Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Clever Mullah

Was it him?

It’s been a week of accusations and blame games in Afghanistan. The Clever Mullah who duped the Afghans and NATO is all over the headlines. He got his money, and quite possibly in tens of millions of dollars, and disappeared. But the shame remains, for NATO and the Afghan leadership.

How did an ordinary shopkeeper from Quetta, Pakistan manage to cause so much excietment, to make it all the way to the Presidential Palace, and to piss all over the hopes of an entire nation that was playing into the hype around high-level talks?

The easy way out: blame the British.

In an interview, Mohammad Umer Daudzai [Karzai’s chief of Staff] said that the British brought a man purporting to be Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, a senior Taliban leader, to meet Karzai in July or August but that an Afghan at the meeting knew “this is not the man.”

Daudzai’s comments were the most direct assignation of blame so far, though U.S. officials have also said that the fake Mansour was primarily a British project. U.S. officials have long characterized the British as more aggressive than the Americans in pushing for a political settlement to end the war.

The false Mansour was “the Brits’ guy,” said a senior American official familiar with the case. “It was the British who brought him forward.”

While the British have messed up several times in Afghanistan, particularly in the

Mullah Zaif, on his iPhone: "we got'm real bad. LOL"

Southern province of Helmand, its harsh to lay the blame entirely on them. After all, NATO seemed entirely on board with this. General Petraeus openly said that NATO was securing the highway so Taliban leaders can make it to Kabul for Talks.

“And indeed in certain respects we do facilitate that, given that, needless to say, it would not be the easiest of tasks for a senior Taliban commander to enter Afghanistan and make his way to Kabul if ISAF were not witting and therefore aware of it and allows it to take place,”
The Guardian, in its Sunday issue, had some insightful comments about the Clever Mullah from the former Chief of Afghan Intelligence, Amrullah Saleh. Mr. Saleh said that “his agency first vetted the man, who claimed to be a representative of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, one of the highest-ranking figures in the Taliban, in mid-2008, but rejected him after he was unable to prove his credentials.”
Mr. Saleh puts the blame on the Karzai government:
“This became so exciting that even certain figures were thinking of either an Afghan Dayton agreement or Good Friday agreement for Afghanistan,” he said. “It shows the desperation of the leadership in Kabul, detachment from the reality and lack of sophistication on the most sensitive issues.”
And the Guardian also takes a swing at the US and NATO:
Western sources say that the UK did play a role in the debacle, with MI6 acting as a key intermediary because the CIA is not authorised to talk directly with insurgents. However, the decision for the British to proceed was taken by General Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan.
And, to end on a light note, Foreign Policy has a nice suggestion on how to avoid these kind of episodes in the future. They have a checklist of how to tell the fake mullahs from the real ones:

10. Keeps asking if the peace talks can be held in the Maldives

9. Eyepatch switches sides from meeting to meeting

8. Introduces himself as “Colonel Iqbal from the ISI”

7. Runs up a large minibar tab at the Four Seasons Kabul

6. Wife angling for a spot on “The Real Housewives of Kandahar”

5. Claims to be texting Mullah Omar but is actually just playing Angry Birds the whole time

4. Offers to settle Afghan War with a game of Jenga

3. Turban made of an actual towel

2. Wears trench coat, offers to sell the letters O and U

1. Agrees to trade Osama bin Laden for Justin Bieber

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Really, Mark Sedwill?

(AFP-- through RFE/RL)

I  believe that Mark Sedwill is a highly qualified, smart guy. But the following comesas  a big surprise. Don’t know what frame of mind he was in

KABUL (Reuters) – Children are probably safer growing up in Afghanistan’s major cities, including the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, than in London, New York, or Glasgow, NATO’s top civilian envoy to Afghanistan has said.

Mark Sedwill’s comments were made during an interview to be aired on Monday on Children’s BBC Newsround, a popular British daily current affairs program aimed at children.

“Here and in Kabul and the other big cities, actually, there are very few of those bombs,” he said.

“The children are probably safer here than they would be in London, New York or Glasgow or many other cities,” he said.

“It’s a very family-orientated society, so it is a little bit like a city of villages,” he said.

His remarks, which feature in a two-part series exploring the lives of children in Afghanistan, were rejected as misleading by an official from the aid group Save the Children.

“One in five children die before they get to the age of five. So to say it’s safer than to live in London, New York or Glasgow is daft,” said the representative from Save the Children, who requested anonymity so he could speak freely.

According to New York Times, Mr. Sedwill tried to  claim that his remarks were aired out of context. But the best thing would have been just to apologize and move on with it. Here is the NYT quote from his email:

“I was trying to explain to an audience of British children how uneven violence is across Afghanistan,” he said. “In cities like Kabul where security has improved, the total levels of violence, including criminal violence, are comparable to those which many Western children would experience. For most Afghans, the biggest challenges are from poverty — the absence of clean water, open sewers, malnutrition, disease — and many more children are at risk from those problems than from the insurgency.”

Another telling quote from the NYT article:

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says such episodes [violence against children] are increasingly common. A new report by the commission noted what it said was a worrying increase in violence against children as well as child labor in all Afghan provinces.

“Mr. Sedwill should come to the Human Rights Commission and consider the reports we receive on a daily basis,” said Hussein Mushrat, the report’s author. “Children are not safer here.”

Al Jazeera would like to remind Mr. Sedwill of what he misses to see in his time in Kabul:


Women Self-Immolation

A screenshot from Lynsey Addario's video

In yesterday’s New York Times, Alissa Rubin and Lynsey Addario published a moving piece on the plight of women in Afghanistan, especially in western province of Herat.  In recent years, the number of women self-immolation are growing rapidly in that part of the country.  Ms. Rubin wrote:

The hospital here is the only medical center in Afghanistan that specifically treats victims of burning, a common form of suicide in this region, partly because the tools to do it are so readily available. Through early October, 75 women arrived with burns — most self-inflicted, others only made to look that way. That is up nearly 30 percent from last year.

But the numbers say less than the stories of the patients.

It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Ms. Zada, the hospital staff said, probably suffered from depression. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast.”

There are two issues that Ms. Rubin does not raise. One, that self-immolation is sadly becoming so wide-spread that it is taking root in a folk-culture. I was in Herat this past summer, and I got the chance to interview a couple burned victims. The fact that they did not consider any other options– both in terms seeking help or of taking their lives in a less painful way– shows how self-immolation is taking its place in the public psyche as the only option available for these women. You might say: what are the options available for the? The fact that there really aren’t any options confirms self-immolation as the only option. If not countered through public-awareness campaigns, this will become a hauntingly dangerous issue.

Another issue that is at the heart of the problem, yet Ms. Rubin does not go in full detail to flesh out, is the economic side. One of the Doctors in Ms. Addario’s video repeatedly says that these issues stem from economic problems, but his language skills limits him to really explain this in detail. The sense that I got over the summer in Herat was that  the main economic issue is the large dowries. The value of these dowries are growing exponentially, putting the future groom under tremendous strain. The groom ends up spending years in Iran or Pakistan laboring to meet the dowry demands placed by his in-laws. By the time he marries his bride, he already has a deeply rooted grudge against her. On top of that, having paid so much money for her, he feels like he has bought her and he has the right to treat her in any way he wants.


Ambassador Stubborn Holbrooke

Karzai's rocky relationship with the west: Richard Holbrooke the cause? Mark Wilson/Getty Images/zimbio

Kai Eide, the former UN special representative to Afghanistan, has been very vocal in his criticism of the Obam Administration’s approach to the Karzai government. He has blamed Obama’s civil and military leaders for the continuous strain in the relationship with Kabul.

In a recent interview published by BBC Pashto, Mr. Eide was was especially critical of Obama’s envoy to South Asia, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.  Mr. Eide claimed that Holbrooke was stubborn and unaware of Afghan sensitivities.

“I think Holbrooke’s approach, especially at the beginnings of Obama administration,  was very harmful. He is a person who got very involved in the Presidential elections. I agree that a lot of wrongdoings happened in the elections. But foreigners like Holbrooke, too, got very involved. This became the source of the tensions that we have today.”

Some other key points from the interview:

–Mr. Eide disagreed with the decision for announcing withdrawal date, saying it has caused panic among European members of NATO. They, too, are looking for a way out now, which has strained the Afghan government’s trust in its international partners.

— On Karzai’s relationship to the West: “I agree that President Karzai’s approach has been lacking. But I also see that the international community’s approach towards him, especially the United States’,  has played a major role in straining the relationship between Karzai and the West. And they do not realize that they have let down and distanced not only Karzai but also other leaders in that country, which can affect the larger population too. You can’t go into the country and say: I am your guest, but I will be dictating terms here based on my own ideas. These things won’t work in Afghanistan. I have said this at the Security Council also, and the US Ambassador in Kabul, Eikenberry, agrees with me. But no one listens to him either.”

— “Its imperative that leaders, especially those in Washington, learn the art of learning and listening.  When the Obama administration took over, they distinguished themselves from the previous administration in the fact that they will listen to others. Unfortunately, that’s not what I see. And this factor has played a major role in why we are in a mess today”