Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tribal heads decry government and 'occupying' foreigners

The Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith, a competent journalist who has spent long assignments in Afghanistan over the past few years, has an especially keen eye for tribal politics. (His eye for insurgent politics. . . not so much.) His recent report reveals that key Pashtun tribal leaders are beginning to express opposition to the NATO/US war and occupation of Afghanistan as well as the Karzai regime itself:

Afghan tribes plan manifesto of dissent

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — A groundswell of anger over the rising violence in Kandahar has prompted the major tribes to consider a manifesto expressing a lack of confidence in the Afghan government, even as another explosion killed at least 38 people. ...

An unusual gathering of 27 powerful tribal elders is scheduled tomorrow in Kandahar city to approve a seven-point manifesto, which starts with a blunt declaration: "The problems are now so great, it's impossible for the government to control them," according to the draft text. "The people need to stand up." ...

"The foreign soldiers aren't helping, they're behaving like an occupying force," said Haji Mohammed Essa, Kandahar's former attorney-general and a leading organizer of the tribal gathering.

"You kicked out a government that called itself a legitimate government, but you didn't bring any better government." ...
Notably, President Karzai's brothers sit on the 27-member elders' council:
Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has served for years as chairman of the provincial council, said it's too early to draw conclusions from the tribal process because the draft manifesto hasn't yet been approved.

Asked whether the gathering of elders represents a challenge to his government's authority, he said: "No, no, not at all."

Mr. Karzai and his older brother Qayum Karzai sit on the council of 27 elders, and some observers say it's possible they may still exert a moderating influence on the group, possibly tempering the manifesto's language so that it's less critical of the government led by their brother, President Hamid Karzai. ...

The manifesto also endorses negotiations with "all sides" of the conflict, supporting the popular idea that Taliban fighters must be drawn into talks. ...

The events also appeared to strain relations between the Canadians and their local allies, as Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid told reporters that he warned the Canadians to stay away from the Pakistani border areas because of a specific threat of attack. ...
Smith also relays an estimate on the increase in insurgent attacks:
Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have climbed 64 per cent in the past year, from about 4,500 incidents in 2006 to about 7,400 in 2007, according to NATO statistics released yesterday in response to a query from The Globe and Mail.
-- yet defence minister Peter McKay has his own spin on the the rise in violence:
"I wouldn't describe it as an escalation," Mr. MacKay said. "I would describe it as another example of, sadly, how determined the Taliban insurgents continue to be." (link)
As noted above, local law enforcement officials report that they warned Canadian forces about a threatened attack. The National Post has more:

... In a surprise statement, the governor of Kandahar province said the bombing could have been avoided had Canadian soldiers heeded his warnings.

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid told reporters he had tried to discourage Canadian officers from sending their troops on patrol in Spin Boldak.

Mr. Khalid said he knew of a suicide bomber in the border area, and that he had passed his information to Canadian and NATO forces as early as Sunday. He said he repeated his warning to them five times but was ignored.

"We regularly receive threat warnings," said Lt.-Cmdr. Babinsky, when asked about the governor's statements. "And obviously we go where we want to, when we want to, in our area of operation. We obviously take notice of the warnings but our aim is to operate freely within our area of operation, despite threats." ...

The Post article also relates some scathing criticism of the NATO/US mission:
There is talk that the governor is feeling pressure to finally resolve the lack of security in Kandahar, and that he is unhappy with some aspects of Canada's military mission. Specifically, he is said to believe that Canadian and coalition soldiers sometimes operate without putting the safety of Afghans first.
Recall that Governor Khalid was recently accused of torturing prisoners. Most notworthy, then is this passage from an article explaining how Governor Khalid paraded ten suspects in the recent string of suicide bombings before the media:
Aside from one sporting what seemed like a freshly swollen and blackened eye, none of the detainees appeared to have suffered any injury. (link)

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