Pakistan

AfPak Channel: Time for the Heavy Lifting

It's time to table fancy counterinsurgency doctrines about "connecting the Afghan people to the government" -- Afghans have never had, and don't expect much, in the way of services from their government, and it's time now to focus on something much more basic: security. The last government to provide Afghans with real security was... the Taliban. When they ruled the country before 9/11, security came at a tremendous price: a brutal, theocratic regime that bankrupted the country and was a pariah on the world stage.

But in the context of Afghan history, the Taliban bringing security was decisively important, since what had immediately preceded their iron rule was a nightmarish civil war during which you could be robbed or killed at will by gangs of roving ethnic and tribal militias...

AfPak Channel: Grading the AfPak experts

Now that the second round of elections has been canceled and Hamid Karzai officially declared the winner of Afghanistan fraud-riddled ballot, it's time to assess how the AfPak Channel's experts did when they informally predicted the results of the presidential election the day before the August 20 polling in a parlor game we dubbed "The AfPak Crystal Ball."

After the fraud audit reduced Karzai's share of the vote by some one third of his ballots, the incumbent president was left with 49.7 percent, according to official results from the Independent Election Commission. Challenger Abdullah Abdullah wound up with 30.6 percent, and Ramazan Bashardost came in third place with 10.5 percent of the August 20 ballot. And according to the United States Assistance Mission to Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, one third of registered voters turned out to cast their ballots...

AfPak Channel: Talibanistan: The Talibs at home

About a year ago, while sitting at my home in Washington, DC, I found myself with a sort of delayed-stress longing for the Taliban. The desire stemmed from an overseas dispute, a business deal gone bad. Back in January 2008, I’d been forced into a hasty transaction—shortly after five policemen knocked at my front door in Islamabad and announced their intent to kick me and my wife out of Pakistan. We had an hour to leave. Fortunately, through some well-connected friends, we managed to get 48 hours to pack our apartment into boxes, find a good home for our kitten, Cricket, and sell the four-cylinder Pajero Mini SUV that we had used to scoot around Islamabad for the past year...

AfPak Channel: What the White House’s AfPak metrics list doesn’t say

The White House's list of about 50 metrics to evaluate progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which it assembled to calm rising fears in Congress and the public about the Obama administration's increasingly embattled war strategy, is up on ForeignPolicy.com (with a more legible version here). The draft list, dated Sept. 16, 2009 and delivered to a closed congressional hearing today, clearly states that the "goal of the United States is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa'ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

As Josh Rogin correctly points out over at The Cable, there are three main goals laid out in the document: "disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan, working to stabilize Pakistan, and working to achieve a host of political and civic goals in Afghanistan." Important, all...

AfPak Channel: Where's bin Laden?

Peter Bergen, 1997

Eight years after September 11, the "war on terror" has gone the way of the dodo. And President Obama talks instead about a war against al Qaeda and its allies.

What, then, of al Qaeda's enigmatic leader, Osama bin Laden, who has vanished like a wisp of smoke? And does he even matter now?

The U.S. government hadn't had a solid lead on al Qaeda's leader since the battle of Tora Bora in winter 2001. Although there are informed hypotheses that today he is in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province on the Afghan border, perhaps in one of the more northerly areas such as Bajaur, these are essentially guesses, not "actionable" intelligence...

AfPak Channel: Helmand: bombs, drugs, and the Taliban

By Peter Bergen, Nawa district, Helmand, Afghanistan

If the southern Afghan province of Helmand were a country it would be the world's leading producer of opium and its derivative, heroin. More than half the world's heroin originates here -- much of it destined for the veins of junkies living in Europe.

In June 2005, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials and Afghan police raided the office of Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, the governor of Helmand, and found nine tons of opium in his office. He is no longer the governor....

AfPak Channel: South to Kandahar

Over the loudspeaker system, a female voice announces, "ISAF flight number 44 from Kabul to Kandahar is leaving at gate 1." Just like for any other flight we grab our hand luggage and boarding passes but what makes this boarding a little bit different is that all the passengers are wearing flak jackets and clutching helmets. We troop in double file to the whale-like C-130 transport plane operated by a crew of reservists out of Missouri and strap in for the ride.

On the plane is a motley crew of young Asian women likely destined to work at the massive U.S./NATO base at Kandahar Air Field, a smorgasbord of soldiers from various European countries, and American military contractors wearing their uniform of baseball caps, cargo pants and shades. Most snooze through the 75-minute flight...

AfPak Channel: The Afghan phoenix

The first surprise is Kabul airport. The new terminal -- "a gift of the people of Japan" -- appears to have been airlifted in from a small American city; light-filled, modern and staffed by young men in uniforms of khaki pants and blue shirts who politely answer travelers' questions as they direct traffic through the quiet, marble halls of the terminal.

This is quite a change from the old Kabul airport terminal, which was not much more than a big shed that broiled in summer and froze in winter with one wheezing baggage belt disgorging luggage to a chaotic press of travelers...

AfPak Channel: Working on a dream

I have three responses to Matt Yglesias's perplexed questions on the shortfalls of the Afghan National Army (ANA). First, his assumptions overestimate the military effectiveness of the Northern Alliance during the 2001-02 invasion. Second, he underestimates the skill, training, and commitment of the Taliban, both past and present. Third, he doesn't take into account the difficulties of learning the modern system of warfare, let alone modern counterinsurgency...

AfPak Channel: Cheney's Jihad

By Peter Bergen

Since he left office former Vice President Dick Cheney has been waging a lonesome jihad to defend the practices of the Bush administration's during the ‘war on terror', saying in an emblematic interview in February: "If it hadn't been for what we did -- with respect to the terrorist surveillance program, or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees, the Patriot Act, and so forth -- then we would have been attacked again. Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the U.S."...