Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Empire and Proxy: Afghanistan and the 'Great Powers'

As originally intended, I am posting the culminating Essay which accompanied this project in my History of International Relations course. Bloggers' citation recognition seems to be working, but if you have any further questions about sourcing please feel free to direct them to me via the comments feature. I am at this moment uncertain whether this project will continue in any seriousness beyond this point. For the foreseeable future my obligations to other course loads and pass times take precedent but I will endeavor to make the occasional update. This essay is meant to encompass a relatively large span of Afghan history, from the earliest colonial involvement to the events which precipitated the rise to power of the Taliban in their 1992 takeover. I earned a 76% on the essay, but the mark is erroneous. I failed to adhere strictly enough to the guideline in the course to discuss only the past 50 years of Afghan history as was pertinent to the course materials. However, as the teacher for that course said 'history does not stop and start on a dime'. So, being incapable of following expressly written directions because of an assumed belief in certain principles, I'm happy to take the mark that I got. Additionally my sourcing was more than a little bit dated on many articles which were second-hand sources published at the time of occurrence or within the same timeframe. They were therefore, quite obviously subject to bias based on their position history I hope you enjoy reading this and all the articles contained here on this blog as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Now to the text of the essay:

Afghanistan is a landlocked nation to the west of Pakistan, south of the former USSR satellite states of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and east of Iran. It is one of the most complex and turbulent states in the modern world. Centuries of internal conflict, empire building and conquest have eroded the nation’s stability and led to deep historical divides between its diverse populations. Referred to in historical terms as a “Graveyard of Empires”,[i] the peoples of Afghanistan have perpetually resisted foreign influence in a struggle to assert their own cultural sovereignty.

Alexander the Great added the region to his empire after three years of campaigning. Seleucis, one of his leading generals colonized the land with Ionian Greeks, founding the Seleucid Empire. The Mongol Hordes swept through the region and successive generations of Mongol Khans held dominion over the land and peoples of Afghanistan, with Babur of the Moghul Empire establishing his capital at Kabul.

In more recent eras, western influence from the Imperial conquests of the 19th century through to the Cold War reshaped the nation and its people, setting the stage for internecine strife and radicalization. This radicalization culminated in the nation becoming a sanctuary for the international terrorist organization Al-Qaida which planned the attacks of September 11th 2001. These attacks precipitated the invasion of the nation in 2001 by the NATO ISAF coalition, spearheaded by the United States.

The instability in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its immediate geographical ‘neighborhood’ comes as a result of the historical and contemporary influences of the ‘Great Powers’. These influences have prevented the emergence of a unified and lasting internal authority and the nation has become a sanctuary for radical ideologies and non-state extremist actors. Failure of formal imperial power and soft-power to subjugate the Afghan nation has created an unstable state and empowered radical elements in their society. The international policy of arming and funding the tribal groups and rebels in Afghanistan for use in the proxy conflicts has prepared them to resist all other forms of external influence. Analyzing the experiences of the Imperial powers Britain, Russia and the soft-power Imperialism of the United States in Afghanistan is of the utmost importance in understanding the sources of its instability.

The greatest reason for the persistent failure of Empire to exert influence over the Afghan people for any significant length of time is certainly the complexity of its ethnic and linguistic composition. There are 7 major ethnic groups spread across 34 provinces in modern Afghanistan.[ii] This cultural diversity compounded by inadequate infrastructure, rough terrain and often harsh rural living conditions for much of the population challenges notions of traditional centralized government. This “Tribal Mosaic” consists of a Pashtun Majority with the second largest ethnic group being Tajik. The Pashtuns, residing predominantly in the ‘Pashtun Belt’ (a region which straddles the eastern border with Pakistan and much of south-central Afghanistan) have consistently been the natural ruling majority of the nation with only a few historical exceptions. Foolish indeed is the invader who comes to Afghanistan assuming a unified national identity across the Afghan peoples or who fails to take into account the intricacies of Afghan society and their deeply entrenched relationship with history.

Much of Afghanistan’s history in the early portions of the 19th century up until the First Anglo-Afghan war was determined by maneuvering by British Diplomats to create a regional tribal alliance against a possible incursion by the forces of Napoleon.[iii] Afghanistan was destabilized both internally and externally by a succession of deposed monarchs and a Sikh invasion of Peshawar (now in Pakistan). Peshawar was a region named literally ‘Advanced Post’ and was known as the gateway of defence for India against Afghanistan.[iv] Following the failure of Napoleon’s forces in Central and Western Europe, the major threat to British imperial dominance was seen to be the expanding Russian empire which had been allied only decades before, with the French. By the 1830s, newfound tensions between the British and Russian Empires in Central Asia were reaching their peak.

Afghanistan’s borders in the mid 19th century were shared by Iran, Imperial Russia and the British holdings in India. The Imperial powers in the region recognized the value of Afghanistan as a ‘buffer zone’ and became embroiled in proxy conflicts between the various nations and tribal groups with the intent of installing their chosen proxy ruler on the Afghan throne. This period, spanning from roughly 1809 to 1919 is commonly referred to as ‘The Great Game.’

The chosen method for subverting the tribal leaders is articulated in a British policy drafted in 1829 by Lord Ellenborough which outlined the importance of intelligence gathering about the Indus region and its various strategic mountain passes. “We should have full information so as to be able to crush an advancing enemy, by making the whole country hostile, which money would do.”[v]

Rather than uniting a tribal army against possible invaders, the British succeeded only in encouraging the various tribal leaders to raid their baggage trains and convoys in search of equipment and funding that could be used to shore up individual local authorities. As an army of 20,000 British soldiers marched northwards from the southern city at Kandahar to the capital at Kabul, the tribes stayed off their flanks and moved with them, returning again and again to pillage and decimate the isolated force.[vi] Two ensuing wars known as the First (1838-1842) and Second (1878-1880) Anglo-Afghan Wars were fought unsuccessfully, resulting in massive loss of life. This succession of wars led in turn, to a collapse of the Afghan monarchy structure, the razing of the presidential palace and ultimately the British withdrawal in 1919 following a Third Anglo Afghan war (6 May 1919-8 August 1919). In the treaty of Rawalpindi[vii] that brought a formal cessation to hostilities, Afghanistan declared its independence and its eastern borders with India (a region that became Pakistan in 1947) were established based on a pre-existing political demarcation drafted by Mortimer Durand in 1894, known as the Durand Line.[viii] This line had the secondary effect of fragmenting Afghanistan’s traditional ethnic majority, the Pashtuns whose tribal holdings spanned hundreds of kilometers on both sides of the new border.

In almost perfect simultaneity with the Afghan Declaration of Independence, a revolution was raging in Russia which would forever shape the politics of the world. The Bolshevik revolutionaries, as they formed their new government, reached out to other states and regimes with the intent of shoring up their own power. The Allied Intervention of 1918 resulted in concerted efforts on the part of the Bolshevik regime to destabilize various colonial holdings of the European Powers. The fledgling nation of Afghanistan was recognized by the Bolsheviks as one of the few Central-Asian countries that resisted outright the bonds of Imperial rule and was offered significant quantities of weapons and money[ix] in the time honored tradition of forging proxies. In 1919 it was rumored that a school in Moscow had trained up to 400 Hindus in the art of sedition in Asian countries and that the Bolshevik regime had provided them with significant funding to pursue that end. These architects of revolution were bound not for Afghanistan, already friendly to the Bolshevik regime, but for British India. The new monarchy in Afghanistan took a pro-Bolshevik stance in their foreign policy, greatly influenced by the wealth of subsidy flowing into the nation.

From 1933-1973 King Mohammed Zahir Shah, the son of King Nadir Khan who was assassinated in 1933 sat on the throne of Afghanistan. His rule represented a relatively uneventful and peaceful span of forty years. In this period of time, Afghanistan celebrated the founding of its first modern university. In 1961, a border dispute with the fledgling nation of Pakistan over the Durand line lead to a closure of the border and a massive negative impact on the Afghan economy. The nation was kept ‘afloat’ by a wealth of subsidy flowing in from the USSR and their military power was bolstered significantly by the addition of Soviet jets, tanks and other heavy materiel to their arsenal.[x] In 1961 a brief border war, stemming from the division of the Pashtun people by the Durand line was fought between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hostilities were initiated by an incursion of Afghan troops into the Bajur region of Pakistan[xi] that had been ordered by the Afghan Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan. The attack was repelled quickly by tribesmen and the Pakistani military.

1964 saw the establishment of a new Constitution for Afghanistan[xii] which included amongst other fixtures a new parliament, civil rights, recognition of women’s rights, free and fair elections and universal suffrage. The constitution also expressly forbade members of the royal family from serving in Parliament, removing Daoud Khan from power. In 1965, the first parliamentary elections were held, and in a historic decision, women were allowed to participate. However, the very first sessions of parliament were disrupted by demonstrating students, part of the international student movement of the early 1960s. In 1969 the Afghan government was forced to close the modern university at Kabul temporarily to counter a rising trend of radicalism and dissidence in the student population. [xiii]

A famine from 1969-1972 wreaked sudden and unexpected havoc on the Afghan economy and plunged the nation into turmoil. Public accusations of mismanagement or willful incompetence were directed at the parliamentary leaders. Votes of non-confidence in the government’s ability to deal with the burgeoning crisis weakened Afghanistan’s political system.[xiv] An estimated 80,000 people died of starvation when traditional agricultural methods failed. Aid and relief supplies from the international community began pouring into the nation, with both the Eastern Bloc and Western Powers contributing to the humanitarian effort.

In 1973 a bloodless coup d’état staged by Daoud Khan played on the fractures in Afghan societies, relying heavily on the support of left-aligned students, support of the educated classes and key officers in the Afghan military. Daoud Khan’s coup replaced the traditional monarchy with a republican government, formally abolished the constitution and began drafting a new one.[xv] A contentious policy of the new regime was a total crackdown on Islamic fundamentalism in the country, as Daoud perceived the ideology as a potential competitor to his own outwardly socialist agenda. Aggressive policies created a strong backlash in the religious community in Afghanistan and many of the devout were forced to flee into Pakistan.[xvi]

During this period, Afghanistan was receiving large amounts of international assistance, and a high degree of both economic and military subsidy from the Soviet Union. Despite an official diplomatic position of non-alignment, reluctance by the United States to provide military subsidy to Daoud Khan’s government resulted in the development of much closer ties between the new Afghan Republic and the Soviets. Heavy involvement by Soviet advisors in the Afghan military from 1954 onward solidified these relations. By 1970, Russian had become the technical language of the Afghan military.[xvii]

American foreign policy during the period of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations was dedicated largely to solidifying a defensive alliance with Pakistan and several other Near-East nations, through the SEATO, CENTO and MEDO Cold War institutions. The intent was to create local armies in the region of East Asia that would act as a deterrent to potential Soviet Expansion. The suggestion, put forward in a series of NSC documents (notably NSC 155/1 United States Policies and Objectives With Respect to the Near East) to arm and support proxy forces in the region was made largely to avoid the potentially contentious issue of stationing large numbers of western forces abroad. NSC 155/1 envisioned a series of militarily united ‘Northern Tier’ states (Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq) to counter a threat of Soviet Expansion.

Militarily, a regional defense arrangement together with U.S. military aid programs, may permit the eventual significant reduction of the requirement for outside ground forces.

NSC 155/1[xviii]

Pakistani political and military leaders, especially the Pakistani intelligence organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) saw an opportunity in the fundamentalists fleeing across the border from Afghanistan to train them in guerilla tactics and employ them against Daoud Khan’s regime. One of these militants was Ahmed Shah Massoud who staged an unsuccessful uprising in his home province of Panjshir. Massoud would later come to be known as the ‘Lion of Panjshir’ and lead an organized and well-funded corps of rebels to victory during the Soviet Invasion.

In 1978, the Communist Khalq (meaning literally ‘Masses’) party seized power, after Daoud Khan and his family were summarily executed in the presidential palace.[xix] His sudden fall from power came after a particularly terse conversation between Daoud Khan and Leonid Brezhnev where the Afghan leader outright rejected Soviet attempts to control their foreign policy as unlawful interference with Afghan sovereignty. The new Communist regime under the PDPA (Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan) intensified the persecution of fundamentalist Islam within the nation, executing thousands and attempted to institute land-reform aimed at improving agriculture. Spurred on by the perception that the sudden change in political climate threatened their way of life, the Islamic guerillas, freshly trained in Pakistan initiated a guerilla war against the communist regime. The Afghan-Soviet Treaty of Friendship (1978) made a provision whereby the Afghan government could call on the Soviet Union for military intervention.[xx]

The leader of the PDPA, Nur Mohammed Taraki did call on the Soviet Union to intervene on behalf of his regime. His initial request to Moscow was that the troops sent to Afghanistan be taken from neighbouring soviet satellites and be disguised as Afghan Army troops. His initial request was declined in Moscow on the grounds that more harm than good might be done by intervention. Taraki’s rule was cut short in 1979 when he too died at the presidential palace, during an overthrow by his Prime-Minister and fellow Khalq party leader, Hafizullah Amin. Amin replaced Taraki as head of state in Afghanistan and leader of the communist party there, until his own assassination by KGB-OZNAZ (Operation Storm-333) three months later. His assassination was conducted based on the pretext that his previous contacts with the west had rendered him an unworthy ally[xxi]. Amin’s replacement, Babrak Kamal[xxii] was flown into the country and brought to a Kabul radio station to address the nation. Kamal was the head of the Parcham (‘banner’) communist party, partnered with the Khalq in the Saur Revolution of 1978. Despite warnings by Soviet Generals that intervention in Afghanistan would intensify the fundamentalist resistance in the nation, and without due operational consultation, they committed the 40th Army to a full-scale invasion.

Serious problems of desertion both in the Afghan and Soviet regular armies and continual logistical challenges blunted the technological superiority of the Soviets over the mountain fighters. Fixed-wing and rotary air assets provided a huge advantage though, allowing soviets to maintain security perimeters around their bases and forward-operations posts. To feed the material requirements of these sorties, it was necessary for massive convoys of fuel supply trucks to make desperate and dangerous supply runs between Kabul in the nation’s north and the soviet outposts. The Islamic fundamentalist ‘Mujahedeen’ (literally “strugglers”) took to ambushing these convoys, denying soviet armour and air elements the badly needed fuel. The introduction of the FIM-92 Stinger Missile System a MANPAD (Man Portable Air Defense) by CIA operatives through a program code named ‘Charlie Horse’ forced the Soviet pilots to either traverse the mountainous terrain at low altitude (below the weapon’s effective elevation) or an extremely high altitude, beyond its range.[xxiii] This greatly reduced the effectiveness of close-air support.

Saudi Arabian funding and personnel from across the Muslim world poured into Afghanistan, and the war quickly came to represent the replacement of Soviet influence in Afghanistan with a national Islamist movement, supported by the majority of the near-eastern states. The total amount of funding received by the Mujahedeen from the United States equaled about $3 Billion dollars by the war’s end, an amount that was equaled in contributions from Saudi Arabia.[xxiv] Along with an influx of Arab Jihadis (which included the affluent and charismatic young Osama bin Laden) a massive investment from the western world was made in the form of humanitarian aid, with U.S. AID and OXFAM topping the list. Professionals from Medecins Sans Frontieres healed wounded Mujahedeen in Peshawar.[xxv] This outpouring of support from the western bloc powers and numerous Islamic charities across the near and middle-east strengthened the resolve of the guerillas.

Facing an unpopular and unproductive war, the Soviet government had no choice but to organize a full scale withdrawal from Afghanistan of the 40th army, which left much of its unnecessary equipment in the hands of the Afghan Army. General Boris Gromov, veteran of Stalingrad in 1945 and commanding officer of the 40th army was the last soviet soldier to withdraw from Afghanistan, crossing the Oxus river bridge in a ceremonial gesture that relinquished control of the nation to its sovereign military, which while empowered, now faced an equally empowered Islamic resistance.

Afghanistan’s history is that of war, privation, international politics and intrigue. Analysis of its history as target of Imperial conquest and Cold War proxy reveals directly the sources of its instability. The intensely tribal nature of Afghan society and culture, as well as the lack of developed infrastructure made any significant progress towards reform difficult to achieve. No single leader or regime managed to shape the nation adequately to the point where there was a lasting and recognizable central government, with the exception of King Zahir Shah’s 40 year rule. Following the failure of the monarchy, a series of petty despots and puppets further destroyed the nation’s potential by subordinating their sovereign interests to those of the Soviet Union. A crackdown by Soviet puppet regimes on fundamental Islam resulted in the creation of strong resistance to foreign interference. The policy of arming the Afghans, both governments and rebels, as practiced by the British, the Russians and the Americans in endeavoring to obtain a political foothold has contributed entirely to the emergence of a radicalized and well-equipped guerilla fighting force. The deep instabilities that emerged in the 20th Century and fractured the political and social structures in Afghanistan were due to historical interferences by international powers.

[i] Jones, Seth. In the Graveyard of Empires. W.W. Norton and Company Ltd. New York 2009. pp. xxvi. ISBN 978-0-393-06898-6. Google Book Search. Retrieved on November 5, 2009

[ii] The Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. ‘Afghanistan’. Barnes and Noble Publishing. Singapore, 2006. pp. 1 ISBN 978-07607-8302-3

[iii] Loyn, David. Butcher and Bolt: Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan.

Random House. London 2008. pp. 13 ISBN 9780091921408

[iv] Ibid pp. 10

[v] Ibid pp. 25

[vi] Ibid pp. 44

[vii] Arghandawi, Abdul Ali. British Imperialism and Afghanistan’s Struggle for Independence 1914-21. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. New Delhi 1989. pp. 207 ISBN 81-215-0452-4

[viii] Qureshi, S. M. M. Pakhtunistan: The Frontier Dispute Between Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia Vol. 39, No. ½. (Spring - Summer, 1966) pp. 104. JSTOR. Web. November 6, 2009.

[ix] Arghandawi, Abdul Ali. British Imperialism and Afghanistan’s Struggle for Independence 1914-21. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. New Delhi 1989. pp. 241 ISBN 81-215-0452-4

[x] Wars in Peace. Central Park Media. VHS. April 2, 2001. Google Video Search. Retrieved on Oct 28, 2009.

[xi] Montagno, George L. “The Pak-Afghan Détente.” Asian Survey. University of California. Vol. 3, No. 12 (Dec., 1963), pp. 616-624. JSTOR. Web. November 6, 2009

[xii] “Constitution of Afghanistan Middle East Journal. Middle East Institute. Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1965), pp. 215-229. JSTOR. Web. October 23, 2009

[xiii] Marsden, Peter. The Taliban: war, religion and the new order in Afghanistan. St. Martin’s Press. New York 1998. pp. 23. ISBN 1-85649-522-1. Google Book Search. Retrieved on November 5, 2009

[xiv] Ibid pp. 23-24

[xv]Dil, Shaheen F. “The Cabal in Kabul: Great-Power Interaction in Afghanistan.” The American Political Science Review. American Political Science Association Vol. 71, No. 2 (Jun., 1977), pp. 468-476 . JSTOR. Web. November 4, 2009

[xvi] Loyn, David. Butcher and Bolt: Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan.

Random House. London 2008. pp. 182 ISBN 9780091921408

[xvii] Ibid pp. 183

[xviii] National Security Council. NSC-155/1 George Washington University (Archives). Web. October 28, 2009. (404 Query, November 10, 2009)

[xix] Payind, Alam. “Soviet-Afghan Relations from Cooperation to Occupation”. International Journal of Middle East Studies. Cambridge University Press. Vol. 21, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), pp. 107-128. JSTOR. Web. November 5, 2009

[xx] Odd Arne Westad. “Prelude to Invasion: The Soviet Union and the Afghan Communists 1978-1979”. The International History Review. The International History Review. Vol. 16, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 49-69. JSTOR. Web. November 5, 2009

[xxi] Goldman, Minton F. “Soviet Military Intervention in Afghanistan: Roots & Causes”. The Polity. Palgrave Macmillan Journals. Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring, 1984), pp. 388-389. JSTOR. Web. November 8, 2009

[xxii] Adam, Elaine P. “Chronology 1979”. Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. Vol. 58, No. 3, America and the World 1979 (1979), pp. 752. JSTOR. Web. November 9, 2009

[xxiii] Coll, Steve. Ghost wars: the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin Group. New York 2004. pp. 150 ISBN 1-59420-007-6.

[xxiv] Ibid p. 151

[xxv] Ibid p. 154


Adam, Elaine P. “Chronology 1979”. Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. Vol. 58, No. 3, America and the World 1979 (1979),

Arghandawi, Abdul Ali. British Imperialism and Afghanistan’s Struggle for Independence 1914-21. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. New Delhi 1989.

Central Intelligence Agency, The. The World Factbook. ‘Afghanistan’. Barnes and Noble Publishing. Singapore, 2006.

Coll, Steve. Ghost wars: the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. Penguin Group. New York 2004.

“Constitution of Afghanistan Middle East Journal. Middle East Institute. Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1965).

Dil, Shaheen F. “The Cabal in Kabul: Great-Power Interaction in Afghanistan.” The American Political Science Review. American Political Science Association Vol. 71, No. 2 (Jun., 1977),

Goldman, Minton F. “Soviet Military Intervention in Afghanistan: Roots & Causes”. The Polity. Palgrave Macmillan Journals. Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring, 1984),

Jones, Seth. In the Graveyard of Empires. W.W. Norton and Company Ltd. New York 2009. ISBN 978-0-393-06898-6.

Loyn, David. Butcher and Bolt: Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan.

Random House. London 2008

Marsden, Peter. The Taliban: war, religion and the new order in Afghanistan. St. Martin’s Press. New York 1998. ISBN 1-85649-522-1

Montagno, George L. “The Pak-Afghan Détente.” Asian Survey. University of California. Vol. 3, No. 12 (Dec., 1963)

National Security Council. NSC-155/1 George Washington University (Archives). Web. October 28, 2009

Payind, Alam. “Soviet-Afghan Relations from Cooperation to Occupation”. International Journal of Middle East Studies. Cambridge University Press. Vol. 21, No. 1 (Feb., 1989)

Qureshi, S. M. M. Pakhtunistan: The Frontier Dispute Between Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia Vol. 39, No. ½. (Spring - Summer, 1966

Wars in Peace. Central Park Media. VHS. April 2, 2001.

Westad, Odd Arne. “Prelude to Invasion: The Soviet Union and the Afghan Communists 1978-1979”. The International History Review. The International History Review. Vol. 16, No. 1 (Feb., 1994)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama Announces 30,000 Troops to Afghanistan, Exit Strategy

Barack Obama announced today that 30,000 more American combat personnel were destined for the theatre of war in Afghanistan. The earliest deployments of this surge are expected to occur by Christmas. This influx of American soldiers will bring troop levels up from 71,000 to its highest level since the war began in 2001, at about 100,000 soldiers deployed. In his speech Tuesday, Barack Obama also stated that America will begin withdrawing its forces in 2011, a process which is expected to take up to three years. Defining a reasonable ‘end’ to hostilities and the American led presence in the nation has brought intense criticism from republicans and democrats alike in the United States, but also from analysts around the world. It is said that establishing a concrete date has given the Taliban the impression that victory can be achieved, provided they can endure the temporary conditions of the surge.

The influx of troops to the wartorn nation is undoubtedly a mirror of America’s previous policy on Iraq, where a timely ‘surge’ of forces is credited with containing and mitigating the previously widespread insurgency. The basic principle behind the surge is that elevation of troop numbers will create not only immediate security, but increased patrols will generate a number of close, quick contacts in the coming year, impeding the Taliban’s ability to operate. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced just this week intentions to move 500 more troops to the country, elevating his country’s presence to 10,000 troops. Other regional powers, India and Pakistan have expressed mixed reactions to the announcement that troop levels will be sharply increased by roughly 50%.

"As far as India is concerned we welcome the continued commitment of the US and by extension of the NATO effort in Afghanistan because our prime minister has repeatedly made clear India believes that entire international community has stake in the continued stability of Afghanistan and in the success of the democratically elected government of President Karzai in establishing his authority throughout the country. It is very clear that as long as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements are free to wreak havoc in Afghanistan, that the aspirations of the Afghan people for decent life, peace and security, will not be fulfilled, and for that reason the continued military pressure on them is an important security component of the challenge facing Afghanistan,"

-Shashi Tharoor, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs

Pakistan, despite support for the US led NATO/ISAF war against the Taliban militants, with whom they are also militarily engaged on their own side of the border, communicated fear over potential ‘fallout’ for their nation. The predominant fear in Pakistani political and security communities is that a ramping-up of troop levels in Afghanistan will potentially intensify the conflict in South Waziristan as militants increase the scope of their own operations to counter the changing situation. In tandem with local criticism, the United Nations has called for a ‘transition strategy’, which espouses moving responsibility for development and security increasingly into the hands of Afghanistan’s various governmental agencies.

"I think we should talk about transition strategy, which is something completely different,"

-Kai Eide, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan

Perhaps in the most disheartening comments made to date, a Russian General, Victor Yermakov who commanded his nation’s 40th army at war in Afghanistan between 1982-83, stated that America now faces the same fate his nation’s military encountered. His commentary also espoused a ‘transition’ away from traditional military engagement towards further peace support, peace enforcement and operations other than war (OOTW). "Restoring Afghanistan's economy, its industrial enterprises, its education system, schools and mosques will increase your authority. War can only evoke resistance. Afghans regard war only as an attempt to enslave them."

What is coming in the weeks and months ahead as thousands of American soldiers from Regular force and National Guard units across the United States prepare for their deployment, remains to be seen. Whether the surge will be successful and this decision by President Obama can be credited as a keystone victory in the almost decade-long struggle against fundamental tribal militancy is unclear. What is clear is that the international community’s consensus about how to deal with the Afghan problem and popular support for the NATO coalition undertakings in Afghanistan is dwindling.

With firm exit dates now given by the Americans and the Canadians, it will fall to the rest of the nations in the alliance structure to determine a timeline for their own tactical and logistical withdrawal. Still, a decision to send more troops in the short-term, meeting General Stanley McChrystal’s September request by a little over three quarters and the simultaneous announcement of a definitive timeline for ‘success’ represents a wise political move. The president is simultaneously providing the necessary personnel to achieve his military officer’s objectives while reassuring the public and critics that the war in Afghanistan is not a war without end, but rather one in which he intends to be victorious.


Washington Post – Pakistan officials wary of Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan

ANI – India hails Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan

CNN – Soviet commander: U.S. faces similar Afghan fate

Express IndiaUN calls for ‘transition strategy’ in Afghanistan

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Corruption Report Places Afghanistan Amongst the Worst

Transparency International, an international corruption watchdog has released a damning list of 180 nations, ranking each in order of most corrupt to least corrupt. Nations were assigned numerical orderings, based on criteria culled from ‘general impressions’ in business and political communities and incidences of published corruption. The results of the Study, the CPI (Corruptions Perception Index) placed Afghanistan as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, second only to Somalia.

Ranking nations on a scale of zero to ten, with zero being the most corrupt possible, the study accrues data from international economic institutions and compiles them into a central report. Burma, Sudan and Iraq were close behind. Even after thousands of lives lost in the establishment of peace, good government and rule of law in Afghanistan, the country is still immensely corrupt by international standards.

Some of the reasons are cited as governmental corruption, money laundering, tacit support of the opium trade and influence peddling. A blog at transparency international’s homepage also cites the multi-billion dollar projects of American defence contracting companies as heavily corrupt, further dragging the nation down in the rankings.


Transparency International- Corruption Perceptions Index 2009: What does a number mean to you?
Turkish Weekly – Afghanistan, Iraq Rated Among Most Corrupt Nations
Reuters – Afghanistan sinks in new corruption ranking

Monday, November 9, 2009

Canada Announces 'Draw Down' of Combat Presence

An announcement made by Chief of the Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk has laid the groundwork of a ‘drawdown’ of Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan to occur over the next year and a half. Canada has currently no plan for combat troops to remain in the country after the summer of 2011. The planned withdrawal is based on a framework laid out by parliament, requesting that Canada end its military field involvement by 2011. The next year and a half will embody a good deal of logistical and clerical work as Canada begins to move materiel and later men, out of theatre. Defence minister Peter McKay has avoided speaking directly as to the post 2011 commitment that Canada will have in Afghanistan, but sources indicate that Canadian troop levels will be minimal following that deadline.

"I would caution you against saying dozens or hundreds or a thousand, there will be exponentially fewer… Whether there's 20 or 60 or 80 or 100, they will not be conducting combat operations."

-Spokesperson for Steven Harper, Dmitri Soudas.

There are 2800 Canadian troops in Theatre, and casualties have consisted of 133 soldiers and a diplomat. As the Canadian nation makes preparations for Remembrance Day ceremonies, the government has awarded for the first time, a medal intended for soldiers killed or wounded in Afghanistan. The ‘Sacrifice Medal,’ (pictured above) created last year was bestowed upon 46 individuals yesterday and formally replaced the wound stripe (pictured below) which was the standard decoration, since the second world war.

The Ottawa Citizen – No plans for Afghanistan after 2011, top general affirms

Xinhua - Canada awards medals to soldiers killed or wounded in military actions

Saturday, November 7, 2009

US Army Psychiatrist Who Shot 43 at Fort Hood, Killed 13 Was Being Deployed to Afghanistan

At about 1:30PM November 5th, a US Army Major, Nidal Malik Hasan walked through the doors of the Soldier Readiness Centre at Fort Hood Texas, drew two pistols and opened fire. The building where the shooting took place was filled with military personnel waiting for routine pre-deployment medical examinations and dental work. The readiness centre at Fort Hood (One of the largest military installations in the world) is the hub of activity on that base for troops about to be deployed to one of America’s theatres of operations overseas. Preliminary reports indicate that Maj. Hasan was scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan.

His position in the Military will no doubt raise some questions about the potential effect of radicalization on the upper echelons of command. The forthcoming paranoia that Idea-Driven Fourth Generation Warfare has so thoroughly penetrated the defense department will no doubt result in a high degree of internal awareness as well as scrutiny of the US Military’s Chain of Command and Leadership Structure from external agencies. The FBI is reported to have arrived on base within the hour and is providing its investigative services, as the Army is still unsure whether the act constitutes terrorism. An American born man of Jordanian descent, he has been called ‘a lifelong muslim’ by Faizul Khan, a former Imam at the mosque he attended (often in uniform) His family has been quoted as saying that he received harassment in the workplace for his religious choices. Maj. Hasan had raised the attention of authorities up to six months ago with the publication of personal musings online which suggested that terrorists carrying out suicide bomb attacks were similar to troops that would throw themselves selflessly onto a grenade to save their comrades.

“There was a grenade thrown among a group of American soldiers. One of the soldiers, feeling that it was to late for everyone to flee jumped on the grave with the intention of saving his comrades. Indeed he saved them. He inentionally took his life (suicide) for a noble cause i.e. saving the lives of his soldier. To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate. Its more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause. Scholars have paralled this to suicide bombers whose intention, by sacrificing their lives, is to help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers. If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory. Their intention is not to die because of some despair. The same can be said for the Kamikazees in Japan. They died (via crashing their planes into ships) to kill the enemies for the homeland. You can call them crazy i you want but their act was not one of suicide that is despised by Islam. So the scholars main point is that ‘IT SEEMS AS THOUGH YOUR INTENTION IS THE MAIN ISSUE’ and Allah (SWT) knows best.
Poster: NidalHasan Source: Scribd.com

Maj. Hasan’s role as a psychiatrist means he had access to troops returning from theatres in Iraq and Afghanistan and provided them with professional post-traumatic stress counseling. Graduating from VA Tech with a degree in biochemistry, he joined the Army and worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center pursuing his career in psychiatry, as an intern, a resident and a fellow in disaster and preventive psychiatry. He received his medical degree from the military's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., in 2001
"He never went to Iraq. He was dealing with people coming back, trying to help them with their trauma," Nader Hasan (Gunman’s Cousin) said. "He was just normal, loved sports, never got into trouble.” On paperwork obtained by the media, filled out at his mosque, Maj. Hasan indicated that his birthplace was Arlington VA. And that his nationality was ‘Palestinian’.

A US Army Col. (ret.) Terry Lee claimed to have worked with Maj. Hasan and elaborated to the media that it was Hasan’s desire to see American troops withdrawn from warzones in Afghanistan and Iraq. His anti-war perspectives brought him into direct conflict with his co-workers and superiors and records indicate that he had sought legal proceedings on the grounds of a harassment claim to prevent his deployment to Afghanistan.

His decision to walk into an on-base processing centre was not preceded by any clear warning signs. He donated some furniture and a bag of frozen broccoli to his neighbors, one of whom he told he was moving to Oklahoma, the other was told he was deploying to Iraq. Maj. Hasan then went to a convenience store for a breakfast of hash browns and coffee dressed in a traditional robe and cap. Then, he proceeded to the site of the shootings, in his US Army Uniform where he drew a single 5.7mm FN ‘Five Seven’ Pistol and opened fire, pumping about 100 rounds into the crowds in the Soldier Readiness Centre. Investigators have noted he was carrying a second handgun, but that it was never drawn. The weapon he chose is an elegant one, with a highly specialized purpose. Its round penetration physics are such that it is designed to be employed against targets wearing body armour and leaving a much larger than normal exit wound (despite the lightweight nature of the actual projectile).

Whatever the reason for his irrational and catastrophic meltdown that precipitated these heinous actions, the fact that he survived the exchange of gunfire fit to stand trial means significant potential down the road revelations. Military service records indicate he had requested not to be deployed to Iraq but was willing to be deployed to Afghanistan. This incident followed only a day after an Afghan national police officer opened fire on his British colleagues, killing five and then escaping. Whether the incident in Afghanistan provided some sort of ideological inspiration for Maj. Hasan’s action will doubtless come out in any ensuing investigation. For now, the focus of the American Department of Defence is most certainly turned inward, dealing with support for soldiers and their families, respectful treatment of the dead and preventative measures to ensure that radicalization of both the enlisted men and educated officership is much more readily detected.


ABC - Fort Hood Gunman who Killed 12, Wounded 30 Survived Gun Battle
Christian Science Monitor - What did the Army know about Fort Hood's Nidal Malik Hasan?