Friday, December 10, 2010

To the President of the United States: An Open Letter on Afghanistan

Mr. President,

We have been engaged and working inside Afghanistan, some of us for decades, as academics, experts and members of non-governmental organizations. Today we are deeply worried about the current course of the war and the lack of credible scenarios for the future. The cost of the war is now over $120 billion per year for the United States alone. This is unsustainable in the long run. In addition, human losses are increasing. Over 680 soldiers from the international coalition – along with hundreds of Afghans – have died this year in Afghanistan, and the year is not yet over. We appeal to you to use the unparalleled resources and influence which the United States now brings to bear in Afghanistan to achieve that longed-for peace.

Despite these huge costs, the situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country. It is now very difficult to work outside the cities or even move around Afghanistan by road. The insurgents have built momentum, exploiting the shortcomings of the Afghan government and the mistakes of the coalition. The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country. Foreign bases are completely isolated from their local environment and unable to protect the population. Foreign forces have by now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Red Army.

Politically, the settlement resulting from the 2001 intervention is unsustainable because the constituencies of whom the Taliban are the most violent expression are not represented, and because the highly centralized constitution goes against the grain of Afghan tradition, for example in specifying national elections in fourteen of the next twenty years.

The operations in the south of Afghanistan, in Kandahar and in Helmand provinces are not going well. What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war. These measures, beyond their debatable military results, foster grievance. With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution. Drone strikes in Pakistan have a marginal effect on the insurgency but are destabilizing Pakistan. The losses of the insurgency are compensated by new recruits who are often more radical than their predecessors.

The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure. Military action may produce local and temporary improvements in security, but those improvements are neither going to last nor be replicable in the vast areas not garrisoned by Western forces without a political settlement.

The 2014 deadline to put the Afghan National Army in command of security is not realistic. Considering the quick disappearance of the state structure at a district level, it is difficult to envision a strong army standing alone without any other state institutions around. Like it or not, the Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape, and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement. The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them. In fact, the Taliban are primarily concerned about the future of Afghanistan and not – contrary to what some may think -- a broader global Islamic jihad. Their links with Al-Qaeda – which is not, in any case, in Afghanistan any more -- are weak. We need to at least try to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are part of the Afghan political system. The negotiations with the insurgents could be extended to all groups in Afghanistan and regional powers.

The current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban are not enough. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account. In addition, from the point of view of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations – women and ethnic minorities, for instance – as well as with respect to the limited but real gains made since 2001, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year. This is why we ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan. A ceasefire and the return of the insurgency leadership in Afghanistan could be part of a de-escalation process leading to a coalition government. Without any chance for a military victory, the current policy will put the United States in a very difficult position.

For a process of political negotiation to have a chance of addressing the significant core grievances and political inequalities it must occur on multiple levels – among the countries that neighbour Afghanistan as well as down to the provincial and sub-district. These various tables around which negotiations need to be held are important to reinforce the message -- and the reality -- that discussions about Afghanistan’s political future must include all parties and not just be a quick-fix deal with members of the insurgency.

We believe that mediation can help achieve a settlement which brings peace to Afghanistan, enables the Taliban to become a responsible actor in the Afghan political order, ensures that Afghanistan cannot be used as a base for international terrorism, protects the Afghan people’s hard-won freedoms, helps stabilize the region, renders the large scale presence of international troops in Afghanistan unnecessary and provides the basis of an enduring relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. All the political and diplomatic ingenuity that the United States can muster will be required to achieve this positive outcome. It is time to implement an alternative strategy that would allow the United States to exit Afghanistan while safeguarding its legitimate security interests.


Matthieu Aikins

Scott Atran
Anthropologist (University of Michigan) and author of Talking to the Enemy

Rupert Talbot Chetwynd
Author of Yesterday’s Enemy - Freedom Fighters or Terrorists?

Robert Abdul Hayy Darr
Author of The Spy of the Heart and humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Gilles Dorronsoro
Visiting Scholar (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) and author of Revolution Unending

David B. Edwards
Anthropologist (Williams College) and author of Before Taliban

Jason Elliot
Author of An Unexpected Light

Antonio Giustozzi
Author of Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop and editor of Decoding the New Taliban

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi
Associate Professor, James Madison University

Daniel Korski
Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations

Felix Kuehn
Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban

Minna Jarvenpaa
Former Head of Analysis and Policy Planning, UNAMA

Anatol Lieven
Professor, War Studies Department of King’s College London and author of Pakistan: A Hard Country

Bob McKerrow
Author of Mountains of our Minds – Afghanistan

Alessandro Monsutti
Research Director, Transnational Studies/Development Studies at The Graduate Institute, Geneva

Ahmed Rashid
Journalist and author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos

Nir Rosen
Fellow, New York University Center on Law and Security

Gerard Russell
Research Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University

Alex Strick van Linschoten
Kandahar-based writer/researcher, co-editor of My Life With the Taliban

Astri Surkhe
Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway

Yama Torabi
Co-Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

Jere van Dyk
Author of In Afghanistan and Captive

Matt Waldman
Afghanistan Analyst

Alex Strick van Linschoten
UK Mobile --- +44-7794-263019
Afghan mobile --- +93-799-667356
USA Mobile --- +1-646-338-1275

skype: strickvl


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From Kabul with love - the remarkable story of Afghan, Howard Harper

The last thing he would want is publicity, but former New Zealander Howard Harper, is at last getting some publicity for being one of the most committed humanitarians I have evry known. From Kabul with Love is an utterly unique book – it follows the adventures of New Zealander Howard Harper, as he embarks as a medical worker into Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The story is told through letters sent between Howard and Monika Harper, and Howard’s father, Auckland Pharmacist, Stan Harper.

Howard sets off as a young man in the 1950s first of all to Pakistan, and then to study medicine in England. In England he meets and marries a young nurse, Monika, before heading back to Pakistan – driving overland from England with a caravan in tow. Their adventures eventually take them to Afghanistan in the 1960s to work with the blind and provide relief aid.

What is remarkable about this book is the honesty of the letters. They reveal the human face of life in extremely challenging environments and of those at home in 1950s and 60s New Zealand.

Publication of this book coincides with Howard Harper being awarded the prestigious 2010 Augusta Award from Auckland Grammar School. Past winners have included many well-known New Zealanders, including Sir Ed Hillary.

For Castle Books, the other thing that has made this project unique is that it has been a truly international effort. Howard and Monika currently live in the UK. The compiler of the book, Howard and Monika’s daughter, Dr Faith Goldberg, lives in Israel. Meanwhile, the book is being published here in New Zealand and is printing in both NZ and the UK.

With an article about Howard appearing in The Listener this week, and other coverage surrounding his award, we’re looking forward to more people finding out about about this remarkable New Zealander and reading From Kabul with Love.

Parwan, an hour's drive from Kabul where Howard, Monika and children would have spent some family outings. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Here is David Lomas' article which is running cover story this week (October 23 to 29 October 2010) in the New Zealand Listener. 

Why would a New Zealander want to have an Afghani passport? Clare de Lore profiles a remarkable eye surgeon who has dedicated his life to helping people

in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.

When Howard Harper filled out papers for his Afghani citizenship, the locals were astounded. Some laughed, others shook their heads. Whereas most Afghans he knew dreamed of leaving, the New Zealand eye surgeon and humanitarian was fighting to stay in the country he calls home.

The year was 2002. After decades of living and working in Afghanistan and surrounding countries, Harper had been offered a medal for his services to Afghanistan. During an audience with the Father of the Nation – previously the King – Harper pressed his case for citizenship and the passport he now proudly carries.

“I told the King, ‘I don’t want a medal, I want an Afghani passport,’” says Harper. “Because otherwise it is difficult to get in and out, and I don’t know when I might next be slung out. I did not want to be dependent on one person’s goodwill.

“After a long to-do, my name was published in the paper and finally there was an announcement in the newspaper and on the radio that Dr Harper had been given the passport and citizenship. I can vote, buy property, and I try to faithfully fulfil the obligations of a citizen.” He is one of only two foreigners granted this status.

Harper is one of New Zealand’s least-known but most impressive sons. Immaculately dressed at all times, this tall, silver-haired, modest son of Te Kuiti and Auckland displays all the grit, integrity and selflessness so admired in our better-known heroes.

During his time in central Asia, he’s seen the Russians invade and then retreat, the rise, demise and resurgence of the Taleban and the arrival of the American-led forces; he has funded and built eye hospitals, seen one of them destroyed and rebuilt it, built two schools, trained dozens of eye doctors and restored sight to many thousands of people.

Along the way, he married Monika, a Polish nurse who shares his passion for the poor. They’ve raised three daughters, in often primitive conditions. He has witnessed cruelty and kindness in equal measure and remains steadfast in his faith in God and human nature. He is loved by, and loves, the Afghan people.

Harper is currently in the UK where he has been, successfully to date, undergoing treatment for cancer. At nearly 80, he knows time is running out to complete his life’s work – his reaction is to simply work harder and faster. His sights are firmly set, health willing, on a return to Kabul.

His life has taken him a long way from Te Kuiti, where he was born in 1930 to Blyth and Esther Harper, his father a pharmacist and mother a teacher. The family moved to Auckland when Harper was a young boy, his father ­relocating his business to Karangahape Rd.

A bright but restless Harper left Auckland Grammar School after just two years’ secondary education. He found work in a large joinery factory where he “learnt quite a lot about bare-knuckle fighting with the other boys working there”. A building apprenticeship followed, and to this day Harper uses the experience acquired there alongside his surgical skills. After that came a stint in retail, including at two Auckland menswear stores. All the while, the young Harper was reading voraciously.

Dad gave me a book about a man called George Hunter, a Scotsman who lived all his adult life in China. That was fascinating for me. He spent his life helping people, especially in the Xinjiang province, and that inspired me.”

Harper persuaded a friend to accompany him on what was to become the trip of a lifetime. “I felt called to go to central Asia. At this point there were few openings, as the Russians had occupied most of central Asia, and the Chinese had taken over Xinjiang. The only open part was Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.”

In 1953, the two young Kiwis left Auckland on the Wanganella for Sydney, changed to a P&O liner headed for Bombay, and eventually made it to Karachi.

They headed to a language school in Muree, a hill station near Islamabad and set about learning Urdu. (Harper and his wife were later to learn Persian, Pashto, Russian and some Mongolian.)

An old Farsi man was persuaded to part with his trusty Sunbeam motorbike, giving the Kiwis the freedom to explore. “We headed up toward Gilgit on the north-western frontier and had a wonderful time sleeping in the old dak bunga­lows, like the old British India resting places. One night we ended up in Balakot. The next day we came across an old tribesman leading his horse, both of them lame. He pleaded with me to help him and his horse. I could do nothing for either of them.

“Then, across the river, the next thing that stirred me was a large hospital. I went in and found it full of leprosy patients, many of them with terrible deformities. There was a man trying to run the place and he told me it was an old British Empire Leprosy Relief Association hospital, abandoned by the British for several years. No one had come to help them since, apart from a small amount of money from the Government for food. There was no treatment, and I determined then that I would come back and help.”
At 23, Harper headed to England, where he knew he had a better chance of being able to train as a doctor than he had of making the cut for New Zealand’s only medical school at the University of Otago. He says his decision to leave Auckland Grammar early was a mistake, as he lost valuable time coming up to speed to meet admission standards.

In addition to his medical studies in London, he studied Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies, as well as Islamic law. “I was always the odd one out during my student days, slightly older, and I had something the other students did not: a clear and detailed ambition.”

It was at this time he also found Monika – the love of his life and his closest medical partner. When Monika was six and her sister four, they lost their mother during World War II. They were on the run from the advancing Russians, packed tightly into a train, when Monika’s mother suffered a panic attack and was thrown off onto a platform. The little girls never saw her again and fended for themselves for a while, with some kindness from strangers, until reunited with their father after the war. Monika determined to help children throughout her life. She was in London, improving her English so she could work among the poor, when she and Harper met. Monika had already gained specialist nursing qualifications at London’s famed Moorfields Eye Hospital and persuaded Harper to specialise in eye surgery.

The following years were to be an adventure in some of the least explored parts of the world. Harper and his bride set off from England for Afghanistan in a second-hand diesel Land-Rover towing an old caravan.

“We moved slowly through the rich European panorama until we finally ran out of roads in eastern Greece. As we entered the unmade roads of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, we discovered Monika was pregnant with Naomi. I thought this was too much to ask of her, to bump along dusty miles with poor food and restless sleep, but she stuck it out.” Not so the caravan, which literally fell apart on the rocky trails. It was abandoned just before Christmas 1962, last seen in the desert outside Baghdad with camels gazing curiously into it.

Naomi was born soon after in New Zealand and was just six weeks old when Harper took up a position at Taxila Hospital in Iran with Norval Christy, a Harvard Medical School graduate who had set up a clinic to treat anyone needing help.

“We would start operating at three in the morning. It was too hot in the daytime – the temperature would be well over 100°F. There would sometimes be more than a hundred people who turned up, and that dictated our day. We stopped for breakfast at nine, having done 100 operations, and then saw about 400 more before lunch and a nap. It was hard work but also a joy to see a patient who has been blind for years suddenly see loved ones again.”

Cataracts affect more than half the people 50 and over living in central Asia. Harper says no one knows why they are so prevalent, but cataract operations have always dominated his work.

“We would do the operation, and then after two or three days we would send them away with thick spectacles so they could see again. Each operation took just five minutes, but that was before lenses – we were just removing cataracts. Later, inserting a lens, it took about 15 minutes.” At the end of his first full year working with Christy, Harper had notched up more than 1000 cataract operations, as well as other types of eye surgery.

The Noor Eye Hospital at Darulaman in Kabul was one of Harper’s biggest and earliest projects. Built in 1966, it was badly damaged in the 1990s and Harper has since rebuilt it. In 1973, while working at his shiny new hospital, Harper was accused of “anti-State activities”. There were to be major repercussions, and not just for Harper.

Kuchi nomads in Afghanistan in the Central Highlands.

“Over the years they realised we would not participate in bribery and corruption – we did not live up to the ideals of the country. The King’s Government of the time had a particularly difficult Prime Minister and he ordered us to leave the country. So we did, and just as we were leaving, we looked up and there was a plane lumbering along overhead. We found out this was taking the King to see an eye doctor I knew in London, a retinal specialist. The King had been playing ball with his grandson and been hit in the eye and it had haemorrhaged. Normally he would have come to me, but I was being slung out so he had to lumber along in an old Russian plane to see the doctor in London. He never got back to Afghanistan as King. There was a rebellion by his cousin Daoud, who took over the ­country as dictator.”

Within months Harper slipped back into Afghanistan, working with some Americans at a small university in Jellalabad. Most of the people he was working among were Muslim – a relationship that worked well, despite cultural and religious differences. Women and children were seen first, a practice unheard of in Afghanistan, but it paid off. He was respected within the community.

“At the time [the 60s and 70s] people were scared stiff of going out at night, but I said I never felt more safe in any country than travelling in Afghanistan at night. People asked me how that could be, and it was that everyone knew when I was travelling and where I was going. They have an amazing bush telegraph in which people pass information to one another alone the lines of ‘this Harper, he is going here and there’, and when you got to your final destination, there would be a crowd waiting to greet you.”

He thought he’d escaped Daoud’s attention but after about a year was discovered and thrown out again. He and his family went to Iran, where he worked as professor of ophthalmology at the Mashhad University medical school before moving to the UK in 1977. They spent 15 or so years there so their three daughters (Naomi, Joy and Faith) could attend secondary schools and experience Western culture.

Monika Harper has nothing but praise for the New Zealand Correspondence School, which saw the girls through their early schooling in central Asia. They would sometimes be set tasks, such as an essay about a day at the beach – none of the girls had seen a beach, so they would write instead about a night in the desert.

Monika says her husband always saw the UK move as temporary and continued his work in central Asia. “We would go to various regions of Pakistan during those years in England. Howard built a clinic in Gilgit, which is still operating today. He had six weeks’ annual holiday – we worked for four weeks and took a break in the other two.”

Harper took up a post as consultant ophthalmologist at the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells, established the first cataract day-surgery clinic there, and wrote texts in English and Urdu on ophthalmology still in use today.

Harper’s big break – the chance of a permanent return to central Asia – came when he saw, on television, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceau┼čescu and his wife being shot. It was Christmas Day 1989.

“After that, I knew it was all over for the communists in central Asia. I knew if you could shoot a dictator like that and get away with it, the whole system would come down. I immediately formed what is Vision International [his registered charity]. I knew medical services would drop once they pushed the Russians out, and in many places there were none.”

He negotiated agreements – effectively permission to stay and work – in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. More were to follow covering Mongolia and Tashkent. Each agreement was worth about $1 million to the country concerned if Harper was allowed to get on with his fund-­raising, building and training.

After leaving the UK’s National Health Service in 1995, Harper was given surplus NHS equipment, which he transported to Mongolia through Russia. In the end, it was more trouble than it was worth, he says, laughing.

“Going via Russia was like being in a den of thieves. The truck, with all this wonderful equipment, would be stopped and effectively arrested. They would claim it was overloaded, and then unload things and just steal what they wanted. By the time this happened three or four times, the load was certainly lighter. I made a big fuss, wrote letters about this and so they had a record of who I was. Next time I arrived at the border, they took me away and I ended up in prison for the night. Eventually, I gave up going through Russia.”

In more recent times, Harper says, there have always been ways of getting in and out of Afghanistan and getting around the country, and he has come to accept the risks of doing so.

Abdul is an Afghani friend of the Harpers. He agreed to comment on their work but his name has been changed to protect his identity.
“Howard’s deep love and passion for the Afghan people has led him to fluency in the language, and a deep understanding of the mindset and culture. He is trusted and Afghans have opened their lives to him. Despite his Western appearance, his attitude was always different from other foreigners in that he felt at home with Afghans and shared freely with us.”

Abdul says the Harpers took on a mammoth task in providing services to the sight-impaired.

“Their work has affected thousands of people over the decades. Howard’s name and face are familiar to many Afghans living in even the rural areas of the country as he has serviced them with his mobile eye clinics despite great hardship and danger.”

All the while, Howard and Monika lived in circumstances most New Zealanders would find intolerable. This is Harper’s own description of their house in Kabul: “A simple two-storey brick and mortar house, in one of the better districts of Kabul, close to the Parliament. We have no running water, but a pump and a polluted shallow well for water. We have to boil and filter our drinking water, as attacks of dysentery are common.

“There are scorpions of all shapes and sizes, and it is important not to run outside in bare feet! We have electricity sometimes every third day, so we don’t have a refrigerator but a small electric generator for light in the evening. Apart from a few drawbacks, we find it a good place to live.”

The couple have been sensible about personal security but argue that having security guards attracts more attention than it’s worth. Besides, they just didn’t have the money. Harper usually moves around Kabul in a car with two Afghan friends but sometimes ventures out alone.

There have been close calls. In 2009, he was alone, driving the car, after dropping a friend at Kabul Airport. “It was at the time that they changed the guard protecting the airport. I noticed an old guy going along in a shaky way in a car and I knew there would shortly be a busload of troops leaving.

“I thought, ‘I bet he is going to blow that up’, and I knew I should just keep going. I’ve learnt to think and act like an Afghan. Sure enough, there was a huge explosion and people were killed.

“If we were people trying to make money or connected to the military, the Afghans would attack us. But if they feel you are on their side and not political or military, they will be friendly in many ways you would not get in New Zealand.

“I have a friend, for example, a Pathan with a long woolly beard, and he knows every Taleban leader there is. He and I have worked together for a number of years. When I ran short of money on one of my projects, he said, ‘Don’t worry, I will borrow it for you.’ He went around his relatives, some of them high up in the Government and got 5000 here, 5000 there, and ‘here it is, use it’.

“They did want it back again – they could not afford to give it outright. This is the astonishing thing about Afghans – they will kill you if they mistrust you or think you are their enemy, but in other ways they will support you in ways you would not easily find in New Zealand or in England.”

The Harpers live on an NHS pension. Harper sold a house he owned in Algies Bay, north of Auckland, to fund one of his hospitals, his family help when they can, and he has a network of committed supporters in New Zealand and abroad who contribute from time to time. He has received large one-off donations from funding organisations in the US, Japan, Germany and the UK, but says he really relies on private donations of sums as little as $20.

Harper’s legacy includes the Noor Eye Hospital, a newly completed day eye clinic alongside it and at least a dozen self-sustaining eye clinics throughout central Asia, many of them now operating for 30 or more years, and two schools. He says there is much more to be done.

“The eye clinic we recently completed cost us about US$200,000. Our aim is to build up a team of Afghan nurses and doctors, as well as foreigners, and gradually get it self-sustaining. That means literally getting a very small fee from each patient, perhaps $50, with free treatment for the very poorest, about a quarter of them. We will take them on our own shoulders.”

Hamish McMaster heads New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Middle East and Africa Division. In early 2009, while he was our man in Iran and accredited to Kabul, he heard of Harper’s work and visited his clinic as it was being built. A long-time diplomat, McMaster describes his arrival at the dusty building site in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

“Imagine cement bags lying on the ground, piles of bricks and Afghan workers doing their thing. In the middle of this a beautifully laid table, vinyl cloth, with china teacups and saucers, and some bread to eat. I recall Dr Harper was wearing a bow tie. And my abiding memory is of a little New Zealand flag sitting right in the middle of the table.”

McMaster says he has met other New Zealanders working in Afghanistan, but Harper stands out. And he says there’s a very good reason Harper has kept a low profile both in Afghanistan and in New Zealand.

“I would say it has been essential for him to keep under the radar in order to stay and survive so long. It is uncommon for someone to live there for that length of time, and he has survived the vagaries of Afghanistan through his humility and determination.”

McMaster rates Harper’s work in improving the lot of Afghanis on a par with efforts to improve security via construction of schools and repairing roads and other infrastructure. A New Zealand Government grant of $50,000 was personally authorised by Foreign Minister Murray McCully after he visited Afghanistan and met Harper.

“When Dr Harper’s work was brought to my attention, I took the chance, during a visit to Afghanistan last year, to include him in an official dinner. I was struck by his remarkable determination. He’s made a huge humanitarian contribution in very difficult circumstances. It’s a tough place to visit, let alone live,” says McCully.

Abdul, the Harpers’ Kabul-based friend, vouches for Harper’s standing in the community.

“He is highly respected by all Afghan people regardless of ethnic persuasion. He is honourable, someone to be trusted at all times. On one occasion the King was reported to have said we need more foreigners of his calibre to serve Afghanistan.”

While he and Monika were living in unaccustomed comfort in the UK, the Taleban gained control in Afghanistan. Harper made a week-long visit in 1997, and says he was sad to see how miserable life had become. The Noor Eye Hospital had been severely damaged, and human rights were under daily attack.

“You would talk to respectable young girls and women who were whipped for even showing a tiny bit of skin on their foot.

“I went to visit the then Minister of Health to talk about resuming work there. When I met him, I was surprised – he was an uneducated man, which was very odd for the Afghans. He looked like a cross between a mullah and a butcher. He got down on his knees, though, and begged me to start work again. I said I would only do so once things settled down a bit and he accepted that.”

In 2002, the Harpers returned “home” to Kabul.

“It was vital to get back into Afghanistan after the Taleban were defeated. They had been particularly destructive. I had never seen a country brought down to such a level. They had destroyed the infrastructure, education, the freedom of women, and there was a very narrow version of Islam that even banned music.”

Harper says the arrival of the US-led forces brought about some improvements, but they are unlikely to last. “I am always optimistic as far as the people are concerned, but once the Americans and Brits pull out, who knows what will happen? The Afghans are wonderful, but once they start fighting they are quite ruthless.

“Elections have never worked for them. They need strong leadership, almost autocratic. There is little love lost between the various tribal elements. My impression is that Afghanistan is naturally two countries, one Persian-speaking, including Kabul, and the other a Pashto-speaking country – the south-east including the north-western frontier of Pakistan, ­centred on Peshawar.

“Corruption is endemic in Afghanistan. Most people think if they are given a position of power, it is for them and their family’s benefit. That will never change. There are, however, some people, like the late King, who besides looking after themselves, will also consider the good of their people and look after them. That’s the best we can hope for – find these good but usually flawed men and work with them.”

Despite the poverty, corruption and danger, Harper says there is a very simple explanation for spending a lifetime in the service of strangers in some of the most hostile places on earth.

“I spent a lot of time getting a very sophisticated education in New Zealand and England. I somehow owe something back, so therefore while other people may want to stop at age 60 or 65, I feel as long as you’re in good nick and your mind is working, your hands are able and you can think straight, there is no reason not to go on longer. I take this a year at a time.

“I might not have much money, but I’ve had a very rich life.”

Howard Harper will be honoured by his alma mater, Auckland Grammar School, at a dinner in Auckland in November.


Thursday, September 9, 2010


Are the Taliban a resistance movement or what ? There have been many debates and publications on this subject and today I came across this interesting article by W. J. Ford in the International Review the Red Cross in 1967. Here is the link:

14. Practice of War
A number of instances will now be given to show the status accorded to persons taking part in fighting without being members of the regular forces.
The Boer War (1899-1902) 2
In this war the British troops found themselves confronted with Boers who had united to form commandos. They were under the command of persons appointed by the government; some of them wore uniforms and they carried their arms openly. According to Spaight the Boers observed the rules of the law of war. From reports, both from the British and from the Boers, it may be deduced that the Boers were treated as prisoners of war, provided they were captured before the British proclaimed that they had annexed the Boer Republics. The British authorities took the view that after the annexation the belligerents could no longer be regarded as regular combatants but only as rebels. Theoretically, this point of view was correct but it is doubtful whether the actual
1 Continued from our October issue.
• J. M. Spaight, War Rights on Land, 1911.
situation warranted the annexation. At the moment annexation was proclaimed there was no peace treaty in which annexation had been agreed upon. Nor were the facts such as to warrant the unilateral British proclamation.
The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) 1
Both parties reported incidents which were judged under the provisions of Articles 1 and 2 of the Hague Regulations. In one case the Japanese court martial refused to recognize the right of prisoners to invoke Article 2 of the Hague Regulations, because it felt that the prisoners concerned could not be regarded as patriotic citizens, since they were convicts. The court ruled that such persons could not be expected to observe the law of war. Against this it may be argued that there is no rule depriving members of resistance movements of the status of privileged combatants because they have been convicted by a national court.
World JVar 1
In 1915 the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a report on the manner in which the Belgian population had resisted the German forces. 2 It was particularly the operations of the , garde civique ' that were considered to be unlawful. The Germans considered that Article 1 was not applicable, since the resistance fighters had not been placed under the command of a person who was responsible for his subordinates. Moreover, they did not wear any distinguishing mark. According to the German report, Article 2, could not be invoked either, since this Article recognizes a levy en masse only in non-occupied territory. This line of reasoning condemned
the resistance in towns like Aerschot, Andenne and Louvain.
In 1916 Belgium officially responded to the German publication
3. According to the Belgian authorities a distinction should be made between the garde civique active and the garde civique
1 Nagao Ariga, La guerre Russo-Japonaise au point de vue continental et Ie droit international d'apres les documents officiels du grand Etat-major japonais, 1908.
2 Die volkerrechtswidrige FilhrulIg des belgischen Volkskl'iegs.
3 Reply to the German White Book of May 10, 1915 .. Die volkerrechtswidrige Fuhrung des belgischen Volkskriegs", 1916.
non active. The former were regarded as constituting an armed force. The latter had to be regarded as militias who could be-and were---called up by Royal Decree. Members of the garde civique non active had to subject themselves to the rules of Article 1 of the Hague Regulations. Although the garde civique non active were originally intended to playa part in the defence of national indepedence,
their eventual task amounted to little more than policing the non-occupied part of the country. Since the garde civique non active were no Jonger regarded as militias it was no longer necessary for them to comply with the requirements of Article 1 of the Hague Regulations.
World War II
France. -In the course of 1943 the Forces fran~aises de l'interieur
(F.F.I.) were organized in such a way that they were ready to carry out strategic duties. In its ordinance of 9 June 1944 the Comite fran~ais de la Liberation nationale defines the F.F.I. in the following manner:
Les forces fran~aises de l'interieur {( F.F.I. », sont constituees par J'ensemble des unites combattantes ou de leurs services qui prennent part a la lutte contre l'ennemi sur Ie territoire metropolitain, dont l'organisation est reconnue par Ie Gouvernement,
et qui servent sous les ordres de chefs reconnus par lui comme responsables. Ces forces armees font partie integrante de l'armee fran~aise et beneficient de tous les droits et avalltages reconnus aux militaires par les lois en vigueur. Elles repondent aux conditions generales fixees par Ie reglement annexe a la convention de la Haye du 18 octobre 1907 concernant les lois et coutumes de la guerre sur terre.
The German military authorities stated in a proclamation that captured members of the F.F.I. would be executed in accordance with the rules of military criminal law. The provisional government of the French Republic pointed out that Article I of the Hague Regulations of 1907 were being observed and that captured members
of the F.F.!. would therefore have to be treated as prisoners of war. General Einsenhower decreed:
"1. The French Forces of the Interior constitute a combatant force commanded and directed by General Koenig, and form an integral part of the Allied Expeditionary Force.
2. The French Forces of the Interior in the maquis bear arms openly against the enemy and are instructed to conduct their operations against him in accordance with the rules of war. They are provided with a distinctive emblem and are regarded by General Eisenhower as an army under his command."
The ICRC intervened1 and the German authorities declared orally that members of th~ EF.1. would be treated as prisoners of war. This oral declaration was never confirmed in writing.
Italy. -After the armistice of September 1943 groups of partisans
sprang up in Northern Italy. They took up arms against the Germans. The ICRC tried to induce the German authorities to regard captured partisans as prisoners of war, but their attempts failed.
Netherlands. -The resistance undertaken in the Netherlands was unique. Fighting against the Germans was restricted to smallscale
skirmishes like in Belgium. In addition the underground resistance movement performed acts of sabotage. The legal status of the underground army, the Forces of the Interior, was established on 5 September 1944 (Royal Decree). The Decree ruled that every one actively engaged in repelling the enemy was from then on a member of the Royal Netherlands Army. This decision removed any uncertainty as to the status of the persons concerned under the law of war.
Poland and Slovakia. -In October 1944 the German authorities declared that captured members of the Polish underground army would be treated as prisoners of war.! Under the provisions of the Warsaw capitulation agreement, captured Polish partisans were regarded as prisoners of war: they were subject to the 1929 Red Cross Convention. (cf. Schmid)
1 Schmid, Die volkerrechtliche Stellung del' Partisanen im Kl'iege, 1956.
Slovak partisans were treated differently. It was decided that the 1929 Red Cross Convention did not apply to them and when captured they were not regarded as prisoners of war but were deported to Germany.
U.S.S.R. -Russian partisans did not wear any definite uniforms.!
Those who had been in the army wore their old uniforms or parts of them. According to a political commissar assigned to a partisan unit the partisans were members of the Red Army. They were instructed to operate in the rear of the enemy.
Trainin asserts that Soviet warfare was not a private affair of volunteers.2 According to Trainin the population, which belonged either to the regular army or to partisan units, used all the defensive and offensive methods in defending their country. The Russian author goes on to say that this emphasized the fact that the struggle against fascism was a people's war. Therefore the leaders of resistance
groups subordinated their operations to those of the Red Army, Soviet Russia's main military machine. They were accountable
to the people, i.e. to the Red Army and its General Staff. Trainin emphasizes the fact that the orders of the highest commander,
field-marshal Stalin, were directed not only to the Red Army but also to the men and women fighting in the partisan units.
Yugoslavia. -The struggle carried on in the Balkans by the partisans partook of the nature of military operations. The centre of Yugoslav resistance was in Serbia. The resistance fighters carried out surprise raids on the German occupation forces to capture arms, food and clothing. There was no uniformity whatsoever in the way the partisans dressed. A newcomer was instantly recognizable as such because his clothes marked him as a farmer or as a townsman.
But after a few weeks he was wearing a German fatigue cap or an Italian tunic. However, they all wore the Red Star on their fatigue caps. By 1943 their number had increased to 250,000. The German and affiliated forces undertook seven large-scale offensives against the Yugoslav partisans in all. The fifth was carried out in
1 S. A. Kovpak, Les partisans sovietiques, 1945.
• I. P. Trainin, " Questions of guerilla warfare in the law of war ", Am. Journal 0/ Int. Law, Vol. 40, 1946.
the latter half of May and in the first few days of June 1943. During
this offensive General Kuebler, commander of the German 118th
division, issued an order that every partisan taken prisoner was to be
shot immediately and that all wells be poisoned. According to
Marshal Tito, leader of the partisans, wounded partisans were
mercilessly killed.
It may be gathered from the foregoing that the fighting of the
partisans was not as a rule limited to incidental resistance operations.
More often than not their resistance consisted of large-scale,
well-organized operations carried out by disciplined combatants.
This should have induced the Germans to control themselves when
dealing with captured partisans. Instead prisoners were shot. There
is no evidence that captured partisans were tried and granted all
the rights essential to the proper administration of justice.
15. Practice in armed conflicts not of an international character
The subject of the preceding chapter was the status of combatants
not belonging to regular armies in international conflicts. The present chapter deals with the status to be accorded to combatants
in armed conflicts not of an international character.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
The fact that the conflict was essentially a civil war made the parties to the conflict decide not to apply the law of war. Siotis reports that hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers were killed and executed.1 Hostages were shot and women and children were not spared. The parties to the conflict treated one another as murderers. The insurgents were not accorded the status of belligerents,
because the government feared that by doing so they would weaken the position of the Spanish Republic. People may wonder whether the position of the Spanish Republic was really at stake and whether it would not have been better to recognize the rebels as belligerents, because it would probably have had a moderating effect on the fighting, which went far beyond local disturbances. This
1 Jean Siotis, Le droit de fa guerre et les conj!its armes d'un caraetere 1I0ninternational.
alternative would have been all the more apposite, since the position of the Spanish Republic would not have suffered if its opponents had been accorded the status of belligerents. Had been possible to grant the insurgents the minimum rights provided for in Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, it is reasonable to assume that many lives would have been saved on both sides.
The Greek Civil War (1946-1949)
According to Siotis the law of war was completely ignored during the conflict in Greece. Aiding the insurgents was a crime punishable by death. Insurgents captured with weapons in their hands were brought up before a court martial. Most of them were sentenced to death. Prisoners who refused to join the insurgents met with the same fate. The ICRC attempted to mitigate the conflict by invoking the resolution of the Preparatory Conference of Red Cross Societies of 1946. In this resolution it was suggested thatinthe case ofanarmedconflict notofaninternationalcharacter the convention be equally applied by each of the parties unless one of them explicitly refused to do so. According to Siotis, the Greek Government argued that the conflict was not a civil war. The ICRC persisted in its view and by its tenacity succeeded in securing
certain results. The Greek Government allowed the Committee to do its humanitarian work for the Greek people, which actually took the form of aid to the Hellenic Red Cross Society. The JCRe launched a large-scale drive to help people taken prisoner by Government
troops. Attempts to organize similar activities among the insurgents failed, their leader claiming that war time conditions prevented him from getting into contact with the ICRC direct.
Vietnam (1946-1954)
In spite of the fact that Vietnam was " un Etat libre ayant son gouvernement, son parlement, son armee et ses finances" the conflict was regarded as an " armed conflict not of an international character" because Vietnam was not an independent state in the international intercourse of states. France prevented Vietnam from having contact with other powers. According to Siotis the parties to the conflict seem to have been prepared, at all events initially,
to apply the rules of the law of war. But this gradually faded when it became apparent that it was impossible to reach a compromise. The ICRC could not properly perform its duties, such as visiting and exchanging prisoners, because of material and other difficulties. Although the conflict was regarded as an armed conflict not of an international character, the French authorities felt that it did not fall entirely outside the scope of the rules of international law.
Guatemala (1954)
An international struggle broke out in Guatemala in 1954. Right from the beginning the extent of the conflict was such as to make the Red Cross Society of Guatemala accept intervention by the ICRC. This intervention consisted mainly of activities after the short-lived conflict proper had come to an end. They included visits to prisons and the submission of a report on these visits to the Minister of the Interior of Guatemala. This procedure constituted a precedent for intervention by the ICRC during and after hostilities.
At first the Algerian conflict was just a matter of maintaining public order but soon its scope widened, so that the regular French army began to take part in the fighting. The result was that measures
based on criminal law no longer sufficed and that the conflict developed into an armed conflict not of an international character to which Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions was applicable. The French Government recognized this development and, according
to Siotis, the Algerian nationalists, too, declared that they intended to apply the Geneva Conventions. This meant that both parties had pronounced themselves in favour of applying Article 3 to this armed conflict not of an international character.
But Siotis reports that in actual practice things left much to be desired. The two parties committed many acts that were contrary to the humanitarian principles on which Article 3 was based. But the two parties repeatedly urged the persons concerned to observe the provisions of Article 3. The violations of Article 3 caused Siotis to state that the new rules of conventional law contained in this article
were "en derniere analyse" not regarded as having obligatory force. This standpoint does not seem very satisfactory as the obligatory force of legal provisions does not depend on the number of times these provisions are violated. The competent authorities that accept the rules contained in Article 3 may be expected to be able to ensure their practical application and enforcement, which may be interpreted as proof of discipline and organisational maturity.
The rules of Article 3 are of considerable importance in the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, because the national legislations, which are adapted to normal conditions, may prove to be inadequate in the event of internal disturbances, so the possibility of excesses must not be ruled out.
(To be continued).
Dr. W. J. FORD


I received this very interesting article written by George Friedman which I post below. Food for thought ?

It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. It has been nine years in which the primary focus of the United States has been on the Islamic world. In addition to a massive investment in homeland security, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.

In order to understand the last nine years you must understand the first 24 hours of the war -- and recall your own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the attack was a shock, its audaciousness frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next. The attack had destroyed the right to complacent assumptions. Were there other cells standing by in the United States? Did they have capabilities even more substantial than what they showed on Sept. 11? Could they be detected and stopped? Any American not frightened on Sept. 12 was not in touch with reality. Many who are now claiming that the United States overreacted are forgetting their own sense of panic. We are all calm and collected nine years after.

At the root of all of this was a profound lack of understanding of al Qaeda, particularly its capabilities and intentions. Since we did not know what was possible, our only prudent course was to prepare for the worst. That is what the Bush administration did. Nothing symbolized this more than the fear that al Qaeda had acquired nuclear weapons and that they would use them against the United States. The evidence was minimal, but the consequences would be overwhelming. Bush crafted a strategy based on the worst-case scenario.

Bush was the victim of a decade of failure in the intelligence community to understand what al Qaeda was and wasn't. I am not merely talking about the failure to predict the 9/11 attack. Regardless of assertions afterwards, the intelligence community provided only vague warnings that lacked the kind of specificity that makes for actionable intelligence. To a certain degree, this is understandable. Al Qaeda learned from Soviet, Saudi, Pakistani and American intelligence during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and knew how to launch attacks without tipping off the target. The greatest failure of American intelligence was not the lack of a clear warning about 9/11 but the lack, on Sept. 12, of a clear picture of al Qaeda's global structure, capabilities, weaknesses and intentions. Without such information, implementing U.S. policy was like piloting an airplane with faulty instruments in a snowstorm at night.

The president had to do three things: First, he had to assure the public that he knew what he was doing. Second, he had to do something that appeared decisive. Third, he had to gear up an intelligence and security apparatus to tell him what the threats actually were and what he ought to do. American policy became ready, fire, aim.

In looking back at the past nine years, two conclusions can be drawn: There were no more large-scale attacks on the United States by militant Islamists, and the United States was left with the legacy of responses that took place in the first two years after 9/11. This legacy is no longer useful, if it ever was, to the primary mission of defeating al Qaeda, and it represents an effort that is retrospectively out of proportion to the threat.

If I had been told on Sept.12, 2001, that the attack the day before would be the last major attack for at least nine years, I would not have believed it. In looking at the complexity of the security and execution of the 9/11 attack, I would have assumed that an organization capable of acting once in such a way could act again even more effectively. My assumption was wrong. Al Qaeda did not have the resources to mount other operations, and the U.S. response, in many ways clumsy and misguided and in other ways clever and targeted, disrupted any preparations in which al Qaeda might have been engaged to conduct follow-on attacks.

Knowing that about al Qaeda in 2001 was impossible. Knowing which operations were helpful in the effort to block them was impossible, in the context of what Americans knew in the first years after the war began. Therefore, Washington wound up in the contradictory situation in which American military and covert operations surged while new attacks failed to materialize. This created a massive political problem. Rather than appearing to be the cause for the lack of attacks, U.S. military operations were perceived by many as being unnecessary or actually increasing the threat of attack. Even in hindsight, aligning U.S. actions with the apparent outcome is difficult and controversial. But still we know two things: It has been nine years since Sept. 11, 2001, and the war goes on.

What happened was that an act of terrorism was allowed to redefine U.S. grand strategy. The United States operates with a grand strategy derived from the British strategy in Europe -- maintaining the balance of power. For the United Kingdom, maintaining the balance of power in Europe protected any one power from emerging that could unite Europe and build a fleet to invade the United Kingdom or block its access to its empire. British strategy was to help create coalitions to block emerging hegemons such as Spain, France or Germany. Using overt and covert means, the United Kingdom aimed to ensure that no hegemonic power could emerge.

The Americans inherited that grand strategy from the British but elevated it to a global rather than regional level. Having blocked the Soviet Union from hegemony over Europe and Asia, the United States proceeded with a strategy whose goal, like that of the United Kingdom, was to nip potential regional hegemons in the bud. The U.S. war with Iraq in 1990-91 and the war with Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1999 were examples of this strategy. It involved coalition warfare, shifting America's weight from side to side and using minimal force to disrupt the plans of regional aspirants to gain power. This U.S. strategy also was cloaked in the ideology of global liberalism and human rights.

The key to this strategy was its global nature. The emergence of a hegemonic contender that could challenge the United States globally, as the Soviet Union had done, was the worst-case scenario. Therefore, the containment of emerging powers wherever they might emerge was the centerpiece of American balance-of-power strategy.

The most significant effect of 9/11 was that it knocked the United States off its strategy. Rather than adapting its standing global strategy to better address the counterterrorism issue, the United States became obsessed with a single region, the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush. Within that region, the United States operated with a balance-of-power strategy. It played off all of the nations in the region against each other. It did the same with ethnic and religious groups throughout the region and particularly within Iraq and Afghanistan, the main theaters of the war. In both cases, the United States sought to take advantage of internal divisions, shifting its support in various directions to create a balance of power. That, in the end, was what the surge strategy was all about.

The American obsession with this region in the wake of 9/11 is understandable. Nine years later, with no clear end in sight, the question is whether this continued focus is strategically rational for the United States. Given the uncertainties of the first few years, obsession and uncertainty are understandable, but as a long-term U.S. strategy -- the long war that the U.S. Department of Defense is preparing for -- it leaves the rest of the world uncovered.

Consider that the Russians have used the American absorption in this region as a window of opportunity to work to reconstruct their geopolitical position. When Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008, an American ally, the United States did not have the forces with which to make a prudent intervention. Similarly, the Chinese have had a degree of freedom of action they could not have expected to enjoy prior to 9/11. The single most important result of 9/11 was that it shifted the United States from a global stance to a regional one, allowing other powers to take advantage of this focus to create significant potential challenges to the United States.

One can make the case, as I have, that whatever the origin of the Iraq war, remaining in Iraq to contain Iran is necessary. It is difficult to make a similar case for Afghanistan. Its strategic interest to the United States is minimal. The only justification for the war is that al Qaeda launched its attacks on the United States from Afghanistan. But that justification is no longer valid. Al Qaeda can launch attacks from Yemen or other countries. The fact that Afghanistan was the base from which the attacks were launched does not mean that al Qaeda depends on Afghanistan to launch attacks. And given that the apex leadership of al Qaeda has not launched attacks in a while, the question is whether al Qaeda is capable of launching such attacks any longer. In any case, managing al Qaeda today does not require nation building in Afghanistan.

But let me state a more radical thesis: The threat of terrorism cannot become the singular focus of the United States. Let me push it further: The United States cannot subordinate its grand strategy to simply fighting terrorism even if there will be occasional terrorist attacks on the United States. Three thousand people died in the 9/11 attack. That is a tragedy, but in a nation of over 300 million, 3,000 deaths cannot be permitted to define the totality of national strategy. Certainly, resources must be devoted to combating the threat and, to the extent possible, disrupting it. But it must also be recognized that terrorism cannot always be blocked, that terrorist attacks will occur and that the world's only global power cannot be captive to this single threat.

The initial response was understandable and necessary. The United States must continue its intelligence gathering and covert operations against militant Islamists throughout the world. The intelligence failures of the 1990s must not be repeated. But waging a multi-divisional war in Afghanistan makes no strategic sense. The balance-of-power strategy must be used. Pakistan will intervene and discover the Russians and Iranians. The great game will continue. As for Iran, regional counters must be supported at limited cost to the United States. The United States should not be patrolling the far reaches of the region. It should be supporting a balance of power among the native powers of the region.

The United States is a global power and, as such, it must have a global view. It has interests and challenges beyond this region and certainly beyond Afghanistan. The issue there is not whether the United States can or can't win, however that is defined. The issue is whether it is worth the effort considering what is going on in the rest of the world. Gen. David Petraeus cast the war in terms of whether the United States can win it. That's reasonable; he's the commander. But American strategy has to ask another question: What does the United States lose elsewhere while it focuses on the future of Kandahar?

The 9/11 attack shocked the United States and made counterterrorism the centerpiece of American foreign policy. That is too narrow a basis on which to base U.S. foreign policy. It is certainly an important strand of that policy, and it must be addressed, but it should be addressed through the regional balance of power. It is the good fortune of the United States that the Islamic world is torn by internal rivalries.

This is not dismissing the threat of terror. It is recognizing that the United States has done well in suppressing it over the past nine years but at a cost in other regions, a cost that can't be sustained indefinitely and a cost that could well result in challenges more threatening than a rising Islamist militancy. The United States must now settle into a long-term strategy of managing terrorism as best as it can while not neglecting the rest of its interests.

After nine years, the issue is not what to do in Afghanistan but how the global power can return to managing all of its global interests, along with the war on al Qaeda.

This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to

Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mullah Omar says Afghan Taliban close to victory

I woke up this morning and the first article I read was about Mullah Omar
saying the Afghan Taliban are close to victory. Mullah Omar says his fighters are winning the war in Afghanistan and that the Nato-led campaign has been "a complete failure". I find this hard to believe although one has to acknowledge the Talibans are growing in number and achieving small victories here and there. Soldiers defending their own country always have a huge advantage, and add the religious fervour they have, one has to take Omar's statement seriously.

In a rare statement, the shadowy leader called on US President Barack Obama to withdraw his troops "unconditionally and as soon as possible".

Nato has boosted its presence in Afghanistan to 150,000 soldiers in a bid to finally defeat militants.

Mullah Omar's statement, which marked the end of the Muslim festival of Ramadan, was posted on jihadist websites and relayed by the Site Intelligence Group.

"The victory of our Islamic nation over the invading infidels is now imminent and the driving force behind this is the belief in the help of Allah and unity among ourselves," he said.

"In the time to come, we will try to establish an Islamic, independent, perfect and strong system."

He claimed that those behind the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan which overthrew the Taliban "admit themselves that all their strategies are nothing but a complete failure".

He also commanded his fighters to observe the Taliban's code of conduct and avoid harming civilians.

Spiritual head

Mullah Omar is still considered the spiritual head of the Taliban in Afghanistan, although others are believed to be in day-to-day command of the hardline movement.

President Obama ordered a further 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan last December following a review of the war.

Gen David Petraeus, who commands US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said last month he saw "areas of progress" in the war and that momentum by the militants had been checked in their strongholds of Kandahar and Helmand.

He has made winning civilian hearts and minds a key part of his strategy to defeat the Taliban.

However, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that civilian casualties were undermining the counter-insurgency in his country.

He also said that US plans to begin withdrawing troops next year have given the Taliban "a morale boost".


Sunday, August 29, 2010

A hit off the action, a walk on the dark side

Frequently I get asked about war and the people I meet in the course of my work in conflict or post conflict.  My heart, my prayers and empathy goes out to those who are caught up in wars, such as the civilian population, and those who have no choice such as conscripted soldiers, child soldiers; but the others ?

"Men and women who venture to someone else’s war through choice do so in a variety of guises. UN general, BBC correspondent, aid worker, mercenary: in the final analysis they all want to do the same thing, a hit off the action, a walk on the dark side. It’s just a question of how slick a cover you give yourself, and how far you want to go.. If you find a cause later then hold on to it, but never blind yourself with your own disguise,” writes Anthony Lloyd.

Author on the war in Afghanistan, Jason Elliot, goes to Afghanistan as an 18 year old English school boy during the Soviet occupation.

Photo: Jason Elliot.

In the winter of 1996 when the Taliban were bombing the little life left in  Kabul, (Jan-Feb) Anthony Lloyd stayed with me in my house. He and an English cameraman lived in the bunker in our house. We travelled  to Khord Kabul where the British were routed in their retreat from Kabul in 1859. This was the front line and we were with Masoud’s troops and could see plainly, Talban soldiers moving about with RPGs. Over 300 British troops had been slaughtered in this valley in 1859.

A few years ago, Lloyd published a book called “ My War Gone By, I Miss It So,  about the wars in former Yugoslavia. It's a remarkable book where a young misfit goes to war as a correspondent. He writes:

‘ Listen, said Peter, the Dutchman, ‘we don’t fight for the money, and we’re not in it for the killing. It’s about camaraderie and, sure it’s about excitement. Some are bullshitters, some are psychotics. We are neither. We are here because we want to be, and if there is a price to pay, then we are ready for that too.’

US Armed PCs during the Vietnam war. Photo: Bob McKerrow

"There was very little difference between them and anyone else who goes to war voluntarily. In their case they had taken a side and were ultimately prepared to kill. Though my reasoning for being there was still in flux, at its simplist I was there to watch, and that gave neither of us the higher moral ground. Men and women who venture to someone else’s war through choice do so in a variety of guises. UN general, BBC correspondent, aid worker, mercenary: in the final analysis they all want to do the same thing, a hit off the action, a walk on the dark side. It’s just a question of how slick a cover you give yourself, and far you want to go.. If you find a cause later then hold on to it, but never blind yourself with your own disguise.”

Sometimes I wonder why I have spent so much time in conflict or post conflict regions and the answer comes to mind when I read Nicolas Bouvier, a Swiss writer and artist, He said, “ My belief is that one must have passed through fire be able to sort out...the contents of those storehouses of sorrow, where fortunately we can also find, more often than we might have dared to expect...enough small miracles to motivate and encourage those in the field who are so often compelled, to quote a mediaeval Japanese poem, ‘to bear the unbearable and tolerate the intolerable.’

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Zealand troops involved in torture in Afghanistan

I have worked in too many conflict situations in Asia and Africa, seen and heard of the use of torture,  to believe the words of politicians such as  John Key's response to allegations that the New Zealand SAS are handing over prisoners to the Afghan secret police, where they are likely to be tortured?

My fellow blogger No Right Turn, an experienced analyist I respect says this:

"Mr Key said when New Zealand troops handed over someone they had detained they made sure that person would not be tortured later on.

+Where the New Zealand SAS worked alongside the unit in Kabul it was not the detaining force, Mr Key told NewstalkZB.

"In that instance, it's not our responsibility when it comes to those people that are detained."
"This is simply bullshit. Kiwi soldiers are helping to capture these people. Therefore we bear moral responsibility for what happens to them. We cannot simply wipe our hands of that responsibility by drawing an arbitrary box around it and saying "not our problem", says Right Turn.

New Zealand is a better country than this. Our response to Afghan torture should be to protect people from it, not enable it. And if the SAS cannot serve in Afghanistan without colluding in torture, then they should not be there. It is that simple

So what is the background on this issue ? Questions have been raised about whether New Zealand's SAS may have handed over prisoners to an Afghan unit that is believed to use torture.

SAS members on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The British military has been banned from handing prisoners to the Afghan National Directorate of Security as it is so notorious for torture.

The Government has said the SAS worked with Afghanistan's Crisis Response Unit in Kabul, but was not directly responsible for any prisoners captured by the unit because it was not the head of the unit.

Prime Minister John Key said the SAS were not involved in torture of prisoners in Afghanistan.

If New Zealand troops detained someone there were clear written protocols about how that was done and those protocols honoured the Geneva Convention, he said.

The Geneva Convention sets out the standards for the humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war.

Mr Key said when New Zealand troops handed over someone they had detained they made sure that person would not be tortured later on.

Where the New Zealand SAS worked alongside the unit in Kabul it was not the detaining force, Mr Key told NewstalkZB.

"In that instance, it's not our responsibility when it comes to those people that are detained."

However, the SAS recorded the name of every person detained by the unit and those names were freely available to international agencies, he said.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said the SAS worked with the unit to capture insurgents.

"It's likely some are [transferred to the Afghan National Directorate of Security], yes," he told the Sunday Star-Times.

He was understood to be looking into the situation.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said the New Zealand Defence Force had to share responsibility for what happened to insurgents it captured.

He supported the withdrawal of the SAS from Afghanistan.

"We don't want New Zealand's good name muddied by links for the torture of prisoners, which is reputed to include beatings, electric shock treatment, and sleep, food and water deprivation."

My fellow blogger No right turn at:

wrote this last Sunday :

"The Sunday Star-Times has a major news story this morning: the New Zealand SAS are turning over prisoners to the Afghan secret police. Those secret police are known torturers, who use amputations, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, starvation, beatings and burns to extract "confessions". So basically kiwi soldiers are turning people over to be tortured.

Our Defence Minister's response to this? The prisoners are "an Afghan responsibility". So he's basically washing his hands of the whole matter.

Fortunately, he can't. New Zealand has specific obligations under both international and domestic law to prevent torture and not turn people over in this way. The Convention Against Torture is pretty clear:

No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
While phrased in terms of immigration law, its application is wider, and applies to any transfer of any form. Domestically, the Bill of Rights Act affirms that

Everyone has the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, degrading, or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.

The government's obligation to uphold this right is not limited geographically; it applies to any act or omission by any branch of the New Zealand government, whether it is done in Wellington or Kabul. If the SAS turns people over to an organisation which uses torture, or assists in their capture so they may be turned over, then they are violating it. That's exactly what the UK High Court found, under an almost identical provision in the UK Human Rights Act, when they banned the British armed forces from transferring prisoners to the NDS facility in Kabul - the same facility the SAS are sending people to.

If the government won't do the decent thing here, and ban the SAS from transferring any prisoners, then we will have to make them. The Bill of Rights Act gives us one lever for doing so. Amnesty or some other human rights group should bring a case.

(Another option is a complaint to the Ombudsman. This has the advantage that it is free, and if taken up would likely have the same result. But it would hinge on the questions of whether a decision to turn someone over to torture was "a matter of administration", and on whether anyone other than a victim of such mistreatment had standing to complain. And it would need more information than is contained in the SST story to back it up. But if any human rights group can build a case, I'd urge them to pursue this avenue as well).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hard time for Kuch nomads in Afghanistan.

I have written a number of articles on Kuchi nomads and today the editor of the Kuchi Voice wrote to me asking for my support in raising awareness of the threat they face from the Hazara people

Hazara are stealing land that has belonged to the Kuchi people for thousands of years, long before the mongols (Hazara) arrived to Afghanistan. Yet they don't respect the rights of the Kuchi people and harass them when ever it suits them. The true masters of the Hazara's is the evil's axis Iran who supports them and guides them to eliminate Kuchi people.
For further information read below or go to the Kuchi voice.

For Kuchi nomads like Rahmat Goal's family, survival is a daily struggle

It took me eight hours to hike through the Hindu Kush mountains in Turkman Dara in northern Afghanistan to get to Rahmat's tent.
His only neighbours are the high peaks of the Hindu Kush, and the wild spring that flows through a nearby valley.
His dog, Babar, keeps a watchful eye for wolves and other dangerous animals that occasionally breach the boundaries of his territory.
"Even the tigers and lions are scared of my dog," boasts Rahmat with a grin.
Originally from south-eastern Afghanistan, Rahmat's family experienced the hardship of the Soviet occupation.

"When the Russians came, everyone fled but we couldn't, because we had hundreds of sheep, goats and camels.
"We didn't have anywhere else to go, so we stayed," remembers Rahmat bitterly.
The decision to remain in Afghanistan ended up costing Rahmat's family dear.
"One morning we left for the border with Pakistan and a landmine blew up five of my family members and killed dozens of our animals.
"It was all the more painful because we had to leave their bodies and continue," recalls Rahmat, his eyes welling up with tears.

Kuchi nomads moving lock, stock and barrel through the highlands of Central Afghanistan.

'Promises broken'
For as long as Afghans can remember, Kuchis have provided the backbone of the trade and commerce that occurs at the cross-section between South Asia and the Middle East.

They have also borne the brunt of Afghanistan's wars throughout the years.
When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Kuchis arguably suffered more than anyone else as they were without shelter and constantly found themselves amid the fighting.
The lifestyle of the Kuchi nomads means most of them are kept out of touch with the modern world - they still spend their lives without proper sanitation or formal education systems.
Although the life of the Kuchi has always been hard, they say things have worsened under the current Afghan government.
"Hospitals turn down our sick, and cemeteries deny our dead," says a Kuchi elder in the capital, Kabul.
''We are disappointed but we are trying to get our rights recognised. We have met President Karzai who has promised to end our suffering and we trust his word," says the elder, sipping green tea at his Kabul mansion.

The Kuchis comprise approximately six million of Afghanistan's 25 million citizens, and they primarily consist of Pashtun and Baloch nomads. Kuchis are also estimated to make up half of Afghanistan's Pashtun population.
The status quo is intolerable, Kuchis say, as they continue to be denied health care, education and electricity.
Kuchi elders are clearly frustrated with President Karzai: "We need schools, clinics and our rights. We all voted for Karzai but he never honoured his promises," says another elder.
Young Kuchis, such as 14-year-old Zar Gola, hope to attend school, but instead they must tend livestock in order to ensure their family's survival.
Zar Gola has been a shepherd for the last five years, and when she turns 16 she will have to take on more responsibilities, such as milking the animals.
She is a shy young girl with weary, weathered eyes set above long, slim cheek bones.
"When we travel for days, I do see a lot of girls and boys going and coming from school. I want to be like them but we travel all the time," says Zar Gola.
'Not worried'
Unfortunately, critics say, the Karzai administration seems only to pay attention to Kuchi demands during election years.

Kuchis often note that Naim Kuchi, the nomads' most prominent figure, was only freed from imprisonment by the US-led coalition in the months preceding the post-Taleban presidential elections of 2005.
In this time of extraordinary uncertainty about Afghanistan's future, Kuchis appear as resilient as ever.
"I love being a Kuchi because this is the life my forefathers practised, and I have no interest in leaving my tradition. We will be packing again very soon for the east of the country before winter arrives," says a Kuchi father of four.
He pauses before continuing: "I am not worried about it at all because that is the life of a Kuchi."

Thanks to Bilal Sarwary BBC News, Afghanistan, for permission to quote him.