Monday, March 14, 2011

Why not Incentive for Peace in Daikundi?

"It would be the luckiest days of the week, if we have our boiled potatoes, and each of us getting one of them" Amina, 9 year old living in Nilli, Centre of Daikundi.

I have been following Daikundi since 2008 after the deployment of Afghanistan's first female mayor in Nilli. Many of us in civil society and women groups struggled hard to get her required resources to prove her as the right choice, but we failed to receive tangible international support in the form of concrete projects.

I went to Daikundi for the first time in early March 2011. Though, the trip was for work purposes, the realities I witnessed there should be communicated to the society at large and especially to those who are engaged in the ‘community development' and ‘poverty reduction' projects in Afghanistan with millions of dollars.

While planning for the trip, I was advised to take food from Kabul since there are no markets in Nili, nor there are any stocks of food so in case the chopper doesn't come as planned, one should have some food to survive. Initially, I did not trust the advice, and questioned how thousands of Afghans living there survive on daily basis. The response from some of the ‘development practitioners' was very simple. Daikundi is basically a secure place and there is no insurgency and one of the two provinces in the country that does not have any PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams). Therefore, it doesn't get aid as does its border province, Uruzgan for its insurgency and armed conflict ongoing.

After landing in Nilli, the mountain-locked district of Daikundi, I couldn't witness the presence of human beings around so thought maybe it's a very small community of around a hundred people. But as made my way through the snow and mud towards the city, saw small houses on peaks of the hills and spotted human heads around those houses. I don't know if it would be fair to call those mud shells as houses, made of four walls and covered by snow. According to the Provincial Governor's Office and its members of parliament, Daikundi has around 800,000 population.

They have no water, as the water level is too low and some people with better access use grenades to dig wells for water. It would be interesting to find out how those 'some' get grenades while there is'nt any obvious form of insurgency there. Daikundi is bordered by Uruzgan, and used to be a district of Uruzgan until it was delcared as a province recently.

People almost dream of electricity and a market of 5 shops for thousands of Nilli residents would be lucky if the shopkeepers can travel for days to get to a larger market in surrounding provinces for basic survival stuff.

While on my way to Department of Women's Affairs, saw small children around age of 4 or 5 stuck in the snow and mud while another child of 7 or 8 was pulling him/her out of the mud. This is the main road of the Nilli city, which is the centre. But it shouldn't be called a road, it's only a direction and if any adult can take themselves out of the mud , they should be awarded for courage and dedication- why to even think about small children?

Inside the Department of Women's Affairs, met a young girl around 9, crying so badly that couldn't help but to go to her and ask why. This was Amina, whose mother had passed away a couple of days before while delivering her 8th child. I asked Amina whether her mother died in the clinic. She suddenly stopped crying and stared as if I had asked her a puzzle. The elder girl who had accompanied Amina laughed out of sarcasm and didn't even respond. After asking a couple of other women, found out that there is a clinic but with almost no female staff, forget about female doctor- and they said in this mud and snow, a pregnant woman would anyway die on the way to clinic which takes around 8 hours from her village.

These are some of the very basic miseries, I won't even detail out the lack of access to education and other basic services as they become secondary to the dire need of struggling to remain alive in Daikundi.

The politics of international development aid in Afghanistan becomes clearer when one visits the most remote and most vulnerable communities of the country - aid for insurgency or insurgency for aid. What are the incentives for peace? While millions of dollars are poured into provinces plagued with violence and conflict, why don't provinces like Daikundi get attention to prove itself a real model for development and reducing poverty? And the Afghanistan Peace and Re-integration Programme with millions of dollars from foreign aid provides incentives of war to insurgents, is another certification of a policy that would eventually drive the young men from Daikundi to join insurgents and militants fighting in its surrounding provinces of Uruzgan, Ghazni, Zabul and Helmand.

"If the international aid is another parallel to counter-insurgency, then why to even name it international development aid", said a couple of young graduates who returned to Daikundi after completing their graduation at Kabul University. They said, "When we returned back, we used to encourage young boys and girls to study and get educated. But having been lost in poverty, we forget about education. It's only about a struggle to be able to remain alive each day, what happens tomorrow, we don't know".

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Be the Insurgent to Fight Insurgency

Every time some of us Afghans become a bit hopeful about the plight of this country, a series of suicide attacks on civilian centers packed with people, change our hopes to despair. Around six suicide attacks in the past 5 weeks in Kabul, Khost, Jalalabad ,Kunduz and Faryab have taken around 200 lives of ordinary Afghans fighting for survival on daily basis. While these are the official numbers on the national television, the real death toll has risen much more.

A number of Afghan journalists and activists had gathered one evening last week to share the growing tensions of the country, but our focus reversed abruptly as TOLOnews aired the video of the would be suicide bomber in Kabul Bank who shot people with so much joy.

The conversation continued … “ As the Counter –Insurgency takes momentum, and the Taliban get weaker, we get more suicide attacks and that particularly on civilian targets …and its happening as the General in a hurry ( hinting towards Gen. Petraeus) is being applauded for shortening the long war”…said one of the Kabul-based news publishers.

Many of us in that circle came to one conclusion that was already clarified somehow by the President’s Spokesperson earlier this week. Whenever Afghanistan seems to be making progress in terms of its security responsibilities, we have more attacks in the relatively calm regions that destabilize the whole country. The terror and havoc created by the video of the suicide attacker from Kabul Bank in Jalalabad is palpable on the faces of every Afghan you meet on the streets of Kabul.

According to the NDS Spokesperson almost 90 percent of the recent suicide attacks were commissioned in tribal areas of Pakistan but that is not a news anymore. What is more important for Afghanistan to understand and prevent at this level is that latter part of the NDS report which says that all these suicide attacks have been carried out by young emotional kids who have been either brain washed by the insurgent propaganda machinery or those who are forced to blow themselves by warning attacks on their families, in case they refrain. Furthermore, NDS stated that young kids are being kidnapped and forced into suicide terrorism.

These suicide attacks don’t only kill civilians but have more influential messages. Recent attacks on big Shopping Malls in Kabul, Bank in Jalalabad, ID registration office in Kunduz and Buzkashi Friday game in Faryab are attacks on progress and modernization indicators in Afghanistan. The insurgents and their masters are very successful at penetrating into the hearts and minds of Afghans and creating further terror. Something that Afghan government and its allies have badly failed at achieving.

At the same time, Afghans are tired of the blame game. Every now and then a governor, an NDS official or the leadership condemn the neighbors and the story is over and the next day we wake up to another suicide attack or bombing. What is more absurd about these blame games is the failures of the overall structures responsible to protect civilians to prevent these attacks when they know the source of terror. McChrystal has a lesson to share with the decision makers of Afghanistan and that is:

“In bitter, bloody fights in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it became clear to me and to many others that to defeat a networked enemy we had to become a network ourselves. We had to figure out a way to retain our traditional capabilities of professionalism, technology, and, when needed, overwhelming force, while achieving levels of knowledge, speed, precision, and unity of effort that only a network could provide. We needed to orchestrate a nuanced, population-centric campaign that comprised the ability to almost instantaneously swing a devastating hammer blow against an infiltrating insurgent force or wield a deft scalpel to capture or kill an enemy leader…..”

Many of Afghans in the bubble of Afghanistan’s ‘middle class elites’ who have greater expertise, understanding and outreach inside the country are somehow forced into corners and they end up being political activists , analysts or commentators in the media. While the government should have been utilizing their grasp of Afghanistan issues in fighting the ongoing insurgency by providing them with the strategic leadership positions. Instead, the Afghan government is getting rid of reformists and technocrats struggling for progressive developments in Afghanistan, as a goodwill gesture to its ‘angry brothers’ who continue slaughtering Afghan nation.

Many of us in that conversation had one solution though coming from contradicting backgrounds. Be the insurgent to fight the insurgency in Afghanistan. Use the same propaganda machinery to weaken the momentum created by the insurgents. Show quick response through prosecution and punishment of the captured bombers in the public eye – condemn suicide terrorism as part of a national campaign declaring suicide terrorism as an act of sedition and anti –Afghan patriotism and invite Afghan nation to fight anti-Afghan patriot elements. That is how we can unite the Afghan nation against terror.

And the conversations were interrupted by our fifty year old cook who came to invite us all for dinner. He had a more interesting message: “We fought world powers, but can’t fight these rented killers? If the leaders today announce that Afghan nation should unite against their enemies to save their motherland, the next day all of us will be at the borders defending this nation…”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sorry...We misunderstood you!

The recent study entitled ‘Separating The Taliban from Al-Qaida’ of the Center on International Cooperation, New York University, authored by the two editors of “My Life with the Taliban” a memoir of an ex-diplomat of the Taliban government, is apparently an ‘academic /field research’ project. But in essence, this study comes across as propaganda to influence international perceptions (mainly the American audience) about the Taliban to facilitate a quick and hasty withdrawal of the international community from Afghanistan. Quick withdrawals without a cohesive transition have been the root cause of the perpetual cycle of conflict in Afghanistan. The study comes with a message that “Actually, the Taliban are misunderstood, so we need to pack and leave, and let the Afghans deal with the mess that we have created for them since it’s none of our national security business”.

Although, one would not find anything new in this study but this adds to the ongoing propaganda guised in the name of research and study, it is entirely a political drama. While the study can be questioned for its credibility as its seen as a one-sided commentary based on some anonymous interviews of alleged Taliban members, the evidence for such an important claim ‘Separation of Taliban from Al-Qaida’ has come to little in this study.

What is more pathetic about this study is the portrayal that the entire confrontation, insurgency and counter insurgency is merely a clash between the Taliban and the West - mainly the United States of America. The study deliberately overlooks the price that Afghans have paid and continue to pay with their lives fighting extremism and terror. This week, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor reported that only in 2010, Afghanistan lost over 700 children in different incidents and violence. These children were not even active combatants nor their perceptions about enemy had formed, but they lost their lives in their struggle to survive in Afghanistan.

In its key findings based on numerous interviews with anonymous Taliban commanders and members, the authors claim that ‘ Taliban and Al-Qaida remain distinct groups with different goals, ideologies, and sources of recruits; there was considerable friction between then before September 11,2001 , and today that friction persists’.

What difference does this analysis make for the lost lives of 3,000 people in the Twin Towers attack? Or for the lost life of the seven-year old child who was executed in Helmand and remained hung on the tree for the crime of ‘spying for the international forces'? Even though, the two groups might be geographically distinct, they feed each other’s objective to spread terror and extremism. The manifestation of such conviction might defer in the doctrine of Taliban and Al-Qaida so while the former behead the teachers and blow off schools in Afghanistan, the latter explode metros and train stations in Madrid or London. What is the ‘distinction’ being claimed by this study between the two forms of terror?

While the roots of Taliban formation was a product of post- Cold War civil unrest in Afghanistan, the movement turned into a contaminated objective of Pakistani intelligence to insert Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ interests in Afghanistan. If the Afghan population has been passive in resisting this exported insurgency, it has to do more with the failures of international forces to protect the civilians and a national government that has lost its definition for national security or threats against national security.

The failure to question the external support for the movement and declaring it as home-grown and only restricted to Afghanistan is a major weakness of this study. The authors realize that the moment they start unpacking the external support on the Taliban movement, they would go against the very essence of what are they claiming , separation of Taliban from Al-Qaida.

The study further misguides the dynamics of peace and reconciliation processes currently ongoing in Afghanistan by highlighting the ‘ core grievances and political inequalities’ that gave birth to the insurgency and ignoring the crimes and atrocities carried by the militants against the people of Afghanistan in all parts of the country. History reveals not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world that if a peace process does not address the issues of justice, the unjust peace perpetuates the status quo and will continue the vicious cycle of violence. The kind of ‘soft approach’ towards insurgency being preached through this study has already created a sense of disillusionment and agony among the security forces in Afghanistan. While thousands of Afghanistan National Army and Police are deployed to ‘secure’ the population centers around the country, the same Army and Police become disenchanted when their arrested militants are freed without a due process through the political interventions, who in turn re-join insurgency and kill more police and army. Not to mention the inconsistency of paradigms and approaches at work in Afghanistan, while a fierce counter-insurgency is taking momentum with body counts as its success indicators, a political reconciliation distracts military gains. Afghan population is confused more than ever on where to place themselves in a tyranny of ‘fight and talk’.

Afghanistan has been the subject of ongoing international experiments and studies, but it is increasingly becoming clear that these forms of analysis only serve the purposes of the powerful fronts. Through such exhibitions, Afghans are told what to expect to happen in their homeland and they continue bearing the brunt of such decisions that are taken miles away.

A relative of Hamida Barmaki who lost her life and five other members of her family in a terrorist attack in Kabul in late January said, “If the international forces are fighting with air bombs, drones and tanks, we are fighting this war with our lives by not compromising and complying to the rules of the extremists and militants who want us to live in the stone age and remain illiterate for generations to come. Hamida Barmaki, the law professor, and a human rights advocate and Commissioner fought extremism through her work and activism, so who is actually fighting this war and who should dictate the rules of the war”?..... A question being asked by many Afghans but they continue being at the receiving end of their life decisions.