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What to Do About Syria

This piece is thought provoking and I appreciate it being written and shared.

I liked the author’s ability to relate the situation back to the Spanish Civil War, for which their are many similarities. If there is one really great point, its that the Islamic Community really does a good job about organizing networks to support their own, whether they be Jihadists, Secularists, Freedom Fighters or Leftists. They did this in Afghanistan, and it worked. Finally, I thought it provides really insightful thoughts about the Global Left and how the Global Left has not been as engaged in Syria as it should be.

Where the problem is that the world is distracted by equally pressing problems. The US is distracted by Ukraine, the Far East, and its own economic situation. Russia is focused on Ukraine. And the rest of the BRICS Community is either distracted by the Far East or dealing with intense domestic issues. Intervention should take place, but it should take place by a coordinated body of States. For that, the Arab League or NATO are best placed, and the political will is not there. Therefore, I think its not completely fair to blame the Global Left. Rather, we need to blame the International Community, especially the U.S., NATO, Russia and the Arab Community for not intervening and instead start dialogues about how we as citizens of these countries can create positive change, especially through creating networks of charities and lobbyists to force our governments to act.

a paper bird

Syrian government forces patrol the Khalidiyah neighbourhood of Homs, mid-2013. Photo: AFP/Getty Images Syrian government forces patrol the Khalidiyah neighbourhood of Homs, mid-2013. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

You would think that, having stayed in Cairo for much of the last year, I would feel closer than in New York or Boston to the Syrian catastrophe taking place only a few borders away. But it doesn’t work that way. Egypt has enough of its own problems: massacres, mass arrests, one dictator on trial, another one running for president; these aren’t as replete with murder but they fill the mind as blood fills the brain after a hemorrhage, and expunge thought. You imagine Aleppo for a second and flinch: There’s enough not to think about without not thinking about that. 

To be sure, Syria is here, in the form of thousands of refugees who have fled the killing. (The UN says there are almost 150,000 in Egypt; some estimates run double; in any case, Lebanon hosts many times…

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Moving Forward?: The Future of the Taliban

Hasnain Kazim / Pakistan / De-Radikalisierung

Reconciling former Taliban combatants



As the first democratic election in the history of Afghanistan comes to a close, with little violence occurring, one question is being asked by outside observers and governments around the world: “Where is the Taliban?” Despite the threats and political jousting to derail the election process and scare voters from the polls, very little action has materialized other than big talk. While it still remains an organized force in eastern Afghanistan, this failure to follow through may be evidence of the group’s decline and gradual loss of influence in Afghan politics. In short, it may not be the big boogie man it used to be.

The decline could also be explained by the gradual and diminishing influence of Al Qaeda and international Islamic jihadism. Though Islamic networks, like the Haqqani Network, continue to fund groups like the Taliban, the group has gradually faded into the broader landscape of local groups that have long carried out violent conflicts against other. The tribal lands of Pakistan are a case and point, as are areas of Afghanistan where rivalries between ethnic groups show tough obstacles ahead for forging a national Afghan identity.

Where has the Power Gone?


The Afghan-Pakistan Border Conflict

The structure of the terrorist network has long  been a  guerrilla organization that has been  funded by networks of international Islamist organizations. The major example of  Al Qaeda speaks to the first time a guerrilla organization    has been totally funded by private individuals and groups rather than governments. Al Qaeda and the Haqqani   Network not only helped fuel the Taliban insurgency, but continue funding Islamist based extremists in conflict  zones.   From West Africa to Malaysia, to Chechnya and India, their influence  is reflected in the trade of illegitimate money, drugs and small arms trading. Furthermore, these activities, including recruitment of young jihadists, are set up in a system of churches (madrassas), schools and training camps, with participants coming from wealthy Persian Gulf families to refugee camps in Pakistan. Reporter Steve Coll’s account of Al Qaeda and Haqqani’s formation in Ghost Wars demonstrates the first true globalization, that of international terrorism through private means.

That was the 1970s throughout the remainder of the century. The Taliban have used this network to wage war against the US-supported Karzai government . Through links with Pakistani Intelligence (ISI), they have used Pakistan and the US-Pakistani alliance to largely shield themselves from the brunt of US-NATO forces based in Afghanistan. However, the politics of South Asia is fundamentally shifting. There are three reasons why:

  1. The war on terror is coming to an end (whether Washington is willing to admit it or not), as the United States has more pressing priorities in Eastern Europe and the Far East.
  2. Due to the war in Afghanistan, US-Pakistani relations have deteriorated over support of the Taliban, leading to stronger partnerships between the United States and India.
  3. Pakistan is becoming increasingly unstable due to the insurgency, especially as Afghanistan becomes increasingly stable (though not really growing) due to US and European economic and military support.

The Taliban now finds itself in a predicament: to continue their violent struggle is to alienate both governments that now have reason to pacify the Taliban and their benefactors, or destroy them at all costs.


U.S. Drone in action over Pakistan

Furthermore, evidence has shown that the U.S. drone and special forces campaign in Pakistan’s borderlands has indeed fractured the Taliban’s leadership. The death of senior leaders has created power struggles in the leadership. If an opportunity to reconcile the Taliban with the new Afghan government, now would be the time. Such  action would bring closure to the war and truly mark an impressive transition to peace for the war torn country. However, if the benefactors have turned their eyes to other extremist groups, then a sustained effort may destroy the group while Afghanistan reconstitutes itself and economic growth returns.

Is there a place for the Taliban?

What if the Taliban can reconcile? What will it look like as a   peaceful player in Afghan politics? The living memory of the Taliban in the lives of ordinary Afghans is still fresh and painful. However, many similar post-conflict attitudes have been solved through successful reconciliation processes. Rwanda and Sierra Leone are both strong case studies for such conflicts. Again, successful reconciliation brings closure to a country that needs to move forward, stronger and more confident.

An event like this can only be possible if the United States and the Afghans continue the strong anti-guerrilla war campaign against the Taliban extremists, and, more importantly, the Haqqani Group and other international backers. A 201o report on Haqqani by the American Institute of War concluded that the organization has been resilient in the face of overwhelming strikes by U.S. drones and other tools of counterterrorism. We agree that drone attacks, strengthening the confidence of Southern Afghanistan in the Kabul-based government and continued unilateral intervention in the tribal lands is the best way to finish Haqqani and the remnants of al Qaeda.

Is it in the best interest of the United States? Absolutely! However, its also in the best interests of Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries, where religious-based terrorism is still a fear among leaders and the ruling elite. Successful conciliation is an objective worth striving for. It should not come at the expense of eliminating the Taliban if they continue to play ball with Al Qaeda and Haqqani. The current elections in Afghanistan, along with the changing commitments of US foreign policy provide an opening that should not be passed up.


Never Forget Never: The Post-War Commitment to Afghanistan


American Soldiers in Southern Afghanistan



An article in the New York Times described this years elections in Afghanistan as a great milestone for the country. As Afghans went to the polls to elect their President, it marked the first time that a peaceful transition of power had taken place in this country. It also marks the end of the United States’ thirteen year mission to end the rule of the Taliban and expel Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Finally, it looks like Afghanistan can be considered a model for nation-building and peaceful establishment of friendly regimes.

The death of two journalist in the country cast a shadow over these positive movements toward a free and democratic rule. The looming threat of the Taliban and the struggle for the future of the country between old political rivals remain challenges for this fledgling democracy. However, with Russia emboldened by the Crimean Crisis, the United States once again has to shift its attention to more pressing needs.

The Current Situation

The current situation in Afghanistan is tense at the moment, with a government that is considered the third most corrupt in the world, a small faction of Afghan leaders who question the legitimacy of the government, and Pakistan’s increasing interests in the area. The country is still struggling to recover from the wars that have left its farms in ruins, its roads impassable, its growth stunted, and its foreign investments low. The institutions of government still lack the legitimacy and internal control that normally combat corruption and inspire confidence in the Afghan people.

AP Journalist Kathy Gannon who was killed this past week

AP Journalist Kathy Gannon who was killed this past week

The Taliban are still present and aggressively waging a campaign of terror against the government. The threat of violence by the Taliban (while failing to keep voters away) remains a menacingspectre over this newborn democracy. Attacks – such as the bombing of the Afghan Election Commission and continuous bombings of government offices – demonstrate the Taliban’s resistance to this delicate transition. The continual rejections of peace overtures from the United States shows their determination to be defeated by a western power they still believe to be the “Great Satan.”

The elections present a complex problem for U.S. policymakers in gauging Afghan intentions. While all of the candidates have pledged to sign the new U.S. security agreement, the complexity of Afghan political dynamics continues to keep us guessing on whether or not they will actually honor this commitment. The new government might not be any more receptive than the Karzai administration has been in the last ten years. These new leaders will have to convince hostile Afghan leaders and foreign powers (such as Pakistan) that the new Afghanistan is strong and sovereign; not just a foreign puppet.

Brief History: Blood and Soil

Up until 1975, Afghanistan enjoyed relative peace under a monarchy with a loose tribal confederation, largely dominated by Pashtuns. In that same year, the socialists under Babrak Karmal came to power, and attempted to create a socialist Afghanistan with the support of the Soviet Union. This precipitated intervention by the Soviet security forces, followed by military occupation in order to protect the Karmal Government. War had come to Afghanistan.

The Mujahadeen during the 1980s and 1990s

The Mujahadeen during the 1980s and 1990s

From 1979 to 1989, the Soviets fought against the Afghan guerilla armies, the. Together with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the United States funneled weapons, supplies and money to leaders such as Gulbadeen Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massoud. The withdrawal   of Soviet forces left a devastated country. Guerilla warlords were left   to fight among themselves for power. In this vacuum, the Pakistani supported Taliban captured the capital, Kabul and took control of     the country. Until 2001, Afghanistan was the haven of drug      trading, illegal weapons smuggling, and terrorism.

The U.S. invasion prompted by the 9/11 attacks removed the Taliban from power and destroyed the terrorist infrastructure of Al Qaeda. In the search for Osama Bin Laden – its leader – they assisted the Afghan Northern Alliance, led by Hamid Karzai and Rashid Dostum to set up the new Federal Republic of Afghanistan. U.S. Operation “Anaconda”, and support for the fledgling national army pushed the Taliban into Pakistan, where it now largely operates through suicide bombings, sabotage, and assassinations. Other groups, such as Hekmatyar, still refuse to accept the new government, which they claim is illegitimate, marked with corruption, and not in the best interests of the Afghan people.

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Karzai Greeting Obama

The Karzai Government’s insistence on leading Afghanistan independent of any United States foreign policy has led to clashes with U.S.-NATO forces and national Afghan security forces, especially the Afghan army. The inability to create a mutual agreement for Afghan security has also strained relationships between Kabul and Washington. The upcoming pull-out of U.S. forces in late 2014 is set to take place at the same time as the   current presidential elections between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Given the situation, the United States may find itself falling into another diplomatic period of “salutary neglect,” just as   it did after 1990.

In the following months and years, we should instead consider the following policies regarding Afghanistan, especially as we become more disengaged with internal Afghan politics.

1. Continuous Diplomatic and Military Engagement with the Taliban: Ultimately, the war in Afghanistan will continue until the Taliban, the primary player in this conflict, agrees to disarm. While Al Qaeda is still a threat to the United States, the Taliban could be considered reluctant enemies, and there is a chance they can be convinced to accept peaceful negotiations. Our diplomats should continue pressing all parties (namely the Taliban and the Islamic Republic) to accept a mutual agreement to lay down arms. The Taliban’s influence will decrease as the Afghan economy and society both recover from the war, and refugees return to their homes. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before their power and terror erodes as local support from the Afghan population dwindles.

2. Ensuring Civilian Control of the Army: The greatest threat to Afghan peace and security is the national army. History proves that new democracies, especially those forged out of civil wars and foreign intervention, are vulnerable to military interference with the civilian governance. Such action stems from the latent tendency that leaders have towards autocratic rule, especially in countries with no traditions of democracy or republicanism. Many former Mujahadeen, including Rashid Dostum, have used the army and their former comrades to rebuild their power bases in an attempt to influence Afghan politics. The United States needs to facilitate ways to strengthen civilian control, such as tying foreign aid to continuous democratic development.

South Asia

South Asia

3. Deter Pakistan: No solution to the Afghan problem could be       complete without considering the threat of Pakistan’s local foreign policy interests. Through their intelligence network, Pakistan has brokered power in the country since the Soviet-Afghan War and the civil war that followed. Their secret support to the Taliban has not    just kept moderates and anti-terrorist leaders like Massoud and   Karzai  from power, but has kept the militia alive long after their expulsion from the country. Administration officials are correct in saying that Afghanistan’s future is tied to a resolution of Pakistan’s conflict with India. There is no better time than now to engage the    two nations as part of a broader strategy to insure the national well being and    security of the new Afghanistan. 


2014 marks a pivotal year in the history of U.S. relationships with Afghanistan. It also marks a transition from the War on Terror to a new phase of American global engagement. It should not be ignored that much has changed in the world in these past few years, with a resurgent Russia and a brewing conflict in the Far East. However, we are reminded by former Congressman Charlie Wilson’s words: “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world… and then we fucked up the endgame.” On the fields of success and failure, tomorrow’s challenges are created, and we have to be ready for them. However, in this country, we have an opportunity to define those challenges, both for ourselves, and for the Afghan People.


The Ever Growing Terrorist Threat in Africa-What’s being done about it?

The article makes some excellent points. The key points here are:

1. The instability of Africa has allowed a multitude of non-state actors to create instability.
2. The majority of responses to African terrorism has been military force, often used by the United States, but also including interventions in Cote d’Ivoire and Mali by France.
3. The best solution to the problem is building up institutions of strong and peaceful governance.

I agree on the first two points, because attention regarding peaceful development of Africa has not been seriously undertaken since the Cold War. The default policy of nation-building, sponsored by the U.S. and China, still carries a component of military aide alongside foreign aid.

Though strong institutions with strong penalties for bad behavior and reputations for strong service delivery are valuable, current policies continue to reinforce bad behaviors of patrimonial state leaders. Historical examples include pre-war Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through foreign aid (both government sponsored and charitable giving), money and resources are plundered by dictators and local guerrilla groups, fueling poverty and encouraging violence in unstable countries. Foreign aid given to Somalia in Operation Restore Hope (1993) strengthened local warlord Mohammed Aidid, a factor in the U.S. Raid on Mogadishu, featured in the film Black Hawk Down.

So the recommendation I would attach is this: Strengthen institutions AND develop higher legal and political standards around the distribution of foreign aid. If we can limit how much aid actually helps terrorists and guerrillas, then we can limit the expansion of violent behaviors caused by corrupt African dictators. Aid that instead promotes economic and social stability and to promote disarming of non-state armed groups is more more effective in building stability in one of the poorest regions of the world.

Blackbird Brief

There has been growing concern that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations continue to pose a threat to the U.S homeland and interests even more than a decade after 9/11. The White House stated in August 2013 that AQAP “poses the greatest potential threat” and demonstrates “an interest in and a willingness to attempt serious attacks on the United States, our allies, and our people.”  What came next was the closing of dozens of U.S embassies. President Barack Obama even mentioned the emergence of al-Qaeda affiliates and the need to disable the networks during his State of the Union speech in January.   What are we doing about it?

Africa is an interesting challenge. Let’s take al-Qaeda out of the picture for a minute.  Africa is filled with non-state actors creating their own challenges. Ethnic and regional tensions lead to the presence of militias, government corruption leads to even more violence, and…

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