Talking to the Taliban: Violence against women not on the cards

As the world marks International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day, Afghan women such as Bibi Aisha are wondering what’s in store for them as the international community eyes a troop withdrawal while talking to the Taliban.

‘Professor of War’ Petraeus Rolls Into Town, Armed With PowerPoint

He’s been famously dubbed “the professor of war.” So when top US commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus addressed students at a Paris campus, he arrived with a teacher’s best weapon: a PowerPoint presentation.

McChrystal Fired: Happy Taliban, Happy ISI

In an earlier blog post, before Obama fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, I said the US president had two choices: Accept McChrystal’s resignation and appear thin-skinned. Reject it and look like a wimp.

When Obama took the thin-skinned option, public opinion was surprisingly supportive about McChrystal’s ouster.

There are many reasons why kicking out McChrystal based on a shoddy piece of one-sided reporting, written in testosterone-driven prose and published in a pop-culture magazine was NOT a good idea.

The best reason is best described in the New York Times piece, "Pakistan Is Said to Pursue a Foothold in Afghanistan," by Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Carlotta Gall.

Obama’s overreaction to published locker-room quotes has handed the Taliban, its al Qaeda friends and their Pakistani state intelligence backers their biggest PR coup in years.

Haven’t they always maintained that “the Americans” are too divided, too fractious, too encumbered by democratic forces at home to ever win this war?

Time to Go: Why Did 2 Top Afghan Security Bosses Quit?

Nobody really accepted the official version of the story. So now that the theories are starting to roll out, they’re worth considering.

On Sunday, the Afghan presidential palace announced the resignations of the country’s interior minister, Hanif Atmar, and intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh.

The breaking news alert was presented as a fait accompli and caught everyone by surprise. Usually this sort of news starts with unconfirmed reports, followed by official confirmations, which in turn are followed by official announcements. This time, the old steps were skipped.


Instead, we got a statement from the presidential palace, no less, informing us that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had already accepted the resignations. The stated reason was the officials’ failure to prevent the attacks on the peace jirga. (See blog, “Let the jirga games begin – with a bang")

Yesterday’s leaders have a plan for tomorrow’s peace

In the end, the 1,600-odd jirga delegates hammered out a proposal – that’s the good news.

But that’s also hardly surprising. The delegates were, after all, handpicked by the Karzai administration.

Where was Rashid Dostum, the warlord from the North and powerful Junbish boss? Count the Uzbeks out.

No sign of Mohammad Mohaqiq either. Should we count the Hazaras out as well?

And then, there were the old familiars: Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan prime minister, the man who could not control Afghanistan’s descent into civil war following the Soviet withdrawal.

Rabbani of all people was made jirga chair in a last-minute pre-jirga negotiation.

If we’re looking to Rabbani for the future stability of Afghanistan, I’m investing in a new wardrobe of body armor for the future.

Let the jirga games begin – with a bang

After many delays, several faux pas, and much discourse over conflicting goals and a lack of direction, the much-awaited peace jirga kicked off this morning – with a bang.


The usual bang – or bangs – it must be said, although this time, the rockets came pretty close.


The first one came just as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was delivering the inaugural address inside the giant white tent erected on the grounds of the Kabul Polytechnic University.


It did however provide an opportunity for some quintessentially Karzai stabs at humor. “Perhaps someone’s trying to fire a rocket,” he quipped in deadpan mode. “Even a three-year-old would not be afraid. Let’s continue.” And continue he did, to his credit.


But then, as the sounds of rockets and gunfire inched closer, Karzai wrapped up his speech and promptly left.


Shahzad: A ‘singleton’ simpleton?

A week after Faisal Shahzad stormed the headlines more successfully than he stormed Times Square, a new mot du jour is making the rounds.

In case you haven’t caught it on the punditry trail as yet, it’s “singleton”.

Yes, singleton. Never knew that one before – thought it had something to do with mathematics or software programming. But now here it is on the counter-terror talk shows.

Richard Clarke, former US anti-terror czar, dropped the word during his interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s GPS this weekend. Steve Coll was on it last week, in his blog posting, "The case of Faisal Shahzad" (

Hakimullah Mehsud: Death by drone, resurrection by video

He’s dead. He’s alive. He’s dead. He’s alive.


It’s hard to keep up with the number of times Tehrik-e-Taliban’s goateed, AK-47-toting, beret-sporting chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, has been definitively killed - only to rise again.


But I’m trying.


Let’s see…he was declared dead last October, I remember.


But then he surfaced and issued a statement that read like a Journalism 101 class. Get your facts right, Mehsud jeered, noting that reports couldn’t seem to decide if he was killed on his way to Multan, Arukzai or Shaktai.


Then he was killed again in Jan this year. This time in Orakzai. No wait, it was South Waziristan. Or was it the North? Unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials swore on this latest drone strike. Successors were named and analyzed.


I remember the succession list included Qari Hussain Mehsud. This pleased me since I’m a creature of continuity.


It’s here, the much-awaited Pentagon Afghanistan progress report

Just printed my weekend reading: the much-awaited Pentagon report to Congress titled, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan”. That’s 152 pages of mostly not-so-good, but not-all-that-bad either progress report on Afghanistan from Oct. 1, 2009 through March 2010.

For those interested in ploughing through the report, just click here.

For those interested in a summary, here goes: Overall, there were real signs of progress on stability, thanks to the military surge.

Bad news for Afghan President Hamid Karzai though as he prepares for his Washington visit next month: the Afghan population supports Karzai’s government only 29 of the 121 strategically important provinces.

The reason for this? Corruption and inefficiency. This is not going make the current resident at the Arg (the Afghan Presidential Palace) very happy - just as Washington and Kabul were trying to mend those fences…