Tag Archives: taliban

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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What an open letter from a terrorist group looks like (Link)

What an open letter from a terrorist group looks like.

Must read. People who are apologists about militancy and attacks on other sects need to open their eyes… a direct attack on human rights and human dignity. Shameful and sad.

This post is from http://afghanistananalysis.wordpress.com/

‘The spectre of Islamist infiltration’

The Friday Times, May 27th, 2011
In the wake of recent events, the faultlines in Pakistan’s defence forces need to be identified and tackled- Raza Rumi

The recent attacks on the Karachi naval base have once again sparked a debate concerning the much-feared radicalisation within the armed forces. Declan Walsh writing in The Guardian (May 23, 2011) says how the “spectre of Islamist infiltration has haunted the army for decades”. This should be a major concern for Pakistanis. At the same time, Pakistan’s defence forces are well-known for their internal discipline and the overarching ‘unity of command’ that all commanders take pride in.

Nevertheless, radicalisation in the junior ranks has been observed and reported by the national press. In particular, the attempts to kill the former president and army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf revealed the shifting ideological frontiers of the military complex. In June 2009, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) confirmed that it had arrested or dismissed from service at least 57 employees in connection with botched attempts on the life of the former president. Abdul Islam Siddiqui, a soldier of the Pakistan Army was hanged in 2005 after an in-camera military trial for his alleged involvement in the December 2003 attack on Gen Musharraf`s convoy.

Siddiqui was charged with receiving terrorism training at Bhimber in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) during August 2002 at a Jaish-e-Muhammad training camp. He further defied military orders to fight in South Waziristan against fellow tribal citizens. It was alleged he remained associated with the Shuhada Foundation, an organisation of the PAF, several of whose officer-bearers wanted to kill Musharraf (Outlook, October 19, 2005).

The plethora of cases relating soldiers influenced by Islamist ideology point to the reported gap between top army leadership and the soldiers. This gap increased as in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks because of Musharraf’s half-hearted attempts to give the Army a liberal outlook.

Earlier, cases of disciplinary action against radicalised soldiers were also reported. In 2003, Major Adil Qudoos, brother of Ahmad Qudoos (who had given protection to Al Qaeda leader Sheikh Ahmad) was arrested in a surprise raid (Dawn, March 23, 2003). In 2005, a military court ordered the dismissal of six officers including Major Adil Qudoos (Daily Times, September 19, 2005).

Another recent case is illustrative: On December 10, 2009, one Col Bashir was arrested by the Pakistani military police along with Squadron Leader Nadeem Ahmad Shah, a retired air force fighter pilot and a former professional JAG lawyer and civilian advocate, and Awais Ali Khan, a civilian mechanical engineer who served with the military’s Air Weapons Complex. Col Bashir had contacts with the Hizbut Tahrir group (Dawn, May 13, 2009). In 2010, Faisal Shahzad was reportedly in touch with an officer of Pakistani Army’s Signal Corps, moments before he parked the bomb-laden SUV at the Times Square (pak-watch.blogspot.com, July 18, 2010).

Radicalised soldiers have also been reportedly creating informal networks. Arshad Sharif’s report in Dawn (14 Sept, 2010) revealed how a disgruntled junior non-commissioned officer formed Jundullah, a militant group with alleged contacts with Jaish-e-Muhammad. Impressed by calls to jihad, 30 other personnel from various army units stationed in Quetta Cantonment joined the new organisation. Some of these officers were also involved in planning botched attacks on Jacobabad Air Base in 2003, in addition to planning two separate assassination attempts on Gen Musharraf. In addition to PAF, Jundullah also tried to establish its influence within different units of the armed forces.

These cases are not confined to the last decade only. In 1995 there was a military attempt to overthrow the government in an ‘Islamic’ coup to reestablish the Caliphate. Maj Gen Zahirul Islam Abbasi, a former commander and officer of the Pakistani Army, was accused and convicted for a period of 7 years for being party to the coup d’état. A total of 40 army officers, including one brigadier and five colonels and 10 civilians were rounded up.

New cables released by Wikileaks reveal how the “elite” groups of “colonels and brigadiers are receiving biased NDU [National Defence University] training with no chance to hear alternative views of the US”. Anti-Americanism within the armed forces is an oft-cited reality though one has no empirical basis to assess its impact and coverage within the institution.

All these reported cases demonstrate that there is a problem with middle and lower ranks. However, it is also clear that the top leadership within the armed forces is cognisant of such trends and has been taking strict action against the errant officials. In the wake of recent events such as the intelligence failure (some say cover-up) with respect to bin Laden’s hideout and now the attack on the naval base, the fault lines within Pakistan’s key institution need to be identified and tackled. Perhaps, it is also time for the command and control mechanisms instituted for nuclear installations to review the situation given how the world is viewing Pakistan’s nuclear assets as ‘unsafe’. These claims may be exaggerated but cannot be ignored.

Shahid Saeed and Saadia Gardezi contributed to the report.

Raza Rumi is a writer and policy expert based in Lahore. Follow him on twitter: @razarumi

The media and the manhunt

The media buzz around the death of OBL on May 2, 2011. Published in The Friday Times, 6 May, 2011.

With the first five months of the year, a plethora of changes have happened making world politics unrecognizable from one year before.  One of the biggest was the on May 2 when news of the capture of Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad exploded on TV screens and in newspapers. The facts that Western media has focused on have been that the US led operation focused on one of Bin Ladens trusted couriers and a protégé of one of the architects of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (New York Times, ABC News, US Government). The compound where Bin Laden was hiding was valued at $1 million and had 12 to 18 foot walls with barbed wire. And was 8 to 10 times larger than surrounding houses.

Senior US officials initially told news agencies that Bin Laden’s body would be disposed of in accordance with Islamic tradition, which involves ritual washing, shrouding and burial within 24 hours, and Bin Laden was buried at sea (LA Times, Washington Post). The Guardian was of the view that US concern over Bin Laden’s burial place turning into a shrine were probably unfounded, since the Wahhabi/Salafi tradition rejects such things. “Burial at sea is rare in Islam, though several Muslim websites say it is permitted in certain circumstances. One is on a long voyage where the body may decay… The other is if there is a risk of enemies digging up a land grave and exhuming or mutilating the body – a rule that could plausibly be applied in Bin Laden’s case,” reported the paper.

The news was celebrated in many foreign capitals with crowds gathering outside the White House to celebrate and spontaneous celebration all over the US. French Foreign Minster Alain Juppe called it a “victory for all democracies fighting the abominable scourge of terrorism”. British Prime Minister David Cameron said it would “bring great relief to people across the world” (Express Tribune). The US had warned of possible threats of retaliation (CNN). In UK Heathrow airport has stepped up security and many other countries fear protests. In Pakistan US and UK embassies have put their citizen on high alert.

Headlines across America and Europe on May 2 were ‘The most wanted face of terrorism’ (New York Times), ‘A day for justice’ (Chicago Tribune), ‘An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth’ (Der Spiegel) and ‘Born to privilege, he dies a pariah (Wall Street Journal). Local newspapers however have been skeptical of the facts (Dawn News), and the Television media will undoubtedly resort to more fact digging and speculation.

The Taliban in Afghanistan had no immediate official reaction, though a local commander in Paktia said the killing “will affect their morale and will trigger the violence” and a commander in Baghlan promised revenge (NYT, Guardian). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed bin Laden’s death and called it a catastrophe (AFP).

Reports say that officials in the Middle East did not have immediate reactions, and responses were “mixed” on the Arab street (CNN, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times). However Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the killing and described bin Laden as a “holy warrior” (CNN).

The coming weeks will of course clarify more facts about the operation as well as create more controversies. Dawn News for example said on May 2 that Bin Laden might not have been killed by US forces but his own guard. The paper quotes a Pakistani official who visited the site after the US assault team left, “From the scene of the gun battle it doesn’t look like he could have been killed at point blank range from such a close angle, while offering resistance.”

The western media sees the proximity of a military academy to Bin Laden compounds as an obvious proof of Pakistani military and intelligence being involved in hiding him and other leaders of the Al-Qaeda (BBC, CNN). This reaction is not just isolated to the media but world leaders as well. Israel has called this the “liquidation” of Bin Laden. India lashed out at Pakistan, saying that terrorists find sanctuary in Pakistan (Express Tribune, AFP).

There will again be a reevaluation of the US-Pakistan relationship not only but the respective governments but also by the media. Shuja Nawaz writes for Foreign Policy saying that the Pakistani military’s official reaction to the death of Bin Laden will be telling. If the operation was carried out in close cooperation then the trajectory of this declining relationship may be reversed. Even though Obama has acknowledged the role of Pakistan in the war against terrorism, it is not clear what that role has been with regards to the capture. Foreign media has generally reviewed Pakistan unfavourably and credit for the capture has solely been awarded to the US.

The general consideration of the western media is that only one of head of the Al-Qaeda hydra has been cut off. Der Spiegel is of the view that Bin Laden has left behind one of the most resilient and effective terrorist networks the world has ever seen. The death will weaken Al-Qaeda but for some time now others have been in charge of planning global terrorism. “I suspect the al-Qaeda senior leadership will splinter… this will create a vacuum,” said Marc Sageman, a former CIA analyst as when Al-Qaeda leaders became consumed with mere survival, other groups will try to pick up the slack.

The future of terrorism may still be secure. The Taliban is entrenched in Afghanistan and Pakistan, terrorist groups in Yemen, Algeria and Iraq have adopted the Al-Qaeda brand and in Somalia, al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists are growing. Ayman al-Zawahiri is expected to be number one on the FBI’s most wanted list (ABC News). Reports say that the power balance will shift to Yemen (Der Spiegel). John Brennan, US Chief of Counterterrorism may have spoken too soon when he said that that “Al-Qaeda is something in the past.”

Who is Faisal Shahzad?

Report for The Friday Times, 21-27 May, 2010

In 2009, it is reported that Shahzad pressurized his wife to wear a hijab. He had started looking for a job in the Middle East and insisted the family return to Pakistan

Faisal Shahzad joined the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut in 2000 and, according to his CV, was on a scholarship. In 2005 he graduated with an MBA in Finance. For a year he worked at Elizbeth Arden Inc. as a financial analyst. In June 2005, he joined Affinion Group as a client reporting analyst. In recent years he struggled to pay his bills but it is unclear if financial hardship led to his radicalization.
Continue reading Who is Faisal Shahzad?