Peace Efforts Continue

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Written by Anisa Shaheed

TOLO news

21 September 2015

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The High Peace Council (HPC) on Monday said government is still committed to forging a peace deal in war-ravaged Afghanistan and will continue to work to bring the Taliban to the peace-talk tables.

The HPC said rifts between the Taliban leadership and the infiltration of regional countries into the fray have hampered the discussions to date.

“Peace is not an easy task; it has lots of dimensions,” said Ismail Qasimyar, an HPC advisor.

“There are big interferences and big politics … We will not achieve a result until we work together,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Resolute Support Commander General John F. Campbell said NATO supports the Afghan-led peace talks and blames rifts within the Taliban for the delay in the process.

“I do agree that the peace process will take some time and I think … the peace process has to be Afghan-led,” he said.

“We will continue to see movement although it’s not announced yet on who will represent the Taliban up there because they are fragmented,” he added.

Meanwhile, the head of the National Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, Mohammad Akbari told TOLOnews: “Efforts have been made but there have been fewer achievements. The problem in Afghanistan is not internal; it has regional and even international roots.”

“The peace talks will resume if the Taliban accepts Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as their leader,” he said.

The first round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban was held in Muree, Pakistan, a few months ago but the second round was delayed after reports emerged of the death of the Taliban’s former leader, Mullah Omar, two years after the fact.

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http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/21496-peace-efforts-continue-hpc

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Tea Party Beware !

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American Hero Kathleen Sebelius

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Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services 2009-2014, in response to a glitch storm on the healthcare.gov website, said to the American people, “I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems and I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.”  She did.

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!!! America loves Obamacare !!!

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/11/us/politics/sebelius-resigning-as-health-secretary.html?ref=kathleensebelius&_r=0

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White House for Peaceful Inclusive Vote

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The Afghan Express Daily Newspaper

April 01, 2014

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WASHINGTON – Days ahead of the presidential elections, the White House on Monday hoped the milestone event would be peaceful and inclusive, and broadly acceptable to the Afghan people. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters a stable and acceptable political transition was critical to sustaining international support for Afghanistan.

“This is an important milestone, and we are watching it very closely,” Carney said, adding the US expected millions of Afghans to go to the polls on Saturday to vote for their next president. These were critical elections and the United States welcomed the democratic process that was underway in Afghanistan, he said, stressing the process was Afghan-owned.

Carney added: “The Afghan security forces are in the lead nationwide. The leaders and staff of the electoral institutions are all Afghan. The campaign period over the past two months was full of open and responsible debate among the candidates, and it will be up to the Afghan people to choose the direction of their country.” (Pajhwok)

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Afghanistan’s Shot at The Future

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by Viola Gienger
U.S. Institute of Peace
March 5, 2014
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James Dobbins, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, touted televised debates of presidential candidates, millions of new voters registered legitimately, and other visible signs to argue that Afghanistan has a chance at scoring the country’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of presidential power next month.

“Whereas a year ago, many Afghans doubted that these elections would ever take place, more Afghans are now confident about the process and hopeful about the elections,” Dobbins told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace last week. Despite uncertainty “about the security transition and about the continued international commitment, recent polling suggest that most Afghans remain more optimistic about their future than most Americans are about Afghanistan’s future.”

Dobbins joined former American officials, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) experts, Afghan media chiefs and others in calling for continued U.S. and international attention to ensure Afghanistan’s advances in health, education, economic growth and political development can be consolidated.

They spoke at a Feb. 28 forum at USIP, “Getting Beyond 2014 in Afghanistan” co-sponsored by Voice of America and the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People (ASAP), to highlight the need for a focus on the country’s longer-term prospects. U.S. and other NATO troops are scheduled to leave this year unless an agreement is signed to allow a reduced force to stay.

“We need to take a long view here,” said USIP Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Hadley, who is among the signatories to ASAP.  For more than a decade, USIP has supported nascent civil society organizations, women’s empowerment, rule of law work and educational radio programming among a range of projects in Afghanistan. And, with the upcoming elections, the Institute’s top priority activity has been to help lay the foundations for a peaceful and legitimate electoral process.

The Feb. 28 forum was aimed at demonstrating that “Afghanistan still matters to the United States,” Hadley said, and that “America’s national security interests are best-served by the emergence of a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, that this objective can still be achieved, and that what has been accomplished in Afghanistan over the past decade offers some grounds for optimism.”

Andrew Wilder, USIP’s vice president for South and Central Asia programs, and VOA Director David Ensor lamented the drumbeat of negative news in America about Afghanistan. While it’s important to report the problems, that shouldn’t obscure and undermine the country’s true achievements in the past decade. Ensor, a former director of communications and public diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said the “If-it-bleeds-it-leads” imperative of U.S. media omits progress such as the building of health clinics.

“The American public has not heard the other half of the story,” he said.

Wilder recalled heading a policy research organization in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005 and warning that all was not going as well as some in Washington were saying at the time.

“I now find myself somewhat in the opposite camp,” Wilder said. “Having worked in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, it is to me incredible what has been achieved.”

The United Nations Development Program has said Afghanistan registered the biggest improvement in human development — health, education, and standard of living – of any country in the world, Dobbins said. Life expectancy has increased by more than 20 years to more than 62.

In addition, Afghanistan’s economy has grown. Improved legal and regulatory systems have helped attract more than $1.5 billion in investment by the telecom industry. So where there was one mobile phone company in 2001 with 21,000 subscribers, the country today has four companies with more than 16 million users. Telecommunications networks reach 90 percent of the population.

“All development progress in Afghanistan fundamentally rests upon the success of this transition,” said Alex Thier, an assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development who oversees policy, planning and learning.

Dobbins challenged conventional wisdom that the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan will go the way of that with Iraq three years ago – American forces withdrawing entirely because of the failure to reach a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to keep some troops behind.

In Afghanistan, the accord is aimed at providing further training and support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and for counterterrorism operations. U.S. and other coalition officials have made it clear that other types of assistance for development and economic support will mostly depend on whether a BSA is reached with the U.S. Karzai, who negotiated the agreement’s final terms with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, has since refused to sign it.

Dobbins said the Afghanistan case is different from Iraq in many ways.

“The Afghans want us to stay, they need us to stay, and we signed an agreement two years ago committing us to a long-term security partnership,” Dobbins said, adding that even Karzai has acknowledged the importance of such a pact. All leading presidential candidates also have said they would sign the agreement.

The pact will be important to bolster the Afghan government’s position in relation to the Taliban in eventual peace negotiations, said Marc Grossman, Dobbins’ predecessor as special representative and an ASAP signatory.

Afghanistan’s future also will weigh on the future of that entire region, including Pakistan and India, Grossman said. He said he believes Afghans will fight for what has been achieved in the past decade for women, the economy, elections, politics, and media.

“We ought to have the patience and the courage to support the Afghans in their fight,” he said.

Clare Lockhart, the director and founder of the Institute for State Effectiveness (ISE Center) who also is a signatory to ASAP, said she was astonished to find the capabilities of 240,000 civil servants in Afghan institutions when she arrived there in 2002 because international institutions had said the country had little or no governing capacity. The main problem was a lack of resources because of the devastation of the previous decades of war. Since then there have been extensive reforms in those institutions as well.

Now, Afghanistan needs the coming election to help deliver inclusive politics with a leader who has a broad mandate, Lockhart said.

“Governance is part of peace and stability,” she said. “And it’s the many small wins, rather than a victory or a deal, that will deliver on that for Afghans.”

The fact that the country is running its upcoming elections without outside assistance for the first time is “a great sign,” said Thier, who first traveled there 21 years ago and was Wilder’s predecessor at USIP.

“Afghanistan has fundamentally changed — when you look at its youth, its education, access to information, mobile phones, a taste of democracy, women in the economy, women in the political arena,” Thier said. “Those are all going to be powerful genies that are going to be really hard to put back into the bottle.”

Media outlets are taking their own steps to survive in a market where foreign assistance has generated 1,000 broadcast and print outlets that now must find independent financing in a conflict environment. Journalists are threatened, and warlords are vying to control the media.

Still, bestselling author Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Program at the New America Foundation, said freedom of the press is actually stronger in Afghanistan than in Pakistan. And Najib Sharifi, director of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (Afghan Voices), said journalistic professionalism in Afghanistan has come far.

Danish Karokhel, the director of Pajhwok Afghan News, said his company is looking for new streams of revenue from new products such as election and mining web sites and new subscription packages for mining companies. For security, 17 media outlets have formed an alliance to conduct investigative reporting in hopes of spreading (?) the risk of attack.

Sharifi said Afghanistan’s 75 TV stations, more than 200 radio stations, and several hundred newspapers, web sites and other outlets made possible by U.S. and other international support has given the country remarkable freedom in a region controlled by authoritarian regimes.

“We cannot afford to lose this,” Sharifi said.

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U.S. Institute of Peace

http://www.usip.org/category/countries/afghanistan

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How will Taliban Respond to Elections?

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by Thomas Omestad
U.S. Institute of Peace
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
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As Afghanistan moves toward April 5 elections for president and provincial councils, key questions loom: Among them, just what will the Taliban do to disrupt or distort that nation’s exercise in democratically selecting its leadership, and what might those efforts accomplish?

Two Peace Briefs recently published by the Institute lay out contrasting takes on those questions. Yet taken together, they illuminate an urgent issue that is shrouded by several factors: rapidly evolving circumstances, the internal complexity of the Taliban and the sheer opacity of its decision-making and follow-through. These two pieces offer much for anyone trying to understand Afghanistan’s internal conflict at a critical moment in its history.

U.S. and allied governments are focused on the April political contests as a vital opportunity for the Afghan government to demonstrate its legitimacy as the presidency of Hamid Karzai ends and as foreign military forces fighting alongside the Afghan Army prepare to withdraw. It is to be the first democratic transfer of power from one Afghan president to another, and relative success could provide a boost to the country’s stability as the United States and others end combat operations and Afghan forces take on full security responsibilities.

If Afghanistan can overcome logistical challenges, possible attempts at vote manipulation and Taliban threats and still run generally credible and transparent elections, then the government’s standing among Afghans will be strengthened, as will its position in future peace talks with the Taliban, should they happen.

The general Taliban line has been that elections cannot be allowed as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan and that the United States, in particular, will have a dominant hand in shaping the outcome.

Indications of the violence to come have appeared even two months before the polls open. On February 1, two members of the campaign team of former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, one of the leading candidates to succeed Karzai, were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the city of Herat.

“The attack came at a critical moment for Afghanistan on the eve of the election campaign,” said a statement issued by United Nations Special Representative Jan Kubis. “This cowardly action constitutes a violent intimidation of electoral candidates and their supporters, and cannot be tolerated.” Kubis called for heightened vigilance in the weeks before the elections and for efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The USIP Peace Briefs, in differing ways, anticipate moves by at least parts of the Taliban to launch violent, election-related attacks.

In the first paper, “Electoral Offensive: Taliban Planning for Afghanistan’s 2014 National Elections,” authors Antonio Giustozzi and Casey Garret Johnson note that “the Taliban have more resources and are better organized to disrupt Afghanistan’s 2014 national elections than was the case in any of the country’s last four elections. Still, there are disagreements between insurgent leaders about carrying out a campaign of violence and intimidation.”

Giustozzi, an independent researcher and expert on the Taliban who is associated with King’s College London, and Johnson, a senior program officer at USIP, offer a fascinating glimpse into Taliban thinking on the election that is based on more than 50 interviews last spring with Taliban foot soldiers, subcommanders and leaders. What they reveal is more internal disagreement—suggestive of widely varying levels of anti-election activity—than might be expected.

One group of Taliban led by Akhtar Mansur and tied to the Quetta Shura leaned toward a more conciliatory approach, at least for a period of time, Giustozzi and Johnson say. Some Taliban even met with Afghan government figures “to discuss allowing the polls to go forward.” However, disrupting the election is favored by Taliban military commander Zakir and the Peshawar Shura, the authors say. Their research indicates that the Peshawar group is more unified in its stand against elections and better funded.

The Taliban have created a network of so-called “electoral commissions” in part to convince influential elders not to vote in elections. However, in at least some areas, Taliban operatives bought rather than destroyed voters’ cards, copied them and returned them to elders with instructions to wait for orders, according to the Giustozzi-Johnson paper. That leaves at least the possibility that Taliban in some areas will seek to influence instead of undermine elections.

Adding further uncertainty, fighters in some areas might cut local deals with candidates or power brokers in which the Taliban refrain from election attacks. That sort of bargaining has occurred in past elections, they say.

In general, “the prospect of disruption is particularly worrying because Taliban influence is greatest in the Pashtun south and east. The suppression of turnout in Pashtun areas could lead to an indefinite suspension of the polls or an outcome seen as illegitimate by those unable to vote,” the authors say. Attributing attacks to particular Taliban factions will also be difficult, in practice.

The second Peace Brief, “The Taliban’s View of the 2014 Elections,” observes that the Taliban publicly reject the legitimacy of the elections and have ordered their disruption—but have also “left field commanders with wide discretion on how to go about doing so.”

This piece is written by Michael Semple, a visiting professor and conflict specialist at Queen’s University Belfast, and draws on interviews with Taliban conducted between November and January.

Semple concludes that within the Taliban there is “no scope for any faction to cooperate” with the election process, though many follow the political races and comment on them in ways similar to the political class in Kabul. And, he argues, whatever intensity of violence emerges prior to the election, it is unlikely to “derail the overall process.”

The Taliban movement is hierarchical, with Mullah Omar retaining supreme authority. At all levels, Semple notes, Taliban say they are “boycotting” the elections.

But counter to the hierarchical tendency, the movement also functions like “a fraternity [which] means that local commanders and officials can use a high degree of discretion in choosing how they will conduct this opposition [to the elections],” Semple explains. That flexibility, or variation, in how the contests are opposed is a point of agreement with Giustozzi and Johnson. This aspect of Taliban structure will mean significant uncertainty about the scope of anti-election activity, probably up to the last moment.

Indeed, Semple says that some Taliban field commanders in eastern Afghanistan “expressed dissent” about general guidance to proceed with disrupting the elections, reportedly because they depend upon “maintaining local popular consent” to operate in some areas and attacks on civilians would undermine that. At the same time, in some provinces such as Ghazni, Afghan media have described cases of Taliban targeting civilians who have registered to vote. Such violence, Semple says, did not succeed in derailing the national voter registration campaign, in which 3.4 million additional cards were handed out last year.

He also refers to “rifts between pragmatists and hardliners” within the movement over whether to plan attacks on provincial council candidates.

Semple suggests that a 25 percent rise in violent incidents during the election period over what would have happened anyway is a “realistic” expectation. “Groups in the provinces will carry out more attacks than they would have otherwise, but the increase in violence will be less dramatic and widespread than hoped for by Taliban hardliners or predicted by their propagandists,” Semple writes.

Voting would likely be reduced in the rural south, southeast and east and generally in Pashtun areas, where the Taliban has more influence.

Semple believes that “the most significant impact of Taliban pressure” ultimately may not be the mayhem they unleash but rather the opportunities for electoral fraud they creates. How? The threat of Taliban attacks “will help create a category of stations which are difficult to monitor and inaccessible to voters and polling agents.” Any efforts to commit large-scale voting fraud, he argues, are likely to be concentrated in those areas.

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U.S. Institute of Peace

http://www.usip.org/category/countries/afghanistan

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Art courtesy of Ian Boa

http://www.ianboe.com/IB.html

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Trends In Upcoming Afghan Elections

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by Abhimanyu Singh & Ashok K. Behuria

IDSA (The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)

New Delhi, India

March 12, 2014

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There have been three major surveys held recently predicting the future leader of Afghanistan, which indicate that the Presidential race is almost certain to enter the second round as none of the candidates may be able to poll more than 50 percent of the votes.

The poll survey was conducted by Glevum Associates, in which 2,148 prospective voters from 34 provinces of the country gave their views on the candidates and overall election scenario in Afghanistan. The trends emerging from the survey are: 90 per cent of the respondents said that they would not vote for a candidate against whom there are allegations of corruption; 61 per cent said they would vote for someone who could open talks with Taliban; 51 per cent supported candidates willing to maintain good relations with Pakistan; and 71 per cent for those who advocated good relations with the USA.

Coming to their view on the candidates, 29 percent supported the candidacy of Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank expert, who is one among the three probable candidates President Karzai is supposed to favour.  Abdullah Abdullah, runner up in a 2009 Presidential poll and former Foreign Minister, came second with 25 percent. The rest of the candidates, including Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayaaf, polled under 10 percent and have little hope of success in the upcoming elections, unless some dramatic event alters the equations drastically.

The two other polls put Ashraf Ghani in second place. The first among them was done by Democracy International, based in the United States. It found in its survey, out of the three planned, in January 2014, that 25 percent of the 2,500 people it surveyed would vote for Ashraf Ghani, while 31 percent of them supported Abdullah’s candidacy. The third poll by Tolo News and ATR Consulting, both based in Kabul, placed the candidates roughly in the same order as Democracy International, with Abdullah leading the race. Though the methodology of this poll is far less exhaustive, the last poll is regarded by observers in Afghanistan as more credible. It is believed that Tolo News has extensive reach in Afghanistan as the most-watched television channel in Afghanistan and thus its pre-poll survey may have more impact on the people than the other two provided above.

In all these opinion surveys, there is a clear preference for two candidates— Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Among the two, Abdullah, despite his father being a Pashtun, is regarded as Tajik among the people. Claiming to represent the legacy of legendary Tajik leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, he has Muhammad Khan, a Hizb-i-Islami leader, and well-known Hajara leader, Muhammad Mohaqiq, as his vice presidential nominees. The fact that Massoud’s brother is in the fray as a vice presidential candidate with Zalmai Rassoul may divide Abdullah’s votes among the Tajiks and pose a critical challenge for him in the election. Nevertheless, his continuing efforts to reach out to the people at the grassroots may work in his favour, as massive turnouts in his campaign trail indicate.

Interactions with Afghans suggest that Ghani also runs an equally good chance. He is perceived as a liberal who has introduced a new kind of politics in the war-torn country, where ethnicity-based political system focussing primarily on tribal loyalty has been determining the course of elections for many decades. He favours inclusive politics. Ghani has tried over the years to reach out to all the factions and ethnicities in the country. As per media reports, he is even popular among religious leaders, some of whom are affiliated to Taliban, despite being a liberal.

In his campaigns, he is presenting a very sanguine picture of Afghanistan by assuring people about his intention to include people from all ethnicities in his cabinet, who have the will and potential to steer the country out of its present mess. He has even claimed that if he wins he would knock on the doors of Abdullah a hundred times to include him in his cabinet as foreign minister, a responsibility Abdullah had earlier shouldered quite ably for four years. This is something very new to Afghan politics, where such amity among factions and ethnicities is rarely seen. He has strong vice presential running mates in the Uzbek strongman, Dostam, and the moderate Hazara leader, Sarwar Danish, popular among urban youth. His success in the elections will largely depend on his ability to woo Tajik votes.

Apart from these two, recent political developments have catapulted Zalmai Rassoul, former foreign minister, to the political center-stage as the third most probable candidate. This is so because Karzai’s elder brother, Qayum Karzai, withdrew from the presidential elections barely a month before the polling, despite the fact that a tribal Jirga in Kandahar had voted overwhelmingly in his favour as the preferred candidate between the two, in February. Apparently, it was Karzai who played a major role in dissuading his brother and the Jirga-men, in support of Rassoul’s candidacy. Rassoul is a moderate and has a relatively clean record as a politician. Moreover, the vice presidential nominees in his presidential ticket have cleaner records compared to that of others in the fray. One of them is the only female candidate in the election, while the other is the brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is likely to eat into the Tajik votes creating problems for Abdullah as has been noted above.

Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf is another heavyweight who has a decent chance of turning the tide in his favour as well. As a former mujahideen leader he has his own pockets of support in the tribal hinterland. Moreover, as a proponent of the west-sponsored democratic experiment in Afghanistan, he has managed to appeal to the liberals, who look upon him as an ideal candidate for post-election reconciliation with radical elements, and also as somebody who can provide an ideological alternative to the Taliban. He has Tajik warlord, Ismail Khan, of Herat and conservative Uzbek politician,  Abdul Irfan, from Takhar as his running mates, through whom he may access some minority votes as well.

Others in the fray have less chances of making it to the run off. Important ones among them are Qutubddin Helal, Gul Agha Sherzai, Mohammad Naeem Khan, Abdul Rahim Wardak and Dawood Sultanzoi. Helal has received support from Hezb-i-Islami chief,  Gulbudin Hekmatyar,  which may ensure Pashtun support for him in the eastern pockets of the country. Sherzai, a regional strongman and former governor of Kandahar and Nangarhar, has some following among the Pashtuns and may win the support of another Pashtun candidate, Hedayat Amim Arsala, as media reports suggest. Naeem Khan is the grandson of former King Zahir Shah. Wardak, former defence minister, has some support among the Pashtuns. Sultanzoi, a Pashtun and a pilot by training, had polled well in the last election among Pashtuns in Ghazni. However, none of them has any chance of getting anywhere close to the run off.

As things stand today, none of the candidates is likely to get more than fifty percent of the votes in the election scheduled for April 5, 2014. Afghan analysts also say there might be delays in the run-off, if the election commission is called upon to investigate into allegations of poll irregularities, which may prolong the phase of political uncertainty unnecessarily. Therefore, coalitions are being worked out behind the scene to avoid a run-off. However, given the divisions within each of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that any decisive bipolar coalition will emerge before the election to spare the country of yet another round of election.

In all probability, Abdullah runs the best chance of making it to the run off at the moment, followed by Ashraf Ghani, unless of course, Qayum Karzai’s support works magic for Zalmai Rassoul propelling him to the second place. In case of a run off, it is likely that all Pashtun votes may get consolidated against Abdullah, making it difficult for him to win in the end. But a lot will depend on whether the Pashtuns will come out to vote despite the Taliban warnings not to participate in the elections.

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Views expressed are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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Karzai Interview

Lee Van Cleef as Karzai

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French Daily Le Monde Newspaper

December 07, 2013

translated by nitwitcomputer.com

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Correspondent: Thank you very much, Mr. President, of course, I will ask you some questions that a lot of people have already asked you, I am sorry that you would repeat yourself but it is important that the French public needs to know.

President Karzai: Welcome, ok, go ahead!

Correspondent: Let’s talk about the BSA, a lot of people ask and try to understand your position and I think your position has been made quite clear but I would like you to repeat it again. First of all, do you have any idea of if you will sign and when will you sign it?

President Karzai: Those who have followed Afghanistan in the past ten years and my work, know that I had a position, now for at least eight years, that position has been that the war on terror cannot be fought and is not to be fought in Afghan villages or homes or country, that if there is a war on terror, then it has to be taken to the sanctuaries where they shape up , where they get trained, where they get nurtured. So, on this, this has been my constant position and the main source of tension and friction between me and the United States. There are other issues too but this is the principal issue: Afghan civilian casualties and the lack of a visible effort, a genuine effort by the United States with us on the peace process. The day I spoke to the Afghan Jirga- the Loya Jirga that discussed the BSA and approved it, an end to attack on Afghan homes and peace was my condition and on the last day of Jirga, it was again my condition, so the Afghan people are not against a relationship with the United States or NATO, I am not against a relationship with the United States or NATO , the Afghan people approved the BSA, I am for the BSA but I want the BSA to bring peace to Afghanistan and to bring an end to attack on Afghan homes, that has been my position.

Correspondent: And so far, because nearly two weeks now, have passed since the Loya Jirga or ten days, so did you receive any assurances from the US that you might sign it quite early?

President Karzai: Well, before we went to inaugurate the Jirga, the morning of the Jirga, this negotiation continued till late at night and the US government offered to assure us through a letter by President Obama. I received that letter 8:00 in the morning ,the day we went to the Jirga , the 21st of November  and that letter which is also available to the Press and I believe you must have seen it. President Obama assured me that the United States will respect Afghan homes just like they respect their own homes but then we saw that barely two or three days after the Jirga, an Afghan home was attacked in Helmand and on the day of Jirga, Afghan homes were attacked in Nooristan province , civilians were killed so assurances of that nature have not been effective , have not been fulfilled therefore the Afghan people need to see that these attacks stop , that assurances are assurances  and not mere words.

Correspondent: so, you recently met Mr. Dobbins and what in substance did he tell you? I mean, if there is no BSA, for example, for the US but what would it mean for Afghanistan?

President Karzai: Well, I had a long conversation with Mr. Dobbins who I know for ten years now, a very capable US diplomat, a very capable person. He basically said that if there is no BSA, there will be no peace and now you can interpret this many ways, you can interpret this in a positive way, that once you sign the BSA, there will be peace which again if they can reassure us and if they can provide us the trust that we need, it is a good thing. You can also interpret this in a different way that if you don’t sign the BSA, we will cause fighting in your country, we will cause you more trouble and more disturbance and more fighting and less peace. Either way, Afghanistan will remain committed to its demand that the BSA must bring peace to Afghanistan and before it is signed, we must have visible movements towards peace in Afghanistan- that means launching negotiations between the Afghan High Council for Peace and the Taliban. Now, I understand that peace cannot come in a month, two or three, what I want is the launch of the peace process and effective launch of the peace process between the Afghan Peace Council and the Taliban.

Correspondent: But what kind of role can the US play in order to encourage such a process? What kind of means can they activate?

President Karzai: In my experience, and of what I have gone through with the United States and the information that I have, the United States is in a position considerably to help launch the peace process. When we were in Washington, November of 2012, and when we were negotiating for the peace process with the United States, the United States was effectively speaking on behalf of the Taliban with us, so they are in a position.

Correspondent: Do you mean that they have some secret connections with the Taliban?

President Karzai: Surely, they have secret connections but that doesn’t mean that they have, but that doesn’t indicate that they cannot launch the peace process when I say they can help the peace process, is by all other elements that are available to them. They are friendly with Pakistan, they support Pakistan, Pakistan is definitely in contact with the Taliban and the United States has the abilities and the means available through Pakistan and directly as well to bring stability and peace to Afghanistan.

Correspondent: So, if I summarize what you said, you need to see tangible signs first: end of attacks on Afghan homes, tangible sign of the launching of the peace process, once you have those tangible signs?

President Karzai: yes, absolutely, then, it’s alright for me to give a go-ahead for signing the BSA.

Correspondent: And do you think that could happen before the next elections?

President Karzai: If it happens, good. If it doesn’t happen, then the next President should sign it. You see, my responsibility is to deliver all the measures of guarantee for a BSA that serves Afghan purposes and unless and until I am sure of those guarantees, I will not allow signing of it because the BSA as much as it brings and ensures the interests of the United States of America and NATO, must also ensure the interests of the Afghan people and I should be absolutely confident of the future , of safety, security and peace for the Afghan people before I go ahead and approve the signing. Now , why did I call the Jirga, I called the Jirga so the Afghan people will see this document and if they approve it, it will be conveyed to the United States that we are for a relationship with you, now that we have told you that we are for a relationship with you, you must change your behavior, you need not conduct yourself in a manner that will cause harm to Afghanistan or weaken Afghanistan, now that we have given you an assurance of an alliance, you must become an ally and behave like an ally, not like an adversary or a competitioner.

Correspondent: Do you get the feeling that sometimes the US behaves towards Afghanistan as an adversary?

President Karzai: Attacking Afghan homes is the act of an adversary, launching a psychological warfare against the Afghan people is the act of an adversary.

Correspondent:  What do you mean by psychological war?

President Karzai: A psychological war on our economy, on encouraging businesses to leave Afghanistan, on encouraging money to leave Afghanistan, on frightening the Afghan people of the consequences of 2014 if they are not here, this is all a psychological warfare.

Correspondent: Do you think that it is a product or the outcome of state propaganda?

President Karzai: Absolutely, the outcome of state propaganda! Without a doubt, without the slightest element of doubt, if I were not sure of all those things, I would have not been so adamant in my demands, it is out of that certainty in my mind that I demand a peace process and an end [to attacks] on Afghan homes.

Correspondent: In some statements, you equated Taliban and Americans as if they were both your adversary or enemies and that shocked a lot in the US because they don’t understand you, they helped you a lot at the beginning, they funded and gave a lot of money and training and you talked about them as if they were the Taliban, do you think that…?

President Karzai: I don’t say that. I am grateful , the Afghan people are grateful, thankful for the assistance that has been meaningful and helpful to Afghanistan, absolutely, by all means and we like to repeat our thanks many times for but where the United States has behaved against our will and in spite of us repeatedly telling them about it, in a manner that has been hurtful to the Afghan people , it is my job to speak out against it, it has not been a comparison between them and the Taliban, it has been speaking the truth, when the Taliban cause death to the Afghan people, I condemn it, at the same time, I call them brothers because they are Afghans and I want them to come back to their homes and make peace with the country and be in this country as we all are the Afghan people, to the Americans , I have said , you are here to fight extremism or terrorism, why should the Afghan people pay the price of your war on terrorism, why would you attack an Afghan home for an unknown so-called Talib, of whom we have thousands in Afghanistan and cause death and suffering to children and women, so it is more fundamental to our dignity as a people, to us as human beings, will the United States launch drone attacks against homes in America for a bad character or a killer or a terrorist? No, why should they do it in Afghanistan, do you feel that an Afghan is worth less than an American?  I don’t feel that! I have equal respect for an American as I have for an Afghan, and I want the United States also to have equal respect for an Afghan child, as they have for an American child. As human being all over, we are not less worthy, we are as valuable as human beings, as human beings everywhere else, therefore that is something that I will keep on asking and that will never, never change.

Correspondent: In order to exert pressure on you, a lot of US officials say that if the BSA is not signed at the end of this year, it will never be signed, it will be a sort of a zero option and I understood that you consider that those threats are just bluff and that they are bluff, that they are not serious about this zero option, so do you think that they are bluff? Could you tell me about it?

President Karzai: Even if they are real, even if it is not a bluff, even if it is real, we are not going to be pressured into signing it without our conditions being met. Even if they are real, the United States cannot push us into a corner; it cannot be exploiting us or our needs. If it wants to be an ally with us, it has to be a respectful ally, it cannot be an exploiter. What I hear these days, what I heard before and what hear these days is exactly classic colonial exploitation, that is not where Afghans bow down, the Afghans have defeated colonizers, they don’t accept that, they accept a respectable relationship, they are honorable people and they will treat friends honorably.

Correspondent: so, do you think that the US is behaving like a colonial power in Afghanistan?

President Karzai: Absolutely, the threats that they make is that: we keep salaries, we will take it to a civil war, and we will take it to no peace. These are threats, if you want to be a partner with us, you must be a friend, respect Afghan homes, don’t kill their children and be a partner, that is what we will give you and we will do it honorably.

Correspondent: So, you said even if it is not a bluff, what is your own conviction because I understood that…?

President Karzai: Even if it is a bluff, whether a bluff or not a bluff, for us, it doesn’t bring a change, we want our commitment to Afghan lives and peace respected and it heard too.

Correspondent: so, the fact to agitate the risk of strategic void and stop fundings and so on. For you, it will leave nowhere?

President Karzai: We will not cease to be a nation, if that were to happen. It will be harder for us, it will be more difficult for us but we will continue to live our lives and continue to make our ends meet and continue to be a nation and a state.  If the Americans are here , if the NATO is here with us with their resources, hopefully ,properly spent and not wasted or looted, arriving from one door, going through the other door, if it is not in that manner, if our homes are respected, if peace is there, their presence here is good for Afghanistan and we value it but if their presence is here at a price to Afghan homes, for their security, for their dignity and if their presence here means continued war, bombs and killings, it’s not worth it, we rather be peaceful than have a few rich and the others dying, no.

Correspondent: So, Nawaz Sharif was here last week and it was an important visit in the new context of Pakistan with a civilian power, a civilian government which tries to assert itself against the military establishment and we know the negative role that the military…

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Afghanistan Flag

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…establishment played in Afghanistan. I cannot understand if you have any hopes of this new civilian government. There is this issue of Mullah Bradar which has been released, I don’t know if he is completely free or just under house arrest, anyway. An HPC delegation went to Pakistan to meet him, what kind of assurances, Mr. Nawaz Sharif gave you as far as these connections with Mullah Bradar is concerned and the positive role that Pakistan can play now?

President Karzai: I have met Mr. Nawaz Sharif before he became the Prime Minister and after that three, four times, he has good intentions for Pakistan , he is a patriotic Pakistani and he wants Pakistan to do well, Pakistan is also under attack in many ways, therefore I am sure that he means well when he says he wants to improve relations with neighbors both with Afghanistan and India and so far, he has tried his best to fulfill his commitment to us including on Mullah Bradar, we had certain understandings reached when he visited Kabul a few days ago. I am hoping that those will be implemented together with us and with the help of the Americans, so let’s hope and let’s wait and see.

Correspondent: Can we know what are these understandings?

President Karzai: Not to this point, when they take place, you will know it automatically.

Correspondent: So, there are some chances that we will witness some big initiative in the next few weeks?

President Karzai: Let’s not describe it in terms of big or small, let’s say that we hope to see movement forward towards the peace process in Afghanistan.

Correspondent: There was this so-called Doha fiasco in July I think and we know the story, do you expect this Taliban Office reopening in Doha or would you like to shift it to another country?

President Karzai: Doha was not our choice in the first place, Doha, Qatar was an American choice and an American plan, we negotiated for almost two years, we told from the very beginning the Americans that is not our place, we want the peace process to be in Afghanistan and if not in Afghanistan, then Saudi Arabia or Turkey but the Americans insisted on Qatar and then we put conditions, the Americans agreed to those conditions and again , the US President gave me a letter of assurances but when the Office in Qatar opened, it was exactly the opposite to those assurances therefore Qatar is no longer an option for us.

Correspondent: You may not allow this bureau to reopen?

President Karzai: Not in that manner, not at all, we want talks with the Taliban, my advice to our brothers the Taliban is that they have a country, their country is Afghanistan and they are free to come here to talk to us. First choice is Afghanistan and first request to them is Afghanistan but if they say elsewhere, then for the sake of peace, we will agree.

Correspondent: but you know better than me that the big, big, big issue is that the Taliban don’t want to talk directly with you, officially at least.

President Karzai:  That’s not true. Well, that’s not true. That’s why I say it’s America and Pakistan, they have the ability to launch peace, it‘s not the Taliban, it’s statements coming in the name of the Taliban but from other countries.

Correspondent: The statement which has been released in Doha for the opening of the Office.

President Karzai: We know who wrote that statement!

Correspondent: It wasn’t the Taliban themselves? It was a joint US-Pakistani …?

President Karzai:  I will not go that far at this stage, later I might, but we know it wasn’t the Taliban’s written statement, we know who wrote it for them.

Correspondent: But the fact is that I don’t know because there is the official statement, a lot of things I ignore but I understood that so far, I mean maybe until last few weeks that their position was I am sorry that they considered you as a sort of puppet as they say and they only want to talk with the master so they completely ignored and snubbed you and the point for you is to be recognized as a legitimate partner.

President Karzai: Even that wasn’t the Taliban, it was to create an environment in Afghanistan, so peace would not happen.

Correspondent: So, you think that actually refusal of the Taliban to talk to you is not from the Taliban, it’s another power, a neighboring power?

President Karzai: Yes, neighboring or more! No, we know that the Taliban want to talk to us, we are in contact with them.

Correspondent: You are in contact with them?

President Karzai: yes, we are in contact with them.

Correspondent: So, can we say that actually the BSA issue and this patriotic stance that you display more and more aggressively is also a way to show people who challenge your legitimacy that you are legitimate?

President Karzai: No, I know our legitimacy, I know where we are independent, I know where we have our needs and that need reduces the practice of our independence, to repeat myself, I know the legitimacy of the Afghan government perfectly there, I know we are independent in our decision-making but I also know the needs of this country and the connection that need provides to the influence from outside and where that reduces the effectiveness of our independent action. So, there is a difference between independence and independence in decision-making, from independently acting or implementing your decisions. We have a handicap in implementing our decisions, it is not because of that, it is not to prove patriotism or independence, it is to prove a right as a human being and then as a citizen of Afghanistan. Would you allow in France in the name of the war on terror that French citizens in their homes and their children be killed? No!  Where it was a sacrifice, where we felt that it was the war on terror, we did give our sacrifice but where I know that a wrong is committed, as a human being which means universally, applicable to all peoples elsewhere and as the President of Afghanistan, it is my duty to defend Afghanistan and its people. Now if I were not the President of Afghanistan, if I were a citizen and the same atrocities taken place, say in Burkina Faso, I would have raised the objection of a citizen, of a human being, here I have a doer responsibility , of human conscience and of my job as the President of this country, it has got nothing to do with patriotism, patriotism is always there and it will be there and I am not the only patriot in this country, there are millions , perhaps more patriot than I am but it’s the assertion of a right and it’s an effort to correct a wrong.

Correspondent: Ok, I would like to get back to some criticisms which are expressed, particularly the corruption issue in Afghanistan, you know it’s a very big issue, so according to you, I mean who is responsible for that, is it a shared responsibility? Is there any one particular source of corruption? How do you analyze this corruption issue and your own responsibility?

President Karzai: There is corruption in Afghanistan, no doubt. There is corruption within the Afghan system, no doubt. There is corruption also from the international community, especially from US contracts and the way those contracts are implemented, for example, the private security firms that the US employed in Afghanistan was one of the biggest sources of corruption in Afghanistan and lawlessness and insecurity and worst of all, the creation of a parallel structure to the Afghan security forces, they had effectively created a state within a state and a corrupt one.

Correspondent: You mean some militias?

President Karzai: Those private security firms that the US had employed, the Dyncorps with the others and their Afghan associates that I had struggled for five, six years to stop and they wouldn’t. The US would keep on insisting that they should have them. To put it in plain words, the Afghan corruption is like a stream of corruption, the US and international corruption is like a river of corruption. For me to fight against both corruptions, I could have taken a lot tougher measures but those tougher measures, would have not ended corruption, they would have caused more friction in Afghan society and government because I know when I demanded from the United States that they should end the contracts for the private security firms, they went to every individual and political force that they knew, had good connections with me and had influence over me and offered them and their children and their family members, private security firms and all of them inevitably came to me with applications in their hands, “Mr. President, the US is willing to give us a private security firm, give us one, order the Ministry to give us one.”  I didn’t do it. Some got angry with me, some are still angry with me. So, when I worked against corruption, US actions countered my effort with an intention to stop me and with a consequence to cause discomfort in my relationship with people, with my friends, with the political players and generally for more confusion.

Correspondent: I read a piece in New York Times from William Dalrymple, you talked to him and he quoted you on, tell me if I am wrong but you were talking about some secret agenda or secret plan between the US and the Taliban to divide the country?

President Karzai: It wasn’t that, it was something like this, I was approached by some countries and also in the name of the Taliban by some individuals through indirect proposals that if the Taliban are given a place in Afghanistan where they can officially come to reside and raise their administration and that will then lead to a peace process. I saw that effectively as the creation of two states within one country and then I called some Taliban personalities, those who are actively in the movement, those who had connections with them to find out about this, they said, yes , they were also approached and offered places in Afghanistan but they refused it and I saw that the movement for Qatar was intended for that purpose and as it was announced, the day it was announced, proved our point, so the way, certain other activities are conducted in the name of the peace process, indicated that certain forces in the West wanted not talks between the High Peace Council and the Taliban but talks between the Taliban and others in the name of ethnic groups in Afghanistan, so they were trying to ethnicise the conflict and then arrange talks between warlords and ethnic groups, this is proven and it failed because the Afghan people reacted to it strongly.

Correspondent: Is it the so-called plan B of run black heal of a de facto partition between the non-Taliban north and the Taliban the South?

President Karzai: Whatever the plan was, we know that the West through associations like the Aspen Foundation and others such, Aspen Foundation which is an organization in the United States and certain members of the US Congress and others, meetings were arranged in Germany where they tried to force federalism on Afghanistan and also then try to give areas to the Taliban. So, we are fairly confident that an effort was made to weaken Afghanistan and to turn it into fiefdoms, to have a weak central government, and the reason, the Americans and some Europeans tried to undermine the Presidential elections in 2009, was also to have a weakened government with less illegitimacy so they could sway it around and use it, they thought the way, they wanted.

Correspondent: So, that brings me to the next Presidential elections, you raised this issue during your Loya Jirga statement because one of US officials raised the possibility of a second round, and then you wrote the condition that the US must not interfere and that was also a condition for the signature of the BSA, is it still a condition? , these are not the interferences of the US.

President Karzai: In a way, Yes, you see we have our experience of the 2009 elections, I don’t know if you heard an interview by Mr. Kai Eide the United Nations Special Representative then in Kabul a few days ago on an Afghan television channel and also the interview of the Vice-Chairman of the Election Commission of that time where they spoke of blatant interference in the elections. For example; our own French General Mario went to the Election Commission of that time, who was an observer, General Mario was the Chief of European Observer Mission, he went to the Election Commission and told the Election Commissioner himself to forget about constitutional requirements and the elections and that he should rather make an arrangement between the two leading vote winners rather than look for the elections and Galbraith had told the Vice-chairman of the Election Commission that he wanted Karzai defeated, when the Vice-chairman of the Election Commission told him, “well it’s up to the people to decide.”, the Vice-chairman was threatened and he was told that you are a young man, you should think of your own future and the Secretary General of the Election Commission was told again by Mr. Galbraith that if you declare the results and announce it without our permission, you will be digging your grave. Now, it was that serious an interference. In ballot boxes, we also know that some of the attacks that took place in parts of Afghanistan, like in Kandahar, like in Paktia, like in Kunduz, like in Baghlan in the name of the Taliban, were not the Taliban. The intention was to deprive parts of the country from voting and when that failed, then they tried to remove more than a million votes in the name of fraud, so that was done to cast a weak government, a compromised legitimacy.  Just three days before the Consultative Jirga to discuss the BSA, the US Ambassador here mentioned to me, when I said, “why don’t you wait for the next government when we had disagreement on arrangements of security for Afghan homes? I said, “Why don’t wait for the next government? sign it with the next government!, maybe they will be less, you know, rigid, more open to you, not having my experience because my rigidity is the result of my experience, maybe the next President will not have the unfortunate experiences that I had, and maybe he will be a lot more open to you. He said, no, we can’t wait. I said, it’s only for months. Then, he said, no, if it goes to the 2nd round, the 2nd round will then take four to six months to convene. Why?  The 2nd round is supposed to be done within two weeks. Why should it go from first round, if it is inconclusive in the first round till second round in four to six months and that alarmed me because I saw in it exactly the repetition of 2009 elections where the first round was nullified and abused and the second round didn’t take place. So the elections took place in August and the results were declared in November, December- four months, therefore so that condition of the election came to my mind as a condition just two or three days before the Jirga.

Correspondent: And you still raised these conditions?

President Karzai: I raised it with the madam Suzan Rice, the National Security Advisor of the United

States and she assured me that the United States will not interfere in the elections, I will take it as an assurance but I will also keep verifying it.

Correspondent: The last question, do you think that the election was planned for the 7th of April, will it take place on time?

President Karzai: It has to take place on time, I am committed to it.

Correspondent: Ok, You will not allow this first round to postpone for later on?

President Karzai: It is for the Election Commission to decide, as far as I am concerned, I will not interfere in whatever the Election Commission decides and if they want to hold it on the 5th of April, I am very much for it.

Correspondent: Last question about different candidates, your brother Qayum is a candidate, a lot of people are speculating that he could be favored by you, will you support him or will you try not to interfere?

President Karzai: I told him not to become a candidate.

Correspondent: You were against his candidacy?

President Karzai: I told him in very clear words and I told him that because of you if you are a candidate, those who want to accuse me of interference, will easily be able to do it, so please don’t be a candidate but he said, “No, I want to be a candidate.” He has the right as a citizen but I have my views and my concerns.

Correspondent: Your other brother Mahmood is pushing him a lot to be a candidate.

President Karzai: Yes!

Correspondent: I understood the relationship between you and Mahmood is very bad, is it true? You have some tension within the family?

President Karzai: No tension as such but I am in disagreement in some of the things done.

Correspondent: Ok, thank you very much, Mr. President!

President Karzai: Thank you, Merci.

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Elders Endorse U.S. Troops’ Presence

Afghan elder, interpreter, US soldier...

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by Tim Craig

Washington Post

November 24, 20013

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KABUL — An emotional showdown between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and 2,500 tribal elders here Sunday ended with some — but not all — of what the United States was hoping for.

The elders endorsed an agreement under which the United States will continue to provide advice and training to Afghan security forces, and conduct counterterrorism operations, after the withdrawal of international combat forces at the end of next year. Although President Obama has yet to indicate the size of a potential post-2014 force, most estimates are that it would include up to 10,000 troops.

Delegates said it was in Afghanistan’s “vital national interest” to have a partnership with the United States, and they urged Karzai not to delay the signing of the bilateral security agreement until after the country holds elections in April.

“President Karzai should promise us, he should sign the [agreement] as soon as possible,” said Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the former Afghan president who chaired the four-day gathering, known as a loya jirga. “This agreement will be beneficial for the people.”

But Karzai remained defiant, taking the stage during the final hours of the jirga to repeat that his signature will not come easily ~ or quickly. Karzai said he wants additional assurances from Washington that the United States will not meddle in the April elections. He also wants the Obama administration to ensure security within Afghanistan and at the same time to promise that a U.S. soldier will never again enter the home of an Afghan citizen in a military operation.

“Peace, security and a transparent election are preconditions for signing,” Karzai declared. “From now onward, Americans don’t have the right to raid our homes. If they raid our homes one more time, there will be no agreement.”

Secretary of State John F. Kerry praised the elders’ decision to endorse the agreement and urged Karzai to sign it before the end of the year.

“I can’t imagine a more compelling affirmation from the Afghan people themselves of their commitment to a long-term partnership with the United States and our international partners,” Kerry said. “The critical next step must be to get the [agreement] signed in short order.”

When he called for the jirga a few months ago, Karzai said he needed to obtain a national consensus about whether U.S. troops were wanted after next year and if so, under what terms. He said repeatedly in recent weeks that the jirga’s vote would heavily influence his decision on whether to forward the agreement to parliament for final approval.

But faced with strong support for the agreement from the jirga, Karzai remained deeply skeptical. His speech to the delegates Sunday was frequently interrupted by elders who urged him to avoid delays in finalizing the accord.

Uncharacteristically, Karzai appeared to abruptly cut off his prepared comments in the face of the outbursts. “On your behalf, I will continue negotiating,” Karzai said as he quickly walked off the stage.

Unlike in his opening address to the jirga last week, Karzai appeared to stop short of directly stating that he won’t sign the agreement until after his successor is chosen in April. That omission is likely to please U.S. officials, who had been looking for an opening to try to get him to move up his timetable…

Afghan elder, interpreter, ISAF soldier

“We are studying President Karzai’s speech. We continue to believe that signing the agreement as quickly as possible is in the interests of both countries,” said Robert H. Hilton, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The Obama administration has suggested that there is little room for additional negotiating on the agreement, saying the version now up for consideration was the “final offer.”

But the jirga, whose vote is not binding, set a few conditions before expressing approval of the agreement. Most notably, the elders called for a 10-year time limit on the post-2014 troop presence and said they would seek reparations for damages caused by U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan.

In stark contrast to the jirga delegates’ endorsement of the U.S.-Afghan partnership, Karzai denounced the U.S. government in his remarks Sunday, which were made with U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham in the room.

Karzai said the Obama administration undermined him when it allowed Taliban leaders to establish a temporary office in Doha, Qatar, in June, during an unsuccessful effort by the United States to broker peace talks between the Taliban and Karzai’s government. He accused the Obama administration of interfering in the country’s 2009 elections, which he called an attempt to weaken the Afghan government. And he lashed out at the U.S. military for entering the homes of Afghan civilians.

After Karzai spoke, Mojaddedi pleaded with Karzai to reconsider.

“Mr. President, give us your pledge that you will sign the deal soon,” Mojaddedi said. He added, apparently in jest, that Karzai would have to move out of Afghanistan if there is no long-term security deal with the United States.

Then, in an extraordinary moment in Afghan politics, Karzai returned to the stage so that he and Mojaddedi could briefly debate the matter before the 2,500 delegates and a national television audience.

“They must commit that they will not kill Afghans in their homes,” Karzai insisted, adding, “If they do this, then we will sign.”

As the encounter was ending, Mojaddedi said, “If you don’t sign it, we will be disappointed,” according to an account published by the Associated Press.

“Fine,” Karzai said, as he once again left the stage.

Sayed Salahuddin and Mohammad Sharif contributed to this report.

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Afghan Elder

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Karzai Says He’ll Sign Later

not til nex yer

~~~                                                                                                     Not ’til next year…

by Azam Ahmed

New York Times

November 21, 2013

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai stood before thousands of Afghan leaders on Thursday in a watershed moment for his tumultuous rule. Having just come to an agreement with American leaders on a security deal that would commit the two countries to a lasting military alliance, and which would surely define his legacy, he convened the assembly that would decide the deal’s fate.

And then, in what has become a signature move, he hit the brakes.

After a speech in which he bluntly described his relationship with the United States as one of mutual distrust, he told the gathering, known as a loya jirga, that even if it approved the deal, he would wait until after the April presidential elections to sign it.

The declaration, which surprised both American and Afghan officials, instantly put at risk an American deadline to have an agreement signed this year. And it served notice that even with his leadership set to expire next year, Mr. Karzai intended for the United States to continue working through him at every turn until then.

The play is not without danger for Mr. Karzai. As American officials’ exasperation with him has intensified, they have increasingly noted the possibility that no American troops — and by extension, no international funding — would be left in Afghanistan after 2014.

They did so again on Thursday. In a White House background briefing, administration officials said they were seeking a clarification of Mr. Karzai’s intent, and suggested that leaving the deal’s completion until next spring would make it impossible to keep any American forces there.

The officials also emphasized that Mr. Karzai had agreed to a one-year timetable when the two countries began negotiating the security agreement last November.

Mr. Karzai’s brinkmanship is also creating anxiety within his own government. The military and police establishments, in particular, have urgently pushed to finalize the deal because it would ensure training and heavy international funding for the Afghan security forces.

Still, officials noted on Thursday that there was nothing to keep Mr. Karzai from changing his mind again if the loya jirga were to approve the security agreement by its close on Sunday. (Originally called for three days, the meeting has since been stretched to four, with the option to go even longer if needed, Afghan officials said.)

And if anything, Mr. Karzai’s statements seemed of a piece with a series of negotiation moves that appeared calculated to squeeze every last American concession out of the process — though each usually ended in Afghan compliance.

Earlier this month, the issue of American soldiers being granted immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts was highlighted by Afghan officials as a potential deal-breaker, until it was not. On Sunday, the Afghans drew a line in the sand about United States forces searching Afghan homes, a demand that also largely fell by the wayside.

And a public statement on Tuesday from a Karzai spokesman saying that the Americans were prepared to essentially apologize for past mistakes during the war turned into an embarrassment for the Karzai administration when two senior administration officials denied there was an apology in the works.

Indeed, there was a certain familiarity in much of Mr. Karzai’s speech on Thursday, delivered to the gathering in a tent at the Polytechnical University of Kabul. While he said he approved the security agreement, he made a point of lashing out at his American allies repeatedly during the hourlong appearance.

“There’s a mistrust between me and the Americans,” he said. “They don’t trust me, and I don’t trust them. I have always criticized them, and they have always propagated negative things behind my back.”

Mr. Karzai called on an assortment of rhetorical devices he has employed over the past decade. He was at times humorous, at times outraged, at times personal and emotional.

It mattered little on Thursday that the coalition commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., and the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, attended the loya jirga. Mr. Karzai offered no quarter to the Americans during his speech, even as he made clear his desire to see the bilateral security agreement signed, a move that would secure an American troop presence through 2024 and pave the way for billions of dollars in financial assistance.

“Those who oppose this security agreement shouldn’t be labeled as Pakistani or Iranian agents,” Mr. Karzai said, referring to a common Afghan belief that Afghanistan’s neighbors want to see the country weak and unstable. “There are people who are pro-B.S.A., but we can’t call them American agents. I am pro-B.S.A., but I have my preconditions.”

“We want the Americans to respect our sovereignty and laws and be an honest partner,” he said.

He then added, “And bring a lot of money,” prompting a wave of laughter in the crowd.

At times, his speech sounded like a defense of his tenure: He made the Americans wait to sign the agreement. He played hardball on crucial issues. He refused to sign any agreement without putting it to the Afghan people, as represented by the loya jirga, which is composed of 2,500 influential leaders selected by the government.

Still, a prevalent view of the assembly was that it had been called, essentially, to grant the leader political cover for the approval of the security agreement. Mr. Karzai, after all, had final approval over the delegate list.

Though his administration made concessions, Mr. Karzai held up a letter from President Obama as evidence of America’s respect and read passages that expressed sympathy with Afghan concerns about “the sensitive issue of the safety and privacy of people in their own homes.”

The letter, a copy of which was posted on the Afghan president’s website, also pledged that “U.S. forces shall not enter Afghan homes for the purposes of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals.”

During his speech, a woman in the audience heckled Mr. Karzai about foreign raids on Afghan homes, a breach of privacy seen as deeply offensive here. Specifically, she pressed him about the concession that foreign raids would be permitted only in “extraordinary circumstances.”

“All the night raids can be categorized as exceptional cases,” she yelled, carrying on for more than a minute before she was ushered from the room.

“This sister has left every jirga,” Mr. Karzai said, referring to her claim that she had been invited to the last two nationwide jirgas. “I know that, but her views should be respected.”

Beneath the levity and criticism, however, Mr. Karzai exudes genuine bitterness over how the American campaign has turned out here. He has seen the hope of many Afghans after the fall of the Taliban fade into cynicism, and has watched yet another generation schooled in the vernacular of war.

As he has in the past, Mr. Karzai mentioned his son during the speech. He recalled coming home after the Ministry of Defense was attacked one night and being greeted by his toddler.

“My son was only 3 years old when he learned the words ‘Ministry of Defense,’ ” he told the gathering, a rare glimpse of family life in a very guarded society. “Can you show me another 3-year-old who knows the words ‘Ministry of Defense?’ ”

Rod Nordland contributed reporting from Kabul, and Mark Landler and Matthew Rosenberg from Washington.

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Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, his website:

http://president.gov.af/en

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Afghans Gathering

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by Rod Nordland

New York Times

November 21, 2013

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The loya jirga is a venerable Afghan institution in which representatives of Afghan tribes are summoned, in the absence of formal government, to discuss issues of concern. Afghan rulers used them to ratify their rule whenever they seized power or expanded territory, because if there is one defining characteristic of a loya jirga, it is that it rarely says no…

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That has certainly been the case of the five loya jirgas summoned in the past decade. The first of those, an emergency jirga in 2002, elected Hamid Karzai as president. He was also the choice of the international community, which supported him for interim leadership and had effectively convened that loya jirga…

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Another loya jirga that began in 2003 ratified the present Afghan Constitution  — and also set out the terms of what in the future would constitute a loya jirga, or grand assembly, specifying that it included all members of Parliament, as well as district and provincial council chairmen…

US soldier in Afghanistan

Mr. Karzai, who has openly expressed his longing to be seen as a champion of Afghan tradition, has been particularly fond of loya jirgas, convening four of them, including the present one. This one was billed as a “consultative loya jirga,” because it did not actually fulfill the strict constitutional requirements of a loya jirga, since the delegates, all chosen either directly or indirectly by the president and his aides, were a more numerous and diverse group than specified in the Constitution, including tribal elders, civic groups, and many other nongovernmental figures…

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Two of Mr. Karzai’s previous jirgas discussed peace, and the most recent one, in 2011, affirmed the government’s support for a strategic agreement with the United States — the precursor to the present security agreement being discussed this week…

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Critics of loya jirgas say the one now underway, expected to conclude on Sunday, is doubly undemocratic. First: as a consultative loya jirga it is chosen by the government outside of constitutional rules. And second: why have a loya jirga in a country that now has an elected Parliament?

Samiullah Sameem, a member of Parliament from Farah Province, supports the security agreement. But he refused his invitation to the jirga. “It is undemocratic and symbolic,” he said. “With democratic institutions like Parliament, there is no need for jirgas.”

“The jirga delegates will endorse what the government tells them to endorse,” said Jawed Kohistani, a political analyst. The jirga’s deliberations are broken down into 50 committees, he said, each headed by a government loyalist. The only way the jirga is likely to say no to a security agreement with the Americans, he said, is if Mr. Karzai wants it to say no…

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Aimal Faizi, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, disagrees, saying that the jirga organizers cast a wide net, sending out some 3,000 invitations. There are 2,500 attendees. All members of Parliament and local government officials down to the district level were among the invitees, as well as representatives of the Taliban — who did not come — and other opponents of the president, some of whom did. Most mainstream opposition figures, however, either were not invited or boycotted the event…

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In his opening speech, Mr. Karzai encouraged the delegates to vote their consciences. “I want you to make your decision independently,” he said. “Whoever comes to you and claims to be my representative, don’t believe them.”

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Afghan

art and photos gathered by

Rawclyde!

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Loya Jirga Eyeballs Security Agreement

Mr. Eyeballl

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by Hassan Khitab

Pajhwok Afghan News

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KABUL: Some participants of the consultative Loya Jirga on Friday called for changes in parts of the draft Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), warning the deal — if signed without amendments — could damage Afghanistan’s long-term interest.

Around 2,500 people’s representatives, tribal chieftains, religious scholars, lawmakers, women, civil society groups, the nomadic Kuchi tribe, traders and rights activists are attending the four-day grand assembly in Kabul.  

On the second day of proceedings, 50 jirga committees started debating the deal, clause by clause. The discussions will continue tomorrow, according to organizers. On the final day, committee heads will present their recommendations before the assembly takes any decision.

Some participants believed portions of the BSA text needed a careful review to safeguard the country’s future interest. The Badakhshan provincial council head suggested changes to the articles concerning civilian house searches and legal jurisdiction over foreign troops.

Abdul Wahid Tayyebi told Pajhwok Afghan News: “If these parts of the draft aren’t amended, I fear Afghanistan will be placed in harm’s way.” However, he hoped the Americans would continue to extend sincere assistance to the impoverished ally.  

A representative of the disabled from eastern Laghman province, Syed Sharif, also slammed the jurisdiction clause as violative of Islamic teachings. All parts of the draft agreement that were in conflict with the national interest and inconsistent with the religion must be changed, he demanded.

He viewed the draft accord as detrimental to Afghanistan, because it offered no concrete guarantees of the country’s security and prosperity. US leader Barack Obama’s letter to President Hamid Karzai was also devoid of such commitments, he insisted.

Sharif claimed that the two sides had already concluded the agreement, calling the ongoing tribal forum an exercise in absolving President Karzai of blame and shifting the responsibility for future consequences to the nation.

For his part, Karzai has emphasised on participants to study the entire agreement minutely before sharing their opinion with the government.

Haji Mohammad Usman, a tribal elder from eastern Nangarhar province, insisted sovereignty of the country must be respected; otherwise the agreement would be not approved. The jirga was free of foreign pressures, he said, explaining no one wanted to harm the national interest.

“We have thrashed out more than 10 articles of the pact, but did not find a single article that is against Afghanistan,” he continued.

But an attendee from northeastern Badakhshan province, Mufti Abdul Rahman, condemned legal protection of US forces as a clear breach of Islamic values. Another debatable article concerned house searches, he maintained.

A participant from Balkh province, Nazif Qarizada, noted signing the pact was to the advantage of the country. Afghanistan would face serious challenges if the agreement was not signed, she warned, saying she had studied the whole text but there was nothing negative in it.

Ghulam Hussain Hazara, a political expert and participant of the jirga, opined signing the BSA would benefit Afghanistan in terms of equipping, training and strengthening its security forces. Economic development was another benefit that Afghanistan could gain, he concluded

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Pajhwok Afghan News:

http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2013/11/22/some-delegates-seek-changes-bsa

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Loya Jirga Opens

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                                                                        Afghan troops are providing security…
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The Afghan legend of a people never conquered is deeply woven into the fabric of the nation, and that is why President Hamid Karzai has called a Loya Jirga gathering – he does not want to be remembered as the man who signed away Afghan sovereignty on his own.

Mr Karzai is looking for political cover for a deal to allow US troops to stay on Afghan soil after the end of 2014. But the Loya Jirga opens in the most chaotic of circumstances with US officials saying the published text is not complete.

US Secretary of State John Kerry talked to President Karzai on the phone twice in two days, and said there is now a deal to be put to the Loya Jirga to decide on.

The US has agreed that their troops should not “target Afghan civilians” but can enter Afghan homes. A US official said that an agreed additional line saying that this should only be in “extraordinary circumstances to protect American lives” does not appear in the final text.

President Karzai has raised this issue often in the past – most recently in an interview with the BBC last month – when he said that international forces had brought only suffering to his country.

But after days of political theatre, he failed to win concessions, at one point even demanding that the Americans admit past mistakes, a tactic that won a blast of contempt from Washington.

Given the complexity of working in three languages, with many delegates unable to read, a lot now depends on how the mercurial and unpredictable president of Afghanistan presents the text when the Loya Jirga opens.

When asked to convene the meeting, even the chairman of the Loya Jirga, the veteran Afghan politician Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, questioned whether it was necessary.

He believed that a future US presence was already covered by an agreement signed off by a previous Loya Jirga.

The Loya Jirga process is a modern version of an old Afghan principle of elders gathering together to govern by consent.

“Consultation has a deep root in Afghan culture,” said Najib Amin, deputy head of policy for the Loya Jirga.

There are 14 separate categories of delegates including elders from remote places, but also some MPs, provincial councillors, a women’s section and representatives from NGOs.

Mr Amin said that the Loya Jirga would begin with a speech by President Karzai, which will set the tone, and it will then break into small groups where there would be a chance for delegates to express their views…

There has been a lively debate in the Afghan parliament over whether the Loya Jirga can approve the security deal with the US on behalf of the nation. But realistically it is hard to see parliament or the president rejecting a Loya Jirga decision.

The last-minute wrangling over the text was a surprise even to seasoned Karzai watchers as he pushes the talks beyond the brink, perhaps not realizing that the US would have walked away.

All the indications are that the “zero option” of no foreign troops in Afghanistan, remains a possibility.

One senior Western diplomat said that “the probability of success is 90%”. But 10% is an uncomfortably big number.

When Mr Kerry left Kabul after face-to-face talks last month, he believed he had the wording he wanted to allow troops to enter Afghan homes.

At the time the only outstanding issue appeared to be the issue of whether US troops should be tried in the US or in Afghanistan for any crimes committed on Afghan territory.

Both men agreed to leave this to be decided by the Loya Jirga.

Both the US ambassador here, James Cunningham, and the most senior US general, ISAF commander Joseph Dunford, have held lengthy talks at the presidential palace, investing time and energy in reaching an agreement.

‘Stakes are high’

Ideally the US would have wanted the agreement signed some months ago, to make proper planning as they draw down from almost 50,000 troops to around 10,000, and reconfigure the force as a training and advisory mission, with a small counter-terrorism element.

Failure to reach a deal quickly also jeopardises the contribution from other Nato forces – notably German, Turkish, and Italian – who have agreed to command regional headquarters after the end of 2014. And it would mean UK forces pulling out of their commitment to support the fledgling Officer Training Academy.

The agreement also includes a reference to the US commitment to fund Afghan forces at $4.1 billion a year.

So if there is no deal, that commitment too would be questioned by US lawmakers, impatient to cut funding wherever they can, and weary of Afghanistan.

Amrullah Saleh, the former head of the Afghan Intelligence service the NDS, said he was confident that the deal would be agreed on terms acceptable to both sides.

“The only thing that gives me high confidence and hope that this will not be a goodbye Jirga, but it will be a Jirga bonding the two nations together is that the stakes are high for the two nations,” he said.

“Abandoning a country as strategically located as Afghanistan will be committing the mistakes of previous world powers… the mission is not finished,” Mr Saleh added.

But the continued presence of US troops has significant critics. Wahid Mozhda, a member of the Movement Against Foreign Bases, said that the Americans had failed to defeat the Taliban with 100,000 troops – how would 10,000 manage to do the job? he asked.

As a reminder of continuing insecurity, a bomb close to the area where the Jirga is being held killed 10 and injured many more over the weekend. The Taliban have threatened to carry out further attacks.

Thousands of extra police have been drafted-in to lock-down the city centre to try to prevent further attacks.

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