Afghan General Abdul Raziq (C), police chief of Kandahar, poses for a picture during a graduation ceremony at a police training centre in Kandahar province on 19 February, 2017. JAWED TANVEER / AFP

What happened?

At least one gunman attacked a gathering of Afghan and U.S. officials inside the Kandahar governor’s compound on the afternoon of 18 October. The shooter, believed to be one of the governor’s guards, killed the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar Police Chief Abdul Raziq. The provincial chief of the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service, was also killed. Kandahar Governor Zalmai Wesa was wounded but survived. The NATO-led mission said that three of its personnel were wounded but that the top U.S. commander in the country, General Austin Miller, who was in the meeting with Raziq, escaped unharmed.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Real Lesson of Sept. 11

It has taken me a while to realize something.

Seventeen years ago, I saw a picture of Mohamed Atta for the first time, and my blood boiled from the sound of his voice emanating from the television, as he said over the airplane’s intercom system: “We have some planes, just stay quiet and you’ll be O.K. We are returning to the airport.” Instead, he crashed it between the 93rd and 99th floors of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

My 23-year-old brother, James, was on the 102nd floor.

Staring at that picture of Atta, I would have visions of what my brother’s final moments were like.…  Seguir leyendo »

Afghan residents walk near destroyed houses after a Taliban attack in Ghazni on 16 August 2018. AFP/Zakeria Hashimi

The new U.S. adviser on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has a tough assignment: fostering peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Crisis Group’s Borhan Osman says that recent violence has soured the public mood, but that leaders on all sides still appear committed – at least rhetorically – to peace talks.

On 4 September 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad would join the State Department as an adviser on Afghanistan. Khalilzad will, in the Secretary of State’s words, “assist in the reconciliation effort”; his appointment is a welcome signal of Washington’s renewed intent to find a negotiated settlement to the war pitting the Afghan government and its international allies against the Taliban insurgency.…  Seguir leyendo »

Zakeria Hashimi/AFP/Getty Images An Afghan policeman with coffins containing corpses following clashes between Afghan forces and Taliban fighters, Ghazni, Afghanistan, August 14, 2018

It was one more sign of the times that, on the day before the start of the Muslim religious holiday Eid al-Adha, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was delivering a speech in what must be one of the most heavily-fortified city centers in the world, multiple mortar rounds struck Kabul’s diplomatic quarter. Ghani was offering the Taliban a ceasefire over the holidays. On this occasion, two attackers were eventually found and killed.

The wars in Afghanistan that have endured for nearly thirty-nine years, during which time US troops have been involved in fighting for close to seventeen of them, would be surreal if the resulting bloodshed were not so very real. …  Seguir leyendo »

An Afghan National Army soldier keeps watch at a checkpoint on the Ghazni-Kabul highway on Aug. 14, 2018. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

On Aug. 11, more than 1,000 Taliban fighters stormed Ghazni, a city of some 270,000 Afghans less than 100 miles from Kabul, quickly overrunning its defenders. Over the next five days, Taliban forces sacked government buildings, seized the central prison, and looted and burned police stations. Driving the Taliban out required more than three dozen airstrikes as well as house-to-house fighting that left an estimated 250 civilians dead, hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police casualties, and large areas of downtown Ghazni destroyed. Humanitarian operations have been halting; the Taliban mined many of the central approaches, including the key Highway 1 linking Kabul to Ghazni, and clearing operations still continue.…  Seguir leyendo »

A peace demonstrator in Kabul on June 18. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

Starting June 15, the world witnessed a not-so-minor miracle: a three-day cessation of violence across Afghanistan. Taliban fighters, young and old, crossed battle lines to embrace their erstwhile adversaries in the Afghan security forces. A small contingent of determined citizen peace activists from the embattled southern province of Helmand braved sweltering summer heat and the trials of the Ramadan fast to deliver a message about the country’s deep thirst for peace.

Forged by years of conflict and failed negotiation attempts, the cease-fire was not the first step on the path to a political settlement. But it may very well be the most critical.…  Seguir leyendo »

Taliban fighters visit the government-controlled areas to greet people and celebrate Eid together during the recent cease-fire in Kandahar, Afghanistan.CreditMuhammad Sadiq/Epa-Efe, via Rex, via Shutterstock

About half of Afghanistan’s population — around 33 million — is young enough to have never seen a day of peace. The milestones of their young lives have been marked by loss and violence. For 38 years now, peace in my country has remained a dream, a prayer on our lips.

On June 15, on the festival of Eid, our prayers were answered. A few days earlier, as the month of Ramadan was coming to an end, almost 3,000 Islamic scholars convened in Kabul and issued a fatwa reminding us that the quest for peace is a commandment of Allah and a national imperative.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Thursday, Afghanistan’s national cricket team will play India in a Test match, a form of the game — taking place over five seven-hour days — reserved for a select group of nations. In cricket’s near 150-year history of international fixtures, only 11 countries have competed at that level; Afghanistan becomes the 12th.

The achievement marks another high point in a remarkable ascent: Emerging from refugee camps in Pakistan and only officially formed in 1995, Afghanistan’s cricket team has surmounted obstacles unknown to most athletes — terrorism, displacement, war — and with flair and panache that have won admirers the world over.…  Seguir leyendo »

Boys play soccer in Bamian, Afghanistan where the Taliban destroyed one of two ancient Buddha statues in 2001.CreditShefayee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On April 19, a convoy of Canadian officials intercepted Joshua Adams, a 24-year-old counselor for homeless gay teenagers in Toronto, on a remote road in central Afghanistan. They tracked him down by following his Instagram account, where he had been posting images of himself drinking tea with the Taliban in Helmand.

Mr. Adams hadn’t traveled the 6,755 miles to Helmand to join the Taliban or to volunteer in a battle against the Islamic State. He had gone to explore the history of Afghanistan, from the empty niches of the Bamiyan Buddhas to the Great Mosque of Herat, famed for its exquisite tile mosaicsmonuments attesting to the country’s place on the Silk Road.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the honor guard stand outside the presidential palace in Kabul during Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s visit to Afghanistan on March 13, 2018. (Thomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images)

Is there hope for an end to the long war in Afghanistan? A month ago, President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban a “comprehensive peace deal.”Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the United States is open to a peace settlement in Afghanistan. And some Taliban leaders have expressed an interest in talks, as well.

For now, however, the prospects for peace in Afghanistan remain grim. There are multiple steps to a potential deal — and many barriers to success. Here are five pitfalls on the road to peace.

1) Will the Taliban negotiate?

The Taliban chief, Haibatullah Akhundzada, has not responded to the peace offer.…  Seguir leyendo »

Suicide bombers from a breakaway Taliban faction in the border area of Zabul Province in Afghanistan in 2016. Credit Mirwais Khan/Associated Press

The Taliban appear to have rejected the bold proposal by President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan to invite them for direct peace talks with the government. In an unsigned commentary published last week on their official website, the Taliban said, “The permission of peace and war are with the Americans ….” and claimed that their policy of wanting to “talk to American invaders about peace and stability rather than talking to their slave regime is now widely accepted by the independent Western analysts and other intellectuals.”

Instead of dealing with the Kabul government, the Taliban want to talk to the United States, which they see as the decisive actor on the battlefield.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, right, and the country’s first lady, Rula Ghani, left, pray during the Kabul Process conference at the Afghan presidential palace on Feb. 28. Credit Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Feb. 28, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan made the most comprehensive offer inviting the Taliban to join direct, formal peace talks with the Afghan government. The offer, made without preconditions, recognizes the role of the Taliban in Afghan politics and seeks to proceed toward a comprehensive peace agreement.

President Ghani’s offer is the result of the Kabul Process, which saw delegates from 30 countries and international organizations — including the United Nations, NATO and the European Union — gather and deliberate in Kabul.

The announcement of the peace initiative was preceded by months of national consensus building in Afghanistan. Members of the High Peace Council, the inclusive body of Afghan elders formed to steer efforts for peace and dialogue; the government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah; and President Ghani had long deliberations and consultations with Afghan political figures, members of civil society, clergy, women and youth.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Cost of Escalating Violence in Afghanistan

Over one week, as many as 130 people, the overwhelming majority civilians, were killed in twin attacks claimed by the Taliban in Kabul. On 20 January, five Taliban suicide bombers attacked the Intercontinental Hotel, killing at least 22 people, mostly foreigners, after breaching the security of the heavily guarded building. Almost half the dead were employees of Afghan airline carrier, Kam Air. Families and friends of civilians trapped in the fourteen-hour siege spent the night in the sub-zero temperature outside the hotel waiting for news of their loved ones.

A week later the Taliban launched a deadlier attack, killing over 100 people, again mostly civilians.…  Seguir leyendo »

Après l’explosion de l’ambulance piégée, qui a fait 103 morts et 235 blessés, samedi, à Kaboul. Photo Sandra Calligaro

L es derniers attentats à Kaboul, qui ont fait plus d’une centaine de morts, reflètent une dégradation continue de la sécurité en Afghanistan. Pourtant, l’armée américaine, seule en charge du dossier afghan en raison du chaos à la Maison Blanche, est optimiste. A en croire les Américains, la nouvelle stratégie américaine serait un turning point, trois éléments marquant une inflexion décisive depuis l’an passé. D’abord, ces derniers mois ont vu une utilisation massive de la puissance aérienne. L’intensité des opérations est comparable à 2012, quand 150 000 hommes de la coalition combattaient en Afghanistan. Et elle devrait encore augmenter cette année.…  Seguir leyendo »

In December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Indian diplomats that Moscow supported diplomatic engagement with the Taliban.

Lavrov’s justification for this bold pronouncement? He argued that no Afghan peace settlement could proceed without the Taliban’s participation — and that dialogue with the Taliban would reduce the risk of terrorism diffusing from Afghanistan to Central Asia.

That’s just part of the story, though. My research on Russia’s Afghan strategy suggests that Moscow’s diplomatic engagement with the Taliban actually aims to challenge internationally accepted rules of engagement with the Islamic extremist organization.

Russian policymakers support engagement with Taliban factions that support a diplomatic settlement in Afghanistan, while eschewing factions that seek to destabilize the war-torn country.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters step on an image of the United States flag and President Trump in Peshawar, Pakistan, this month. Credit Arshad Arbab/European Pressphoto Agency

The failing relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been failing for such a long time that experts are running out of breakup metaphors to describe it: separation, divorce and — that mutual favorite — back-stabbing friends.

When Hillary Clinton visited Islamabad as secretary of state a few years ago, she was asked why America behaved like a disgruntled mother-in-law. An American official was once quoted as saying that Pakistanis were the kind of people who would sell their mother for a few thousand dollars. That hurt.

These banal analogies hide the basic facts. A monstrous pact between these two countries has destroyed another country called Afghanistan, twice over.…  Seguir leyendo »

On 21 November, the U.S. military began major airstrikes against what it described as Taliban drug labs in the north of Helmand province of Afghanistan. Yet a coercive counter-narcotics campaign will solve neither the country’s poppy boom nor the Taliban’s profiting from it, which has long depended to an extraordinary extent on very local dynamics.

It is no secret that the Taliban bankrolls its operations in part by drug money, with estimates of its annual share of the multi-billion-dollar illicit drug economy ranging from tens to a few hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars. The staggering 87 per cent increase in Afghanistan’s opium production in 2017, as reported by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) this month, also means more profits for the Taliban.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is mobilizing local community militias in Afghanistan an effective solution to an insurgency? U.S. military policymakers in Afghanistan recently proposed a “new” Afghan National Army Territorial Force to supplement U.S. and Afghan forces. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is considering the plan.

In the short term, recruiting local forces to defend their own community can be a low-cost way to sustain control of disputed territory. In particular, local militias can provide valuable intelligence on the whereabouts of insurgents, and therefore help prevent the state from committing indiscriminate violence against civilians.

But our research suggests that using civilians to identify insurgents typically provokes a response from rebel groups — and actually increases their use of violence against civilians.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the Afghan security forces hold men suspected of suicide bomb attacks, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in October. Credit Ghulamullah Habibi/European Pressphoto Agency

Conventional wisdom holds that withdrawing all or a significant number of American troops from Afghanistan would lead to a Taliban takeover and the creation of a new safe haven for militants bent on attacking the United States. This threat was cited by President Trump during a speech in August where, in laying out his strategy for the war, he asserted that “a hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum which terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would fill, just as happened before Sept. 11.” It was also echoed in numerous National Security Council meetings I attended during the Obama administration.

But such dire consequences are far from certain.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sitting cross-legged on the floor of a sparsely decorated Kabul apartment, the young, bubbly woman told me why she lies to her neighbors.

She tells them she’s a nurse when they inquire, as they always do. She leaves the house in civilian clothes and changes into her crisp uniform only when she’s on base. This Afghan woman in her 20s, who asked that her name not be used for her safety, is part of a small, brave group of women serving in Afghanistan’s security forces. If her neighbors found out, she says, they’d surely kill her.

Sixteen years into a controversial United States-led war in Afghanistan — one billed in part as a mission to liberate Afghan women — the United States is pouring millions of dollars into bolstering the ranks of women in the police, the army and other branches of the security forces.…  Seguir leyendo »