JFP 4/1: McChrystal's Escalation of Night Raids Belies "Hearts and Minds"
Just Foreign Policy News
April 1, 2010
Support the work of Just Foreign Policy:
Please donate what you can to support our work.
Urge Congress to Talk About the Human Cost of War
In the next few weeks, Congress is expected to be asked to approve $33 billion more for war and occupation in Afghanistan. Urge your representatives in Congress to use this opportunity to shine a spotlight on the human cost of continuing war and occupation.
Call Congress the Week of April 12 Against the War in Afghanistan
In the run-up to Congressional consideration of the war supplemental, many peace advocacy groups, including Just Foreign Policy and Peace Action (list in formation) are collaborating in generating calls to Congress against the war, urging: opposition to the supplemental, support for a military withdrawal timetable, support for a public exit strategy and support for peace negotiations. Mark your calendar and spread the word.
IJDH: Aid Groups Can Do Better in Haiti
With video and a petition, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti reaches out to the big aid groups, urging them to do better.
Did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Steal the 2009 Iran Election?
Attorney Eric Brill (Harvard Law, '74) reviews the "evidence" that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "stole" the 2009 presidential election in Iran and finds it nonexistent.
How Many Vets Have Been "Wounded" in Iraq and Afghanistan?
According to Department of Defense statistics cited in press reports, 36,904 U.S. soldiers have been "wounded" in Iraq and Afghanistan. But according to information obtained by Veterans for Common Sense from the VA under FOIA, 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been patients at the VA, and there have been 442,412 disability claims.
Highlights of the Afghanistan Debate
1) There is a glaring contradiction between McChrystal's counterinsurgency rhetoric and his actual policy toward the issue of night raids on private homes by Special Operations Forces, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. After he took over as top commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal approved an increase in those operations, from 20 in May to 90 in November. Night raids caused more than half of the civilian deaths attributed to coalition forces in 2009. McChrystal's January directive has done nothing to curb civilian deaths.
2) Mohamed ElBaradei says Western governments risk creating a new generation of Islamist extremists if they continue to support repressive regimes in the Middle East, the Guardian reports. The popularity in the Middle East of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, he said, should be seen as message to the west that its "policy is not reaching out to the people." ElBaradei said western governments needed to open their eyes to the realities of Egypt's "sham" democracy, or risk losing all credibility in the battle against extremism. "The west talks a lot about elections in Iran, for example, but at least there were elections - yet where are the elections in the Arab world? If the west doesn't talk about that, then how can it have any credibility?"
3) Suicide terrorist campaigns are almost always a last resort against foreign military occupation, writes Robert Pape in the New York Times. The escalation of Chechen suicide attacks is directly traceable to an escalation of Russian repression in Chechnya.
4) Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama said he is ready to "risk his life" to achieve an acceptable outcome to the dispute with the U.S. over the future of the Futenma base in Okinawa, the Japan Times reports. Hatoyama said he has a plan that is superior to the 2006 accord for relocating the base.
5) At least 30 Haitian earthquake survivors evacuated by the U.S. are now prisoners of the US immigration system, the New York Times reports. When they landed in the US without visas, they were taken into custody by immigration authorities and held for deportation, even though deportations to Haiti have been suspended. Legal advocates who stumbled on the survivors in February a privately operated immigration jail have tried for weeks to persuade government officials to release them to citizen relatives who are eager to take them in.
6) A federal study says the VA has no way of determining long-range health care costs for the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, USA Today reports. Disability compensation or pension payouts for veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict increased for 25 to 47 years after the end of hostilities.
7) Americans have given $800 million in private donations to Haiti since the earthquake, ABC News reports. Only about 37 percent of the money has been spent. Nearly $588 million in donations is still sitting on the sidelines, as millions of Haitians continue to suffer.
8) Human rights groups are denouncing what they see as an alarming spate of attacks on journalists in Honduras, the Los Angeles Times reports. No one has been arrested in the slayings. International free-press organizations called on President Lobo to fully investigate the killings and put an end to them.
9) The lower house of Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reverse President Karzai's decision to take control of the country's independent election-fraud monitor, the New York Times reports. Western diplomats said it was unclear if the vote would lead to the reversal of the decision.
10) The UN says Afghanistan has now become the world's top supplier of cannabis, Reuters reports.
11) The Pakistani army has launched a military operation to clear insurgents from North Waziristan, McClatchy reports. A Pakistani general involved in the operation said the area needed $1 billion in Western development aid to prevent a resurgence by al Qaida and the Taliban.
1) McChrystal's Support for Raids Belies New Image
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, March 31
Washington - Gen. Stanley McChrystal has recently acquired the image of a master strategist of the population-sensitive counterinsurgency, reducing civilian casualties from airstrikes and insisting that troops avoid firing when civilians might be hit during the recent offensive in Helmand Province. One recent press story even referred to a "McChrystal Doctrine" that focuses on "winning over civilians rather than killing insurgents."
But there is a glaring contradiction between McChrystal's new counterinsurgency credentials and his actual policy toward the politically explosive issue of night raids on private homes by Special Operations Forces (SOF) units targeting suspected Taliban.
Since he took over as top commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal has not only refused to curb those raids but has increased them dramatically. And even after they triggered a new round of angry protests from villagers, students and Afghan President Hamid Karzai himself, he has given no signal of reducing his support for them.
Two moves by McChrystal last year reveal his strong commitment to night raids as a tactic. After becoming commander of NATO and U.S. forces last May, he approved a more than fourfold increase in those operations, from 20 in May to 90 in November, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times Dec. 16. One of McChrystal's spokesmen, Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis, acknowledged to IPS that the level of night raids during that period has reflected McChrystal's guidance.
Then McChrystal deliberately protected night raids from political pressures to reduce or even stop them altogether. In his "initial assessment" last August, he devoted an entire annex to the subject of civilian casualties and collateral damage, but made no mention night raids as a problem in that regard.
As a result of McChrystal's decisions, civilian deaths from night raids have spiked, even as those from air strikes were being reduced. According to United Nations and Afghan government estimates, night raids caused more than half of the nearly 600 civilian deaths attributable to coalition forces in 2009.
Those raids, which also violate the sanctity of the Afghan home, have become the primary Afghan grievance against the U.S. military. As long ago as May 2007, Carlotta Gall and David Sanger described in the New York Times how night raids had provoked an entire village in Herat province to become so angry with the U.S. military that men began carrying out military operations against it.
By 2008, the targets of the SOF raids had shifted from higher-level and mid-level al Qaeda and Taliban officials to low-level insurgents, especially those working on manufacturing and planting IEDs, the organization's main form of attack against foreign military personnel. That shift accelerated as the number of raids ballooned under McChrystal.
The inevitable botched raids killing large numbers of civilians brought a new wave of protests. After a December 2009 raid killed at least 12 civilians in Laghman province, according to an investigation by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, students at Nangarhar University blocked the highway between Jalalabad and Kabul for several hours.
In late January, a new directive was announced to the press addressing the night raids issue. The text of the directive has not been released in full, but excerpts released Mar. 5 include an acknowledgement by McChrystal that "nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant."
But the January directive fell well short of forcing changes in the way the raids were carried out to stop civilian deaths. Instead, it called for putting Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in the lead on all night raids, and notifying Afghan government officials, ANSF and "local elders" in advance of any raid - "wherever possible" and "whenever possible", respectively.
SOF commanders are supposed to justify any operation that does not apply these standards, according to Sholtis. But those commanders have long argued that telling village elders about such raids in advance would result in their targets being tipped off.
It is unlikely that they would be denied permission after invoking that risk.
As for putting an Afghan face on the raids, Afghan Special Forces and other Afghan military personnel have been accompanying SOF for years, but that has not prevented the continued killing of civilians. In a report issued last year, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission documented cases of raids involving Afghan Special Forces in which civilians were killed in September 2007, January 2008 and April 2008.
Another night raid on Feb. 12, soon after the new directive had been issued, showed clearly that the directive had not changed anything. The raid, obviously carried out without informing local officials, not only blundered into a family celebration and killed two pregnant women and a teenage girl, but also provoked others in the vicinity to come out of their houses with guns to see who had intruded on their neighbours.
The SOF community had long asserted that anyone who comes out of their house during a raid must be an insurgent and can therefore be killed. But as former Marine officer Tim Lynch, who has lived in Afghanistan since 2003, observed after an errant raid in January 2009 killed 13 civilians, coming to the aid of a neighbour is expected of male Pashtuns under the "code of Pashtunwali".
McChrystal's directive expressed regret about such killing of bystanders during raids but did not forbid it.
2) Mohamed ElBaradei hits out at west's support for repressive regimes
Exclusive: Ex-nuclear chief says west must rethink Middle East policy as speculation grows he may run for office in Egypt
Jack Shenker, Guardian, Wednesday 31 March 2010 18.01 BST
Cairo - Western governments risk creating a new generation of Islamist extremists if they continue to support repressive regimes in the Middle East, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, has told the Guardian.
In his first English-language interview since returning to Cairo in February, the Nobel peace prize-winner said the strategy of supporting authoritarian rulers in an effort to combat the threat of Islamic extremism had been a failure, with potentially disastrous consequences.
"There is a need for re-evaluation … the idea that the only alternative to authoritarian regimes is [Osama] Bin Laden and co is a fake one, yet continuation of current policies will make that prophecy come true," he said. "I see increasing radicalisation in this area of the world, and I understand the reason. People feel repressed by their own governments, they feel unfairly treated by the outside world, they wake up in the morning and who do they see - they see people being shot and killed, all Muslims from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Darfur."
ElBaradei said he felt vindicated in his cautious approach while head of the International Atomic Energy Authority. He revealed that all his reports in the runup to the Iraq war were designed to be "immune from being abused" by governments. "I would hope that the lessons of Iraq, both in London and in the US, have started to sink in," he said.
"Sure, there are dictators, but are you ready every time you want to get rid of a dictator to sacrifice a million innocent civilians? All the indications coming out of [the Chilcot inquiry] are that Iraq was not really about weapons of mass destruction but rather about regime change, and I keep asking the same question - where do you find this regime change in international law? And if it is a violation of international law, who is accountable for that?"
ElBaradei, who has emerged as a potential challenger to the three-decade rule of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, said western governments must withdraw the unstinting support for autocrats who were seen to be a bulwark against extremism. "Western policy towards this part of the world has been a total failure, in my view. It has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society and empowering people, but rather it's been based on supporting authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping."
The 67-year-old added: "If you bet on individuals, instead of the people, you are going to fail. And western policy so far has been to bet on individuals, individuals who are not supported by their people and who are being discredited every day."
The popularity in the Middle East of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, he said, should be seen as message to the west that its "policy is not reaching out to the people. The policy should be: 'We care about you, we care about your welfare, we care about your human rights.'"
On his return to Egypt, ElBaradei was greeted at Cairo airport by more than 1,000 supporters, despite a ban on political gatherings. He has not yet announced whether he will stand in next year's elections against Mubarak, a key US ally who has ruled the Arab world's largest country for 28 years.
ElBaradei said western governments needed to open their eyes to the realities of Egypt's "sham" democracy, or risk losing all credibility in the battle against extremism. "The west talks a lot about elections in Iran, for example, but at least there were elections - yet where are the elections in the Arab world? If the west doesn't talk about that, then how can it have any credibility?
"Only if you empower the liberals, if you empower the moderate socialists, if you empower all factions of society, only then will extremists be marginalised."
Current Egyptian law effectively prohibits independent candidates from getting their name on the ballot paper, which has fuelled ElBaradei's demands for a "constitutional revolution" to make the poll free and fair. Analysts believe Mubarak, who is 81 and currently recovering from a gall bladder operation, is planning to engineer a succession of power to his youngest son, Gamal.
3) What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?
Robert A. Pape, Lindsey O'Rourke, Jenna McDermit, New York Times, March 31, 2010
Chicago - Almost every month for the past two years, Chechen suicide bombers have struck. Their targets can be anything from Russian soldiers to Chechen police officers to the innocent civilians who were killed on the subway in Moscow this week. We all know the horror that people willing to kill themselves can inflict. But do we really understand what drives young women and men to strap explosives on their bodies and deliberately kill themselves in order to murder dozens of people going about their daily lives?
Chechen suicide attackers do not fit popular stereotypes, contrary to the Russian government's efforts to pigeonhole them. For years, Moscow has routinely portrayed Chechen bombers as Islamic extremists, many of them foreign, who want to make Islam the world's dominant religion. Yet however much Russia may want to convince the West that this battle is part of a global war on terrorism, the facts about who becomes a Chechen suicide attacker - male or female - reveal otherwise.
The three of us, in our work for the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, have analyzed every Chechen suicide attack since they began in 2000, 42 separate incidents involving 63 people who killed themselves. Many Chechen separatists are Muslim, but few of the suicide bombers profess religious motives. The majority are male, but a huge fraction - over 40 percent - are women. Although foreign suicide attackers are not unheard of in Chechnya, of the 42 for whom we can determine place of birth, 38 were from the Caucasus. Something is driving Chechen suicide bombers, but it is hardly global jihad.
As we have discovered in our research on Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, suicide terrorist campaigns are almost always a last resort against foreign military occupation. Chechnya is a powerful demonstration of this phenomenon at work.
In the 1990s, the rebels kicked out tens of thousands of Russian troops who had been sent to the region to prevent Chechnya, a republic within the Russian Federation, from declaring independence. In 1999, the Russians came back - this time with more than 90,000 troops - and waged a well-documented scorched-earth campaign, killing an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 civilians out of a population of about 1 million. Ordinary guerrilla tactics and hostage-taking - the keys to ousting the Russians the first time - now got the rebels nowhere. New tactics were employed and women were central from the start.
With so many Chechen suicide attacks, one could easily be forgiven for being skeptical about the prospects for a lasting peace. Yet, a closer examination of the conflict's history suggests solutions that both sides may be able to accept.
The trajectory of Chechnya's suicide campaign reveals a stark pattern: 27 attacks from June 2000 to November 2004, no attacks until October 2007, and 18 since. What explains the three-year pause?
The answer is loss of public support in Chechnya for the rebellion, for two reasons. The first was revulsion against the 2004 Beslan school massacre in which Chechen rebels murdered hundreds of Russian children. "A bigger blow could not have been dealt on us," one of the separatists' spokesmen said at the time. "People around the world will think that Chechens are beasts and monsters if they could attack children." Second, the Russians pursued a robust hearts-and-minds program to win over the war-torn population. Military operations killed significantly fewer civilians. Amnesty was granted to rebel fighters and nearly 600 Chechen separatists surrendered in 2006 alone.
Unfortunately, the Russians then over-reached. Starting in late 2007, Moscow pressured the pro-Russian Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov to stamp out the remaining militants. It complied, pursuing an ambitious counterterrorism offensive with notably harsh measures of its own.
Suspected rebels were abducted and imprisoned, their families' houses were burned, and there were widespread accusations of forced confessions and coerced testimony in trials. An investigation by The Times in February 2009 reported claims of extensive torture and executions under the Kadyrov administration, and detailed "efforts by Chechnya's government to suppress knowledge of its policies through official lies, obstruction and witness intimidation."
Still, the picture is clear: Chechen suicide terrorism is strongly motivated by both direct military occupation by Russia and by indirect military occupation by pro-Russia Chechen security forces. Building on the more moderate policies of 2005 to 2007 might not end every attack, but it could well reduce violence to a level both sides can live with.
4) Hatoyama Puts 'Life' On Line For Relocation Issue
Jun Hongo, Japan Times, April 1, 2010
Saying he is ready to "risk his life" to achieve an acceptable outcome, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed confidence Wednesday that the issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma will be resolved by the end of May as promised.
During Diet debate with opposition leaders, Hatoyama declared he has a plan that is superior to the 2006 accord reached by the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party. That pact calls for moving Futenma's aircraft operations to the Henoko coast of Camp Schwab in Nago by 2014.
"As the person who will be going through tough negotiations with the United States, I do not have any thoughts about failing" to reach an agreement. "I will risk my life to get results."
Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, which promised to resolve the ongoing problem of where to relocate the air station by the end of May, reportedly plans to transfer Futenma facilities to White Beach in Uruma and construct a heliport at Camp Schwab.
5) Rushed From Haiti, Then Jailed for Lacking Visas
Nina Bernstein, New York Times, March 31, 2010
More than two months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, at least 30 survivors who were waved onto planes by Marines in the chaotic aftermath are prisoners of the United States immigration system, locked up since their arrival in detention centers in Florida.
In Haiti, some were pulled from the rubble, their legal advocates say. Some lost parents, siblings or children. Many were seeking food, safety or medical care at the Port-au-Prince airport when terrifying aftershocks prompted hasty evacuations by military transports, with no time for immigration processing. None have criminal histories.
But when they landed in the United States without visas, they were taken into custody by immigration authorities and held for deportation, even though deportations to Haiti have been suspended indefinitely since the earthquake. Legal advocates who stumbled on the survivors in February at the Broward County Transitional Center, a privately operated immigration jail in Pompano Beach, Fla., have tried for weeks to persuade government officials to release them to citizen relatives who are eager to take them in, letters and affidavits show.
Meanwhile, the detainees have received little or no mental health care for the trauma they suffered, lawyers at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center said, despite an offer of free treatment at the jail by a local Creole-speaking psychotherapist.
Their plight is a result of the scramble to cope quickly with the immigration consequences of the quake's destruction and death toll. Some Haitians who arrived without papers were handed tourist visas, only to find that status barred them from working; the more fortunate received humanitarian parole, an open-ended status that permits employment. Those already in the country illegally were allowed to apply for temporary protected status, which shields recipients from deportation for at least 18 months and lets them work.
Almost at random, it seems, immigration jail was the ad hoc solution for these 30 survivors and for others still hidden in pockets of the nation's sprawling detention network. Some of the 30 have already been transferred to more remote immigration jails without explanation.
On Wednesday, after inquiries by The New York Times, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the 30 Florida detainees were "being processed for release," and that 35 others who had arrived since the Jan. 12 earthquake, some by boat, were also being held in detention centers around the country.
Advocates for the detainees said they had been told for weeks that deportation officers in Florida were waiting for senior officials in Washington to set a policy for the group. Most were ordered deported in February, but are eligible for release under an order of supervision until deportations resume.
"Their prolonged and unnecessary detention is only exacerbating their trauma," the advocates wrote to the agency on March 19, after receiving no response to detailed, individual requests for release by two dozen of the detainees. "There is no reason to spend taxpayer dollars detaining traumatized earthquake survivors who cannot be deported and who have demonstrated that they are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community."
The government's actions have been especially bewildering for the survivors' relatives, like Virgile Ulysse, 69, an American citizen who keeps an Obama poster on his kitchen wall in Norwalk, Conn. Mr. Ulysse said he could not explain to his nephews, Jackson, 20, and Reagan, 25, why they were brought to the United States on a military plane only to be jailed at the Broward center when they arrived in Orlando on Jan. 19.
"Every time I called immigration, they told me they will release them in two or three weeks, and now it's almost three months," said Mr. Ulysse, a retired carpenter and architectural designer who said he had always warned his relatives in Haiti not to come illegally on boats, but to wait for a green light from the United States.
On March 11, Reagan was abruptly transferred, and for days his younger brother did not know where he was. It turned out he had been taken to the Baker County jail, in Macclenny, Fla., six hours away. On Tuesday evening, a paralegal found him there in shackles, about to be transferred again; guards, following government protocol, would not say where. "His brother is far away - he's waiting, waiting," Mr. Ulysse said of Jackson. "He started to cry on the phone. It's very terrible."
Jackson, who was trapped in the collapse of his family's apartment building in the quake, and pulled from under cinderblock by a cousin, lost many relatives in the destruction. His formal request for release, dated March 12, describes how even the sound of someone on the jail stairs makes him fear another earthquake and worry that because he is locked up, he will be unable to escape.
6) VA Uncertain Of Long-Range Health Costs
Gregg Zoroya, USA Today, March 31, 2010
Washington - The Department of Veterans Affairs has no way of determining long-range health care costs for the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a federal study on the wars' impact released Wednesday shows. Conducted by the federal Institute of Medicine, the study says costs for the nearly 2 million veterans of the two wars will expand over the next 30 years before tapering off.
The VA's budget is almost $113 billion and has almost doubled since 2003.
"VA does not have the personnel, the funding or the mandate from Congress to produce broad forecasts," the study says, adding that "the human burdens of war extend far beyond the period of active conflict."
These projections are crucial for anticipating how much money and how many services the government must set aside for helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the report says. Gauging those needs is difficult because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "fundamentally different" than previous wars.
History shows that health care costs keep rising after wars end, the study says. Disability compensation or pension payouts for veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict increased for 25 to 47 years after the end of hostilities.
The VA agreed with many of report's recommendations, says Victoria Cassano, who is managing the department's response to the study. She said some 30-year projections on benefits and veteran populations are possible.
7) Rebuilding Haiti: Billions in Aid Promised at U.N. Event
As World Pledges More Aid, Americans' Donations Sit Unused
Dan Harris, ABC News, April 1, 2010
Since January's earthquake, Americans have already given $800.9 million in private donations to help the country rebuild. The money has gone to 23 charities that ABC News has been tracking. Only about 37 percent of the money has been spent. Nearly $588 million in donations is still sitting on the sidelines, as millions of Haitians continue to suffer.
Charities say that spending too quickly would risk creating waste and robbing money from the long-term work that must be done. But while they plan for the long-term, there is an immediate crisis.
More than a million people are homeless and a fifth of them still have no shelter, with the rainy season officially starting Friday and the hurricane season just around the corner.
Already, tent cities have been slammed by torrential rains, creating a soggy new layer of misery that has alarmed aid workers. "The biggest issue that we're facing is simply shelter," one worker said.
There are other needs, too. There are still only 17 rehabilitation centers in the country, far too few to support the 1,500 amputations that have been performed since the quake. Of the 9,000 latrines needed, only about half have been built.
8) In Honduras, journalist slayings raise alarm
Five journalists have been killed in March. The violence underscores the continued instability of Honduras nine months after a coup that led to the election of a president in November.
Alex Renderos and Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2010
Mexico City and San Salvador - Nine months after a military-led coup plunged Honduras into political turmoil, human rights groups are denouncing what they see as an alarming spate of attacks on journalists, including the killings of five in March alone.
No one has been arrested in the slayings, and speculation on motives has run the gamut. The violence illustrates the depth to which Honduras remains unsettled and on edge, even after a new president was elected in November and installed in January amid promises to heal national divisions.
International free-press organizations called on President Porfirio Lobo to fully investigate the killings and put an end to them. "These attacks are seriously restricting freedom of expression and undermine citizens' right to be informed on issues of public interest," Carlos Lauria of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. He called the violence "unprecedented."
The five journalists killed this month were victims of drive-by shootings in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, and other cities. Some were known to be sympathetic to ousted President Manuel Zelaya; others had no public political leanings.
9) Lawmakers Resist Karzai's Move On Election Panel
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Taimoor Shah, New York Times, March 31, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - Afghan lawmakers dealt President Hamid Karzai a rare and potentially significant rebuke on Wednesday when the lower house of Parliament voted overwhelmingly to reverse his decision to take control of what had been the country's only independent election-fraud monitor.
But the ultimate effect of the vote, while symbolically significant, was not clear to Western diplomats, who said they were uncertain if it would restore the autonomy of the watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission. They said, though, that the vote was the latest sign that Mr. Karzai was facing a more independent-minded Parliament.
Afghanistan's Western backers were deeply angered in February when Mr. Karzai decreed that from then on he would appoint all five members of the complaints commission, which until that point had three of its members appointed by the United Nations. Mr. Karzai's move - which deprived Western governments of any oversight over future Afghan elections - led the Obama administration last month to revoke an invitation to him to visit the White House, American officials said.
But in the nearly unanimous vote on Wednesday, the lower house of Parliament rejected Mr. Karzai's effort to control all the appointments to the commission himself and instead ordered that the watchdog group be reinstated to its prior composition. "The decision was made in a full consensus" of the lower house's lawmakers, said Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a member of Parliament from Kabul, who described Mr. Karzai's move as unconstitutional.
But while members of Parliament and critics of Mr. Karzai claimed a victory, crucial questions remained unanswered, Western diplomats said. These included whether there was as much support for reversing Mr. Karzai's decree in the upper house of Parliament, which must also vote on the matter; whether the vote was unconstitutional because it was too close to the parliamentary elections scheduled for September; and even whether the vote was also subject to ratification by Mr. Karzai.
10) Afghanistan world's top cannabis source: U.N.
Jonathon Burch, Reuters, Wednesday, March 31, 2010; 12:32 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/31/AR2010033104750.html
Kabul - Long the world's largest producer of opium, the raw ingredient of heroin, Afghanistan has now become the top supplier of cannabis, with large-scale cultivation in half of its provinces, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
Between 10,000 and 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown every year in Afghanistan, with major cultivation in 17 out 34 provinces, the U.N. drug agency (UNODC) said in its first report on cannabis production in Afghanistan.
While some countries grow cannabis on more land, Afghanistan's robust crop yields - 145 kg of resin per hectare compared to around 40 kg per hectare in Morocco - make it the world's largest producer, estimated at 1,500-3,500 metric tons a year.
11) Pakistani General: Al Qaida-Taliban Haven To Be Cleared By June
Saeed Shah, McClatchy, Wed, Mar. 31, 2010
Peshawar, Pakistan - The Pakistani army has launched a military operation to clear insurgents from North Waziristan - long a haven for al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban - and hopes to wind up offensive actions in all its tribal areas by June, according to the Pakistani general who's in charge of the special paramilitary force for the area.
Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan said the main Pakistani army was leading the assault in North Waziristan with a series of small operations, while his Frontier Corps was leading a major offensive in Orakzai, to which insurgents have fled after operations in other tribal areas.
The Pakistani army hadn't previously announced a North Waziristan operation.
In an interview with McClatchy, Khan said that five of the seven "agencies" of what formerly was called the Federally Administered Tribal Area were now under government control, with only Orakzai and North Waziristan remaining to be "cleared." The military then plans to send ground troops to sweep through all of the tribal area.
"This will finish in a couple of months. We'll take care of all of them. We're just waiting for the major operations - like Orakzai and North Waziristan - to finish, to spare us the troops to start changing our methodology. Instead of kinetic, concentrated operations, we start search and cordon and sting operations, for which actually you need more boots on the ground," said Khan, a swashbuckling general who has a reputation for taking extremists head-on.
Khan warned Pakistan's international partners that the region, which runs along the border with Afghanistan and includes Waziristan and the Khyber Pass, desperately needs development to prevent a resurgence by al Qaida and the Taliban. He said the minimal level of development needed would cost $1 billion.
Just Foreign Policy
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.