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April 28, 2012 

Afghan gunmen kill two guards in attack on governor
April 29, 2012, 2:44 am
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Two gunmen hiding pistols in their shoes snuck inside a provincial governor's high-security compound in southern Afghanistan Saturday, and killed two guards in a fierce gun battle.

10 policemen dead in roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan
MAIDAN SHAR, Afghanistan, April 28 (Xinhua) -- Ten Afghan policemen were killed late Friday in a roadside bombing in the country's eastern province of Wardak, said a provincial official on Saturday.

United States Talks Fail as Pakistanis Seek Apology
New York Times By DECLAN WALSH, ERIC SCHMITT and STEVEN LEE MYERS April 27, 2012
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The latest high-level talks on ending a diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan ended in failure on Friday over Pakistani demands for an unconditional apology from the Obama administration for an airstrike. The White House, angered by the recent spectacular Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, refuses to apologize.

NEW BOOK SHOWS BIN LADEN WAS A WILD SEX MACHINE WHO LOVED TO PLEASE THE LADIES
April 28 2012 Scrape TV News
Washington, D.C. – Osama bin Laden. Madman, prophet, zealot, criminal, murderer. Depending on which side the equation you land, he was certainly one or more of these things. Bin Laden was many things to many people and above all other things, he was controversial.

ICRC continues relief work in Afghanistan amid worsening security
by Farid Behbud, Chen Xin
KABUL, April 28 (Xinhua) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been continuing relief operations across the insurgency-hit country though security constraints hampered humanitarian assistance.

U.S. Has Few Good Options on Afghan Peace Ahead of NATO Summit
The U.S. has two options for a political solution before withdrawing from Afghanistan. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches, can a path to a deal be found via Pakistan?
The Daily Beast By Javid Ahmad Apr 27, 2012
Despite the long, robust national and international debate about U.S. policy, Afghanistan’s future after 2014 appears increasingly uncertain. While the recent agreement on the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership is a significant breakthrough, the agreement is reportedly more symbolic than substantive. It is now clear that setting 2014

A personal dispatch from Afghanistan
Advised by the British, the Afghan National Army is now leading missions against the Taliban
Financial Times By Andy McNab April 28, 2012
I’m lying in the dust using a mud wall as cover and overlooking a wide valley in Helmand province, Afghanistan. In front of me, the Afghan National Army is returning fire as the Taliban try to halt their advance south: it is a massive demonstration of firepower. The incoming attack stops immediately, meaning the Taliban fighters are

Panetta: No One Way to Destroy al-Qaida
VOA News April 28, 2012
The U.S. defense secretary says there is no single way to destroy al-Qaida, but the killing of its leader Osama bin Laden has crippled the group.

Exclusive: Karzai family looks to extend boss rule in Afghanistan
Examiner.com By Michael Hughes Afghanistan Headlines Examiner April 27, 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother, Qayum, is the type of guy who watches the Godfather movies not for entertainment purposes, but to learn new techniques. Hence, it is more than a little concerning that President Karzai has reportedly been grooming Qayum to succeed him as the country's next president - a move that could accomplish the impossible by making life even more unbearable for most Afghans.


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Afghan gunmen kill two guards in attack on governor
April 29, 2012, 2:44 am
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Two gunmen hiding pistols in their shoes snuck inside a provincial governor's high-security compound in southern Afghanistan Saturday, and killed two guards in a fierce gun battle.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying their main target was the provincial Governor Tooryalai Weesa.

"After killing two bodyguards, the attackers seized their rifles and opened fire on other bodyguards, injuring one," Weesa told AFP, confirming that he was not hurt in the incident.

The attackers were eventually killed, Kandahar government spokesman Zalmay Ayobi told AFP. Security forces also found a vehicle laden with explosives abandoned outside the compound.

The insurgents somehow made it through the tight security at the compound with pistols tucked in their sandals, Weesa said, and the gun fight that ensued lasted for about 30 minutes before the attackers were subdued.

Kandahar province is the heartland of hardline Taliban insurgents and has been one of the hardest hit in 10 years of war in which NATO troops are supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Condemning the attack, Weesa said the Taliban were resorting to "new ways and tactics to hurt the government and the people" but reiterated that "they will not succeed".

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until they were toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion for refusing to hand-over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Since then, remnants of the regime have orchestrated an increasingly deadly insurgency focused on suicide attacks and roadside bombing that frequently miss their military targets and cause civilian casualties.

The attack on governor's compound comes as the interior ministry reported the death of ten Afghan policemen after a roadside bomb ripped through their patrol vehicle in central Afghanistan on Friday.

On April 15, squads of suicide attackers took up positions in the nation's capital Kabul, firing on embassies, government buildings and foreign military bases for 18 hours before they were all killed.

Afghan officials and US Ambassador in Kabul blamed the Pakistanis-based Haqqani Network, a close ally of the Taliban for the attacks on Kabul, considered to have been the biggest assault on the capital in 10 years of war.

Apart from Kabul, the eastern capitals of Paktia, Logar and Nangarhar provinces also came under attack, with a total of 51 people, including 36 militants, killed.
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10 policemen dead in roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan
MAIDAN SHAR, Afghanistan, April 28 (Xinhua) -- Ten Afghan policemen were killed late Friday in a roadside bombing in the country's eastern province of Wardak, said a provincial official on Saturday.

"A unit of Afghan Local Police (ALP) force was traveling along a road in the Ambukhar area of Chak-i-Wardak district Friday evening but their van touched off a roadside bomb, leaving 10 ALP members dead," Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for provincial government, told Xinhua.

The bomb went off when a line of vehicles passed by the area after an inauguration ceremony of a development project, he said, adding "Only one vehicle was blown up causing the casualties but other officials from the district escaped unhurt."

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan Local Police, set up by the government in the summer of 2010, is a community police force defending their villages against Taliban attacks and influence.

Afghan and NATO military officials said recently that impressive Taliban-led attacks would occur in the coming weeks and months as spring and summer, known as "fighting season", are drawing near.

Three women were killed and four other women injured when a mortar round hit a house in the same district on Thursday.
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United States Talks Fail as Pakistanis Seek Apology
New York Times By DECLAN WALSH, ERIC SCHMITT and STEVEN LEE MYERS April 27, 2012
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The latest high-level talks on ending a diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan ended in failure on Friday over Pakistani demands for an unconditional apology from the Obama administration for an airstrike. The White House, angered by the recent spectacular Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, refuses to apologize.

The Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, left the Pakistani capital Friday night with no agreement after two days of discussions aimed at patching up the damage caused by the American airstrikes last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan border.

Both sides insist that they are now ready to make up and restore an uneasy alliance that at its best offers support for American efforts in Afghanistan as well as the battle against some extremist groups operating from Pakistan. The administration had been seriously debating whether to say “I’m sorry” to the Pakistanis’ satisfaction — until April 15, when multiple, simultaneous attacks struck Kabul and other Afghan cities.

“What changed was the 15th of April,” said a senior administration official.

American military and intelligence officials concluded the attacks came at the direction of a group working from a base in North Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal belt: the Haqqani network, an association of border criminals and smugglers that has mounted lethal attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan. That confirmed longstanding American mistrust about Pakistani intentions — a poison that infects nearly every other aspect of the strained relationship. That swung the raging debate on whether Mr. Obama or another senior American should go beyond the expression of regret that the administration had already given, and apologize.

The negotiations are complicated by a complex web of interlocking demands from both sides. Without the apology, Pakistani officials say they cannot reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that have been closed since November.

The Americans, in turn, are withholding between $1.18 billion and $3 billion of promised military aid — the exact figure depending on which side is speaking.

The continuing deadlock does not bode well for Pakistan’s attendance at a NATO meeting in Chicago in three weeks, assuming it is even invited. The administration has been eager to cast the event as a regional security summit meeting, and Pakistan’s absence would be embarrassing.

Administration officials acknowledged Friday that the stalemate would not be resolved quickly. “This is the beginning of the re-engagement conversation,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said in Washington. “We’re going to have to work through these issues, and it’s going to take some time.”

The two countries at least are relieved to have started talking. A series of visits and discussions in recent weeks included a meeting between Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a nuclear summit meeting in Seoul, South Korea, last month. Since the Pakistani Parliament completed a review of relations with the United States, Americans have repeatedly vowed to respect the will of Pakistan’s lawmakers, even though they demanded an end to American drone strikes, which the United States sees as crucial in fighting militants hiding in Pakistan’s border areas.

Aside from the apparently intractable issues of drones and the apology, the two countries focused on four specific areas of potential cooperation: counterterrorism, the NATO supply lines, military aid payments and the Taliban peace process.

Yet there was an undeniable sense of wariness, driven by the pressures of domestic politics, with Mr. Obama facing re-election this year and Pakistan due for elections in the coming months. Pakistanis’ rage has been rising since a shooting in Lahore in January 2011 that involved a C.I.A. employee and fueled common fantasies about being overrun by rogue spies. The American operation to kill Osama bin Laden a few months later was taken as a stunning breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

An American apology is also problematic given Republican pressures weighing on Mr. Obama and the hostility of a Congress with little patience for Pakistan. “The politics of election year in both countries are slowing down the resolution of admittedly vexed issues in an environment of persistent mistrust,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington.

The Haqqani network has re-emerged as a focal American issue, particularly after the April 15 attacks. The next day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Pakistan’s foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, that “there has to be a concerted effort by the Pakistanis with the Afghans, with the others of us, against extremists of all kinds.”

American officials refused Friday to say whether there were any links between Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, and the Haqqani network’s latest attacks. One said the intelligence on the issue was “constantly evolving.” Others in Washington say they have not yet found any such ties.

New details about the attacks have emerged in the past two weeks, according to Afghan and American officials. While it is possible that some fighters were smuggled into Afghanistan over time and in small numbers, and that some weapons and ammunition were pre-staged, many may have been brought in from Pakistan only a day or two before the attacks, said a senior American military officer in Afghanistan.

“Our initial assessment is they probably moved them in a last moment to avoid detection,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing inquiry.

Officials have also identified a possible intelligence gap. Ethnic infighting at the top of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, may have resulted in key people failing to pass on information that could have helped derail the attacks.

At this week’s meetings in Islamabad, new ideas were gently sounded out.

A senior Pakistani official said his country was offering a “wide menu of counterterrorism options” in a bid to at least slow down the rate of drone strikes. Pakistan has also offered to send F-16 fighter jets to strike Taliban and Qaeda targets in the tribal belt.

United States officials have said that if Pakistan would not or could not strike insurgents in places like Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, then the drone attacks would have to continue. With Pakistan refusing at least publicly to condone the strikes, the two sides seem at an impasse.

“The policy of the government is very, very clear,” Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Jalil Abbas Jilani, said Thursday. “We consider drones as illegal, counterproductive and, accordingly, unacceptable.”

Another Pakistani official, however, conceded, “Privately, we know they are unlikely to stop.”

The reopening of NATO supply lines is important for the United States military to support troops currently in Afghanistan, but also to help withdraw tons of weapons and matériel out as a major drawdown approaches in 2014. But, the senior Obama administration official added, Pakistan’s support for the NATO lines was about politics as much as logistics. “Our NATO partners see them as increasingly problematic, not as a partner,” he said. “If they don’t restore this, those feelings will become intensified over time.”

Declan Walsh reported from Islamabad, and Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers from Washington. Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.
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NEW BOOK SHOWS BIN LADEN WAS A WILD SEX MACHINE WHO LOVED TO PLEASE THE LADIES
April 28 2012 Scrape TV News
Washington, D.C. – Osama bin Laden. Madman, prophet, zealot, criminal, murderer. Depending on which side the equation you land, he was certainly one or more of these things. Bin Laden was many things to many people and above all other things, he was controversial.

Now he has been dead for a year, shot in his decrepit hideout in Pakistan, a triumph of freedom and peace, or so we have been told, and certainly justified vengeance for the thousands of people he had killed. Even in death, bin Laden remains a controversial figure, and that is likely to become even more confused with the release of a new book on the life and times of the former terrorist leader.

In the book, terrorist expert Peter Bergen has detailed a huge amount of information about the private life of Osama bin Laden but the most salacious and perhaps the most damning to his reputation amongst his followers, is his love of women and his reputation amongst his inner circle as a sex machine whose only real crime was loving too much.

“His family life in Abbottabad was a source of genuine solace for bin Laden, who believed deeply that polygamy was a religious obligation. To his close male friends he used to joke, ‘I don’t understand why people take only one wife. If you take four wives you live like a groom,” Bergen wrote in ‘Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad’. “To keep up with the regimen required by four wives, bin Laden used Avena syrup – a natural Viagra made from wild oats – which was found in large supply in the compound.”

Bin Laden also reportedly used Just for Men hair dye to keep his greying beard black, presumably to make the ladies happy.

Amongst other things found in the compound following his death was a great deal of pornography which was likely used to further satisfy his sexual urges.

“Few people would think of bin Laden as a sex icon but power, and he certainly had a great deal of that, is a huge aphrodisiac and that certainly helped him with the ladies. It also doesn’t hurt that he was quite clearly dedicated to sex, to studying sex and doing it as much as possible meaning that he was probably pretty good at it,” said Scrape TV Terrorism analyst Doug Davids. “It’s not something most people would connect to bin Laden who prior to his death was really only known for the guy who knocked those building down and killed thousands of people, which for most people really isn’t all that sexy. I guess he was a more complicated guy than we would like to believe.”

Bin Laden was also a big fan of caffeinated colas, which probably allowed him to keep up his energy as he made sweet love to his many ladies all night.

“On the surface, this would seem to be a little embarrassing for Al Qaeda, to have their mastermind, their founder, belittled in death. To have all his personal details leaked to the public like this, but he is a man and so being so good with the ladies doesn’t really hurt all that much,” continued Davids. “I mean there are certainly worse things that could be said about a man. It doesn’t speak well about his wives but, we should consider their feelings as well, but I don’t think these revelations will hurt his reputation all that much, not in the long term. It could even help in some ways, though considering everything else probably not much.”

It’s not clear if his many wives have moved on or found anyone as satisfying since the raid.
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ICRC continues relief work in Afghanistan amid worsening security
by Farid Behbud, Chen Xin
KABUL, April 28 (Xinhua) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been continuing relief operations across the insurgency-hit country though security constraints hampered humanitarian assistance.

The workload of aid agencies in the country including ICRC is set to increase as they address the needs of war-affected communities in the face of an international military pullback from the country, said Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan earlier this month.

Transition of security responsibilities from NATO forces to the Afghan army and police began in July last year and lasts till 2014 when Afghanistan is due to take over the full security duties from U.S. and NATO forces.

According to U.S. President Barack Obama's withdrawal plan, 10, 000 U.S. troops already pulled out from Afghanistan last year and another 23,000 will return home by September this year.

"A suicide bomb attack against a shrine last year not only severed my legs but also destroyed my life," said an Afghan victim, Jawad, 36, who lost his legs in the suicide bombing in capital Kabul on December 6.

"I don't know why the insurgents are killing innocent people by roadside bombing and suicide attacks across the country," Jawad said told Xinhua on Tuesday.

A total of 80 people were killed and some 134 others injured when a suicide bomb rocked a shrine in capital city of Kabul when people were marking a religious day.

"Alongside ongoing tensions, there are fears that as the snow melts and parts of the country where traffic was difficult in winter become accessible again, fighting will escalate. Afghans, who celebrated their new year on March 20, are once again facing another year of insecurity," the ICRC Afghanistan said in a press release on April 12.

The number of civilian casualties has been soaring in Afghanistan as a total of 3,021 Afghan civilians were killed in 2011, an 8 percent rise compared with 2010, according to the United Nations annual report released in Kabul in February.

In the latest violent incidents, three women were killed and four women injured when a mortar hit a house in eastern Wardak province on Thursday.

The incident happened when a group of Taliban engaged with a unit of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Chak-i- Wardak district but it was not clear who fired the mortar round.

"We are also urging all parties to ensure that the sick and wounded have safe and timely access to medical care, even in the most remote and insecure rural areas," Stocker said in the release.

The year 2011 saw a marked increase in the number of rural health services that were unable to function properly owing to fighting, intimidation of staff, or closure. As a result, communities for whom such services are their only locally available source of medical care suffered, it said.

"We noted an increase in epidemics of whooping cough and measles," said Stocker.

"Both are highly contagious diseases, and easily preventable with routine childhood vaccinations." The first three months of 2012 have seen little improvement in the situation and with the fighting set to intensify now that spring is here, health care is an issue of great concern to the ICRC, he said.

In conflict-ridden Afghanistan, millions of mines have been planted by various warring sides and groups over the past three decades and possibly millions of unexploded ordnances and bobby traps have been left over the past 30 years.

The ICRC, as the main agency supporting mine and improvised explosive device victims in Afghanistan, has been providing prosthetic legs and hands to the disabled people.

"There are an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 amputates across the county who lose their legs or hands in mine or other explosive devices in Afghanistan," Najmuddin Helal, head of the ICRC's Orthopedic and Rehabilitation department, Kabul office, told Xinhua.

To help the mine victims, Helal said the ICRC has set up seven orthopedic centers across the country.

The centers are operational in the capital city Kabul and six other cities that include Mazar-e- Sharif, Herat, Jalalabad, Faizabad, Gulbahar and Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Taliban hotbed in the southern Helmand province.

"The mentioned centers support the social reintegration of disabled people who lost parts of their body, by providing vocational training, micro-credit loans and home education as well as providing job opportunities for disabled youth," Helal added.

"The centers also provide a home-care service offering medical, economic and social support to paraplegics including providing them food items," Helal added.

All the seven centers have been producing artificial hands and legs, as well as physiotherapy service to mine victims, he said.

Detainee welfare remains another ICRC priority. The ICRC's dialogue with both international and Afghan officials on detention issues and international humanitarian law is frank and open, focusing on ensuring humane conditions and treatment, and on the need to put in place procedural safeguards and judicial guarantees.

"It is essential that strong and well recognized mechanisms be put in place to respect detainees' rights and dignity," according to the ICRC release.
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U.S. Has Few Good Options on Afghan Peace Ahead of NATO Summit
The U.S. has two options for a political solution before withdrawing from Afghanistan. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches, can a path to a deal be found via Pakistan?
The Daily Beast By Javid Ahmad Apr 27, 2012
Despite the long, robust national and international debate about U.S. policy, Afghanistan’s future after 2014 appears increasingly uncertain. While the recent agreement on the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership is a significant breakthrough, the agreement is reportedly more symbolic than substantive. It is now clear that setting 2014 as a target date for the end of U.S. combat operations was not only an unrealistic deadline but also an act of significant strategic ineptness by the United States, one that provided the Taliban and various affiliated groups the opportunity to plan around declared American intentions. The timeline further reduces U.S. leverage on the Taliban to lay down their weapons.

Washington appears to have placed its hopes on a strategy of successful peace talks with the Taliban and the transfer of authority to the Afghan National Security Forces to maintain security beyond 2014. But neither process is proceeding smoothly. While there is much talk about talks, the peace process has been slow-moving, has stalled time and again, and has not yielded anything significant. Despite calls by the U.S. and Afghan governments for help in gaining access to the Taliban leadership in its territory, Pakistan has so far refused to cooperate. The Taliban leadership too has shown no sincere desire to remain involved in negotiations initiated by the U.S. in Qatar. They have so far refused to negotiate with the “stooge” Afghan government, describing it as “pointless,” and have recently suspended all talks with the U.S. The readiness of the Afghan police and Army is an even greater concern. Despite the security forces’ growing numbers, there are serious doubts about how well they have been trained and eq
uipped. Fears also persist that Afghan security forces could disintegrate along ethnic lines, possibly resulting in a civil war reminiscent of the 1990s, if the Afghan central government does not hold its ground post-2014.

In the run-up to next month’s NATO summit in Chicago, it’s important to start weighing some key contingencies in the event that the transition and talks fail. If the U.S. is serious about getting out of Afghanistan in two years’ time, a course correction is required and it is critical that one of two new approaches is considered and employed.

First, if it wishes to keep talking with the Taliban using Qatar as an intermediary, the U.S. has to take more risks to accelerate the peace process and negotiate a timely and acceptable political settlement. This could involve releasing some former Taliban leaders from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, transferring Taliban detainees in Bagram and Parwan to Afghan control, pressuring Pakistan to allow the families of reconcilable Taliban members to return to Afghanistan, allowing some members of the Taliban leadership to travel, and offering reconcilable Taliban fighters some form of immunity and protection—as well as the possibility of employment and housing—in return for laying down their weapons.

This approach should not be seen as an appeasement policy. Rather, these steps will constitute important gestures of goodwill for the Taliban to reduce violence and lay down their weapons, and it would help immeasurably if such confidence-building measures are articulated at the Chicago summit. Such an approach may require more time, but will address some problems that have stalled the possibility of reaching a political settlement. The downside to this course, notwithstanding its potential success, is that if Pakistan isn’t happy with the outcome, it has the power to veto or spoil any negotiated peace deal. Even if the Taliban leadership—the so-called Quetta Shura—were to break with Pakistan, the country can still employ the Haqqani Network, which has a major presence in eastern Afghanistan. In the lead-up to U.S. presidential elections, the optics of concessions to the Taliban will also understandably be unappealing to the White House.

If this strategy is deemed too risky or politically unacceptable, the second option for the U.S. is to stop investing in the Qatar process, and cease all direct talks with the Taliban. Instead, the U.S. must engage in direct and structured negotiations with Pakistan, specifically with the leadership of its military and the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Pakistan’s intransigent role in the Afghan peace talks is often downplayed or forgotten, but the country is the key regional powerbroker and host to the Taliban leadership and other criminal elements with a direct hand in Afghanistan’s stability. It is often joked that there are more Taliban in ISI headquarters than there are in Afghanistan, so the U.S. must engage in particular with the “Taliban” in Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus. The U.S. and Afghan governments should initiate these talks with lead responsibility given to a thoroughly restructured Afghanistan High Peace Council (HPC), one that is representative of all ethnic and opposition groups.

This track, too, has many challenges. One is the lack of political support and consensus within Afghanistan. Some of the blame for this goes to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has failed to forge a national consensus around a political settlement. For this reason, the Afghan government must also initiate a separate set of negotiations on the margins of talks with Pakistan with its own domestic opposition groups, specifically with members of the erstwhile Northern Alliance. The role and engagement of the Afghan opposition groups is central to any successful peace talks and lasting political deal. Before the security transition is completed, it would help immensely if the Karzai government forges a consensus in Afghanistan around a political settlement, preferably through a Loya Jirga.

After more than a decade of costly war and sacrifices in blood and treasure by both Afghans and Americans, the United States must recognize that a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban is the only way forward in Afghanistan.

In a similar vein, Pakistan’s role in any such peace talks remains highly questionable. As a major beneficiary of the Afghan war, Pakistan sees very few material incentives in a politically stable Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military elites believe the U.S. is doomed to fail in Afghanistan and that its own Afghan proxies are on the verge of once again ruling the country, which may be one of the reasons for their refusals to cooperate in peace talks. In a way, Pakistan is preparing for a post-American Afghanistan. Unless there is a fundamental strategic rethink within Pakistan’s military that the costs of their subversive agenda in Afghanistan outweigh the benefits, the country’s willingness to cooperate in a successful Afghan political settlement will be questionable at best. Direct talks with Pakistan will require the U.S. to put greater diplomatic pressure on the country in an effort to reap rapid results. However, Washington fears that applying too much pressure on Pakistan will weaken its civilian government, result in a huge diplomatic rift, contribute to anti-Americanism, and ultimately breed more militarism. The U.S. also needs Pakistani cooperation on logistics and counterterrorism. And finally, Pakistan’s demands concerning the role of the Taliban and the presence of India in the region may prove fundamentally incompatible with the American and Afghan goals of a stable, unified, democratic, and pluralistic Afghanistan.

While securing Pakistan’s sincere support for the peace talks is crucial, there appears to be very little evidence and recognition of the importance of the situation for other regional stakeholders, including Iran. While Iran’s role in Afghanistan may appear more constructive than Pakistan’s on many counts, the country views Afghanistan a part of a broader strategic equation. Iran seeks a strategically weak Afghanistan by betting on and investing in both insurgent elements and the Northern Alliance, its long-term ally. Other regional actors, such as India, China, and Russia, fear that any hasty international troop withdrawal will once again plunge Afghanistan into a situation reminiscent of the 1990s, which will have severe security implications for themselves and the region. With such regional dynamics and divergent sets of interests, the prospects of any “sincere” regional support for peace negotiations remain slim.

After more than a decade of costly war and sacrifices in blood and treasure by both Afghans and Americans, the United States must recognize that a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban is the only way forward in Afghanistan. The Obama administration needs to seriously put its weight behind accelerating the peace talks. This necessitates either engendering greater trust and confidence with the Taliban or talking directly to Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishments. Given the current status of the Afghan peace talks and its uncertain future, striking a political deal or a compromise of some sort with Pakistan seems the only attractive solution. While it is frustrating to see the future of Afghanistan in Pakistan’s hands, it may be the only way for Washington and Kabul to finally put an end to the decade-long conflict.

Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is program coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C.

For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at editorial@thedailybeast.com.
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A personal dispatch from Afghanistan
Advised by the British, the Afghan National Army is now leading missions against the Taliban
Financial Times By Andy McNab April 28, 2012
I’m lying in the dust using a mud wall as cover and overlooking a wide valley in Helmand province, Afghanistan. In front of me, the Afghan National Army is returning fire as the Taliban try to halt their advance south: it is a massive demonstration of firepower. The incoming attack stops immediately, meaning the Taliban fighters are either dead or running for cover. I am taking part in Operation Now Roz (from “nowruz”, meaning “new year” in Dari) the largest, most dangerous and most complex operation the nascent Afghan National Army (ANA) has ever conducted. The action involves more than 1,000 ANA and Afghan police, working together with 1,000 British soldiers in the Gereshk area of Helmand province. The Yakchal valley stretching out before us is the nexus of Taliban activity in Helmand. Many of the Taliban’s IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are made here, and insurgent fighters plan their operations in the valley before heading out to other parts of the province. The aim of the ANA’s mission is, quite simply, to clear the Taliban out of the Yakchal. The ANA is fighting under the watchful eyes of UK soldiers, who have spent the past six months advising them on how to become an army. It is a key test to determine the Afghans’ ability to fight for themselves.After a decade in Afghanistan, Nato’s 140,000 combat troops – mainly from the US and UK, but also from countries such as Germany and Georgia – are preparing to leave. If, before their departure by the end of 2014, they fail to train a robust Afghan army and police force, Afghanistan risks sliding back into the internecine conflict that tore the country apart. It was this conflict during the 1990s that created the fertile ground in which Osama bin Laden expanded al-Qaeda and pulled the US, UK and other Nato countries into perhaps their last big infantry conflict in history. The war in Afghanistan has taught western politicians that it costs too many lives, too much money and too much political capital to get involved in such messy and lengthy military operations. But, for the British soldiers I am accompanying, failure would mean the unthinkable: squandering the lives and limbs of their comrades and those of the nearly 3,000 coalition soldiers who have already died in Afghanistan.

The Afghan soldiers are a mixed group from various tribal backgrounds – some loyal to the current government, some not. Others are deeply pragmatic, with families sending one son off to fight with the Taliban and another into the ANA so as to hedge their bets on the final outcome of the insurgency. Many are here for the money – $240 a month in Helmand, $20 more than the earnings of those in less dangerous provinces. The Afghan government pays well considering the per capita income in the country is $614 per year. Just like any other army, soldiers are paid by electronic bank transfer. But unlike other armies, biometrics are used to identify each soldier before he gets his salary.

I have met many ANA on my visits to Afghanistan during the past five years, and have found their concerns to be similar to most other young soldiers. They complain about everything – part of any soldier’s job description – and always want to know when they will next be fed. But what I have witnessed above all is that the ANA are beginning to look more like soldiers. They now have body armour and helmets, even though some of them still choose not to wear them. There is no doubting their toughness. Speaking through an interpreter to a group waiting for the order to move forward, they tell me they aren’t too keen on the M16 assault rifles issued to them by the Americans – the Russian AKs they used to have didn’t break when they hit people with them.

The ANA radio traffic sounds like a high-octane family argument as we watch them take control of several compounds before moving on. These buildings, made of mud and wood and surrounded by high mud walls, belong to farming families and their animals. They are the areas of habitation that the Taliban want to take over – and frequently do. I watch ANA soldiers round up all men of fighting age for questioning and, before releasing them, record their biometric details to determine if any are Taliban members. Fingerprints, irises and faces are all scanned by a hand-held device that looks like an oversized camera. (In many cases, fingerprints found on the remains of IEDs have identified the person who made them.)

Already about six IEDs have gone off around us. As we move past one particular compound the ANA has just cleared, our front man Kevin Cooper, who is holding a Vallon mine detector, yells: “Stop!” We dive down among the rocks and it isn’t long before he finds the collection of buried plastic containers – “pop-and-drops” – filled with homemade explosives. These are the Taliban’s weapons of choice, responsible for hundreds of Nato deaths and injuries. Our patrol was just three steps away from becoming part of the casualty statistics, and I was just three men from the front. The British approach – letting the Afghans lead operations and acting as advisers rather than instructors – is about 18 months ahead of the US military’s efforts to train the ANA. With so little time left before the bulk of troops leave Afghanistan, the US is now considering adopting the UK model even though it would entail a cultural change among US soldiers, who see themselves more as natural commanders than management consultants.

Sitting in the dust waiting for the bomb disposal unit gives me a chance to chat with Captain Terry Williams. He is the 28-year-old adviser-patrol commander whose toothy staccato laugh later helps me identify him back at camp, the only place he takes off the helmet and ballistic glasses that now hide his face.

He tells me he has seen great improvement in his Afghan counterparts and attributes a good part of that success to British adviser patrols such as his letting the ANA learn through failure.

“They are great fighters, but if they do not organise their own rations, for example, I do not help them by calling some in,” he says, adding that one lesson the Afghan recruits have learned is that trigger-happiness means running out of ammunition dangerously early in an operation.

The ANA bomb disposal team finally arrives. In the dimming light of early evening, the IED is detonated and the patrol cheers in relief. The observing British bomb disposal adviser gives his opinion on the size of the device: “That’s 40 K-Gs, easy. You wouldn’t want to step on that, would you? Well, if you did, you wouldn’t be stepping anywhere else.” It was the 15th IED the bomb disposal team’s Afghan officer had made safe that day. The ANA now disarms all of the Taliban’s explosive devices, leaving the British to train and advise them.

Before darkness falls completely, I survey my surroundings. In twilight the valley is a picture-postcard desert scene. It is March so the heat is not oppressive, but there is a layer of sweat under my Osprey body armour and helmet. My nostrils are caked with dust, as is my skin, and my hair feels like a Brillo pad.

The Yakchal’s 27sq km rectangle of battle space is also poppy country: the green patches of shoots look like fields of young thistles. Helmand is the world’s largest opium-producing region, responsible for 75 per cent of the world’s opium. Thus the Taliban fights here to protect its lucrative crop: this is an insurgency of politics, guns, drugs and power, not one of ideology.

For the UK government, Helmand has a wider significance. If the Taliban control the country it won’t just be poppy that will be free to grow but also al-Qaeda, which would once again have a safe haven from which to launch attacks against Britain. Or, as one of the ANA commanders puts it to me: “Taliban in Helmand means bombs in London”.

I have come here from London thanks to an invitation from Lt. Col. Bill Wright, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion The Rifles (or 2 Rifles), the infantry battalion advising the ANA. Back in my day the Rifles was called the Royal Green Jackets and I spent eight years with the regiment before joining the Special Air Service, serving for a further 10 years. During my time in the SAS I was involved in operations in the Gulf, Northern Ireland, South and central America, south-east and central Asia and Africa. I met Wright in 2007 in Iraq, well after I had retired from the SAS and written Bravo Two Zero, my personal account of an ill-fated mission I led behind enemy lines in that country in the early 1990s.

Wright is now sitting in his office, a Portakabin in Camp Tombstone, which is part of Camp Bastion. The sprawling main British base in Helmand is equivalent in size to a city like Reading, with walls constructed from enormous sandbags. Wright joined the infantry in 1988 and is married with two children. Everything he says carries an air of infectious confidence, which probably comes with having a 300-year-old military family tree.

Wright’s role is to shadow ANA leader Sheren Shah and his brigade of six kandaks (Pashto for battalions), letting the Afghans lead. The 2 Rifles Brigade Advisory Group, BAG for short, brings to the table brigade-level tactical advice and the high-end military capabilities that the ANA does not have. This includes provision of US Marines capable of calling down artillery, precision-guided munitions, mortars – in fact anything that flies through the air and detonates when it lands. The 2 Rifles BAG has been advising for six months; other battalions filled the same role for 12 months prior to that.

Wright says that personal relationships and respect are crucial to getting things done. “We could have been seen as a threat to Sheren Shah and his kandaks. After all we are better trained and better equipped,” he tells me. “The BAG have to take that threat out of the equation, immediately, at all levels. For example, I call Sheren Shah ‘Sir’ and treat him the same as I would any other general. Besides, he has over 30 years of continuous war fighting experience and that alone commands huge respect.”

Brigadier General Sheren Shah Kobadi, who is 48 (though accounts of his age vary) and married with six children, is a legend in Afghanistan. He fought alongside the Russians against the Mujahideen, but revolted after becoming disillusioned with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan – a move that landed him in jail for a year. On his release, he immediately joined the Mujahideen and fought against the Russians. After the Russians were finally defeated, he rejoined the government army and served as a kandak commander against the Taliban during the civil war that followed.

When the Taliban took control of the country, Sheren Shah then fought against them alongside the Northern Alliance, the group to which Nato would lend overwhelming support in 2001 to rid Afghanistan of Taliban rule. He was then appointed to the fledgling Afghan ministry of defence before returning to operations as commander of the ANA in Helmand.

When I meet Sheren Shah the day before Operation Now Roz begins, I can see his appearance fits his warring background. He is so large and imposing that when we shake hands, mine looks the size of a baby’s. However, his demeanour is laidback to say the least. As we talk through his interpreter, he flings his arms over the chair and cracks pistachio nuts. His eyes keep straying over to the TV in his office, which is showing a Pakistani soap show.

It is obvious that he enjoys being in the company of soldiers and he clearly likes the fact that I am ex-SAS. Most of our conversation is about the operations the SAS carried out alongside the Mujahideen. From the late 1980s we supplied and trained the Muj on Stinger missiles to destroy Russian Hind gunships. I answer his questions as best I can. Knowing that at some point he had switched allegiances, I have to be careful to get my dates right to ensure the SAS was on his side.

He tells me he has been wounded seven times in combat and I see the results of one of those fire fights in the scar running down his chin. Over our third cup of black tea, we finally get to talking about Now Roz – or rather he tells me what is going to happen: “We will make the Taliban understand they no longer own the Yakchal. We do.”

Fair enough. But Now Roz, big as it is, is just one battle, and one during which the ANA still benefits from having the Brits in the wings. “What about the long term?” I ask. He takes a boiled sweet from one of the jars that are never more than an arm’s reach away and tells me his biggest concern is losing the UK’s support too soon. “It will take time to develop. Do not leave us too early,” is his blunt message.

I leave Sheren Shah to visit one of the patrol bases near the Yakchal as the ANA and 2 Rifles BAG prepare for the operation. I see rows upon rows of tents and shipping containers lined up as if on the set of a Vietnam war film. There is apprehension in the air because this is to be the BAG’s last big operation before their six-month tour ends. No one wants to get killed less than a week before going home.

The patrol base is Camp Bastion in miniature but much more brutal. A layer of dust and sand covers everything and everyone. There are no air-conditioned gyms, no hot or cold running water, and no purpose-built toilets. A “Desert Rose” (basically a hole in the ground) is used to urinate in, with anything else done in a Disposa-John – a plastic bag that is then placed into a binliner for burning after use. Showers are black plastic solar bags that heat up in the sun, and any furniture is made out of wooden freight pallets or steel wire sandbag frames.

When the riflemen are not on patrol, they sleep, eat, and train in their make-shift gyms. I meet 20-year-old Rifleman David James Goodwin pumping iron. He joined the army at 16 as a junior soldier after listening to a presentation at his school in Liverpool.

It is obvious he likes being an infantry soldier and gets “good press” among his peers in the Reconnaissance (Recce) Platoon. He doesn’t want to talk about Now Roz, but rather uses our chat to vent frustration about the way people like him are portrayed by the media. He complains about soldiers being seen as victims, even when they are not wounded. It’s a war they freely choose to go and fight. They are neither hero nor victim; they are doing their job.

He says he is glad he joined up, especially as many of his mates are now in prison or unemployed. “I love it. I like getting out on patrol and when I’m not, I hit the weights. I like being a soldier and I like going home with money in my pocket as well.” As for many Afghan soldiers, the money the army pays is an important part of the equation. Goodwin’s take-home pay is £1,600 per month, plus a £5,000 bonus at the end of his six-month tour and another £1,800 for taking a 10-week course to learn Dari.

Goodwin, who is on his first tour in Afghanistan, tells me his relationship with the Afghan soldiers is good. “I like eating with the ANA and practising the language. They make me laugh. They are funny f*****s when they all get together,” he says.

Not all relationships between Nato soldiers and their trainers have developed so amicably. The past months have been marred by Afghan soldiers attacking the UK and US troops who are training them. At least 16 Nato troops have died at the hands of Afghan soldiers, or insurgents who have infiltrated the ANA, since the start of the year. Afghans have also been killed by members of their own units, although the UK does not release body counts.

The Taliban has taken credit for some of the killings, which have come amid a series of serious setbacks that include a US army sergeant shooting 17 Afghan civilians and American soldiers burning Korans at Bagram air base. The US has insisted the burnings were unintentional. Even so, they prompted widespread riots in Afghanistan and there were suggestions that some of the shootings of US soldiers by Afghan recruits were a result of the incident.

But those “green on blue” shootings have left many soldiers I talked to, including Serjeant Tom Reilly, unfazed and unapologetic. His misshapen nose and missing teeth instantly identify Reilly as one of 2 Rifles’ “old sweats”. Married with two children and in his mid-thirties, Reilly has seen it all before. Having served numerous tours of Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, he believes that fighting an insurgency means some bad guys always get under the wire either physically or by turning ordinary soldiers against their trainers through blackmail and intimidation.

But there is another, simpler reason, he adds, noting that Afghans don’t always settle their differences diplomatically. “People have to remember these people know nothing but fighting. If they are pissed off about something, they sort it out the Afghan way. There are no anger management classes here. This isn’t Hampshire, it’s Helmand,” he says.

That is more than evident on the patrol base where all troops carry weapons. They even take them to the showers. They also carry tourniquets so they can stop any major bleed immediately. It is likely that the ANA soldier who killed two Nato soldiers in the Lashkar Gah Main Operating Base on March 26 would have claimed many more victims had the base not been armed. But it is not just the British who are targets. Sheren Shah never moves within bases without his Close Protection personnel.

I leave the patrol base and head to one of the ANA checkpoints at the northern end of the Yakchal valley battle space for the start of the operation. As I enter the operations room to meet Sheren Shah, I find he and Wright have set themselves up with tables and chairs on the roof. The third man at the table is Brigadier Patrick Saunders, Commander Task Force Helmand and the most senior British officer in the province. Sheren Shah, Saunders and Wright make up the triangle of power that is transforming the way the war is being fought in Helmand.

Saunders has a liking for Old Virginia roll-ups and continuously packs tobacco into brown cigarette papers, producing something that looks like a prop for a Mexican gangster movie. As the three men listen to ANA radio traffic, pore over their maps and drink black tea, it becomes clear that Sheren Shah is the dominant force among the three. More than anything else I have witnessed during this trip, this speaks volumes about the self-confidence of the two high-ranking British officers at the table. Saunders stands up and pats his pockets for a lighter and I get the chance to ask him how he sees things.

“Sheren Shah is our boss, it is as simple as that. We are not here to produce British soldiers. We are not here to replicate the British Army. We are preparing the ANA to function without us,” he tells me, giving away that his and Sheren Shah’s mutual respect has developed into friendship, with the ANA leader staying at his family home in Wiltshire. “There are problems, of course,” Saunders adds as he lights his roll-up. “All armies have them, and a particular one for the ANA is their line of supply. But that’s what we are here for – to get things sorted out.”

He says there has been an increase in fighting as the ANA has ventured to areas the British had not patrolled in the past, doing things “the Afghan way” with little regard for health and safety and unencumbered by western technology.

I leave Saunders up on the roof of the Yakchal checkpoint and move down below into the Improvised Operations Room as reports come in of IEDs and Taliban activity.

An American army major in rectangular reading glasses and a “whitewall” haircut sits in the background, his chest tag displaying the name Redfield. He hangs back from all the radio checks and map plotting going on in the room and I become curious about what he is doing there, just looking, listening and jotting the occasional thought on his notepad.

I discover that it is Jerry Redfield’s job to advise American General John R. Allen, Commander International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF), on strategic priority areas and to help improve Nato’s efforts across the entire ISAF operation. In other words he is like an Ofsted school inspector. What he tells me about Britain’s efforts to train the ANA leads to the biggest revelation of my trip. “This BAG, the Brit structure, is 18 months ahead of anything else in country,” he says. He puts it down to the British willingness not to impose a foreign structure on the Afghans, but to learn instead how best to let them do it the Afghan way.

“This method will be recommended to COMISAF to adopt for the post-2014 planning,” he says. In other words, the US – to whom the UK is often the little cousin out here – may end up doing the most important job left in Afghanistan, according to the British model. I suggest this may well prove a hard sell to US commanders accustomed to being in charge. Redfield doesn’t think long before coming up with an answer:

“We will have to re-educate people or they will just have to take a salt pill and say ‘Yes sir’”.

Reflecting on his words as I return to the Yakchal valley, I narrowly escape an IED. Others are not so lucky. While I am in Afghanistan, the BAG suffers casualties at the hands of the Taliban. There is one fatality, two young men lose limbs, and two more suffer gunshot wounds. Each of these men had only four to seven days left before they were due to return home.

Despite the heartache of those losses, I realise Sheren Shah has been proved right: the ANA do “own” the Yakchal – for now. During Now Roz, numerous Taliban were killed, 86 explosive devices were discovered, including a motorbike packed with high explosives for a suicide attack, and the ANA seized multiple explosives and bomb-making equipment.

Given the steady flow of bad publicity and the general war weariness in the UK and other Nato countries, it is not a level of success I had been expecting to encounter. But in spite of the progress in Helmand, and the killing last year of bin Laden by US special forces, much can still go wrong. Afghanistan could indeed fall back into the hands of the Taliban – and the past decade could prove a waste of thousands of lives and thousands of billions of dollars. The recent spate of deadly Taliban attacks painfully highlights that Sheren Shah and his men stand little chance if he and other ANA leaders do not get the continued support they need to pose a credible threat to the insurgents.

But, as it looks from here in Helmand, that failure is more likely to come at the hands of politicians eager to extract themselves from a war they can no longer afford than from the combat boots on the ground. Training Afghans to fight like an army only gets you so far. Western heads of state at Nato’s summit in Chicago next month will need to deliver sustained support to the ANA and Afghanistan as a whole if the ANA is to keep the Taliban at bay once the west’s troops head home for good.

Andy McNab is a pseudonym. The author’s book ‘Bravo Two Zero’ was a bestselling military memoir. His latest thriller is published this summer. The Andy McNab Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/AndyMcNabOfficial ; Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_real_mcnab.
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Panetta: No One Way to Destroy al-Qaida
VOA News April 28, 2012
The U.S. defense secretary says there is no single way to destroy al-Qaida, but the killing of its leader Osama bin Laden has crippled the group.

Leon Panetta said late Friday "the more successful we are at taking down those who represent their spiritual, ideological leadership, the greater our ability to weaken their threat to this country."

Panetta said he was certain the U.S. was safer since the death of bin Laden, who was killed on May 2 last year in a secret Navy SEAL operation in a walled-off compound in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.

Robert Cardillo of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence made a similar comment Friday, saying the likelihood of an attack using chemical, biological, atomic or radiological weapons over the next year is low.

However, other U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity said Friday, while al-Qaida's core network is probably not capable of carrying out another mass-casualty attack on the scale of September 11, 2001, the terrorist group's affiliates remain a threat.

The officials singled out al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot as especially dangerous, saying it is gaining territory and followers, despite targeting by Yemeni and U.S. counterterrorist forces.

The anonymous officials also cited the threat of terrorism from so-called "lone wolves" who are inspired by al-Qaida and are intent on committing violence. They said attacks like the shooting spree last month in France by an Islamic militant are difficult to counter.

The Washington Post reported Friday Pakistan's intelligence service believes it deserves credit for helping the U.S. locate bin Laden's hideout. The newspaper reported the unnamed officials say Pakistan intelligence gave the U.S. information, resulting in the U.S. finding bin Laden's residence. Washington has disputed their claims.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama has taken the extraordinary step of giving a television interview in the White House Situation Room about how he made the decision to send the special forces to Pakistan to kill bin Laden. The Situation Room is where the president and other top U.S. officials watched live video of the raid as it took place. The interview is scheduled to air on NBC May 2, the anniversary of the raid. NBC News President Steve Capus said the interview will be the "definitive account" of the operation.

The New York Times said Friday Obama's concerted effort to "trumpet" the killing of bin Laden as "the central accomplishment" of his presidency places the U.S. leader, who is up for re-election this year, on the "unusual route of bragging about how he killed a man." President Obama's campaign has released a video showing former president Bill Clinton praising Obama for making the call to carry out the risky raid. Clinton also questions whether Mitt Romney would have made the same decision.
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Exclusive: Karzai family looks to extend boss rule in Afghanistan
Examiner.com By Michael Hughes Afghanistan Headlines Examiner April 27, 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother, Qayum, is the type of guy who watches the Godfather movies not for entertainment purposes, but to learn new techniques. Hence, it is more than a little concerning that President Karzai has reportedly been grooming Qayum to succeed him as the country's next president - a move that could accomplish the impossible by making life even more unbearable for most Afghans.

I discovered all of this on Friday afternoon during an exclusive discussion with Naseem Pashtoon Sharifi - a business rival of the Karzai family who was forced into exile in the U.S. after Qayum Karzai tried to have him assassinated on more than one occassion.

Naseem is the editor of the Kandahar-based Surgar Weekly and president of Arakozia Advertising, two of the many industries Qayum has completely dominated despite the fact that monopolies are illegal in Afghanistan.

Qayum, who has actuallyed resided in Maryland for years, also dominates the construction, logistics and security sectors throughout most of southern Afghanistan. But there isn't a soul willing to challenge Qayum for fear of violent retribution and because of his unrivaled political power, which primarily stems from the fact Qayum is the one who literally appoints most of Afghanistan's cabinet ministers, provincial governors, mayors and police chiefs.

Qayum's primary companies, Technologist Inc. and Daman Construction, win every government contract without having to deal with the nuisance of free market competition, which allows Qayum to reap healthy margins by, for example, selling $4 million generators to the governor of Kandahar for $50 million.

Qayum is not above letting the Taliban in on the action either. As 60% owner of the notorious Watan Risk Management firm Qayum has rewarded a number of insurgent commanders with cuts of NATO security and logistics contracts.

Qayum's control of the media has reduced southern Afghanistan to a de facto totalitarian state. This doesn't seem to bother NATO a bit considering it finances Qayum-owned media outlets which, incidentally, never seem to report anything negative about the Karzai regime.

Local writers working for reputable news organizations such as BBC, Voice of America and Reuters even have their articles and reports censored by the provincial government.

Competitors like Naseem who dare resist Qayum's Orwellian censorship are financially choked and brutally intimidated. Recently, Qayum deployed razor-wielding thugs to cut down an Arakozia ad draped across Surgar's office window (see Photo #1), knowing full well that the revenue stream from Naseem's outdoor advertising business funds his newspaper operations.

Qayum even spray-painted many of Naseem's billboard signs with a red "X" mark to identify them for the Karzai demolition squad (see Photo #2 and Photo #3).

Despite all of their crimes, it is fair to wonder who is more at fault: the Karzai crime family or those who gifted them with power in the first place. Because the truth is, back in 2002 the Bush administration allowed a cabal of neoconservative "free market" ideologues, led by Afghan expatriate Zalmay Khalilizad, to install the Western-friendly Karzai as president.

Then, as the U.S. took its Iraq detour in 2003, it cut Faustian deals with a network of warlords, empowering them with guns and money in an effort to "keep the peace" in Afghanistan.

According to journalist Douglas Wissing in his new book, Funding the Enemy, once the unholy alliance was forged between the brothers Karzai, rapacious warlords and incestuous multinational corporations, U.S. taxpayer dollars began to "lubricate an entire system of corruption that eventually extended to the Taliban."

It is interesting to note that before Hamid Karzai became president the Karzai brothers were, for the most part, middle-class small business owners living on average wages. Miraculously, just a decade later, the Karzai family now brings in billions of dollars a year and can suddenly afford to build mansions in Dubai.

This unearned exuberance comes at the expense of the American taxpayer while a high percentage of U.S. aid never reaches those who need it most. The Karzai family's profligacy seems even more abhorrent when one considers that, according to the UN's Human Development Index, 42% of Afghans live on roughly a dollar a day.

The reemergence of the Taliban that began in 2005 was not some inevitable development but occurred because Afghan peasants grew weary of watching the Karzai family grow rich while they starved.

"The social injustice, the corruption, the support of thugs and warlords, the assassinations... these are the reasons young Afghans continue to join the Taliban," Naseem said. "More Taliban have been added to the frontline by this [the Karzai] government's brutalities than any ideology."

Yet Naseem held out hope that the Americans would eventually course-correct. Instead, the coalition has continued to feed and enrich the Karzai syndicate because, according to the conventional wisdom that pervades the DoD and the White House -- no other viable options exist.

Such an ill-informed mindset has resulted in the cultural, economic and political erosion of Afghan society. Naseem wants the American public to understand that most Afghans are decent people - it is the crooked 1% of the population that has ruined his homeland's good name. And, what is even more maddening, is that this crooked 1% has been fully funded and supported by the United States military.

Naseem believes beyond any doubt that Afghanistan will never see peace if the U.S. supports Qayum's candidacy and continues to fund the Karzai cartel. He is certain that whichever candidate the U.S. backs will become the next president.

Naseem explained that the U.S. simply needs to modify its king-making criteria. For example, candidates should be immediately disqualified who possess any of the following attributes: corrupt, homicidal, greedy, untrustworthy and unpopular. And certain categories of persons should be excluded from the process altogether, including known kingpins, warlords, fanatics and war criminals.

What the Afghans need more than anything is a president who is honest, uncorrupt and willing to put the public interest above private greed. They need someone without any blood on his hands who is capable of building inclusive and equitable economic and political institutions. They need a well-respected leader who can garner broad support across Afghanistan's mosaic of tribes, ethnicities and sects. In other words, the last thing they need right now is Qayum Karzai.
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