Tag Archives: taliban

Why the Taliban are Unbeatable: the justice system in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Courthouse in Asadabad. Image from wikipedia

Frustrated by Western-inspired legal codes and a government court system widely seen as corrupt, many Afghans think that the militants’ quick and tradition-rooted rulings are their best hope for justice. In the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Chaman, havens for exiled Taliban figures, local residents describe long lines of Afghans waiting to see judges.“You won’t find the same number of people in the Afghan courts as you do in the Taliban courts,” said Hajji Khudai Noor, a Kandahar resident who recently settled a land dispute through the Taliban in Quetta. “There are hundreds of people waiting for justice there.”

Western officials have long considered a fair and respected justice system to be central to quelling the insurgency, in an acknowledgment that the Taliban’s appeal had long been rooted in its use of traditional rural justice codes. But after the official end of the international military mission and more than a billion dollars in development aid to build up Afghanistan’s court system, it stands largely discredited and ridiculed by everyday Afghans. A common refrain, even in Kabul, is that to settle a dispute over your farm in court, you must first sell your chickens, your cows and your wife.  Countless training programs funded by Western allies for lawyers and judges have become bywords for waste….

The Taliban have seized on this discontent. In some areas, they have set up mobile courts to reach villages outside their zones of influence. They hold hearings two days a week in the southern borderlands, requiring plaintiffs to produce evidence and witnesses. In Kunar, Taliban legal experts embed with militant commanders to provide services to locals and the fighters.

While few Afghans recall the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 with any fondness, the lack of corruption in justice then was seen by some as a strong suit. Bribes were uncommon. The power of litigants and their extended clans mattered less. The implementation of Islamic law, or at least the rural Afghan version of it, was standard.

But the brutality at the heart of Taliban justice has not been forgotten. Mass public executions were common. Minor offenses, like cutting beards short or listening to music, often brought fierce beatings as punishment. Yet the government system still compares unfavorably in the eyes of many Afghan,s

Excerpts from AZAM AHMED, Taliban Justice Gains Favor as Official Afghan Courts Fail, NY Times,  Jan. 31, 2015

Afghanistan Withdrawal to Benefit US Bases Overseas

Salang Pass Road. Image wikipedia

Barack Obama says he is still deciding how many American troops to keep in the country after NATO’s combat mission expires in 2014. No doubt it will be a tiny fraction of today’s total. In the next 18 months America expects to remove as many as 28,000 vehicles and 40,000 shipping containers of equipment.  Shifting that much kit, with an estimated value of $30 billion, is daunting enough. The retrograde itself will cost as much as $6 billion and involve about 29,000 personnel, for the American part alone (each of the 50 coalition countries is responsible for its own logistics). The job is unprecedented in complexity; compared with Iraq, the region’s terrain and politics make it a mover’s nightmare.

The biggest problem… is that for the first time America finds itself fighting a war without a reliable seaport. From Iraq there was easy access to Kuwait. Afghanistan’s landlocked borders put the nearest usable port in Karachi, in Pakistan, which can be reached only by crossing the Khyber Pass in the east, or at Chaman in the south.  Uneasy relations between national governments have become the worst pitfall of those routes…..The difficulties of the southern route have spurred the search for an alternative. The “northern distribution network” crosses from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan, branching through the Central Asian republics and onwards, along a Soviet-era rail system, to the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and Europe. The route is safer and less volatile, but also slower and far more expensive. Perhaps its biggest drawback is Central Asian bureaucracy. …

A particular weak spot is the 3,900-metre-high Salang pass, which joins the north and south of the country. Prone to avalanches in winter, the road is in poor condition all year.   A final unknown is how the Taliban will react. Cargo trains make tempting targets, and some outbound convoys have already been attacked. Commanders are loth to reassign troops to their protection, when it would mean diverting them from building up the Afghan forces.

This unending procession of lumbering armour must be cleaned, stripped of munitions, loaded and secured for shipping. Each mine-resistant vehicle, for instance, is itemised as 17 different components, from turret to on-board computer, each piece to be logged separately. About 1m items are in the system. Some will be sent to other parts of Afghanistan, but 90% are bound for American bases overseas.

Excerpt, Withdrawing from Afghanistan: The big retrograde, Economist, Apr. 27, 2013, at 38.

United States, the Taliban, and the spin doctors

Days after deciding to blacklist an insurgent group linked to the Taliban and responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to say whether she also would brand the Taliban a foreign terrorist organization.  Asked in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Radio if the Taliban — whose government gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror network before the 2001 U.S. military actions — should be blacklisted, Clinton didn’t directly answer.

“You know, we do a very intensive analysis before we designate someone as a foreign terrorist organization,” she said. “We have reached that conclusion about the Haqqani Network, and we think it’s the right decision.”  Clinton’s decision on Sept. 7 to designate as a terrorist organization the Haqqani Network — a militant group with operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is closely affiliated with the Afghan branch of the Taliban [or simply another name for Taliban]– came after months of inter-agency debate.  One issue was the potential impact on already difficult relations with Pakistan. The Haqqanis operate from havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region with what U.S. officials have said are ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency.  Clinton said in the interview that blacklisting the Haqqanis wasn’t a message aimed at Pakistan.  “No, it is about squeezing” the Haqqanis, she said.  “It’s part of the continuing effort to try to send a message to them — not to anyone else, but to them — because of the really incredibly damaging attacks they have waged against us, against other targets inside Afghanistan, and it’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them,” she said in the interview in Vladivostok, Russia, at the end of an 11-day trip through the Asia-Pacific.  The U.S. had already slapped the Haqqani group’s leaders with individual sanctions, and has long targeted them in military operations and clandestine drone strikes.Adding the Haqqanis to the group blacklist “gives us much greater reach into any financial assets or fundraising that they may engage in, it gives us better traction against assets that they might own,” Clinton said. “It’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them.”

Though the Haqqanis were behind some of the highest-profile attacks on American and NATO interests in Afghanistan, including a day-long assault last year on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and an attack on NATO headquarters there, the debate on whether to blacklist them involved arguments that doing so might hinder U.S. policy goals.

The decision followed months of discussion within the White House, State Department, Pentagon, Treasury Department, Justice Department and the intelligence community over the merits and the timing of blacklisting the Haqqanis, according to officials from different agencies who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Opponents of blacklisting the Haqqanis had argued that slapping them with a label might hinder prospects for engaging them in reconciliation talks to take them off the battlefield. The same may be said of the Taliban…Another concern about blacklisting the Haqqanis — which can also be said of the Taliban — is that affixing a terror label to the group may affect U.S. relations with Pakistan. Some U.S. officials, including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, have said Pakistani intelligence and security forces have aided the Haqqanis in order to wield influence in Afghanistan. Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have said Pakistan needs to do more to crack down on the group.  Pakistan also has ties with the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to U.S. intelligence officials.  The U.S. wants Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to engage them in serious peace talks with the Afghan government to help bring an end to the 11-year conflict.

Excerpts, Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Clinton Doesn’t Say If Taliban Should Be on Terror List, BusinessWeek, Sept. 9, 2012

See also statement of Taliban in their website Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

Sovereigns or Unlawful Combatants? the US-Taliban Peace Talks

Taliban negotiators have begun holding preliminary talks with US officials in Qatar on plans for peace negotiations aimed at ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan, a former Taliban official said Sunday.”The actual peace talks have not yet begun — they are in the process of trust-building and obviously this will take some time,” Mawlavi Qalamuddin told AFP.  Qalamuddin, who once led the Taliban’s feared religious police when the hardline Islamists were in power, is now a member of the High Peace Council appointed by the government of President Hamid Karzai.  The Taliban, ousted from power by a US-led invasion in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, announced earlier this month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar ahead of talks with Washington.  Qalamuddin said the delegation already in the Gulf state included Mohammad Tayeb Agha, a close ally and secretary of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and Shahabuddin Delawar, the Taliban’s former ambassador to Riyadh.  With them were Sher Mohammad Abaas Stanikzai, former deputy foreign minister in the Taliban government, and Aziz-Ul Rahman, a former Taliban diplomat in Dubai, said Qalamuddin.”At the moment the delegation is holding preliminary talks. It’s in its very early phases. You need to build some trust before starting talks.”  One of the trust-building measures demanded by the Taliban is the release of five of its members from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, while Washington wants the insurgents to renounce violence…..In another effort to soothe Karzai’s doubts, a delegation from the Qatar government is expected to visit Kabul to explain its role in the talks, High Peace Council secretary Aminundin Muzaffari told AFP.”We are expecting a delegation from Qatar to come to Kabul to discuss with us the role of Afghans in peace talks and when and how peace talks in Qatar should happen and proceed.”

Excerpt, Sardar Ahmad, Taliban, US negotiators meet in Qatar, Agence France Presse, Jan. 29, 2012

Little Savage Wars of Peace, Afghanistan

While the Taliban has been pushed out of some areas of its southern heartland, the insurgency has intensified along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.  Remote Kunar with its steep mountain valleys, where bin Laden once had his base, has become the more active front of the war against the Taliban.  The area is used by insurgent fighters as an infiltration and smuggling route from Pakistan, which is just over the mountains to the west. The United States had largely pulled out of Kunar a year ago, focusing the war effort on the southern base of the Taliban, but it has since added troops.

“After 9/11, I had an idea that it was going to be a long, hard campaign. These smaller wars, these savage little wars of peace tend to go on for a long time. They’re not as quick and clean as America generally likes them to be,” said Captain Tim Blair of the 22nd Infantry from Long Island, New York.  The nature of the enemy was such that the war could go on for a long time with varying intensity. If the United States is to be kept safe, then its soldiers had to go out and take the fight to the enemy.

“I’ve always kind of thought of the Afghanistan operation as kind of one of those bug lights or lamps that you put on your front porch during the summer months to help prevent the bugs from getting into the house,” said First Lieutenant Edward Bachar from Freehold, New Jersey.  “You know, and that’s the way I think of our efforts here. We take care of the bad guys in their backyard so the people in the United States don’t have to worry about it.”

Excerpt from Nikola Solic, On the Afghan frontline, U.S. soldiers see longer war ahead, Reuters, Sept. 9, 2011

The Handover: Haqqani, bunkers, caves, raids, Afghanistan

At least 80 militants were killed in a series of operations involving Afghan and NATO forces during a day-long firefight last week in the country’s restive southeast, Paktika provincial governor Mukhlas Afghan said Sunday. NATO said it could only confirm 50 insurgents were killed in the fight.  The operation, which began Wednesday and spanned the night into Thursday, was fought in a “known Haqqani network” area.  The Haqqani network is an insurgent group loosely affiliated with the Taliban and is believed to be based in Pakistan’s frontier territories.  The raid included Afghan special forces and engaged “multiple groups of insurgents” who were armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force reported Friday.

Multiple insurgent groups were holed up in areas that included caves and fortified bunker positions, ISAF said.  Elsewhere, coalition raids on Sunday in Helmand province left five militants dead, including three Taliban commanders, according to provincial governor Dawood Ahmadi. Three others were captured, he said.  Sunday’s announcement coincides with formal ceremonies marking the handover of security to Afghan forces in parts of Kabul and Panjshir province.  They are the fifth and sixth areas to be transferred to national forces.

David Ariosto, Gunbattle in Afghanistan leaves 80 militants dead, governor saysBy,CNN, July 24, 2011

Osama is Dead but Afghanistan Escapes

It was, said the president’s spokesman, a “disaster”. Some 500 prisoners, mostly Taliban fighters, had escaped in the early hours of April 25th from a prison holding insurgents in southern Afghanistan.  The caper involved an 18-man crew working from outside the prison undetected for five months. They dug a tunnel some 320 metres (1,050 feet) long into the heart of the Kandahar jail. The tunnellers started their work from a compound that housed a construction company. They deftly concealed the excavated soil. They put in metal beams to support the tunnel as it ran under one of the country’s main highways, and they installed lighting and ventilation.

As well as flaunting the Taliban’s ability to pull off remarkable stunts, the episode also exposed, yet again, the feebleness of Afghan security forces. The Afghan army and police are meant to take over the handling of the country’s security from the Western-led international coalition by the end of 2014. The president, Hamid Karzai, joined the chorus of people claiming that the escapees must have got inside help from prison guards. Insurgent infiltration of the security forces is a subject of mounting concern. A series of deadly attacks have taken place, especially against coalition forces, by men in Afghan uniforms. The latest came on April 27th, in Kabul, when an Afghan pilot killed eight American soldiers and a civilian contractor. It is unclear whether the pilot, who was killed, had Taliban sympathies.

Yet others, including one of the Taliban escapees, gainsay the idea that the breakout had inside assistance. Contacted by telephone soon afterwards, the 28-year-old said there was no need to infiltrate the guards. They were, he said, all stoned. He said it was normal for them to get high on marijuana or heroin and then turn in for a good night’s sleep. The guards realised only hours later that their charges had escaped. The contrast between Afghan government hopelessness and insurgent craftiness could hardly have been more stark. The Taliban were quick to follow up the escape with an information campaign, putting out a press release in perfect English that crowed about their success.

Excerpt: Afghanistan security: Break for the hills, Economist, April 30, 2011, at 45