to become either a statesman or an outcast.

Persisting with the practices of the last five years will make him an outcast. General McChrystal, in his new strategy, has identified the insurgency and the crisis of public confidence in Afghan public institutions as the two threats to the mission of the International Security Assistance Forces (Isaf). "Unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power-brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity" are singled out as the sources of the crisis.

Despite the severity of the challenge, Karzai has a real opportunity to change course and get the country back on the track to progress, as it was in years following the 2002 Bonn agreement. National consensus on the need for reform and international support, if not demand, for Afghan-led change provides the platform for his course for becoming a statesman.

To regain legitimacy, Karzai's most immediate goal must be the creation of a government that can deliver core functions to the people. During the flawed presidential campaigns a national consensus emerged on the need for peace and security; good governance; justice and rule of law; development, education, and jobs; peace and reconciliation; and regional and international partnerships. Were he to make a firm commitment to address these critical tasks under the umbrella of restoring Afghanistan's full sovereignty, he will be able to regain the support of both the Afghan people and the international community.

The path to statesmanship requires benchmarks on military, economic and political progress. Afghan ownership can be demonstrated by setting specific targets for goals of good governance, rule of law, development and economic growth in genuine partnership with the international community. The alternative is to face international demands for removal of corrupt politicians and alleged drug dealers. Contrary to widespread assumptions, it is not the absence of capability but the exclusion of capable people from the government that has hollowed the state from within.

The international forces are not in Afghanistan to create an empire or occupy our nation. They are here to stabilise the region to the point where international peace and security improves. We are grateful for the sacrifice that nations and parents in our partner countries endure.

To demonstrate that Afghanistan deserves the support, Hamid Karzai should reform the security sector by offering leadership positions in the army, police, and secret service to professional officers on the basis of a transparent competitive process. These men and women can draw tens of thousands of demobilised officers into a truly national campaign against the insurgency. We have the capacity to assume exclusive responsibility for the defence of our homeland and can demonstrate our will and commitment by taking initial leadership in up to four provinces.

Successful execution of a series of national programmes launched during between 2002 and 2004 show the potential of reform. National Solidarity, an ambitious programme of empowerment of the rural people through block-grants, has earned global praise, and the telecoms sector has demonstrated that the private sector can make legal money through providing services. Launching programmes to turn eight provinces and ten municipalities into models of good governance can demonstrate that the government is capable and committed to governing. The youth can be won over through programmes dedicated to job creation and enhancing the quality of education.

The presidential campaign resulted in a strong consensus on the need for a framework for peace-building and reconciliation to bring the insurgents within the national fabric. Afghan leadership in this critical area is essential and our culture offers a rich repertoire of mechanisms for conflict resolution. Once the government is committed to the people's security and wellbeing, public opinion can become a strong source of leverage on the insurgents to opt for peace and justice.

Both the international community and the Afghan people are sacrificing blood and treasure to create a stable Afghanistan and are hoping that Karzai will become a statesman. The responsibility is his to choose whether Afghanistan slips back into the past or moves into the future.

Sep 27, 2009

Terror Suspect Is Transferred to New York for Trial

Published: September 25, 2009

A federal judge in Denver on Friday ordered the airport shuttle bus driver charged in a Qaeda bomb plot held without bail and, almost immediately, the United States Marshals Service flew him to the New Yorkarea, where he is to appear in a Brooklyn courtroom next week.

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Marc Piscotty/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Najibullah Zazi


From Smiling Coffee Vendor to Terror Suspect (September 26, 2009)

Terror Suspect Is Charged With Plot to Use Bombs (September 25, 2009)

Brooklyn Man Is Accused of Trying to Aid Terrorists (September 25, 2009)

Rethinking Which Terror Groups to Fear (September 27, 2009)

Document Document Reader: Court Papers in the Investigation
The Takeaway With David Johnston

A federal jet carrying the man, Najibullah Zazi, 24, landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey shortly before 6 p.m. In shackles, Mr. Zazi was put in a police helicopter and taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he will be held until a hearing Tuesday morning before Judge Raymond J. Dearie of United States District Court.

Mr. Zazi was arrested in Colorado on Sept. 19 on charges that he made false statements during a terrorism investigation, ending a week of frenzied law enforcement activity in Queens and Colorado in a case several federal officials have called the most serious terrorism investigation in years.

An indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday charged him with a single count of conspiring to detonate explosives. Court papers filed in the case, arguing that he be held without bail, tracked Mr. Zazi from what a prosecutor said was his explosives training in Pakistan last year and his efforts in recent weeks in a Colorado hotel to cook up the same type of home-brewed explosives used in the 2005 London transit bombings to a trip to Queens in a rental car on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the hearing Friday morning in federal court in Denver, the prosecutor there, Tim Neff, an assistant United States attorney, argued that Mr. Zazi’s extensive overseas travel, and his wife in Pakistan, made him a flight risk, which was compounded by the severity of the charge against him.

Mr. Zazi, he said, was “literally off the charts in terms of the sentencing guidelines,” which would inform any court’s ultimate decision if the young man were convicted. He faces life in prison.

Appearing solemn during the proceeding, Mr. Zazi was clad in a white prison smock, and he conferred at times with his lawyers, J. Michael Dowling and Arthur Folsom, softly answering the questions put to him by Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer.

Mr. Folsom argued that Mr. Zazi, who the authorities have said was warned by a Queens imam that that federal agents were looking for him and flew back to Denver on Sept. 12, was not a flight risk. He told Judge Shaffer that the young man could have gone anywhere.

“He had the option of getting on a plane and flying to Canada or Pakistan or flying to virtually anywhere else on the planet, but he got back on a plane and flew back to Colorado,” Mr. Folsom said.

Judge Shaffer, however, found that Mr. Zazi would pose a danger were he to be released, and ordered him held without bail and transferred to New York.

“I find that in this instance there is considerable evidence to suggest that there are extremely serious charges,” the judge said. “The evidence would suggest not only are there serious charges, but that this defendant played an integral part in the steps and the activities that culminated in the indictment.”

A 12-page detention memo filed with the indictment, which was voted on Wednesday, did not detail the precise timing or location of any intended target or targets. And while the document described in detail what it said were Mr. Zazi’s efforts to buy and work with the chemicals needed to make the home-brewed explosives, much remained unclear, including whether he or his confederates had built a bomb.

People briefed on the case, however, said some investigators have theorized that the young man had built a test device and detonated it somewhere in the desert around Denver, and they have been working to determine whether he had indeed done so, and, if so, where.

But there has been no question, over the last 11 days since the investigation became public, that senior federal officials in Washington, New York and Colorado viewed what they called a plot by Al Qaeda as an extremely serious threat, although it is unclear precisely when the inquiry began.

In Denver, where Mr. Zazi had been under scrutiny with several other suspects, the agent who oversees the F.B.I. field office said he believed that investigators “disrupted something really bad,” but did so before agents fully understood the scope of plot and how it was likely to unfold.

The agent, James H. Davis, said that left certain key questions unanswered, adding, “We are nowhere near done.”

Mr. Davis, who would not discuss evidence in the case, said that leading up to the arrests a week ago, virtually all the nearly 200 agents in his office worked round the clock, assisted by Denver area police and sheriff’s deputies. “I am comfortable that we are going to be able to get our arms around this thing,” he said.

Officials have hinted that more arrests were expected, but it was unclear on Friday whether any people the authorities have identified as Mr. Zazi’s associates remained at large.

“The big question is they’re trying to figure out is who’s part of the bigger network,” said Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, a former federal prosecutor and the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, who has been briefed on the case.

At the detention hearing, Mr. Neff reiterated that Mr. Zazi had e-mailed himself bomb-making instructions and had been shopping for the components to make the explosives, triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, from beauty supply stores.

In arguing that the judge should grant Mr. Zazi bail, Mr. Folsom cited another issue raised in the court papers: an electronic scale that investigators found in the Queens apartment where Mr. Zazi spent the night of Sept. 10, contending that it did not indicate his client had anything to do with the production of TATP.

“No traces of any kind of chemicals or production of a chemical or TATP were found in his vehicle,” he said. “No traces were found when they searched his home in Colorado.”

Traces of acetone residue, however, were found in the vent above the stove in a hotel suite kitchen where the authorities said he was heating chemicals as part of the process of making the explosives.

Before Mr. Zazi was arrested, he denied wrongdoing, saying in interviews and through his lawyers that he had no links to Al Qaeda or any terrorist plot.

Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Dan Frosch, David Johnston and Eric Schmitt.

Sep 3, 2009

Why Afghan universities don’t offer master programs?

Afghanistan universities are not academically prepared to offer master programs in the next 10 years. There are many justifications among the academics and government officials that why they are not able to offer this program. I can think of two main reasons for this gap in the Afghanistan universities:

The primary reason is the three decades of conflict and unrest in the country which has destroyed and dismantled all the educational and academic infrastructures. These infrastructures are university setups, buildings, campuses, material resources and academics and professors. For example, most of the campuses and material resources were destroyed by the exchange of gun fires inside the cities between the jihadi parties and armed militias. In addition to the damages caused by the above militias and armed jihadi parties, the academics were forced to leave the country and look for asylum or shelter to the neighboring countries, Europe and the US. Now 8 years after the collapse of Taliban we have got some fair campuses but still the academics have not returned to the country or remained weak due to the fast – evolving technology of education and university environments.

The second factor that has helped universities not be able to offer master program is the system disorganization and traditional socialist behaviors and ideologies. Infact, the long term Soviet Union powerful presence and invasion has affected most of the Afghan nation perception of higher education, academic system and university management. Today we do not only face a challenging demand of students for graduate and PhD programs but a severe need of the market in the country for professionals and experts in any field. There are some private universities in major cities especially in Kabul, but still half of the students remain out of higher education access every year. Unfortunately the government has not been able to come up with a practical approach in handling this shortage in the higher education system in Afghanistan. On the other hand the mafias in the universities do not let new comers to join the universities as academics due to power, ethnicity or other racial and political orientations and the government proved to be very ineffective and weak to address this issue.

In summary, Afghan government has not only been able to design and implement a professional development strategy for higher education itself, but not let the private sector to join the traditional system and make universities independent to decide themselves. The only mechanism to help Afghan universities offer master programs is to train more professionals and integrate donors, private sector and new reforms in the higher education system and use all material and human resources for the demand of the new generation.

Jul 11, 2009

New Photos from Basir Seerat

It is 3 months that I had not been posted my photos in Afghan Pen log, I hope you forgive me, this is new post that you can see in Basir Seerat's Blog.

Apr 22, 2009

Two Minutes-Of-Shame That Shook Pakistan

A two-minute video episode captured on a cell phone shook Pakistan when it penetrated the blogosphere and began making rounds as everybody with a mobile phone passed the footage to all the contacts in his/her phone book. The rough-and-ready footage emerged from Swat. Once a honeymoon destination, this scenic valley has, of late, become a Saudi-style puritan "Emirate of Taliban.
Read More Here

Apr 14, 2009

Tulips flower in New Year time,

The Tulip Bed
The May sun-whom
all things imitate-
that glues small leaves to
the wooden treess
hone from the sky
through bluegauze clouds
upon the ground.
Under the leafy trees
where the suburban streets
lay crossed,
with houses on each corner,
tangled shadows had begun
to join
the roadway and the lawns.
With excellent precision
the tulip bed
inside the iron fence
upreared its gaudy
yellow, white and red,
rimmed round with grass,
William Carlos Williams anf for more Photos see BASIR SEERAT'

Mar 30, 2009

Mar 15, 2009

The Second Afghan Contemporary Art Prize

Are you a contemporary artist? Do you paint, take photographs, make sculpture, films, installations or videos? Do you want to win the Afghan Contemporary Art Prize? Do you want to attend a workshop with international artists? Do you want to win $2000?

Continuing the success of last years prize, Turquoise Mountain, a cultural organisation based in Kabul, and Digistan, are organising the second Afghan Contemporary Art Prize. The Prize is open to artists between the ages of 15 – 30. We want to see the best artistic talent in Afghanistan! We want experimentation and new ideas! The Prize will be announced on 17th June 2008.

If you would like to enter this prize:

1) Please register your submission by email:

2) Send 8 (maximum) photographs of original artwork or a dvd copy of film, video or performance work to:

o Cultural Projects Department, Turquoise Mountain Foundation, 2nd Phase, Kart-e-Parwan, Behind Old British Embassy, Kabul

Send all information by 1st April 2009 and if you are selected, you must be available to attend workshops in Kabul between 25th April - 7th May, 2009.


You must be between the ages of 15 and 30 years old

You must submit no more than 8 photographs

The art work must be your own and original

The art work for consideration can be in any modern art medium, for example painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, film, video, installation art.

You must send your photographs by 1st April 2009.

All entries must first be registered by email to

All submissions must include this information: name, address, age, telephone number, education details, and answer the question: ‘Why am I an artist?’

All submissions must adhere to Islamic and Afghan cultural values

Each photograph must include information about the work of art: title, date, technique and size of the piece.

If you are selected, you must be available to attend workshops in Kabul between 25th April - 7th May, 2009.

For further information please call: 0795975183

Feb 18, 2009

A F G H A N I S T A N Annual Report on Protection of Civilians

Executive Summary
1. This Report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in Afghanistan in 2008 iscompiled in pursuance of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)mandate under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1806 (2008). UNAMA conductsindependent and impartial monitoring of incidents involving loss of life or injury to civiliansas well as damage or destruction of civilian infrastructure and conducts activities geared tomitigating the impact of the armed conflict on civilians. UNAMA’s Human Rights Officers(national and international), deployed in all of UNAMA’s regional offices and someprovincial offices, utilize a broad range of techniques to gather information on specific casesirrespective of location or who may be responsible. Such information is cross-checked andanalysed, with a range of diverse sources, for credibility and reliability to the satisfaction ofthe Human Rights Officer conducting the investigation, before details are recorded in adedicated data base. However, due to limitations arising from the operating environment,such as the joint nature of some operations and the inability of primary sources in mostinstances to precisely identify or distinguish between diverse military actors/insurgents,UNAMA does not break down responsibility for particular incidents other than attributingthem to “pro-government forces” or “anti-government elements”. UNAMA does not claimthat the statistics presented in this report are complete; it may be the case that, given thelimitations in the operating environment, UNAMA is under-reporting civilian casualties. InJanuary 2009, UNAMA introduced a new electronic database which is designed to facilitatethe collection and analysis of information, including disaggregation by age and gender.

Read mere here : MYRIGHTS

Jan 28, 2009

The Value of State-Building vs. the Cost of Nation-Neglecting in Afghanistan


The Value of State-Building vs. the Cost of Nation-Neglecting in Afghanistan

December 12, 2008

By M. Ashraf Haidari, Guest Contributor

Hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the international community rallied in solidarity with the United States for a collective response. They traced the source of the terrorist attacks to Afghanistan, a country that had slipped backwards after the end of the Cold War into a medieval nightmare. The extremist Taliban government actively encouraged radicalism and terrorism, made Afghanistan a global base for drug production and trafficking, and was responsible for smuggling light weapons and illicit goods.

Living under the Taliban regime, the Afghan people suffered from unspeakable atrocities while state institutions collapsed and the country’s physical infrastructure was completely destroyed. The international impact of Afghanistan's downward spiral was widespread, with 9/11 only the celebrity that finally mobilized the world to take action. Before that, proxy conflicts had driven hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees into neighboring Pakistan and Iran, exported drugs had killed millions in many countries—while the money earned from those sales funded the war machine of the Taliban and militants far and wide—and Al-Qaeda had freely used Afghanistan as a base to target American assets worldwide. This in turn led to the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 and the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Afghanistan embodied the consequences of international negligence in the post Cold War era.

Then on September 11, 2001 the world discovered Afghanistan, and made the nation the main focus of the global fight against terrorism. To the international community, it was accepted wisdom that leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban had been a huge mistake. And with perfect hindsight, everyone agreed that if the international community had stayed on to help rebuild Afghanistan at the end of the occupation by the Soviet Union in 1989, the country would not have become Al-Qaeda's base for global terror attacks.

Seven years on, peace remains elusive in Afghanistan. Despite the international community’s resolutions, the same peace spoilers that ripped Afghanistan apart in the 1990s continue to undermine its new democracy and threaten international security. There are a number of interdependent factors that account for the resurgence of security threats, which should be explored.

While it took the Pakistan-backed Taliban movement seven years to establish its rule over Afghanistan, coalition forces ousted them in 45 days. Collapsing like dominoes in front of the Afghan-led advance, the Taliban forces gave up and crossed over into Pakistan in late 2001. From late 2001 to 2006, Coalition forces focused mainly on hunting down the remaining leaders of Al-Qaeda, leaving thousands of former Taliban combatants to their fate. This effectively allowed the Taliban to regroup, find new sources of funding, and receive weapons and insurgency training in Pakistan.

Gaps in security and governance at the district and village level have permitted the Taliban to capitalize on Afghanistan’s vulnerable human environment to prosecute a protracted war of harassment and terrorism. Consequently, insurgency-related violence spiked in 2006 when a new generation of Taliban forces launched large scale terrorist and even conventional attacks against military and soft targets in the south and east of Afghanistan.

In the face of rising violence and insecurity, Afghanistan’s reconstruction process has lost momentum over the past two years. More than 4000 Afghans, many of them civilians, were killed in military actions in 2006—a three-fold increase over the previous year. Additionally, suicide attacks—a phenomenon unknown to Afghans before 2002—jumped to 118 from 21. The year 2007 brought another drastic leap in terrorist activity: an average of 566 terrorist incidents per month were recorded, compared with 425 per month in 2006. Of the over 8000 conflict-related fatalities in 2007, over 1500 were civilian. These numbers should be expected to continue the upward trend. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported in September 2008 that 1,445 Afghan civilians had been killed in the first eight months of 2008, a 39% increase over the same period in 2007.

The past two years have seen the highest number of foreign military casualties since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 forced the Taliban from power in Kabul. With 258 deaths in 2008 so far, this year has been the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001. Nonetheless, U.S. and NATO forces have registered important battlefield successes in 2007 and 2008, including the elimination of several key Taliban commanders, such as Mullah Dadullah. But international military efforts have been hampered by a lack of troops and reconstruction resources. This has prevented Afghan and international forces from implementing an effective "clear, hold, and build" strategy in the restive south and east of Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters with sanctuaries in Pakistan have managed to maintain a foothold and civilian influence.

Despite being the world’s main front in the war against terrorism, Afghanistan has so far received less per capita reconstruction and security assistance than all other recent post-conflict countries. According to the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), Afghanistan received just $57.00 per capita in foreign assistance, while Bosnia and East Timor received $679 and $233 respectively, in the two years following international intervention. Per capita security assistance to Afghanistan remains low with 1.5 to 2 foreign troops per 1000 people, compared to 7 per 1000 in Iraq and 19 per 1000 in Bosnia.

When it comes to international aid, the numbers can be deceptive, as donors have tended to bypass the Afghan government and funnel assistance to foreign non-profit and private-sector institution. Overall, some $6 billion has been spent this way since 2001, according to ACBAR. Consequently, lack of resources has led to short-term planning, with most attention given to quick fixes at the cost of long-term development projects to address basic popular needs.

It is clear that the invasion and occupation of Iraq shortchanged Afghanistan's rebuilding priorities. The paucity of troops and resources has proven useful for potential threats like the Taliban, who have intensified their cross-border terrorist attacks and now control parts of the country.

Although it is now seven years since the fall of the Taliban, no clear institutional framework for Afghanistan's nation building and reconstruction has emerged. Despite broad international consensus and goodwill for the rebuilding of Afghanistan from the start, the United Nations has yet to play a strategic coordinating role in Afghanistan. The institutional gap has allowed a bevy of actors with overlapping mandates, competitive relations, and minimal accountability for performance to dominate international presence in Afghanistan.

More than 70 countries, international organizations and non-governmental organizations are present in Afghanistan. Yet, they have consistently worked outside of the Afghan government. With resources diverted from Afghan state institutions, the government has been unable to retain competitive employees for effective service delivery, and has often lost them to higher paid jobs with international organizations. The resulting weak institutional capacity coupled with underpayment has caused corruption in the government system. This in turn has harmed the legitimacy of the government in the public eye.

Of course, without strategic coordination of aid implementation, there can hardly be a unified public diplomacy strategy to engage the Afghan people. This has not only discredited the Afghan state but also increasingly isolated and alienated the Afghan people—the very beneficiaries of international intervention.

In the fight against drugs, for example, there has been much institutional difference in individual donor countries on how to address the problem. While civilian institutions have advocated for an eradication-led counter-narcotics strategy, the military has opposed it every step of the way. Nonetheless, some civilian institutions have pushed for eradication—spending hundreds of millions of dollars only to eradicate poppy fields of sharecroppers—who are often the poorest of farmers. In this whole tug of bureaucratic war, the Afghan people have been left out, neither listened to nor assisted with the long term drug problem.

Between 2001 and 2005 the basic institutions of central government were established with the full participation of the Afghan people. But law enforcement institutions, which constitute the face of any government, have been neglected from the beginning. The implementation of judicial and police reforms that should have been the foundation on which other state institutions were built was shelved indefinitely due to a lack of resources. Consequently, a security vacuum has widened in areas where state institutions are either absent or too weak to protect people, particularly in the south and east.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents are aware of the vulnerable human environment in Afghanistan where they operate. They understand that Afghanistan’s weak state institutions and the slow pace of reconstruction have turned the tables in their favor. Put simply, freedom’s greatest enemy in Afghanistan is not the Taliban or Al Qaeda but under-reformed and under-resourced state institutions that cannot deliver basic services to people. Thus, when left without a choice, people resort to whatever alternative is available for survival. Unfortunately, narco-terrorists have stepped in to provide that alternative by offering people protection in return for poppy cultivation and passive opposition to the government.

The fact that Afghanistan’s challenges are inter-connected and feed on one another make the country by far the most complicated and resource-intensive international intervention since the end of the Cold War. Thus, securing and rebuilding Afghanistan is a far more challenging task for the international community than was Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, or even Iraq.

If the West is keenly aware of the cost of neglecting Afghanistan in the 1990s, and is determined to prevent it failing now, what is the best way forward? In a country where there are so many interconnected and overlapping problems competing for urgent resolution, it is important to narrow down our priorities and focus on the key issues, including those with the greatest potential to help resolve the full range of problems. This means departing from ad hoc approaches to nation-building in Afghanistan, where the precious assistance of tax payers in donor countries has so far been wasted on quick fixes that have made no real difference in the lives of the Afghan people over the past seven years.

It is critically important to strengthen nascent Afghan state institutions so that they will gain the capacity to fulfill their mandates and contribute to effective government. Without security and good governance, Afghanistan will be unable to attract foreign investment in the natural resource and infrastructure sectors, which can help provide alternative employment for poppy farmers and jobs for youth and returning refugees. We know from the experience of many developing countries (such as China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea, Malaysia and others) that only sustainable economic growth, and not relief aid and hand-outs, will help reduce poverty in Afghanistan.

Regionally, the United States and NATO recognize the fact that the Taliban cannot be defeated in Afghanistan without dismantling their command and control infrastructure in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), from where they launch terrorist attacks daily inside Afghanistan, mostly killing innocent civilians. Unless external institutional support for the Taliban insurgency ends, military and civilian casualties will continue rising in Afghanistan, gradually giving the terrorists an upper hand.

Pakistan's military and intelligence establishments must be persuaded to cooperate sincerely in the war against terrorism, while the country's civilian government must be strengthened to ensure stability in Pakistan and the rest of the region. Moreover, drug-consuming countries in the region and beyond must recognize their stake in ending narco-terrorism. Millions of lives and billions of dollars are lost to the war on drugs in Iran, Russia, Europe, and the United States each year. If major consumer countries invest preventively to revitalize Afghanistan's agricultural economy, they will save the lives of their own citizens and deal a blow to their own domestic drug mafias. When Afghan farmers see that their crops can be preserved with cold storage and transported to neighboring countries on a modern road, they will replant their previously uprooted orchards. But if all they perceive is neglect and mismanagement, these farmers will keep falling back on the guaranteed profits of a poppy crop.

At the same time, NATO needs to bolster its military strength in the fight against cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan. The commanders on the ground are asking for three additional well-equipped brigades (about 15,000) with a flexible mandate to secure Afghanistan. The U.S. recently announced deployment of some 4500 additional troops to Afghanistan by early next year, and President-elect Barack Obama is committed to increasing America’s military and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan as soon as possible. U.S. assistance should be complemented with more military and non-military resources from other NATO member states to bolster military efforts to contain and defeat the Taliban.

Ultimately, the key to securing Afghanistan will rest in the build-up of a professional Afghan army and police. The Afghan government plans to expand the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to 134,000 soldiers within the next three years, as well as jumpstart the reform and development of the Afghan National Police (ANP) to meet Afghanistan's security and defense needs.

For Afghanistan to realize these objectives, the international community must firmly commit to providing the country with long-term military and law enforcement equipment and training resources. Doing so will dramatically cut down on the current financial and human cost of the international military presence in Afghanistan, while enabling Afghans to defend their country more effectively now and in the future.

In spite of these daunting challenges, we should never forget the ultimate sacrifices of some 1000 international troops in helping free and secure Afghanistan. Indeed, seven years of international blood and money have gone into creating a legitimate government in Afghanistan—something decades of time had failed to accomplish.

Pre-war modern Afghanistan was severely undeveloped, and did not have close to the number of modern day health clinics. Pre-war Afghanistan was also lacking today’s number of primary, secondary, and tertiary roads; schools, vocational facilities, and universities; five-star hotels and wedding halls or private TVs, radios, and daily and weekly papers. Cell phones and the Internet have connected the Afghan people with one another and with the rest of the world for the first time thanks to international reengagement after the fall of the Taliban. The Afghan people appreciate these facilities and continue supporting international efforts to build peace in Afghanistan.

Nation-building has never been cheap, and it takes time, patience, and commitment. However, the alternative, nation-neglecting in a world where security is globalized—is far more costly. To this extent, failure in Afghanistan is not an option, and peace can hardly take hold in Pakistan and the rest of the region without stability in Afghanistan. Nor can global security be ensured without consolidation of Afghanistan's democratic achievements of the past seven years. All stakeholders—Afghans and non-Afghans alike—should understand the gravity of committing to success until the Afghan people can stand on their own and secure the future of Afghanistan.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the Political Counselor of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC. He was previously a Peace Scholar and Foreign Service Fellow at Georgetown University, and formerly worked with the United Nations in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Europe.


Copyright 2008 The Diplomatic Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Jan 22, 2009

Complete Text of Barack Obama's Inauguration Speech

By: Yonus Entezar

My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.That we are in the midst of crisis is ...
Please read the compelete text Here.

Aroud Afghanistan, Photos by Basir Seerat

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Jan 6, 2009

Iran: Threats to Nobel Laureate Escalate

Shirin Ebadi is threats by Governoment
(New York, January 2, 2009) - The Iranian government should immediately end its campaign of persecution against Dr. Shirin Ebadi, which has now escalated to mob threats and violence against her home, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch said today. Dr. Ebadi is the 2003 Nobel peace laureate and is a leading human rights defender in Iran.The human rights organizations expressed grave concerns for Ebadi's safety following a violent demonstration outside her home in Tehran on January 1, 2009.
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