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The present NATO strategy in Afghanistan is referred to as COIN (counterinsurgency strategy). The main objective of this strategy is gaining the trust of Afghan civilians by winning their “hearts and minds,” a strategy that decreased violence and possibly prevented an all out civil war in Iraq in 2007. In Afghanistan however, violence has increased dramatically the past two years, and although it is still early to say whether the COIN strategy is working or not, the statistics show a dark image of the future of the country. Lorenzo Zambernardi, a University of Bologna-Forli lecturer and doctoral candidate of Ohio State University’s Political Science department has written an interesting article on the “impossible trilemma of counterinsurgency.”

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By Tahira Saleem, GPS Issue Analyst on Iraq and Afghanistan

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai has recently announced the formation of a new Peace Council headed by the former President Burhanudin Rabbani. The new peace council is another effort for reintegration of the Taliban in the country’s political system. The earlier Kabul conference and London conference had similar aims of brokering peace with the warring factions in Afghanistan. But the question arises about whether this new council promises any hope for the war-torn country.

The peace council, the brainchild of Karzai, has neglected the Afghan traders, intellectuals, and the members of civil society. All of its 69 hand-picked members are Afghan warlords; the key figure among them is Burhanudin Rabbani, who is implicated in war crimes of killing and displacement of Afghan people.

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By Tahira Saleem
Tahira is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Tahira below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

President Obama’s coming into the office was heralded as the wind of change and people pinned their hopes on the new leadership in the White House; their aspirations were fulfilled when he announced a new policy for Iraq and Afghanistan. Ever since his announcement of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Operation New Dawn in Iraq, a question has arisen about the future of youth in these two countries.

In the wake of troop withdrawal, the youth have got an enormous opportunity for carving their dream countries. The Iraqi youth, who have been grappling with an authoritarian rule and violence perpetrated by the state, can translate their dreams of liberalism, democracy, and blooming economy by playing a pivotal role in the reconstruction of their country. As Iraqi people are coping with a relentless wave of terrorism and violence, the youth of Iraq must take on the responsibility of their country’s security and safety by joining the national forces, because there can be no reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war-stricken people without peace in Iraq. Moreover, the youth must not join the ranks of extremists who promise to liberate Iraq from occupant forces.

Though Afghanistan has yet to see the troop pullout, but the tide of fundamentalism can be reversed and Afghan history can be re-written only when the Afghan youth realize the gravity of situation. They say “waters of vengeance run deep in Pushtun culture”, but this vengeful policy will push the country deeper into an abyss. In this critical phase, the Afghan youth must lend a helping hand to the International Security Forces for bringing relief to the local population from the obscurantist ideology. Youth in Afghanistan can enjoy an uninterrupted period of peace and tranquility, only when they believe that challenge is an opportunity to make the things better.

Tahira Saleem is a young writer and researcher from Multan, Pakistan. A regular contributor to Pakistan’s leading English daily DAWN, she has a couple of research projects on her credit. She is the only Pakistani whose research paper “Persecuted by Law” by has been selected for the panel presentation in the World Forum 2010.

About 40 % of the Afghan population are Pashtuns, and there are 4 million Pashtuns living in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a nation divided, a nation that holds the key to security in the region. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a Pasthun native, has to some degree neglected the Pasthun population the past 9 years, and while keeping up a tight relationship with India, Pakistan is stirring up the Pashtuns in order to undermine the Afghan government.

The relationship amongst the Pashtun people is one of the reasons why the U.S. objective of a secure and stable Afghanistan has failed so far. Pashtunwali, the Pashtun social code, was one of the reasons the Pashtun population of Baluchistan, FATA and the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan gave shelters to the Taliban and al-Qaeda warriors, and thereby letting them regroup and conduct operations, rest and recreate, and train from inside their bases within Pakistan. This creates a situation that makes it difficult for the U.S. and NATO to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, as most of the main insurgent groups have their bases in Pakistan. The provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar are the most violent regions in Afghanistan, and the insurgents in these provinces conduct their operations from Pakistan (e.g. the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network)

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By Kevin Hudnell
Kevin is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Kevin below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Faced with the challenge of improving “U.S.-Muslim relations,” three people could come up with three different interpretations of exactly what that term encompasses. One would be concerned with how American society continues to view the American Muslim population with prejudice and suspicion. The second might be concerned about how the U.S. treats the worldwide Muslim population and how that population thinks of the U.S. in turn. A third might be concerned with the faltering relations between the U.S. and various Muslim governments.

Yet these three problems are all connected. The treatment of Muslims in America has to square with our message of tolerance to Muslims abroad, and the success of U.S. interaction with Muslim governments is limited by how those governments see the U.S. treating Muslims at home and abroad. So, while the average American has little power to directly better the chances of amicable relations with Iran or bring about a peaceable resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, efforts to advance U.S.-Muslim relations here at home can advance U.S.-Muslim relations abroad as well.

There’s no unique role for college students to play in determining how the U.S. treats its Muslim population. But people, in general, have a responsibility here and young people are best poised to shoulder it. We have the option of inheriting stereotypes and prejudices passed down to us by the elder generation or passed on to us by the media, or not. We have the option of going out in the streets protesting the “Ground Zero Mosque,” or not. We have the option of looking no better to foreign audiences than Hezbollah supporters burning American flags look to us, or not.

Young people cannot directly affect U.S. foreign policy. We can, however, start working to engender an atmosphere in which well-reasoned and intelligent policy can take root.

Kevin Hudnell graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with a double major in Peace, War and Defense and Public Policy Analysis. His research interests focus on relations both among Middle Eastern states and between the Middle East and the U.S. He has traveled and studied in Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. His peers have described him variously as a strategic genius, a political pragmatist, and a jerk.

By Eamon Penland

As a follow-up to my first post, and in a response to a recent AIDemocracy tweet, I decided to address the issue of development with regards to our security.

Just the other night I had a conversation with a friend who tried to argue against our foreign aid budget. He argued that development should neither be an objective of U.S. foreign policy, nor an issue we should be concerned with.

I think the role that the United States plays in the development of other countries is still seen by many in the light of “liberal tree huggers that just want to save the world”. It should be seen in a light of the ultimate form of American protectionism.

We need to realize that terrorism is more than just an ideology. It is an economic system as well. In David Kilcullen’s book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, Kilcullen argues that a majority of terrorists have no interest in what he calls “Takfiri Islam”. This is the radical form of Islam that we associate with terrorism. Takfiri believers infiltrate tribes by marrying into families, thus they are able to conceal themselves amongst the local more moderate believers. These radicals are small in numbers, and they become extremely difficult to pick out of local populations.

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By Eamon Penland
Eamon is one of AIDemocracy’s new 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find his bio, and a description of the Issue Analyst program, below.

As we continue to withdraw troops from the region and shift our focus to other
problems such as Iran, we, as young people, must continue to stay informed.
That is our only real duty as citizens of the most powerful democratic country in
the world.

We don’t need to protest or go and fight necessarily. We are unfortunately
fighting more difficult battles at home. Sure, the stock market and economic
outlook look bleak, but we face other problems. Right now we are fighting the
problems of ignorance and apathy.

How is our democracy supposed to work if we have uninformed citizens voting
and making decisions or, even worse, not voting at all? How many of my friends
don’t have a clue what is going on in the world? My answers to these questions
are it can’t and most. What do you think?

So what role will we play as young people?

Our role as young people should be to stay as well informed as possible. Well,
this should be easier than ever, right? True, we do have more information at
our fingertips than ever before. We are the technology generation, and we must
realize that technology can and will influence our lives; however, we must also
remember that this constant exposure to information is both good and bad. We
can be easily blinded by others biases. It’s important that the issues at hand are
understood and discussed.

As young people we could make a difference by fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq
and protesting, but, for most, those options aren’t realistic; however, influencing
those around us is something we do every day. By influencing those around us
we can in turn influence policy makers. There will be policy decisions to be made
in the near future regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. Let’s make sure they are the
right ones.

Eamon is a senior Foreign Affairs Major at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. After taking classes regarding US foreign policy and learning about the Middle East, he realized the importance of staying up to date with what is going on in that region in order to make accurate and well thought out responses regarding issues taking place there. As we try to pull troops out of the region, he believes we must remember and learn from past mistakes so that we don’t create problems for ourselves in the future.

On September 18th, Afghanistan will hold its parliamentary election for the lower house, Wolesi Jirga. 2,577 candiates, 405 of them women, have filed to run for the 249 seats. The election was originally set to be held in May, but was postponed due to “lack of security and logistics.” Different factions within the Taliban have threatened to kill those participating in the election, and as last year, they have proclaimed a boycott.  At worst, 15 % of the polling places won’t be open on election day, due to the threats, election officials in Kabul say.

The presidential election of 2009 was a catastrophe.  There were large-scale frauds, low voter turnout, threats from a variety of groups and a general lack of security. The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan collected evidence of election fraud, and Afghans working for the BBC found out there was voting cards being sold on the black market on a massive scale. Hundreds of polling stations in areas where governmental influence is low were shut down the day before the election, allegedly because of the fear of insurgent attacks. There is also evidence that bribes were being offered in order to buy significant amount of votes, to influence the outcome of the election. Voting irregularities occurred as well, especially in the southern province of Helmand, where the numbers of voters in one poll suddenly tripled even though the guards at the poll station had seen very little activity that day.

Western officials have been very clear on the fact that there had been election corruption and that people did not show up because of the lack of security and a sense of apathy towards the government. The Parliamentary election in just a few days faces the same issues the presidential election experienced one year ago. This is a massive test for the security forces in Afghanistan, and for the government officials. If they manage to keep corruption, fraud and violence to a minimum we might see a change of atmosphere in the country, and a new attitude toward the decision makers. However, increased violence and heavy fighting the past year does not leave hopes that high, at least not mine.

-Hakon Kristinsen Moe, Global Peace and Security Program Intern

Within the mainstream media, the Taliban in Afghanistan is often portrayed like many other enemies to America…”ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America and providing aide to Al-Qaeda if they are to regain control of Afghanistan.” Granted, this characterization is not completely devoid of some truth. I do think it is entirely fair to claim that they would provide a haven to Al-Qaeda if they came back into power in Afghanistan. However, the characterization of them as “ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America,” undoubtedly leaves me a bit skeptical. After all, waging a war against an enemy has many fronts, including on the front of public opinion, so naturally, I hesitate to believe much of the picture that the mainstream media tries to paint. And my skepticism was justified after I saw this:

Taliban Primp, Sing, Snipe U.S. Troops In Rare Video

The video is an approximately 20 minute documentary film by a Norwegian documentary filmmaker who managed to embed himself with a Taliban troop outfit hiding up in the mountains of Afghanistan, launching repeated attacks on American convoys. The film does not glorify or romanticize the Taliban in my view. It tells the story of the war in Afghanistan from the point of view of the Taliban (albeit a small subsection of it) like it is, which is simultaneously disturbing and fascinating. It portrays “them” as they are and gives particular insight into who they are and why they are fighting. At the very least, the film humanizes them, and while I was watching it, I was frequently reminded of several other war films I have seen of late, the most recent of which being “The Hurt Locker.” I am continually fascinated by the portrayals in this film (and others) of the desensitization of violence that occurs amongst the troops and the  dehumanization of the enemy that takes place so that it’s easier for American troops to kill them in combat without feeling remorse. The reason I was continually reminded of this while I was watching the documentary was because I noticed that the Taliban troops exhibited the same characteristics.

The conclusion I came to after watching this film, of which I think should be the goal that we all aspire to, is to recognize that war is something that needs to be avoided, at all costs, because the result is that it causes us to dehumanize each other when instead we should be recognizing and embracing the commonalities that we all share. After all, if we instead focused more on seeing each other as fellow human beings, we just might have less of an inclination to kill each other.

by Evin Maria Phoenix, AIDemocracy Regional Coordinator

Not that we ever left. Indeed, the United States has been entrenched in the brutal landscape of Afghanistan for nearly a decade, becoming America’s longest war (USA Today). We’ve also poured somewhere between a conservative estimate of $32 Billion (not including Iraq) and a staggering $3 Trillion (including Iraq) into our military campaigns and infrastructural projects, sometimes going completely down the drain as an “outrageous waste of taxpayer money.”

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One would think we have a lot to show for it. Also, one would certainly hope that we’re safer as a nation. While back-and-forth debate endlessly circulates amongst us all, one issue almost always goes without address. In fact, it was used as partial justification for the invasion: the plight of women.

In fact, before the Wikileaks non-crisis, it seemed like everyone forgot all about Afghanistan. Lindsay Lohan dominated the CNN headlines and Twitter trending topics whilst “the plight of Afghanistan’s women” took a backseat on a long bus ride to nowhere. It’s time for a second look at what originally warranted the Bush-led pied-piper clarion call.

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