Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No more elections, thanks

As Western concern mounts over the delayed Afghan election results, interest among locals may be ebbing. It seems that, for a host of reasons, many Afghans see only trouble to be had in a push for a run-off election. Many feel that conflict and foreign interference are becoming increasingly more likely as the crisis wears on:

Little Afghan appetite for more voting
BBC News Online

KABUL, Sept 23 - It's hard to find Afghans with much enthusiasm for a second round presidential election run-off - or even for the drawn-out process of investigation into widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

Even supporters of the main challenger to President Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, seem sceptical at best.

"Many people are poor here," Gul Ahmad, a 53-year-old bus driver, told me.

"A second round would cost a lot of money that should be spent on other things.

"I voted for Dr Abdullah but we should accept the election result now. Everybody should compromise in the interests of the nation."

Afghans know that elections here bring violence. They can also divide the country's main ethnic groups against each other.

Taliban intimidation, together with attacks on polling stations, meant that in much of Afghanistan it took real courage to vote last month. Few want to go through it all again.

Human rights activist Ozala Ashraf Nemat said she, too, was against a second round.

"Why would a second round be any different from the first?" she said.

"Why would it be more free or more fair? Who would guarantee it?

"People feel they have already voted. If there is a second round there will be a much lower turn-out."

The result of that, she added, could be even less credible than that of the first round.

"People are fed up with the delays," she says.

"They just want to get the election over with, they have families to feed - they want to get on with their lives." ...

It is coming from outside the country. Foreign governments have to keep persuading their own populations that the effort they are putting into the war is worth it.

An election that is widely perceived to be flawed beyond redemption - stolen even - stokes scepticism in Western, not Afghan, public opinion... (link)
Orzala Ashraf, founder of Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, was mentioned on this blog some time ago. Ashraf was a participant at an Oslo peace-building conference, the resulting paper from which reports: "It is now generally agreed that a military solution will not work in Afghanistan."

As odd as the BBC report may sound to Western ears, Afghan reporters have heard similar sentiments:
Run-off polls spurned as a conspiracy
Pajhwok Afghan News
By Hamid & Ahmad Javed

Sept 29 - A large number of people in northern Jawzjan and central Kapisa provinces supported the August 20 presidential polls but voiced aversion to a run-off election.

Participants of separate gatherings said last month's presidential and provincial council elections were transparent and called on foreign countries to stop interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs...

In Kapisa, participants of a similar gathering said taking the elections into the second round was against the interest of Afghans. Religious scholars, former mujahideen and youths took part in the public meeting... (link)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Maybe General Vance needs anger management

Some people have issues with anger. For many, their anger makes them unable to carry on healthy relationships or hold a job. A few, however, find a niche in society where their issues are afforded more tolerance, such as professional tennis. Or the military's officer corps.

Recall that Canada's main man in Afghanistan is General Vance. We saw back in June that Vance flew off the handle when a young boy threw a rock at the general as he rode by in a convoy. The boy was of course merely voicing an increasingly common sentiment, repeated since time immemorial in Afghanistan. Indeed, the general is probably in the company of Alexander the Great; no doubt that ancient general's convoys endured more than a few child-thrown ripostes.

But if Alexander was as cool as he was portrayed in that Brad Pitt movie, I suspect that, when similarly attacked, he would not have jumped off his elephant and chased the boy who threw the rock.

Recently General Vance was at it again, this time getting angry at local elders in Dand district. He demanded a meeting with them following an incident where a Canadian soldier was badly wounded by an IED in their district. Vance evidently thinks that the elders are not doing enough to stop such incidents. Not shy about sharing his feelings, Vance told the assembled elders that he sometimes feels that "I am more concerned about Dand district than you."

"There has to be a change starting now and we need to make sure the roads stay clear of IEDs," he said, referring to deadly improvised explosive devices that have repeatedly caused Canadian casualties.

"If we don't start getting some serious cooperation from the people ... then I wonder whether or not it's worth another Canadian life."

Deh-e-Bagh [i.e. the village where the IED attack took place] is the centrepiece of the Canadian counter-insurgency strategy in Kandahar province... (link)
Vance's patronizing words and negotiation-by-threat seem ill-suited to improve what are evidently already strained relations with the elders.

Monday, September 28, 2009

U.S. planning afoot

We are all waiting to see what will happen with the Afghan election: Will the recount induce a run-off election, or will the election stand? It is too early to tell just yet. The Electoral Complaints Commission, partly appointed by the UN, is recounting about 10% of the disputed votes, with final results due out in about two weeks.

Meanwhile, however, it looks like the American administration is tipping toward Karzai, according to Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. Might this be taken by Karzai as tacit permission to carry through on electoral fraud?

U.S., Allies Vow Support for Karzai
Karen DeYoung - Washington Post

September 28 - The United States and NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan have told President Hamid Karzai's government that they expect him to remain in office for another five-year term and will work with him on an expanded campaign to turn insurgent fighters against the Taliban and other militant groups.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other NATO foreign ministers, meeting Friday in New York with their Afghan counterpart, reached "consensus" that Karzai would probably "continue to be president," whether through a runoff or as the legitimate winner of more than 50 percent of votes cast in disputed Aug. 20 elections, an Obama administration official said.

What Karzai has called "reconciliation" with insurgents who agree to lay down their arms is emerging as a major factor in administration deliberations about a way forward in Afghanistan, officials said. Along with plans to increase the size of the Afghan security forces, the U.S. military is developing programs to offer monetary and other inducements to insurgents it thinks are only loosely tied to the Taliban and other militant groups...

The U.S. force in Afghanistan is scheduled to reach 68,000 by year's end. The number of troops McChrystal has requested remains unknown, although Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said he spoke with Obama on Saturday, called it "one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington. It's 30,000 to 40,000 troops." McCain also spoke on ABC.

[Defense Secretary] Gates has said he is still thinking about his position on a troop increase. But he appeared to disagree with the view of a number of senior administration officials, led by Vice President Biden, that the U.S. effort should move away from full-fledged counterinsurgency toward a greater emphasis on targeted attacks on insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan with drone-fired missiles and other standoff weaponry... (link)
The Biden plan which Gates disagrees with includes a reduction in US forces in Afghanistan. A piece by DeYoung last week gives some of the background:
General's Review Creates Rupture
As Military Backs Call for More Troops In Afghanistan, Civilian Advisers Balk
Karen DeYoung - Washington Post

September 22 - Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's grim assessment of the Afghanistan war has opened a divide between the military, which is pushing for an early decision to send more troops, and civilian policymakers who are increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort...

[B]efore any decision is made, some of President Obama's civilian advisers have proposed looking at other, less costly options to address his primary goal of preventing al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in Afghanistan. Those options include a redirection of U.S. efforts - away from protecting the Afghan population and building the Afghan state and toward persuading the Taliban to stop fighting - as well as an escalation of targeted attacks against al-Qaeda itself in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Obama's public remarks on Afghanistan indicate that he has begun to rethink the counterinsurgency strategy he set in motion six months ago, even as his generals have embraced it... (link)
The Sunday Times provides some support for reports (like above) of US planning to refocus on drone strikes on targets in Pakistan:
US threatens airstrikes in Pakistan
The Sunday Times - Christina Lamb in Washington

September 27 - The United States is threatening to launch airstrikes on Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership in the Pakistani city of Quetta as frustration mounts about the ease with which they find sanctuary across the border from Afghanistan...

Senior Pakistani officials in New York revealed that the US had asked to extend the drone attacks into Quetta and the province of Baluchistan.

“It wasn’t so much a threat as an understanding that if you don’t do anything, we’ll take matters into our own hands,” said one... (link)
Of course, the Obama administration would not be the first in recent memory to use expllicit threats of violence to gets its way with Pakistan. George W. Bush's Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage threatened that the US would bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" if Musharraf did not comply with US demands in 2001.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NATO's illegal Afghan militias

A recent report from the Center on International Cooperation examines the use of private security companies and tribal militias by occupying forces in Afghanistan -- a practice the report shows is illegal under Afghan law. This of course strikes one as important news, yet only the Guardian of Britain chose to notify their readers of the findings. Since the CIC boasts Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin as its leading light, one cannot chalk it up to being unqualified or dodgy. One suspects that news editors felt instead that this was the "wrong story," and filled their papers with more musings about the right strategy for the war. A new strategy is widely anticipated, though it seems to be shaping up to be simply a continuation of the same thing, only more of it.

Here's the Guardian's coverage of the report:

Nato forces rely on illegal Afghan militias, report says
Julian Borger - The Guardian
16 September

Nato forces in Afghanistan are increasingly reliant on illegal militias, often run by warlords responsible for human rights abuses and drug trafficking, according to an independent report published tomorrow.

New York University's Centre on International Co-operation (CIC) reports that the use of private security companies and militias is growing exponentially and accounts for up to a fifth of the funds spent on Afghan reconstruction.

The CIC report, called The Public Cost of Private Security in Afghanistan, says many of the troop contingents in Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) use private militias not only to guard their camps and secure convoys, but also for "black ops", including detention and interrogation.

The militias function entirely outside Afghan law, which bans unlicensed armed groups, nor is there any legal basis for their employment in the "status of forces agreement" with the Kabul government, the CIC says in its report... (link)
And for fans of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," here are some excerpts of the CIC report:
Militia groups employed by foreign military forces pose an even greater regulatory challenge than private security companies (PSCs) and do more long-term harm to stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Although there is a well-defined legal framework outlawing militia and paramilitary groups, it is unclear whether these laws apply to the “armed support groups” (ASGs) used by foreign forces. Nonetheless, these forces are prima facie violations of Presidential Decree 50 on demobilization and disarmament, the Law on Firearms, Ammunition, and Explosives, the “Procedure for Regulating Activities of Private Security Companies in Afghanistan” and the “Strategy for Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups in Afghanistan”...

Use of private security by the US in combat zones has grown despite congressional legislation and guidance stating that PSCs cannot undertake “inherently governmental functions.” ... Contractors comprised 57 percent of the DoD’s workforce in Afghanistan in March 2009 – the highest percentage ever used by the US in any conflict...

Senior Afghan government officials and their relatives “up to the second degree” are banned from ownership or part ownership [of PSCs]. However, holding companies and other means are used to obscure the true ownership of PSCs; close relatives of senior officials – including President Karzai and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak – are previously documented owners and partners in companies, but often have removed their names from licensing documents despite indications of continued ownership, though not day-to-day management...

Despite public concerns of criminal behavior by some PSCs in Afghanistan, there is no formal complaint mechanism...

While ISAF and US contingents employ licensed security companies in some locations, the use of unregistered companies and illegal armed support groups, with little oversight or accountability, appears to be widespread among international military forces.

Sources estimate that there are also as many as 1,000 to 1,500 illegal ASGs that have been employed, trained, and armed by ISAF and Coalition Forces to provide security to forward operating bases, escort supply convoys, and perform other functions, as well as by development agency contractors and provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) to protect assistance projects...

In Kandahar province, the Canadian Forces have contracted defense services from Gul Agha Shirzai (via Commando Security) and Gen. Gulalai, both former military commanders. Shirzai, currently governor of Nangarhar province, was previously governor of Kandahar. The Canadian PRT has hired the militia of Col. Haji Toorjan, an ally of Sherzai, to provide camp security services...

The mandate of the Coalition Forces and ISAF is to support the Afghan government and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). However, by employing ASGs, the international community strengthens PSP power relative to Afghan government institutions...

PSPs, especially unlicensed security companies and ASGs, are dependent on short-term contracts with foreign entities and have no prospect of sustainability. Hence, when the foreign entities eventually leave or terminate their contracts, these PSPs are likely to refocus on illegal economic activities and will fight among themselves for market share – better trained and better armed than before.

PSPs are generally the most lucrative option available to former combatants that have either been excluded from – or failed by – the international community’s disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration initiatives... (link)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Malalai Joya's book: Get it now

I trust that readers are aware of Malalai Joya's recently-released autobiography entitled Raising My Voice: The Extraordinary Story of the Afghan Woman Who Dares to Speak Out. Set to be published in several languages (there's already a German edition out, just in time for their elections) and put on paper with the help of Rabble's own Derrick O'Keefe, her story promises to captivate readers worldwide.

Malalai needs no introduction to readers of this blog, as we have followed her exploits since she was kicked out of parliament. But it's not just Afghan right-wingers who attack Joya, as we have our own holy warriors (these ones who worship the holy state) who delight in insulting a woman repeatedly threatened with rape and murder. The west coast's version of Fox News, Terry Glavin, writes that Joya is "given to hyperbole," and is "contradictory" and "completely out of step with the overwhelming majority of women's rights leaders in Af'stan, and with the overwhelming majority opinion in Afghanistan." Glavin, in step with the corporate media, was quick to (uncritically) cite older opinion polls in Afghanistan which showed majority support for the US/NATO occupation, but he seems to lack the courage to address recent polling which gives a rather different picture. One wonders what Glavin would say to the majority of Kandaharis who would prefer that our troops leave the country.

So, to save readers from reading several reviews of Joya's book, I have excerpted some good bits from numerous reviews both in North America and Britain.

Ian Sinclair, who writes frequently in Britain on the Afghan war, finds that Joya's book "is quite simply the most passionate and devastating critique of Western intervention in Afghanistan I have ever read." He continues:

In the book's hopeful conclusion Joya calls for the withdrawal of all US/NATO troops and asks that concerned citizens in nations with forces fighting in Afghanistan "monitor, criticise and work to improve your own government's foreign policy". Interestingly, she is very critical of attempts to negotiate with the Taliban ("criminals and misogynistic killers" she calls them)... (link)
Isabel Hilton writes in Britain's New Statesman:
As Malalai Joya's memoir makes clear, it is not as if the election will solve anything substantial; but eight years, thousands of lives and billions of dollars later, not even to be able to hold an election in Afghanistan would look like failure, and too much so to be tolerable. Those who remember Vietnam will find the narrative of the redemptive next election quite familiar...

This biography should have made Joya a leading player in Afghanistan's post-Taliban political life. Instead, she is a poster child for its failure. Saluted abroad for her courage and nominated for, or the winner of, a long list of international human rights and peace prizes, she lives clandestinely in Afghanistan itself, suspended from parliament for allegedly insulting the warlords and drug barons who occupy most of its seats...

[The book's] indispensable function is to remind us that the next time we are told that progress is being made, or elections have produced a credible result, or that just another 10,000 pairs of boots on the ground will fix the problem, we should remember what happened to a young woman who disagreed. (link)
Johann Hari, a columnist in Britain's Independent:
Her enemies call her a "dead woman walking". "But I don't fear death, I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice," she says plainly. "I am young and I want to live. But I say to those who would eliminate my voice: 'I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.'" ...

While a "showcase parliament has been created for the benefit of the U.S. in Kabul", the real power "is with these fundamentalists who rule everywhere outside Kabul". As an example, she names the former governor of Herat, Ismail Khan. He set up his own "vice and virtue" squads which terrorized women and smashed up video and music cassettes. He had his own "private militias, private jails"...

I ask if she was frightened, and she shakes her head. "I am never frightened when I tell the truth." She is speaking fast now: "I am truly honoured to have been vilified and threatened by the savage men who condemned our country to such misery. I feel proud that even though I have no private army, no money, and no world powers behind me, these brutal despots are afraid of me and scheme to eliminate me." ... (link)
Finally, a review in the Irish Times:
Life for women is the same now as it was under the Taliban – the only difference, Joya claims, is the new rulers have US backing...

Joya lays out essential steps for Afghanistan’s future: the removal of foreign troops; a more transparent aid system; a refusal to allow warlords into parliament; and an end to the war in which civilians bear the brunt of suffering... (link)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

'Je suis tanné,' said the soldier

On Thursday (Sept 17), Canadian soldier Jonathan Couturier was killed by an IED in Kandahar. The following day, the soldier's family in Quebec had caused a stir by revealing Couturier's lack of enthusiasm for the war in Afghanistan, to which the relatives added their own criticisms.

While the BQ's defense critic agreed with the relatives' position, Joe Comartin of the NDP, which has an official policy in opposition to the war, reportedly said he disagreed with the relatives and that Couturier did not die in vain. (An astute observer recently noted that the NDP has recently become more interested in Nova Scotia, where the military is a big deal, since the provincial NDP won the election there.)

From the Toronto Star:

Afghan mission futile, dead soldier told family

QUEBEC, Sep 18 (CP) – Heart-wrenching comments from relatives of a soldier killed in Afghanistan – saying his death was pointless – tossed the grieving family into the midst of a national debate on the war...

Such strident antiwar messages have been rare from grieving military families...

Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny prompted the flurry of discussion with an op-ed piece this week in which he compared the mission to a historic military quagmire, suggested Canada should scale back its role in Afghanistan, and warned Canada was "hurtling toward a Vietnam ending."

That harsh assessment provoked an angry denunciation from military brass and even the apolitical Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean waded into the issue, saying Canada's mission was indeed improving lives in Afghanistan...

In an interview Friday, Kenny brushed aside [Lewis] MacKenzie's characterization of the relatives' opinion. He said other military families have remained silent, and believes their opinions are just as divergent as the rest of the population...

"That war over there, he found it a bit useless – that they were wasting their time over there," [brother] Nicolas Couturier was quoted as saying in Le Soleil...

"He wouldn't talk about it, he stayed positive, but at some moments he said he was fed up" [said Nicolas' spouse, Valerie]...

It's not the first time a grieving family has critized the war.

Last year, the father of Capt. Jonathan Snyder, who died in a freak accident when he fell into a well, said: "War is stupid. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows that. Well, no they don't. The politicians don't know that."

The father, David Snyder, a former reservist himself, said he supported his son and the military, but not the Afghanistan mission... (link)
The Star does not offer the words of the killed soldier's stepfather (from Le Soleil, translation mine):
... Son beau père, Ghislain Lavoie... a assisté au départ de Jonathan ce printemps, et entretenait déjà un certaine colère : «J'ai regardé tout le monde, j'ai regardé les enfants qui étaient là, parce que ce sont tous des enfants [...] J'ai toujours déploré ça, on envoie nos enfants se faire tuer.»

[His stepfather, Ghislain Lavoie... witnessed Jonathan's departure this past spring, and already what he saw made him angry: "I watched everybody, I watched children there -- because they are all children... I have always deplored that, that we send our children to get killed. "] (link)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Even more opposition to the war

We recently reported on a new Washington Post/ABC poll which caused a stir by revealing sinking support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan. There was another, similar, poll conducted recently, this one by CNN and Opinion Research Corporation.

The pollsters have evidently been asking this question for a while now, and they nicely include the results of similar polling done in the past. Here's the percentages of Americans who responded that they oppose the war in Afghanistan:

Aug '09: 57%
July '09: 54%
May '09: 48%
April '09: 46%
Feb '09: 51%
Dec '08: 46%
July '08: 52%
Jan '07: 52%
Sept '06: 48%
(link to pdf)
I included in that previous blog post a run-down of troop-contributing countries where a majority of the population opposes their involvement in the war:
- Canada
- Britain
- Australia
- Poland
- France
- Germany
- Czech Republic

To that list, one could add the results of a survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project conducted last year. In it, respondents around the world answered the question:
"Do you think the U.S. and NATO should keep military troops in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized, or do you think the U.S. and NATO should remove their troops as soon as possible?" (link to pdf of results)
The answers include some of no small interest (percentages are of those who support a quick withdrawal):
Spain: 56%
Russia: 72%
Turkey: 72%

Egypt: 80%
Jordan: 76%
Lebanon: 66%

Pakistan: 72%
China: 69%
Japan: 60%
While Spain, Turkey and Jordan have troops or trainers in Afghanistan, the rest do not. However, Japan has a substantial refueling arrangement with the Western occupation forces, while Russia has a transport agreement.


A recent poll done for McClatchy newspapers reveals significant cleavages in American opinion along racial, class and gender lines. Though this poll asks a different question than those above, namely, on the addition of more troops, it puts overall opposition to the escalation at 56%. Several demographics polled showed a marked tendency to oppose the troop build-up:
Hispanics: 86%
Non-hispanic blacks: 78%
Income under $25k: 70%
No college education: 67%
Women: 60%
(link to pdf)

Malalai Joya: 'a huge prison for millions'

We reported here last week on the quiet release of journalist/ student/ brother of intrepid journalist/ alleged feminist Pervez Kambakhsh, who had been imprisoned and sentenced to death (reduced to 20 years) for insulting Islam. Afghanistan's upper house of Parliament is angry about the release, according to Reuters:

The upper house of parliament said in a statement on September 14 that the release of the 24-year-old reporter who worked for the "Jahan-e Now" daily newspaper was contrary to Islamic values.

"The members of Meshrano Jirga (Council of Elders) expressed concern that this was not the first time a person sentenced for apostasy and impiety with the cooperation of anti-Islamic organizations is freed from punishment," it said in the statement, adding that Kambakhsh should have been punished... (link)
Meanwhile, suspended Afghan MP Malalai Joya has quite a different take on Kambakhsh's release:
“Karzai kept him in prison to gain the support of fundamentalists and keep them happy until the voting was over. Now, he has freed Kambaksh in a bid to present the rigged and fraudulent elections as free and fair – to throw dust in the eyes of the world and fool people into thinking that freedom of speech is not dead in Afghanistan. But this does not mean that the Afghan people enjoy democracy.

“Journalists continue to be threatened, murdered and forced to flee the country. They are constantly under pressure from the fundamentalists and cannot publish a single word against any of them. Censorship is rampant. The only newspapers allowed to be published are those that do not target foreign occupiers, fundamentalist criminals and druglords.

“I hope that while benefiting from the situation in the West, Kambaksh never forgets that Afghanistan, dominated by Northern Alliance, National Front, Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists, is still a huge prison for millions of his oppressed people.

“Thousands of his supporters, within and outside the country, are looking to him to continue his struggle for independence, freedom and democracy against the fundamentalists and their masters.” (link)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Germany and the Kunduz bombing

The September 4 bombing by US aircraft in Kunduz province, north of Kabul, is bound to have long-lasting repercussions both in Afghanistan and Europe.

According to the Washington Post, a NATO fact-finding team estimated 125 people were killed in the bombing, at least two dozen of whom were civilians, "perhaps many more," the report adds. Other reports put the figure as high as 40.

Now it seems that the German colonel who ordered bombing was in breach of procedure and overstepped his authority, according to a leaked NATO report. More from the Independent:

Colonel Georg Klein, the officer who ordered the attack, had "overstepped" his authority and "poorly evaluated" the situation. An unnamed but high-ranking German Nato officer was quoted as saying that it was "completely clear" that Col Klein had been in breach of military procedures.About 100 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the air strike, which Col Klein ordered because he allegedly feared that they would be used as truck bombs against Nato forces. However the report was said to have established that at the time of the strike the captured fuel tankers were bogged down in sand, posed no imminent threat to Nato forces and were being closely monitored.

The unnamed German officer said Col Klein should have consulted the headquarters of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force before ordering the attack... (link)
The bombing has of course had huge repercussions in Germany, where upcoming elections promise to be something of a referendum on the war. Reporting from Berlin, Kate Connelly writes in the L.A. Times:
Most parties, including Merkel's Christian Democrats, the Greens, the Social Democratic Party and Free Liberals, had been avoiding the sensitive topic [of the war] ...

One of [Merkel's] major obstacles in dodging the subject had been the Left Party, whose leader, Oskar Lafontaine, has repeatedly referred to the mission as a war that breaches international law. His is the only party in the lower house of parliament to have called for the immediate withdrawal of German troops. The Left Party is campaigning under the slogan "Get out of Afghanistan," knowing that on this topic at least, the majority of Germans -- an estimated two-thirds, according to polls -- are on its side.

Now the other parties probably will be forced to address a topic that has pushed angst over the economic crisis off the top of the agenda.

"We shouldn't try to keep the theme Afghanistan out of the election campaign," warned Eckart von Klaeden, the Christian Democrats' foreign policy expert. "Rather we need to make it much clearer why we're involved." ...

The umbrella group Network for the German Peace Movement has also been more outspoken. On Saturday, it charged that Germany was "responsible for a massacre" for last week's airstrike and warned that it would take legal steps against the commander who gave the orders... (link)
One can only wish that Canada's NDP would take the cue of the Left Party and oppose a war which a majority of Canadians do not want.

Note the attempted evasion of the Christian Democrats' expert. While two-thirds of Germans oppose a war which many say is in fact illegal, von Klaeden says the ruling party ought to simply explain better why their military is in Afghanistan. In this he echoes our own Conservatives, who say practically the same thing with regularity.

Obama's army commits war crime, say humanitarians

The New York Times reports on a Swedish-run charity hospital which recently saw US military forces illegally enter the building late at night for a two hour reign of terror:

Aid Group Says U.S. Troops Raided Afghan Hospital
By Sangar Rahimi

KABUL, Sept 7 (NYT) - A Swedish aid agency said Monday that American soldiers stormed through one of its hospitals in Afghanistan last week, searching men’s and women’s wards for wounded Taliban fighters, breaking down doors and tying up hospital staff members and visitors.

The soldiers also demanded that administrators at the hospital inform military authorities of any incoming patients who might be insurgents. After that, they reportedly said, the military would decide if the patients would be admitted...[Anders Fange, the country director for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan] called the episode “not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement” between nongovernmental organizations and international forces...

Mr. Fange said his group “cannot and will not tolerate this kind of treatment” by the military and would not allow troops to decide on hospital admissions... (link)
The Swedish NGO's press release on the incident spells it out:
They searched all rooms, even bathrooms, male and female wards. Rooms that were locked were forcefully entered and the doors of the malnutrition ward and the ultrasound ward were broken by force to gain entry. Upon entering the hospital they tied up four employees and two family members of patients at the hospital. SCA staffs as well as patients (even those in beds) were forced out of rooms/wards throughout the search... (link)
Reuters quotes a U.N. spokesperson on the matter:
U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique said he was not aware of the details of the particular incident, but that international law requires the military to avoid operations in medical facilities.

"The rules are that medical facilities are not combat areas. It's unacceptible for a medical facility to become an area of active combat operations," he said. "The only exception to that under the Geneva Conventions is if a risk is being posed to people."
Believe it or not, this incident comes on the heels of a similar incident the week before - on election day (Aug 20) to be exact. On that day, a US helicopter gunship fired at a health clinic in eastern Afghanistan where a wounded Taliban commander was being treated. While American commanders claimed that insurgents fired first from inside the clinic, questions remain. Afghan state owned television reported that "MPs from Paktika Province in the lower house regard the US air strike on the clinic as contrary to Islamic and international norms." And they are not the only ones questioning the legality of the attack:

Human rights group Amnesty International has urged NATO forces to launch a "transparent, credible" investigation into the attack, saying the military alliance may have violated international laws of war that protect wounded fighters getting medical aid.

"If the Taliban used the clinic as a shelter to fire from, they've committed a serious violation," Amnesty official Sam Zarifi said in a statement Thursday. "But if they were using the clinic for health care, NATO forces had no business firing on the clinic, even if they had cleared out civilians from the facility." (link)

We can only assume it is coincidence that the clinic in the earlier attack was built with Swedish funds.


Kambakhsh is free at long last

Afghan journalism student Pervez Kambakhsh has finally been released from prison by the Karzai government. Readers may recall that Kambakhsh appeared to have been incarcerated as a message to his brother, who is a feisty journalist with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Free at last: Student in hiding after Karzai's intervention

The Independent - September 7, 2009
By Kim Sengupta in Kabul

Twenty months on, and with more than 100,000 signatures from Independent readers seeking his release, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the Afghan student sentenced to death for the ‘crime’ of downloading information on women's rights, is free

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student sentenced to death in Afghanistan for trying to promote women's rights, has been freed from prison. The Independent has learned that he is now living outside the country after being secretly pardoned by President Karzai...The Kambaksh case has highlighted how human rights gains have been eroded since the fall of the Taliban eight years ago. Although Mr Kambaksh has found refuge thousands of miles away, he will have to live the rest of his life in fear of retribution...

Mr Kambaksh was originally arrested in October 2006 after some students and staff at his university in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of the country accused him of disseminating material on women's rights which "insulted Islam". He was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death at a trial three months later. He told The Independent from his cell in Balkh prison that a "confession" had been beaten out of him and he had not been allowed legal representation or allowed to speak during the four-minute hearing behind closed doors.

However, international pressure continued behind closed doors, and the student was moved to a jail in Kabul to appeal against his conviction. The case against him appeared to be crumbling with a number of prosecution witnesses withdrawing their testimony. Another plank of the case, that he had written part of the downloaded internet report himself, appeared to collapse after The Independent tracked down the real author, an Iranian émigré woman living in Europe... (link)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Now EVERYONE opposes this war

One of the themes of this blog in its 2+ years existence has been the state of public opinion worldwide on the matter of support for the war in Afghanistan. Most of the polls cited have been taken in countries with troops involved in the occupation and we have seen country after country arrive at the point where the majority of their population now opposes their participation in the war:
- Canadians
- Brits
- Australians
- Poles
- French
- Germans
- Czechs

As one might expect, even as country after country came to their moral senses on the issue, the war's boosters largely ignored public opposition in the supposedly democratic countries. When this obvious disconnect has been addressed at all, it is normally to ask what the war's overseers must do to "explain" the war to the public - presumably so that they will then support the organized violence perpetrated in their names.

All the while, of course, these warmongers have been promoting a war for democracy, as odd as that sounds. Odder still when we consider that the Afghans themselves have come to oppose this war being fought for their liberation and to install democracy in their country - not that the war's cheerleaders have addressed this development.

But all of this is old hat. The populations of most troop-contributing countries have opposed the war for some time now. So too the population of Afghanistan. What is new is this:

Public Opinion in U.S. Turns Against Afghan War
Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen - Washington Post

AUGUST 20 - A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll...

The new poll comes amid widespread speculation that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will request more troops for his stepped-up effort to remove the Taliban from Afghan towns and villages. That position gets the backing of 24 percent of those polled, while nearly twice as many, 45 percent, want to decrease the number of military forces there...

[M]ajorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels.

Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.

Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war's strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama's policies... (link)