"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Aug 24, 2006

NATO in Afghanistan

We frequently come across views on comments boards which decry the role of NATO in Afghanistan and suggest that we should not be interfering in that country. So it might help to look at a few facts and issues.
Afghanistan's spiral into conflict and instability in recent times began with the overthrow of the king in 1973. Zahir Shah was in Italy for an eye operation when he was deposed in a palace coup by his cousin, Mohammad Daoud who declared Afghanistan a republic, and himself as president. He consolidated power with the support of leftists and crushed an emerging Islamist movement.

But towards the end he attempted to purge leftist supporters from positions of power and reduce Soviet influence. This resulted in the communist coup in April 1978, known as the Saur, or April Revolution which brought to an end more than 200 years of almost uninterrupted rule by the family of Zahir Shah and Mohammad Daoud.
President Daoud and his family were killed, with Nur Mohammad Taraki taking control as head of the country's first Marxist government,
But splits emerged in the divided Afghan communist party, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan - or PDPA.

Hafizullah Amin, the prime minister, opposed Taraki, and in October 1979 Taraki was secretly executed and Amin became the new president.

Amin was ruthless and has been accused of assassinating thousands of Afghans. He was also independant and nationationalist in approach and to the Soviets this seemed a threat to their desire to have a cooperative communist government bordering Soviet Central Asia. In December 1979, Amin was assassinated and the Soviet Red Army swept into Afghanistan.
Babrak Karmal, Afghan ambassador to Czechoslovakia, was brought in as the new president and a puppet leader acceptable to Moscow.

Soviet Occupation

The Soviet occupation, which lasted until 1989, was a disaster. About a million Afghans were killed as the Red Army tried to impose control for the puppet Afghan government. Millions more fled abroad as refugees.

Mujahideen fight the soviets

Groups of Afghan Islamic fighters - mujahideen - fought to force the Soviets out - with much covert support from the United States. Then after almost 10 years, the Soviet Union withdrew, leaving in power President Najibullah.

Najibullah held on for three years after the Red Army's departure, but fell in 1992 as the United Nations was trying to arrange a peaceful transfer of power. The mujahideen swept into Kabul and Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani became president of the new Islamic Republic.

But Mujahideen victory was soured by infighting and the factions failed to agree on how to share power. During the Soviet occupation rural areas suffered most in the military campaign by the Red Army to root out the mujahideen.

When the mujahideen took over the urban areas became the scene of conflict. Kabul, the capital saw great destruction. Tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives, and the country slid towards anarchy.
Then, towards the end of 1994, the Taleban emerged in the southern city of Kandahar, heart of the Afghan Pashtun homeland.Their success was based on a call for the removal of the mujahideen groups.

At first they gained control of Pashtun areas with little fighting and Mujahideen commanders defected to them. However as their control spread to other areas the fighting intensified. The went on though to control about 90% of the country.

In 1996 they captured Kabul and the outside world began to note with dismay to their extreme Islamic policies, in particular towards women. The Western world also intensified pressure on the Taleban to ban the growth of opium poppies as Afghanistan was the source of most opiates reaching Europe.

Washington blamed Bin Laden for masterminding the devastating suicide attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 11 September 2001.
Pressure was put on the Taleban to give up the militant Saudi who was responsible for the attacks, Osama Bin Laden, but the Taleban described him as their "guest" and refused.

The following month the US and its allies began air attacks on Afghanistan which set the stage for the Taleban's Afghan opponents to sweep them from power. Kabul was retaken in November and by early December the Taleban had to give up their Kandahar stronghold.

New Afghan Constitution
On 5 December 2001 Afghan groups agreed a deal in Bonn for an interim government, at the head of which Pashtun royalist Hamid Karzai was then sworn in.

The Bonn conference, held under UN auspices, forged a political blueprint leading to elections scheduled for summer 2004.

In June 2002 a loya jirga, or grand council, elected Mr Karzai as interim head of state. A second loya jirga in January 2004 adopted a new constitution.

Since coming to power the US-backed Mr Karzai has survived at least one assassination attempt, in 2002 and some ministers and supporters have been less fortunate.

The Taliban return
Mr Karzai and his government have found it difficult to exert control beyond the capital and turf wars between local commanders have been apparent. The Taleban then re-emerged as a fighting force, worsening the security situation in the east and south-east. Violence and threats by the Taleban and other militants opposed to elections contributed to the landmark elections in 2004 being delayed until October.

Presidential elections
An election to the office of President of Afghanistan was held on October 9, 2004. Hamid Karzai won the election with 55.4% of the votes and three times more votes than any other candidate. Twelve candidates received less that 1% of the vote. It is estimated that more than three-fourths of Afghanistan's nearly 10 million registered voters cast ballots. The election was overseen by the Joint Electoral Management Body, vice-chaired by Ray Kennedy.

National Assembly Elections
In National Asembly elections in September 2005 former warlords and their followers gained the majority of seats in both the lower house and the provincial council (which elects the members of the upper house). Women won 28% of the seats in the lower house, six more than the 25% guaranteed in the 2004 Constitution.

Turnout was estimated at about 50 %, substantially lower than at the presidential election in October 2004. This is blamed on the lack of identifiable party lists as a result of Afghanistan's new electoral law, which left voters in many cases unclear on who they were voting for.

Turnout was highest in the Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik ethnic minority provinces in the north - generally over 60 % - and lowest (below 30 %) in some of the Pashtun-speaking south-eastern areas where the Taliban insurgency is strongest. Turnout was also surprisingly low (34 %) in the capital, Kabul.

At the end of July 2006 Nato forces formally took control of military operations in southern Afghanistan from the US-led coalition which overthrew the Taleban in 2001.
The NATO forces are under the umbrella of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in six provinces in the south: Day Kundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul.

Analysts had claimed that the failure to rebuild roads, schools and hospitals had fuelled sympathy for the insurgents, and the purpose of the mission is supposed to be to provide security for such reconstruction.

Opium Trade Problems
The powerful drugs trade is undoubtedly involved with the current violence and the Taliban insurgency is closely linked to opium growing

Theres are some very interesting proposals here about how the challenge of reducing opium production in Afghanistan should be tackled. In essence the Senlis Council ( an international drug policy think tank)at an international conference proposed in January 2006 that the present eradication policy should be replaced with a licensing system which would allow for the legal production of the poppy crop to feed the production of medicinal morphine. The country would then have a major legitimate export crop.

The problem with the present approach of eradication is that in the under-developed agricultural lands of Afghanistan there are few other crops with good economic yields so the pressure on farmers to remain in opium production is intense. If a harsh eradicationstrategy is followed this risks simply pressuring those farmers to turn to groups like the Taliban who will only too readily grab this chance to widen their base of suppport.

Emmanuel Reinert (executive director of The Senlis Council.) said "[A] quick fix, [an] aggressive policy such as eradication, chemical spraying, would not only be inefficient, but extremely counterproductive and will encourage...unrest in the country," he said. "It will actually undermine the primary mission of the coalition forces and NATO in Afghanistan, which is the establishment of the rule of law and the development of the country."

Turkey’s successful transition from a culture of widespread, unregulated poppy cultivation to a licensed, controlled system of poppy cultivation for the production of medicines provides an interesting model for Afghanistan. Analogous to the current situation in Afghanistan, in the 1960s Turkey was one of the world’s main opium producing countries. After several years of tense negotiations, political pragmatism prevailed, resulting in Turkey switching from unregulated crop growing to licensed poppy cultivation for the production of medicines. The Turkish political dynamic was such that poppy farmers’ interests were key to the stability of the country. When Turkey deemed total eradication both technically and socially impracticable, the US and the Turkish Governments worked together to implement a poppy licensing system for the production of opium-based medicines, as an alternative means of bringing poppy cultivation under control. Turkey was then able to resume poppy cultivation, under a strict licensing system supported by the United Nations and a preferential trade agreement with the US.

The U.N. reported last year that Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,500 tons of opium — enough to make 450 tons of heroin — nearly 90 percent of world supply.

This year’s preliminary findings indicate a failure in attempts to eradicate poppy cultivation and continuing corruption among provincial officials and police — problems acknowledged by President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai told Fortune magazine in a recent interview that “lots of people” in his administration profited from the narcotics trade and that he had underestimated the difficulty of eradicating opium production.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that opium accounted for 52 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product in 2005.“Now what they have is a narco-economy. If they do not get corruption sorted, they can slip into being a narco-state,” a U.S. official warned.

Opium cultivation has surged since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001. The former regime enforced an effective ban on poppy growing by threatening to jail farmers — virtually eradicating the crop in 2000.

Afghan and Western counternarcotics officials say that Taliban-led militants are now implicated in the drug trade, encouraging poppy cultivation and using the proceeds to help fund their insurgency.

Fear of fanning the insurgency has constrained efforts to destroy the poppy crops of impoverished farmers — particularly in Helmand - which accounts for more than 40% of Afghan poppy cultivation and where the area being cultivated for poppies has increased most sharply.

“We know that if we start eradicating the whole surface of poppy cultivation in Helmand, we will increase the activity of the insurgency and increase the number of insurgents,” said Tom Koenigs, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan.

He said the international community needs to provide alternative livelihoods for farmers, but warned against expecting quick results.

There have been some successes. Nangahar province reduced opium output by 96 percent in 2005. Since March, anti-drug police units have raided 10 drug labs throughout the country, seizing 2,700 pounds of heroin.

Karzai told Fortune magazine in a recent interview that “lots of people” in his administration profited from the narcotics trade and that he had underestimated the difficulty of eradicating opium production.

There has been a huge increase in violent attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, particularly in the south where Nato forces are helping the Afghan government to extend its authority.

The government blames most of the violence on what it calls "enemies of Afghanistan" - shorthand for the Taleban and their al-Qaeda allies. Both groups appear to be stronger than they have been since before the fall of the Taleban administration in 2001.

Pakistan continues to deny Afghan allegations that it is sheltering and aiding the Taleban. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to establish with any certainty who is behind some of the violence and exactly who supports the insurgency.

The top UN envoy for Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, recently alleged that the Taleban and their al-Qaeda allies were being backed by foreign money and terror networks. But he also said the insurgency includes the children of Afghan refugees who have been educated in Pakistani religious schools or madrassas, as well as young men from Afghanistan with few prospects.

The Taleban's current strength has been said to stem partly from their intimidation of the local population, but also from the fact they can pay young Afghan men more than the Afghan army can pay them.

The militants are behind a spate of suicide attacks

However, the situation remains murky and complex, as Paul Rogers of Bradford University explains.

"As far as we can tell, it's elements of the old Taleban leadership who are at the forefront of what is happening now. But they are overseeing a very diffuse group. Many of them would describe themselves as adherents to the Taleban outlook, but it includes people who are essentially allied to local warlords. It certainly includes small landowners who are concerned about losing their capacity to grow opium poppies because of the eradication campaigns that are on."

The Taleban's offers to protect farmers from eradication campaigns will have boosted their popularity in major poppy-growing provinces like Helmand.

Complex Afghani allegiances

Local power holders who feel marginalised may find themselves allied to the Taleban, at least in the short term.

In can be difficult to distinguish between attacks by the Taleban and those by other radical Islamic groups or individuals. These include Hezb-e Islami, lead by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, or those loyal to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former mujahideen leader who served in the Taleban government.

There is also a complex web of shifting allegiances, tribal, ethnic and local rivalries and feuds within Afghan society and it is not unknown for Afghans to denounce rivals or enemies as members of the Taleban for political or economic gain.

Heres a link to a web site wit a discussion forum used by Afghans and others

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