Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Poppies aplenty

Afghanistan’s farmers earned $1.4 billion from opium in 2011, an increase of 133 percent over the year before. That’s about 9 percent of the country’s GDP. Policy options to constrain poppy cultivation have all fallen short.

Poppy cultivation was at its peak in Afghanistan in 2007, but recent reports suggest that there is to be a bumper crop this year. According to a recent UN report, there is an increase in production in 9 provinces since 2011. The provinces of Kandahar and Hilmand are the biggest producers with increases expected in the north western provinces. The increasing price of opium is to blame for this, as well as conditions of poverty, insecurity, corruption and mis-governance. According to the above mentioned UN Report, “High sales price of opium” was the predominant reason (71%) for growing opium (77% in 2011). About 13% of respondents in villages with opium cultivation cited that poverty was the reason for cultivating opium. This was followed by “high income from little land” (5%) as reason for cultivating opium.

Expected opium cultivation trends in 2012 (by province)

According to The Economist, this has reversed the gains made through the the British government’s “food zone” initiative which was one effort to cut down the opium trade. Under this initiative, farmers were subsidized to grow alternative crops, with the successive dismantling of poppy farms. The zone is implemented in central Helmand where security conditions have improved with an inflow of British, American and other foreign troops. However, this has led to the trade being transferred to neighboring Farah, as well as drug barons striking deals with the Taliban.

Price of dry opium and food grains in 2011 and 2012 (US$/kg)
Opium Winter Risk Assessment Survey, 2012

Thus until an alternative-crop programs does not become generally applicable, gains in one province will just move production to another. There is evidence to suggest that more subsidies and facilities to farmers could make them switch crops. There is a strong, statistically significant association between lack of agricultural assistance and poppy cultivation according to the UN. Villages, which had not received agricultural assistance, were more likely to grow poppy than villages which had received assistance. But with the security conditions, Taliban, and weak state of government this seems unlikely to happen in the medium term.

The US has already spent $4.7 billion on anti-drug programs in Afghanistan, with minimal results, which is why their policy shifted to “food zone” type of programs. A simple yet drastic option is to buy up all the opium with the same amount of money that was previously been used for anti-drug programs. A recent New York Times article suggests that if the United States and its partners bought all of Afghanistan’s opium, a major source of corruption in Afghanistan would disappear along with violence in Taliban controlled areas as well as global heroin and morphine addiction. The opium could be redirected to medical use, like morphine which is in globally in short supply. This type of “buying up” has the potential to make the drug trade legal and provide and honest living for farmers. India, for example, has implemented a licensing system where accredited farmers grow opium and it is processed and exported. Even with leakages into illicit markets, there would still be progress.

While the above options seem unlikely to be implemented soon, foreign donors have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on border security and counter-narcotics projects designed to cut trafficking through Asia. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 30% of Afghan opiates (including 90 tonnes of heroin a year) pass through Central Asia on their way to Russia, most of them through Tajikistan. The Economist believes that the industry is equivalent to 30-50% of Tajikistan’s GDP. NATO which is trying to withdraw from the region does not want to upset the status quo to keep the Tajik government supporting NATO.

Moves by the NATO alliance to disrupt Afghanistan’s drug trade has been slowed by objections from member nations that say their laws do not permit soldiers to carry out such operations and that this distracts from the real purpose of fighting terrorism. It seems that the global black market for opium will continue to do well in coming years.

Saadia Gardezi. Pakistan Policy Group 2012. 

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WikiLeaks’ Pakistan

The WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables about Pakistan has shed new light on US-Pakistan relations. The leaked communications reveal Washington’s frustration with Islamabad and the civil-military struggles within Pakistan. Dispatches from early 2010, for instance, quote the aging Saudi monarch calling President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress: “When the head is rotten it affects the whole body”.

ISI still in the game: The cables from Secretary of State acknowledge that Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, but some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayabba (LeT) and other extremist organizations.

Biden and Brown on militancy and aid: According to the cable documenting US Vice President Biden’s March 27, 2009 meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, there was no real possibility of defeating Al Qaeda without also “dealing with Pakistan”. Vice President Biden said he worried that NATO countries in Europe underestimated the threat from the region and viewed the problem as an economic development issue rather than a security issue, despite the fact that Afghan opium is primarily exported to Europe; and Europe has been the victim of several terrorist attacks originating from the region.

During this meeting, Vice President Biden commented that it was difficult to convince Pakistan to commit to developing its counter-insurgency potential as the threat from India made Pakistan devote defence spending to conventional warfare capabilities. Thus in the meantime “we [US] need to develop our relationship with Pakistan beyond its current transactional nature to a long-term strategic partnership. We should begin with $1.5 billion per year in economic assistance that is unconditional and supplement that with military assistance that is conditioned on the modernization of its command structure and active action in the field to combat insurgents. It would be difficult to convince Congress to support such a plan, particularly the unconditional civilian component.”

Biden noted that with the exception of the UK and a few others, very few Europeans were taking action. Brown agreed that there was a significant terrorist as more than 30,000 Pakistanis travel back and forth to the UK each year and two-thirds of the terrorist threats that UK security forces investigate originate in Pakistan. The roots of terrorism in Pakistan are complicated and go beyond the madrassas to, in some areas, a complete societal incitement to militancy.

The Zardari-Kayani-Sharif triangle: US Vice President Biden and US Prime Minster Gordon Brown felt that Zardari’s commitment to combating terrorism was unclear, although “he always says the right things”. The only way to reduce the threat and eventually draw down NATO’s commitment to the region was by increasing the capacity of Afghan and Pakistani security services. The 2009 cable says that Biden commented that Zardari had said to him: “ISI director, and Kayani will take me out”. Brown thought this unlikely and said that Kayani did not want to be another Musharraf; rather he would give civilian leadership room to function. However, Kayani was suspicious of the Sharif brothers and Zardari.

According to leaked cables, Nawaz Sahrif has been telling the US ambassador he was “pro-American”, despite his public stance and thanked the US for “arranging” to have Kayani appointed as the Army chief. US Ambassador Anne W Patterson shot this down by saying that, “The fact that a former prime minister believes the US could control the appointment of Pakistan’s chief of army staff speaks volumes about the myth of American influence here.”

Furthermore, US and General Kayani worried that Zardari would renege on his word of pardoning Musharraf. Patterson’s view according to the cable was that “Zardari is walking tall these days, hopefully not too tall to forget his promise to Kayani and to us on an immunity deal”.

Human rights and the Pak army: Secret cables for the US Embassy in Islamabad address concerns about Pakistan security forces’ human rights abuses against terrorists in Malakand Division and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The cable acknowledges the difficult of accuracy but reports from a variety of sources suggested that Frontier Corps and regular Pakistan Army units involved in direct combat with terrorists may have been involved:

“The crux of the problem appears to centre on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extra-judicial killing of some detainees… Revenge for terrorist attacks on Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps personnel is believed to be one of the primary motivating factors for the extra-judicial killings. Cultural traditions place a strong importance on such revenge killings, which are seen as key to maintaining a unit’s honor. This fear is well-founded as both Anti-Terrorism Courts and the appellate judiciary have a poor track record of dealing with suspects detained in combat operations such as the Red Mosque operation in Islamabad and have repeatedly ordered their unconditional release.”

The cable also implicates the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Police in the abuse of terrorist suspects allegedly responsible for attacks on police stations and says that this is a separate problem from those detained by Frontier Corps and Pakistan Army units. The cable highlights areas for assistance in this regard; creation of new ordinances, reform of prison rehabilitation programs and help from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) and the UK government.

Washington worried about Abdul Qadeer Khan: Cables from Hillary Clinton’s office from 2008 say that the US was strongly opposed to AQ Khan’s release and would undermine the positive steps Pakistan had taken on non-proliferation. The document urged Pakistan to consider the long-term gains it could garner from the international community by continuing Dr Khan’s current status rather than the short-term domestic political gains that could result from his release.

Bin Laden and General Musharraf: Anne W Patterson in leaked documents has claimed that Pakistan had concerns that the US would desert Islamabad after they catch Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Thus Pakistan feels hesitant in fully cooperating with its key ally. Anne W Patterson said that the relationship between the two countries was one of co-dependency: “Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows that Pakistan cannot survive without our support”.

In a meeting held in April 2007, Musharraf told Senator John McCain that although he had no solid evidence, he believed Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri were in Bajaur Agency, since it was in the territory of Afghan militant leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and bordered Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He also spoke about Karzai’s frequent pronouncements about Pakistan’s failure to capture Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Quetta: “Let me tell you, Omar would be mad to be in Quetta – he has too many troops to command in southern Afghanistan to make it feasible. In fact, the only parts of Balochistan with Pakistani Taliban are Afghan refugee camps which we are planning to shut down.”

Musharraf also said that most Pashtuns in Balochistan were traders and had no reason to join the Taliban. They want roads to increase their trade, not to fight. The same could not be said for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Compiled from WikiLeaks archives. The Friday Times, 10 Dec, 2010

WikiLeaks: The Af-Pak conundrum

Nearly as many civilians have died in Afghanistan as Afghan forces.

The Friday Times, 10 Dec, 2010

The cables relating to Afghanistan reveal that beneath public assurances lie deep divisions in Islamabad on issues like Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and tolerance of Al Qaeda.

‘Stability’ top priority: Cables from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton focus on cutting off the flow of funds to terrorist organizations and achieving stability in Af-Pak as top US priorities. This is to be achieved by effective actions against terrorist fundraising in the Gulf by “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other Af-Pak-based violent extremist groups, all of which undermine the security of the entire international community.” In its ‘talking points’ brief to embassy in Kuwait it is said, “We emphasize the need to prevent the Taliban from using the cover of reconciliation talks to raise funds.”

The Karzai dilemma: The cable’s word on President Hamid Karzai has been far from flattering. Oman’s foreign minister says that he is “losing confidence” in him. A British diplomat says Britain feels “deep frustration” with him, while an Australian official complains that he “ignores reality.” A diplomat from the United Arab Emirates says Afghanistan would be better off without him. NATO’s secretary general speculates that he has a split personality.

Lt Gen Karl W Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan in April 2009, was blunt about his criticisms in a July 2009 cable. “It remains to be seen whether Karzai can or will refrain from this ‘blame America’ tactic he uses to deflect criticism of his administration,” he wrote. “Indeed, his inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building and his deep seated insecurity as a leader combine to make any admission of fault unlikely, confounding our best efforts to find in Karzai a responsible partner.”

An August 2009 report from Kabul complained that Karzai and his attorney general “allowed dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court.” The embassy was particularly concerned that Mr. Karzai pardoned five border police officers caught with 124 kilograms of heroin and intervened in a drug case involving the son of a wealthy supporter.

Saudi financing: An action request cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 asserts that Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups including Hamas. Riyadh has taken only limited action to disrupt fundraising for the listed Taliban and LeT-groups aligned with Al Qaeda and focused on undermining stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Saudi Arabia has enacted important reforms to criminalize terrorist financing and restrict the overseas flow of funds from Saudi-based charities. However, these restrictions fail to include multilateral organizations such as the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY.) Intelligence suggests that these groups continue to send money overseas and, at times, fund extremism overseas. In 2002, the Saudi government promised to set up a Charities Committee that would address this issue, but has yet to do so.”

 

 

The Af-Pak saga continues: Af-Pak Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA)

Published in The Friday Times, 30 July 2010 to sort out what the hullabaloo is about. This is the what the agreement is all about in a nutshell.

The 1965 Transit Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been revised this year with regards to Afghan goods’ transit to the Arabian Sea, as well as terms for Pakistan to secure routes to the Central Asian republics through Afghanistan. Pakistan is the largest trading partner of Afghanistan and the two countries’ trade has grown from $170 million in 2000-01 to $1.49 billion in 2008-09.

During the meeting between President Hamid Karzai and President Zardari in Washington in May 2009, a memorandum of understanding was signed to begin talks. The draft for an agreement was finalized on 19 July 2010. The decision to discuss APTTA coincided with the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has irked many in Pakistan as it reinforces the perception that the government is making the decision under US pressure.

On 22 July, clarifying the ambiguities regarding the trade agreement, the Chairman Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Sohail Ahmed said the agreement had not been signed yet, only the minutes of the meeting had been endorsed by authorities on either side.

The new agreement will allow Afghan trucks to carry export goods to the Wagah border for delivery to India. In order to check unauthorised trade the cargo will be allowed to be transported in accordance with internationally acceptable and verifiable standards of sealable trucks for a period of three years. Pakistan will be allowed to use Afghan territory for its exports to Central Asia.

India, which has transit trade agreements with Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, seeks the shorter Wagah-Khyber transit route to Afghanistan for access to Central Asian markets. This access has been denied by Pakistan but India will be able to carry its goods to Afghanistan using Pakistan’s airspace despite the fact that India has not extended Pakistan transit rights to landlocked Nepal.

The drivers and cleaners will be allowed to enter and exit the two countries on short-term work permits readable by biometric devices installed at entry points. If goods do not exit the country within the specified time, the guarantees will be encashed by customs authorities.

An Arbitration Tribunal will also be set up bilaterally in case of a dispute. Failure to agree on a common name of a third arbitrator, two names of non-nationals and non-residents will be proposed by each side and the third arbitrator will be selected by drawing lots from the four proposed names.

To tackle the issue of smuggling, the two sides agreed to install tracking devices on transport units and a mechanism for customs to customs information sharing (IT data and others) will be established. Financial guarantees, equal to the amount of import levies of Pakistan, have to be deposited by authorised brokers or customs clearing agents to check the unauthorised trade and these deposits will be released after the goods exit the country.

The militarization of aid in Afghanistan

Published in the Friday Times, July 9th, 2010

Saadia Gardezi

The concern for the future of Afghanistan will first and foremost be security, without which reconstruction and development will be difficult

After failed operations of the US forces in Marja this February, it is clear that the Taliban are still a formidable foe. The war has lasted nearly a decade without US military success making it clear that a political solution will have to be constructed, with an attempt at reconciliation between militant insurgents and the Kabul government. The concern for the future of Afghanistan will first and foremost be security, without which reconstruction and development will be difficult.

It is reasonable to consider, that with the much critiqued announcement of the deadline, militants will lay low for until July 2011, and insurgency against the Kabul government will begin anew as the troops withdraw. It is also safe to assume that UN agencies and international NGOs will also start packing up as they anticipate the removal of the US security umbrella. Continue reading The militarization of aid in Afghanistan