Friday, May 16, 2008

“NATO is in Afghanistan; it’s time they did some soldiering.”

The United States is running into resistance from Pakistan when it comes to securing the border between that country and Afghanistan.

“Pakistan will take care of its own problems, you take care of Afghanistan on your side,” said Owari Ghani, the governor of North-West Frontier Province, who is also President Pervez Musharraf’s representative in charge of the neighboring tribal areas.

Mr. Ghani, a key architect of the pending peace accord, believes along with many other Pakistani leaders that the United States is floundering in the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan, he said, should not be saddled with America’s mistakes, especially if a solution involved breaching Pakistan’s sovereignty, a delicate matter in a nation where sentiment against the Bush administration runs high.

“Pakistan is a sovereign state,” he said. “NATO is in Afghanistan; it’s time they did some soldiering.”

The US and NATO regularly target Taliban forces on either side of the border:

On Wednesday night, the United States fired its fourth Predator missile strike since January, the most visible symbol of the American push for a freer hand to pursue militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban who use Pakistan’s tribal areas as a base to attack Afghanistan and plot terrorist attacks abroad. In Afghanistan, cross-border attacks have doubled over the same month last year and present an increasingly lethal challenge to American and NATO efforts to wind down the war and deny the Taliban and Al Qaeda a sanctuary.

In an unusual step during a visit to Pakistan in March, Adm. Eric T. Olson, the commander of United States Special Operations Command, held a round-table discussion with a group of civilian Pakistani leaders to sound them out on the possibility of cross-border raids by American forces. He was told in no uncertain terms that from the Pakistani point of view it was a bad idea, said one of the participants.

Instead, Pakistani officials are trying to restore calm to their country, which was rattled by a record number of suicide attacks last year. Within days, they are expected to strike a peace accord with Pakistan’s own militants that makes no mention of stopping the infiltrations. In fact, Pakistani counterinsurgency operations have stopped during the new government’s negotiations with the militants.


American officials in Washington said the Predator strike on Wednesday killed a handful of Qaeda militants, including one they described as a “significant leader.” The strike indicated that the C.I.A. retained some freedom to operate in the tribal areas. But as the gap between Pakistani and American policies widens, United States officials are pushing harder for still more latitude.

During his visit to North-West Frontier Province, Admiral Olson was taken to the military headquarters of the 14th Division of the Pakistani Army in Dera Ismail Khan, an area just outside the tribal region, where he was struck by the extent of the anti-Taliban sentiment, Pakistani officials said.

Still, in the talks, which were organized by the United States Consulate here in late March, the civilian leaders said they advised the Americans against fighting in Pakistani territory populated by Pashtuns. Pakistan’s government has long been wary of nationalist and separatist strains among the Pashtuns, whose population straddles the Pakistani-Afghan border.

“I said it would be extremely dangerous,” Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of North-West Frontier Province, said he told Admiral Olson. “It would increase the number of militants, it would be a war of liberation for the Pashtuns. They would say: ‘We are being slaughtered. Our enemy is the United States.’"

Map-languages and regions of Afghanistan

Within Pakistan, there are indications that the coalition government is coming apart:

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif pulled his party out of Pakistan's six-week-old coalition government on Monday, plunging the volatile Muslim nation back into political uncertainty.

Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was the second-largest member of a four party alliance, made the announcement after failing to break a deadlock with its main coalition partner over the reinstatement of dismissed judges.

Sharif made the restoration of 60 judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf in November the main condition for joining the coalition led by the party of Asif Ali Zardari, the widower and political successor of the late Benazir Bhutto.

Three days of talks in London between Sharif and Zardari, whose Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leads the coalition, ended on Sunday without any breakthrough.

"Our ministers will meet the prime minister tomorrow and will submit their resignations," Sharif told a news conference.

Nine of the 24 ministers in Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's cabinet belong to the PML-N, including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

Sharif said his party would continue to support the PPP government despite quitting the cabinet.

"For the time being, we'll not sit in opposition."

Despite the possibility of the collapse of the Pakistani government, however, the New York Times says that the US is stepping up its rhetoric:

Last week John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, used perhaps the strongest language yet against Pakistan, saying that the United States found it “unacceptable” that extremists used the tribal areas to plan attacks against Afghanistan, the rest of the world and Pakistan itself.

“We will not be satisfied until the violent extremism emanating from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is brought under control,” Mr. Negroponte told the National Endowment for Democracy.

Earlier this month, Afrasiab Khattak and Asfandyar Wali Khan, the leaders of the Awami National Party, which leads the government in the North-West Frontier Province, met with Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Mr. Negroponte in Washington.

In their meetings, Mr. Khattak said, it was hard to deter the Americans from the notion of launching their own operations into Pakistan. The topic came up “again and again,” he said.

The Americans specifically mentioned their concern that Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas were preparing an attack on the United States, he said.

“We told them physical intervention into the tribal areas by the United States would be a blunder,” Mr. Khattak said. “It would create an atmosphere in which the terrorists would rally” popular support.

Should the United States and its NATO allies be focused on operations along the Pakistani border at all? According to researcher Sarah Meyer, the Afghan people are facing starvation and famine due to a particularly harsh winter, coupled with ongoing war in their country:

Among the resources compiled by Meyer, this article highlights the need to take care of the Afghan people:

If instead of the fields of poppies there were expanses of wheat, 18 million Afghans who today suffer from hunger would have enough food. With these statements - which appear a bit naive - the experts of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have declared that by better using international funds, the development of new irrigation and technology systems for agriculture could be realised. But the most difficult thing is convincing Afghan farmers to change their extensive opium cultivation to the production of wheat, fruit, and vegetables.

According to data supplied by the UN, Afghanistan uses 193,000 hectares of land for the cultivation of poppy, and produces more than 90% of the opium in circulation. The estimates reveal that by the end of 2008, the country will produce more than 8,200 tonnes of raw opium.

According to some experts, the world economic crisis and the dizzying rise in food prices everywhere could prompt farmers to convert their poppy fields to wheat. In fact, the price of wheat has risen from 157 dollars per tonne in January to 500 dollars in April of this year.

Tekeste Ghebray Tekie, the FAO representative in Afghanistan, is certain that by growing wheat with the appropriate irrigation systems, more than two and a half tons per hectare could be produced. "If you use this land for high cash crops like vegetables, fruit or cotton", Tekeste says, "then the contribution to food security will be enormous".

Before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan had much more irrigated land, but the irrigation systems were destroyed during the war. After the United States military intervention in the country, begun in October of 2001, 15 billion dollars in international aid was invested. But according to Oxfam, only 300 million of this has been earmarked for agriculture.

Photo: Dara, Afghanistan

Herschel Smith at The Captain's Journal highlights efforts by the US Department of Agriculture to assist Counterinsurgency Operations in Afghanistan:

Body armor is not in [Jeff] Knowles’ typical wardrobe as an employee of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But then again, working with farmers in Afghanistan to help rebuild their agricultural system isn’t his typical work either.

Knowles, who now lives in Hawaii, spent six months in the war-scarred nation talking with farmers about what they grow and what their needs are. He was honored last week by USDA secretary Ed Schafer for his service in Afghanistan in 2005-06.

“I think it’s one of the best things we’re doing in the country,” Knowles said via a phone interview from his USDA office in Hawaii. “If we can help improve quality of life for farmers — and 95 percent of the Afghan people are farmers — we’re doing something real.”

Living conditions are rough. And most farmers are subsistence farmers, growing crops like wheat, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, apricots, apples and almonds.

But getting enough water for crops is a major issue …

It was in Hawaii that Knowles decided to volunteer for a six-month stint in Afghanistan.

“It was really intriguing to me — they were facing problems with erosion, heavy and widespread, and a lot of their irrigation system was destroyed,” he said. “It seemed that my entire career was pointing to this. The things I’d been working with for close to 30 years were the things they needed in Afghanistan.”

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