World leaders meeting in London Thursday agreed to a timetable for an exit strategy in Afghanistan. The exit could start as early as the end of this year.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has stated that it could take up to 10 years before his forces can properly secure the country. He has proposed a policy of outreach to the Taliban for the interim; however, it is unknown if engagement with the Taliban is even possible. Just planning Taliban overtures is a problematic gamble, because it raises questions of which factions to pursue, where to stop in the Taliban chain of command, and how to bargain with political dissidents who crave exerting state authority and control.

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United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Pakistan for talks on combating the Taliban. Upon his arrival, the Pakistani army said that it wont launch any new offensives against militants for six months to a year so that the army can have time to stabilize existing gains.

The political, cultural, and economic problems in Pakistan are overshadowed by the security situation. While the neighboring Afghani Taliban’s struggle against the West remains highly popular among average Pakistan citizens, the Pakistani Taliban has lost much of it’s former credence. However, the Pakistani Taliban still benefits from emulating the fighters in the Afghan campaign. While the average Pakistani worries that the Pakistani Taliban may be too violent, many within Pakistan welcome the idea of Taliban-style cultural practices such as their enforced dress codes, and swift justice. Such attractions reflect Pakistan’s Deobandi sensibilities.

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In April 2009, the Pakistani government launched its largest offensive yet against Islamist militants in the region known as Swat Valley.

A few hours drive north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Swat was once Pakistan’s most appealing tourist destination. Residents lived under a mix of tribal and sharia law augmented with rudimentary military control that was first established by the British. The leading member of the valley’s most powerful family was effectively a regional tribal king that enjoyed the title of Wali. Wali rule ended at the time of Pakistani independence in 1947, when Swat acquiesced to Pakistan. However, Swat didn’t become completely integrated into Pakistan until 1969 when the last Wali officially retired his authority.

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The Taliban Revisited

December 29, 2009

There has been a lot of talk in American news media over the past month about the concept of “good” and “bad” Taliban. This nuance in American national dialogue was diffused in some measure by President Barack Obama’s stated desire to send more troops to Afghanistan in part to help keep conflict there from spilling over into Pakistan. Mr. Obama and his administration have spent a great deal of time discussing with the American people Pakistan’s ongoing struggle with militancy and radicalism, as well as, Pakistan’s past tolerance of members of what has come to be termed the Pakistani Taliban.

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Last evening, President Obama announced his plan for the United States’ ongoing war effort in Afghanistan. His strategy includes 30,000 additional American troops, and a withdrawal date of mid-2011.

The exit strategy put forth by Mr. Obama can be understood as an ultimatum to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Essentially, Mr. Obama is telling Mr. Karzai that the government reforms called for must be put in place quickly. Mr. Obama is trying to instill a sense of urgency. It is a calculated risk.

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been sworn in for a second term. During his inauguration, Karzai sought to reassure the West that his presidency would effectively change the culture of corruption within the Afghan government in concrete ways.

Mr. Karzai made reconciliation a major theme of his speech. He talked of including the Taliban in the democratic process, and of power sharing with his former presidential rival Abdullah Abdullah. He spoke of holding a conference to educate lawmakers on how to fight corruption.

It is not easy for heads of state to route out systemic corruption. Governmental mechanisms have to be put in place in order to tackle the job. One such mechanism being implemented in Afghanistan is the formation of a new anti-corruption unit to be led by Afghanistan’s justice minister Mohammad Sarwar.

Thousands of police officers are thought to be on the take of bribes. Government workers expect extra payments to process official documentation. Health care professionals expect extra payments to ensure adequate medical treatment. And politicians are thought to bribe their way to power while in office.

“For the next five years, the priority of Karzai is to fight corruption,” said interior minister Hanif Atmar.

Al Qaeda Strikes Back

October 23, 2009

Violence that has been defined as terrorism is usually perpetrated in relation to the political dynamics of a culture or society. Terrorism can thus be viewed as a mechanism of change used by those who feel powerless and seek to undermine the status quo or the understood power of a marked group. To recruit future members, dissident groups use shows of force, coercion, rhetoric, and iconography to utilize any radical discourse already existing within the social or political sphere of a given society. The terrorist network al Qaeda has effectively merged Islamist ideology and the Salafi movement to encourage religiously motivated militants into assisting their cause.

Al Qaeda has suffered setbacks since 9/11. It’s original figurehead, Osama bin Laden, has lost some of his influence within the network: The franchises in Iraq, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa have at times openly rebelled against his preferred strategies of attack. Others among the network’s top operatives are also politically impotent while they remain in hiding. Many of the most experienced have been killed. The network has thus far failed in its attempts to overthrow the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Perhaps most importantly, al Qaeda has seen the majority of its monetary assets frozen. Al Qaeda made four public appeals for money within the first six months of 2009. This tells analysts that al Qaeda’s ability to dominate the direction of insurgencies within Asia and the Middle East is waning. But does this mean the network is currently weak? In a word, no. The al Qaeda network is perhaps more dangerous than it has ever been.

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A strengthening alliance of militant groups working out of Pakistan continue to perpetrate attacks against governmental and security forces both inside and surrounding the country’s borders. Punjabi extremist groups are perpetrating bold attacks in concert with the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.

It is a goal of these insurgents operating within Pakistan to divert NATO attention away from the insurgent’s camps and power centers. The insurgents are doing this to allow themselves time to regroup. The militants have capitalized on American attention being distracted by the Afghanistan elections. The insurgents have also begun to look for ways to encourage future distractions. Using groups like Jundullah to cause renewed tension with Iran over the weekend is but one example. Read the rest of this entry »

Iranian state media has reported that 5 top commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have been assassinated by a suicide bomber along with at least 26 others. The attack occurred in a region of south eastern Iran that borders Pakistan. 

Information being provided by Iranian state media indicates that the Revolutionary Guard commanders were meeting with local tribal leaders when one or two explosions went off and killed the commanders as well as the tribal leaders that they were going to meet. 

The south eastern region of Iran is a very volatile region due to narcotics trafficking. The area is known as a gateway for smuggling drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan into Western Europe. Therefore, elements of the Taliban and al Qaeda have connections with Sunni insurgents working in the area.

The attack is being claimed by Jundullah (Army of God), a Sunni resistance group openly opposed to the Shia led government of Iran. Jundullah first made a name for itself in 2003. It is said that Jundullah was founded by a Taliban leader out of Pakistan named Nek Mohammed Wazir. Jundullah has a sectarian/ethnic agenda. The group wishes to free the millions of Sunni Balochs which it alleges are being suppressed by Tehran. 

Today’s attack highlights how the Taliban and al Qaeda’s regional influence is spreading. The suicide bombing is a hallmark of the al Qaeda playbook. While Jundullah has used suicide bombers in it’s attacks before, such actions indicate that Jundullah militants are likely receiving training from al Qaeda within Pakistan’s borders.

People have asked me why my writings are focusing on Afghanistan so strongly. Well, besides the fact that Afghanistan continues to dominate the media headlines, the truth of the matter is that the United States and NATO forces could be involved in the country for years to come. I believe people should be well informed so as to take part in national and international debates. Currently, there is a lot of debate over what an increase of around 40,000 American troops would do for the country’s security: would it help in resolving the issues of violence in the country or would it increase the Afghan resistance to NATO’s presence? There are legitimate reasons for argument on both sides of this debate. Here are the intellectual arguments: Read the rest of this entry »

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