May 7, 2013 by Samina Yasmeen
Imran Khan sustained head and back injuries due to a fall as he was preparing to address a rally in the posh suburb of Gulberg in Lahore on May 7. With his fall the Pakistani election campaign assumed a more humane dimension, with all and sundry sending messages to Imran Khan and suspending any recriminations against him in campaign rallies. But the question has arisen as to whether Khan’s accident will significantly impact on the outcome of the elections on May 11.
The debates and discourse on Pakistan’s foreign policy in the election campaign provide some answers to this question. Sitting at a strategic crossroads, with a long border with and history of involvement in Afghanistan, the international context plays a particularly important role in Pakistani politics.
The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party led by the well known cricketer-turned-politician (Khan), the Pakistani Muslim League led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam led by Fazal-ur-Rehman (JUI-F) are the main players in the current campaign.
May 2, 2013 by William Thomson
One of the most pressing issues currently facing Afghanistan is the difficult economic transition set to occur at the end of 2014. Although security is the concern that grabs headlines, it’s the economy, and the ability of the Afghan government to afford itself, that will determine the long-term success of the Afghan state. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to domestically source revenue to cover the military and security expenses it faces, let alone finance development and the social safety net, thus far provided largely by NGOs and donors nations, that the population has come to expect.
Although significant funding has been committed by donor nations it falls well short of the $10 billion a year through 2025 that President Hamid Karzai asked for. The $10 billion request represents significant figure for foreign donors, between 61% and 78% of GDP depending on which GDP estimates are used. The $4 billion committed by the international community at the 2012 Tokyo Donors Conference is not even a sure thing, as donor fatigue and historic failures to live up to development aid commitments are likely. This means, in the best-case scenario, that the government of Afghanistan would face a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion a year starting in 2014, but odds are it will be far greater.
April 15, 2013 by William Thomson
During 2013 the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will continue to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan as coalition partners rapidly withdraw troops ahead of the end of the NATO Afghan mandate in 2014. However, 2014 will not be the end of the US or the International Community’s (IC) mission in Afghanistan. 2014 will mark the beginning of a new chapter for IC engagement in Afghanistan. To be successful NATO and the IC must immediately take several aggressive steps in order to prepare for the political transition.
Significant efforts have been made both in Europe and the US to set the stage for negotiations with the Taliban. The hope is that such negotiations will ready Afghanistan for a more productive post-2014 political environment. Despite the international community’s presence in country for more then a decade, these discussions are premature because of the inability of the Afghans and the IC to push for a robust internal Afghan political settlement. If Afghans cannot get along with each other internally, they certainly cannot coherently negotiate with an external force.
Rather than focusing on settling disputes between competing factions within the Afghan government in order to create a coherent and effective Afghan government, the IC has left such discussions up to the Afghans, and in doing so has allowed for the continuation of the inept and corrupt Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). In many respects this failure can be traced to the reason the IC remains in Afghanistan. Except for security, IC support in Afghanistan has failed to reform its political system, advance its economy significantly, or address systemic corruption in any substantive way. This failure is the result of competing internal political factions within the Afghan government.
April 12, 2013 by James J. Coyle
Last week’s nuclear talks between U.S. and Iranian officials in Kazakhstan stalemated, despite positive statements before the meeting. Negotiators could take a lesson from their hosts, who in the early 1990s surrendered their nuclear capability to Russia. Kazakhstan gave up 898 warheads and, by 1996 had destroyed its missile silos originally designed for the SS-18. Ukraine and Belarus also gave up its nuclear capabilities. Azerbaijan and the Baltic republics transferred their nuclear weaponry to the Soviet Union before its demise. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan moved their weapons to Russian territory by May 1992.
Anti-nuclear sentiment is strong in the post-Soviet Republics. The late President Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan declared nuclear weapons “a threat to mankind.” He told the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization that “The main goal of mankind is to stop the production of nuclear weapons, or at least the goal should be to stop testing them.” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev closed the Soviet test site Semipalatinsk even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “Thousands of Kazakhstan citizens of different ages joined together in the anti-nuclear movement, which overwhelmed the whole country.”
March 14, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like the world to perceive him otherwise, Karzai finds himself in an untenable position. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw the majority of its remaining troops, the country’s security forces remain woefully unprepared to assume responsibility for the country’s security, corruption remains endemic, and many observers admit that Afghanistan is in reality little better off today than it was when Karzai assumed power in 2004. With his leadership slated to end next year, there is little reason to believe that his successor will do any better in meaningfully addressing Afghanistan’s plethora of problems.
Hamid Karzai has never hesitated to challenge the U.S. publically, whether for a domestic or international audience, but the pace at which he is forcefully challenging the U.S. now is unprecedented. Equating the U.S. with the Taliban as forces working to undermine the government really is over the top, particularly given the tremendous resources the U.S. has provided to Karzai’s government over the past decade – and that he owes his position, as well as any progress that has been made to date – to the U.S. It is a little late to be attempting to change his image as “America’s Man”. We find ourselves wondering why he would be trying to do so in the first place. His legacy is clear to all. No pandering to domestic political interests is going to change that.
December 1, 2012 by Conn M. Hallinan
From the ice-bound passes of the Hindu Kush to the blazing heat of the Karakum Desert, Central Asia is a sub-continent steeped in illusion. For more than two millennia conquerors have been lured by the mirage that it is a gateway to immense wealth: China to the east, India to the south, Persia to the west, and to the north, the riches of the Caspian basin. Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, British, and Soviets have all come and gone, leaving behind little more than forgotten graveyards and the detritus of war. Americans and our NATO allies are next.
It is a cliché that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, but a cliché doesn’t mean something is not true, just that it is repeated over and over again until the phrase becomes numbing. It is a tragedy that the US was “numb” to that particular platitude, although we have company. In the past 175 years England has invaded Afghanistan four times.
November 5, 2012 by John Kmiecik
The attacks on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 and protests across the Islamic world against the film, Innocence of Muslims, have many officials in Washington questioning America’s role in the ‘Arab Spring’. Because of the US presidential election, political debate is focused on the future of US-Libya relations.
In taking a quick glance at the development of American foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Central Asia one can be overwhelmed at the dismal progress that has made in advancing democracy in those regions. There is an urgent need for a successful event to demonstrate to the domestic public and international community that America is capable of bringing stability to these regions.
November 1, 2012 by Conn M. Hallinan
Two years ago Turkey was on its way to being a player in Central Asia, a major power broker in the Middle East, and a force in international politics. It had stepped in to avoid a major escalation of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia by blocking U.S. ships from entering the Black Sea, made peace with its regional rivals, and, along with Brazil, made a serious stab at a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis.
Today it is exchanging artillery rounds with Syria. Its relations with Iraq have deteriorated to the point that Baghdad has declared Ankara a “hostile state.” It picked a fight with Russia by forcing down a Syrian passenger plane and accusing Moscow of sending arms to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It angered Iran by agreeing to host a U.S. anti-missile system (a step which won Turkey no friends in Moscow either). Its war with its Kurdish minority has escalated sharply.
October 15, 2012 by Franz-Stefan Gady
When US Major Lee and Captain Gil entered Ganat Kahiyl High School in eastern Afghanistan recently, a local teacher slipped them a small note: “The Taliban have visited our school and forced their curriculum upon us. Can the government help?”
This was not an empty threat. Insurgents burned down Sahakh High School in the same district a couple months earlier for teaching girls and the government’s curriculum. Taliban attacks on schools that defy insurgents are reported often, though difficult to confirm because of Taliban influence, say analysts. In fact, the US officers were visiting the school to promote the Village Outreach Program, devised by the local US Army and the district governor of Zormat to battle that type of Taliban influence on schools and children.
September 19, 2012 by Binoy Kampmark
The deceptive ways a loss in war is described can be contagious. Retreats are often regarded as odious, but sometimes necessary. These can either have the genius of the British spirit of tactical withdrawal, or a more laughable concept of an honourable peace. When that power tends to be a Goliath, or even a Colossus, explanations for what ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’ constitutes assume the exotic, tinged with madness.
By whatever stretch of the imagination, NATO’s latest change of tack in its deployments, minimising contact between Afghan recruits and its own soldiers suggests a monumental victory for the Taliban forces. It is questionable whether a transition strategy can feasibly work where Afghan policemen and soldiers are kept out of the loop. The mantra from the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan has been solidarity with local forces in the fight against the enemy. That, it would seem, is no more.
August 23, 2012 by John Kmiecik
Exploring the dimensions of Sino-Russian relations reveals a perplexing question, “who is the junior partner?” No definite answer presents itself because Sino-Russian relations change depending on different issues and situations. In the post Cold War era, China has proved to be very adaptable to change while Russia has struggled to restructure to the new order. However, elements of this relationship afford Russia the facility to reassert authority over the international scene. The equation behind these circumstances is that the relationship benefits Moscow’s interest in the short term and Beijing’s interest in the long term.
Since the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia has been experiencing a national identity crisis. Russia went from being a superpower to a source of regional military and economic instability.
August 11, 2012 by Aurangzaib Alamgir
In the last four years, more than 65 attacks have occurred on the Hazara people in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, and in the first six months of 2012, more than 22 alone. The attacks have led to countless killings and have left thousands wounded. 2003 marked the first time that there were attacks against the Hazaras in Balochistan and this coincided with the insurgency movement in Balochistan. Many attribute these killings as part of the sectarian divide that has existed in Pakistan since the 1980s as a result of the widening Shia-Sunni fault line.
Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has not been able to consolidate as a nation state or create a single national identity. Infrequent attempts by fundamental Sunni sects to bandit the practice of Shiaism have fueled violence and divided the Pakistani society along sectarian lines. The sectarian divide breaks down roughly to 75 to 85 percent Sunni and 15 to 25 percent Shia.
July 15, 2012 by Conn M. Hallinan
“…it may be a surprise to find some moral philosophers, political scientists, and weapons specialists believe unmanned aircraft offer marked moral advantages over almost any other tool of warfare.”
– Scott Shane, national security reporter for the New York Times, “The Moral Defense For Drones,”
First, one should never be surprised to find that the NY Times can ferret out experts to say virtually anything. Didn’t they dig up those who told us all that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons? Second, whenever the newspaper uses the words “some,” that’s generally a tipoff the dice are loaded, in this case with a former Air Force officer (who teaches philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School), a former CIA deputy chief of counterintelligence, and political scientist Avery Plaw, author of “Targeting Terrorists: A License To Kill?”
July 14, 2012 by Sudhanshu Tripathi
The major donor’s conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo attempted to shore up a slew of issues in Afghanistan as the 2014 deadline approaches when coalition forces are scheduled to leave, ostensibly leaving Afghanistan’s nascent security forces on there own. The donor’s conference aimed at setting aid levels for the crucial post-2014 period. The “Tokyo Declaration” adopted at the end of the conference, pledged $16 billion for development projects over the next four years, when most NATO- led foreign combat troops will leave.
Japan, the second largest donor, after the United States says it will provide up to $3 billion through 2016, and Germany has announced it will keep its contribution level at current levels of $536 million a year, at least until 2016.
Similarly, India committed $2 billion including $500 million committed during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kabul last year out of which a large portion of this assistance has been disbursed or is committed to ongoing projects.
July 10, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution has written a piece in the Washington Post “Picking a Winner in Afghanistan” that argues that whoever replaces Karzai in 2014 will prove to be as important in holding the country together as whether a return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda can be prevented.
O’Hanlon takes the position that the United States should in essence help facilitate selection of the next Afghan president once Karzai’s second term ends, and do whatever it can to encourage the election of a reformer. He places a lot of faith in the supposition that Karzai won’t find a way to extend his term under some emergency law, or have Afghan lawmakers loyal to him make it possible for him to run for a third term. He also assumes that a viable, desirable alternative to Karzai will prove to be acceptable to a Loya Jirga.