Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Lessons to Learn from the “Raymond Allen Davis Affair” in Pakistan

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

March 19, 2011

I am no fan of Pakistan’s ruling elite or their rampant corruption or their inability to meet the basic needs of their people. And I certainly do not like their influence over events in Afghanistan.

But the recent strain in U.S.-Pakistani relations has demonstrated the Pakistani elite’s impossible bind: They have to balance American and Western efforts to marginalize the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the region with a Pakistani public opinion completely fed-up with the nearly-ten-year-old “war on terror.”

The “Raymond Allen Davis affair,” which sheds much light on the Pakistani public’s hatred for the West, went roughly like this: On January 27, 2011, “Raymond Allen Davis” (that may or may not be his real name), an American working for the U.S. consulate in Lahore, shot two armed motorcyclists who were allegedly trying to rob him (an alternative explanation is that the two men were working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence). “Mr. Davis” left Pakistani custody on March 16 after the U.S. government agreed to pay diyya (blood money) to the relatives of the deceased. Along the way, several details came to light:

1- If “Mr. Davis” is not our protagonist’s real name, then he must have obtained a Pakistani visa using a fake passport. And that means he couldn’t have had diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

2- Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who stepped down as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan in early February, may have lost his job for refusing to retroactively confer full diplomatic immunity to “Mr. Davis” under the Vienna Convention.

3- “Mr. Davis” had served in the U.S. Special Forces for 10 years from 1993 until 2003. After his military service, he started a private security company and was contracted by the CIA to work in Pakistan. Upon the Obama administration’s request, the U.S. media kept the CIA connection a secret for almost a month.

4- Before being apprehended by Pakistani police on January 27, “Mr. Davis” had alerted two consular employees to come to his help. On the way, the two employees steered their 4×4 over the median curb of the road and drove against oncoming traffic. They eventually ran over and killed another motorcyclist.

Although the incident and reports of protests in Pakistan may seem “business as usual,” the episode actually offers two very important lessons:

The most offensive part of the “Raymond Allen Davis Affair” wasn’t really the killing of the two motorcyclists (there isn’t much in the press about the two men’s exact intent). It was the other two Americans driving on the wrong side of the road and then killing an innocent motorcyclist. Frankly, if foreigners are in Pakistan (and Afghanistan, for that matter) to really help with establishing law and order, they should set an example by respecting that country’s laws and regulations – including traffic laws.

This is not a simplistic point. In 2010, many Afghans that I had talked to had complained about foreigners’ driving habits; especially their driving on the wrong side of the road in order to bypass heavy traffic. Worse, Afghans drew connections between foreigners’ lack of respect to traffic laws and their potential disrespect toward Afghan people. (Never mind the fact that not many Afghans respect those laws.)

It wouldn’t be too surprising if similar feelings are taking over Pakistanis these days.

A more important lesson to learn is that using private contractors instead of professional spies knowledgeable in regional customs and languages is ultimately going to undermine the CIA’s contribution to the war on terror. It is a truism that you go to war with whatever assets you have. But 10 years have passed since the United States became involved in the affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s more than enough time to recruit and train the types of agents who don’t expose their identities and the agency’s work in such mishaps. 

 

 

“Raymond Allen Davis” surrounded by Pakistani police – Images of this sort will hurt U.S. efforts much more than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda (Courtesy of AP Photo/Hamza Ahmed, File)

In the final analysis, American policy-makers should remember that tragedies and “accidents” like the “Raymond Allen Davis affair” in Lahore may cause popular tensions in Afghanistan and Pakistan to boil over and completely derail U.S. and NATO efforts in the two countries. Some Pakistanis are already questioning their ruling elite’s inability to stand up for their country. Down the road, they might take matters into their own hands – which will likely benefit the Taliban and Al-Qaeda rather than the United States and the international community.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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The Crazy (and Naïve) Oracle: Some Wishful Thinking for 2011

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 7, 2011

A favorite story that I like to tell my students goes as follows:

One day in 1928, friends of the smartest man in Munich asked him to predict the city’s future. “In 1933,” the man starts, “the city, like the rest of the country, is run by the thugs who had tried to carry out a coup five years ago.” His friends are not impressed. “But ten years later,” the man continues optimistically, “Munich will be the leading cultural and commercial center of the German Empire stretching from the North Pole to North Africa.” Joyful, his friends ask him to say more. “Five years later, however, Munich, together with the rest of Germany, will lie in ruins.” The comment displeases his audience.

“Oh, don’t look so depressed,” the man goes on, “by 1953, we would have rebuilt Munich with American aid, and, by 1963, more than half of Munich residents will be so well-off that they’ll own boxes that show movies and pictures like in the cinemas.” His friends, bewildered, then hear the most shocking bit: “Look, we’ll end up having so many jobs in Munich by 1963 that we’ll have to bring in hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries to maintain our prosperity.”

The man’s friends, of course, lock him up in a lunatic asylum, even though events would prove him correct.

In the same spirit as the crazy wise man, here are my predictions for 2011:

–          The international community finally understands the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shifts its attention to rebuilding the two countries’ socioeconomic infrastructure with long-term project and not “quick impact” ideasthat are of little use. Building schools, hospitals, dams and roads seems to cost a lot less than guns and bullets.

–          Realizing that its own well-being can only go hand-in-hand with its neighbors’ security, the Pakistani government shows greater resolve to curtail insurgent activity on the Afghan border. The security situation in both countries shows marked improvement.

–          The Iranian government and the P5+1 group start making real progress on the nuclear question. Iran grants the IAEA full access to all of its nuclear facilities; the UN Security Council begins lifting the sanctions. American and Iranian diplomats lay the groundwork for a direct meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Re-establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran seems on the horizon.

–          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally ends the coalition with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman and forms a new coalition with the centrist Kadima. Netanyahu’s move convinces Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to restart direct talks. Both parties show unprecedented flexibility with respect to sensitive issues: Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the return of Palestinian refugees. Progress with the Palestinians encourages the Israeli government to renew peace talks with Syria.

–          The last U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq as scheduled. With American forces out, the Obama administration can allocate more resources for economic recovery and reduces the federal deficit. The U.S. economy finally starts to improve, followed by the rest of the world. Republicans and Democrats in Congress begin to address some of America’s most pressing problems, much to everyone’s surprise.

–          In Turkey, the PKK declares a permanent ceasefire against Turkey and agrees to turn over its arms to the United Nations. In turn, the AKP government, with support from CHP, passes a law giving full amnesty to the organization’s rank-and-file and conditional amnesty to high-ranking officials in Northern Iraq. With the violence coming to an end in Southeast Turkey, democratic standards improve and the region’s economy begins to boom.

–          North and South Korea tone down their rhetoric and mutually suspend all military exercises. The North Korean leadership, aware of their country’s despondent situation, begins talks with its southern brothers to end the country’s now-58-year-old division.

(Other actual and potential conflict zones can be added to this list with similar “predictions”: Bosnia-Herzegovina; China-Taiwan; Congo; the Ivory Coast; Kosovo; Northern Mexico; Sudan.)

Do such predictions make me sound crazy? Of course they do.

But if you’re going to lock me up like the man from Munich, bear in mind that if a good deal of these prophecies do not work out, not many of us will survive to tell me that I was wrong.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com). 

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After One Year, Obama Surge in Afghanistan Has Mixed Results and Mixed Future

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 20, 2010

A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances. General George S. Patton

The Obama administration’s new “Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review” is remarkably optimistic when compared to the conditions on the ground.

In his speech at West Point Academy on December 1, 2009, President Obama had defined the situation in Afghanistan quite dramatically: “What’s at stake,” Mr. Obama had said, “is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the entire world.” To that end, the American president outlined the three core elements of his “surge”: “a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.”

The Obama administration’s new report claims that “the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas,” admitting, however, that “these gains remain fragile and reversible.”

Indeed, the “Obama surge” in Afghanistan has been a mixture of success and failure. The additional 30,000 troops sent in 2010 and adopting new tactics have given Afghan and international forces a fresh respite. Actually securing Afghanistan, however, has remained an elusive accomplishment: Insurgent attacks are on an all-time high; failure to resolve the allegations of fraud in last September’s parliamentary elections is shaking the already unstable foundation’s of Afghan democracy; and, in the aftermath of last summer’s floods, Islamabad’s already limited will to clamp down on Taliban strongholds within Pakistan has ground to a halt.

We can reach several conclusions from Mr. Obama’s stance on Afghanistan. First of all, the people of Afghanistan and their government will have to assume greater responsibility for their security – and a lot sooner than the target date of late 2014. America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

More important, we need to see that Afghan security forces, the United States, and NATO allies are fighting more than an organization or a network of myriad groups – they’re actually fighting decades of misery borne out of foreign meddling, occupation, and underdevelopment. Virtually every Afghan official and private citizen will tell you that “90%” of Taliban militants join the group out of economic deprivation and lack of a “meaningful future.” Thus, without building a viable economic order in Afghanistan, all security gains will remain reversible.

The problem is that America’s economic prospects also look bleak. As the veteran American journalist Leslie Gelb pointed out last week, “continuing the war [in Afghanistan] tears at our own nation’s very vitals. How on earth can the [Obama] administration justify spending billions to build roads, schools, and hospitals in Afghanistan when America’s physical and intellectual infrastructure is simply collapsing?” “Of course, I feel for the Afghans;” Mr. Gelb continued, “but I feel far, far more for Americans.”

When Mr. Obama runs for re-election in 2012, he will face just that criticism – from friend and foe – that he has to focus on “America first.” As such, he will probably begin a substantial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next summer in order to strengthen his hand at home. It will be wise for Afghan and international leaders to take note of that fact.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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Letters from Afghanistan – Part IV

“Public Restroom on a Hill-top”
Some Thoughts on International Development Efforts in Afghanistan

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

October 21, 2010

Foreign overbearing has poisoned reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Despite their (mostly) good intentions, foreign governments and international NGOs have pretended to know Afghanistan’s needs better than its people. And that is one major reason why the international presence resembles the Soviet occupation of the south-central Asian nation in the 1980s.

In the absence of Afghan input, many lofty but somewhat useless projects have sprung up around the country. Take, for example, the public restroom on a hill-top in one of Kabul’s poorer districts. Allegedly sponsored by a European NGO, the said project aimed to provide the residents of the area with clean water and sanitary facilities. The problem, though, was location: The restroom was not built in the middle of the neighborhood but further atop the hill, which was not a very convenient spot for the local folk.

A poor neighborhood in western Kabul

Of course, not all international aid projects – not even a majority – are so flawed. But the case of the “restroom on a hill-top” illustrates the biggest dilemma that the international community faces in Afghanistan: Without Afghans providing direction, international efforts cannot succeed. But getting Afghans to take the initiative in running their own affairs is hard because they’re not really ready to do so.

One important reason why the international community is hesitant to hand over responsibility to the Afghans is the country’s lack of skilled labor (a concern which Afghans themselves share). The war, now entering its 31st year, has forced educated Afghans to flee to Europe and North America. At the moment, there are simply not enough electricians, masons, machine operators, ironsmiths, or nurses to run the country.

Corruption is another problem. International donors are unwilling to hand over their funds to Afghan officials in the face of rampant corruption in the country. (The majority of Afghans agree: 59 percent of the population sees corruption as the greatest problem facing the country; a problem even worse than lack of security.)

In this context, many foreign benefactors – governments and NGOs – have aimed to make a “quick” impression on their own constituents as much as on the Afghan people by executing “quick impact” projects. Otherwise known as “QIPs” (water wells, police outposts, clinics, and small schools), these ventures don’t take a long time to plan, don’t cost much, and can be finished in a few months. The problem is that so many of these projects have been built since 2001 that, as a leading international development expert has pointed out, “QIPs” are actually slowing progress in Afghanistan. “Quick impact = Quick collapse” is an equation heard quite frequently in Kabul these days.

So long as we’re going to use lack of trained personnel or corruption as excuses to postpone “Afghanization” and continue “QIPs,” we’re going to frustrate the people of Afghanistan in the end. The following story relayed to me by an American expert in Wardak province is quite telling: While they were enlarging a mountain road leading to a village, American engineers realized that a significant portion of an irrigation canal would have to be moved as well in order not to cut the village’s water; something that would take time. Unimpressed, Afghan villagers shot back: “You’re Americans! You put a man on the moon! Surely you can move the mountain!”

Afghans’ patience with foreigners is understandably decreasing.

So, what should we do?

As noted by the historian Artemy Kalinovsky, an expert on the Soviet occupation, in 1986, Moscow had suddenly decided to withdraw its civilian advisors in order to end the complacency within the Afghan leadership. Reminiscent of our times, the lack of trained Afghans was compensated by thousands of Soviet experts. And the withdrawal initially made the Communist government in Kabul more self-confident. But without Soviet help, Afghans began facing trouble operating their own economy, especially the gas fields in the north, which was the government’s main source of revenue.

Flash forward to 2010, international experts should gradually scale down their responsibilities in Afghanistan. Nearly nine years after the Taliban, Afghans have a decent idea about what works and what doesn’t. In the mean time, rather than withdrawing, foreign specialists would be better off if they train young Afghans to replace the current cadres. 

Afghanistan will initially experience some turbulence but that’ll ultimately give the Afghans a real incentive to put their house in order. At any rate, they probably won’t build another restroom on a hill-top.

* The author’s travels in Afghanistan were sponsored by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Turkish Embassy in Kabul.

The author is grateful to the following for their invaluable help:

His Excellency Ambassador Basat Öztürk, former Deputy Chief of Mission Onur Katmerci, Second Secretary Onur Şaylan, Military Attaché Colonel Can Bolat, and Kemal Doğan of the Turkish Embassy; Didem Büner and Burçin Gönenli of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; former Civilian Coordinator Türker Arı, agricultural expert Osman Kabacaoğlu, TİKA expert Mikail Taşdemir, and Mahir Akhüseyinoğlu of the Turkish Provincial Reconstruction Team in Wardak province; General Levent Çolak, Colonel Ali Bilgin Varlık, and Colonel Ramazan Akyıldız of Kabul Regional Command; TİKA Vice President Mustafa Şahin, TİKA’s Kabul representative Özay Özütok, and TİKA experts Adem Urfa, Talha Kaçar, and Ahmet Dayı; His Excellency Governor Halim Fidai of Wardak Province; State Department Representative Jeff Stanton and USAID expert Douglas Blanton in Wardak; Mark Ward, former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan; Prof. Abdul Iqrar Wasel, Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Kabul University; Prof. Yusuf Altınışık and Prof. Gulamresul Karlog of the Department of Turkish Language and Literature at Kabul University.

The views expressed in this article DO NOT reflect the opinions of the above-mentioned or the position of the Turkish government.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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Letters from Afghanistan – Part III: “It’s the Economy, Stupid!”

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

October 16, 2010

Afghanistan – Land of Legends! Freedom struggles against the British and resistance to the Soviet Union.

The Afghans: a people often oppressed and tormented, but ultimately invincible!

So much for the legends!State and Tribe in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan

As pointed out by another student of international affairs a few months ago, one of the silliest common beliefs about Afghanistan is its centuries-old fixture as “the graveyard of empires.” Afghans almost buried the British Empire in 1919 and succeeded in destroying the mighty Soviet Union seventy years later. Soon, we are told, the same thing is going to happen to the United States and its NATO allies because it has happened before.

So much for the legends. Let us talk about facts:

Average adult literacy in Afghanistan is 28% (43% for men, 12% for women) while the average Afghan expects to live for 44 years at birth, which is so low because a quarter of Afghan newborns don’t live for more than five years. The country is struggling with massive unemployment (40%), high inflation (30%), and high annual birth rates (2.5%).

It’s a platitude to point it out but the international media outlets and the blogosphere are paying so much attention to “the Obama surge” (and its July 2011 deadline), the Taliban, and Pakistan’s controversial role in Afghanistan that we can’t see the more important dimension of the current situation in the war-torn country: its economy.

“It’s the economy, stupid” especially rings true for Afghanistan’s current problems. An Afghan economy that grows on its own means; one that does not require billions of dollars in international aid (and where the major export is not opium), is what will truly “secure” Afghanistan; not more (or less) U.S. troops.

Since 2002, Afghanistan’s economy has grown by an average 10% (without taking opium into account, of course), which shows that the south-central Asian country has a lot of potential.

To realize that potential further, several issues about Afghanistan’s economic development need to be addressed.

Afghanistan has to be energized. Literally. The country has immense potential for hydroelectricity. Snowfall on the mountains in central Afghanistan supplies 80% of the country’s annual precipitation of 400 mm (about 16 inches), a bit too much for a supposed “desert.” But even nine years after the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan still imports nearly 50% of its electricity. Not a single hydroelectric dam has been built in the past nine years. Not that it’s easy: Afghanistan formed its autonomous state-held company to oversee electricity production and distribution only last year. It will be some time before the country becomes self-sufficient and powers its burgeoning industry with its own means. But it has to happen sooner rather than later if Afghanistan is to develop economically.

In a similar vein, managing Afghanistan’s precious water resources is vital for reconstruction. In one of my interviews with a USAID expert in Wardak province last March (the U.S. Agency for International Development is the government agency that manages American aid to developing countries), I was shocked to learn that approximately 70% of the water intended for irrigation actually gets wasted in the ditches before even reaching the fields! At a time when more than half of its arable lands cannot be irrigated (merely 12% of Afghanistan’s area of 650,000 km2 / 250,000 sq mi is arable anyway), Afghanistan is not that rich (!) to waste so much water.

Rehabilitating the water infrastructure in the country-side and managing it effectively is extremely important for increasing agricultural production because the livelihood of 80% of Afghans depend on it. Afghanistan, which was self-sufficient in food production before 1979, imports a significant amount of wheat in order to meet domestic demand. By the end of 2010, despite a total wheat production of 4.5 million tons, Afghanistan will import another 700,000 tons from Kazakhstan.

It’s a pity because Afghanistan’s agriculture was a success story before the Soviet invasion. Take Wardak again: famous for its sweet and juicy apple, the province had produced a record 300,000 tons of the fruit in the mid-1970s and had exported most of it. Last year, because of a poor apple harvest in India and rising demand in Dubai, Wardak was able to export about one-third of its apple output of 150,000 tons (half of pre-war levels) to those markets. Another 30,000 tons was sent to a factory in Kabul to produce apple juice.

Getting back the other 150,000 tons (and going beyond that figure) is the challenge. (Re)-introducing modern techniques to Afghanistan – artificial fertilizers, mechanization, pesticides, etc. – can help but the real challenge actually comes from training farmers and helping them access markets. For example, in most provinces, farmers’ unions – which provide seeds, machines, and information to its members – have begun to spring up only recently. In the long run, only an energetic class of farmers can help alleviate the plight of rural Afghans and foster economic activity in the war-torn country. (With a majority of Afghans joining the Taliban for financial gain, the implications of such a positive development on the security situation in Afghanistan are too obvious.)

In the medium run, boosting agricultural productivity in Afghanistan will lead to redundancy in agriculture (read: more unemployment). But that won’t be so bad because releasing some of the labor force from agriculture would give Afghanistan the opportunity to focus its attention on a matter: mining.

According to a New York Times story that came out last June, Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits (namely, iron, cobalt, coal, copper, and lithium) could be worth as much as $1 trillion. (Afghanistan’s current GDP is estimated to be $30 billion so $1 trillion isn’t exactly loose change.) If managed properly (big “if” – the world is full of countries that squander their underground riches), the 21st century can be quite different for Afghanistan than the past thirty years.

Of course, for any of these ideas to bear fruit, the responsibility for running Afghanistan must be turned over to the Afghans. I’m going to discuss this issue at greater length in my next post.

* The author’s travels in Afghanistan were sponsored by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Turkish Embassy in Kabul.

The author is grateful to the following for their invaluable help:

His Excellency Ambassador Basat Öztürk, former Deputy Chief of Mission Onur Katmerci, Second Secretary Onur Şaylan, Military Attaché Colonel Can Bolat, and Kemal Doğan of the Turkish Embassy; Didem Büner and Burçin Gönenli of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; former Civilian Coordinator Türker Arı, agricultural expert Osman Kabacaoğlu, TİKA expert Mikail Taşdemir, and Mahir Akhüseyinoğlu of the Turkish Provincial Reconstruction Team in Wardak province; General Levent Çolak, Colonel Ali Bilgin Varlık, and Colonel Ramazan Akyıldız of Kabul Regional Command; TİKA Vice President Mustafa Şahin, TİKA’s Kabul representative Özay Özütok, and TİKA experts Adem Urfa, Talha Kaçar, and Ahmet Dayı; His Excellency Governor Halim Fidai of Wardak Province; State Department Representative Jeff Stanton and USAID expert Douglas Blanton in Wardak; Mark Ward, former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan; Prof. Abdul Iqrar Wasel, Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Kabul University; Prof. Yusuf Altınışık and Prof. Gulamresul Karlog of the Department of Turkish Language and Literature at Kabul University.

The views expressed in this article DO NOT reflect the opinions of the above-mentioned or the position of the Turkish government.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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