IN THIS ISSUE:
- Over 74 killed or injured in terrorist attacks.
- Serious flooding results in over 100 deaths
- NATO draws up strategy for Afghanistan at Riga Summit
- UN Security Council delegation visits Afghanistan.
The number of suicide attacks during November has been somewhat less than in previous months. There has been much speculation as to why this might be the case. The Taliban have stated that the early onset of winter has led them to curtail their operations and that they expect to engage in major offensives after the winter. Others are venturing the view that complex negotiations may be going on behind the scenes and that, if so, this might be a key factor in the apparent lull in the intensity of the insurgency.
In response to an increase in incidents during the last week of November, a NATO spokesman commented that the insurgents might be seeking to make a statement to coincide with the NATO summit in Riga. The specific incidents, one of which involved considerable casualties, include the following:
- On 1st November, two International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers were slightly injured when a suicide bomber attacked an ISAF convoy on a main road outside Kandahar.
- On 7th November, the district chief of Tanai District, in the eastern province of Khost, was seriously injured, along with his two police guards, in a suicide attack on his vehicle.
- On 26th November, at least 15 people were killed and 25 injured in a suicide attack on a restaurant in Orgun District in the eastern province of Paktia. The attack was reported to have been targeted at a district chief and an army officer, both of whom escaped with minor injuries. Several other provincial officials were injured. However, the dead were also said to have included members of a militia group working with US forces in the area.
- On 27th November, an Afghan passer-by was killed, and another injured, in a suicide car bomb attack on a convoy of ISAF troops outside Kandahar. Two ISAF soldiers were also killed.
- On 28th November, a policeman was killed in Herat Province when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle next to a police truck that had been chasing him. Four people were wounded.
- On 29th November, two Afghan passers-by were killed and two were injured when a man driving a motorcycle blew it up near a convoy of ISAF and Afghan National Army troops in Kandahar city.
The police have continued to be targeted through ambushes. The specific incidents include the following:
- On 3rd November, a district police chief and five other officers were killed when a police convoy was ambushed in Adraskan District of Herat Province. Three other policemen were injured.
- On 6th November, one policeman was killed and two were injured in an ambush on a police patrol in the southern province of Zabul.
Women who are active in the public sphere are also actively targeted. On 21st November, gunmen killed the husband of a female member of Kandahar's Provincial Council, as he left their car to buy bread. She was unhurt.
Those directly associated with international forces remain very much at risk. On 4th November, two Pakistani drivers were killed and one Afghan driver was injured when a convoy supplying goods to a US base in the eastern province of Khost was ambushed.
There have been several abductions this month. The specific incidents include the following:
- On 2nd November, a pharmacist employed by the NGO, Afghan Health and Development Services, was kidnapped at gunpoint at Panjwai, near Kandahar. Fortunately he was released a few hours later. The organisation has lost a number of its staff in recent years.
- On 6th November, four Afghan staff employed by the International Organisation for Migration were abducted, along with the head of an Afghan construction company, while on their way to visit a newly built school in Zurmat District in the eastern province of Paktia. Three, who were day labourers, were released on the following day but two, one of whom was an engineer and the other the head of the construction company, remained held.
- On 25th November, two Pakistani journalists were reported to have been captured by the Taliban in Baghran District of Helmand four days earlier. They were released on 26th November. A Taliban spokesman stated that the two had entered the district without their permission.
On 3rd November, an Italian photographer kidnapped in mid October, when travelling between Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, was freed.
The month has been dominated by reflections as to whether the insurgency could best be addressed by looking to tribal structures to provide security in the Pushtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There has been a clear recognition that the insurgency cannot be tackled by military means alone, resulting in an assertion that it must be combined with development assistance aimed to reduce support, from within the population, for the insurgents. However, the question as to whether the authorities and international forces should go beyond this, to strike deals with tribal elders to provide security in their own areas, is proving to be a difficult one when there is clearly a Taliban presence throughout southern Afghanistan as well as in parts of the tribal areas of Pakistan. Further, the Taliban have been able to recruit fighters on a significant scale at the local level because of a perception that international forces represent an invasion force. There has also been growing public anger over civilian casualties and the damage caused by bombing raids. It is, therefore, necessary for the government and international forces to accept that deals with tribal leaders will not totally remove the Taliban presence or sympathy for them, even if, at the same time, there is some ambivalence towards the Taliban because of the climate of fear that they generate. The stated view of both President Karzai and ISAF is that, notwithstanding some disquieting developments, the Musa Qala agreement drawn up in October has proved to be successful in restoring control to the tribal leaders and, as a result, bringing peace to the area.
Although armed clashes continue to occur in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces, these are at a much lower level of intensity than in recent months, thus providing an opportunity for a restoration of basic services to the population. It was reported by the UN's IRIN on 7th November that tribal elders in Sangin, Nawzad and Nad Ali districts of Helmand had helped the government open at least 20 schools in the previous two weeks by undertaking to provide protection for them.
The Afghan Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Ehsan Zia, has also taken the opportunity to announce, on 21st November, a three year reconstruction programme in Kandahar Province, at a cost of $28 million. He noted that this would include the construction of roads and bridges, the provision of clean drinking water and rural development, the latter through the National Solidarity Programme (NSP). He added that the NSP was already operating in eight districts and that it would soon commence in three additional districts. He further stated that an additional $8 million had been earmarked for reconstruction in Panjwai and Zhari districts. These districts suffered particularly from the ISAF offensive conducted at the beginning of September.
The Afghan Government has taken further steps to organise the Jirga agreed in September between the Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington as a mechanism for bringing the Pushtun tribes on both sides of the border together to address the security situation. On 7th November, President Karzai named the members of a Commission which would make arrangements for the Jirga, which is expected to be held in Jalalabad. These include Pir Gailani as Chairman and Haji Mohammed Muhaqiq and Maulavi Fale Hadi Shinwari as Vice-Chairmen, all of whom wield considerable influence. A secretariat was also established, headed by the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. Up to 1,600 people are expected to attend, drawn from Parliament, civil society and tribal elders, with UN and other international representatives in a monitoring role. No date has yet been set but it has been provisionally scheduled for December or January, with January the more likely month.
However, constructive participation from the Pakistan side of the border may have been undermined by an air strike on a madrasah in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region on 30th October in which 80 people were killed. Although the Pakistan airforce has claimed responsibility, stating that the madrasah was being used to train terrorists, there have been widespread accusations that the air strike was launched by the US military, with some suggesting that a Predator drone had been used. The accusers also refute claims that those killed were planning terrorist activity and insist that they were, for the most part, simple students. They further state that the fact that the Pakistan Government was about to sign a peace deal in Bajaur that day with local leaders on the model of the North Waziristan agreement is not consistent with them launching an air strike.
It is likely that a suicide attack on an army training school at Dargai 30 miles from Bajaur, on 8th November was a consequence of the attack on the Bajaur madrasah. The head of the madrasah, who was among those killed at Bajaur, was a member of a banned radical group, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-Mohammadi, which has a strong presence in Dargai. At least 42 soldiers were killed and up to 20 were injured, some seriously. The suicide bomber walked into the parade ground where the soldiers were exercising.
President Karzai has written to a number of the major power holders with influence over Pakistan's Pushtun tribes to seek their support for his Jirga initiative. Among these is the Awami National Party (ANP) which organised its own Jirga in Peshawar on November 20th in an effort to generate greater unity amongst Pakistani Pushtuns in the face of perceived threats to their image. The ANP spokesman stated that they were ready to forget their differences with the religious parties to this end. At the Jirga, concern was expressed over what was seen as a growing Talibanisation of the Pushtun area. Asfandyar Wali, head of the ANP, asserted that the Taliban "are not the creation of Pushtun society but the creation of the Pakistan army." However, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is head of Jamiat-al-Ulema al-Islami and, as such, has strong historical links with the Taliban, called for a withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and the participation of the Taliban in the political process. He stated that the Taliban represented a resistance movement to the presence of international forces. In a TV interview on 22nd November, Maulana Fazlur Rahman went further in stating that there would be no peace without talks between the Taliban and the US Government, as "the two genuine parties" to the conflict.
A similar perspective was given by the Governor of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, in an interview with the Sunday Times reporter, Christina Lamb, published on 26th November. He expressed the view that the British forces would never win in Afghanistan by military means and that the UK should open negotiations with the Taliban. He added that the reason why Taliban numbers had swelled was because moderates were joining the militants. He further stated: "It is no longer an insurgency but a war of Pushtun resistance exactly on the model of the first Anglo-Afghan war." He also commented : "Instead of fighting, the only answer was to talk to the Taliban...There will be no military solution, there has to be a political solution. How many more lives have to be lost before people realise it's time for dialogue."
These calls for talks between the Taliban and the US or UK governments sit uneasily with the fact that the Taliban have rejected overtures that President Karzai has made to both the Taliban and Hisb-e-Islami to open talks with his government. The Hisb-e-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, responded by saying that he would only hold negotiations with the Afghan Government if a deadline was set for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. A government spokesman stated that no deadline would be set for such a withdrawal, adding that Afghan security forces were not yet in a position to provide security and thus ensure stability.
It is unclear what role a National Reconciliation Committee set up on 31st October by the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament) will play in this regard. The purpose of the Committee is said to be to launch talks with the Taliban, Hisb-e-Islami and other dissidents. It is also unclear how this committee will relate to the Reconciliation Commission set up eighteen months ago, under the leadership of Sibghatullah Mujadidi, which has encouraged an estimated 2,500 relatively moderate members of the Taliban and Hisb-e-Islami to support the government.
The size of the international military presence is, in part, affected by the capacity of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The Afghan Defence Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, announced,on 22nd November, that the training programme for the ANA was to be accelerated to cover 2,000 soldiers a month. This announcement followed talks at the Pentagon with General Karl Eikenberry, commander of Combined Forces Command. He expressed the hope that this would make it possible for the ANA to achieve a strength of 70,000 soldiers by October 2008 rather than late 2010, as envisaged under the Afghanistan Compact agreed with donors. He added that this would increasingly enable international forces to focus on training and mentoring the ANA, leaving direct operations to the army, and thus make it possible to progressively reduce the international military presence.
An additional factor is the ability of both the Pakistan and Afghan governments to police the border and thus inhibit the movement, back and forth, of insurgents. President Musharraf has suggested, in this regard and in response to criticisms that his government is not doing enough, that the border should be fenced and mined. President Karzai has rejected this proposal, stating that it would divide communities living astride the border.
Afghanistan was a key focus of discussions at a NATO summit held in Riga on 28th and 29th November. The strategy drawn up centred on the importance of following up military activity through development assistance, with the Afghan Government, the UN and the European Union the principal vehicles for programmes to improve roads, strengthen the education sector, work to build a professional police force and address the narcotics issue. The US Ambassador to NATO was quoted as saying: "A military mission alone will not succeed. We must have security married to good governance and development and that means the EU, UN and NATO working in harmony with Afghans." At the summit, NATO agreed to increase the level of support that it would provide to train and develop the Afghan National Army. It was also decided that the member states of NATO would make stronger contributions to the training of the Afghan National Police.
The British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) and the European Network of NGOs in Afghanistan (ENNA) drew up a position paper in response to this statement. In this, they stressed the importance of the international military focusing their efforts on security sector improvements, through a strengthening of the ANA and other mechanisms. They noted that "increasing insecurity is now the greatest concern for most Afghans." At the same time, they expressed their concern that, in pursuit of military strategies, the military were engaging in what are termed 'quick impact projects', aimed to provide short-term development assistance. They commented that such projects could "seriously undermine the aid efforts of civilian agencies that operate on the basis of impartiality and the trust of local communities" and were often unsustainable. They also stated that "linking aid to military imperatives damages the relationship between the aid agencies and their beneficiary communities and makes it harder to build an effective development basis for long lasting peace and stability."
UN Security Council delegation visits Afghanistan
The delegation, which visited Afghanistan from 11th-16th November, noted the major achievements of the post-Bonn period. These included continuing high rates of economic growth and increasing per capita income; expanding trade and investment, principally with regional partners; significant infrastructure projects in the field of road building, power generation and transmission, and watershed management; successful national programmes in the fields of education, health, rural development and development of new Afghan security institutions." It commented, however, that there were "uneven efforts to improve governance and establish the rule of law" and expressed its concern over "continued impunity for criminals, corrupt officials and commanders of illegal armed groups." In noting the continuing high level of poverty, it stated that "the international community and the Government of Afghanistan are particularly encouraged to implement programmes that generate employment, given that the dearth of such opportunities contributes significantly to the recruitment of insurgents."
The report made some interesting comments with regard to the involvement of international military forces in development activity. It stated that "the mission recognises that, where possible, humanitarian and development assistance should be delivered by skilled and experienced civilian actors" and, in a clear reference to the importance of the international military focusing on the security sector, commented that "assistance will need to be provided by those best placed to deliver in the framework of their respective mandates". It also stressed that the work of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams operated by the international military should be "led by government and...delivered in line with community priorities and the Afghan National Development Strategy."
In a meeting with the delegation, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, which brings NGOs together to discuss programming issues, argued for a greater allocation of funding to NGOs to ensure their continued viability, and therefore the sustainability of basic services to the population, while the government builds up its own capacity. In noting that 80% of NGO activities are undertaken through government programmes such as the National Solidarity Programme and the Ministry of Public Health's Basic Package of Health Care, ACBAR stressed that capacity problems within the government were placing contracted NGOs in a vulnerable position, both with regard to their own finances and the security of their staff. It noted, in this regard, that the government currently lacks the capacity to absorb a majority of the aid that it receives or to process it efficiently. In a paper presented to the delegation, with the title "Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan", ACBAR also commented on the impact of security on NGO programmes. It noted that no major NGO had withdrawn completely from Afghanistan, with the exception of MSF in 2004, and added that, "instead, NGOs are endeavouring to adapt to the adverse situation through strategic means such as restricting work to secure areas and using low profile approaches." The report adds that "a consequence of this current reality is that the most insecure and needy areas are now those with the least aid actors" and continues: "This has triggered a vicious circle: the insecurity is preventing reconstruction and this, in turn, is fuelling the population's distrust of both the international community and the government." Nearly all aid agencies working in the south and south-east report that armed conflict is having a major effect on their programmes. In addition, NGOs working in Farah, Ghor, Badghis and Faryab in north-west Afghanistan have considerably curtailed their programmes.
The US Government has issued an assessment of progress on the development of the Afghan National Police. Entitled 'Inter-agency Assessment of Afghanistan Police Training and Readiness Program", it found that obstacles to establishing a fully professional Afghan National Police were "formidable" and included "pervasive corruption, illiterate recruits, a history of low pay and an insecure environment." It added that "ANP's readiness level to carry out its internal security and conventional police responsibilities is far from adequate." It also commented that, until the Afghan criminal justice system has matured and was coordinated from the national to the local level, the ANP would "function more as a security force than as a law enforcement organisation." Among the recommendations were the expansion and better management of a mentoring programme.
The Afghan Government has established an auxiliary police force in southern Afghanistan. These are largely tribal militia. The 10 day training course includes lessons on the Afghan constitution, human rights, the use of weapons and basic police tactics. The recruits, who wear the same uniform as the Afghan National Police, are then sent to their home districts, equipped with an automatic gun. They receive $70 per month, the same as the ANP. The assumption behind the creation of this force is that security at the local level will largely be dependent on the tribal militia, in any event, and that it is better to provide them with training and secure a degree of allegiance through payment. Critics fear that the new force, which is expected to reach 11,000 recruits by next year, will create confusion with the ANP and lead to even greater numbers of police engaging in corruption and extortion.
UNAMA reported on 10th November that flash floods had led to the deaths of at least four people after torrential rains hit the Behsud district of the eastern province of Nangarhar. Five others were reported missing. Over 1,000 houses were destroyed.
Further deaths were reported by the Afghan Health Ministry on 17th November, when it advised that flash floods had killed 66 people in the Bala Murghab district of the north-western province of Badghis. Another 100 people were said to be missing. An estimated 2,300 livestock were also killed. 10-15 villages had suffered serious damaged, affecting nearly 3,500 houses. The Afghan Government and UN agencies sent supplies to the affected area but access was initially very difficult because of the remoteness of the region and the effect of the flooding on the roads. ISAF also faced difficulties in its attempts to take in supplies by helicopter.
A further 17 people were reported to have been killed in floods in the Purchaman district of Farah Province on 19th November. An additional 50 deaths were reported on 20th November from flooding in the southern province of Uruzgan. The flooding also destroyed roads, a bridge and farmland.
On 29th November, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated the total number of people affected by floods in the provinces of Nangarhar, Badghis, Farah, Uruzgan, Faryab and Jowzjan to be 24,000. It added that it was assisting the government and other agencies in relief efforts to these provinces. The deliveries of supplies were said to have been hampered by flood damage and the early arrival of snow on high ground, as well as by insecurity on some routes.
WFP also announced, on 14th November, that it would distribute food aid to 70,000 people in the drought-affected provinces of Zabul, Uruzgan and Kandahar. A further distribution was earmarked for 81,000 people displaced by the recent military activity in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan. An additional 200,000 people were to be targeted through food for work programmes in Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul, Uruzgan and Kandahar. WFP also planned to pre-position 21,000 tonnes of food in seven provinces across Afghanistan, to provide assistance to 2.3 million people in high altitude areas before these became inaccessible due to heavy snowfall. The organisation stated that it faced a shortfall of 43,500 mt of wheat and other commodities, valued at $30million, for the coming six months and called for further international donations.
It was announced on 1st November that 540,000 children would be targeted through a vaccination campaign, starting that day, against measles, tetanus and polio in the southern provinces. Women of child-bearing age were also to be immunised against tetanus. The provinces of Paktya, Paktika and Khost were to be covered, together with parts of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz. The provinces of Uruzgan and Zabul, together with the remaining districts of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz, were to be tackled at a later date. The campaign was organised by the Ministry of Public Health, with support from UNICEF, WHO and NGOs. UNICEF noted that the incidence of measles had increased slightly over the past couple of years after a significant fall from 2000-2004. Polio has also shown an increase in recent years. This is attributed to growing insecurity.
Oxfam issued a report on 27th November to review progress in the education sector. The report, entitled "Free Quality Education for Every Afghan Child", noted that, although enrolment had increased five-fold since 2001 to five million, a majority, seven million, of Afghan children still did not attend school. It added that only one in five girls was attending primary school and only one in 20 attending secondary school. The report called for significant additional investment in education by the international community.
The Iranian Government reported on 20th November that 950,000 Afghans were documented as living in Iran. It added that, over the previous five years, 1.4 million had been repatriated. 250,000 Afghans were said to have been arrested during the current year while attempting to enter the country without valid entry permits.
The Pakistan police advised on November 26th that they had deported 406 Afghans after arresting them for illegal entry. This followed a recent crackdown on illegal immigrants. The crackdown may be linked to the current registration process which is aimed to provide documentation for those recorded during a census last year. Only 525,000 had registered by the end of November.
Pakistan currently hosts 2.6 million Afghans, including 1.3 million in camps. It is expected that it will use the registration process to clamp down on the large number of Afghans who enter the country in search of work. The new documentation will also be used for security purposes.
Concern amongst the international military that the refugee camps in Pakistan may have provided recruits for the insurgency, and also provided a safe haven, may have been a contributory factor in Pakistan seeking to put the squeeze on its Afghan population.
The Afghan economy is heavily dependent on the ability of Afghans to seek work in both Iran and Pakistan. If both countries are making access more difficult, this will have serious implications for the level of poverty in Afghanistan and, potentially, for security.
The Afghan Government has announced that the country is free of bird flu, with no cases detected over the past six months.
A report by the US Government Accountability Office has warned that the prevalence of opium cultivation and drug trafficking in Afghanistan threatens the stability of the government.
Another report, written jointly by UNODC and the World Bank, concludes that it will take a generation to wipe out the drugs trade. This report, entitled 'Afghanistan's Drug Industry: Structure, Functioning, Dynamics and Implications for Counter Narcotics Policy' comments that "efforts to combat opium production in Afghanistan have been marred by corruption and have failed to prevent the consolidation of the drugs trade in the hands of fewer powerful players with strong political connections." It adds that "interdiction efforts especially need to target high level profiteers whose wealth magnifies their potential for corrupting the state." The report goes on to say that "experience shows that implementation of eradication programs, especially if they are partial or limited to certain areas, is inevitably distorted by corruption so they disproportionately affect the poor and those without local political connections. This underlines the importance of increased efforts to strengthen and reform key institutions such as the police in order to reduce their vulnerability to drug-related corruption and rebuild trust in government."
The manager of the National AIDS Control Programme reported on 28th November that the growing use of heroin had led to 61 confirmed HIV positive cases in Afghanistan. He added that there were a further 1,500 to 2,000 suspected cases. The sharing of needles was seen as a primary cause. Some