Jul 29, 2010

The Washington Post: Local strongman is U.S. troops' most reliable friend in Kandahar province

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 29, 2010; A01
NOW RUZI, AFGHANISTAN -- Haji Ghani is an illiterate, hashish-growing former warlord who directs a semiofficial police force and is known to show his anger through beatings. In this Taliban nest west of Kandahar, he is also U.S. forces' main partner.
Never mind that the district governor says Ghani, 44, works against him, or that U.S. soldiers describe him as Godfather-like and his police as vaguely crooked. In an area rife with insurgents who stalk soldiers' every move, Ghani's militia has carved out a four-square-mile bubble of tranquillity. Farmers can safely collect U.S.-funded seeds, and children will soon attend a new American-backed school.
"What's his is ours. What's ours is his," Lt. John Paszterko, 29, said of Ghani, a onetime anti-Soviet commander who now rules his tribal forefathers' lands. "He's a good friend to have."
As coalition forces struggle to weaken the Taliban, they insist that the key to doing so lies in bolstering Afghan institutions. Yet with government rule confined to certain densely populated areas, U.S. officials rely on strongmen who can maintain order in the most treacherous locales, even if their commitment to formal governance is dubious.
That inconsistency is causing unease in Washington, where Congress is scrutinizing payments of U.S. tax dollars to warlords who protected NATO convoys, and in Kabul, where critics fear that a U.S.-backed plan for village defense groups could spawn rogue militias or undermine government authority.
"In that scenario, the Afghan government doesn't gain any strength or legitimacy," one U.S. official working in Kandahar province said of alliances with strongmen who operate independently of the state. But, the official said, "we're on such a short timetable that people are looking and going, 'Oh, well. That area's stable -- full stop.' "
Common mission
The dynamic is present across this long-embattled nation, where former warlords are a dime a dozen and power is typically won with guns or money. Against that backdrop, Ghani is a minor player. With an AK-47 slung over his bony shoulder, he lords over 3,000 acres of his ancestors' farmland.
But Ghani's area, which includes three villages along the fertile Arghandab River, has suddenly become the focus of U.S. forces' latest push to defeat the Taliban. It lies along a critical entry point into Kandahar city used by the Taliban as a supply route, and government leadership here has long been feeble.
So Ghani and his force of about 40 "soldiers" -- he has about 50 more in reserve -- are vital partners, according to U.S. troops, who said the force might eventually be incorporated into the new village defense plan.
American soldiers and the district governor say that only some of Ghani's men have law enforcement training but that the local police chief, an ally of Ghani, equips them all with uniforms and weapons anyway. On a recent day at Ghani's leafy compound, a few uniformed fighters cleaned tables and served lunch to guests.
They are the closest thing in this area to an Afghan security force. The Afghan army soldiers set to share the U.S. outpost near Now Ruzi had not been deployed by early July. So when the Taliban ambushed Pazsterko's soldiers in late June, Ghani's police helped fight them off. After a roadside bomb detonated near the village, Ghani called in elders and menacingly told them to make sure it did not happen again.
Ghani is "one of the few people who does feel that responsibility" to fight the Taliban, said Capt. Paul N. DeLeon, 29, commander of Combat Outpost Durkin.
That is partly because his lifestyle would be fairly incompatible with Taliban rule. On Ghani's land is a vast field of hashish, which he insists he does not smoke. He offers guests whiskey, though his preferred drink is Red Bull imported from Thailand. He shows off scars from 30 years battling the Soviets and the Taliban under the command of Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf, a former Northern Alliance leader whose fighters have been accused of committing atrocities in the 1990s.
He parades a white horse that he says belonged to Taliban founder Mohammad Omar until 2001, when he fled U.S. forces. One of Omar's laborers passed it to a cleric, who gave it to Ghani as a spoil of war.
"I am the only one who can keep this horse. Only people who have a weapon can keep this horse," Ghani said of the animal, whose mane and tail, like Ghani's hair, are streaked with henna. "If the Taliban sees this horse with anyone else, they will shoot him."
'It's not Switzerland'
Ghani says his wealth comes from his land, which he leases to farmers, and from the "security services" he provides to a Japanese company operating the large gravel quarry on his property. Gravel blankets the U.S. outpost nearby -- a gift from Ghani.
His partnership has been rewarded. U.S. soldiers make sure his fighters have ammunition. Flowing through Ghani's carefully tended garden is a gurgling canal, a project recently completed by the U.S. Agency for International Development that beautified a public park on his land. Outside, construction on the schoolhouse -- which U.S. troops refer to as "Haji Ghani's school" -- is almost done.
Yet DeLeon said the builders regularly complain that Ghani beats them when he is dissatisfied with their work. Farther west on Highway 1, Afghan army Capt. Safi Ahmad, 36, said truckers complain that Ghani's police demand illegal tolls and "torture" those who cannot pay. "By working with him, we're essentially enabling him," DeLeon said.
But DeLeon and NATO officials said they hold out hope that Ghani and others like him will serve as links between the population and the government, even though true government authority would probably work against the strongmen's interests.
"This is southern Afghanistan. It's not Switzerland," said Richard Berthon, the Kandahar-based director of stability for international forces in Afghanistan. "This place is always going to be a combination of the new constitutional and traditional tribal structures and mechanisms. And when things work they tend to be a bit of an amalgam of those two playing off each other."
So far, that does not appear to be happening. Ghani says the district governor, Karim Jan, is too "inexperienced" to be taken seriously as a leader. Jan, for his part, said Ghani spreads rumors denigrating leaders of rival tribes.
Even so, in this Taliban-riddled area, the unorthodox power dynamics are better than the alternative. Soldiers at an outpost visible across the river are ambushed almost daily, and their local power broker is ambivalent about helping.
Over slices of watermelon on a recent afternoon, Ghani pleaded with DeLeon to allow his militia to clear Taliban fighters from the area west of his land to Combat Post Ashoque, which he insisted he could do in one day.
DeLeon assured him U.S. soldiers wanted that, too, but said first they must make sure there were enough Afghan soldiers or police to set up checkpoints in the cleared area.
"I'd like to take it slow, so they feel pressure from all sides," DeLeon said. "Then we'll take them out all at once."
Ghani reluctantly agreed, but then he pressed again. He had just one condition.
"I will clear this area, I guarantee," Ghani said with a smirk. "But during the operation, just don't ask me, 'Why did you arrest somebody? Why did you kill somebody?' "

Bloomberg: U.S. Says Settling South China Sea Disputes 'Leading Diplomatic Priority'

July 23, 2010

By Daniel Ten Kate and Nicole Gaouette, Bloomberg News

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said resolving territorial disputes in waters off China’s coast is “a leading diplomatic priority” as the U.S. strengthens Asian defense ties in the face of a Chinese naval buildup.

Ending disagreements in the South China Sea “is pivotal to regional stability,” Clinton told the 27-member Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi today, according to a transcript provided by the State Department. She is set to meet later today with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Clinton yesterday discussed military cooperation with Vietnam and Defense Secretary Robert Gates restored ties with special forces in Indonesia. The two countries border the South China Sea, which contains sea corridors vital to world trade, and where U.S. officials say China has become more assertive.

China considers the entire South China Sea as its own, dismissing rival claims, and is building a blue-water fleet to project power beyond its own borders. China told some international oil and gas companies to halt exploration in offshore areas that Vietnam considers part of its territory, a U.S. official told Congress last year.

“The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion,” Clinton said. “We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant.”

President Barack Obama invited leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to Washington in the autumn for a second summit with the bloc, Clinton said. Asean includes Myanmar, which Clinton criticized for locking up political prisoners and possibly violating United Nations resolutions concerning North Korea.

China formally disputed the claims of Vietnam and Malaysia to part of the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands when it submitted a map to the United Nations last year asserting ownership over most of the sea. Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also lay claim to all or part of the island chain, which may contain oil and gas reserves.

Asean foreign ministers are negotiating an agreement with China on a code of conduct in the sea to build on a 2002 accord that called for disputes to be resolved peacefully. Ministers hope the deal can be concluded by year’s end and be improved at a later date, Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said yesterday.

Open shipping lanes in the sea are “really the lifeline of our commerce, of our transport for all of us,” Surin told reporters in Hanoi. China, Japan and South Korea “recognize that 85 to 90 percent of their energy source comes either from or through Southeast Asia,” he said.

Estimates of oil and gas reserves vary, with some Chinese studies suggesting the waters contain more oil than Iran and more natural gas than Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc are among companies that have halted projects in the sea because of China’s objections, according to U.S. government agencies.

The U.S. plans to “facilitate initiatives and confidence-building measures” to bridge the gap between parties in the sea, which stretches from Singapore to the Strait of Taiwan, Clinton said, without elaborating. China cut off military ties with the U.S. in January over arms sales to Taiwan.

Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said two days ago that the inability to speak directly with Chinese military leaders was a cause for concern.

China’s long-term military ambition is “not open, it’s not transparent,” he told U.S. troops in South Korea. “Where are they headed and why?”

China doesn’t see U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province, as “normal,” General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, said in Singapore last month.

“The development of China’s national defense capabilities is not aimed at challenging, threatening or invading any other country but at, first and foremost, maintaining its own security,” he said.

Chinese officials told U.S. counterparts in March they consider the sea a “core interest” on par with Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, Kyodo News reported on July 3, citing unidentified officials.

China has criticized joint naval drills between the U.S. and South Korea aimed at deterring North Korea, which the two countries blame for sinking a South Korean warship in March in an attack that killed 46 people.

Jul 12, 2010

Education: The Most Powerful Antidote Part 2

Comparing Education Systems: Pakistan and Indonesia

International security issues due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and wars in the Middle East have placed madaris under scrutiny. Madaris often bear the brunt of the blame when it comes to identifying sources of radicals and terrorists as militaristic education often breeds narrow, extremist worldviews. In a recent publication issued by The Brookings Institution, Corinne Graff and Rebecca Winthrop argue that while there is a clear link between madaris and militancy in the extremist epicenter of Pakistan, there is a need to look at the bigger picture and identify the flaws in the Pakistani education system as a whole.

Many madaris continue to have established links with suicide terrorists and groups such as Sipha-e-Sahaba—however, only a tiny fraction of Pakistani students attend madaris. According to The Brookings Institution, 65% attend public schools, 30% attend private schools and about 5% attend madaris. These statistics dispel the myth of widespread madrasah attendance. Furthermore, the fact that more parents are choosing to send their children to private schools raises alarming questions about the quality of public school education in Pakistan. Graff and Winthrop also highlight the importance of enrollment rates: A study suggests that an increase in one year of average schooling of the population leads to a reduction of about 3.6% of likelihood of conflict.

Unlike the madaris in Pakistan, madaris in Indonesia operate with a national curriculum under the oversight of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Currently, there are about 40,000 madaris in Indonesia, of which around 4,000 are state-owned. The curriculum of primary (basic) and secondary education must include religious education, citizenship, languages, mathematics, natural science, social science, art and culture, physical education and sport, skills/vocational education, and local content. They teach the national curriculum and use extended hours for the purpose of religious education. This curriculum has been in effect since 2006, and students have been able to move freely between religious schools and national public schools due to the standardization.

The reason why madaris in Indonesia have been effective is because they are less expensive than public secondary schools and increase access to education for rural and urban lower- income communities. In addition to the added Islamic education, they have become an attractive option for parents and potential students. Therefore, many of these schools are supported by the local community, many of which are populated by Indonesians who live around or below the poverty line. Where madaris are unavailable, there are pesantrens, which are independent, self-governing Islamic schools. It has been noted that a number of Indonesian pesantrens teach a moderate form of Islam, one that encompasses Islamic mysticism or Sufism. Despite their independence from governmental oversight and stronger focus on Islamic knowledge, they still have to compete with madaris and other secular schools, and therefore many include subjects within the national curriculum.

Quality education comes with a curriculum that is relevant to the labor market while breeding good civic values and citizenship skills. Quality education should be available to all, or governments will run the risk of inflaming civilian grievances. There is a need to look at national education systems and adjust them so that they cater to the population’s needs and address broader security issues.

For Winthrop & Graff's article, please see:

Jul 8, 2010

Education: The Most Powerful Antidote Part 1

The Importance of Education Transformation in the Philippines:

In communities where tension between cultural and religious values often leads to conflict, schools are important transmitters and transformers of cultural values. Increasingly, the schools are also contested terrain. According to Hussin Mutalib, an expert on Southeast Asian issues at the National University of Singapore, there has been a resurgence and reinforcement of the Islamic identity in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, this was especially intensified in the 1950s after the government-sponsored movement of Christians into the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao, placing pressure on Muslim landowners. Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, in a 2003 article "Teaching Between the Cross & The Crescent Moon," identified an upward trend of Muslims going to hajj in Saudi Arabia and seeking education in the Middle East. Since the 1980s when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan, militants from many countries have made pilgrmages to fight a jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan and contested Kashmir. More money and missionaries are being sent from the Middle East to the Philippines and Indonesia where there has been a proliferation of religious schools.

While there have been some modest efforts at educational change in Mindanao that often include interfaith efforts, many Muslim teachers doubt the sincerity of the Philippine government since there has been little change in the conditions of schools. In an impoverished country, the textbook is often the be-all, end-all of education for many children. Unfortunately, Islam culture and Muslim contributions to Philippine history are usually absent form textbooks. Instead, Filipino Muslim history only receives extremely limited representation, and Muslims are typically represented as dangerous rebels. This has contributed to a sense of exclusion. Muslim families have turned to madaris (that usually concentrate on teaching the Arabic language and Islam) to nurture their children's Islamic identities. However, this is problematic as madrasah curriculum is not accepted by the Department of Education, limited opportunities for higher education and jobs for madrasah graduates. Furthermore, sending a Muslim child to two different schools may require the child to learn 4 or more different languages--a problem in an impoverished education system.

When AAI President Albert Santoli first visited the Sulu province in 2002, he found schools in dismal conditions. They were overcrowded, with 60 to 90 children packed into windowless classrooms. There was no running water or proper sanitation facilities, there were no textbooks and only 1 chair for every 7 children. The school health system fared just as poorly. Nurses often do not receive salaries, or funds to purchase medicines. More often than not, they dip into their own pockets to buy aspirin and other basic medicines, even though they have their own children at home.

Asia America Initiative (AAI) believes that Education is key to our overall strategy for the Development for Peace approach as well as for the security of the region. AAI has focused on building Model of Excellence schools, particularly in Sulu, by providing learning and Information Technology (such as computers and educational television), and initiating programs such as Adopt-a-Classroom. AAI also supports college students from the Philippines, raising funds to help pay for our scholars' tuition. AAI believes that education enables communities to rise above intolerance and religious differences, and in the long run, build peace and progress.

AAI has partnered with the U.S. based Muslim Women Coalition and Philippine interfaith organizations to provide direct support for some 25,000 students from pre-school through college. Since the Adopt-a-Classroom program was started, there have been o acts of terrorism in the schools' immediate vicinities. Now students have chairs, desks, textbooks and even some computers. However, this only represents the first stage of the work AAI must do in order to build peace in the region. AAI is currently exploring ways to incorporate moderate Islam education into the national curriculum, and facilitates cultural trust and understanding through our ongoing Peace Caravans.